Ink-Dipped Advice: Sometimes Local Is The Wrong Choice

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The title got your attention, and the topic may annoy people.

We’ve spent so much time talking about “shop local”  and “buy small.” There are even weekends dedicated to that – the Saturday after Black Friday, for instance.

In many cases, I’m all for it. I’d much rather spend my hard-earned dollars on a local artisan making a terrific product than at a big, anonymous box store.

However, there are also artisans and small businesses who create great products all over the country and all over the world. I like to support them by purchasing their products when I can. That does not negate the local businesses.  I can buy from both.

With the re-opening, sometimes shopping local is even less of a smart choice. While my state mandates that local businesses must require customers to wear a mask to enter, it’s rarely enforced. One of the local businesses I supported during stay-at-home is allowing people in without the required masks. They SAY they want customers masked; but when I was in there last week, customers walked in wearing the mask, then slid it down to their neck and got right up close and personal with employees and didn’t social distance.

I call them the Sliding Mask Skanks.

I’ve shopped a good deal at this business since I moved here ten years ago; won’t be going back any time soon, since I don’t feel they are protecting either their employees or their customers. I was uncomfortable, angry, and felt unsafe. I bought much less than I planned, because all I wanted to do was get away from the Sliding Mask Skanks before one of them contaminated me. I considered putting everything back and walking out without buying anything, but that would have put me at more risk that simply checking out with what I had.

Another local business, offering the same type of product “strongly encourages” masks, but does not require them. So I’m not shopping there.

Meanwhile, a local business in the same line of work about forty minutes away not only requires the mask, but takes the temperature of customers before allowing them in.

I’ll drive the forty minutes and shop there instead.

Too many businesses are not enforcing the mask rule, are not protecting either customers or employees, because they’d rather get a few bucks out of the Covidiots, especially if they’re tourists, then build a sustainable future in the community by refusing them entrance. Or making them leave when they take off the mask.

These businesses have not yet figured out that when everybody’s dead, there’s no one to buy their products.

They will.

I don’t intend to be one of the casualties.

There are other local businesses that are letting the guidelines slide, while claiming they are following them. Not shopping there.  I’ll hunt down individual artisans and order from them instead (and ask that they not ship via UPS, since UPS has now lost three packages in the past month. Again, not acceptable).

I’m keeping track of the businesses that aren’t protecting employees and customers. I will think long and hard when there is a vaccine and there is treatment and it’s “safe” to go out and about like we used to – do I really want to give my money to a place that didn’t look after their people, but were willing to put their lives at risk during the phased re-opening? Do companies that were willing to put lives at risk in such a reckless manner deserve my money?

If I have another option, I will use it.

Even if it’s not local.

As a writer and remote worker, I have clients spread out all over the country and the world. With remote teams stationed wherever they’re stationed, “local” has a more individual meaning.

I might be working for a company that has a distributed remote work force. However, the money I earn from that company benefits my local community when I go out and spend it.

Except for those companies who are not following guidelines and protocols. I’ll skip spending my money there and put it to companies who ARE looking after both employees and customers.

If there’s a product I want/need from a local business and they’re letting Covidiots in without masks, potentially infecting employees and customers, potentially creating a hotspot, I’m not shopping there. If I can get the same product, also from a small business, that’s in a different location, and they are shipping and following safety guidelines, that’s where I’ll put my money.

What if they’re not actually following them? What if they are doing what local businesses are doing here, which is posting that they are following guidelines, but not actually doing it? How can I possible know if I’m not right there?

Anything that enters the house goes through disinfectant protocols and is sanitized and/or quarantined. Whether it’s local or delivered. However, if it’s delivered, I have not been in contact range of the reckless Covidiots dancing around with unenforced protocols, and I have a much smaller chance of getting infected.

So I’ll order from a small business that’s somewhere else. And NOT spend my money locally, where I KNOW they are disregarding safety protocols. They haven’t earned the right to my money. I buy from a different locale.

“Local” has become more complex.

Remote workers are fantastic for their local economies. If I’m living where I want, happy where I am and working remotely, earning a fair living from that remote job (which I sure wouldn’t be earning in-person locally), and I spend that money on property, gas, food, and at local businesses who earn my trust – that serves the local economy.

But I am paying attention. I do not “owe” it to local businesses to spend my money there if they are not doing everything in their power to protect the health and safety of both their employees and their customers. But especially their employees, who have to deal with germy strangers coming in and out all day.

I “owe” the health and safety of my family and my community at large to spend my money in businesses that I believe operate with ethics and integrity. There are plenty of businesses owned by people whose values are far removed from mine. I do not “owe” it to them to spend my money there. They do not “owe” it to me to hire me to write for them (I’d refuse the gig anyway).

That is one of the marketing spins during this phased re-opening that hits me as a red flag – chambers of commerce and business associations telling the public they “owe”  their patronage to businesses in the area simply because they are in the area.

If the business earns my trust and treats employees and customers with integrity, I’m happy to spend money there (provided their product meets my needs). If they don’t earn my trust and don’t treat employees and customers with integrity, or stop doing so, I do not owe them anything.

This is something marketing people need to discuss with their clients as they plan and implement re-opening campaigns to engage and enlarge their audience/customer base. Customers don’t “owe” you their patronage. You have to earn it. You have to stand out and give customers reasons to want to engage with you, to want to spend their money on your product or service, rather than one someone else’s.

Health and safety concerns have added another layer to that equation. It’s not two-dimensional anymore, but multi-dimensional. It’s interesting, frustrating, and sometimes disappointing to see which businesses step up, and which ones fail.

How are businesses in your area handling things? Any surprises? Disappointments? How do you feel about the local marketing? How would you advise these companies differently?

Your Business Bookshelf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your favorite books for your business?

Ink-Dipped Advice: What Does Starting With “A Clean Slate” Mean?

I hope everyone had a lovely holiday break. I think it’s important to change one’s routine every few months, for a break, and a fresh perspective.

With the turn of the year and the turn of the decade, there’s an urge to start with a “clean slate.”

But what does that mean, exactly?

According to the site The Idiom, this particular saying came into the lexicon during the 19th century. Slates were used for writing (especially in schools).  To start fresh, the slate could be wiped clean and something new written.

 We have that opportunity every day (as Lori Widmer reminded us in this post), when we wake up, or at any point where we decide we need to change perspective and/or attitude. But there’s something about a fresh year and the collective energy of millions of people wanting to do better in the coming cycle all at the same time that is exciting. Riding the collective energy can help motivate the focus and energy needed to work toward new goals.

How will you start with a “clean slate” this year?

Will it include:

–New work

–A fresh approach to existing work

–Professional development

–Something personal that matters to you that affects your work life positively

–A physical activity that enhances your mental strength and focus

–Change of direction

–Change of perception

–Change of location

I plan to take elements of all of the items on the above list, mix and match them throughout the year, see how they work, and adjust as necessary.

What are your plans?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Context and Boundaries

One of the things that has puzzled me over the last few months is that more and more LOIs, which go directly to the appropriate person at a company, are turned over to third party recruiters. Who then contact me and waste my time, trying to get me to do stuff that has nothing to do with my profession.

I am a WRITER.

Contacting me about jobs in accounting or sales or truck driving (yes, truck driving) is not appropriate.

Neither is acting like I am at your beck and call.

Neither is asking me about my current salary, which is none of your damn business. It’s also illegal in some states. The fact you’re CALLING from a state where it isn’t illegal doesn’t mean I have to answer the question. My answer is that my rate is X for Y work.

Salary and rate are different. If I committed to a single company, I have particular salary and benefit expectations. I’m happy to share those with you, even though I know there’s nothing like that on offer. If you did, you wouldn’t be contacting me with something vague that has nothing to do with writing. If I’ve sent an LOI as a freelancer, and you turn me over to a third party recruiter, these questions are ridiculous.

I don’t have my resume posted. I did that once, prompted by someone at the Career Center when my position was eliminated at the library. In four hours, I got three dozen inappropriate and sometimes threatening emails about things that had NOTHING to do with my profession (but some had plenty to do with the Oldest Profession).  I took my resume down and deleted my account. I don’t use LinkedIn (which I find useless and confining for what I do). 

I don’t know where some of these people got my information. I’ve asked, and some said, “Oh, you sent B at Company J a letter about what you do, and he passed it on and asked me to talk to you.” But the conversation has nothing to do with the letter — which was written after I researched the company, so it’s not like I’m just throwing spaghetti at the wall, people. I’ve done my homework.

If I’ve sent an LOI about copywriting needs, don’t have someone to contact me and ask if I’ll work a booth at a trade show for minimum wage. That’s not copywriting. Nor is minimum wage my rate.

I actually had a RECRUITER say to me, “Well, it’s not like writing is a REAL job.”

I ended the conversation right there.

On Monday night, my phone pinged, just before 8 PM. Right before end of day on the West Coast, so I figured it might be something someone wanted to get off the desk before walking out the door. It’s well after business hours for me here. It’s pretty clear from my LOIs and online information that I’m in the Eastern Standard Time zone.

I looked at the email. A recruiter, by the signature line. Not someone with whom I’ve interacted before. A single-line question, without context. A VAGUE question. No reference to what kind of position or company to which this question connects.

I glanced at it and put the phone aside. Something to deal with during my business day on Tuesday. I’d ask some questions and get context so I could give an appropriate answer.

Twenty-three minutes later, I got another email, calling me unprofessional for not answering the first email yet.

As tempting as it was, I did not respond with something snarky. OR with an apology (which, trust me, wasn’t going to happen).

Instead on Tuesday, I sent my response, not getting defensive or sarcastic (which meant I rewrote it a few times), asking for context: what company/position is this in regard to, where did they get my information, etc. I also added a line stating I was not available outside of regular business hours without prior arrangement, except in emergencies.

I got a response a few hours later, telling me I should be grateful I was even contacted, the company does not negotiate, and it is a privilege to work for them.

Negotiate what?

I still have no idea to which company they’re referring. So I sent a response, “Whatever this is in reference to, I’m not the right person for the assignment. Thank you for your interest.”

I got a return email berating me for my attitude and unprofessionalism.

I deleted it.

I still have no idea as to what the initial email referenced.

I doubt it’s the loss of my dream job.

But the entire exchange leaves me shaking my head.

Had the email arrived with context (company involved, a precise question instead of a vague one, why the recruiter contacted me, and how they found me), I could have answered promptly on Tuesday morning. Had there been a request to answer that night, I probably would have responded.

But the construction and the scolding? Huge red flag.

Obviously, they need a writer to craft correspondence.

I hope they find that which they seek.

I am not it.

That’s just fine with me.

What situations have you been in where you needed to ask for context and demand boundaries?