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.

Assess, Recalibrate, Plan

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It’s that time of year again, where we look back and evaluate the year.

The whole pandemic has been a time of daily re-evaluation and re-assessment. But now, it’s time to sit down, with pen and paper, and be honest with yourself.

–What worked? What didn’t?

–Where did you feel you had no choices?

–What can you do to open options?

–What do you need to get rid of?

–What do you want and need moving forward?

In addition to all this practicality, you need to take some time to dream. This year taught us we can make all the strategic plans, all the three-year/five-year/ten-year plans the “experts” tell us we need – and then we have to throw them out when the unexpected comes our way.

I’m going to use the questions on the Goals, Dreams, and Resolutions site to help me plan.

We need to be versatile, flexible, resourceful, creative.

All those are positive skills.

Now that we’ve discovered we’re far more capable than we realized, we need to decide how we’re going to use these skills moving forward that best serve OUR vision for our lives.

I’m Not Begging You For work

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Perhaps it’s because so many people are unemployed, so many employers are feeling smug. Or perhaps the HR departments simply don’t care any more. But there’s an unfortunate trend in expecting talented candidates to return to a company again and again to beg for work.

Yet companies complain there aren’t enough talented/skilled workers out there, which is simply not true. Companies are driving them away during the initial screening process – a longer post on this is in the works.

One of the most annoying paragraphs HR sends out to potential candidates is the “keep checking our careers page and apply to us again.”

No, honey.

YOU are supposed to be Human Resources. That means, if you do your job well (and yes, I’ve worked in human resources, so I actually know how to do this job and have done this job), your mission is to find talented people whose skills will lift the company to the next level. If you get more talent than openings, you court those you can’t hire in the moment, so when there’s an opening, you already have relationships with skilled workers and can bring them in.

You HAVE the candidate’s resume, work samples, references. Chances are, you’ve spoken to them a few times. In preliminary interviews.

Now, it is YOUR job to remember them, remember their talents, keep in touch or respond pleasantly if they choose to keep in touch with you, and YOU contact THEM when there’s an opening. Not expect them to start at the beginning of the process again.

That doesn’t mean you don’t post the job again and perhaps find even more skilled talent out there who wasn’t available/didn’t hear about it/weren’t looking the first time around.

If you are actually in HUMAN Resources, and not just trying to fill a compliant body into a company slot, you’re constantly trying to find great talent for a company in which you believe. When you find it, even if you can’t hire that individual at that moment, you make sure you keep track of them so you can hire them the next time or two down the road.

You DON’T expect a talented, skilled candidate to wait around refreshing your page once a week and beg for another chance. A truly talented, skilled candidate will move on to a company – and an HR department – who actually values the resources that make them a good HUMAN investment for the company.

Skill and talent are ALWAYS in demand.

Don’t lose the best candidates because you can’t be bothered to keep track of talent. No company is that busy and has that much talent knocking on the door that they can’t keep in touch with great candidates. If you don’t have a system that works well to do so, then change your system.

Better yet, create a new one, patent it, sell it, and train others to use it.

Remember the HUMAN in “human resources.”

If you don’t treat your talent well, no matter what the field, the talent will gravitate to those who do.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Positive Career Re-Shaping

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I realized that last week’s post was more tied to the piece I’m working on about how employers are driving away the skilled workers they claim they want than actually about re-shaping my career.

I’ve re-shaped my career often. I’ve made my living in the arts since I was 18. Sure, I took temp jobs and office jobs in between, and even earned rent a few times betting the horses out at Aqueduct. But the bulk of it was in the arts, and the arts were always my focus.

Any job outside the arts ONLY served to get me through until I had another job inside the arts that paid me enough to live. Then I quit the other job.

If the job got in the way of the career, the job was eliminated when I got a good career opportunity.

A PAID opportunity.

NOT an “exposure” opportunity,

Remember, people die of exposure. Insist on the cash.

I started in lighting, for theatre and rock and roll. I wanted to work more closely with actors, so I moved into stage management.

From stage management, I moved into wardrobe (so I wasn’t on call 24/7 and could have a life and keep writing – through all of this, I always wrote).

I stayed, happily, in wardrobe, working my way up to Broadway, until I started aging out of the physical demands and decided I wanted to leave while I still loved it. I watched too many people age in the jobs, afraid to leave, in pain, unhappy, and bitter. I didn’t want to be one of them.

I moved away from New York to a place I’d always loved. Unfortunately, it’s a place that supports the arts in name only.  They love it when prominent artists come in to visit and do special programs and have second homes here; they don’t believe artists in their community deserve a living wage to do what they do.

I took a job that I thought would be a dream job, but turned out to be a two-year nightmare, with a boss that loved to sabotage anything I did and daily told me that “something” was wrong with me. Because anyone who disagreed with her must have “something” wrong with them.

Still, when I was fired from that job (technically, the position was “eliminated”), I was devastated. I’ve only recently realized how deep the psychological damage is. The boss tried to break me; she didn’t succeed, but it will take a long time before the wounds are just scars.

I went back to a local theatre for a quick summer gig – bad situation in a lot of respects, and woefully underpaid, but still worth it.

Then, I worked to rebuild what I wanted and needed from my career, focusing more on business and marketing writing, which I enjoy. I love to work with people in different fields who are smart and passionate about what they do, and I love to communicate that passion to engage a larger audience. I find it joyful.

All of this time, I was still meeting contract deadlines on books, writing new books, switching publishers, attending and/or teaching at conferences, writing plays, writing radio plays, and so forth and so on.

I found some local clients, and did a mix of onsite and remote work, although, writing-wise, I firmly believe the writer does not need to be in someone else’s office.  Many were one-and-done, some because that’s all they needed; others because they balked at paying, insisted I work onsite, but would not provide me with a professional working environment. A laptop on a board set over two overturned oil drums is not an acceptable desk.

I spent more and more time with clients farther afield. I put a lot of miles on my car, driving for in-person meetings all over New England as I pitched across the country and the world. Interestingly enough, it was easier to land international remote clients when I lived in NYC than where I live now. Part of that is the current political situation, because more and more international companies don’t want to work with Americans right now.  I worked with a mix of profit and non-profits. I worked with solopreneurs and artists. Still writing novels, plays, radio plays. I took the bus into Boston more often.

I was actually willing to set up a regular commuting situation into Boston, even though it meant being up by 4:30 in the morning to be on a 6:15 bus and not getting home until 10 or 11 at night. Boston is only 65 miles from here, but the commute can take anywhere from 2 to 5 hours in each direction, depending on traffic.

On the bus, I could write my 1000 words a day, and read the books I was sent for review. I couldn’t do much more than that, but the clients who paid appropriately for my skills were in Boston, not where I am.

I was at that turning point earlier this spring – ready to commit to ridiculously long commuting hours for at least the next year or two.

Then, the pandemic hit, and we were on Stay-At-Home order. Let me make this clear – people are dancing around talking saying how we were in “quarantine” – we were NOT. Here in MA, it was a stay-at-home order. Yes, offices and stores and libraries and museums and performance venues and schools were closed. But we were not quarantined, and there was no enforcement. We were encouraged to only grocery shop once every 14 days, but we weren’t FORCED so to do. There was (and is) a mask mandate in the state, which too many people ignored, and more and more are failing to fulfil.

The positive part of the pandemic was that, for those of us who already worked remotely, at least a good portion of the time, and for those who prefer it, it proved that working remotely is viable for many “office” jobs.

Now that they’re forcing us back out, without a plan, to Die For Our Employers, those of us who can work well remotely and got a lot of push-back for it are re-shaping our careers so to do. We’re supported and encouraged by those who have worked remotely full-time for years.

It means I can re-shape my career yet again. I am more productive, more creative, and more focused in my home office. I have it set up for maximum benefit, in a way NO office in this area has ever served. (I admit, I’ve had some pretty sweet offices in both New York and San Francisco).

It also means I can live anywhere I choose, as long as there’s a good internet connection – and one I can afford.

When I worked on Broadway, I had to live in a commutable distance from Broadway in order to work there. When I moved, it was a conscious choice to move beyond a commutable distance, because I knew I wouldn’t really give it up unless I couldn’t physically get there.

I’m also looking at different types of work.

I write.

I’m not a graphic designer, although I can put together ads and social media posts. I work WITH graphic designers well. So when I see a listing that tries to give the position a fancy title, but really wants to save money by hiring one person to do two or more jobs at less than that one person should earn, I skip it.

I’ve managed plenty of teams – I’ve been a wardrobe supervisor, I’ve been a production manager in both theatre and film. I can manage a full production, so managing a content calendar and other writers is cake.

But I don’t necessarily want to.

I want to write stuff.

Given the right circumstances, environment, team, and, most importantly, PAY – yes, I’d be a manager. But a lot of different factors would be involved. There are theatres, arts organizations, and museums for which I’d be willing to work onsite, once it’s safe so to do. It won’t be safe for a good long while, especially with the way the numbers are going up.

I’m more cautious about working for non-profits. When I worked in NY and SF, I often temped or even long-term temped at non-profits. They were run like businesses and understood that you pay for the skills you need.

Here? The constant dirge is “you should be honored we demand you to work for free.”

Um, no.

Some positions that I would have thought were fun and interesting and exciting even a year ago no longer grab me. They contain elements on which I no longer want to spend time. That’s nothing against the companies – they need what they need. But it means companies to whom I would have sent an LOI or a proposal packet even a year ago are no longer on my list.

I grappled with this for a few months. I felt that I was failing, that I was “less than” or that I was being lazy.

Then, I realized most of that was the voice of the toxic ex-boss still running a subscript in my subconscious.

People grow and change, and so do their careers.

It’s not a failure.

It’s a natural process.

Growing and changing is a positive, not a negative.

It doesn’t mean you have to start in the mailroom and wind up as an executive. It means you add skills and credentials and experience, take that, and CHOOSE what and where you go next.

Yes, there’s an element of privilege in that choice, and our current government wants to make sure we have NO choices and are the peasants to their feudal lords. Which is another reason we need to get out the vote and overthrow these dictators-in-training.

But deciding to take one’s career in a different direction is not a failure.

It means you are integrating all of what you’ve done, learned, and experienced, and turning it into something wonderful. It doesn’t have to conform to someone else’s agenda or convenience. It means you’ve outgrown where you are and it’s time to move on.

It also means that when you find that next career situation, you are more productive and engaged, which is better for both you and your employer.

One would think/hope companies would be excited to find enthusiastic, engaged workers rather than someone who just shows up every day.

You look at your life and decide what you want and need. Work is such a large part of our lives that how and what and where we work factors in a great deal.

Maybe you can’t change your situation today. But you can start figuring out what you want and need, do some research, and take small steps regularly.

Small steps lead to big change.

That’s a good thing.

How have you re-shaped your career?

Room to Re-Shape One’s Career

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Yes, I’m back. I’m still working on the article about how companies are driving away skilled workers, even as they scream they can’t find them. But I didn’t want to be off this blog for too long, and there’s something else I’ve been grappling with and coming to terms with over the past weeks that I decided to share.

I noticed, as I research companies with whom I might like to work, that I’m drawn to different areas that I was eight or nine months ago.

More and more often, the title of the job turns me off. I don’t even need to read the description. Or, I get about two paragraphs in and say, “Nope. This isn’t for me” then click away and move on.

When a company genuinely captures my attention, whatever positions they claim to look for, I dig into the research, find the right person, and send an LOI, telling them why I think I’d be a good choice for their company, either for a particular project, or in general.

I wrote a guest post a few years back about not waiting for the job you want, but creating it.

In the past couple of years, I’d moved away from that, but now I’m going back to it.

The layers between the people one would actually work with have become more convoluted. Notice I say “work with” and not “work for”. That is deliberate. I’m not at the start of my career. I am interested in “working with” even when I technically have a boss.

The issue of layers is especially deep when third party recruiters are involved, which is something I go into the other article I’m working on for this space. I have to say, all of the third party recruiters I’ve encountered in the past ten years have been a waste of space, and have certainly wasted my time (and therefore, I’m sure, the company’s time). As I track the listings for companies using third party recruiters for the past year or so, I notice they fill a job, and then a few short months later, they’re looking again to fill the same job. I suppose that keeps recruiters in business, but it doesn’t do the client companies much good.

As I noted above, I’m looking for something different now than I even was at the top of the pandemic. I’m more focused, and less flexible. Part of this is due to a recalibration of what I want and need out of my work; part of this is that I am not twenty begging for my first job, but someone with decades of experience and skills. I no longer have an interest in working FOR a company that does not value either of those, by underpaying me or by trying to shove me into a position that’s more about work no one else wants to do than about my skills.

The SEO keywords used in the position descriptions are just as likely to turn me away from a company as engage my interest.

(This article turns out to be tied to the one I’m still working on, about companies driving away skilled workers).

But even when the descriptions are accurate and the company is interesting, there are roles in companies that no longer interest me, even though they used to.

In the past, if I was interested in a company, I was willing to take on tasks out of my wheelhouse in order to expand my skills, or do something that’s uncomfortable if they agreed it was temporary. Of course, it never is; once you take on more than your job, it becomes your job. But if I overall liked and respected the company’s mission and vision, especially if it was a nonprofit, I was more likely to accept a broader range of tasks.

That is no longer true.

I know what I want my tasks within a role to encompass. If the company is trying to cut corners by hiring one person with strong skills in one area, but minimal skills along a wide range of areas instead of multiple skilled individuals, that position – and that company – is no longer a good fit. Because let’s face it, most companies WON’T train, no matter what they promise. They expect you to figure it out on your own without additional compensation. Usually on your own time.

At twenty-three, it was an interesting challenge, especially if I thought I had a future with the company.  In theatre jobs, I was always willing to take on more, because I knew the theatre was my career, and I would progress. I did. I made it to Broadway.

In non-profit work, I often took on extra tasks because everyone was working flat out more hours for less pay. But after awhile, there’s burnout. Resentment builds, no matter how committed one is to the mission, because that way of working is unsustainable.

Boundaries need to be set going in, by both parties, held, and respected. Most managers will keep assigning as many tasks as they can get away with, no matter what you agreed upon when you started.

As a freelancer, it’s often easier to hold and set boundaries. I have a contract that spells out boundaries, payments, etc. When scope creep threatens, I can point to the contract and say, “Sure, I’ll take that on; this is how much it’s going to cost.” I can also say, “That’s not part of the agreement, no.”

But as I’ve been researching a putting together LOIs and pitch letters to companies these last months, I’ve noticed what keywords turn me off instantly, or, as I read a description, I realize, “no, that’s not for me.”

At first, I was worried that I narrowed my options. I could hear the toxic reprimands we’ve all had at times: “You need to be a team player” or “Where’s your commitment to the company?” or “You need to take this on right now to get us through this rough patch” or “How can you succeed if you won’t do what’s needed?” or “Your job is to make me look good.”

Notice all of these are demands. None of them are questions to negotiate or navigate new needs as a company grows and changes.

They’re about guilt and manipulation rather than problem-solving, which is unsustainable.

 I’ve since made peace with it. Trusting my gut has always been the best choice. I’ve paid for it every time I let myself “logic” a way out of what my gut told me.

As a professional, I’ve grown in skills, knowledge, experience, over a wide range of topics. Some of those skills I enjoy using; others were hard-won and are painful to implement. Why would I make choices that increase my pain load instead of choices that make it exciting to get up in the morning and get to work?

We all hit periods where we have to take whatever’s offered in order to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table. But we keep growing, searching, changing for what is better for us and for our situations.

It is okay to discover that what worked for you five years, ten years ago, or even ten weeks ago, no longer does. That knowledge gives you a foundation to make new discoveries and make decisions based on what makes your life better.

Liz Ryan, at the Human Workplace, emphasizes how we are the CEOs of our own companies. That’s so important to both remember and to implement. Right-to-work means companies have made the choice their workers aren’t worth loyalty. So workers need to make the choices that serve their lives best.

How have you found what you want and need from your work evolving over the past months?

Controlling Scope Creep

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why not?

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

Two answers:

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

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

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

Contract Provisions

Your contract can protect you from scope creep.

Your contract will grow and change as your business does.

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

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

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

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

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

Dates and Turnaround Times

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

–Deposit is due on X date

–When deposit clears, I start the project

–I get my first portion done on Y date

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

–My next revision is due on L date

–Response is due on M date

–Final work is due on N date

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

–final payment is due on P date

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

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

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

Works both ways.

Change of Direction

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

Late Fees/Rush Fees

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

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

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

When the Client Provides the Contract

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

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

What About Job Descriptions?

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

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

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

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

Negotiation

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

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

Oh, horrors.

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

Go ahead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instead, I DID.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Negotiate.

Negotiations aren’t just about money.

We will talk about that in a future post.

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

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

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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.

What Do You Want (and Need) From Work?

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Last week, we talked here about the need to re-invent work. Then, over on the Goals, Dreams, and Resolutions site earlier this week, I talked about the need to re-establish one’s sense of self.

Far too many businesses are trying to gain for themselves by making us feel terrible – all this “free time” we have now, and all the things we “should” be doing because we can’t be out and about the way we used to gambol.

They’re also counting on us being so desperate to earn a living that we’ll take even less than we earned before the pandemic. “You’ll get nothing and like it” is their refrain.

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s how poorly most companies treated their employees in the first place.

Remember, without people to actually do the work, the company cannot exist.

If they hire people that do the work badly (which, if they don’t pay properly, that’s all they will get in the long run), they will go under.

Instead of listening to statistics by businesses for businesses, let’s look at personal realities, and use those realities to reshape how we are going to navigate both our work world and our social world.

Not everyone likes to work remotely. Not every job CAN be done remotely.

As an introvert, I realized how often I was forced to behave like an extrovert in a typical work setting, and what a toll that took on my health and my productivity. It didn’t matter if I turned in three times the work ahead of schedule – if I wasn’t in the building so the managers could interrupt me, ruin my productivity, and repeatedly put me in situations that caused stress and discomfort, it wasn’t “real work” and I wasn’t being a “team player.”

During the pandemic, the stress wasn’t from working remotely. It was that every foray off the property held the literal prospect of death to me or someone in my family. And, as time went on, it was the external pressures from those who wanted, again, to lower my productivity and add discomfort to feel powerful and force me to be “part of the team.”

I am perfectly capable of being “part of the team” without setting foot in the office. There’s this thing called Zoom (which we’re all tired of at this point). There’s email. There are scheduled phone calls (I only do phone calls by appointment). As long as I collaborate and hit the deadlines with quality work, I shouldn’t have to be forced, repeatedly, into onsite situations that cause misery in order to make someone else feel powerful.

I realized how many unhealthy compromises I’d made since I moved here. Far more unhealthy compromises than I’d ever made in the decades I worked in theatre and film production.

In the weeks leading to the Stay-at-Home, I was even talking with potential clients who insisted that I work onsite – even though I knew it would make me miserable.

So the past few months have made me redefine both what I want and what I need from work, and I encourage you to do the same.

I went into the arts because of the passion I have for the work. I loved my time working backstage and on set. Now, I love my time writing. I don’t consider the fiction and plays the “real writing” and the marketing/business/consulting a “day job.”

As far as I’m concerned, they are all of a piece.

Make a list of what you NEED from you work.

Mine includes:

Enough money so I’m not scrambling from payment to payment and don’t have to worry about basics like rent, food, utilities, health insurance, car, emergency vet bills, etc. It also must be reliably paid, not put off with excuses. Pay me per our contract.

A sense of purpose and passion from those with whom I work. This can be small business owners who love what they do; or larger companies with a bigger mission. But there needs to be more to it than bottom line profit.

Alignment with my values. I am not going to work for people/organizations/businesses I believe cause harm/fuel hatred, bigotry, racism, and misogyny. Even though those businesses usually pay more than those in alignment with my values as a person.

Creativity. My job needs to let me use the creative part of my psyche, maybe in ways I didn’t expect to use it.

Autonomy. Too often what is called “follow up” is actually “nagging.” If we’ve set a deadline, you will get what you need by that deadline. Suddenly asking for it a week early and bugging me about it doesn’t get it to you faster. If the deadline has changed for some reason, tell me it has changed and why it’s changed and we will deal with it. But don’t nag. Communicate clearly. And don’t micromanage every moment of my day.

Humor. I love to laugh, and a sense of humor is important, especially on tight deadlines when there’s a lot at stake.

Clear Communication. Don’t come at me with passive aggressive behavior. You want or need something? Be clear about it. Don’t lie to me, especially not by omission.

Respect for my boundaries. “No” is a complete sentence. I do not have to embellish. If an emergency comes up, I will take on additional work outside my regular scope or outside my regular workweek; but it needs to be requested with respect and not become expected. I have a life that is separate from my work and just as important.

Room for growth. I want to learn and grow both personally and professionally. I don’t want to be pushed into additional tasks because the company is too cheap to hire enough qualified personnel. I want to grow within my own scope of duties. I want encouragement to share ideas and have opportunities.

Fully Remote. At this point in the game, that is what I want in the foreseeable future. It was a “want” before; now it is a need.

If any of the above list is missing, I am miserable, and know I need to change my work situation.

What do I WANT?

That’s a little different. The wants are what make the job special and exciting.

Paid holidays and vacations. Which means, when I’m working freelance, the money and the ability to book that time without pushback.

Variety. I like to write across different topics and in different areas – blog posts or articles or social media posts or courses or press releases or strategic plans. Anything that is scripted, be it for a video, a speech, or radio/podcast, and I’m in heaven.

Positive Colleagues. An overall positive work atmosphere, even if it’s via Zoom or email, matters. We all have tough days, or even tough stretches. But if one particular person is ALWAYS unhappy, it starts to create a ripple effect of stress.

An environment where everyone is encouraged to use their strengths and improve their weaknesses, rather than being thrown into something that’s a weakness without support or training.

Encouragement to connect beyond the work, and get to know my colleagues as human beings. What do we all like to do when we’re not working? What are our other passions and causes? How can we work together to build a better world?

Recognize and value the work. Recognize and value the work of everyone in the organization. It’s not about a fancier title. It’s about daily treatment and being paid fairly.

Encouragement for learning opportunities and creative opportunities, even if they don’t immediately benefit the client.

No more “at will” work. Most of my clients and I are on specific contracts, which is great. I do have a couple of clients that have me on retainer, but it’s “at will” and I need to change those parameters.

I’m sure I could make a more comprehensive list – and I’m working on it. But as I restructure my work life during the ongoing pandemic and figure out how I want it to look post-pandemic, these are all elements that matter to me.

As this list evolves, I will take steps to bring anything out of alignment into alignment. Then, I will grow, change, and respond to the world, and will adjust more. Which is a good thing.

What are your needs in a work situation? And wants?

How have they changed over the past few months?

Your Business Bookshelf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your favorite books for your business?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Research the Prospect

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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?