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: Trust Your Instincts

This will be a short post. Lots of things are up in the air right now, and we’ll see where we are when they settle.

As I’m having meetings and making new contacts, I’ve learned to trust my instincts more. When a red flag comes up, or when my gut tells me something is not right, I’m listening more and more. It’s saving me a world of pain.

Yes, it means I’m not landing some assignments. Actually, it means I’ve pulled myself from consideration on a few projects, because I knew they would be a bad choice. The potential client and I were not the right fit. Moving forward ONLY because I want the paycheck, would have been the wrong choice in the long run.

Each situation was different; some of the red flags were similar, some not. But the gut feeling of “wrong” was there. I listened. As I’m making these choices, the good meetings are even more positive. I’m redefining what I want and need from a work situation. I’m refusing to settle.

Settling doesn’t do either me or the client any good. Both parties need to want the best from and for a project. When it feels wrong, walk away.

One of the most helpful resources I’ve found lately is Liz Ryan of The Human Workplace. Follow her on Twitter. Use the resources on her site. Her commitment to dignity in the workplace and positive solutions are terrific.

On the flip side, I came across an article in a business magazine by a supposed HR expert. A reader had questions about red flags that came up in the interview experience. The HR “expert” ripped her a new one for unrealistic expectations. I found only one of the red flags in the interview process “unrealistic” (the interview didn’t start until 10 minutes later than scheduled, which sometimes happens). The rest of the flags were, to me, big reasons to worry.

The tone of the article was snarky in the wrong way, and deeply anti-worker, in my opinion. I’m not linking back to it because I didn’t keep track. But then I reminded myself it was written by an HR “expert” and appeared in a business publication. Of course it would be pro-management and anti-worker. The basic premise of the article was, “You should be grateful we deigned to give you an interview and take whatever’s offered, whether you like it or not.”

Yes, that’s the way too many businesses are run. When they whine about “not enough skilled workers” remember that if the people searching for those workers are going to treat them poorly and without dignity, the truly skilled will go elsewhere.

Trust your instincts. Learn the protocols of whatever business you want to work in. Make sure your instincts align with being treated with basic dignity and courtesy.

That will help you find the best fit possible.

Is this a pipe dream? What if you’re in desperate straits and have to take something, anything to keep a roof over your head? If that’s your current situation, and you have to take a subpar offer, do so. But don’t get stuck there. Keep searching. The minute you get something better, go. The days of 20 years with the same company and mutual loyalty are long gone. Too many companies believe that everyone is irrelevant and replaceable. While we are all replaceable, even though each individual brings something unique to the table, none of us are irrelevant.

Note: There have been some issues with the contact form on this site, with commenting, and adding the recaptcha in. The host and I are working on it. It’s frustrating, because they have me in an endless loop of repeating things that don’t work, but we’re working on it.

You can email me or connect on twitter @ink_fearless if you need to get in touch quickly while we fix things. I apologize for the inconvenience.

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: Fast On Your Feet– Dealing with Change

One of the reasons I like freelancing is that I like variety. I learned early on, when I had temp jobs back in high school, that I wouldn’t last long in Cubicle World. We weren’t suited to each other.

On the flips side of it, when a client changes the parameters of a project, laughing it off as, “You’ll never get bored here; everything is different” — that is often a red flag.

Which is why your contract and/or Letter of Agreement is so important.

So how do you balance that, and how do you keep enough variety in your life with short-term one-offs, while still having the stability of steady income, without falling a rut?

Damned if I know.

Bet you expected a different answer, didn’t you?

But I’m figuring it out. It’s probably different for me than for many others, but maybe something in my journey will resonate. If I can save someone else pain, frustration, and time, good for all of us.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve developed two important tools:

Listening
I keep going back to that, don’t I? But listening is important. That’s how you create, that’s how you figure out what’s under the actual words, and which words you need to craft the message. Both your own message and the client’s.

Listen to the client.

Listen to yourself. Not just what you say to the client and how you say it, but how does it feel?

I recently withdrew from consideration from a project that attracted me because I liked the organization, and the money/security aspect was seductive. However, listening, really listening to them in the meeting, and then to my own instincts, let me know we were not the right fit. They needed someone with different skills than I have. They were willing to train me, but those weren’t skills and job elements that would have made me happy. What had attracted me to the job in the first place turned out to be a small portion of the job. We weren’t what the other partner needed.

Because it IS a partnership, when it works well.

I listened to them.

Even more importantly, I listened to my own instincts.

We parted on good terms.

Which is better than taking the job, proving I wasn’t happy, and leaving on bad terms.

“No” is not a dirty word
As a freelancer, you are allowed to say “no.” You are allowed to refuse jobs that you don’t want or like, for whatever reason.

I don’t work for companies who support practices I believe are harmful to justice, equality, and climate change. That is my choice. Other people don’t really care, as long as they’re paid fairly and on time. I do. My politics is not separate from my life or my work. Not at this stage of the game.

Do we have to take jobs we don’t like, just for the cash? Most of us have, at one time or another. Many of us may have to in the future, especially when the economy crashes again. But it doesn’t mean we have to stay forever. You survive. I keep digging until I find a client that doesn’t go against everything I value.

Coping with change
Change is often thrown at us when we least want to deal with it.

Coping mechanisms that I find useful (outside of sticking to my daily yoga/meditation practice no matter how crazy the day gets) include:

–when you start to feel the change, or see the red flags, pay attention. This goes back to listening. Trust your instincts, then find facts to back them up (or prove otherwise). Usually, however, your instincts are correct.

–keep your resume updated. Even when you’re comfortable. I keep a Master CV that has Everything I’ve Ever Done and is massive. From that, I pull to create relevant resumes for the LOIs.

–keep your clip files current. As soon as it’s published/produced, I add it to my clip file, as both a printable hard copy and a link. Links go away. Hard copies can be scanned or copied or used in a variety of ways.

–keep talking to people. Send out LOIs, even during big projects. Go to Chamber events and other networking sessions. Go to conferences. Talk to other professionals across disciplines on social media.

–keep learning. Take courses in skills and interests. Read about what’s changing in your field, and add to your skill set. I’m a big fan of Coursera, but there are plenty of other places, too.

–acknowledge feelings of sadness, anger, fear. You feel what you feel. It’s not about what other people decide is relevant or useful. Your emotions are valid. Face them, accept them, find ways to work with them, not ignore them. Repression will come back to bite you in the butt.

–embrace transience. Everything changes. Enjoy the perfect moments of happiness, and then make a commitment to enjoy the journey and build something better.

How do you prepare for and work with upcoming change?