Ink-Dipped Advice: Time to Reinvent Work

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

We are exhausted.

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

Part of that is to reinvent work.

Life in the Arts

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

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

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

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

“But I have responsibilities!” People whine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pandemic Aftershocks

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

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

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

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

I am not likely to turn back.

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

They have lost my business permanently.

Rebuilding Work

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

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

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

They’re wrong.

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

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

We’ve learned differently.

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

Tools for Positive Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Do We Get There?

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

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

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

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

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

Take Stock. Then Take Steps.

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

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

Then DO.

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

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

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

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

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

Vote. In EVERY election.

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

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

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

Ink-Dipped Advice: Who Are You?

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

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

Who are you, as a business?

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

More importantly, who are you as a person?

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

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

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

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

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

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

So. . .who ARE you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The business might not exist by then.

That’s the risk we both take.

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

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

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

Life has changed.

Permanently.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which was negative.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I don’t trust you.

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

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

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

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

So I clicked off the site and that was that.

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t nag.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t be that Marketing Asshat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overuse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remote is what I do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As a consumer, it offends me.

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

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

Ink-Dipped Advice: Intent

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At first glance, this seems like a strange post for Ink-Dipped Advice, especially since my Monday posts over on Ink in My Coffee during this cycle are about setting an intent for the week.

But in my writing and freelance business, intent, to me, matters.

What is my intent in my freelance business?

To earn a living is, of course, part of it. But how I earn it and working with which clients on which projects matters to me.

I like to work with clients who are passionate about what they do, and whose products and services make the world a more interesting, more compassionate, and better place.

My intent in working with those clients is to express their passion, joy, and unique product or service to an ever-increasing audience in a positive, engaging manner.

My skills as a storyteller and in theatre/film production translate to the “mission-specific entertainment” I talk about elsewhere on this site help me wrap the client message into an intriguing story with enchanting characters that gets the audience interested.

Because I believe social media is a conversation and not a bulletin board, when I create social media campaigns for clients and provide the response/follow-through, I build on the actual campaign posts with engagement and conversation. Interaction is, in my opinion, THE most important component of a successful social media campaign. If you’re not going to post engaging content and then actually ENGAGE, there’s no point in being on the platform.

So, my intent is getting to know the company, help create characters and stories that best communicate their message, and increase engagement. This can translate into sales/support/business growth.

Underneath this intent is my intent to earn a living from my skills. If you’re not going to pay me and value my work, I don’t work for you. I am not creating content for you without pay as part of the interview process. Read my portfolio. As for additional portfolio samples. Don’t ask me to write for you without pay. Because that indicates you don’t value what I do, or the skills I bring to the table.

My intent is to work only with companies who treat their people well, value skills, and compensate accordingly.

What is your intent?

Your Business Bookshelf

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I am a bibliophile. Some would say a bibliomaniac. I buy books. I read books. I keep books. I use books to build the forts I need to deal with the world.

As a writer and freelancer, I love to read how others build their business, hone their craft, grow their creativity.  Below are some of my favorite books,  ones I read and re-read, by title and author:

THE ART OF WORKING REMOTELY by Scott Dawson. Scott hosts the Remote Chat on Wednesdays at 1 PM EST on Twitter. It’s a highlight of my week, and one of my favorite groups of people. Scott’s book is a great guide on how to build a successful work life with remote work, and avoid the pitfalls and obstacles that employers throw in your path.

A BOOK OF ONE’S OWN: People and Their Diaries by Thomas Mallon.  I re-read my 1986 paperback of this book so often that it’s falling apart. I love this book. It has musings on and excerpts from a wide range of diarists. I learn so much about seeing, feeling, and articulating each time I re-read it.

BOOKLIFE: Strategies and Survival Tips for the 21st-Century Writer By Jeff Vandermeer. This is helpful for delineating the public and private lives. I am an inherently private person, an introvert forced by the needs of business, into extrovertism far too often for my liking. This book has some good ideas on handling that frisson.

THE COMPANY OF WRITERS by Hilma Wolitzer. Another wonderful book on the writing process and navigating the times you want and need to emerge from solitude. I am a huge fan of Hilma’s novels and those by her daughter, Meg.

THE COMPLETE WORKS OF SHAKESPEARE by William Shakespeare. I learn more about art and craft and stagecraft and structure and style from Shakespeare than I do anywhere else. I read and re-read his work constantly.

THE CREATIVE HABIT by Twyla Tharp. Far too many books are about breaking blocks into finding one’s creativity. This book is for already creative people to take their creativity to the next level, in any discipline.

CUT TO THE CHASE: Writing Feature Films with the Pros. Edited by Linda Venis. From UCLA Extension Writers’ program. Excellent book on screenwriting art & business.

ESCAPING INTO THE OPEN by Elizabeth Berg. The writing advice is great, and her blueberry coffee cake recipe is THE BEST.

THE FOREST FOR THE TREES: An Editor’s Advice to Writers by Betsy Lerner. Editor, agent, writer, Betsy Lerner talks about creating a writing career and how to work with editors and understand marketplace.

HOW TO WRITE A BOOK PROPOSAL by Michael Larsen. Still the best book I’ve ever read to teach effective proposal writing. I’ve used this for fiction, nonfiction, and adapted it for grants and multi-media or multi-discipline projects.

INSIDE THE ROOM: Writing Television with the Pros. Edited by Linda Venis. Another excellent UCLA extension book on art, craft, and business.

LIFE, PAINT AND PASSION by Michele Cassou and Stuart Cubley. Although the focus of the book is painting, I find that painting (or sewing or dancing or singing) frees up the writing. Switching disciplines helps fuel your primary discipline.

MAKING A LITERARY LIFE by Carolyn See. She has terrific ideas for maintaining your creative, often solitary work life, while still meeting the needs of the business side.

MY STAGGERFORD JOURNAL by Jon Hassler. The journal of a year-long sabbatical to write a novel.

THE RIGHT TO WRITE by Julia Cameron. I’ve found this small book the most useful of all her creativity and artistic coaching works.

THUNDER AND LIGHTNING by Natalie Goldberg. My favorite of her books, this mixes practicality with exercises to open creativity and work past stuck.

THE WELL-FED WRITER by Peter Bowerman. This book helped give me the courage to make the freelance leap. There are many things I do differently than Peter does, but his energy and enthusiasm inspired me. I re-read this book often to remind myself of the basics.

WORD PAINTING by Rebecca McClanahan. I’d developed my Sensory Perceptions class before I read this book, and now it’s become part of the Recommended Reading list. The exercises focus on choosing the best words for descriptive writing.

WORD WORK: Surviving and Thriving as a Writer by Bruce Holland Rogers. Again, a professional writer offers ideas on how to keep creativity flowing while dealing with necessary business aspects.

WRITE AWAY! by Elizabeth George. Although my process has evolved very differently than hers, I find re-reading this book helps me look at the way I write in a fresh way. It’s a great book when I feel tired and stale.

WRITER’S MARKET. This comes out every year. I prefer the print edition, although I double-check online to see if any information has changed. I like to sit and go through the entire large book with pen and paper, reading each entry and making notes on the markets I want to approach. Then, of course, I have to go and DO it.

Looking at the list, many of these are about art and craft more than business. Several of them deal with balancing the two. I have many more books on writing. In fact, I have an entire six foot bookcase in my office filled to bursting with them, and more packed in boxes downstairs. But these are the books I go back to re-read regularly.

In my opinion, you can’t maintain a solid career without the art and the craft. You can live on your marketing until they find out your lack of art and craft. But without it, you can’t sustain, even in this age of the “influencer” and marketspeak.

Art and craft matter. When you build a solid foundation and keep growing, you can add in the marketing skills and continue to learn the technology as it changes.

Many of these books remind you how to go back to the basics of art and craft, how to grow creatively. When you get tired and discouraged, these are great books to help you refill your creative well.

What are your favorite books for your business?

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.