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?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Tools and Resources

 

Last week’s post promised further discussion about the tools and resources you need to get the job done.

Tasks, Job Descriptions, Contracts
Far too many job listings should be flagged for false advertising. The listing that claims to want a “Marketing Coordinator” actually wants a receptionist who writes press releases in between phone calls (not happening). The “Social Media Manager” spends more time fixing computer problems than creating content for social media platforms. The “Marketing Director” doesn’t direct marketing at all, but is actually supposed to do the job of a sales assistant.

I currently live in a work-for-hire state. The first thing the employer states in the offer is that the job is “at will” and you can be fired without notice or reason (which also means you then have to fight to get paid, and, if you’ve worked on payroll rather than 1099, it’s a fight to get unemployment benefits if you were fired).

By law, it also means that the employee can leave “at will” at any time without notice. The employer, who just fired Betty last week in a fit of pique is now shocked, shocked I tell you, when Jane walks out at lunchtime in frustration, because now Jane’s doing her work and Betty’s work (which is nowhere near the tasks she was hired for), and the employer is delighted not to pay two employees, even though both jobs were part time and without benefits, sick days, or paid holidays.

It also makes it harder to give two weeks’ notice and have any transition/training time. The new position won’t hold it while you try not to screw over your previous employer and wrap everything up; the person you’re replacing is long gone and no one knows what that individual did or any of the passwords, or can even find the job description; and you don’t have a chance to train the person coming in to do your former job. And all the notes you so carefully left for that person have disappeared.

This means, even for freelance/remote work, most local clients don’t want to sign a contract. But the contract is vital in order to keep the job parameters clear.

Basically, if you’re coming in to write freelance marketing materials for a client, the contract will spell out that writing the materials in that specific contract are ALL you’re going to do, and that any work that is outside of what is listed in the contract must go under a separate contract for a separate price.

Resources
Around here, they fight remote work, too. Although they are often loathe to give you desk space, a decent chair, a drawer in a file cabinet, or anything else you might need.

About a year and a half ago, I went in to talk to one potential client who wouldn’t even consider having me work remotely, but my “desk” would be a board set up across two oil drums during the hours I came in to work there. Oh, and, by the way, although the job was for a marketing position, I’d also be doing some light bookkeeping, responsible for payroll, and answer the phone for two hours a day. And I should be comfortable with the men in the office making inappropriate comments, because, you know, that’s how men are. Oh, and the ad had the “wrong” financial information. It’s actually minimum wage, with no benefits.

Buh-bye.

Then there are the employers who tell you that you have to supply your own laptop (and what brand) and iPhone (and how much memory it has to have).

The response to that is “My kit fee for providing my own equipment is X dollars/week on top of the project fee.”

That always gets a shocked response, too.

No, sweetie, I am not carrying the cost of your electronics. You want me to use a particular piece of equipment? YOU supply it. Or you pay me a kit fee if I’m using my own. Not to mention the insurance I have to carry, in case anything happens to it while I’m using it for YOU.

Sales/Marketing/Promotion/Advertising
Far too many businesses lump them all together. Marketing and Sales often work closely together, but they are not the same thing and require different skills.

When I worked in wardrobe, on Broadway, our union contract specified what each element contains.

The biggest misinformation that’s taken hold over the last few years is that the Marketing Director performs the same tasks as a Sales Rep.

No.

As a member of the marketing team, my job is to engage and enchant the audience and expand the potential audience. I get them interested in the product or onto the site. It’s up to the Sales team to close the deal, provide necessary customer service, and get the money transferred.

Promotion uses elements from both sales and marketing teams, and often involves swag. A tangible object, usually with a logo and a website address, that a random person can have and hold, and think of the product/organization every time they see or use the object. Seeing it regularly, if and when it evokes a positive response, will result in another sale/another visit/further engagement. Sales and marketing often brainstorm the ideas and products, marketing finesses the content/logos/pithy quotes and gets them into production, and sales distributes them and follows up with potential clients.

Advertising is the visual and/or audio engagement where the company pays for placement, such as on a radio station, or web advertising, or newspaper advertising or program advertising. More and more often, it’s called “sponsorship” — but it’s still advertising. The sales and marketing team create a slick product that the company pays to place, in the hope that where it’s placed reaches the right audience that are then interested in the company’s product, which results in sales numbers that are higher than what was paid to create and place the ad.

Marketing and sales work often work together, but the actual tasks are different. It’s vital they work well together as a team, but it’s marketing’s job to create and engage, and sales’s job to close the deal. Marketing is more of an introvert’s task (because it’s about content creation and placement), where sales is more of an extrovert’s task.

The reason so many businesses are struggling, especially small businesses, is that they try to bunch it into a single position. The person they hire is generally better at one side of it or the other. A great marketing person is not necessarily a good sales person. Great content and a beautifully planned campaign need time and space — uninterrupted work time and QUIET. A great sales person may be able to laugh and joke and glad-hand, but not necessarily create the content or plan a fully-rounded, multi-platformed campaign.

That doesn’t mean the marketing person never goes out and represents the company — they often do. Many do it very, very well. But the delineations are important.

In the long run, it doesn’t save the company money to hire one person to do both not-so-well, rather than two people who are excellent at their separate pieces of the puzzle.

Same with the demand that the writer also be able to do the graphic design. Those are separate skills. Great writers paired with great graphic designers create great product.

I’ve worked with potential clients who decide I’m too expensive, and have their graphic designers write the content. Yeah, it looks great, but the content often makes no sense and is full of errors. Or the client demands that I do the design, but wants me responsible to also research permissions, pay permissions fees for visuals, use any Adobe or Dreamweaver skills — all at the quote I gave for content.

No.

These are distinct skills that deserve fair pay. If you’re offering yourself on a job site to do all of this for $20, you’re screwing yourself and all the rest of the freelancers out here working hard to retain respect and earn a living.

Time
One of the things most employers don’t understand is how much time it takes to create materials. UNINTERRPUTED TIME.

When a listing talks about a “busy environment” or “must have ability to juggle projects” or “multi-task” — it means they will dump anything they don’t feel like doing on you, and interrupt you every fifteen seconds, never allowing you to get anything done. And then wonder why the marketing materials aren’t done on time or have errors on the first few passes. The expectation is that if you need quiet time, you do it after hours. Without pay.

This, of course, could be avoided if they’d give you uninterrupted work time, or, better yet, if they respected their freelancers enough for remote work.

I am much more productive and efficient in my own space. It actually saves the business money when I work remotely. They get a higher quality of work with a shorter turnaround time.

Also, when they are sitting there staring at you while you work, they assume any time you are on social media, you are screwing around on company time.

No, honey, you hired me to handle your social media. That means, in addition to creating the content, I have to be on the various platforms both to post and to INTERACT. Just tossing content on a platform DOES NOTHING.

This requires time. Every day that is scheduled to work. Not just charging X dollars per tweet, but factoring in the time you need to respond, follow, interact, and grow the audience.

Ask Questions Before You Take the Job
Ask questions about all these elements in your early client meetings. Find a way to work that is productive for both of you and then PUT IT IN WRITING.

Liking the client doesn’t negate the need for a contract.

What are some of the frustrating demands you’ve encountered? How did you deal with them?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Crafting Client Voice

“Voice” is a term that is used in writing to denote that special way an author puts together words in order to resonate with a reader.

Authorial voice is something some writers struggle to find and then hone for years. It is something that makes a reader recognize it’s you and not one of your ten thousand colleagues within the first paragraph.

However, when you stretch yourself to marketing writing for others, it’s not about YOUR voice. It’s about your client voice. That brings with it special challenges.

First, whose voice is the client voice? Is it the person who hired you? Or the person who owns the company? Or the person who runs the company? Or has this particular company created a character that’s the face of the company that needs a voice? Or is it a combination?

When you come in to work on marketing materials, one of the most important questions to ask early on is “Who is the voice of the company?” Not “what” but “who.”

Far too often, marketing materials miss because there is no cohesive voice. Even if it’s a collaborative or a co-operative, and different voices are featured, there needs to be a single, unified voice that represents the company.

Part of your job as a writer for that company is finding that voice and then developing it.

This is where my theatre training comes in. Because I know how to create characters, both on the page and with actors, I can work with the decision-makers in the company to create a voice and then use it consistently across the different types of channels — press releases, social media posts, websites, etc.

It can be a challenge when there are too many voices (often with egos attached), and you have to both combine them and distill them to create a distinctive voice. It can be a challenge when you’re working with a small business owner who is still trying to find the voice and wants their own personality to be the voice.

Handling their egos in this is a delicate matter. We all deserve basic human dignity and respect. But many people aren’t as interesting to a vast audience as they think they are. So they need help developing a business voice that is individually “them” but also better. It’s the Best Self, the most polished and professional and witty and funny and incisive self that also engages an expanding audience and interests that audience in whatever the business needs to promote/sell/serve to stay in business.

The first step in this is to genuinely LISTEN. Out of the first ten thousand words of what the client thinks they want, you might find 20 that are useful.

For me, it is use-LESS to have these conversations on the phone. In general, I find the phone a waste of time, money, and creative energy. I’ve never had a business phone conversation of more than 90 seconds that had value.

The conversations that develop voice need to happen in person or via video conferencing. The person’s tone, the facial expressions, the body language, the light in the eyes, the places they smile, what they find amusing — all of this is vital for the writer to craft the character and voice that will represent the brand. You enhance what works, you recede what doesn’t.

You create a character and a style that effectively communicates the message and expands the audience.

That has NOTHING to do with slathering photographs of the business owner and workers all over the place. In my opinion, selfies do more harm than good in business. It doesn’t “personalize” the business or product; it dilutes it.

Having a spokesperson is different — those photos are done in designated shoots with a specific purpose in mind. The spokesperson is chosen for the ability to promote a specific look and voice that the decision-makers believe best represents them.

If the business wants headshots of specific individuals or a page on the website of workers happily going about their day — great. But there’s a time and place for those types of photos, and it’s not a daily social media post.

The exception to that could be a service organization — but then you need to get signed releases from everyone you photograph. Someone coming into your space is not automatic permission to be photographed and shared publicly. People get to decide where and how their likenesses are used.

If you try to force them, you will lose them.

You want to capture the speaker’s natural rhythm and cadence; at the same time, you enhance it, strengthening sentence structure and word choice, cutting out the boring bits, the qualifiers, the passive. You do this while retaining the speaker’s cadence.

When I write a speech for someone else, when I do it well, the speaker sounds as though speaking off the cuff – even though we spent hours honing it and rehearsing it. Once we researched it.

Yes, as the writer, when I write something that will be spoken live and/or taped, I’m the one who rehearses the speaker. Part of that is my theatre training. Part of that is that I can rewrite and make necessary changes in the rehearsal process so that it sounds even better and more natural.

Because I LISTEN. I listen as the writer, but I also listen as the audience. I work on multiple levels simultaneously, because the material I create must work on the audience on multiple levels.

So talk, listen, create a voice, and work with those who are the face of the company (speaking engagements, chamber events, trade shows, etc.) so they speak in a similar cadence to the marketing materials. Yes, they are themselves. But when they represent their company, they have to align themselves with the company voice.

Even with a small company, it’s a lot of moving parts. It takes thought, planning, creativity. But most important, you need to listen. You need to understand subtext. You need to be able to shear away the words, gestures, and quirks that dilute the message and focus it in a way that’s easy to speak and easy to hear.

Ink-Dipped Advice: The Personal Strategic Plan

Businesses have strategic plans, update, and implement them regularly. Perhaps you already have one for your freelance business (if you’re a small business owner reading this, rather than a writer, consider hiring a good writer who knows how to put one together to help you — it will be some of the best money you’ve spent, provided you actually follow through).

Perhaps you don’t yet have one. And, as a freelancer, we choose to live our lives differently than a business, with more freedom to use our lances where we choose. So it’s more personal than many corporate plans.

You need several elements to create your own plan:

Vision
Where do you want to be? When do you want to get there? For me, as an individual at this point in my life, ten years is too much. I look at five years, then three years, than a year (also, for me, considered New Year’s resolutions).

I’m not a big fan of “vision statements” because I think they often use market speak to cover the real destination/determination. But if you feel a vision statement is helpful for you, craft one. If you feel sharing it will garner the business that helps you reach your vision, then, absolutely, post it on your website.

Part of my “vision” when I work with clients is to communicate THEIR vision in an exciting and engaging way, and in their unique voice.

With my own work, my vision has to do with each project improving in both art and craft, over the previous ones.

Some people break down “vision statements” and “mission statements” into separate categories. I feel they should be integrated, especially for a personal plan.

Core Values
Whenever I see a company talk about “core values” I am suspicious. Do they walk their talk?

But for your own strategic plan, you have to decide what your core values are in relation to how you want to progress in your working life.

One of my values is that I now extend my practice of “conscientious consumerism” to when I hire on with clients. If I don’t trust their integrity and values, if I feel they are hypocritical, or if they are trying to profit off something I believe is harmful — we are not a good match.

We all have to make our own decisions, and draw our own boundaries.

SWOT Analysis
This means:
Strengths
Weaknesses
Opportunities
Threats

I’m not a big fan of this element of a strategic plan, although it’s good to clinically look at your own strengths and weaknesses, and then decide how best to use both.

Opportunities? As freelancers, we daily create our own.

Threats? For freelancers, it’s usually the threat of our work and boundaries not respected.

Read a few corporate strategic plans and the SWOT will chill you. It explains a lot of why we are in the mess we’re in.

Long-Term Goals
This is important. As freelancers, we’re often trying to get through the day, the week, the month.

Look at the best of the freelance community, the ones who thrive — they’re looking ahead. They’re using each assignment as a building block to long-term goals, not as a stopgap.

Break yourself out of crisis mentality and look at what you want long term.

Again, most of us are freelancers because we want a better work/life/personal/creative balance. In our personal strategic plan, we need to work on goals for different areas of our lives.

As freelancers, we tend to want and need a more integrated life than a compartmentalized one.

Manageable Steps with Deadlines To Reach Them
It’s great to take time to come up with all these lists and plans, but if you don’t take action on them, it’s all useless.

Break down your goals and visions into manageable blocks, and give yourself a deadline for each one.

We’re freelancers; we’re used to deadlines.

Then take the actions necessary to see them through.

Timed Assessments
I like to check in with myself on my goals every month, and then do a big reassessment every year.

Daily To-Do lists make me feel confined and imprisoned; monthly ones give me the flexibility I need to get it all done without feeling overwhelmed. See what works for you. It’s okay to change.

Adjustments
As you assess, as you grow, you will see that you have to let go of some things in your plan you were sure about early in the process.

It’s okay. It’s not failure to realize that something no longer works in your evolution. It’s healthier to let it go than to stick to it just because you wrote it down.

Implementation
The most important thing, in any strategic plan, though is to take action and not expect it to happen without the work just because you wrote it down.

The elves aren’t going to show up and write your books and clean your house and send out your media kits and LOIs. You have to sit down and put in the work.

Start now.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Multi-Tiered Self-Marketing

I mentioned last week that I was working on both a marketing plan and a personal strategic plan, and that there would be places where they would intersect.

The personal strategic plan won’t be ready until sometime in February. But I’ve been working on the marketing plan, because that’s important to land the work.

My plan is multi-tiered. I work marketing myself as far as the books, plays, radio plays, etc. I work marketing myself when I pitch to publications or bloggers editors.

I also work marketing myself to potential clients, where I write up THEIR marketing plans. A future post will talk about some of those challenges, especially when it comes to small businesses.

Each of these tiers has a slightly different focus. A different slant.

I’m an advocate of media kits, especially for authors. You want top-tier coverage? Put together a good media kit and get it out there.

My own challenge with my main media kit is that I tried to put too much into it and it became unwieldy. So I’m streamlining it. That’s a conversation for another day.

First Question
For me, the absolute, most important question in any marketing plan is:

What do I want?

When it comes to the books, the answer is “book sales” or “coverage that will lead to book sales.”

When it comes to the plays or radio plays the answer is “a production contract.”

When it comes to publications/editors, the answer is “a well-paid assignment that will hopefully lead to more of the same.”

When it comes to potential clients, the answer is “a meeting to see if we are compatible.”

The latter answer is fairly new. The answer used to be “hired by the client.”

But what I want from a client relationship has changed, especially over the last year and change. It’s not just about getting hired, any hire; it’s about working with and for someone I can like and respect. Someone I believe has ethics and integrity on multiple levels.

You can talk all you want about how “being professional” means you can work with anyone. Great. Go ahead.

That is not my choice.

I want to work with clients who have both personal and professional integrity. Who are doing something about which they are passionate. I might not know much about it, or be passionate about it myself, but if they love it, I can use that passion and communicate it effectively, thereby growing their business.

But not if I think they don’t have personal and professional integrity. That is a personal choice. Separating last year from a client whose ethics I felt were shaky (although everything was technically legal) was the right move.

This shift changes the way I market myself to clients. It means I do more research earlier in the process about the client and the business, before I even send an LOI. Not just that they’re a company with some stability and not a fly-by-night, but more about how they do business, with whom they do business, how they interact in the community.

It also adds value to the initial meeting.

So, my first question in any marketing plan for myself is “What do I want?”

Which is different than when I meet with clients to work on THEIR marketing plans — again, a conversation for another day.

Different Strategies for Different Tiers
Since I do many different things, I work on a strategy for each type of work I do. My marketing plan for the books includes new releases, the back list, re-releases, how I work with the publisher, what portions of the marketing burden the publisher takes on, doing swag for promotional packages, adding in appearances, workshops, etc.

Budget factors hugely in this; 2018’s biggest obstacle was not having the marketing budget to do what I knew I needed and wanted for the books. I hope to make the necessary adjustments for 2019.

The marketing plan for the plays is about sitting down with the Theatre Guild’s list and seeing what play fits with which theatres in the US, and going through lists of international companies to see if any of them would be a good international fit (although, on the current political scene, it’s much harder to go international now, which is a blow to me, since my work does well overseas). The marketing for the radio plays is similar to that of theatre plays, although there are fewer venues.

With the plays and radio plays, it’s also seeing about who’s accepting pitches to commission new works and seeing if something I want to write fits. Commissioned work is important in this field.

This doesn’t need a lot of money; it’s more about well-written plays, outlines, samples, and previous credits. It is, however, about time and research.

Articles/publications marketing/pitching is constant, because editors move and publications start and cease. It’s about keeping up with the market, having an updated portfolio of samples (or, in my case, several), and sending out pitches every week. There’s also tracking the pitches, which is important for all of them.

Pitching to clients is about networking, watching businesses and listings, and seeing who needs what, and who might not know they need something, but I can suggest an approach that is useful.

It’s full of moving pieces, and, in my case, requires a large print calendar where I can see a month or more at a time.

Every electronic calendar I’ve ever used has failed me.

Constant Flow
The hardest habit to get into is constant marketing. When you have a lot of work, you want to focus on the work, not getting more work.

But this is exactly when you need to focus on getting more work, so you’re not scrambling with NO work when you’ve finished your current work.

The more you can have certain materials ready, the less time it will take to put together your pitches and get the out the door. I talk about this in detail in my workshop and Topic Workbook Setting Up Your Submission System.

Have these pieces ready:
Current resume (I have more than one, each with a focus)
Sample portfolios (online and as samples you can send. Again, I have several)
Updated clip files (online and hard copies)
Quick bio paragraph with credits (about 250 words)
Updated website

For fiction/plays/radio plays, as soon as I deem a piece ready to go out on submission, be it to agent or editor or producer, I prepare the following (each in a separate document):
Logline
One paragraph summary
Chapter outline (if applicable)
Synopsis (if applicable)
First 3 Chapters/50 pages/10 pages in .doc and .rtf
Radio plays in both BBC format and US format (I only do US Numbered format upon request)

Keep Logs
I have a Submission Log of the full pieces that go out, and a Pitch/Query log for pitches, queries, and partials.

I dropped the ball on my LOI log last year for business writing, which was a huge mistake. I will remedy that in 2019.

Logs help you track deadlines, payments, contract dates, and follow-up.

Regular Marketing
It’s not always possible to market every day, but set aside a few hours each week, and make sure you get out there.

Taking a few days to set an overall plan for the different facets you plan to explore will save you time in the long run.

The more you pitch, the more likely you are to land a good assignment, and the less likely you’ll have to scramble during fallow times.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Hit the Ground Running

Are you the type who hits the ground running, or starts slow and then accelerates?

Both work, and it’s an individual choice.

I, however, prefer to hit the ground running. When I used to do National Novel Writing Month, I’d write ahead; at the top of the year, I try to get ahead. Because I know how things can change and upset all those apple carts we so neatly set up.

One of the things I do is work on my Goals, Dreams, and Resolutions for the year. You’ll see some questions to muse over for the year here, although my answers are on the main page.

I’m also well aware that those answers can and will need to shift over the course of the year. They are a roadmap, not a prison.

It is the second of January, a Wednesday, and I will be working on site with one of my clients today.

On my own time, I will also be working on two things I believe are important for my own growth and success this year: my personal strategic plan, and my marketing plan. They will intersect at certain points. But they will also form another roadmap for what I want in my business-related work, and in getting the work I do for myself (rather than clients – the novels, stage plays, radio plays, etc.) out to a wider audience.

In 2018, I got overwhelmed and discouraged. Instead of focused targets, I splattered a bit too much, and wound up settling for work in the short term that was necessary, and not pushing through for better work in the long-term that would have fulfilled more than one aspect of what I’m working toward.

I’m adjusting that this year.

Now, some of the things I set up last year are paying off this year — one in spring, one in fall. So I wasn’t completely off-track. But I let too much go, because of a difficult, demanding situation that took far too much emotional energy as well as physical energy. I have to adjust that this year.

I’m not sending out pitches and LOIs this week — where the holiday falls, let people enjoy it and clear off their desks a bit. But I’m planning and writing pitches and working on campaigns that will launch next week. Campaigns that are aligned more to the long-term rather than the short term.

I will talk more about this in the weeks to come.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Holiday Considerations

We all like to get as much work as possible off our own desks and onto someone else’s before the holidays and/or the end of the year.

But sometimes, you risk getting lost in the shuffle.

Everyone needs a break, so consider the why and the who before you hit “send.”

Contracted Deadlines
Obviously, if you have any deadlines around the holidays, meet them. In fact, put in time earlier in the season (like October and November), so that you can get them in to your agent or editor a little early.

Submission Deadlines
Some contests and publications have year-end deadlines for a particular issue or event. Again, try to get it in a week or two early. Don’t wait until the last minute, when something is bound to go wrong.

Pitches, Proposals, Queries, Manuscripts
Unless I’ve been asked for something by a specific date that falls within the winter holidays, I stop submitting/pitching on December 12 and start up again January 6. Unless it’s a short piece with a quick turnaround, there’s really no point.

That means, of course, that I have to plan earlier in the year to cover what’s basically three weeks without those going out – that means I’ve pitched early, and already scheduled work that is due/pays soon after the holidays, so I don’t have a fallow period.

In theatre, we always struggled in January and February; I try to make sure I plan ahead well enough so that I’m covered in my freelance life then, too.

Of course, if you hit fallow points, then you dig in, do your research, and pitch soon after the first of the year.

But I don’t do cold pitches/proposals/queries/submissions to agents, publishers, or editors during those three weeks. It’s not fair to any of us.

I do use the time for work that has a longer lead time, or for researching new-to-me markets and preparing pitches and queries to send in the new year.

Holiday Cards
As I’ve stated before, I’m big on holiday cards. However, when I send a holiday card, it’s just about sending a good wish for the holiday. It’s not pitching myself or asking if the former client needs anything – that happens again, after January 6.

Those former clients and prospects who got cards? They get a follow up note or email, along the lines of “now that the holidays are over, what are your needs for the coming months? Is there a project where you’d like my help?”

This way, you haven’t put pressure on them during the holidays, but you’ve reminded them of your existence, and now you’re following up for business.

Planning
This is a great time to plan what you want, need, and the changes you plan to implement to your working life in the next year.

I usually start thinking about this in autumn. I have a site called Goals, Dreams, and Resolutions, where we work on questions for the upcoming year, and then track our progress.

The planning involves what I want for the next cycle, the research, and a list of new prospects. I prepare proposals or LOIs as pertinent. I have everything written and ready to go by early January.

It’s also a good time for me to look at submission deadlines for theatres for their reading cycle for an upcoming season. Then, I pitch, query, or propose as is relevant to each organization that I think is a good prospect.

It’s also a good time to assess what didn’t work for you in the past year, and what you want to change. When you know what to release, when you make room for what’s better, you can start planning active steps to make it happen.

Don’t Forget to Have Fun
Spend time with the people you enjoy.

Also make sure you pay attention to those around you who are struggling. A kind word or a helping hand can make all the difference.

Go to at least one new-to-you event locally, whether it’s a networking event or a concert or an art opening. Do something different to prepare for positive change in the new year!

Ink-Dipped Advice: Holiday Business Etiquette, Blaming Women, and The War on Theocracy

The original intent was to be a simple post on suggestions for business etiquette during the holiday season, but there’s so much crap being thrown around, that it’s not going to be simple or mild.

First, the basic common sense:

What is the culture of your workplace?
For most freelancers, the bulk of our “workplace” is the home office or the creative space we rent to work in. Sometimes, we are on site, for meetings or for short term work. Sometimes, one or more of our gigs requires us to spend X amount of hours on site (I have one long-term client where I’m in their office for a handful of hours on three regular days at the moment).

What holidays do staff members celebrate? Are there company traditions?

When I worked backstage, each show had their own holiday traditions — usually including everyone’s different holidays, a mixture of decorations and Secret Santa joy and potlucks with favorite foods of the season. It was truly a joyful time. Since we worked while others played, we built family. We shared. We made sure that those who struggled during the holidays had love and support and family.

It was similar when I worked for a publishing company and a library. We had traditions, we included, we celebrated, we supported those struggling.

As far as physical contact, it’s important to gauge someone’s comfort level. Some people don’t like to be touched, unless it’s by an intimate partner or family member. I spent most of my life in theatre. We are a huggy-kissy, physical contact bunch. We find strength and comfort in touch. But most of us (except for some slimy producers and directors and executives) can also read when someone DOESN’T feel comfortable with that kind of contact, and then we refrain.

What are appropriate gifts?
As freelancers, it’s rare for us to get a bonus the way one does in a regular company situation. I was shocked this year that one of my clients gave me a bonus. I’d grown the profile of the company in a way that was appreciated.

I’m big on cards. I send physical cards to anyone with whom I’ve dealt in the last three years for whom I have an address. I send e-cards only when I don’t have a physical address.

Depending on the relationship, I’ve sent small gifts as well as cards to my agent, my lawyer, my editor, my book designer, my copy editor, etc. Those are small gifts that show I know a little about them, and it’s something specific to their interests. Cards, too, but often small gifts. If I don’t have a close relationship, or rarely talk to the editor or whomever, then it’s just a card. But when it’s a relationship where we are in contact several times a week, it’s a gift. Nothing elaborate, but something individual and sincere.

For neighbors, local clients, and people I deal with regularly — the firemen, the library, the transfer station, my mom’s doctor, non-profits with whom I work, etc. — I prepare and deliver one of my infamous cookie platters. I talk about the cookie platters on Ink in My Coffee in this week’s Upbeat Authors post here.

The 80’s and 90’s were full of more elaborate gifts. And, in theatre, the actors I dressed and I exchanged personal gifts (in addition to Secret Santa, et al) and anyone else on the show with whom I was particularly close did, too.

My gift to my newsletter subscribers is usually a new holiday story. In following years, it may be reworked and then released, but I try to come up with something fresh and fun for them each holiday season.

If I know someone is passionate about a particular cause or charity, I’ll donate to that, in the person’s name.

Books
As a writer, I’m also a reader. I love to give books as gifts.

I’m uncomfortable giving my own books as gifts. I try to introduce friends and family to new authors I like in the genre they like to read.

Where appropriate, I also give books to work colleagues.

If you have writers in your life, I have a post up on A Biblio Paradise with suggestions for gifts for writers; an upcoming post will also be a list of books I love to give.

Greetings and the Faux “War on Christmas”
If I know which holiday or holidays someone celebrates, I greet them with their holiday. If I don’t know, I with them “Happy Holidays.”

“Happy Holidays” is not an insult. It is an inclusion.

I had a client, a few weeks back, start screaming, “it’s Christmas! It’s Christmas!”

I looked at her and responded, in that calm, reasonable tone guaranteed to annoy, “I start my celebrations on October 31 and go straight through until January 6. There are a lot of holidays in there. I celebrate holidays.”

She shut up.

There is no “war on Christmas.” That’s a marketing term by those who want this to be a theocracy. What they are doing instead is to wage war on inclusion.

Not going to let your narrow definition of the holiday destroy my joy in celebrating the holi-DAYS.

When I lived in NYC, just off Times Square (I could see the ball come down from my window), our entire floor used to put up a display that included Winter Solstice, Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa. We had potlucks and cocktails and enjoyed each other’s joy all season.

The Corporate Holiday Party/Blaming Women
There’s a lot of huffing and puffing this year that companies have cancelled their holiday parties because of the #MeToo movement. They claim they’re worried about lawsuits.

I call bullshit.

First of all, this is an excuse for them to save money. Instead of spending money putting on a nice event for the people who actually do the work, they can hand a check to executives who sit on their asses all day while their assistants to the work.

It’s about money.

Second, it’s a way to reinforce the “blame the woman” cliché. Women are blamed when men prey upon them, harass them, or attack them. They wore the wrong clothes, they said the wrong thing. They smiled or didn’t smile. They were breathing.

It’s a way to blame women for “ruining the fun.” It’s a way to say, “We can’t have fun because you’re too sensitive and can’t take a joke.” Because, hey, there can’t possibly be a party with laughter and alcohol and witty conversation if there’s no groping or hasty sex in a closet involved.

What an insult. Not just to women, but to men.

Hey, corporations, how about not hiring sexual predators and harassers? How about working on changing your culture, instead of the nudge-nudge, wink-wink and then telling women they have to “deal with it”?

When I was in college, I worked as a temp for a lot of companies. One of them was a large company, now defunct. The male executives would go out to lunch every day and come back drunk, and start groping the women who worked there. I wasn’t having it.

I complained to their HR department, and was told, “they’re just being boys.”

Most of them were middle-aged men, married, and should know better.

I complained to the temp agency and was told I had to “deal with it, because it’s important to keep the client happy.”

The next day, I slugged the man harassing me, walked out, and quit that temp agency.

I have no regrets.

By the way, that temp agency no longer exists, either.

We’ve forgotten how to flirt. We need to take lessons from some of the Europeans, especially the French. Flirting isn’t about scoring later that night (necessarily). It’s about acknowledging and appreciating the attractive qualities in the person with whom you’re interacting, without pressure.

We can be witty and gracious and friendly and charming without being aggressive. We can enjoy each other’s company — even over drinks — without demanding the Big Finish.

We can appreciate each other as people.

The best holiday parties support that. You get to talk to people you don’t normally see often, and can have actual conversations. It’s not venting about work. It’s about appreciating your co-workers as unique and interesting people.

That is how we take back the holiday party.

Your company’s not throwing one this year? Host a potluck, invite your co-workers, and to hell with the corporate crap.

When In Doubt, Create What You Crave
Holidays can be stressful because they come with expectations.

Instead of letting others dictate how you feel during this time, decide how you WANT to feel.

Integrate your favorite traditions of past years with new traditions that evolve, and that make you and those around you happy.

If someone derides what you’re doing, listen. Are they in pain? Do they need or want to be included? Or do they just not want to participate? Do they want to force you into bending to what they want? Don’t force participation, don’t be forced into doing something you don’t want to do, but leave room for those around you to be included, as they want or need to be.

This ties in to another post I wrote for Upbeat Authors a few months ago, about conferences. About being the one who notices the wallflower, the shy one, the scared one, and offers a smile, and says, “Pull up a chair.”

Especially at this time of year, it matters.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Word Choice Matters — and Has Power

I had an interesting conversation with a client the other day. She shared that she parted ways with her previous marketing/social media person because that individual did not work with her to communicate the client’s message effectively.

Ms. Marketing Pro came in with the attitude that she knew everything and the client knew nothing. She set up a series of social media channels, used marketing buzzwords, spread identical content on all the channels, but didn’t communicate the message or the product that my client sells. When my client wanted a particular type of promotion set up, or a particular message communicated, she was told that she didn’t know what she was doing, and to leave it to the professionals.

My client was paying; the business did not grow. They parted ways.

When I started working with her last year, I tweaked the message for each content platform, aiming to use the strength and identity of each platform to its best reach. In one month, I expanded the social media reach by 86%, resulting in a 26% sales bump.

I know, as a consumer, there are certain buzzwords that turn me off. If I see something listed as a “boot camp” or a “hack” — no, thanks. I’m not interested in that. Nor do I promote my own work using those phrases. At this point, they are overused and meaningless. Plus, the choice of those terms does not effectively communicate what I want to say to people. It doesn’t give them any information about what makes my work unique.

Also, if a business has marketing materials out there that show a lack of discernment between possessive/plural/contraction, as a potential customer, I assume they’re too stupid to be worth my money, and I go somewhere else.

No, I don’t approach them and tell them their materials are full of errors and they should hire me. That would guarantee they wouldn’t. But when I meet them at a networking event, I give them my card and say, “If you’re looking to freshen up your marketing at any point, I’d like to work with you.”

As a marketing person, I have an arsenal of tools I use to spread a message, that includes web content, media kits, blogging, social media content, press releases, ad creation on multiple channels, PSAs or radio spots as appropriate, pitching articles to the media, and, again, if appropriate, event scripting or video scripting.

Not every client wants or needs all these tools.

I offer them, but I don’t tell them they “have” to use them. We work together to find the best tools to communicate the message.

One of the most important thing I can do, as a marketing person, is genuinely listen when they tell me about their business, why they’re passionate about it, and what it means to them.

By listening and getting to know who they are AS WELL AS what they want, I can help them craft their story, their message, and expand their reach in a way that is unique to their business. Sometimes that does what I call “drawing the ear” — which, to me, is as important as drawing the eye.

Sure, you want strong visuals, and you need to work with a great graphic designer.

But you also need to choose the right words to communicate your message in a way that engages rather than attacks.

When someone hard sells at me, when I feel attacked or as though my space is invaded — be it physically or emotionally — I shut down. If I’m really uncomfortable, I fight back. What I don’t do is spend money with someone who makes me feel bad.

It’s often the same societal structures that cause problems when they are transformed into sales pitches. For the women reading this, how often has a male salesperson used the tactic of invading your personal space, of patronizing you, of treating you as though you should “listen to the man” in order to part you from your money? Or how often has a female salesperson used negative language to make you feel bad about something personal, and tried to convince you that only by listening to her and buying the product, can you feel better and will you change others’ negative perceptions of you (which exist in her mind, and which she tries to plant in your mind).

At this point in my life, when someone is aggressive towards me, I push back. Hard, without filters. As a potential customer, I tell them exactly why I’m not buying what they’re selling.

As a marketing person trying to shape the message, I do my best to:

–listen to the client
–offer suggestions to shape the message for different platforms
–communicate the message in a way for a positive reception by the target audience
–offer options and a variety of strategies, so if one thing doesn’t bring return, we have something else ready to launch

That means choosing words with care.

Just because a marketing Pooh-bah says this is “the” way to present something doesn’t mean it is.

Wanting to cast a wide net doesn’t mean use bland language. If anything, you need to be more specific in word choices.

You want to create a positive, sensory response. So choose words to evoke positive sensations.

Sight, sound, taste, touch, smell.

The five senses evoke emotions.

What kind of emotions do you want to evoke in your audience?

Taste and smell are closely related, as are sight and touch (or texture).

Use active language — verbs rather than adverbs, and avoid passive or past perfect as much as possible. “have been eating” is weaker than “eat” or “ate.”

Use specific adjectives and avoid overused tropes. If someone tells me it’s a “bold” wine, it means little to me, other than I expect a vinegary aftertaste. If they tell me it’s a “deep red with plum, cherry, and chocolate tones” — now I have sight, texture, taste, and scent cues. Not only that, but I expect a deeper sound when it pours into the glass.

My favorite medium is radio. One of the reasons I love to work on radio dramas or radio spots is that I choose specific sounds to drive the story and character. I love that challenge because the more specific I am, the better I communicate with the audience.

Individuals will receive the specifics within their own frame of reference. You won’t please everyone. An individual may have a negative association with a specific detail you and your client choose.

In my experience, I’ve found that those are rare, and more people will respond positively to compelling sensory detail than to vague marketspeak. Overused marketing terms always makes me feel like the seller is trying to get my money for snake oil, and I’d rather put my money elsewhere.

More and more people are practicing conscientious consumerism, choosing where and how they shop to align with their values. I think that’s great. I want people who align their wallets and their ethics to connect with my clients.

Here’s an exercise for anyone who reads this to try, be they a marketing person, a business owner, a consumer: For one week, only speak and write in specifics. Remove vague language from all your interactions. Keep track of it.

You will notice a remarkable difference in the level of communication.

What are your favorite ways to choose the best language when you work with clients, or as you communicate your business?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Artists Are Expected To Settle For Less — And Shouldn’t

As a published author, I’m getting a little tired of getting pitched to by marketing organizations that want me to hand over a bunch of moolah, but refuse to commit to results.

I understand the value of getting one’s name out in front of as many people as possible for name recognition and business growth. That’s part of how I earn my living.

I work with other businesses to communicate their message effectively and grow their business. They expect me to grow their name recognition. To get their name and their product in front of those who will actually open their wallets and buy it. They expect – and demand – that the work I do – the work for which they PAY me — results in more sales.

If it doesn’t, within a reasonable amount of time, that client will end our business relationship and hire someone else who gets him a better return.

Why are authors and other artists told they must expect any different?

Almost every author/artist promotional service has a disclaimer that they can’t guarantee sales. Why not? Other businesses expect a return on their investment. Why shouldn’t artists?

They should. We should. We need to stop settling for less.

When I hire someone else to promote my book, I expect it to result in sales. Otherwise, there is no point in hiring that firm. I can do it myself.

If it does NOT result in sales, then I’ve put my money in the wrong place, and it’s time to try something else.

The way any reputable business owner does.

Because, as an artist, I AM a small business.

We need to stop settling for a lower return than any other business because we’re artists. We need to stop ALLOWING others to treat us as second-class individuals. We need to start acting like smart business people, so that we will be treated as such.

Part of that is expecting a reasonable return on the investment.

So what is a reasonable return? At the very least, I want to make back what I spent on the promotion, plus 20%. Which is a low, but that’s my personal threshold for feeling like a campaign was worth the money spent. When it goes above that, I’m delighted.

Then I see how I can build on that for the next campaign.

Plenty of people will wail that one “can’t” expect a return on art/novels/etc. The demand I’m making here will anger a lot of marketing people.

Why can’t we expect a result for money spent? Movie studios do. Television content providers do. Fine artists do. Commercial theatre productions do or they have short runs. Traditional publishing houses do, too.

Because the artist is dropped from the contract if the artist’s work does not sell.

Now, more and more artists are forced to hire their own marketing for their work. If my publisher tells me I have to get X amount of sales or I won’t get future contracts, and I’m required to hire my own marketing firm, then, yes, I expect that firm to be savvy enough in the kind of marketing I need in order to deliver the results FOR WHICH THEY ARE PAID. If my publisher paid them directly, or had an in-house marketing team do the work, the same expectations would hold. Lack of results means the business relationship ends.

So we need to stop thinking that we don’t “deserve” results simply because we are not a corporation. We are a small business, and we deserve the same results when we hire in a service as any other business does.

I’m done settling for less.

(Note: This has been a tough time, especially for progressive women. I joked on social media that this year’s Nano needs to have a “Women’s Rage” forum. Instead of that, I’m starting a private virtual group to develop creative work in multiple disciplines called Women Write Change. Stay tuned here, on Ink in My Coffee  and the main Devon Ellington site  for more information. It’ll take me a few days to set up, and then I’ll have an address where interested parties can request invitation).