Expand Your Definition of “Freelance”

image courtesy of Larisa Koshkina via pixabay.com

I am coming out of a period of frustration with writerly “factions” who put blinders on and can’t see beyond the scope of their own jobs. Even other freelancers.

There’s the copy/content writing freelancer faction that looks at what they do as the only “professional” writing, and work pretty much along corporate lines, although with a looser structure to suit their goals and lives. They don’t take fiction/scriptwriting seriously and don’t believe anyone THEY KNOW could possibly making a living at it; ergo , it’s a “hobby” or a “side hustle.”

There’s the contingent of fiction writers who look at copy/content/business writing as sell-out hack work (forgetting that those hacks who work for the publishers are a good part of the reason their books sell at all). They consider their own writing and that of writers on the same tier as they are as the only “real writing” and are condescending to other writers. Yet even those traditionally published writers on large contracts too often forget that they, too, are freelancers. Their publishers aren’t offering them health insurance and 401k benefits and vacation time, and their publishers can fire them by not contracting more books.

There are plenty of writers in each category who don’t do this, and aren’t condescending to anyone, realizing that we’re all doing the best we can, no one knows what the hell we’re doing, and we all make it up as we go along. We do the best we can to support each other on creative, emotional, and financial levels. We build genuine community.

But, sadly, those faction writers are often the ones we cross paths with, especially on social media. Some are loud and bullying; others are more quietly subversive, finding cracks in one’s exhaustion or esteem to then exploit to make the person they are “advising” feel even worse, and to make themselves more powerful.

As someone who moves between all kinds of writing, I have little patience with those who don’t take any portion of my work seriously. If I write words for anything and get paid for them, I am making my living writing. Writing IS my day job. Writing is my vocation as well as my passion. ALL kinds of writing, not just what some self-important faction deems as “real” writing.

Broaden out your perspective. Broadway? Television shows? Everyone working on them, except for the top executives, is basically a freelancer. Even though, while we work on a stage or film/tv production, we are on a W-2, and paying into health care, benefits, and the rest. Because a Broadway show can close at any time. A television show can get cancelled in the blink of an eye. The film production will finish, and then you’re out there looking for work. This is true for actors and production crew and designers and directors and writers and all the other positions involved in getting you entertainment.

Entertainment work is transient and short term. Okay, except for Mariska Hargitay and those working for 24 seasons on LAW & ORDER SVU. But even that show will someday end.  And she’ll be in a position to choose what she wants to do next. I mean, look, PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is closing on Broadway after 34 years.

There’s no such thing as job security in the entertainment industry.

Of course, there’s no such thing as job security in ANY industry anymore. It’s been obvious for a good many years now, and the pandemic really brought that home when employers were happy to cut lose employees, only to try and hire them back later at lower wages. At first, it looked like it wasn’t working, so corporations, in spite of record profits, are now trying to manufacture a recession in order to force people back into substandard wages. Hopefully, enough people won’t give in.

Artists are freelancers. They are commissioned by project, or by gallery show. Adjunct professors are basically freelancers, having to worry if their academic institution will hire them back. Any state that allows “at will” employment means their employees have no security. It’s not about how well the employee does the job; it’s about corporate whims.

We all need periods of time when we sink into our work routines, know there’s X amount of money coming in, and have at least a few months where we’re not worried from paycheck to paycheck, and try to build some decent savings.

But don’t forget that even the most seemingly secure job can be transient. Companies are sold, change management, go under. An illness or other life change can affect your ability to do your job the way you did before, and the company may choose to cut you loose rather than to make accommodations.

If you’re in a job where you feel secure, bask in it, at least for a little while.

But keep your resume up to date, stay in touch with friends and colleagues from previous jobs, and keep expanding your network. Put what you can aside for the future (many can’t; with wages stagnant, many of us barely make expenses each month, no matter how many coffees we forgo – which is, by the way, a condescending and insulting metric). Be open to new opportunities. If you are happy where you are, you can always say no to switching jobs. But it’s also rewarding to be considered and invited into new opportunities.

This ebbs and flows. Sometimes we’re too tired to make much effort. But putting aside an hour or two every month to connect or reconnect with people will enrich your life (because most people are interesting, if you just give them a chance), and position you for work opportunities.

At the end of the day, no matter how secure we think we are, we are really all freelancers. Especially in a society where a political faction is determined to destroy any safety nets.

Plan accordingly.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Content Calendar Tips

image courtesy of Myraims-Fotos via Pixabay.com

Welcome back! I hope you had a lovely summer. Taking regular breaks from content creation (not just creating extra content ahead of time and scheduling to post) is something I find alleviates burnout.

I’ve created and uploaded content for client content calendars for all kinds of projects in my freelance career. But creating and doing them for my own projects this past summer was a revelation.

I had two large projects (each with multiple moving parts) that went live this summer, and I learned a lot about what I, as an individual artist who is also a small business, needs from a content calendar. I’m sharing what I learned, in the hopes that it will help you.

The two big projects I had were the re-released of updated editions of The Topic Workbooks and the launch of my mystery/fantasy/comedy serial LEGERDEMAIN. Both intersected at the end of July into August, and need steady promotion for as long as I can imagine.

The Topic Workbooks consist of seven workbooks, built around writing classes I’ve taught/continue to teach, both in person and online. Six of the workbooks were updated editions, integrating new technology, information, and changes in the industry.  Those were: THE SERIES BIBLE, SETTING UP YOUR SUBMISSION SYSTEM, THE GRAVEYARD OF ABANDONED PROJECTS, THE COMPLEX ANTAGONIST, ORGANIZE YOUR WRITING LIFE, and CREATIVE STIMULUS. The seventh workbook was for the class I taught at the beginning of August for the Cape Cod Writers Center Conference, and that was DEVELOPING THE SERIES (for novels, not screen). The workbooks initially re-released over three weeks, and then the promotion continued.

The serial, LEGERDEMAIN, started on Kindle Vella as of July 28, with episodes dropping every Tuesday and Thursday for as long as it’s viable. The initial vision contains three large story arcs. The first story arc is uploaded and scheduled, and runs 41 episodes. The next two will run between 30-40 episodes each. I know it takes several months to gain traction on Vella, unless one comes in with an already huge audience, so those ads had to be geared toward both short and long-term visions. The first three episodes are (and remain) free. The other episodes are read via the purchase of tokens.

The Topic Workbooks are non-fiction, geared toward writers and artists. They’re geared toward writers, but artists in other disciplines have also found them useful. The serial is fiction, geared to a genre audience who loves serials (most important), mystery, fantasy, and likes some odd humor sprinkled in.

Both campaigns had to launch, and then run, simultaneously.

I spent some time in the summer, while off from writing this blog, playing with online scheduling tools. I mixed, matched, and did comparisons of several. None of them fulfilled my needs, integrated the way I need them to, or could handle the fact that, as a freelance juggling multiple projects, things change ALL THE TIME.

So I went back to trusty old paper.

Content Vision

The first thing I had to do was to have a vision for the way I wanted to promote each project. The Topic Workbooks are pretty straightforward. They are consistent. These editions are updated and published, with fresh covers. I keep them priced low, so that they’re budget-friendly, and they’ve always made up in volume what they lack in high prices for individual workbooks. Distinctive ads in a similar style with blurbs and buy links would do the trick. Consistent promotion, albeit changing up the type of promotion, makes the most sense. The Topic Workbooks have their own page on the flagship DevonEllingtonWork site, so links can take interested viewers back to that page on the site, and then the individual buy links for the buyer’s device is readily available, including library sites.

The serial is a little more complicated. Two episodes drop per week. That means each episode needs an individual ad that’s a hook for that specific episode. It also needs more general ads as a draw to the series in general. Also, the hooks can’t give too much away, or someone could just follow the episode ads and feel like they don’t need to read the series. While there’s mention of the serial on the main DevonEllingtonWork site, there’s enough material, and enough tertiary material to build its own subdomain site for Legerdemain. (Note: this site has some content up, but is still under construction at the time of this posting, and has not been widely promoted).

Because of Amazon’s strict rule that content can’t be anywhere other than on their site (and they won’t even let me link the website to the serial), I had to figure out a  workaround of additional fun content that didn’t break the Kindle Vella laws, gave readers who follow the serial some fun additional content, and gave potential readers a taste of tone to drive them to start reading.

The Topic Workbook content is fairly static, and will be changed as individual workbooks are updated every few years, and as new workbooks are added (because you didn’t think I was done, did you? I mean, this is me we’re talking about). There’s also a Media Kit in progress, which will go up on both the Workbook page, and in the site’s Media Room.

LEGERDEMAIN’s content will grow as long as the serial grows.

Someday, LEGERDEMAIN will stop being a serial, have to take a breath when it comes off Kindle Vella (I’m thinking at least 3-5 years down the road), and then become something else. The website will be able to support whatever it turns into. Again, that content is created with a vision toward both short and long term.

Frequency

How often to post?

At the launch of each Topic Workbook, I decided to do an intense 13-day campaign of one to two ads per day across social media. After the initial 13-days, I would run one ad per workbook per week. That took me through the end of September. Now that it is September, I am looking at the workbooks and deciding what the vision is for promotion October – December.

Series Bible Ad
Setting Up Your Submissions System Ad

With LEGERDEMAIN, each pair of episodes gets an intense campaign during their week, until the next week’s episodes drop. For August and September, I then run day-long weekend campaigns with all episodes to date. On top of that, I pop some general ads in there. Again, in October, I’m changing it up a little, for the overall series, while keeping the intense focus on the ads for episodes as they go live.

Example of an episode-specific ad for LEGERDEMAIN
Ecample of a general ad for LEGERDEMAIN
Example of a general ad for LEGERDEMAIN

I vary the hours for both the workbooks and the serial ads, because I want to take a look at the metrics and then see what works well where.

When I created content for a clothing designer, I scheduled the daily content to post at noon each day, because people were looking at social media during their lunch hour or just before/after, and that got the highest response.

The Content Itself

I create batches of content. I created each workbook ad as soon as the workbook was ready to publish. As soon as the buy links went live, I added them to the ads and to the various websites on which they can be found.

Same with LEGERDEMAIN. I uploaded/scheduled the polished episodes in batches of 10 (although I had most of the first arc written and revised before I uploaded anything, in case I needed to plan something early on for the end). As soon as I uploaded the episode and noted the release date, I create the episode log lines, and then I can create the individual episode ads. Then, I go back through that batch of episodes to see what general ads I can create from the content about other businesses, themes, or jokes that are in those episodes, and where I can expand on information for the website that would drag down the pace and the narrative drive of the serial itself.

Uploading the Content

I block off several hours, and I upload and schedule at least a month of content, preferably two or three, in that time period. If you use a scheduling tool like Buffer or Hootsuite, you can schedule across multiple platforms (provided your subscription allows it). It’s worth it, because then you don’t have to think about it for two or three months.

For the Topic Workbooks, as soon as I got the buy link, I started uploading and scheduling the content I planned through the end of September. When I decide on October – December’s content and frequency, I will block off a few hours and upload/schedule all of that in one go, too.

Because I have the content ready to go (it’s created before I upload), the upload/scheduling time goes relatively quickly. It takes about 2 hours to upload 2-3 months’ worth of daily content.

I also use the weekly calendar sheets broken down into hours by General Blue and write in what ads run where. I can see how the content flows, and where I have room to plug in other projects (because releasing ads for different projects at the same time is often counterproductive). They can run close together, even just a few minutes apart, but not releasing at the same moment.

For the serial, as soon as the episodes are scheduled and I’ve created the episode loglines and episode-specific ads, I block off time and upload that next block of episodes. This is where having the hourly paper calendar comes in handy, because I can see what episodes have promotions scheduled when, and build on themes and images. When the general ads are created, I slot those in around the episode ads. Again, it usually takes a couple of hours to schedule a month or more of content. It’s worth it, because then I don’t have to think about it; I just have to look at metrics later on.

The social media promotions I do are on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Ello, Counter Social, and Tumblr. Then, there are other ads or direct mail pieces, depending on the project and budget. Don’t forget the budget! The content calendar integrates all of it.

Metrics

I look at the traffic that’s driven to the various sites by the ads, and then, of course, the sales that result. It’s harder to do with the serial, because Amazon holds their information close to the vest, and doesn’t allow links to individual episodes, or metrics on individual episodes, just to the general page. And I couldn’t build momentum ahead of the launch, because the page on the Vella site for the serial didn’t go live until the serial went live. On top of that, one cannot gift tokens or use Amazon gift cards for tokens for the serial, which affects things like promotional giveaways.

I expect it will be 4-6 months before I get a real sense of how the ads are doing in the bigger picture.

In the smaller picture, I see regular sales reports, and I can also see who and how often colleagues on social media are liking or boosting my work. That figures into my personal metrics. I boost the heck out of the work of friends and colleagues. If I don’t get that in return, or if I suspect they’ve muted the ads or the project, it’s not become a non-reciprocal relationship.

 Yes, I know, all that “you have the right to curate your timeline” and “you do you” and all the other palliatives. You DO have the right to curate your timeline for your own purposes and pleasures.

So do I.

Writing is my business, not my hobby. It is how I keep a roof over my head, and the bills paid. I mix and match a wide variety of writing in my profession. But it is my profession, and that means I have to promote my work.

That doesn’t mean I DM people asking them to buy. That’s tacky and unprofessional.  And someone who DMs me immediately after a mutual follow to sell me something, anything, is guaranteed to be blocked, and put on the list of “never buy anything from this person ever.”

If I’m promoting the heck of someone’s work and they never promote mine, then they’ve become a drain on my resources and my energy, and I want them off my timeline. I clear out my timeline once or twice a year. It gets out the deadweight, and then I can go back to having actual conversations and interactions. How someone supports or does not support my work affects the place they have (or don’t have) in my life. While I may mute some threads that get overly tangled, I tend not to mute people. I’m either in or out. Either I accept all of someone’s facets, or I’d rather steer clear. And if someone is “muting” me because I promote that which keeps a roof over my head or for any other reason, that means they aren’t accepting all of my different facets, and the further I get away right quick, the better for my life and work.

But hey, “you do you.”

Conclusion

Planning content ahead of time makes a huge difference. A content calendar helps you track what happens where, where there are holes you can turn into opportunities, where content gets crowded and needs a little breathing room.

By making the time to plot out your content, by making the time to create the content, and then batch uploading/scheduling, you take the immediate pressure off the day to day, and that allows you to create more (which you will then have to promote).

The content calendar supports both the plan and the execution. It will help you when you analyze your metrics, and find the best times/days to schedule your content. It will help you see where you need more, and where you can cut back.

It has also taught me how to adjust my rates, should I go back to offering this type of service for clients again in the future. As a solopreneur, I am the creator and the content manager. However, when I take on clients, I am the content WRITER, NOT the graphic designer OR the social media manager. Too often companies are hiring one person to do all three jobs when they are three separate jobs and require different skills, time frames, and headspaces. Not only that, most companies want to pay a single person to do three jobs only a portion of what one job is worth. Don’t sell yourself short. If you CHOOSE to accept a position where you are creating, doing graphics, and managing the content calendar/uploading/metrics, make sure you charge enough to encompass all three sets of skills.

But the calendar is THE tool that eases pressure AND promotes positive engagement, which is good all around! And batch creating and batch uploading/scheduling makes the next few months much calmer.

Concepts of Time

image courtesy of Gerd Altmann via pixabay.com

At this point in the game, I shouldn’t be surprised when, during an initial conversation with a prospective client, said individual tells me how long something “should” take to write, and that’s why they want to pay per hour instead of per project. “Oh, if you’re a fast writer, you can do X amount of words in X amount of time and can earn a lot of money.”

This is often said by non-writers who think that writing isn’t ‘real’ work. “I’d to it if I had the time.” No, sweetie, you wouldn’t, because you couldn’t come up with something that would hit and reel in your target market. That’s why you have to hire someone to do it. What you’re telling your freelancer “only” takes X amount of time is something you’ve been trying to get done for ten or fifteen times longer than that, and that’s why you’re hiring someone to actually get it done. These clients are the same clients who don’t pay for research time or percolation time. And don’t like to pay per word.

So many factors play into how much “time” a piece takes to write. Those include the tangibles, such as:

–how much research is provided

–how much research I need to do

–interview time

–fact checking time

–any meetings required in the process

–the actual writing time

Add into that:

–computer/internet issues

–unexpected interruptions

–natural energy fluctuations in the day

Layer on top of that:

–percolation time needed for the piece to take shape

–outlining (if necessary/appropriate)

–the several revisions necessary before sharing a draft with a client

–proofreading

Each of these elements takes a different amount of time, depending on the project. That’s true even with systems in place and tools to streamline. The same basic tasks can take different amounts of time on different days.

Clients who understand that they can’t discern how long it “takes” to write something (other than setting project deadlines) also understand that the service for which they pay isn’t JUST the final words on paper or screen; it’s the creativity that goes into those words. It’s the created worlds that engage and expand the audience.

To find the right words to create that enchantment takes a different amount of time for each project.

Setting reasonable project deadlines for drafts and deliverables makes sense, and is necessary for both freelancer and client. A client stating that it takes X amount of time to write X words is not.

Enter into partnerships with clients who understand that creativity is what makes the deliverables actually. . .deliver.

(Note: this should have posted yesterday, May 18, and failed to post. Apologies).

LOIs and Pitches

image courtesy of geralt via pixabay.com

Hello from sunny/windy/stormy Berkshires! We’re finally getting winter weather, and I’m grateful to be a remote worker.

If you read my daily personal blog, Ink in My Coffee, which talks about the intersection of work and life, you will see that I talk about pitches and LOIs frequently (although I never have as many out as I wish I had).

Several people have asked me the difference. Isn’t an LOI a kind of a pitch?

They are different tools with different uses. Below, I share my definitions, and how I create and use each.

LOI: Letter of Introduction

My LOIs are similar to cover letters sent with resumes because they are a way to introduce me to a company with whom I haven’t yet worked. Sometimes, I see a company that interests me on a job listing site. I might not want the job described, but if I do more research, like the company, and think we might work well together, I will create an LOI, and send it to the appropriate person in the company, along with the most relevant of my resumes and appropriate portfolio materials.

If I’m only sending portfolio links, the links are in the letter, not as an attachment.

I use similar principles for an LOI as I do to send a query letter to an agent or editor. I start with the hook to engage them and keep them reading the letter.

I have a paragraph stating what I have to offer, why it’s unique, how it fits their vision/needs, and why I am the best person to create it. I’m letting them know I see the need they’ve voiced, or something about the company excites me, and I believe I bring something worthwhile to the table.

I add in links to portfolio and/or other samples.

I have a paragraph stating that I do not provide free labor as part of an interview process. Any tests/samples, etc. that are project or company specific have a separate contract and payment.

Many marketing people will be horrified that I have this in the initial letter. They will advise that it’s a turnoff to the company.

That’s the point.

A company that demands or expects unpaid labor as part of the interview process is not a company with whom I want to work. It’s not about charming them or talking them around: either they act with integrity from the beginning, or we both move on. I’d rather save us the time and mutual frustration up front.

I re-iterate in the final paragraph that I work remotely and work asynchronously. While I’m open to overlapping hours and a small percentage of meetings, a company who demands availability for all of their business hours is not a true remote-positive company. Again, we are unlikely to be a good match.

I thank them for their time and consideration, and sign off, with the appropriate website under my signature line.

I follow up two to three weeks later by email. If it’s a company with whom I want to pursue a relationship, I add them to my quarterly marketing post card list that goes out by snail mail.

Sometimes it works out; sometimes it doesn’t. Either way is fine. At least I made the effort and I learned about the company. Depending on the tone of the response, I keep in touch sporadically, by email and/or postcard. Sometimes it takes months, or even a year or more to land an assignment. It’s often worth it.

Company needs change. A lot about the LOI is reminding them you exist at a time they need your skills.

An LOI says, “This is who I am, these are my skills, this is how I can make things better/easier for your company.”

Pitches

For me, a pitch is much more specific, and geared to a particular project. I’ll pitch an editor at a publication for whom I want to work, with two or three article ideas, rather than send an LOI.

I’ll pitch conferences with workshop or panel ideas.

I’ll pitch corporations with workshop or seminar ideas. Pre-pandemic, I offered a series of onsite workshops for companies to train their in-house staffs on writing and marketing techniques, especially in how to use techniques that aren’t usually used in business to communicate the message more clearly and with more integrity. They were either half day or full day sessions.

I’m adapting them so they can be offered online or in-person or as a hybrid, and learning how I can make them more inclusively accessible. The more accessibility there is to the workshops, the better it serves the employees, which means they can use what they learn, and integrate it into their own work.

And, of course, I am The Queen of Handouts. Take a workshop or seminar with me, and you walk away with a stack of material to which you can refer to whenever you want.

Pitches are more project-focused, where LOIs are more long-term focused.

How do you craft LOIs and pitches? What elements do you find work best?

The Idea Fountain

image courtesy of Binja69 via pixabay.com

First, The Personal

Yes, I’m back. The last post on this site was in March, when I was just starting to get into the Move From Hell. I thank you for your patience, and hope you will join me on this new journey.

The Move From Hell is mostly complete. I moved from Cape Cod to the Berkshires, to an environment that values artists and actually believes in paying them. When asked what I do and I answer, “Writer” the response isn’t, “No one does that. What’s your REAL job?” with which I was constantly met on Cape. The response here is filled with resources and events I might enjoy, and requests to take a socially distanced walk around the lake or at the Spruces to talk about some aspect of writing. Or art. Or theatre. It is a much healthier environment for me, on multiple levels.

Most people here are vaccinated. Most indoor spaces require masking. Most people don’t fuss.

As I said, a much healthier environment, all the way around.

I’ve gone fully remote, instead of a mix of remote and on-site clients. It is unlikely I would go back to onsite work, unless it was a part-time position with an arts organization. But I doubt I would even do that until at least next summer.

Now, The Professional

I’m happy to say that The Idea Fountain has come back on. During the actual move, when I was mired in trying to find a place to live, then trying to find mover who would actually show up and do the work, and getting some things into storage, etc., etc., during a pandemic, my creativity fled. I was able to do the minimum work required to keep us afloat during the move, but I was not working, creatively, at my best.

When I first moved here, I was so exhausted, on every level, that I was lucky to make it through the day for the first few weeks.

But lately, the Idea Fountain has turned back on, and I’m actually happy and able to create again.

What is the Idea Fountain?

It’s useful for both fiction and nonfiction work. My definition of the Idea Fountain is that something you come across in the course of your day sparks a flow of ideas. Those ideas often go on to have more ideas, and so forth and so on.

Sometimes, a call for submission turns on the Idea Fountain. Often, in my work with businesses, it’s their creative brief, or our consult conversation.

As I writer, I find looking at paintings and sculpture restorative. When I am stuck in my words, looking at art unsticks me. My uncle was a reasonably well-known artist in Europe, working in stained glass, woodcuts, and casting large bronze figures. I have several of his sketches that inspire me. Most of my art books are in storage right now, but I’m across the street from a college library with a huge art book section, and I can use my Community Card to check them out.

So, there’s usually a stack of art books nearby.

This weekend, I spent time sitting on my front porch, paging through a book about American ex-patriate artists in Florence, during the Impressionist period. I got an idea for one of next year’s plays for an organization for whom I regularly write in New York (the other idea for them came from a line in a biography I read a few weeks ago – when the Idea Fountain was a mere trickle). I also got an idea for what is turning out to be a series, rooted in a group of painting students doing a Grand Tour. While I was writing up those notes, so as not to lose the ideas, an idea with which I’ve been playing for years, starting directly after WWII started poking at me again, and I made notes on that, too. It started poking its head up again because of a reference to generations of artists who were also artists during world events (such as WWII).  A throwaway line I read in a novel sparked an idea for a short story.

All over the course of a few days.

The Idea Fountain has turned back on.

At the beginning of August, I’d resumed my regular first 1K/day of fiction very early in the morning, in longhand, which had gotten erratic during the move. I wrote on the front porch. It’s getting too cold and dark to do that, so I’m writing in the living room; eventually, I may start writing again at the rolltop desk. But that primed the pump to get the Idea Fountain flowing again.

How does that work in freelance/business writing?

On some projects, the writer is paired with a graphic designer (or brings one in), and the two feed off each other. I love discussing ideas with a graphic designer; they toss out image ideas, I toss out words, and we get there together. If I’m writing something without graphic needs, I dig into my knowledge of those for whom I’m writing (or I gain the knowledge). Is there an image within the company already that will spur the piece (for a marine life press release, it would be an endearing photo of a seal or sea turtle; for a holiday fundraiser, a photo of one of the decorated trees, etc.). Or I image characters and situations around which I can build a story for the organization (see my page on Mission-Specific Entertainment).

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: ideas are like cookies. They tend to come in batches. So prime your pump however works for you, turn on that Idea Fountain, and let it flow.  Ooh, a fountain spewing cookies. I like that image.  If you show up and do the work daily, on the schedule you set for the work, it gets easier and flows more smoothly. Show up consistently, even on the days that are difficult, and the flow resumes. Some days it might feel like a trickle, but the more consistent you are, the easier it will be to get the flow steady again.

Take notes on ideas, even if they seem like tangents. Perhaps they’re not right for this particular project, but they will be right for a different one. Creative time is never a waste, and not every result is immediately tangible.

The more joy you take in the process, the more the ideas will flow.

How do you get your ideas flowing?

Creating Your Artist/Vision Statement

image courtesy of Free Photos via pixabay.com

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?