Ink-Dipped Advice: Time to Freshen Your Contract & Update Your Rates

 I hope everyone who celebrates American Thanksgiving had a good one, and those who don’t celebrate had a good week.

We are getting into our holiday madness, now. Not only is it important to remember to stop and take a breath, use “no” when necessary to keep your boundaries/sanity, it’s time to look at your freelance contract and update your rates.

A typical cost-of-living increase is between 2-3%. I don’t know about prices where you live, but my expenses for 2020 have already gone up a lot more than that. My rent went up 9.5%. The cost of food has gone up 35% over the course of the year. I have no idea how much my insurance and utilities will go up. I know that there are more expensive car repairs in my future.

My current rates are not sustainable.

Now, I’m not going to raise everything 45%. That, too, is unsustainable.

But I figured how much I need to make next year at minimum in order to get done the big transitions that need to happen, and  what I’d LIKE to make (which is higher) to give me a cushion. Break that down by 52 weeks, and I know how much I need to make every week. Break that down into a day rate (always good to have a day rate for certain gigs), and I have my numbers.

Now, I match that against the time/work ratio of individual projects, and I know how I need to adjust for that.

I don’t post most rates on the website, because there are so many variables for a project that it hurts both the client and me to have fixed rates for MOST projects. There are always exceptions, and those will be addressed/updated.

I’m also going to post my initial first consultation rate. This is controversial, because so many people offer a free first consult.  I’ve done that in the past; not doing it any more. Too often, the potential client wants information in order to go and do it in-house. Great.  But one of the things I am is a marketing CONSULTANT, which means I am paid for that consulting time that gives the client the ideas/itinerary that is then put into use in-house. 

My mantra for 2020 is “No more free labor as part of the hiring process.” That includes ideas and the constant question “How would you handle x?” which pretends to be a question to test skill level, but is, in actuality, a way to gather free advice from a variety of sources without paying anybody.

I am aiming my LOIs at a slightly different market, too. My focus is still hunting down companies whose work excites me and convincing them they can’t live without me. Some of them need a multi-year courting process. It’s worth it.

I’m moving away from LOIs to companies just because they’re local. I’m a big believer in supporting local businesses, but I, too, am a local business, and when the attitude is that my skills aren’t worth paying for because writing “isn’t real work.” then I’m pitching to the wrong market.

I plan to expand my corporate workshops, where I come in and train the staff in unusual marketing/writing techniques they can apply to business. One of the things I’m doing this month is crunching the numbers to set a good price. I’d started expanding this before I moved from NY to the Cape, and abandoned it when I was here. I enjoy it, I’m good at it,  the people in the workshops have a great time, and the company who hires me benefits in the long run.

I’m freshening my contract, and I’m clarifying a few points that need adjustment, mostly to keep up with changing technology. I am also adding the caveat that I do not go on camera. None of my client work is about ME. I’m happy to write scripts and set up productions/social media systems for on-camera representatives, but I am not that individual. Not an actor, don’t want to be a spokesperson, I am strictly behind-the scenes.

These are some of the changes I’m making to my freelance work for 2020. What changes are you looking at ? How do you plan to implement them?

If you need some general goal-setting questions, hop on over to my Goals, Dreams, and Resolutions site where I have specific questions to help you achieve what you seek.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Research the Prospect

image courtesy of Dariuz Sankowski via pixabay.com

Last week, I talked about the research for prospects.

I’ve gotten several emails asking me how I do that.

The first step is to read the company website. What does it look like? What can you read between the lines? Does it sound like marketspeak? Is it clean? Userfriendly?

I had a meeting a few weeks ago with a potential client. I read through the website. I still had absolutely no idea what their business purpose entailed.

In the meeting, when I asked about goals, target markets, vision — I couldn’t get any answers.

That was a less successful research/prospect experience!

Most of the time, you get a sense, from the website, about the company’s vision and their overall tone. My next step is to check out the typical social media sites: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr. Sometimes, if relevant, Reddit or Medium or Ello or The Dots (for international clients).

From the social media sites, I get a sense of the conversational tone (if there is one) and of the level of interaction.

I also look for articles about the company and press releases for the company. I look for reviews of the company and its performance. I go through my contacts to see if there’s anyone I know who knows someone there and can give me information, either positive or negative. Word of mouth is always more interesting than something online! Small details come out in a conversation that wouldn’t make it to the page.

AFTER I’ve done all of that, then I go back to the website and look at the executive roster to see to whom I should send me LOI.

Some companies make it difficult.

I don’t blame anyone for not posting a photo. We are far too flippant about smearing our images all over the place. There are plenty of jobs where no one needs to know what you look like. It’s doesn’t make it friendlier and more personal, in my opinion. It needs to be a personal, individual choice, not a demand of the company.

However, I would like either a staff directory or an executive roster. Individual contact information is also helpful, even if it’s a catch-all email address for the department that’s sorted by an assistant.

When there’s no easily available information, that sends up a red flag for me.

Once I find out the right person for what I want to pitch, then I research the individual. Do we have any common interests that are relevant to what I’m pitching? What kind of tone does that person have in public communications?

I have a basic template of my skills, and then I tweak it to individualize it for each person I contact. Because I have an unusual, varied background in the arts, I have to point out how and why that’s an asset in business. I’m there to make their business lives easier and grow their audience, not become one more thing on a To-Do list. “This is why I’m excited by your company, and this is why I think we’d be a good match” is the approach I use.

I keep the tone friendly, professional, positive. It is an invitation to start a conversation. It is not a demand. It may be the wrong time or the wrong fit.

The length of time it takes to get a response, and the tone of the response give you more information as to whether it’s a prospect worth pursuing.

Each experience will be different, and that’s what’s wonderful about it.

I learn something from every LOI. Even the ones that don’t wind up as clients. It’s always worth the time and effort of research and writing the letter.

How do you research your prospects?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Context and Boundaries

One of the things that has puzzled me over the last few months is that more and more LOIs, which go directly to the appropriate person at a company, are turned over to third party recruiters. Who then contact me and waste my time, trying to get me to do stuff that has nothing to do with my profession.

I am a WRITER.

Contacting me about jobs in accounting or sales or truck driving (yes, truck driving) is not appropriate.

Neither is acting like I am at your beck and call.

Neither is asking me about my current salary, which is none of your damn business. It’s also illegal in some states. The fact you’re CALLING from a state where it isn’t illegal doesn’t mean I have to answer the question. My answer is that my rate is X for Y work.

Salary and rate are different. If I committed to a single company, I have particular salary and benefit expectations. I’m happy to share those with you, even though I know there’s nothing like that on offer. If you did, you wouldn’t be contacting me with something vague that has nothing to do with writing. If I’ve sent an LOI as a freelancer, and you turn me over to a third party recruiter, these questions are ridiculous.

I don’t have my resume posted. I did that once, prompted by someone at the Career Center when my position was eliminated at the library. In four hours, I got three dozen inappropriate and sometimes threatening emails about things that had NOTHING to do with my profession (but some had plenty to do with the Oldest Profession).  I took my resume down and deleted my account. I don’t use LinkedIn (which I find useless and confining for what I do). 

I don’t know where some of these people got my information. I’ve asked, and some said, “Oh, you sent B at Company J a letter about what you do, and he passed it on and asked me to talk to you.” But the conversation has nothing to do with the letter — which was written after I researched the company, so it’s not like I’m just throwing spaghetti at the wall, people. I’ve done my homework.

If I’ve sent an LOI about copywriting needs, don’t have someone to contact me and ask if I’ll work a booth at a trade show for minimum wage. That’s not copywriting. Nor is minimum wage my rate.

I actually had a RECRUITER say to me, “Well, it’s not like writing is a REAL job.”

I ended the conversation right there.

On Monday night, my phone pinged, just before 8 PM. Right before end of day on the West Coast, so I figured it might be something someone wanted to get off the desk before walking out the door. It’s well after business hours for me here. It’s pretty clear from my LOIs and online information that I’m in the Eastern Standard Time zone.

I looked at the email. A recruiter, by the signature line. Not someone with whom I’ve interacted before. A single-line question, without context. A VAGUE question. No reference to what kind of position or company to which this question connects.

I glanced at it and put the phone aside. Something to deal with during my business day on Tuesday. I’d ask some questions and get context so I could give an appropriate answer.

Twenty-three minutes later, I got another email, calling me unprofessional for not answering the first email yet.

As tempting as it was, I did not respond with something snarky. OR with an apology (which, trust me, wasn’t going to happen).

Instead on Tuesday, I sent my response, not getting defensive or sarcastic (which meant I rewrote it a few times), asking for context: what company/position is this in regard to, where did they get my information, etc. I also added a line stating I was not available outside of regular business hours without prior arrangement, except in emergencies.

I got a response a few hours later, telling me I should be grateful I was even contacted, the company does not negotiate, and it is a privilege to work for them.

Negotiate what?

I still have no idea to which company they’re referring. So I sent a response, “Whatever this is in reference to, I’m not the right person for the assignment. Thank you for your interest.”

I got a return email berating me for my attitude and unprofessionalism.

I deleted it.

I still have no idea as to what the initial email referenced.

I doubt it’s the loss of my dream job.

But the entire exchange leaves me shaking my head.

Had the email arrived with context (company involved, a precise question instead of a vague one, why the recruiter contacted me, and how they found me), I could have answered promptly on Tuesday morning. Had there been a request to answer that night, I probably would have responded.

But the construction and the scolding? Huge red flag.

Obviously, they need a writer to craft correspondence.

I hope they find that which they seek.

I am not it.

That’s just fine with me.

What situations have you been in where you needed to ask for context and demand boundaries?

INK-DIPPED ADVICE: Chapter 5: Fred Attends The Chamber Breakfast

Fred Needs A Writer: Chapter 5. The Chamber Breakfast

Our story so far: Small business owner Fred needs a part-time marketing writer for his floor installation business. After advice from his friend, he put an ad on Craigslist and got a variety of responses. He asked for writing samples specific to his company; he received some, but his first choice of writer refused to do one for free. He interviewed several candidates. Each has strengths and weaknesses, and he’s not sure which one will be the right fit. He hires Brianna. At first he’s happy, but lately, he feels like she’s not giving him the time and attention the job needs.

Fred sees the email about the local chamber of commerce breakfast. He hasn’t gone to any events in over a year, although he keeps up his membership. To him Chamber of Commerce membership is a responsibility like voting and serving jury duty.

Kurt and Sandy are going, so at least he’ll know someone.

Fred is surprised by all the new faces, and people of all ages. Even at this hour of the morning, there are lively conversations and lots of laughter. The spread looks pretty good, too. It’s at a local restaurant. Fred’s known the owner, Bart, since they were in school since kindergarten together, and his wife Muriel since she married Bart.

Fred goes over to say hello. “This place looks great,” he says. “You painted? And is that a new logo?”

“We did.” Bart grins at him. “Same good, old-fashioned home cooking, but we freshened the look of the place.”

Fred thinks back to the past few weeks. “You know, I noticed you’re all over the papers. Margaret showed me the article. My daughter said you’re doing a lot on social media.”

“We hired it out,” says Bart. “I can barely Facebook with the grandkids. I don’t enjoy it, and don’t want to make the time.”

“Who’d you hire?” Fred asks. “I hired someone recently, but I think I made the wrong choice.”

“Some of your posts have been a little strange lately,” Bart agrees. “Muriel saw them. Said they don’t sound like you, and were confusing.”

“We were trying to be relevant,” says Fred.

“It seemed more like trying for irony, but came across as sarcasm,” says Bart. “Let me introduce you to the team I hired: Jenny Cotter and Gretchen Rojas. Jenny writes and handles all the posting. Gretchen does the graphics. They’re not cheap, but they’re worth every penny. They’re over there, talking to Jillian.”

“Jillian, of Jillian’s Treasures?” Fred asks. “That new store on Commercial Street?”

“Same Jillian. She’s new to town. Just opened at the start of the season.”

“I see her ads and her logo everywhere,” says Fred. “My wife and daughter kept seeing her name, and started shopping there. Now, they won’t stop.”

“Everyone’s heard of her thanks to Jenny and Gretchen. Come on and say hi.”

Bart introduces Fred to Jillian, Jenny, and Gretchen, who are having a lively conversation. Fred suddenly realizes this is the Jenny whose writing he liked so much, the one who wouldn’t do free samples.

“I wish I’d hired you,” he blurts out.

“You still can,” Jenny smiles at him. “Gretchen and I are a good team.”

They set an appointment to meet at Fred’s showroom.

Fred fills his plate at the buffet and joins Kurt and Sandy. “Don’t see why Bart’s wasting so much money on advertising when the food’s the same,” Kurt mutters.

“The food is good,” says Fred. “Now more people know about it, that’s all.”

“And the locals won’t be able to park and come in for a good meal,” Kurt frets. He changes the subject. “Does Margaret know you’re flirting with younger women?”

“I’m not flirting.” Fred turns red, because he was tempted to flirt. A little. “Jillian has a nice new store that Margaret and my daughter both like. I told her. Jenny and Gretchen do her marketing, and they’re doing Bart’s, too.”

“I don’t know where that Jillian woman gets off thinking she can come here and take over,” Sandy sniffs.

“She’s not your competition,” Fred points out.

“Of course she is,” says Sandy.

Fred has no idea what she means.

“All that over-priced eco-feminist stuff.” Kurt shakes his head. “Waste of money.

“Are you sure you mean eco-feminist?” Fred has no idea what Kurt means.

“Can’t say anything these days with all this political correctness,” Kurt moans. “You can’t mention color. You can’t mention sex. You can’t mention nationality. What can you talk about anymore?”

Fred thinks it has to do more with being a decent human being than politics, but changes the subject. “I made an appointment with Jenny and Gretchen.”

“Both of them?” Kurt snorts. “They’re taking you for a ride, buddy. You don’t need two more women working for you.”

“One writes, one does graphics.”

“Find someone who does both. You save half.”

“That didn’t work so well this time.”

Kurt shrugs. “Your money to waste.”

Fred starts to feel like he’s wasted a lot of time over the years with Kurt.

As they eat, the head of the chamber greets them, and then invites everyone to say a few words about themselves and their business. Fred enjoys listening to the people who run the businesses he uses, and he enjoys listening to the new people. He think Kurt sounds a bit bombastic, and Sandy a little desperate.

When it’s his turn, he feels shy. He tells an anecdote about his father’s time building the business and how his father always said, “You have to stand on something. It might as well be both sturdy and pretty.” It gets a decent laugh.

Jillian’s presentation is charming. Jenny and Gretchen do theirs together, and it’s funny and smart. Fred thinks it’s wonderful. Kurt looks annoyed, and Sandy bored.

He can’t even get near Jenny and Gretchen after the presentations, but waves in their direction as he leaves and looks forward to their meeting.

“Want to play a round this afternoon?” Kurt asks.

Fred shakes his head. “I’m on my way out to a house at the waterfront. They left the slider open on the deck in the storm last week and the floors buckled. I suspect the builder put in something cheap, so we’ll rip it all out and put in a good hard wood.”

Kurt is disappointed. Fred would rather talk flooring with a new client than listen to Kurt moan about the breakfast for 18 holes.

Besides, once he gets back from the client meeting, he’s going to fire Brianna.

Do you attend Chamber events? What is your experience? What advice do you have for Fred?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Fred Needs a Writer Chapter 2: Writing Samples

I apologize for skipping last week. We had tornadoes on the Cape. While I was not hit, there was a lot going on as far as power outages and damages and clean-up. I did not get this chapter finished and posted.

Our story so far:
Small business owner Fred wants to hire a part-time marketing person for his floor installation business. His buddy Kurt and Kurt’s wife Sandy hire part-time workers at minimum wage off Craigslist ads, and have them do other tasks in the office. Fred posts an ad and is surprised he receives answers from all over the country, that many of them are misspelled, and many of them don’t even send a resume.

Chapter 2: Fred Asks for Writing Samples

Fred and Margaret go through the responses. There are five people who sound promising: Jenny, Walter, Brianna, Cole, and Mallory. He likes the cover letters Jenny, Walter, and Brianna sent. They are friendly, and sound like they actually know what they are doing. Those three are also the only ones who included writing samples. Jenny and Walter sent links to online portfolios; Brianna sent links to some of her previous work.

Jenny’s focus is more on the words. She talks about “partnering with a graphic designer.” Fred wonders if she has that partner in the office, or if she expects him to provide the graphic designer.

“Just hire someone who does both,” said Kurt.

“Make sure they have Photoshop skills,” adds Sandy.

“Yeah, like you’re going to get a decent graphic designer who also writes for minimum wage,” his daughter snorts.

Walter seems to do both. Brianna seems to focus more on something called “gifs” that go on social media. He’s not sure what Cole and Mallory do.

He asks Cole and Mallory to send writing samples of their previous work. He can’t open the file Cole sent him (and he even asked for it to be sent as .doc). Mallory sends him something about a sale at a souvenir shop.

None of them have written anything about flooring. Well, maybe Cole did, but Fred can’t open the file, and he’s too embarrassed to tell Cole.

“Ask them to write something about your company,” said Kurt. “Ask them to look at your website and Facebook page, and write something as though they already worked for you. Then you can see whether or not they know how to write about flooring.”

Fred sends the email to all five of his prospects, asking them to look at the website and write an ad about an upcoming sale.

Walter sends him something that looks good, but there are typos in the words. “If he doesn’t know the difference between ‘there’ and ‘their’ I am not impressed,” says Margaret.

Brianna sends a gif. Fred guesses it’s supposed to be funny, but he doesn’t get the joke.

Cole sends him a file he can’t open. This time, Fred asks him to re-send it in a different format. It comes in the same format.

Mallory sends him a long piece of something about how wonderful bamboo floors are for the environment. It’s about four pages long, and Fred has no idea how he would use it.

Jenny sends him a quick email asking, “How much do you pay for project-specific samples?”

It had never occurred to Fred that he was supposed to pay for them. He asks Kurt, who says, “It’s part of the interview process. You don’t pay for it. THEY are supposed to impress YOU.”

Fred responds to Jenny that he considers the samples part of the interview process, and doesn’t pay for them.

“I have a policy not to provide project-specific samples without a fee,” Jenny responds. “You have the link to my online portfolio. You can see if my samples have the tone and the quality you need for your campaign.”

“But they’re not about flooring,” Fred responds. He doesn’t say that he tried to put the word “flooring” in various articles, and it didn’t quite work.

“If I can write about biofuels, wind turbines, alpaca farms, and new kitchen gadgets, I can write about flooring,” Jenny replies. “Too often, companies ask for free samples, tell all the writers they’re not hired, and then use the samples without paying for them and without permission. My rate for project-specific samples is lower than my regular rate, but I don’t do it for free. Thank you for your time, and I withdraw from consideration.”

“She’s an arrogant little bitch and full of herself, isn’t she?” Kurt says, when Fred tells him what happened. “You don’t need her attitude.”

“But she said people use the free samples without hiring or paying the writer,” said Fred.

“Of course we do,” snorted Kurt. “Cost of doing business.”

That bothers Fred. To Fred, it seems like stealing. Besides, he liked Jenny’s writing best.

“Interview them,” Margaret encourages. “See who you like best in person.”

How do you feel about unpaid writing samples? What’s your experience?

Next week: Fred interviews the candidates.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Sick Time

Yesterday, I came down with a nasty stomach bug, and was forced to spend the day either on the couch or in the bathroom.

It happens.

I’m on top of deadlines. There’s nothing that couldn’t wait at least another day.

The client for whom I’d have been onsite was fine about it. Just wished me a quick recovery and left me alone.

Several others, however, who wouldn’t even have had my attention that day had I been healthy came at me with, “Oh, I know you’re sick today, but can’t you just. . . .?”

No.

I am sick.

Not having a bit of an annoying cold or allergy that I can push through, but genuinely sick.

I am taking a sick day.

That means I am NOT WORKING.

Be being home sick doesn’t mean I suddenly have the time to move an on-track project higher up in the queue. It’s not an extra block of time to devote to a client who is already getting plenty of it.

When I was young and naive enough to feel guilty for being sick, sometimes I’d acquiesce. I can’t tell you how often the clients then balked at being charged for the time “because you were sick that day.” Uh, I hauled myself out of bed while sick to do the work you asked, and now you don’t want to pay me BECAUSE I went the extra mile when I was sick? Get a grip. You’re being charged.

I don’t do that anymore. I hold my boundaries and say, “I’ll do it as soon as I’m up to working again.”

Being home sick means I AM SICK. I am taking care of myself so that I can get healthy more quickly and be more productive on ALL my projects, and for all my clients.

It doesn’t mean sneaking in extra work — which wouldn’t be of any quality because I don’t feel coherent enough to be witty — for someone whose project isn’t due, and it completely on track.

It’s bad enough I lost an entire day of billable hours AND an entire day of work on my novels and plays.

I couldn’t sit up. I couldn’t think.

How the hell could I get anything worthwhile done on YOUR project?

I’m sick. I’m not taking a day off for fun. I don’t do that. If I’m sick, I take a sick day. If I need a day off for something else, I take it off. I don’t pretend to be sick.

And if this was a day off for fun, I STILL wouldn’t be sneaking in your work. It would be a day OFF.

Sick days are sick days. They are called so because when we take a sick day we need them to get well. To think someone can “just do this little thing” (and it’s NEVER little) shows a blatant disrespect that sends up a red flag.

Whenever someone comes at me with the attitude that taking a sick day means I’m not really sick and I must just want a day off, it gives me information about that individual. Chances are that’s what they do — call in “sick” when they don’t feel like working, not because they’re really sick.

In other words, because they lie, they assume I’m lying.

I don’t lie about sick days.

But now I have two red flags about them. One is the lack of respect. The other is that chances are good they lie. It makes me proceed with much more caution.

How do you handle demands on you when you’re sick? How do you hold your boundaries?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Mutual Information Sessions, Not “Interview”

Back in the days when I was starting out in the working world, before I worked my way up in theatre to a level where I was paid a living wage so I didn’t have to work temp jobs around show schedules (and then later supplement my income at the rack track), I had a specific attitude toward interviews. I interview them as much as they interview me.

Not much has changed over the years.

What is my purpose, my end game, when I meet potential clients? Why am I pitching myself to them?

My purpose is to be paid a fair fee for using my creative skills to engage and enlarge their audience. The “fair fee” is comprised of my skill, the unusual training and experience I bring to the table, what the work is worth in the competitive marketplace, and how well it achieves my clients’ goals of expanding their business and brand recognition.

I pitch myself to particular clients because what they do interests me, and I believe I’d be a good addition to their team so that they can achieve their goals of business expansion and brand recognition.

Work styles and workplace culture are important to this. If I’m working on site, there are certain things I need: dedicated workspace, the equipment to do the work expected, and uninterrupted work time. I want the environment to be upbeat, friendly, and creative. Preferably with a lot of laughter.

If I’m working remotely, again, I don’t want to be interrupted every two seconds by phone calls or demands. Let me do my work. I’m far more productive and, in the long run, it costs the client less money.

I think I mentioned on this blog (or maybe it was on Ink in My Coffee), the interview I had with a local business a couple of years ago where none of the above was true. It was supposed to be a marketing/writing position. Only my “desk” would be a board set up across two oil drums and a stool. They’d “prefer” I brought in my own laptop, but that it be one that was “dedicated” to their business. (I’m supposed to purchase multiple lap tops for different clients? I think not). I would have to cover reception at least a couple of times a week during lunch. I also had to accept that there would be inappropriate remarks or physical contact because “that’s who these guys are.” For a rate that was less than half of my usual rate, part-time, no benefits or paid holidays or vacation or anything else.

Uh, no.

I thanked them for their time and left.

I spend more time in the early conversations asking about a typical day, the environment, etc. than I used to. I spend at least as much time on that as I do on the actual tasks.

I’m not twenty, on my first job. I know I’m up to the tasks, or I wouldn’t have pitched in the first place.

I also ask where they see the company in the next year, the next three years, the next five years. What are their goals? How do they see the company growing? Do they see a shift in focus? Where do they see themselves in the political, economic, and social contexts? What do they see as their place in the world?

These are not questions for anyone in the Human Resources Department. In the decades since I’ve started my professional working life, I have yet to get any accurate information on anything other than a pay stub from someone assigned to “human resources.” These are questions I ask to the people with whom I’d be directly working.

Very often, I build on my answers to their questions to ask my own questions. This means we cover a lot of ground that is often left in their last question, which is to ask if I have any questions. I usually have one or two, but often I can say, “We’ve covered them in our previous conversation.” That shows that yes, I HAD questions, but we’ve talked about them, and there’s no point in repeating ourselves.

After the interview process (because it’s usually more than one talk), I send handwritten thank you notes. I used to do it after each conversation, but that got too complicated, especially if multiple conversations are set up over a short period of time. The more companies expand globally, the more people in different regions are factored into the equation.

I take notes during the conversation, to make sure nothing is missed — or later changed. I’ve had that, too, especially in terms of money. “That’s not what we talked about.” Actually, yes, it is, and I have the notes to prove it. I date the notes. Sometimes I’ll type them up, but I always, ALWAYS keep handwritten notes during a conversation, dated and timed.

When the conversation leads into a quote or letter or agreement or contract as the next step, I type a letter/memo based on the notes and the conversation to make sure we all agree. So we are, literally, on the same page.

And then we build from there, with the actual work.

How do you handle initial meetings and/or interviews? What are some of your favorite questions to ask? What are questions you’re asked that make you roll your eyes?

Ink-Dipped Advise: Personal Strategic Plan – Use Opportunity to Offset Threat

 

This is a good week to go back to our personal strategic plan and talk about the “T” in “SWOT” which stands for “threats.”

One of the threats involved with being a freelancer is that often, we are part of the 78% of the population living paycheck to paycheck, without enough of a financial cushion for the unexpected. I’ve certainly been struggling with that the last few weeks, dealing with a major, unexpected car repair.

Something that brings down fair pay for all freelancers is content mill work, where the “writer” is expected to churn out dozens of articles per week for well under market rate. Most of us have hit points where every penny matters; but when we stay mired in the low-paying markets, we don’t just hurt ourselves; we hurt our colleagues.

We face daily threats from the outside world – those who don’t value our skills, our talents, try to control our bodies, deny us health care and housing and more.

It’s important to break down long-term and short-term threats in the same way you need to break down long-term and short-term opportunities. Which threat has to be dealt with immediately? Which threat has to be part of your own personal long game, which will need adjustment as you continue? You don’t ignore it; you’re aware of it in the background. You chip away at it. But it’s not necessarily your first priority.

Using opportunity to counteract threat is a strong choice.

Each job for which you pitch should have a place in the web of the career you’re building. Each job should have a definable goal, be it “this article is a little bit under the rate I want, but it’ll be a solid clip and it pays the light bill this month.” Then BUILD ON IT. Don’t stay in that market, because it’s easy and comfortable. Use the clip to climb to a higher-paying tier.

I participated in panel discussion last week about the submission process. One of the pushbacks from several audience members was that they “didn’t like” the business aspect of writing, and that they felt it got in the way of “art.”

You’re not the literary Lana Turner, and you’re not going to be discovered as the Next Big Novelist in the produce section of Stop N Shop. You need to get out there, make connections, make sure each publication is a building block to the next one, and that you’re expanding your reach. No one OWES you discovery. You have to make your work worth discovering, and then you have to make it discover-able.

You also have to pick and choose the venues and the opportunities that value your work. Which often includes fair pay.

Learn to say “no.” “Exposure” is the oldest trick in the book to let others profit from your work, while you get nothing.

Don’t let the biggest threat to your growth in art, craft, and career be yourself.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Conference Follow-Up

 

I was honored to teach at the NECRWA Let Your Imagination Take Flight Conference over the last weekend of April.

I’m in the process of follow up from the conference. I usually try to get it done in the first two business days after I return. I was so wiped out from the month of April that I crashed and burned last week, and I’m still working on my usual post-conference protocols.

I’ve written about this before, last year, in the Authors Publish newsletter. I haven’t referred to that copy for this post — I’m simply sharing what I do. Returning from a conference can be overwhelming, when you unpack and look at all you’ve brought back.

Thank the Conference Organizers
I believe this is the most important piece of follow-up. It takes an enormous amount of time, energy, and emotional stamina as well as physical stamina to put on a conference. The organizers deserve a little thanks.

I thanked them in person on the final night, and I’ve thanked them across several social media platforms.

I’m behind in the written thank you, but that went out at the beginning of the week.

All of that matters.

Send out Promised Materials
Did you meet with any agents or editors? Did they ask for something specific? Get it out, as soon as possible. Some of them will ask you to wait a week or two after the conference, because they have a lot to catch up on. Make a note on your calendar, and send it when requested.

Make sure to send the materials while it’s still fresh for them.

This is also true if it was a trade show style conference and you spoke with vendors about possible freelance jobs.

If you talked to agents, editors, or publishers who didn’t ask for anything specific, just send them a quick note or email saying you enjoyed the conversation. Not every interaction has to be an immediate submission. There are plenty of agents and editors I love talking to at conferences. But I don’t write what they represent or publish, so I don’t submit or query what they don’t want. I do, however, keep in touch. If I ever do write something in their wheelhouse, I’ve laid the basis for a relationship.

If you met a potential critique partner and talked about exchanging manuscripts, or a fellow writer, where you did a book exchange, send the materials or say thanks. If it was a book exchange in the moment, make the time to sit down and read the book within the next two weeks. Tossing it on the TBR pile and not getting to it for a year isn’t helpful. Be the partner that you seek.

Thank presenters
Did you attend presentations you particularly enjoyed? Most presenters include their website or social media information in their presentation or handouts. Send them a quick e-mail and thank them on social media.

Even if we intellectually know our presentations went well, it’s a big emotional boost when a participant takes the time to say “thank you.”

Follow up with fellow conference goers
I collect cards, flyers, bookmarks, postcards from everyone. If we’ve had a conversation, I follow up as soon as possible, either to say I enjoyed the conversation, or to continue it.

Sort the Swag
In addition to picking up material from those I meet, I also accumulate plenty of material from those I didn’t.

When I get home, I sort it.

Agents, Editors, Publishers go in one pile. This is AFTER I follow up with promised materials, as stated above.

Authors I met go in another pile.

Authors I didn’t meet, but picked up material go in a third pile.

I follow up with authors I met first. That includes buying at least one of their books, if I didn’t do so at the conference. And reading that book in a timely manner. And then, LET THEM KNOW YOU READ IT — especially if you liked it. Leaving a review is also helpful.

I research the agents, editors, and publishers, especially if I didn’t get a chance to meet or cross paths with them at the conference. Do I have anything I think will suit? Does what I have meet their guidelines? Are they open for queries?

There have been times when I’ve been signed with an agent, and I run into an editor or publisher at a conference with whom I click. I then discuss it with my agent, and together we decide if there’s anything to query, or if we save it for another time.

If I have good conversations with an agent or agents while l’m under representation, I let them know. I don’t want my agent to feel I’m doing anything behind their back; I don’t want the agent I talk with to think I’m behaving that way either.

I go through the pile of authors I didn’t meet last, and check out their books and websites. Conferences are one of my favorite ways to find new-to-me authors.

File Information
I have files of conference programs, handouts, and promotional materials. I often remember a particular author or business by which conference I “discovered” them, so that’s how I file. I file the information AFTER I’ve done all of the above, because if I put away a file, my subconscious believes I’ve finished the project. I need unfinished files in front of me.

I keep files for far too long. Basically, I have an Archive. But that’s my choice. Do what suits you.

Normally, I’d have my initial contacts done early in the first week I was back, and be working my way through the Authors-I-Didn’t-Meet pile. But I’m behind, so I’m still working on thanking presenters and following up with other authors I met.

If the above sounds like a lot of work — hey, it is! But it pays off in connections and building friendships and finding great new reading material.

It’s all worth it.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Personal Strategic Plan – Goals

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It may be time to adjust the goals.

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

You’re building on the achieved goals.

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

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

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

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

Which was met with more blank looks.

The terminology does not replace the action.

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

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

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

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

How do you come up with your goals?

How do you break your goals down into steps?

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