Dynamic Small Business Expo

image courtesy of rawpixel  via pixabay.com

Many thanks to 1Berkshire for their dynamic and inspiring Small Business Expo yesterday at the Stationery Factory in Dalton.

They had a terrific mix of vendors and panels. There were opportunities to reconnect with people met at other events, meet new people, and start new collaborations.

As always, the staff of 1Berkshire handled everything with a high level of organization, tact, and kindness.

This is one of my favorite events of any year.

Letting Go, Letting In, Building Upon

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We are in the home stretch of the year. I don’t know about you, but I am ready for the year to turn. I was so hopeful at the end of last year; I’m afraid I’m a bit more cynical this year.

The New Year is a traditional time to start with a clean slate. We need to remember that we can start fresh any time we want. We can consider each day a fresh start.

I prefer the phrase “fresh start” to “start over” because the latter feels like taking the same journey, and I’m at a point in my life where I don’t want to repeat, I want to expand and divert.

Over on my Goals, Dreams, and Resolutions blog, I have questions to ask yourself as you prepare for 2022. I also have a post on remembering the joy of the season, and re-shaping your traditions so they have meaning to your life.

Sometimes, you can simply expand your life and work to make room for something new; often, you have to let go of what’s not working so that you can make room for what will.

Letting go isn’t about negating everything you did and were; it’s about releasing the pain and blocks associated with bad choices, or things that didn’t work out the way you hoped.

Part of letting go is letting in.  If we let go and then put up a barricade, how can something new and wonderful come in?

Everything in our past helped get us to this moment. So while we let go of what no longer works (or even actively hurts) us, make room to let in something new and wonderful, we can still build on our pasts to create a brighter future.

We learn as much or more from what didn’t work as from what did.

By learning lessons and applying them, we build something stronger, on both physical and emotional levels.

One of the things that annoys me in some series (be it books or on screen) is characters who repeat the same mistakes. This often happens in comedy, or in comic mysteries. The character always has the same disaster. The first time, we might laugh WITH the character, but from there on out, we laugh AT the character. If, a half a dozen books in, the character hasn’t learned from previous mistakes and CHOOSES to make the same mistakes over and over again, I lose both patience and respect for that character.

That’s not someone with whom I’d spend time in life, so why would I waste time with them in fiction?

Because I believe we can create art that changes the world for the better, I like to put my creative energy into stories that do that; I like to work with businesses that have a vision of creating something wonderful that goes beyond making corporate profits; I like to spend my leisure time with characters who learn and grow.

It gets me out of those stuck places, and reminds me that positive actions and words make a difference.

So let go, let in, and build.

Have a wonderful holiday season, and we’ll catch up again in January!

Happy Thanksgiving!

image courtesy of Jill Wellington via pixabay.com

Let’s face it, no one wants to read a business post on the day before Thanksgiving.

Instead, let me just wish you peace, joy, and rest for the coming weekend!

Ink-Dipped Advice: Grief to Art launched

Instead of the usual advice post, I want to share information about the new Grief to Art site.

One of the difficult aspects of the massive loss of life from the pandemic is that there is no site for collective mourning. I hope this will help start the healing process.

It is currently open to submissions of photos and short anecdotes of lost loved ones, from COVID-19 and beyond. You can find guidelines on the Submissions page of the site.

Please share the links and information to anyone you know who is grieving and might find this a step in the healing process.

Thank you.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Red Flags While Prospecting

image courtesy of Alexey_Hulsov via pixabay.com

I’m back after an absence. I had the second surgery that was postponed due to COVID-19. Probably the best part of it all was that I had to get a COVID test in order to be allowed into the hospital.

With so many millions of people out of work, and more people forced back into work situations that could kill them, because businesses are being reckless and expect their staff to die for them – there are a lot of people looking for work right now.

Which means there are a lot of predators out there, hoping to take advantage of desperate people.

I really wish that businesses would cough up some cash and hire a professional writer to write the ads they put out – even when the ad is for a professional writer. While some of my colleagues see badly-written ads as examples of why the company should hire them, I often see red flags.

They’re Baa-aack! Content Mills Are Still a Bad Choice

As I mentioned several posts ago, content mills are back. They’ve rebranded themselves as “content agencies” or “content producers.” They still overwork, underpay, and provide lousy quality all the way around. Avoid them.

I attended an online writing conference last week, and some of the “instructors” actually advised writers to go ahead and work for content mills in the short term.

Try not to.

I won’t say “never” because sometimes we all have to suck it up and accept a lousy gig at low pay in order to make some immediate cash.

But if you do so, leave it off your resume, and get out as quickly as possible. If you get a decent clip out of it for your portfolio, great. But leave the mill off your resume. It lowers your rate and your credibility if it’s there. Definitely keep it off your LinkedIn profile.

One of the recent, rebranded content mills waxes on how they’re so high-paying with 10-14 cents a word.

AARP magazine, which accepts freelance pitches, pays $1/word. So does REAL SIMPLE.

PUBLISHERS WEEKLY is looking for an at-large writer at 50 cents a word, with 4-6 articles per month, plus they pay for any tests they ask you to take.  Which is what professionals do.

If you want breakdowns and comparisons of predatory jobs and legitimate, professionally-paid ones, Lori Widmer does a wonderful series called “This Job, Not That Job” on Words on the Page.

No Free Samples. No Free Tests.

It died down for a bit, but now it’s back in full force. Companies who demand that you write content for them for free as a “test.”

A good portion of these companies take the content, don’t pay anyone, change the name of the company, and then use the content for which they didn’t pay.

Don’t do it.

I now put it in my cover letter that I will not provide project-specific samples without pay, and offer them my rate. I also state that I will not take assessments or any other type of test unless we set up a date and time, and that I am paid for that time.

I will not give up billable hours to take an “assessment.”

Read my portfolio.

If you can’t tell whether I’m a good fit from my portfolio samples, that’s about your lack of analytical reading skill, not about my lack of writing skill.

You want me to do something specific to your company because you “can’t tell” if I can write in your tone? Fine. There’s a price for that.

If you don’t respect my rate, and if you don’t feel that my time is valuable before we even work together, you’ve let me know how little you think of your people.

We are not the right fit.

No Personality Tests. Ever.

More and more companies, both remote and onsite, are telling their recruiters to run candidates through DISC tests or Briggs Meyers personality tests.

I am a complex individual. I cannot — and WILL not — be distilled down and put into a box by type. Saying you need to test me like this to see if I can function as part of a team indicates your company attracts an unhealthy level of crazy. In order to function as a member of a team, I use my skills in collaboration, creativity, and professionalism. By setting people up as “dominant” or “influence” or “steadiness” or “conscientious” you’re stating that each member of the team can only embody one aspect. I embody all of them, and I bring forth what’s needed to best suit the situation.

That’s a huge red flag, and indicates you should run like hell without looking back.

This is always toxic, but especially so for writers. One of the many wonderful things about writers is flexibility and versatility. Not only are we more than one thing, we can communicate more than one thing, on multiple levels, in the same piece.

The last recruiter who argued with me about it said, “All of us have to take this test. I took the test.”

To which I replied, “I am so sorry that you felt you had to accept such abuse.”

She was quite offended. But I meant it.

She then hit me with, “Oh, you’ll see, you’ll think about it overnight and agree.”

I told her that the very fact the test was requested indicated it was no longer a company for whom I wanted to work.

That was that. She got back in touch a week later to see when I wanted to take it, now that I had time to realize what an important part of the hiring process it was. I told her the twelfth of never.

Full-time Freelancer

YOU are the full-time freelancer, unless you choose to work for a single employer. If and when you choose to work for a single employer, on a full time schedule, you are an employee of the company.

“Full-time freelancer” means you are running your own business and working for multiple clients. If you are working for a single company, you are their employee and should be getting benefits. Anything less is a scam.

Ridiculous Hours

The same place that demanded the personality test said they paid for a 35.5 hour week. HOWEVER, because their team was scattered over the country, I needed to be “available” to them from 9 AM to 9 PM. Plus a 2-1/2 hour commute in each direction – they didn’t have their own office, but they had a desk in a co-working space, and I was required to work there (although there was no reason it couldn’t be fully remote). However, I was being paid the “fulltime” employee salary of 35.5 hours and expected to give all that extra time (since it was a 60 hour workweek) without pay.

No.

With distributed teams across time zones, there does need to be overlap. But meetings need to be negotiated to work for everyone, not all the off-hours put on a single individual. And all work time must be paid.

Also, when it states work is  “Monday through Friday” and “weekends” but it’s only 20 hours a week – no.

If I’m a freelancer, I choose which hours I work. We arrange for meetings at mutually convenient times, but as long as I meet deadlines, I pick my hours.

Again, if the employer chooses the hours, you are now an employee, not a freelancer, and should be getting benefits.

A List of Equipment You Must Provide

If the listing contains the equipment they want you to use, or the software, skip it.

If a company wants me to use a specific laptop to them, a specific phone, or a specific type of software, THEY must provide it. I am not running out and buying an extra MacBook Air for exclusive use.

Or, if I’m using my own equipment, you pay me what we called in theatre and film production a “kit fee.”

Nor am I buying a new car because of them. If I have to have “reliable” personal transportation because they’re not near public transit or because they don’t feel it’s “reliable” enough – then they can provide me with a company car.

I’ve noticed that the employers who demand this don’t pay for mileage or gas or wear and tear on cars or other equipment, although they expect their employees to bear the full cost.

No.

What if You Want/Need the Job?

Negotiate.

There’s nothing wrong with asking for what you want. Be polite, be confidant, but don’t just take it.

Know what you’re willing to negotiate back to, and, if they refuse (most recruiters will refuse, and negotiation needs to be with the company itself, not the recruiter), know at what point you will walk away.

Liz Ryan, of The Human Workplace, offers a plethora of negotiating tactics and suggestions. Familiarize yourself with them, and adjust them for your individual situation and comfort level.

Check out Lori Widmer’s Words on the Page blog. She has terrific resources for freelancers; many of them can be adapted if you decide to look for a more traditional employment situation.

Remember that any recruiter or potential client is not doing you a favor by an interview or an initial conversation. It is a mutually beneficial situation to find the right person for the right slot, with both parties getting a positive result. If it’s treated as anything less, that is a huge red flag that there are problems within the work culture, and there’s a good chance you will be unhappy, undervalued, and underpaid.

Move on to the next company on your list.

What are some of the red flags you’ve seen lately?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Teaching Clients Tools

image courtesy of lobostudiohamburg via pixabay.com

I believe in teaching clients to be self-sufficient in certain areas.  I don’t believe that keeping clients dependent is good for business. I believe in working WITH clients, in making them feel more confident about how they present themselves and their business.  Sure, you can have long-term, ongoing relationships. 

But eventually, you outgrow each other, and that’s a good thing.

I often come into situations with clients where their previous marketing person/content writer has hoarded information and/or held it hostage. Often, this includes the social media accounts, apps, or networking tools.

I don’t believe that setting up social media accounts for my clients and running them for clients means I own those accounts. I don’t. They belong to the company. The content I create (once it’s paid for) belongs to the company — unless we have a special rights licensing in place. 

For instance, if I create fiction or radio for a client’s business (aka “Mission-Specific Entertainment”) it’s either a work for hire (in which case they pay me and keep all future rights) or I license them rights for certain usage and keep the copyright.

But refusing to share the log-in information for the client’s Instagram account with the actual client is, in my opinion, wrong.

I spend plenty of time setting up client accounts, and then figuring out how to schedule posts, cross post, etc. I am paid for that time. But I don’t own the accounts. The clients do.

If I pay for a scheduling platform, such as Buffer or Hootsuite or the like, and run everybody’s social media accounts off a platform for which I pay — yes, I’m paying for the platform, and a portion of that cost is factored into the social media package for which the client pays. But the client owns the actual social media account under their name. Should the client and I cease working together, I’d take them off the platform for which I pay, but they would still have their social media accounts.

If the responses have been directed back to me for response, when I leave a place, I make sure they have complete login, password, and the accounts are directed back to wherever they want/need it.

I don’t hold the accounts hostage.

What I prefer to do, even if I handle the regular posting, is to teach them how to post. I could get sick; I could leave. We could have a situation like we do now, where we have to work remotely and maybe not all their files are accessible to me, but are to other members of the company.

It’s good for them to know how to post on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and Tumblr and any other platform on which they choose to frequent. It’s good for them to know how to set up a video conference or log into Slack.

The best way I’ve found to teach, whether it’s social media or a program or an app includes: 

Set Up Time Together It needs to be uninterrupted, where you can work side-by-side on the device to post. Or work via videoconference, and send over a step-by-step cheat sheet ahead of time. I’m big on cheat sheets anyway. People forget, unless they make a habit of using the tool.

Keep it Simple. Show them each step in setting up a post, but let THEM do it. Physically. Not just watch you do it. You do one. Then talk them through one. Have them do each step. More than once, if necessary, until they’re comfortable.

Simple Cheat Sheet. Write up a simple sheet with each step done as clearly and succinctly as possible. Too much information gets discouraging and distracting.

Praise the Learning. Be happy they’ve learned a new skill.

Keep Updated Logins and Passwords. I add new ones to my Master List and make up new Key Sheets once or twice a year for those who should have access, especially if the passwords have changed. People tend to remember the first password, and changes are lost in the mist.

It’s unlikely they’ll fire you to take it on themselves, but it’s good to have more than one person know how to handle these accounts.

When and how do you teach your clients skills?