Ink-Dipped Advice: Research the Prospect

image courtesy of Dariuz Sankowski via pixabay.com

Last week, I talked about the research for prospects.

I’ve gotten several emails asking me how I do that.

The first step is to read the company website. What does it look like? What can you read between the lines? Does it sound like marketspeak? Is it clean? Userfriendly?

I had a meeting a few weeks ago with a potential client. I read through the website. I still had absolutely no idea what their business purpose entailed.

In the meeting, when I asked about goals, target markets, vision — I couldn’t get any answers.

That was a less successful research/prospect experience!

Most of the time, you get a sense, from the website, about the company’s vision and their overall tone. My next step is to check out the typical social media sites: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr. Sometimes, if relevant, Reddit or Medium or Ello or The Dots (for international clients).

From the social media sites, I get a sense of the conversational tone (if there is one) and of the level of interaction.

I also look for articles about the company and press releases for the company. I look for reviews of the company and its performance. I go through my contacts to see if there’s anyone I know who knows someone there and can give me information, either positive or negative. Word of mouth is always more interesting than something online! Small details come out in a conversation that wouldn’t make it to the page.

AFTER I’ve done all of that, then I go back to the website and look at the executive roster to see to whom I should send me LOI.

Some companies make it difficult.

I don’t blame anyone for not posting a photo. We are far too flippant about smearing our images all over the place. There are plenty of jobs where no one needs to know what you look like. It’s doesn’t make it friendlier and more personal, in my opinion. It needs to be a personal, individual choice, not a demand of the company.

However, I would like either a staff directory or an executive roster. Individual contact information is also helpful, even if it’s a catch-all email address for the department that’s sorted by an assistant.

When there’s no easily available information, that sends up a red flag for me.

Once I find out the right person for what I want to pitch, then I research the individual. Do we have any common interests that are relevant to what I’m pitching? What kind of tone does that person have in public communications?

I have a basic template of my skills, and then I tweak it to individualize it for each person I contact. Because I have an unusual, varied background in the arts, I have to point out how and why that’s an asset in business. I’m there to make their business lives easier and grow their audience, not become one more thing on a To-Do list. “This is why I’m excited by your company, and this is why I think we’d be a good match” is the approach I use.

I keep the tone friendly, professional, positive. It is an invitation to start a conversation. It is not a demand. It may be the wrong time or the wrong fit.

The length of time it takes to get a response, and the tone of the response give you more information as to whether it’s a prospect worth pursuing.

Each experience will be different, and that’s what’s wonderful about it.

I learn something from every LOI. Even the ones that don’t wind up as clients. It’s always worth the time and effort of research and writing the letter.

How do you research your prospects?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Trust Your Instincts

This will be a short post. Lots of things are up in the air right now, and we’ll see where we are when they settle.

As I’m having meetings and making new contacts, I’ve learned to trust my instincts more. When a red flag comes up, or when my gut tells me something is not right, I’m listening more and more. It’s saving me a world of pain.

Yes, it means I’m not landing some assignments. Actually, it means I’ve pulled myself from consideration on a few projects, because I knew they would be a bad choice. The potential client and I were not the right fit. Moving forward ONLY because I want the paycheck, would have been the wrong choice in the long run.

Each situation was different; some of the red flags were similar, some not. But the gut feeling of “wrong” was there. I listened. As I’m making these choices, the good meetings are even more positive. I’m redefining what I want and need from a work situation. I’m refusing to settle.

Settling doesn’t do either me or the client any good. Both parties need to want the best from and for a project. When it feels wrong, walk away.

One of the most helpful resources I’ve found lately is Liz Ryan of The Human Workplace. Follow her on Twitter. Use the resources on her site. Her commitment to dignity in the workplace and positive solutions are terrific.

On the flip side, I came across an article in a business magazine by a supposed HR expert. A reader had questions about red flags that came up in the interview experience. The HR “expert” ripped her a new one for unrealistic expectations. I found only one of the red flags in the interview process “unrealistic” (the interview didn’t start until 10 minutes later than scheduled, which sometimes happens). The rest of the flags were, to me, big reasons to worry.

The tone of the article was snarky in the wrong way, and deeply anti-worker, in my opinion. I’m not linking back to it because I didn’t keep track. But then I reminded myself it was written by an HR “expert” and appeared in a business publication. Of course it would be pro-management and anti-worker. The basic premise of the article was, “You should be grateful we deigned to give you an interview and take whatever’s offered, whether you like it or not.”

Yes, that’s the way too many businesses are run. When they whine about “not enough skilled workers” remember that if the people searching for those workers are going to treat them poorly and without dignity, the truly skilled will go elsewhere.

Trust your instincts. Learn the protocols of whatever business you want to work in. Make sure your instincts align with being treated with basic dignity and courtesy.

That will help you find the best fit possible.

Is this a pipe dream? What if you’re in desperate straits and have to take something, anything to keep a roof over your head? If that’s your current situation, and you have to take a subpar offer, do so. But don’t get stuck there. Keep searching. The minute you get something better, go. The days of 20 years with the same company and mutual loyalty are long gone. Too many companies believe that everyone is irrelevant and replaceable. While we are all replaceable, even though each individual brings something unique to the table, none of us are irrelevant.

Note: There have been some issues with the contact form on this site, with commenting, and adding the recaptcha in. The host and I are working on it. It’s frustrating, because they have me in an endless loop of repeating things that don’t work, but we’re working on it.

You can email me or connect on twitter @ink_fearless if you need to get in touch quickly while we fix things. I apologize for the inconvenience.

INK-DIPPED ADVICE: Chapter 5: Fred Attends The Chamber Breakfast

Fred Needs A Writer: Chapter 5. The Chamber Breakfast

Our story so far: Small business owner Fred needs a part-time marketing writer for his floor installation business. After advice from his friend, he put an ad on Craigslist and got a variety of responses. He asked for writing samples specific to his company; he received some, but his first choice of writer refused to do one for free. He interviewed several candidates. Each has strengths and weaknesses, and he’s not sure which one will be the right fit. He hires Brianna. At first he’s happy, but lately, he feels like she’s not giving him the time and attention the job needs.

Fred sees the email about the local chamber of commerce breakfast. He hasn’t gone to any events in over a year, although he keeps up his membership. To him Chamber of Commerce membership is a responsibility like voting and serving jury duty.

Kurt and Sandy are going, so at least he’ll know someone.

Fred is surprised by all the new faces, and people of all ages. Even at this hour of the morning, there are lively conversations and lots of laughter. The spread looks pretty good, too. It’s at a local restaurant. Fred’s known the owner, Bart, since they were in school since kindergarten together, and his wife Muriel since she married Bart.

Fred goes over to say hello. “This place looks great,” he says. “You painted? And is that a new logo?”

“We did.” Bart grins at him. “Same good, old-fashioned home cooking, but we freshened the look of the place.”

Fred thinks back to the past few weeks. “You know, I noticed you’re all over the papers. Margaret showed me the article. My daughter said you’re doing a lot on social media.”

“We hired it out,” says Bart. “I can barely Facebook with the grandkids. I don’t enjoy it, and don’t want to make the time.”

“Who’d you hire?” Fred asks. “I hired someone recently, but I think I made the wrong choice.”

“Some of your posts have been a little strange lately,” Bart agrees. “Muriel saw them. Said they don’t sound like you, and were confusing.”

“We were trying to be relevant,” says Fred.

“It seemed more like trying for irony, but came across as sarcasm,” says Bart. “Let me introduce you to the team I hired: Jenny Cotter and Gretchen Rojas. Jenny writes and handles all the posting. Gretchen does the graphics. They’re not cheap, but they’re worth every penny. They’re over there, talking to Jillian.”

“Jillian, of Jillian’s Treasures?” Fred asks. “That new store on Commercial Street?”

“Same Jillian. She’s new to town. Just opened at the start of the season.”

“I see her ads and her logo everywhere,” says Fred. “My wife and daughter kept seeing her name, and started shopping there. Now, they won’t stop.”

“Everyone’s heard of her thanks to Jenny and Gretchen. Come on and say hi.”

Bart introduces Fred to Jillian, Jenny, and Gretchen, who are having a lively conversation. Fred suddenly realizes this is the Jenny whose writing he liked so much, the one who wouldn’t do free samples.

“I wish I’d hired you,” he blurts out.

“You still can,” Jenny smiles at him. “Gretchen and I are a good team.”

They set an appointment to meet at Fred’s showroom.

Fred fills his plate at the buffet and joins Kurt and Sandy. “Don’t see why Bart’s wasting so much money on advertising when the food’s the same,” Kurt mutters.

“The food is good,” says Fred. “Now more people know about it, that’s all.”

“And the locals won’t be able to park and come in for a good meal,” Kurt frets. He changes the subject. “Does Margaret know you’re flirting with younger women?”

“I’m not flirting.” Fred turns red, because he was tempted to flirt. A little. “Jillian has a nice new store that Margaret and my daughter both like. I told her. Jenny and Gretchen do her marketing, and they’re doing Bart’s, too.”

“I don’t know where that Jillian woman gets off thinking she can come here and take over,” Sandy sniffs.

“She’s not your competition,” Fred points out.

“Of course she is,” says Sandy.

Fred has no idea what she means.

“All that over-priced eco-feminist stuff.” Kurt shakes his head. “Waste of money.

“Are you sure you mean eco-feminist?” Fred has no idea what Kurt means.

“Can’t say anything these days with all this political correctness,” Kurt moans. “You can’t mention color. You can’t mention sex. You can’t mention nationality. What can you talk about anymore?”

Fred thinks it has to do more with being a decent human being than politics, but changes the subject. “I made an appointment with Jenny and Gretchen.”

“Both of them?” Kurt snorts. “They’re taking you for a ride, buddy. You don’t need two more women working for you.”

“One writes, one does graphics.”

“Find someone who does both. You save half.”

“That didn’t work so well this time.”

Kurt shrugs. “Your money to waste.”

Fred starts to feel like he’s wasted a lot of time over the years with Kurt.

As they eat, the head of the chamber greets them, and then invites everyone to say a few words about themselves and their business. Fred enjoys listening to the people who run the businesses he uses, and he enjoys listening to the new people. He think Kurt sounds a bit bombastic, and Sandy a little desperate.

When it’s his turn, he feels shy. He tells an anecdote about his father’s time building the business and how his father always said, “You have to stand on something. It might as well be both sturdy and pretty.” It gets a decent laugh.

Jillian’s presentation is charming. Jenny and Gretchen do theirs together, and it’s funny and smart. Fred thinks it’s wonderful. Kurt looks annoyed, and Sandy bored.

He can’t even get near Jenny and Gretchen after the presentations, but waves in their direction as he leaves and looks forward to their meeting.

“Want to play a round this afternoon?” Kurt asks.

Fred shakes his head. “I’m on my way out to a house at the waterfront. They left the slider open on the deck in the storm last week and the floors buckled. I suspect the builder put in something cheap, so we’ll rip it all out and put in a good hard wood.”

Kurt is disappointed. Fred would rather talk flooring with a new client than listen to Kurt moan about the breakfast for 18 holes.

Besides, once he gets back from the client meeting, he’s going to fire Brianna.

Do you attend Chamber events? What is your experience? What advice do you have for Fred?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Mutual Information Sessions, Not “Interview”

Back in the days when I was starting out in the working world, before I worked my way up in theatre to a level where I was paid a living wage so I didn’t have to work temp jobs around show schedules (and then later supplement my income at the rack track), I had a specific attitude toward interviews. I interview them as much as they interview me.

Not much has changed over the years.

What is my purpose, my end game, when I meet potential clients? Why am I pitching myself to them?

My purpose is to be paid a fair fee for using my creative skills to engage and enlarge their audience. The “fair fee” is comprised of my skill, the unusual training and experience I bring to the table, what the work is worth in the competitive marketplace, and how well it achieves my clients’ goals of expanding their business and brand recognition.

I pitch myself to particular clients because what they do interests me, and I believe I’d be a good addition to their team so that they can achieve their goals of business expansion and brand recognition.

Work styles and workplace culture are important to this. If I’m working on site, there are certain things I need: dedicated workspace, the equipment to do the work expected, and uninterrupted work time. I want the environment to be upbeat, friendly, and creative. Preferably with a lot of laughter.

If I’m working remotely, again, I don’t want to be interrupted every two seconds by phone calls or demands. Let me do my work. I’m far more productive and, in the long run, it costs the client less money.

I think I mentioned on this blog (or maybe it was on Ink in My Coffee), the interview I had with a local business a couple of years ago where none of the above was true. It was supposed to be a marketing/writing position. Only my “desk” would be a board set up across two oil drums and a stool. They’d “prefer” I brought in my own laptop, but that it be one that was “dedicated” to their business. (I’m supposed to purchase multiple lap tops for different clients? I think not). I would have to cover reception at least a couple of times a week during lunch. I also had to accept that there would be inappropriate remarks or physical contact because “that’s who these guys are.” For a rate that was less than half of my usual rate, part-time, no benefits or paid holidays or vacation or anything else.

Uh, no.

I thanked them for their time and left.

I spend more time in the early conversations asking about a typical day, the environment, etc. than I used to. I spend at least as much time on that as I do on the actual tasks.

I’m not twenty, on my first job. I know I’m up to the tasks, or I wouldn’t have pitched in the first place.

I also ask where they see the company in the next year, the next three years, the next five years. What are their goals? How do they see the company growing? Do they see a shift in focus? Where do they see themselves in the political, economic, and social contexts? What do they see as their place in the world?

These are not questions for anyone in the Human Resources Department. In the decades since I’ve started my professional working life, I have yet to get any accurate information on anything other than a pay stub from someone assigned to “human resources.” These are questions I ask to the people with whom I’d be directly working.

Very often, I build on my answers to their questions to ask my own questions. This means we cover a lot of ground that is often left in their last question, which is to ask if I have any questions. I usually have one or two, but often I can say, “We’ve covered them in our previous conversation.” That shows that yes, I HAD questions, but we’ve talked about them, and there’s no point in repeating ourselves.

After the interview process (because it’s usually more than one talk), I send handwritten thank you notes. I used to do it after each conversation, but that got too complicated, especially if multiple conversations are set up over a short period of time. The more companies expand globally, the more people in different regions are factored into the equation.

I take notes during the conversation, to make sure nothing is missed — or later changed. I’ve had that, too, especially in terms of money. “That’s not what we talked about.” Actually, yes, it is, and I have the notes to prove it. I date the notes. Sometimes I’ll type them up, but I always, ALWAYS keep handwritten notes during a conversation, dated and timed.

When the conversation leads into a quote or letter or agreement or contract as the next step, I type a letter/memo based on the notes and the conversation to make sure we all agree. So we are, literally, on the same page.

And then we build from there, with the actual work.

How do you handle initial meetings and/or interviews? What are some of your favorite questions to ask? What are questions you’re asked that make you roll your eyes?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Personal Strategic Plan — Core Values

 

Back on January 16, I talked about a Personal Strategic Plan. Then, on February 27, I talked about putting together a personal vision or mission statement, and how the one I use for myself differs slightly from the one I implement for my clients.

Now, we’re on to the next step in the plan: Core Values.

What does that mean for a writer or freelancer or artist?

For me, it means defining the integrity behind the work. What is the core of personal integrity I use in my own work and toward my own work?

Part of it is how I explore characters, situations, and beliefs in my writing. I write to understand the world (or built/fictional worlds) better, even through characters with whom I don’t agree. Sometimes, I write to bear witness. Other times, I write to find a way to do better, as an individual and a society.

For clients, I shape their message to reach their best and widest audience.

However, if I don’t respect what they stand for, I can’t do that. I don’t work for people who want me to shape a message that I believe is harmful or contrary to who I am as a human being.

Which means I’ve turned down quite a few high-paid gigs. And I’m okay with that.

Other people make other decisions, and that’s up to them.

I practice conscientious consumerism. I don’t shop at places who treat their employees badly or who implement religious or racist or gender-intolerant policies. So what if they’re cheaper? I’d rather spend a little more to buy a little less at a place with ethics that align more closely to my own. I choose to put my money elsewhere. I work hard for my money (to paraphrase Donna Summers’s famous song), and I’m not turning it over to businesses I find loathsome. There are restaurants where I won’t eat and stores where I won’t shop. I politely decline invitations to them; I drive to other stores to get similar items. I don’t have to stand on a soapbox and denounce them or attack other people who spend money there; I make my own decisions and act on them.

Do I get it right every time? Of course not. But I make an effort, and if I find out something about a company that runs counter to my core values, it changes my shopping habits.

So what are my core values?

For my own work, it is to shape worlds through words that explore and expand understanding of different points of view, with an intent toward building a better understanding, and therefore, a better society for all.

By the way, I do not believe that runs counter to being able to entertain. So, for all those people huffing and puffing about how they write to “entertain” and stay away from current events or anything else that has meaning in our daily lives, I look at them and think, “cop out.” However, it’s their choice. I’m glad to know that’s their position. As a conscientious consumer, I then chose to put my money elsewhere; I also do not expect them to put their money into anything of mine. We are each acting on our core values. And can have long and happy lives far away from each other.

The most entertaining, deepest work deals with difficulties people face and how they triumph (or don’t). Humor, at its best, speaks to deeper issues in the vein of ha-ha-ow! when it hits properly.

Work that is “entertaining” is not necessarily “irrelevant” or “fluffy.” We all want entertainment we deem as “brain candy” sometimes. We need it. But the best of it works on multiple levels. Yes, it relieves stress and takes us out of ourselves and our daily problems. But when it endures, we can then do back and enjoy it again on a deeper level. That doesn’t disqualify its ability to please us and charm us and offer respite. True entertainment never condescends to its audience OR its own characters. It pleasures and uplifts all of them.

For my clients, my core values mean to work with people I respect; people who are passionate about what they do and want to share it with a larger audience. It is to work WITH them to create the most positive, engaging message to reach the widest possible audience.

Figuring this out took years. I had to figure out not only what I believed and where my boundaries are, but those beliefs and boundaries shifted as I learned and grew as a person. Eighteen-year-old me made different compromises than twenty-five year-old me than the much-older-me today. I learned, I grew, I tried different things, I made A LOT of mistakes, I learned or didn’t from them, I made more mistakes, I listened to other people and learned from them, and I grew. I improved as a human being, thank goodness. I hope I do that my entire life, even while I still make mistakes.

There were too many years when I tried to please people or make money by working for people whose behavior and values made me cringe because we’re constantly being told that type of behavior is “professional.” As recently as last year, I disengaged from a client because, although the client’s parameters were absolutely legal, I felt some of the ethics were questionable, especially in alignment with my values. I was uncomfortable being part of the organization. I felt I was hypocritical to my own integrity, and therefore I did not give the client the best of my work. Which was a negative for both of us. It made sense for us to part ways, and both go on to better for each of us.

Who I am as a person is not compartmentalized from who I am as a professional. Once I stopped buying into the myth that a professional can and will do anything for the cash without caring about ethics, and started doing work that I not only loved but believed in for people I respected, it all shifted. It’s often not easy. It takes more hustle, more energy, more disappointment, a bigger fight to get fair pay. But for me, it’s worth it.

What do you consider your core values, and how did you figure them out?

Ink-Dipped Advice: The Beauty of Guidelines

 

Whether you’re pitching an article or submitting a novel query or pitching a script, the guidelines of any particular publisher are important.

Following them properly are vital to success at landing a contract.

I’ve taught entire workshops on interpreting guidelines and following them.

Having worked on both sides of the editorial table, I sympathize with both editors who are frustrated by writers who don’t follow guidelines, and writers who are frustrated by the guidelines.

It’s important to remember that the guidelines and how the writer follows them are the first test to see if the writer and the publisher are a good fit.

The editor wants to know:
–can the writer demonstrate basic reading comprehension and follow instructions;
–can the writer understand and fulfill the requirements of being part of this organization;
–can the writer demonstrate fluency in grammar, spelling, sentence and paragraph structure, understand the purpose of a hook, and distill the necessary information into a single page;
–can the writer demonstrate an intelligence and a flexibility that proves the individual is easy to work with and doesn’t need constant babysitting.

Guidelines are not there to make the writer’s life miserable. They exist to streamline the process for the editor/publication and weed out those who are more trouble than they’re worth.

I took a wonderful workshop, way back in film school, about pitching screenplays. A good portion of it was about developing a logline. A logline is a single sentence (not complex, compound, or run-on) that encapsulates the screenplay while enchanting the listener.

The workshop leader, who worked in acquisitions and development for a major studio, stated that if the writer could not distill the screenplay down into that one simple logline, the writer didn’t know the piece well enough, it needed another draft, and was not ready to pitch.

I remember that every time I prepare a pitch or a query. There are times when I decide not to pitch or query something because I obviously need more time with it, and I can’t distill it down to the basics while making it enticing.

The elevator pitch is more like a paragraph, but the logline is a good test of whether or not something is ready to go out.

On the flip side of guidelines, when I see demanding guidelines that take me so far out of standard manuscript format that I should be on staff for the publication and paid to reformat, it gives me pause. There’s a reason standard manuscript format uses the word “standard.”

I draft in standard manuscript format because it is far easier to format OUT of it than into it, should that be necessary (to create one-paragraph summaries, excerpts for media kits and interviews, etc). And, people, the default in Word is NOT standard manuscript format. It will mess you up. Set the document to standard manuscript format when you start the first words of your manuscript, and it will serve you well.

If you don’t know what “standard manuscript format” is — LOOK IT UP. Don’t expect others to do your research for you. The information is out there. Put in some effort to learn your craft.

Back from that little tangent.

When guidelines are overly complicated, or when there’s an edge of nastiness to them, I step back. I do more research. It’s a hint that perhaps we are not a good fit.

When I see something in the guidelines that I disagree with, with which I’m not willing to suck it up and do it,  I take a deep breath and move on.

I don’t email them to ask for an exception or to argue with them. They have the right to set whatever guidelines that work for them.

I have the right not to submit.

That’s the beauty of the guidelines. They give BOTH sides of the equation necessary information.

As a writer, if the guidelines don’t work for you, DON’T SUBMIT. Keep doing your research, and find a publication/publisher that’s a better match.

Submitting anyway, because you think you’re such a brilliant writer that they’ll make an exception for you will only cause frustration for both of you. You’ll be upset because you’ll get a rejection. If you don’t follow guidelines, chances are it will be rejected unread. They will be frustrated because you wasted their time and proved you’re not a professional.

If you ARE that brilliant, a different publication, where you’re comfortable with and have followed the guidelines, will contract you. If you ARE that brilliant, word will get around, and publications will wind up coming to you.

When you’re simply Very Good, you work a little harder to find the right fit, and don’t bother with publications that are the wrong fit.

Which you can often tell from the guidelines.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Fast On Your Feet– Dealing with Change

One of the reasons I like freelancing is that I like variety. I learned early on, when I had temp jobs back in high school, that I wouldn’t last long in Cubicle World. We weren’t suited to each other.

On the flips side of it, when a client changes the parameters of a project, laughing it off as, “You’ll never get bored here; everything is different” — that is often a red flag.

Which is why your contract and/or Letter of Agreement is so important.

So how do you balance that, and how do you keep enough variety in your life with short-term one-offs, while still having the stability of steady income, without falling a rut?

Damned if I know.

Bet you expected a different answer, didn’t you?

But I’m figuring it out. It’s probably different for me than for many others, but maybe something in my journey will resonate. If I can save someone else pain, frustration, and time, good for all of us.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve developed two important tools:

Listening
I keep going back to that, don’t I? But listening is important. That’s how you create, that’s how you figure out what’s under the actual words, and which words you need to craft the message. Both your own message and the client’s.

Listen to the client.

Listen to yourself. Not just what you say to the client and how you say it, but how does it feel?

I recently withdrew from consideration from a project that attracted me because I liked the organization, and the money/security aspect was seductive. However, listening, really listening to them in the meeting, and then to my own instincts, let me know we were not the right fit. They needed someone with different skills than I have. They were willing to train me, but those weren’t skills and job elements that would have made me happy. What had attracted me to the job in the first place turned out to be a small portion of the job. We weren’t what the other partner needed.

Because it IS a partnership, when it works well.

I listened to them.

Even more importantly, I listened to my own instincts.

We parted on good terms.

Which is better than taking the job, proving I wasn’t happy, and leaving on bad terms.

“No” is not a dirty word
As a freelancer, you are allowed to say “no.” You are allowed to refuse jobs that you don’t want or like, for whatever reason.

I don’t work for companies who support practices I believe are harmful to justice, equality, and climate change. That is my choice. Other people don’t really care, as long as they’re paid fairly and on time. I do. My politics is not separate from my life or my work. Not at this stage of the game.

Do we have to take jobs we don’t like, just for the cash? Most of us have, at one time or another. Many of us may have to in the future, especially when the economy crashes again. But it doesn’t mean we have to stay forever. You survive. I keep digging until I find a client that doesn’t go against everything I value.

Coping with change
Change is often thrown at us when we least want to deal with it.

Coping mechanisms that I find useful (outside of sticking to my daily yoga/meditation practice no matter how crazy the day gets) include:

–when you start to feel the change, or see the red flags, pay attention. This goes back to listening. Trust your instincts, then find facts to back them up (or prove otherwise). Usually, however, your instincts are correct.

–keep your resume updated. Even when you’re comfortable. I keep a Master CV that has Everything I’ve Ever Done and is massive. From that, I pull to create relevant resumes for the LOIs.

–keep your clip files current. As soon as it’s published/produced, I add it to my clip file, as both a printable hard copy and a link. Links go away. Hard copies can be scanned or copied or used in a variety of ways.

–keep talking to people. Send out LOIs, even during big projects. Go to Chamber events and other networking sessions. Go to conferences. Talk to other professionals across disciplines on social media.

–keep learning. Take courses in skills and interests. Read about what’s changing in your field, and add to your skill set. I’m a big fan of Coursera, but there are plenty of other places, too.

–acknowledge feelings of sadness, anger, fear. You feel what you feel. It’s not about what other people decide is relevant or useful. Your emotions are valid. Face them, accept them, find ways to work with them, not ignore them. Repression will come back to bite you in the butt.

–embrace transience. Everything changes. Enjoy the perfect moments of happiness, and then make a commitment to enjoy the journey and build something better.

How do you prepare for and work with upcoming change?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Tools and Resources

 

Last week’s post promised further discussion about the tools and resources you need to get the job done.

Tasks, Job Descriptions, Contracts
Far too many job listings should be flagged for false advertising. The listing that claims to want a “Marketing Coordinator” actually wants a receptionist who writes press releases in between phone calls (not happening). The “Social Media Manager” spends more time fixing computer problems than creating content for social media platforms. The “Marketing Director” doesn’t direct marketing at all, but is actually supposed to do the job of a sales assistant.

I currently live in a work-for-hire state. The first thing the employer states in the offer is that the job is “at will” and you can be fired without notice or reason (which also means you then have to fight to get paid, and, if you’ve worked on payroll rather than 1099, it’s a fight to get unemployment benefits if you were fired).

By law, it also means that the employee can leave “at will” at any time without notice. The employer, who just fired Betty last week in a fit of pique is now shocked, shocked I tell you, when Jane walks out at lunchtime in frustration, because now Jane’s doing her work and Betty’s work (which is nowhere near the tasks she was hired for), and the employer is delighted not to pay two employees, even though both jobs were part time and without benefits, sick days, or paid holidays.

It also makes it harder to give two weeks’ notice and have any transition/training time. The new position won’t hold it while you try not to screw over your previous employer and wrap everything up; the person you’re replacing is long gone and no one knows what that individual did or any of the passwords, or can even find the job description; and you don’t have a chance to train the person coming in to do your former job. And all the notes you so carefully left for that person have disappeared.

This means, even for freelance/remote work, most local clients don’t want to sign a contract. But the contract is vital in order to keep the job parameters clear.

Basically, if you’re coming in to write freelance marketing materials for a client, the contract will spell out that writing the materials in that specific contract are ALL you’re going to do, and that any work that is outside of what is listed in the contract must go under a separate contract for a separate price.

Resources
Around here, they fight remote work, too. Although they are often loathe to give you desk space, a decent chair, a drawer in a file cabinet, or anything else you might need.

About a year and a half ago, I went in to talk to one potential client who wouldn’t even consider having me work remotely, but my “desk” would be a board set up across two oil drums during the hours I came in to work there. Oh, and, by the way, although the job was for a marketing position, I’d also be doing some light bookkeeping, responsible for payroll, and answer the phone for two hours a day. And I should be comfortable with the men in the office making inappropriate comments, because, you know, that’s how men are. Oh, and the ad had the “wrong” financial information. It’s actually minimum wage, with no benefits.

Buh-bye.

Then there are the employers who tell you that you have to supply your own laptop (and what brand) and iPhone (and how much memory it has to have).

The response to that is “My kit fee for providing my own equipment is X dollars/week on top of the project fee.”

That always gets a shocked response, too.

No, sweetie, I am not carrying the cost of your electronics. You want me to use a particular piece of equipment? YOU supply it. Or you pay me a kit fee if I’m using my own. Not to mention the insurance I have to carry, in case anything happens to it while I’m using it for YOU.

Sales/Marketing/Promotion/Advertising
Far too many businesses lump them all together. Marketing and Sales often work closely together, but they are not the same thing and require different skills.

When I worked in wardrobe, on Broadway, our union contract specified what each element contains.

The biggest misinformation that’s taken hold over the last few years is that the Marketing Director performs the same tasks as a Sales Rep.

No.

As a member of the marketing team, my job is to engage and enchant the audience and expand the potential audience. I get them interested in the product or onto the site. It’s up to the Sales team to close the deal, provide necessary customer service, and get the money transferred.

Promotion uses elements from both sales and marketing teams, and often involves swag. A tangible object, usually with a logo and a website address, that a random person can have and hold, and think of the product/organization every time they see or use the object. Seeing it regularly, if and when it evokes a positive response, will result in another sale/another visit/further engagement. Sales and marketing often brainstorm the ideas and products, marketing finesses the content/logos/pithy quotes and gets them into production, and sales distributes them and follows up with potential clients.

Advertising is the visual and/or audio engagement where the company pays for placement, such as on a radio station, or web advertising, or newspaper advertising or program advertising. More and more often, it’s called “sponsorship” — but it’s still advertising. The sales and marketing team create a slick product that the company pays to place, in the hope that where it’s placed reaches the right audience that are then interested in the company’s product, which results in sales numbers that are higher than what was paid to create and place the ad.

Marketing and sales work often work together, but the actual tasks are different. It’s vital they work well together as a team, but it’s marketing’s job to create and engage, and sales’s job to close the deal. Marketing is more of an introvert’s task (because it’s about content creation and placement), where sales is more of an extrovert’s task.

The reason so many businesses are struggling, especially small businesses, is that they try to bunch it into a single position. The person they hire is generally better at one side of it or the other. A great marketing person is not necessarily a good sales person. Great content and a beautifully planned campaign need time and space — uninterrupted work time and QUIET. A great sales person may be able to laugh and joke and glad-hand, but not necessarily create the content or plan a fully-rounded, multi-platformed campaign.

That doesn’t mean the marketing person never goes out and represents the company — they often do. Many do it very, very well. But the delineations are important.

In the long run, it doesn’t save the company money to hire one person to do both not-so-well, rather than two people who are excellent at their separate pieces of the puzzle.

Same with the demand that the writer also be able to do the graphic design. Those are separate skills. Great writers paired with great graphic designers create great product.

I’ve worked with potential clients who decide I’m too expensive, and have their graphic designers write the content. Yeah, it looks great, but the content often makes no sense and is full of errors. Or the client demands that I do the design, but wants me responsible to also research permissions, pay permissions fees for visuals, use any Adobe or Dreamweaver skills — all at the quote I gave for content.

No.

These are distinct skills that deserve fair pay. If you’re offering yourself on a job site to do all of this for $20, you’re screwing yourself and all the rest of the freelancers out here working hard to retain respect and earn a living.

Time
One of the things most employers don’t understand is how much time it takes to create materials. UNINTERRPUTED TIME.

When a listing talks about a “busy environment” or “must have ability to juggle projects” or “multi-task” — it means they will dump anything they don’t feel like doing on you, and interrupt you every fifteen seconds, never allowing you to get anything done. And then wonder why the marketing materials aren’t done on time or have errors on the first few passes. The expectation is that if you need quiet time, you do it after hours. Without pay.

This, of course, could be avoided if they’d give you uninterrupted work time, or, better yet, if they respected their freelancers enough for remote work.

I am much more productive and efficient in my own space. It actually saves the business money when I work remotely. They get a higher quality of work with a shorter turnaround time.

Also, when they are sitting there staring at you while you work, they assume any time you are on social media, you are screwing around on company time.

No, honey, you hired me to handle your social media. That means, in addition to creating the content, I have to be on the various platforms both to post and to INTERACT. Just tossing content on a platform DOES NOTHING.

This requires time. Every day that is scheduled to work. Not just charging X dollars per tweet, but factoring in the time you need to respond, follow, interact, and grow the audience.

Ask Questions Before You Take the Job
Ask questions about all these elements in your early client meetings. Find a way to work that is productive for both of you and then PUT IT IN WRITING.

Liking the client doesn’t negate the need for a contract.

What are some of the frustrating demands you’ve encountered? How did you deal with them?

Ink-Dipped Advice: What Does Your Client Want?

 

This is the central question when you’re doing marketing writing or blogging or any type of work for your freelance clients.

In initial meetings, when you decided if you wanted to work together, you hopefully discussed goals and vision. Your contract should define the parameters. Now, you can get into specifics.

For a client, the next question I have is, “Who do you see as your target market?”

Because sometimes who we/they “see” as the target market isn’t necessarily the best/lucrative/realistic market. Sometimes there’s value in targeting them anyway and expanding the market. Sometimes the desired target is so far from the reality of what will appeal, that there has to be some discussion and consideration. Desiring to sell dog food to cat owners is not going to grow your business.

Stretching and expanding is great. Casting a wide net is great. But spending money in a completely wrong direction is not worth it.

Far too often, the answer is “everyone.”

Well, yes, we live in an information age. Hopefully, we can restore Net Neutrality, and get more information (and education) available to everyone.

But “everyone” is not the right target.

Who is the ideal audience?

Novelists, playwrights, diarists, bloggers, etc. often write for a specific “someone” as their “ideal” audience, even if they can’t actually give height, weight, eye color, hair color, name, etc.

When you create a marketing campaign, or are part of a team that executes one, you need to have that “ideal audience” defined.

If you work for an organization that puts on a variety of programs, the target for each may be a little difference. You want your regular attendees to feel welcomed and included, so that they look forward to returning, time and time again, and having a fresh, fun time each visit.

You also want to expand the audience — place the materials in spots so people who are interested in this type of information will come across it and get interested.

How do you do that?

Listen
We’re back to that whole listening thing we talked about last week. Listening to your client is the most important skill you have.

Listen not just to the words, but to the subtext. What’s not being said? Is there a contradiction? Why? What’s the meaning under the words? What does the body language indicate?

Ask Questions
Ask questions, get clarifications, go deeper.

Asking questions doesn’t mean you don’t know what you’re doing. It means you’re interviewing the client and digging deeper for context and depth.

Match Message to Platform
I do not agree with the often-quoted marketing advice that the same information must be on every platform and it all has to match.

The tone and the message need to be consistent. But different platforms serve different types or portions of information better.

Facebook is different from Twitter is different from Instagram is different from Tumblr is different from Ello is different from Vero is different from Dots is different from MySpace and so on and so forth.

What is the strength of each platform? What is the weakness? Use each to its best, and slot in your information in a way that works best for the platform. Yes, if you have event information that needs to be disbursed across all platforms. But as someone who uses multiple platforms, when I see ONLY the same information on each one, I resent it. To me, it means there’s an information blanket being thrown over everything, and no individuality involved.

On a social media platform, if there’s no engagement, no response when I share or comment on something, I move on pretty darn fast.

Business has de-personalized so much, to the point of not signing legal documents, because it’s easier to hurt people when you stop thinking of them as “people.” Government is doing the same. It’s part of the reason we’re in the mess we’re in, on multiple levels. De-humanizing and de-individualizing in order to make higher profit.

The way small and medium-sized businesses and organizations can compete is by re-personalizing.

When the client gets that, and is willing to pay for the time it takes to do that, the client will see an increase in profit. It grows more slowly, but it happens.

We’ll get more into de-personalizing and re-personalizing next week.

Other messages are better shared through blog posts or articles or advertorials or media kits or web content. Match your message — or the portion of your message — to the best platform.

Message Expansion Takes Time & Resources
You need the time to come up with the message and create the materials. That means uninterrupted work time, not answering the phone or sending out invoices or doing the ten other things too many small businesses try to foist on you when you sign on. (Make sure your contract defines your parameters).

You need the time to post things, or schedule things to post. I use Hootsuite when I want to schedule posts on multiple platforms, Twuffer to focus on Twitter. I like the way Twuffer pushes photos to Twitter.

Quick response time is key, especially on social media. You need engagement. It’s not about posting and expecting audience growth. You post, there’s a response, there’s engagement, it’s shared, there’s more engagement and so forth and so on.

This takes time. When you’re building a social media presence for a business, you’re not screwing around on social media. Don’t apologize or try to minimize the time or the level of engagement necessary to make it work. Don’t sell yourself short.

Be Prepared to Change Direction
Your client might decide that’s not really the message they want out there; or that it’s taking too long to pay off.

The latter is the hardest to work with. Because so much on social media is instant, clients often don’t understand that it takes months to engage and build an audience. Months of daily interaction. Try to set realistic goals for growth at the beginning. Included engagement goals. Not just getting more followers, but the amount of interactions/the quality of those interactions. Then try to exceed those goals wherever possible.

Keep Communitcating with Your Client
It’s not just about what’s working. It’s also about what’s not hitting the mark, and what might need tweaking.

Communicate, communicate, communicate. Listen, listen, listen.

Communication and being sensitive to your client’s needs and desires is key to making it work in the materials and in the office.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Crafting Client Voice

“Voice” is a term that is used in writing to denote that special way an author puts together words in order to resonate with a reader.

Authorial voice is something some writers struggle to find and then hone for years. It is something that makes a reader recognize it’s you and not one of your ten thousand colleagues within the first paragraph.

However, when you stretch yourself to marketing writing for others, it’s not about YOUR voice. It’s about your client voice. That brings with it special challenges.

First, whose voice is the client voice? Is it the person who hired you? Or the person who owns the company? Or the person who runs the company? Or has this particular company created a character that’s the face of the company that needs a voice? Or is it a combination?

When you come in to work on marketing materials, one of the most important questions to ask early on is “Who is the voice of the company?” Not “what” but “who.”

Far too often, marketing materials miss because there is no cohesive voice. Even if it’s a collaborative or a co-operative, and different voices are featured, there needs to be a single, unified voice that represents the company.

Part of your job as a writer for that company is finding that voice and then developing it.

This is where my theatre training comes in. Because I know how to create characters, both on the page and with actors, I can work with the decision-makers in the company to create a voice and then use it consistently across the different types of channels — press releases, social media posts, websites, etc.

It can be a challenge when there are too many voices (often with egos attached), and you have to both combine them and distill them to create a distinctive voice. It can be a challenge when you’re working with a small business owner who is still trying to find the voice and wants their own personality to be the voice.

Handling their egos in this is a delicate matter. We all deserve basic human dignity and respect. But many people aren’t as interesting to a vast audience as they think they are. So they need help developing a business voice that is individually “them” but also better. It’s the Best Self, the most polished and professional and witty and funny and incisive self that also engages an expanding audience and interests that audience in whatever the business needs to promote/sell/serve to stay in business.

The first step in this is to genuinely LISTEN. Out of the first ten thousand words of what the client thinks they want, you might find 20 that are useful.

For me, it is use-LESS to have these conversations on the phone. In general, I find the phone a waste of time, money, and creative energy. I’ve never had a business phone conversation of more than 90 seconds that had value.

The conversations that develop voice need to happen in person or via video conferencing. The person’s tone, the facial expressions, the body language, the light in the eyes, the places they smile, what they find amusing — all of this is vital for the writer to craft the character and voice that will represent the brand. You enhance what works, you recede what doesn’t.

You create a character and a style that effectively communicates the message and expands the audience.

That has NOTHING to do with slathering photographs of the business owner and workers all over the place. In my opinion, selfies do more harm than good in business. It doesn’t “personalize” the business or product; it dilutes it.

Having a spokesperson is different — those photos are done in designated shoots with a specific purpose in mind. The spokesperson is chosen for the ability to promote a specific look and voice that the decision-makers believe best represents them.

If the business wants headshots of specific individuals or a page on the website of workers happily going about their day — great. But there’s a time and place for those types of photos, and it’s not a daily social media post.

The exception to that could be a service organization — but then you need to get signed releases from everyone you photograph. Someone coming into your space is not automatic permission to be photographed and shared publicly. People get to decide where and how their likenesses are used.

If you try to force them, you will lose them.

You want to capture the speaker’s natural rhythm and cadence; at the same time, you enhance it, strengthening sentence structure and word choice, cutting out the boring bits, the qualifiers, the passive. You do this while retaining the speaker’s cadence.

When I write a speech for someone else, when I do it well, the speaker sounds as though speaking off the cuff – even though we spent hours honing it and rehearsing it. Once we researched it.

Yes, as the writer, when I write something that will be spoken live and/or taped, I’m the one who rehearses the speaker. Part of that is my theatre training. Part of that is that I can rewrite and make necessary changes in the rehearsal process so that it sounds even better and more natural.

Because I LISTEN. I listen as the writer, but I also listen as the audience. I work on multiple levels simultaneously, because the material I create must work on the audience on multiple levels.

So talk, listen, create a voice, and work with those who are the face of the company (speaking engagements, chamber events, trade shows, etc.) so they speak in a similar cadence to the marketing materials. Yes, they are themselves. But when they represent their company, they have to align themselves with the company voice.

Even with a small company, it’s a lot of moving parts. It takes thought, planning, creativity. But most important, you need to listen. You need to understand subtext. You need to be able to shear away the words, gestures, and quirks that dilute the message and focus it in a way that’s easy to speak and easy to hear.