Ink-Dipped Advice: Content Calendar Tips

image courtesy of Myraims-Fotos via Pixabay.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So I went back to trusty old paper.

Content Vision

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frequency

How often to post?

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

Series Bible Ad
Setting Up Your Submissions System Ad

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

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

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

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

The Content Itself

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

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

Uploading the Content

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

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

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

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

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

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

Metrics

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

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

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

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

So do I.

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

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

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

But hey, “you do you.”

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

Holiday Cards and Marketing Cards — Two Different Tools

image courtesy of Jenny_Nguyen via pixabay.com

Happy New Year! I hope you had a lovely holiday season, and let’s hope that 2022 is a year where we make progress on the grander social scale.

My vision for this blog is that is runs every other week, instead of every week. While there’s plenty to say, there are also plenty of content sources (some of whom I will link to), and I hope you read a wide range of material.

Today, I’m talking about the flurry of mail, both virtual and tangible, that happens around the holiday season, and what I find works for me as a freelancer.

I am a big cards-and-letters-by-post person, especially around the winter holidays. To me, it’s important to let people know that they are thought of with good wishes during this time.

I send cards to clients and editors. I send cards to former clients for three years after we’ve stopped working together, provided we parted on positive terms, and they are someone with whom I’d like to work again. The cards are just that – holiday cards with good wishes. No pitch. No “if you need me in the new year” type of thing.

Simple good wishes.

No strings attached. No expectations.

And yes, a certain percentage either respond with a card of their own and say, “contact me in the new year about work” or email with pretty much the same message. But the purpose of the holiday card is NOT to pitch to them. It’s to send good wishes and acknowledge them as fellow humans on the journey.

Come January, I prep for the first of the quarterly post cards. Again, this is done via snail mail, because I generally have a 25% response rate on snail mail (and it’s much lower if it’s only sent via email).

I design a post card in a seasonal color with a quick reminder about the top services offered and the website address. I encourage getting in touch. I either print it on my laser printer (which does everything except cut my food up for me) or send it out to a place like Vistaprint for a quick turnaround. I usually send out cards in January, April, July, and October. I did not send them in 2020 and 2021, a combination of dealing with my own illness and the pandemic in 2020 and moving during a pandemic in 2021. This year, I may do January, May, and September, to see how that works (especially since I want to lighten my workload for August).

Who goes on the list?

–Companies with whom I’ve done business, to remind them I’m still interested in working with them.

–Companies to whom I’ve either pitched or sent an LOI and with whom I’ve had a positive exchange, even if I haven’t yet worked for them.

–Companies I’ve researched, but haven’t pitched or sent an LOI.

–People with whom I’ve interacted at networking events, and with whom I want to stay in touch.

Because it’s been two years since I sent out the postcards, I’m building quite a bit of a new list. So much has changed, including my location, and that I am fully remote, instead of a mix of remote an onsite work. Also, because I’m focusing my attention on different aspects of the work these next few months, that affects the list.

To whom do I send the cards (as individuals, not companies)?

–In the companies with whom I’ve done previous business, to my contact, or whomever has taken over in that role;

–In companies where I’ve pitched or sent and LOI and had a pleasant exchange, to the person with whom I interacted;

–In companies I want to pitch in the future, the person most likely to make the hiring decisions. Sometimes that’s a marketing director, sometimes a creative director, sometimes the head of the company. That’s where the research comes in.

–When it comes to networking, obviously it’s the person with whom I’ve networked, unless that individual suggested someone else in their company as a contact.

I don’t follow up a postcard the way I would a traditional pitch or LOI because the next postcard is the follow up. Some marketing people will be horrified by this; however, I find it works. The person to whom I send the mail does not feel badgered. A postcard is easy to keep handy, or to come across unexpectedly, just when you’re looking to hire someone. The follow up card, a few months later, is a gentle nudge without being aggressive.

In the next post, I’ll talk about pitches and LOIs, and what I consider the differences between them.

What are your favorite outreach tools?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Inspire, Rather than Bully

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I’m regularly removing myself from email lists, especially those that claim to be dedicated to causes, because they spend words and our time bullying and shaming instead of inspiring.

“We’ve Been Emailing You Non-Stop”

This landed in my in-box a few days ago. Yes, you have. I’m on your email list. Every time you send out a blast, I’m on the list. Or, I should say, I WAS on the list. The headline of this email alone was enough to make me unsubscribe.

If I haven’t done what you want in response to your email, that is MY CHOICE. Especially if it’s sent from a no-reply address.

An email is an enticement. When it bullies, you’re doing it wrong.

Shaming me for not donating to your cause every single day or every time you send me an email guarantees that I will remove myself from your list and not EVER donate to your cause, even if I believe in it.

I will find an organization doing similar work that doesn’t fundraise through bullying or shaming.

Also, when every email, every petition, every contact asks me to donate – even if it’s a small amount – I’m outta there.

When I have the money to spare, I donate it to causes in which I believe.

IF and WHEN I am in a position to make a regular pledge, I do so.

It’s not just nonprofits that do this. Several years ago, I received an email from a start-up business in an industry in which I spend time and money. The start=up asked if I wanted to receive emails about their new products. I said yes, put me on the list.

I received emails about the products — a little vague, but they were starting up. It wasn’t what I wanted or needed at the time, but I figured, as they came up with new products, there would be something, and I’d buy it when I saw it.

Instead, I got nasty emails, berating me for not buying their product, after asking to be on their email list.

Say what? Being on the email list means I learn about their products, with an eye to buying something that I want. Not buying something because it exists.

I unsubscribed and let them know why, using direct quotes from the nasty email. I got a response saying, “That’s not what we meant.” To which I responded, “But that is what you said. If you’re sending out words that don’t communicate what you mean, hire better writers.”

If every interaction is only an hysterical demand for cash, with a veiled threat underneath that I am a bad person or not committed to the cause if I don’t give all my money to whatever cause that is – that is a perversion of “call to action.” It’s bullying, plain and simple.

Since I do not cave in to bullies who approach me in real life, why would I do so from a bullying email?

This is NOT a “Call to Action.”

A genuine “Call to Action” sets out the case in positive terms – the goal, the steps planned to reach the goal, what is needed for those steps, and how the recipient can participate in successful accomplishment.

It is done in a way that provides information, inspiration, and excitement in the reader. It makes the reader want to be part of whatever it is. Want to be part of the success. Because it incites a response that is excited and joyful, not a sense of shame. Or a response of, “X should not be happening. This organization is working to fix a bad situation, and I want to be part of the solution.”

Most importantly, it entices and engages.

It gets the audience excited about the goal, the purpose, the values, and the process of achieving them. It inspires with “look what we can do when we work together toward this goal. It’s amazing!”

It doesn’t use the “I’m so disappointed in you” or “you don’t really have a commitment to this cause, or you would do as I say.”

You cannot be an organization genuinely working for equity and justice (which means working on anti-bullying) if you use the tactics you supposedly fight against in order to raise money.

Bullying and shaming tactics might gain a few conversions here and there, but sustained support comes from engagement and making your funders feel like they are doing something worthwhile because it makes a positive difference, not because you are shaming them into it.

I’ve left several nonprofits because, in our meetings, when I bring up unethical approaches or accepting money from unethical sources, I’m told that it “doesn’t matter” how they get the money or from whom.

I disagree. It matters. How an organization fundraises and from whom they accept money tells the world a great deal about the integrity and values held by that organization.

Especially after the last six years, it matters.

If you want long-term support, build positive partnerships. Invite, entice, engage. Include these partners in the steps to reach the goal.

If you are constantly falling short in your goals, it’s time to re-think your strategic plan.

But whatever you do, engage rather than bully.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Interview Questions We Hate: “Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?”

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Hello, February! January seemed like it was about 27 months long. February is supposed to be a short month. We’ll see.

There are plenty tired old chestnuts in interview situations that need to be retired. Some are illegal, some are toxic, some are racist or misogynist or ageist, some are ableist, and many have nothing to do with the job and nothing to do with “getting to know you.”

One of these questions is “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

That’s a question your high school guidance counselor asks when they’re helping you prepare your college applications. It’s the kind of question that might come up, in a different format, with co-workers at the bar (in the years where we could actually go to a bar with co-workers without worrying it would, quite literally, kill us). It’s the kind of question you ask yourself on retreat, when you are trying to avoid or recover from burnout.

But in a professional interview situation? Inappropriate.

That question was dumb in 1985. After 2020, it’s even worse. It shows that the company asking has learned nothing from the pandemic. It sends up a big red flag.

You can type the question into an internet search engine and get a bunch of advice from corporate-leaning “experts” on how to answer it with vague softballs that don’t “threaten” the person interviewing you.

I tried those placating responses a few times, and the experience made me want to vomit. I was not being true to myself, to my core integrity. That’s no way to start a new working relationship.

There is a more direct approach.

Generally, as soon as I hear the question, I mentally cross that company off as an organization for a potential working relationship, and try to end the conversation as smoothly and pleasantly as possible.

I start flippantly. “That depends on whether or not you hire me.”

This is met with shocked silence, and then nervous laughter. Usually, some stuttering and backpedaling occurs. I let the interviewer twist in the wind for a few beats – after all, this was a “gotcha” question, with malicious intent (every “gotcha” question is designed with malicious intent), and my subtext makes that clear.

After a few beats of the interviewer flailing, I add, “Seriously, wherever I land, five years from now, I will be working with smart people who are passionate about what they do.”

They can decide if I mean their company or not.

It is a 100% genuine answer.  I seek out opportunities to work with smart people who are passionate about what they do. Some of those work relationships are long-term, some are short-term, and some are on-and-off. When I’m seeking new opportunities, everything else builds on that foundation.

Anything less wastes all our time.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Tidying Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As you do your tidying up, consider:

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

–What new skills do I want to learn?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ink-Dipped Advice: The Real Costs of the One-Way Video Interview

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One-way interviews have become more common during the virtual interview process of pandemic. “Send us a three-minute introductory video.” My response to that is, “Are you high, sweetie?”

First of all, any interview is a two-way street, or you are the WRONG place for me. I’m interviewing you as much as you’re interviewing me.

A one-way interview is a waste of the interviewee’s time.

I am not an actor. I do not make audition tapes and perform for you.

I am a writer. I’ll write the scripts for the spokespeople in your video spots to rehearse and perform.

But I am not performing in order to “earn” an actual conversation with someone in the company.

As someone who worked in production, let me break down what it means, in terms of time, production, labor, and cost to do a three-minute video:

Script. You need to know what you’re saying, even for (especially for) an introductory video. When I started writing short corporate script videos, that paid per finished scripted minute, it was $85-110/hour. Now, it’s more likely to be $200-$300/hour. Right there, it’s a loss from $255-$600. Figure that includes 2 rounds of revisions, possibly more as you rehearse. How fast do you write? How many hours will it take you to come up with 3 minutes of material? If you’re used to corporate video shoots or short shoots, probably 3-4 hours. If not, it could take three or four times that.

Location. Where will you shoot it? Inside? Outside? We’re in a pandemic, so your options are limited. Hopefully, you won’t have to pay a location fee (if you don’t use your own premises, but there’s still the time and decision involved). On the low side, it’s another $100 .

Set. How will you decorate your surroundings? Even if the video is head-and-shoulders, what kind of chair will you sit in? How much does the camera take in? You’ll need to set decorate your workspace. Is part of the interview showing them your remote work set-up? On the low end, that’s $125/hour. Figure 2 hours to set up the space the way you want it. That’s $250.

-Props. Again, even if you’re doing a head-and-shoulders at the desk, or standing, shooting on your phone, you may need props. A pen? A notebook? You want them to see your tech? Figure at least one hour at $100.

Lighting. Good lighting is vital to a decent video. Figure $50/hour. Once you get the set, props, costume, make-up in place, you’ll need to light it, shoot tests, and relight. Remember that, unless you’re blocking out daylight, as the sun moves, it affects your video. Figure 4 hours or $200.

Wardrobe. What will you wear on camera? You need something that doesn’t wash you out, isn’t too busy or distracting, and makes you both look and feel good. If it feels uncomfortable, your body will react, and the camera will read it. A wardrobe/stylist is about $120/hour. Figure 2 hours of deciding what to wear and how to accessorize, and at least an hour of prepping the clothes – steaming, ironing. Alterations are an additional time at an additional fee. Do you have to buy something for the video? That’s another cost. But it’s at least 3 hours at $120/hour or $360.

Makeup/Hair. Again, you’ll need to play with it in the lighting, with the wardrobe and do tests.

Non-union can start as low as $25/hour. A good one will cost you a good deal more than that. You’re probably non-union. Figure an hour to play with makeup and hair to decide what you want, and then an hour to actually do it. Again, you’ll need to shoot tests, but we’ll get to that later. Figure $100.

Sound. Does your recording device have decent sound? Is it tinny or does it sound like you? Do you have to unplug anything that runs in the background, shut doors, muffle anything? Chances are you can’t/won’t need to edit the sound or add Foley. Sound techs start around $20/hour and go up from there, depending on skill level and specialty. Give yourself an hour to play with your options. $20.

Rehearsal. You’ll need time to rehearse, revise, memorize. Actor fees can start as low as $50/hour and sky’s the limit. Figure 4-6 hours rehearsal time, so $200-$300. You are your own actor/spokesperson for your brand.

Test shoots. You’ll need to shoot test footage for the look, the sound, and shoot some of the rehearsals. If you really have your act together, two hours at $50/hour, for $100. That’s lowballing A LOT, because you’re putting together all the elements you worked on.

The actual shoot.  When I production managed film, we broke it down by 1/8 of a page for the schedule. For feature film production, one hoped to get through 2 pages per day. When I worked one-hour drama television production, it’s much faster. It’s broken down the same way, but you usually need to get through 7-10 pages per day. You’ll need multiple takes, and you’ll need to look at the takes and make adjustments for other takes. Give yourself 3 hours. Since you’re wearing all the hats, and you did all the prep, and should be in good shape, figure $250/hour for 3 hours, or $750. You think three hours sounds crazy for a three-minute video, but it’s less time than you’ll probably need. You’ll note I haven’t listed a director’s fee in this set-up. If you’re lucky enough to have someone to act as your director, that’s another fee, but I’m assuming you’ll go director-less. Since this is more of an audition tape.

-Editing. Are you going to edit the video? Do you have the editing software? Do you have editing skills/experience. Direct Images Interactive talks about how a 2-minute video takes about 34 editing hours, and can cost between $3400 and $4250. If you don’t have a bunch of cuts because the entire interview is done in single takes and you don’t edit sounds or effects, dubbing, or adding music, but just shaving a few seconds here and there or adding filtering, figure 10 hours or $1000.

In order to make your “quick, 3-minute intro” you’ve put in the equivalent of:

40 hours (a full work week) AT LEAST

$3435 – $3520 unpaid physical labor

We haven’t even gotten into the unpaid emotional labor involved.

All your work HAS value and needs to be valued. This attitude of “well, everyone has a YouTube Channel” and “everyone is slapping up videos” — no. Putting together a production is skilled work with many aspects, all of which have a price tag and deserve to be valued. In the age of COVID, there are many more one-person production teams. Again, ALL of the elements must be valued.

Even if the job pays $60K/year, you’ve put in the equivalent of nearly 2 weeks’ worth of salary to submit something that will never be reimbursed, and where you don’t get to have a conversation/ask questions/get a sense if this is a place you want to be.

“Make an introductory video” robs you of $3500 worth of billable hours with zero promise of return. For a job that is unlikely to have any video production involved in it.

Because if it WAS a video production job – they’d look at your reel, and not expect you to create something “introductory” for them without pay.

Because professionals should not demand unpaid labor, especially not as part of the interview process.

Basically, you’re being asked to audition like an actor, but without the benefits an actor gets from making an audition tape. And yes, plenty of actors spend this much time, money, and effort on audition tapes. Which is a form of unpaid labor inherent in the acting profession, and can lead to a labor conversation on a different post.

Beverlyboy.com, which deals in professional video services, suggests figuring $1500 to $10,000 PER FINISHED MINUTE for a video. A three-minute video would cost $4500-$30,000. Yes, it’s for something polished with a professional crew. They have a great breakdown, and show some terrific examples of their work.

“But it’s not professional, it’s just an introductory video.”

If it looks like crap, you won’t go any further in the process. Even if you’re doing it yourself, you’re wearing all the hats. Every job you undertake to put together the video needs to be costed out and deserves payment.

If you like the idea of an introductory interview/audition tape, now you know what you need to create one that’s unique to YOU, not a particular job. Put it on your website. You do it once, and then use the link to send potential clients/employers to it. But it is about YOU — not specific to any given company.

If you start your relationship with a new-to-you company by doing this kind of work for free, it does not bode well for your future relationship. You’ve already said you are willing to be overworked and underpaid (not paid) for maybe-someday getting rewarded. Which doesn’t happen.

Don’t do it. When you see the demand for a one-way video interview in the job description, click away. It’s not worth it. The real test they’re giving you is to see if you’re willing to let them take advantage of you.

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

image courtesy of pexels.com

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

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

We’re in a pandemic.

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

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

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

You know what? That makes me angry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not forced.

Not screamed at.

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

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

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

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

Deliver on your teasers.

Invite and engage me.

Cut the nagging.

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

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

I’ll remember you just fine.

But I won’t return.

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

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

image courtesy of Muhammad Ribkhan via pixabay.com

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

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

Using the Same Subject Line With Different Attributions – Every Day

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

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

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

“I Don’t See Your Name Here”

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

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

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

Buh-bye.

Bullying

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

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

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

Emailing Too Often

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

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

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

Constant Upsell

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

I disagree.

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

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

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

Invite, engage, entice.

Seduce.

Don’t batter.

What email marketing techniques are driving you nuts lately?

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: Sometimes Local Is The Wrong Choice

image courtesy of eyeimage via pixabay.com

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?