Controlling Scope Creep

image courtesy of GLady via pixabay.com

Freelancers talk a lot about “scope creep.” That’s when a project starts with one set of parameters, and they keep expanding.

One of the joyful parts of creative collaboration is how a project grows and changes. When you’re writing a musical, it’s one thing – you have a development process, you’re being paid for the changes along the way, and your goal at the end is to have a viable musical where people walk out of the theatre humming the tunes, buy the CD, and sing it in the shower for the foreseeable future.

To get there, you need the project to grow and change.

But the “scope” and the vision are there from the beginning, and is covered by your contract.

There – the contract. That’s how you control scope creep.

I’m seeing more and more job descriptions stating “tasks will be added as needed” or “this description in no way encompasses all the tasks the job entails.”

Why not?

Why aren’t companies being upfront about what they want in the position?

Two answers:

The first is that the person who wrote the description has no idea what the job actually entails, which is common.

The second is that the company wants the option of dumping whatever they want into the position whenever they want, without additional compensation. Which is not acceptable.

As a freelancer, you have the protection of your contract. Because, as freelancers, who set our own hours and meet deadlines, we work on contract (or letter of agreement), which gives us protections that a salaried employee often does not have.

Contract Provisions

Your contract can protect you from scope creep.

Your contract will grow and change as your business does.

After your initial conversation with a new client, when you are setting terms, take some time and think about the parameters of the project as discussed, potential direction for “scope creep” and how much each direction will cost. Then, put those possibilities into the contract.

For example, I have a clause in the contract that states I include two rounds of revisions in the scope of the project; additional revisions are at an hourly rate.

When I receive the second round of revisions, I send a reminder that this is the second round of revisions, and anything beyond that will be at the hourly fee.

Often, far too often, I get this response: “Oh, this isn’t really a ‘revision.’ It’s just a few tweaks.”

No, it’s a revision. Changes are revisions. I have had clients where I actually put the definitions of “revision” and “tweak” in the contract.

Dates and Turnaround Times

I put in turnaround times for revisions, too. If I hit my deadline to turn in material (and I do), the party on the other end needs to get back to me in X amount of time with any revisions. Projects can’t drag on interminably, so a series of dates within the contract is vital:

–Deposit is due on X date

–When deposit clears, I start the project

–I get my first portion done on Y date

–Notes/revision requests are back to me by Z date

–My next revision is due on L date

–Response is due on M date

–Final work is due on N date

–Acceptance or additional requests for changes is due on O date

–final payment is due on P date

–late payments are changed with R fee, cumulative every 30 days (I start late payments at 20% of original fee)

Longer projects may have payments broken up over three, four, or even five dates. If payment doesn’t arrive on the date, work stops on the project until payment arrives.

“This is business, not personal” works both ways. Far too many companies expect you to take their business personally as far as emotional investment at higher stakes than they do, but if they default on payment or otherwise treat you poorly, it’s “just business.”

Works both ways.

Change of Direction

I also have a clause in my contract about “change of direction.” If a project changes direction from our initial agreement (and the parameters are listed in the contract), I have a clause that lists the fee. Sometimes it is necessary to come up with a new agreement, if the change of direction is going to change turnaround dates and deadlines.

Late Fees/Rush Fees

I have a clause for late fees. Late fees (more than 30 days after original due date) are at 20% of the project fee, cumulative. Which means if it’s 60 days late, it’s the original fee + 20% + the total of that.

Rush fees are for work turned around in less than three business days start at $35, depending on the project’s complexity, and whether I can move other work around or just have to stay up extra hours and push through.

I do make an exception on rush fees for script coverage, because industry protocol is often one or two-day turnaround.

When the Client Provides the Contract

In some cases, the client provides the contract, read it over. Negotiate changes. Remember that the first contract either side offers is the start of the negotiation. So yes, when I provide a client, often I will hear back on points the client wants to negotiate. I can decide if I want to change the contract to meet their request, meet them halfway, or walk away.

A client who offers a contract needs to expect negotiation on changes. If they won’t budge, decide if what they demand is worth it to you or walk away. Many magazines won’t negotiate their contracts for freelance writers, so again, you have to make the decision if having the byline in that particular publication is worth any aggravation caused by the contract.

What About Job Descriptions?

As we’ve discussed over the past weeks and months, the pandemic is changing the way we work, which can be an improvement. We, as the people actually doing the work, have to make sure that we help shape new work styles.

I’ve seen an array of articles in publications such as THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, BLOOMBERG, and FORBES pushing the negative aspects of remote work. Remember, these businesses are trying to protect their standard way of working, and how they see their bottom line affected. Far too many companies have useless middle managers who try to micro-manage and terrorize their “teams”.

There’s plenty of work that does not need to be done in someone else’s office with the countless interruptions and managers “checking up” on you every five minutes. I know I am far more productive in my home office. I need large blocks of uninterrupted time to be my most creative. I have set up my office to support the peak of my creativity.

There’s not a cubicle on the planet that could provide conditions even close.

Negotiation

If you are looking for a job as a salaried employee, you still have the right to negotiate. For decades, companies have pushed the toxic narrative that they get to decide everything and employees have no say in it.

Remember: companies need employees to do the work. Otherwise, their useless middle managers, or maybe even some executives, would have to do the work their damn selves.

Oh, horrors.

They push the “if you don’t take this, we’ll hire someone else.”

Go ahead.

Don’t be afraid of AI, either. That’s another narrative they push – that soon, jobs will be replaced by AI.

There are plenty of jobs that could and should be replaced by AI, especially repetitive ones. That frees creative human beings to learn new skills, to find their passions, and to do and create work that no robot could ever come up with.

With all the wonderful resources such as Coursera and FutureLearn and other online learning opportunities, people can try out different arenas and find their passions.

Yes, you might have to accept a drudge job in the interim to pay the rent and bills. But make sure it’s temporary.

When I made the commitment to a life in the theatre, I took temp office jobs as a way to keep a roof over my head between shows. But I stuck to my commitment that, if a corporate job got in the way of a paid theatre job, I ALWAYS quit the corporate job. Even knowing the theatre job was transient. That made it possible for me to work my way up to a career on Broadway.

If I’d stayed in a corporate job out of fear, I would have always been a “wanna be.”

Instead, I DID.

So, when you are in negotiations for a job, make a complete job description part of it.

You can choose not to answer ads that include language indicated scope creep. Or, early in the interview process, you can ask for more definition.

The other thing you can do is ask for a contract, rather than being an at-will employee.

There was an article on line (I’m not sure if it was BLOOMBERG, I think it was, or FORBES) touting hiring freelancers as the wave of the future, because then companies don’t have to pay for office space, health insurance, or benefits and can save money.

What they neglect to explore in the article is that savvy freelancers, with the level of skill many of these companies are looking for, will charge enough to cover those expenses.

And savvy freelancers work on contract, which means they’re not “at will” and can’t be just let go any old time the company feels like it. There’s usually a clause in the contract about how to end the work relationship if it doesn’t work out.

If there’s room for scope creep in the job description – negotiate it.

If the job description says you have to have certain computer hardware or software or phone or any other equipment – either the company pays for it/provides it and it is exclusive to the work you do for that company, or the company provides you a kit fee that covers the wear and tear on your own equipment.

If the job description demands that you have “reliable transportation” or a driver’s license – sweetly ask what kind of car they provide.

Negotiate.

Negotiations aren’t just about money.

We will talk about that in a future post.

How do you control scope creep? What points do your contracts over?

The Difference Between the Mythical “Full-time Freelance Job” and the Full-time Freelancer

image courtesy of GDJ via pixabay.com

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, because so many people are out of work and worried, the predators are out: expecting unpaid labor/samples/”assessments” as part of the hiring process, content mills re-branding themselves as “agencies” pretending to offer good work opportunities when they’ll just grind you to a pulp and destroy talent; writing jobs on “commission.”

But another disturbing trend I see in a lot of listings is this:

“Full-time Freelance”

There is no such thing as a “full-time freelance” job for a single company. If you’re working full-time for a single company, you are an employee for that company. Especially if they dictate the hours worked. Perhaps you choose to be an independent contractor on a 1099. But you SHOULD be on a W-2 at that point, and getting full benefits.

The only reason a company “offers” a “full-time freelance” position is to get out of paying benefits, sick days, holidays, etc. They are taking advantage of the non-employee to save money, yet expect the same behavior and hours and deference they would from a salaried employee.

There’s nothing wrong in working for a single company. But if you’re going to be working employee hours, you need to have benefits. Again, especially if they dictate which hours in the day they expect you to be working and available.

Or, if, for some reason, it suits you to remain on 1099, make sure YOU set the rate and it is what it would be to be on staff with the cost of benefits plus 20%. If they’re not going to give you benefits, make sure they pay enough to cover putting aside benefits and a little extra. You can find out what employees make through sites like Glassdoor and Salary.com. Or come in as a consultant, which bills at a higher-than-staff-person rate.

A full-time FREELANCER is an individual who works a full week (be it 40 hours or whatever that individual chooses to make the amount of money necessary) for a variety of different companies. There may be some overlap, especially across time zones, to communicate during mutually-acceptable hours. But the full-time freelancer arranges the hours and schedules in a way that best serves both the work and the life.

A full-time Freelancer chooses the clients with whom they do business, sets rates, works the hours that are best suited to the individual task and the energy needs.

In the best situations, the full-time Freelancer charges enough not to just cover rent, food, utilities, health insurance, car, home office equipment and supplies, etc., but also for retirement, vacation fund, and a little extra.

The full-time Freelancer is constantly in marketing mode, sending out LOIs, broadening networks, and keeping an eye out for new clients who might be a good fit – or recommending fellow freelancers to jobs that might be a better fit. That time needs to be built into the work week, without a loss of income.

Since most work in the US is “at will” and can end at any time, both types of work run the risk of loss of income at a moment’s notice. But the unsalaried freelancer working full-time hours will have to scramble, while the full-time freelancer has other clients paying in while replacing the recently lost client. Freelancing work tends to run on short-term contracts, which gives at least a little stability, but those contracts end, and not all are renewed. Other work can be one-off work, and the full-time freelancer has to ride the feast-or-famine cycle.

Even if working for a single company as a freelancer, that freelancer needs to always be aware of what’s out there, and ready to leap to a better situation.

Working full-time for a single company without benefits is good for the company, but rarely good for the freelancer, unless the freelancer gets a high enough to cover independently funding benefits.

Working as a full-time freelancer can be stressful – the constant client hunt – but it also gives more variety, flexibility in case of management turnovers and sourings, and expansive opportunities.

But if someone offers you a “full-time freelance” position – look at the details very carefully. Negotiate up to make sure you are getting as much as any staff member receiving a salary and benefits, set your own hours, and are free to take on other work as you wish.

Remember: every job offer is the starting point of negotiations. If they offer you their endpoint, they are not worth your time.

Happy negotiations.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Intent

image courtesy of geralt via pixabay.com

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 platform.

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.

What is your intent?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Winter Work

image courtesy of Printboek via pixabay.com

Depending where you live, January means winter. In a place with seasons, winter work is often different from summer work.

I live in an area that relies heavily — too heavily, in my opinion — on tourism. January, February, and part of March are the fallow seasons. The snowbirds fled to Florida. The seasonal businesses are closed.

Although this winter hasn’t yet been too bad, weather-wise (it’s been WEIRD weather-wise), there have been winters when the power’s been out quite a bit due to storms, we’ve been snowed in, and it’s been about keeping the fire in the fireplace going and staying warm. Of course, as I write this, several days before it’s scheduled to post, we’re in record high temperatures, the little bit of snow we had is gone, and my yard is Very Confused.

I don’t do well in hot and humid weather, so I love winter — as long as I can stay warm and cozy at home and not have to drive much in bad weather. It’s a great time to buckle down and work on the novels and the plays. It’s a great time to curl up with my books and research the novels and plays in my pipeline. I read contest entries and the books I’m hired to review. If the power is out, I can always take notes or write in longhand by candlelight (and yes, I do).

It’s a time to prep the quarterly postcards, sent to current and potential clients, following up after the holiday greetings. It’s a time to shift the focus to the type of project and client I feel will be the most fulfilling on both creative and financial levels.

It’s a time to clean up old files and set up new files. To decide what kind of skills I want to learn in the new year, where to find the teachers and make the time to fit them in, and how to add them to my information so clients know my skills and range keep expanding.

For print publications, it’s a time to look about eight months ahead to editorial calendars. What do editors want in August, September, October? Time to think about next autumn, polish those pitches, read the editorial calendars, and send them off.

It’s time to assess memberships in professional organizations. I have an assessment formula I use. I measure the financial obligations (dues, dinners, events, materials, conferences, etc.) versus financial gains (new clients, new contacts, new projects, how many books sold after an event, etc.) versus the emotional benefits (did I enjoy myself at events? Did I meet terrific people, even if they didn’t become clients? How often did I have to challenge racist or misogynist remarks?) versus time and energy needed for all of the above.  If it’s expensive and doesn’t result in financial or emotional gain and is full of people making inappropriate remarks about others, I’m outta there. Done. It’s time that could be spent creating rather than having the life sucked out of me. That’s how I decide if I will renew membership. That’s how I decide if I will go to an organization’s open house as they try to expand their membership. Too many organizations around here expect one-way support. 

It’s time to look at the markets I’ve for which I’ve always wanted to write, but thought were out of my league. There are magazines I thoroughly enjoy, and for whom I don’t want to write. I’d rather just enjoy them. There are other magazines where I’ve often thought, “I’d love to write for them.”

Now is the time to sit down and take a hard look at what I do. Do I write what they publish? If it’s out of my wheelhouse, is it a stretch in a direction I want to take? Do I have the skills to do what they need?

If the answer is yes, then I sit down and do it.

It’s time to catch up on trade news in the various industries with which I work (I often get behind during the holidays, I admit it). Are there new start-ups that are interesting? New trends? Is something I’ve been doing and touting for the last few months becoming a “trend” I can use in my pitches? Who has moved where? Who is new to a position? 

Who has achieved something interesting and exciting in a field that interests me? I don’t have to have anything to pitch to them. I can just be happy for them, and send them a congratulatory note or email.

Who is feeling a bit down and could use a bit of encouragement? I know when I’ve gone through rough patches, sometimes an expected email or note has made a huge difference.

It’s time to look behind to see what’s achieved, what had to be let go, and look ahead to plan. Make the roadmap for the coming months. Know you may have to take a few unexpected exits along the way.

Commit to enjoying the process of the work, not just the results.

How does your work life change in winter?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Keep The Pitch Out of the Holiday Card

image courtesy of pixabay.com

Those of you who know me — or have read one or another of my blogs over the years — know that holiday cards are a Big Deal for me. I am a big believer in writing them; I love receiving them.

One of the joys of living on Cape Cod is that holiday cards are still a big deal here. The year we moved here, there was an article in one of the local papers how the Cape is one of the places where the most holiday cards are sent from in the country. It’s still an important tradition (although not as important now as it was when I moved here a decade ago).

There are plenty of people with whom the only contact I have is the annual holiday card. Some sniffy person on Twitter had contempt for this saying something along the lines of why would I want to talk to someone at the holidays I don’t talk to for the rest of the year? In toxic situations, of course that’s valid. 

But I find that sitting down and writing those personal, once-a-year catch-ups give me a great sense of joy. I love to reconnect with those people.

The sadness comes when I double-check an address and come up with the obituary. The person died during the year, and nobody bothered to let me know. I’ve come across three of those so far, and I’m not finished writing cards yet.

I write cards to my clients — current, and for the past three years ones from the one-off jobs. After three years of no contact, I often move on, be it personal or professional.

But that’s all the card is — a card wishing the person/company well for the holiday season.

It is NOT a pitch for more work.

I was so excited the Saturday after Thanksgiving. The mail came, and it was obvious there was a holiday card in it. Our second holiday card! Our first comes around Halloween, from a friend in NYC who is always working a tough schedule over the holidays, so she sends out her cards at the end of October.

Well, it was a card. From a business that wrote a pitch about why we need to replace our windows, and the holiday season is the perfect time so to do. How he wanted to come by and give us a quote.

Not only was I disappointed, I was ANGRY.

Basically, this rep has stalked us for the last few years. First of all, we are the tenants here. The OWNER makes the decision on the windows. I said this repeatedly, when I also told this guy to LEAVE US ALONE. He shows up at the house, unannounced, and pounds on our door. More than once, it’s been at an inappropriate time and scared the bejesus out of us. On top of that, I have a sign on the door clearly stating “No Solicitation.” On TOP of that, I have complained to his company about his behavior. They assured me he wouldn’t come by again. But he does, and now he’s sending us a sales pitch wrapped in a holiday card telling us he’s coming by during the holidays?

He shows up, I call the cops.

This is NOT the way to use holiday cards to expand business.

Send the card as just a greeting.

What I do then, in January, with former clients, is send a postcard, asking if they need any help with their year’s marketing/content/writing/planning, and suggesting a consultation. 

My name has just been in front of them with the holiday card — that asked nothing from them. Now it comes before them again, with a suggestion.

That’s the way I prefer to receive communications, and that’s what I’ve found to get positive results when I do it.

So have a good holiday. And, if you send cards or good wishes, please, please, let that be ALL it says!

Ink-Dipped Advice: Time to Freshen Your Contract & Update Your Rates

 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.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Prospecting

One of the fun parts of freelancing, for me, is prospecting for clients. Because I write about a wide variety of things,  I often refer to myself as either a Renaissance Writer or the Anti-Niche. But I’m interested in most things, except for math and anchovies, and even anchovies have a place in a Caesar salad. And there are plenty of people who are excited by math, so I don’t need to be. I honor their excitement.

Curiosity & Interest. I think the world is an interesting place. Most people are interesting, too, if you give them a chance.  People who are passionate about their work and their lives are always interesting.

Those are the people who often need help communicating to a wider audience.

Remember the phrase “prospecting for gold?” I enjoy prospecting for clients.

No cold calling. I do not cold call. I know, I know, so many of those books that tell you how to make a zillion dollars in six months as a freelancer talk about cold calls. As someone who finds the phone the biggest obstacle to actual creative work, who charges for phone time, and who is rude to telemarketers and cold callers, I do not cold call.

No showing up without an appointment. I also don’t just show up in person, barging into someone’s office or knocking on their home office door, demanding they drop everything they’re trying to keep going and talk to me because I want it.

This twist on door-to-door salesmanship is prevalent on the Cape. In fact, in the so-called “career building workshops” they force you to take when you’re on unemployment (I was on unemployment when my job at the library was eliminated several years back), they encourage you to do just that.

I know, with the small business with whom I work, that is a quick way to get on the list of “No Way in Hell.” Small businesses are working as hard as they can to stay afloat. They might need your services. But if you barge in when they’re in the middle of something else, you are not a savior; you are an obstacle.

For local prospects, I find the most effective way to work with them is to meet them at Chamber events or other local networking events. I don’t march around going, “I’m a freelance writer. Hire me!”

Instead, I ask them about their business. What do they do? Why do they love it? What kind of direct mail campaigns do they use? What’s the website like? How’s their social media presence? If they admit they’re lacking in something, I might toss a general idea or two their way. I make sure that we exchange cards, but I don’t try to sell them in the moment. 

The business day following the event, I send them a quick email, reminding them of our conversation, and letting them know I’d be happy to talk to them in more detail about what we discussed, or if they have any other copywriting or marketing needs in the future.

Then, I put them on my postcard list. 2-4 times a year, I send post cards out via regular mail. Spring and fall always, on seasonally-appropriate card stock. It lists my most popular services, suggests I am happy to help create, consult, or handle overflow when their marketing team is overwhelmed. It has my email address and suggests contacting me for further discussion and/or a quote.

If I get an email requesting a phone consult, I let them know I charge for that. I do NOT put my phone number on the postcards. Phone calls, even preliminary ones, are only by appointment.

I write a lot of holiday cards. I write about this often. I believe they are important. I believe it is important to MAKE time for the cards. It lets people know that they matter enough so that you MADE the time to jot a few words and chose an image you thought they’d enjoy.

I use both postcards and regular cards. I send them out separately from the direct mail postcards. There is no pitch in the cards. It is ONLY a wish that they enjoy the holidays.

But what about prospects I want to reach that aren’t local? You’ve heard my anecdotes about the challenges of local businesses in the area where I live at the moment. I won’t re-hash them here.

I keep an eye on companies via social media and news reports. If a company is doing something interesting within the realm of what I call my “Areas of Specialized Knowledge” I dig a little deeper. I do some research on the programs and people involved in the company. If they are connected to something I disagree with, such as supporting candidates or legislation that restricts rights, healthcare, or supports concentration camps, I’m out. Not the place for me.

If they are genuinely trying to make the world a better place, with their product or service and beyond, I keep researching. I dig around on the website and the PR wires to find the person who heads the department I want to work with. I do a bit of research on the person.

Then, I craft an LOI about what I like about the company, what I do, how I think it would make the company’s life easier, and why my unique background makes me an unusual, but strong choice.

Off goes the letter (by email, whenever possible).

On they go to the postcard list, for the direct mail reminders. I’ll often do a follow-up two to four weeks later. Usually, I’ve heard back before then. The best companies always respond, even if it’s along the lines of they don’t need me at this time, or they handle it in-house. When a company doesn’t respond, it’s a red flag. They may not be all they’re trying to portray.

I do two versions of the postcard, as I believe I’ve mentioned before. One is for potential clients. One is for clients with whom I’ve worked.

I revisit the text before each mailing and tweak as needed.

The direct mail postcard usually gets a 25% response, which is high. People like getting mail. They also like it when it’s friendly and cheerful, instead of a negative hard sell.

Sometimes, it’s three or four years before a prospect becomes a client, but persistence, especially positive persistence, pays off.

What are some of your favorite ways to prospect clients?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Holding To Your Own Standards

I admit it. I have some pretty high standards and expectations when it comes to dealing professionally with others.

They often fail to live up to it.

I’ve discovered, however, that it is important to me to live up to my own standards for myself, even when they don’t.

One of the things that I find most insulting about so many so-called “professionals” is the refusal to give a definitive answer. I don’t care if you’re an agent, a publication, or a business. When you’ve interacted with someone and decide not to hire them, TELL THEM.

Only answering if you want to do business with them is not, to me, acceptable. You don’t want to hire me? Fine. Your choice, and I respect it. But have the professional respect to TELL ME, not just never contact me again.

Sure, I get it when X amount of time has gone by.

But it’s rude, infuriating, and unprofessional.

However, it also proves to me that the business wasn’t worth my time for the interviews/meetings. I lose respect.

The next time you approach me? I set stronger parameters with specific deadlines for answers. And the price goes up. Or, I just say no.

Am I always perfect? Of course not. I lollygagged about writing notes after a recent series of meetings that dragged over six weeks. Had I lived up to my own standards, no matter what the result, I would have written notes after each set of meetings. But I felt jerked around, especially when, a few times, the day after the initial meeting, additional meetings were requested, I cleared the time , and then . ..crickets.

Kind of told me what I needed to know.

Should I have sucked it up and written a polite note, even though it would have been difficult on my part to say anything polite that was also true? Yes. Because I am disappointed in myself.

No matter what the other party does, I demand a particular standard of behavior for myself. Small gestures that follow protocols WITHOUT hypocrisy are important to things running smoothly. They also indicate a level of professionalism, in my opinion.

When people choose not to fulfill those protocols, it gives me important information.

I’m not talking about pointless hoop-jumping fake “tests” where I expect someone else to read my mind. I’m talking basic professional courtesy. “Please.” “Thank you.” “Thank you for your time.”

These matter.

When a company or business or individual ignores the small details, how can you be sure they’ll pay attention to the big ones?

Decide what your professional standards are. Live up to them, even if those around you don’t.

What refusals of basic professionalism and courtesy bother you? How do you deal with them?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Short and Long Term Trade-Offs

Most of us are doing the best we can to stay on top of all the demands on us, especially the financial ones. The Narcissistic Sociopath’s determination to crash the economy and send us into recession while he grifts from taxpayers isn’t helping.

Too often in all of this, we are so focused on mere survival moment-to-moment, we forget to look at whether what we’re doing works in the bigger plan we need for our lives, both in our careers and elsewhere.

We have to ask ourselves, with each project:
–What are the trade-offs between creativity, money, purpose?
–Are those trade-offs worth it?

Sometimes they are. It might not be the most fascinating gig, but if it pays the bills and the people are pleasant, it can be worth it.

Eventually, though, it won’t be. Whether it’s a living situation, a work situation, or a creative situation, each of us has personal boundaries where the trade-offs stop making it worthwhile, and it starts to eat away at our well-being on multiple levels.

That’s when we need to stop and take a step back.

Time to ask:

WHY have we made these trade-offs?

WHEN did they stop working for us?

HOW can we adjust in the short-term in order to pave the way for the long term?

It’s going to be different in every situation. We need X amount of money in order to survive. But if, in order to earn our Survival Pay, we destroy our health and happiness, it’s time to take a look at other options.

I always try to overlap. I want to be able to transition from one situation to the other, have them overlap so that it’s less traumatic.

The reality of my life rarely works that way. I often have to make a complete break with one situation in order to make room for something better.

I hate it.

I like to put pieces in place and transition, not jump. But time and time again, I’m forced to take a leap. To gamble.

Sometimes it works, other times it does not.

I’m trying to change that pattern, trying to get it into something smoother and more positive. Can’t say it will work. But I’m trying to move pieces into place in a logical fashion.

I know the changes I want to make. I’m just not entirely sure how to make them happen. I’m also feeling pressure to make them happen within a specific time frame that has to do with contracts, and an eye to how the economy is getting ready to crash and send us into a recession. We don’t have leadership that can get us out of it this time, the way we did last time, and the regulations that helped steady us and get us back on track have been rolled back.

How do you make major career shifts? How much planning do you put into place before you make the change? How often have things gone to plan? How do you deal with it when it doesn’t?

Ink-Dipped Advise: Personal Strategic Plan – Use Opportunity to Offset Threat

 

This is a good week to go back to our personal strategic plan and talk about the “T” in “SWOT” which stands for “threats.”

One of the threats involved with being a freelancer is that often, we are part of the 78% of the population living paycheck to paycheck, without enough of a financial cushion for the unexpected. I’ve certainly been struggling with that the last few weeks, dealing with a major, unexpected car repair.

Something that brings down fair pay for all freelancers is content mill work, where the “writer” is expected to churn out dozens of articles per week for well under market rate. Most of us have hit points where every penny matters; but when we stay mired in the low-paying markets, we don’t just hurt ourselves; we hurt our colleagues.

We face daily threats from the outside world – those who don’t value our skills, our talents, try to control our bodies, deny us health care and housing and more.

It’s important to break down long-term and short-term threats in the same way you need to break down long-term and short-term opportunities. Which threat has to be dealt with immediately? Which threat has to be part of your own personal long game, which will need adjustment as you continue? You don’t ignore it; you’re aware of it in the background. You chip away at it. But it’s not necessarily your first priority.

Using opportunity to counteract threat is a strong choice.

Each job for which you pitch should have a place in the web of the career you’re building. Each job should have a definable goal, be it “this article is a little bit under the rate I want, but it’ll be a solid clip and it pays the light bill this month.” Then BUILD ON IT. Don’t stay in that market, because it’s easy and comfortable. Use the clip to climb to a higher-paying tier.

I participated in panel discussion last week about the submission process. One of the pushbacks from several audience members was that they “didn’t like” the business aspect of writing, and that they felt it got in the way of “art.”

You’re not the literary Lana Turner, and you’re not going to be discovered as the Next Big Novelist in the produce section of Stop N Shop. You need to get out there, make connections, make sure each publication is a building block to the next one, and that you’re expanding your reach. No one OWES you discovery. You have to make your work worth discovering, and then you have to make it discover-able.

You also have to pick and choose the venues and the opportunities that value your work. Which often includes fair pay.

Learn to say “no.” “Exposure” is the oldest trick in the book to let others profit from your work, while you get nothing.

Don’t let the biggest threat to your growth in art, craft, and career be yourself.