Creating Your Artist/Vision Statement

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One of my favorite parts of the business is working with creatives across disciplines honing their artist or vision statements. It gives me a chance to experience their passion for their work, and help them shape it into an active, engaging piece that can be used in grant applications, cover letters, on websites, in bios, in media kits, and more.

How do you get there? Especially if your interests and work have a wide range?

Play.

That’s right. Remember the kind of fun you had as a child, playing, without pressure to do or be anything specific.

Remember what excites you about your work. What makes you passionate about.

Write, or make a collage, or draw, or take a walk and mutter to yourself.

Remember the wonderful projects you worked on in the past, and what appealed to you about them.

Think ahead, to the kind of work you see in your future, what drives you there, what electrifies and astonishes you about it.

Is there a thread, a theme, that runs through it?

Much of my work is built around themes of loyalty to loved ones, breaking out of conformity/expectation boxes, and creating family, by choice as much as blood. The most exciting projects I worked on (even if I wasn’t a creator) have also contained those themes. It’s the type of work I’m drawn to when it’s created by others, and those are themes that keep coming up in my own work, in different ways.

Working on a theatre production is creating a family of choice, even for a limited time, and that’s where I spent the bulk of my professional career.

Once you recognize your themes, threads, and what stimulates you, look for active words to describe them.

The key here is “active.”

Avoid, or edit out passive. Phrases like “had been done” and “was hoping to achieve” derail you. You “did” and you “achieved.”

Keep your sentences short, active, and full of life.

Instead of using adverbs, use verbs, nouns, and adjectives.

The reader should experience your excitement with you as they’re reading. They should feel like you are in the room with them, in conversation. The words you choose vibrate with energy.

Keep the ego out, but the action in. Show, in active terms, what you’ve done and what you dream, while keeping out the narcissism.

Remember, too, that your artist/vision statement is a living part of you and your work. It grows and changes, as you do. It’s a roadmap, not a prison.

Revisit it often. Update, shape, hone. Reveal your love, show your soul.

Play.

The creativity you use in your statement both supports and informs the creativity in your work.

Research Time IS Work Time

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A potential client discovered me via LinkedIn, and contacted me about a project. They wanted me to write a white paper-ish document. I use “ish” because it didn’t truly fit the definition of white paper, but was similar. It was in a field out of my usual wheelhouse, but a topic in which I was interested and could get up to speed quickly.

They had no interest in a per-project rate for this; they wanted to pay per word.

I rarely do a per-word rate anymore; per project makes much more sense for both the customer and for me. When they quoted me the per word rate, it was considerably lower than what I use.

I told them that the per-word rate was below my usual rate.

Them: It’s non-negotiable.

I already figured out I wasn’t going to do this gig, but I wanted to get more information, just to either prove or disprove my growing suspicions.

I asked them how much of the research they would provide, how much I would provide, and what sources or references they would point me toward. Some of the information/sites I knew were behind pay walls. What was the budget for that? From the creative brief, it would take somewhere between 12-20 hours of research, along with interviews and fact-checking, to complete the project, if I had to start from scratch.

The answer: None. I was expected to handle all the research.

I then explained that it made more sense to use a project rate quote than a per word quote.

The response: “We don’t pay for research time. We only pay by the word.”

Me: I’m not paid for research?

Them: We don’t pay for research.

Me: Are you willing to provide the research?

Them: No. You’re responsible for the research and fact-checking.

Me: But you don’t pay for research?

Them: That’s correct. We only pay for the words written.

Me: I’m not the right fit for the project.

Them: We don’t negotiate rates.

Me: I understand. And I am not the right fit for this project. Thank you for thinking of me. Goodbye.

Had I accepted this project, I would have worked for less than half of my per-word rate AND put in 12-20 hours of unpaid research. AND paid for anything that was behind pay walls.

In other words, it would cost me money to work for them.

Research time is work time. Finding trustworthy sources, hunting through archives, taking notes, making sure one has the references correct, fact-checking. All of that takes time, and that time is worth money.

Even if a client provides research, one still has to read it and, in some cases, fact-check.

That takes time.

That time consists of billable hours.

Project quotes make more sense for a piece such as this. You can look at the creative brief, figure out how long any research/reading/fact-checking is likely to take, figure in a decent rate for writing the article, and come up with something that works for both of you.

If the potential client’s budget can’t encompass your project quote, you can negotiate scaling down the scope to fit into the budget, or you can refuse the project.

“We don’t pay for research time” is a huge red flag. It means the potential client expects free labor as part of the contract, and is a good indication of future scope creep without compensation.

Value your time. Charge appropriately.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Words Matter, Especially in Scope and Job Descriptions

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When you’re a freelancer and generate project contracts, it’s important to put in the scope and parameters of a project to limit “scope creep” – where the client expands the project, but doesn’t pay you for additional work, time, and expertise.

In early meetings:

— Discuss the scope;

–Make sure you have ONE person with whom you’re dealing on the project (not working by committee);

— Make sure it’s clear how many revisions are included in the initial quote, and how much overruns will cost;

–Set a schedule, including when the client has to have material back to you with comments for revisions or the next stage of the project;

— Put in a clause about late fees;

–Put in a clause about change of direction or additional work being billed at X dollars per hour;

–Ask for a deposit up front, and the balance paid within a specified time after you turn in the project. If it’s a long project, have regular payments over the term of the project.

There’s negotiation, that’s part of it. The first draft of any contract is the STARTING point of negotiation. If you originate the contract, expect negotiation. That’s good business. Know how far back you’re willing to negotiate BEFORE you send over the contract. When you are offered a contract, read it over, and negotiate. If the other side demands you sign a boilerplate, and says, “We don’t negotiate contracts” – walk away. They are not an ethical company.

Once you’ve negotiated the contract, WHEN the client starts the scope creep, the additional fees are already in writing and signed.

However, more and more companies are putting up listings for short-term projects, and it’s necessary the analyze them the way one analyzes a real estate listing. All those jokes about how landlords get away with sub-par rentals by using pretty words? True for per-project or short-term calls.

For instance, let’s take a look at listings for “content strategist” or “marketing strategist.” The dictionary defines “strategist” as “a person skilled in planning action or policy, especially in war or politics.”

PLANNING.

If the employer/recruiter used words to their true meaning, the “strategist” would come up with the plan, which would then be implemented by the staff.

But that’s not what the job entails.

Most of these “strategist” listings say the most important element is strong writing skills. But then, BUT THEN, they also want the strategist to have design skills, such as Photoshop or InDesign.

Say what?

That’s right. They’re calling it a “strategist.” In actuality, instead of hiring a team comprised of a terrific copywriter and a terrific graphic designer, they want to save money and only hire one person.

Scroll down further. Look at the rate – when they even bother to list it. I think it should be a law that no description can be listed without the payment – none of this “based on experience” or not listed. State what you’re offering.

Find the rate yet? Rub your eyes, and look again. It’s not a dream. It really is that low.

The company wants ONE person to do TWO skilled jobs, but is paying less than EITHER job should be paid, and calling it a “strategist.”

Someone who is good at planning and policy would laugh in their face and walk away.

Words matter. Read ALL the words in your contract or your job description, understand them, and negotiate.

It will save you a lot of pain down the road.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Tidying Up

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It’s often the end of the year that finds us tidying things up so that we are ready to start fresh. That includes email boxes, files, websites, portfolios, and the like.

Keeping our professional files up to date is a bit like housecleaning. It needs regular attention, the same way we need to dust, vacuum, do dishes, handle the laundry, and clean the bathrooms.

Part of the professional tidying-up is more than keeping track of what we’d done over the past few months; it’s about deciding where we want to go.

Look at your portfolio samples. Do you need to swap out older pieces for newer ones? Or do you have pieces that are older, but are more in line with the type of work you’re currently pitching, and it makes sense to put them back in?

Look at your bio information, your “about” page, profiles on various websites and social media handles. Does anything need to be updated? Do your blog sites or websites need freshening up, with a new template or a redesign?

Do you choose to use photos? If so, does it need an update?

I firmly believe that what I look like has nothing to do with the quality of my work. My work is public, my life is private. It’s not salacious or controversial, but it is MINE, and I get to choose which aspects I share, how I share them, and with whom. Also, because I publish under multiple names AND work as a ghostwriter, I use icons in place of photographs. The whole “oh, but it makes it more PERSONAL, so I know who I’m dealing with” is, in my mind, a crock. All you need to know is the quality of the WORK. If we decide to interact on a personal level, that’s apart from the work.

Also, that reasoning is usually thrown around by people who’ve never had to deal with stalkers. Forcing someone to use a photo on a public site could be a death sentence. If a person chooses not to be a public figure, they have the right not to have their photos splashed all over unless they are actively trying to harm someone else.

As you do your tidying up, consider:

–What kind of work do I want to do in the coming months?

–What new skills do I want to learn?

–Where can I stretch and find new, interesting developments?

–How do I want to integrate what I’ve learned in the past few months?

–What do I want to remove from the roster, whether it’s temporary or permanent, to make room?

Remember that these decisions can and will change as your career grows and changes. That’s positive. Make the decision that serves you best for this next cycle, and then reassess, and make new decisions for the one after that.

You’ll know when it’s time for change.

Listen to your intuition. Intuition, at its best, combines facts, potential, and the inner knowing of what is best for you. It combines the integrated information between your head, your heart, and your gut.

What kind of tidying up are you doing in the next few weeks?

Does Everything Have to Be a “Call to Action” or an Advertorial?

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This is not a rhetorical question. I’m genuinely asking what you, as freelancers, businesses, and consumers feel about this.

Why do I ask? Because I’m tired of every piece of whatever I’m reading lately making a demand.

We’re in a pandemic.

Sometimes, I want to read something and, you know, get INFORMATION.

Instead of reading information, but being told that if I want the REST of the information, I need to buy another book/product/article/whatever in order to get it.

In other words, instead of the author of the nonfiction writing/marketing/wellness/business/whatever book giving me the information promised in the title and the blurb and the marketing materials, I get a portion of the information and have to buy another book or product, because it only does a portion of what was promised.

You know what? That makes me angry.

It ranks right up there with those webinars and “courses” that promise to teach you something, but are actually elongated commercials to buy something from the presenter.

If it’s a course, TEACH ME something (other than I was a fool to sign up for it, and now you have my email and send me marketing crap every day).

If it’s a book that’s supposed to provide information, provide it.

When I like the writing and feel that I’ve gotten something out of the book/course/newsletter/whatever, then I will continue to the back of the book and look for information on other materials or products by the author.

Because I’ve had a full meal in the author’s restaurant of ideas, and now I want to be a regular.

The craft and the skills of the author, the actual content of the material are what encourages me to buy more. NOT a promise that what I really want will be in the NEXT thing I buy, that then only gives me part of something to lead me to the NEXT book and so on.

When I want to read a series, I turn to fiction, and I like it when each book is part of a bigger arc, yet stands on its own. For non-fiction, I expect it to deliver on its promises.

When there’s an advertorial in the midst of the text, I am turned off. Maybe I’ll finish the book. Maybe I’ll put it down right there with the thought that all the author wants from me is my money, and it’s becoming an unbalanced transaction, because I’m not getting worth out of the money and time I’ve already put in.

Not only that, I stop trusting the author or the company. If the only intent of this piece is to get me to buy more, and not even pretend to give me value for money, why would I keep putting my money here? And how can I trust what is said, when its only purpose is to get more money out of me?

Hmm, maybe it IS teaching me something – not to spend any more money on this individual’s work or this business’s product.

Yes, I’ve been to all those seminars and chats where the marketing “guru” insists that EVERY web page, every newsletter, every transaction needs a “call to action” to convert potential audience into actual audience into customers.

I’m HIRED to get a lot of those conversions.

But we’re in a pandemic, people, and the way we market needs to change. Hundreds of thousands of people are sick, grieving, unemployed, hungry, possibly losing their homes.

When all we are is predatory, we DESERVE to have them turn away, and we DESERVE to lose them permanently, even when things start to even out three to five years or so down the line (and that’s if we get the sane one elected next week).

When every interaction is ONLY about getting more money out of me, and about nagging me for it, I back off. I walk away. I cross that author/business/person off my list. I don’t like to be nagged.

I like to be invited. I like to be encouraged. I like to be seduced.

Not forced.

Not screamed at.

Yes, businesses have to work harder to stay alive. But remember that PEOPLE are working harder to stay alive.

As you craft these strategies, look at it from the other side of the equation. If someone came at you with the techniques you are using, would you engage? Or would you slap it down and walk away?

I am disengaging with more and more businesses during this pandemic because of the nagging and the screaming and the constant “me, me, me” from them instead of an approach of, “you know what? It all sucks right now. How about taking a breath and taking a look at this for a little distraction?”

Not the “I’m so glad you’re here and thanks for your money and yes, I’m talking about x, but if you want the y and the z I promised in my marketing materials, here’s the link to buy some more.”

Deliver on your teasers.

Invite and engage me.

Cut the nagging.

Don’t demand I DO MORE every time we interact. Sometimes I just want to read something complete to fully enjoy it. Then I want to go away and think about it for a bit. Then, I will come back and buy more.

If you demand an instant response to your “call to action” you are telling me that you believe I am such a moron that I can’t hold a thought in my head for more than 15 seconds, and if I don’t do what you demand in this second, I won’t remember you.

I’ll remember you just fine.

But I won’t return.

How do you feel about incessant “calls for action”, advertorials within text, and daily nagging emails demanding purchase?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Don’t Treat Your Email List Like They’re Idiots

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How I respond as a consumer/recipient often informs how I advise clients in their marketing campaigns. Of course, I do research and use data. But if I find something repugnant, chances are a large portion of their audience will, too.

Email lists are a wonderful marketing tool – when you treat the recipients with joy and respect. But more and more email blasts do just the opposite.

Using the Same Subject Line With Different Attributions – Every Day

This has been one of the fails in a lot of the political fundraising emails in this cycle. Saying “I want to meet you (name) and then pretending it’s come from a celebrity who is part of a fundraiser.

First of all, I worked with actors for decades. I’ve met and worked and enjoyed creating with many of them. The ones with whom I stayed in touch know how reach me legitimately. I don’t swoon for celebrity. Second, as someone who has written some of these fundraising emails, I know the celebrity didn’t write the email, so pretending to personalize it like that is simply insulting.

Third, and most importantly of all – don’t send the same subject line and place different celebrity names on it. Not only does it make you look like trash, it insults me and suggests you think I’m such an idiot I won’t notice.

“I Don’t See Your Name Here”

There’s a quick way to make sure I delete the email without reading it and unsubscribe.

If you “don’t see my name” for whatever it is (a retreat, a conference, a petition, whatever), it’s because I CHOSE NOT to be a part of it.

Emailing me daily that you “don’t see my name here” is nagging me. I have enough on my plate without being nagged.

Buh-bye.

Bullying

Bullying tactics don’t work on me. I deal with bullies in real life by pounding back at them. If I’ve joined your email list and you try to bully me into doing something, I’m gone. You’ve lost me from whatever product or cause – permanently.

It’s a pandemic, asshole. We all have far too much to deal with every day just to survive.

Bullying tactics will do the opposite of engaging me and making me spend money or do whatever it is you’re trying to get me to do.

Emailing Too Often

Don’t email me every day, unless it’s a daily news whatever and that’s what I asked to be on. If you email me every day trying to sell me something, even if I’ve been a regular customer, chances are good I will both unsubscribe from your list and stop buying your product.

Product emails? No more than once a week. I prefer once a month.

Information emails? Once a week, unless there’s some daily blast I’ve requested for a weird reason. If you’re sending me an information email, make sure it’s actual INFORMATION and not just an advertorial. I write both; I know the difference.

Constant Upsell

Yeah, I’ve been to those workshops and webinars, where they tell you that EVERYTHING needs to have a Call To Action attached.

I disagree.

I prefer to be invited to experience more. When it’s an invitation instead of a demand, I’ll pay for it.

When it’s just “buy, buy, buy” it’s time for me to say “Bye bye.”

Email and online marketing has become even more important during the pandemic. But the smell of desperation is a way to turn away your audience instead of to grow them, and treating them like their idiots is not the way to build customer loyalty or interest.

Invite, engage, entice.

Seduce.

Don’t batter.

What email marketing techniques are driving you nuts lately?

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?

image courtesy of Drigo Diniz viz pexels.com

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

image courtesy of stockphotos via pixabay.com

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.