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
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
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
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 screamed at.
Yes, businesses have to
work harder to stay alive. But remember that PEOPLE are working harder to stay
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
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
But I won’t return.
How do you feel about
incessant “calls for action”, advertorials within text, and daily nagging
emails demanding purchase?
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
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
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
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.
Yeah, I’ve been to those
workshops and webinars, where they tell you that EVERYTHING needs to have a
Call To Action attached.
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
Invite, engage, entice.
What email marketing
techniques are driving you nuts lately?
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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?
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Because right now? As a
consumer, I don’t have the time or patience to spend dollars on companies that
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
What marketing techniques
are turning you off right now? What’s working for you?
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
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
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.”
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
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
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.
At first glance, this seems like a strange post for Ink-Dipped Advice, especially since my Monday posts over on Ink in My Coffee during this cycle are about setting an intent for the week.
But in my writing and freelance business, intent, to me, matters.
What is my intent in my freelance business?
To earn a living is, of course, part of it. But how I earn
it and working with which clients on which projects matters to me.
I like to work with clients who are passionate about what
they do, and whose products and services make the world a more interesting,
more compassionate, and better place.
My intent in working with those clients is to express their
passion, joy, and unique product or service to an ever-increasing audience in a
positive, engaging manner.
My skills as a storyteller and in theatre/film production translate to the “mission-specific entertainment” I talk about elsewhere on this site help me wrap the client message into an intriguing story with enchanting characters that gets the audience interested.
Because I believe social media is a conversation and not a
bulletin board, when I create social media campaigns for clients and provide
the response/follow-through, I build on the actual campaign posts with
engagement and conversation. Interaction is, in my opinion, THE most important
component of a successful social media campaign. If you’re not going to post
engaging content and then actually ENGAGE, there’s no point in being on the
So, my intent is getting to know the company, help create
characters and stories that best communicate their message, and increase
engagement. This can translate into sales/support/business growth.
Underneath this intent is my intent to earn a living from my skills. If you’re not going to pay me and value my work, I don’t work for you. I am not creating content for you without pay as part of the interview process. Read my portfolio. As for additional portfolio samples. Don’t ask me to write for you without pay. Because that indicates you don’t value what I do, or the skills I bring to the table.
My intent is to work only with companies who treat their
people well, value skills, and compensate accordingly.
I am a bibliophile. Some would say a bibliomaniac. I buy books. I read books. I keep books. I use books to build the forts I need to deal with the world.
As a writer and freelancer, I love to read how others build their business, hone their craft, grow their creativity. Below are some of my favorite books, ones I read and re-read, by title and author:
THE ART OF WORKING REMOTELY by Scott Dawson. Scott hosts the Remote Chat on Wednesdays at 1 PM EST on Twitter. It’s a highlight of my week, and one of my favorite groups of people. Scott’s book is a great guide on how to build a successful work life with remote work, and avoid the pitfalls and obstacles that employers throw in your path.
A BOOK OF ONE’S OWN: People and Their Diaries by Thomas Mallon. I re-read my 1986 paperback of this book so often that it’s falling apart. I love this book. It has musings on and excerpts from a wide range of diarists. I learn so much about seeing, feeling, and articulating each time I re-read it.
BOOKLIFE: Strategies and Survival Tips for the 21st-Century Writer By Jeff Vandermeer. This is helpful for delineating the public and private lives. I am an inherently private person, an introvert forced by the needs of business, into extrovertism far too often for my liking. This book has some good ideas on handling that frisson.
THE COMPANY OF WRITERS by Hilma Wolitzer. Another wonderful book on the writing process and navigating the times you want and need to emerge from solitude. I am a huge fan of Hilma’s novels and those by her daughter, Meg.
THE COMPLETE WORKS OF SHAKESPEARE by William Shakespeare. I learn more about art and craft and stagecraft and structure and style from Shakespeare than I do anywhere else. I read and re-read his work constantly.
THE CREATIVE HABIT by Twyla Tharp. Far too many books are about breaking blocks into finding one’s creativity. This book is for already creative people to take their creativity to the next level, in any discipline.
CUT TO THE CHASE: Writing Feature Films with the Pros. Edited by Linda Venis. From UCLA Extension Writers’ program. Excellent book on screenwriting art & business.
ESCAPING INTO THE OPEN by Elizabeth Berg. The writing advice is great, and her blueberry coffee cake recipe is THE BEST.
THE FOREST FOR THE TREES: An Editor’s Advice to Writers by Betsy Lerner. Editor, agent, writer, Betsy Lerner talks about creating a writing career and how to work with editors and understand marketplace.
HOW TO WRITE A BOOK PROPOSAL by Michael Larsen. Still the best book I’ve ever read to teach effective proposal writing. I’ve used this for fiction, nonfiction, and adapted it for grants and multi-media or multi-discipline projects.
INSIDE THE ROOM: Writing Television with the Pros. Edited by Linda Venis. Another excellent UCLA extension book on art, craft, and business.
LIFE, PAINT AND PASSION by Michele Cassou and Stuart Cubley. Although the focus of the book is painting, I find that painting (or sewing or dancing or singing) frees up the writing. Switching disciplines helps fuel your primary discipline.
MAKING A LITERARY LIFE by Carolyn See. She has terrific ideas for maintaining your creative, often solitary work life, while still meeting the needs of the business side.
MY STAGGERFORD JOURNAL by Jon Hassler. The journal of a year-long sabbatical to write a novel.
THE RIGHT TO WRITE by Julia Cameron. I’ve found this small book the most useful of all her creativity and artistic coaching works.
THUNDER AND LIGHTNING by Natalie Goldberg. My favorite of her books, this mixes practicality with exercises to open creativity and work past stuck.
THE WELL-FED WRITER by Peter Bowerman. This book helped give me the courage to make the freelance leap. There are many things I do differently than Peter does, but his energy and enthusiasm inspired me. I re-read this book often to remind myself of the basics.
WORD PAINTING by Rebecca McClanahan. I’d developed my Sensory Perceptions class before I read this book, and now it’s become part of the Recommended Reading list. The exercises focus on choosing the best words for descriptive writing.
WORD WORK: Surviving and Thriving as a Writer by Bruce Holland Rogers. Again, a professional writer offers ideas on how to keep creativity flowing while dealing with necessary business aspects.
WRITE AWAY! by Elizabeth George. Although my process has evolved very differently than hers, I find re-reading this book helps me look at the way I write in a fresh way. It’s a great book when I feel tired and stale.
WRITER’S MARKET. This comes out every year. I prefer the print edition, although I double-check online to see if any information has changed. I like to sit and go through the entire large book with pen and paper, reading each entry and making notes on the markets I want to approach. Then, of course, I have to go and DO it.
Looking at the list, many of these are about art and craft more than business. Several of them deal with balancing the two. I have many more books on writing. In fact, I have an entire six foot bookcase in my office filled to bursting with them, and more packed in boxes downstairs. But these are the books I go back to re-read regularly.
In my opinion, you can’t maintain a solid career without the art and the craft. You can live on your marketing until they find out your lack of art and craft. But without it, you can’t sustain, even in this age of the “influencer” and marketspeak.
Art and craft matter. When you build a solid foundation and keep growing, you can add in the marketing skills and continue to learn the technology as it changes.
Many of these books remind you how to go back to the basics of art and craft, how to grow creatively. When you get tired and discouraged, these are great books to help you refill your creative well.
I hope everyone who celebrates American Thanksgiving had a good one, and those who don’t celebrate had a good week.
We are getting into our holiday madness, now. Not only is it important to remember to stop and take a breath, use “no” when necessary to keep your boundaries/sanity, it’s time to look at your freelance contract and update your rates.
A typical cost-of-living increase is between 2-3%. I don’t know about prices where you live, but my expenses for 2020 have already gone up a lot more than that. My rent went up 9.5%. The cost of food has gone up 35% over the course of the year. I have no idea how much my insurance and utilities will go up. I know that there are more expensive car repairs in my future.
My current rates are not sustainable.
Now, I’m not going to raise everything 45%. That, too, is unsustainable.
But I figured how much I need to make next year at minimum in order to get done the big transitions that need to happen, and what I’d LIKE to make (which is higher) to give me a cushion. Break that down by 52 weeks, and I know how much I need to make every week. Break that down into a day rate (always good to have a day rate for certain gigs), and I have my numbers.
Now, I match that against the time/work ratio of individual projects, and I know how I need to adjust for that.
I don’t post most rates on the website, because there are so many variables for a project that it hurts both the client and me to have fixed rates for MOST projects. There are always exceptions, and those will be addressed/updated.
I’m also going to post my initial first consultation rate. This is controversial, because so many people offer a free first consult. I’ve done that in the past; not doing it any more. Too often, the potential client wants information in order to go and do it in-house. Great. But one of the things I am is a marketing CONSULTANT, which means I am paid for that consulting time that gives the client the ideas/itinerary that is then put into use in-house.
My mantra for 2020 is “No more free labor as part of the hiring process.” That includes ideas and the constant question “How would you handle x?” which pretends to be a question to test skill level, but is, in actuality, a way to gather free advice from a variety of sources without paying anybody.
I am aiming my LOIs at a slightly different market, too. My focus is still hunting down companies whose work excites me and convincing them they can’t live without me. Some of them need a multi-year courting process. It’s worth it.
I’m moving away from LOIs to companies just because they’re local. I’m a big believer in supporting local businesses, but I, too, am a local business, and when the attitude is that my skills aren’t worth paying for because writing “isn’t real work.” then I’m pitching to the wrong market.
I plan to expand my corporate workshops, where I come in and train the staff in unusual marketing/writing techniques they can apply to business. One of the things I’m doing this month is crunching the numbers to set a good price. I’d started expanding this before I moved from NY to the Cape, and abandoned it when I was here. I enjoy it, I’m good at it, the people in the workshops have a great time, and the company who hires me benefits in the long run.
I’m freshening my contract, and I’m clarifying a few points that need adjustment, mostly to keep up with changing technology. I am also adding the caveat that I do not go on camera. None of my client work is about ME. I’m happy to write scripts and set up productions/social media systems for on-camera representatives, but I am not that individual. Not an actor, don’t want to be a spokesperson, I am strictly behind-the scenes.
These are some of the changes I’m making to my freelance work for 2020. What changes are you looking at ? How do you plan to implement them?
If you need some general goal-setting questions, hop on over to my Goals, Dreams, and Resolutions site where I have specific questions to help you achieve what you seek.
Last week, I talked about the research for prospects.
I’ve gotten several emails asking me how I do that.
The first step is to read the company website. What does it look like? What can you read between the lines? Does it sound like marketspeak? Is it clean? Userfriendly?
I had a meeting a few weeks ago with a potential client. I read through the website. I still had absolutely no idea what their business purpose entailed.
In the meeting, when I asked about goals, target markets, vision — I couldn’t get any answers.
That was a less successful research/prospect experience!
Most of the time, you get a sense, from the website, about the company’s vision and their overall tone. My next step is to check out the typical social media sites: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr. Sometimes, if relevant, Reddit or Medium or Ello or The Dots (for international clients).
From the social media sites, I get a sense of the conversational tone (if there is one) and of the level of interaction.
I also look for articles about the company and press releases for the company. I look for reviews of the company and its performance. I go through my contacts to see if there’s anyone I know who knows someone there and can give me information, either positive or negative. Word of mouth is always more interesting than something online! Small details come out in a conversation that wouldn’t make it to the page.
AFTER I’ve done all of that, then I go back to the website and look at the executive roster to see to whom I should send me LOI.
Some companies make it difficult.
I don’t blame anyone for not posting a photo. We are far too flippant about smearing our images all over the place. There are plenty of jobs where no one needs to know what you look like. It’s doesn’t make it friendlier and more personal, in my opinion. It needs to be a personal, individual choice, not a demand of the company.
However, I would like either a staff directory or an executive roster. Individual contact information is also helpful, even if it’s a catch-all email address for the department that’s sorted by an assistant.
When there’s no easily available information, that sends up a red flag for me.
Once I find out the right person for what I want to pitch, then I research the individual. Do we have any common interests that are relevant to what I’m pitching? What kind of tone does that person have in public communications?
I have a basic template of my skills, and then I tweak it to individualize it for each person I contact. Because I have an unusual, varied background in the arts, I have to point out how and why that’s an asset in business. I’m there to make their business lives easier and grow their audience, not become one more thing on a To-Do list. “This is why I’m excited by your company, and this is why I think we’d be a good match” is the approach I use.
I keep the tone friendly, professional, positive. It is an invitation to start a conversation. It is not a demand. It may be the wrong time or the wrong fit.
The length of time it takes to get a response, and the tone of the response give you more information as to whether it’s a prospect worth pursuing.
Each experience will be different, and that’s what’s wonderful about it.
I learn something from every LOI. Even the ones that don’t wind up as clients. It’s always worth the time and effort of research and writing the letter.