Research Gets Harder

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Research Gets Harder

As we build our freelance careers, we and our clients find each other through a myriad of ways: referrals, seeing work and wanting to work with the creator, putting out an ad, LOIs (Letters of Introduction).

One of the most important (and time-consuming) portions of the finding-clients process is researching and vetting them. This is getting more and more difficult, because of all the disinformation out there. Is what you’re hearing/reading about a potential client true? How do you vet?

If it’s a referral, then the person making the referral matters. If I’m referred by someone with whom I’ve had a bad experience (such as late payment or change of direction without renegotiating a contract or multiple points of contact trying to be heard instead of the single point in the contract), then I do extra research.  Because if a problematic client refers me, the person to which I’m being referred may also be problematic.

Freelancers talking to each other is important, especially when there’s a sense of trust between them. If you talk to a fellow freelancer and trust them to tell you the truth of their experience, rather than worried they will try to sabotage you, everyone wins. If another freelancer, especially one I know well and respect, has a bad experience with a company, that’s a red flag on the company for me.

I keep a list of companies that have asked me for free labor as a part of the interview process. This includes any sort of “test” or expecting me to create something specific to their company, especially before any conversation has happened. “Oh, it’s just a headline” or “it’s just 300 words, it should take ten minutes” means they don’t understand what I do, and they don’t respect it.

Big Red Flag.

I have a specific contract for tests and samples. When the demand is made, I send the contract. Nine times out of ten, the company ghosts me. The tenth time, someone argues with me and says, “But I had to do it. It’s not a big deal.”

And my response is, “I’m sorry your self-esteem is so low. This company and I are not compatible.”

If someone asks me about a company and they’re on my list, I let them know the company expects free labor as part of the interview process, and the individual can decide from there.

I research the company online, see what kind of “giving to the community” they involve themselves in, check out Salary.com and Glassdoor’s reviews about companies, interview experiences, etc. Although, for the latter, if I don’t know the individual, I am less likely to take it at face value without digging deeper.

It gets even more complicated if you want to know the ethics and political positioning of the company. I don’t want to work for a company that funds politicians working to strip me of my rights and promoting authoritarianism. For me, there is no middle ground. Others will say, “Oh, politics doesn’t matter when you’re a professional. Just do the work.”

Fine for you. Not fine for me. Why would I give my time, energy, and creativity to a company actively working to cause harm? For a little cash? In the short run, it might help me as an individual. In the long run, it hurts the collective community.

Saying no up front is a better choice for me.

If I’m vetting a non-profit, I start here: Charity Navigator. Then, I take the information, and look for at least two independent, trustworthy confirmation sources (the way I did as a journalist).

When I want to know which candidates companies or executives donate to, I see if I can locate the politician’s public donor list. I check Followthemoney.org and Open Secrets. I use the FEC’s database of individual contributors. I also keep an eye on Marc Elias’s Democracy Docket, which fights to protect voting rights. With Citizens United, there’s plenty of dark money that’s harder to track, but these are places to start, and then, again, get independent, trustworthy confirmation sources.

Decisions are made from there.

This takes time.

But instead of saying “I don’t have time” I believe that choosing to place my time in this research serves my overall vision for my work and my career better.

How do you research companies in which you are interested?

Lessons from the “Work Wins” Journal Experiment

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Lessons From the Work Wins Journal

At the beginning of September, one of my colleagues from the Freelance Chat, group, Matthew Denton of WinningSolo.com, presented us with a “Work Wins Journal Challenge” for September. He keeps a Work Wins Journal each day to track achievements, so the focus (as I understand it) is on what works and what is accomplished and what needs to be adjusted, rather than always worrying about what’s not getting done. He talks about it here.

Anything that involves a journal is like catnip for me, so of course I jumped in.

I kept the journal for work days, although I did list “accomplishments” if I got things done over the weekend.

Going back over his post, I had to laugh at myself. He talks about listing 3 things in ANY of his listed categories – meanwhile, I worked to make sure I had something in EVERY category EVERY day.

Oops.

Mercury Retrograde much?

But one of the things he talks about is how it helps spot patterns.

I had designated work days in the month. Labor Weekend fell in there, early one. And I had to take some additional days to recover from the COVID booster. So I lost a few days in there.

Looking back at the “Mindset” category, I’m dismayed by how often the entry was “burned out” or “exhausted.” Sometimes it would start optimistic, and fade as the day wore on. There were a few days marked “determined” or “tired but optimistic” and even fewer marked “optimistic.”

That means adjustments have to be made on the work front. I should be excited and feeling creative more days than not.

The Good Habits category held steady: early morning writing, yoga, meditation, work in various journals. I had wavered in my daily yoga/meditation practice in August, so it was good to get those back on track.

The Accomplishments tab was steady each day (and often on weekends, when I did additional or catch-up work. The “September Wrap Up” post over on the Goals, Dreams, and Resolutions site that went up this past Monday details those. So, in spite of feeling exhausted and burned out most of the time, I still got a lot done.

Client Feedback was trickier. Because so much of what I do is not in the traditional “client” mode, and, if anything, I’m moving further and further away from what many freelancers consider “client” relationships, that category is getting less and less relevant to my work. In the traditional client relationships, I got positive feedback per project, so it wasn’t at any set point. As far as script coverage, I received a steady stream of writer satisfaction bonuses and tips. On the writing front, the Topic Workbooks sold steadily, the serial is gaining traction (albeit slowly), the radio plays are well received. Editors and publishers and producers and  readers and creative collaborators aren’t clients, though. They are creative partners by my definition, even with financial exchange as part of the relationshp. I look at a client as someone for whom I do copy/content/business script writing. It’s very much a transaction of we contract, I create, you pay, we move on to other projects or other client partnerships. There’s definitely creativity involved on both sides, but it’s a different kind of creative partnership than with an editor or a producer or a publisher or a reader or someone with whom I’m creating an artform. Those creative partnerships also tend to talk longer to create, and therefore take longer to show financial gain.

Those partnerships are part of my work, and therefore my business – not a hobby, a side hustle, or something cute and unprofitable. But the relationship and definition are a little different. And becuase much of my work runs on royalties and residuals, that’s an entirely different payment system.

So, for what I do, “client feedback” is less relevant than simply “feedback.”

As far as supportive words from others, there was that, from trusted friends and colleagues. There, unfortunately, were also the usual condescending/patronizing/attempts to dimmish creative work as not “real” work in terms of business that irked me, but also showed me where I need to step back from certain engagements. I respect my work, and I expect others to respect it, too, even if they don’t understand it. If they try to diminish it, that gives me a lot of necessary information about the bigger picture.

The “things initiated” slot had quite a few listings, but most of those are long-term plans rather than immediate payouts. I admit, I was sadly behind on where I wanted/needed to be on LOIs. Part of that was frustration with attempts to design my autumn direct mail postcard, with my new Fearless Ink logo. Since my direct mail postcard campaign usually gets a 25% response rate and sets me up in those traditional client relationships well for the quarter, I need to get back on that.

I think, for coming months, I need to add a category after “things initiated” for “projects in progress” to track follow-through. Because, as stated above, much of what I do is long-term, and the path from “initiated” to “accomplished” has small victories along the way, and I want to acknowledge those.

On my GDR site, for the Monthly Wrap-Up, the categories I find useful are:

–Done

–In Process

–Moved/Dropped

–Unexpected Additions

–Disappointments

–Successes

That is more in alignment with my work, but only makes sense to list monthly, not daily (although I open the document at the beginning of the month and add things as they happen).

The “people helped” category was sometimes a challenge, and sometimes not. I don’t always know when I’ve helped someone, unless I see a request for information or answer a direct question/request. But there were a few people I know I helped over the month. Again, so much of what I do is solitary, I don’t know about the response/reaction/impact until months or years after completion.

It was a good experiment, and I’m glad I participated. Now I can see what needs to be adjusted, and how to do it in a way that works for what I do and need.

How do you track what’s working in your work life?