Happy New Year, and many blessings to you!
Whatever you’re celebrating today, I wish you joy!
One of my favorite projects to work on with clients is the Artist Statement. I love learning about the passion that drives an artist to make particular choices, and to help that artist articulate the passion, vision, and work ethic to an audience.
While it’s most often visual artists such as painters and sculptors who use artist statements, they are useful for writers, dancers, musicians, filmmakers, fiber artists, actors, and basically any other art form.
Why? What possible use is an Artist Statement?
On a public level, it introduces you to a larger audience and provides context for your work. The Artist Statement is used in:
—Introductions to your work that go deeper into context than the bio
Bios are important, too, and I’m an advocate of the three bio lengths: 50 words, 100 words, 250 words, to cover every occasion.
The Artist Statement runs between 150-250 words. You want enough to inform and tantalize, but don’t want to run on and bore. Even if you’ve had a thrilling career, attention spans are short.
The Artist Statement needs to include:
Your medium. Talk about what your form is and why you chose it.
The passion that drives your work. Why do you do this? Why not spend your time and energy on something safe? What drives you to create? That can include a couple of biographical sentences, provided they are relevant to your work.
Project specifics. This is a changeable paragraph. In some uses, you will need to talk about a project to which the statement/proposal/residency is geared. In other uses, you will give a sentence or two about a handful of your best/favorite projects and their context — the why and where of the creation.
Process. This is a short, succinct paragraph on HOW you do what you do. Avoid run-on sentences and navel-gazing. Use active language throughout the statement, but it is especially important here.
Overuse of adverbs
Exclamation points (unless they are part of a work’s title)
Write your initial statement longer than you need, and cut. Cut, cut, cut. Tweak language and word choice. You want it to sparkle. You want it to have impact to engage and enchant, not to make the audience recoil (even the work itself is meant to disturb).
Read it out loud. Read it, record it, listen to it. Better yet, have someone else read it, so you can really hear it. You want a musicality to the flow. You want it to build, not be a set of disjointed paragraphs. You are sharing a piece of your soul.
Realize it is a living part of your body of work. Revisit your statement after any major project, and at least once a year. Make necessary changes. Update it in all the places you post it publicly.
As your work grows, so will your Artist Statement — although it doesn’t get longer! You adjust it for different phases of your career.
Keep your old statements. Keep a file of your old statements and re-read them every few years. You will see the growth and change. You can also decide if you want to use any of the information for your Career Overview, which is a different type of piece.
Don’t be afraid to pour your passion into your drafts. Then use craft to hone the final draft. Ultimately, your Artist Statement melds your passion to your talent to your craft, and shares it with the world.
If you have any questions about the Artist Statement, leave it in the comments, and I will respond as soon as I can. If you want to contact me about help writing your statement, you can email me at contact – at – fearlessink – dot – com. My rates are reasonable.
How does one create client voice?
There are dozens of techniques. Because of my background in theatre, I approach it as developing a character that represents the company, product, service.
This is a little different than if the company’s owner/founder/CEO is the primary spokesperson. That involves melding the individual’s personality with the personality they want to project to the public with the product or service. It’s more layered, and one often deals with more ego, especially in small business. Something the owner’s family thinks is a “cute” trait does not always go over well as part of a marketing campaign.
To create client voice, I need to know and understand:
–the company’s vision
–the company’s mission
–the product or service
–the creation process
–the target audience
–the possible extended audience
Plenty of freelancers I’ve encountered along the way will say this is more complicated than it needs to be. All you need is product/service and target market. That’s their approach, and more power to them.
But I’m creating a layered, complex character to engage an audience in a simple, direct way.
Because I am a theatre person, I approach the marketing piece as a play or film or radio drama, and I create characters. Not “representational” characters — they’re flat and boring. Not caricatures. But nuanced individuals who can communicate the company’s message.
Preliminary information is often on the website. If I’ve been hired to do a complete overhaul from the company, then we talk about how to change the tone and cadence of what’s on those sites and carry it through all the marketing materials.
“Vision” and “mission” are often thought of in terms of non-profits or large corporations, but they’re useful for small businesses, too.
“I create clothing (with pockets) that makes women feel beautiful and confident” is the vision statement for one of my clients who is a designer.
“I create pieces that flatter the figure, have pockets, and can be dressed up or down with confidence for any occasion” is the mission statement for the same client.
Yes, I created both of those to help focus her campaigns in my time with her.
But they are specific. My client is not trying to change the fashion industry or create shows for Fashion Week. She wants to make pieces that real women can wear and accessorize in flattering cuts that make them feel good. Some of them even have inspirational quotes sewn into the garment, so the wearer smiles and is inspired whenever she puts it on. She also knows the value of pockets in women’s garments, so most of her pieces have pockets.
There’s a sense of fun, easy elegance, and the use of natural fabrics that breathe and drape.
Her audience is women of all ages. Her extended audience is anyone who buys these women gifts or gift certificates.
Another client is an organic landscaper. His vision is that this area contains organic, sustainable yards around homes and in public areas that are beautiful, permaculture, and more habitat than putting green. His mission is to work with clients, one at a time, helping them create the yard of their dreams that is all of those things, and either continuing the maintenance, or teach them to care for it. His company also does educational programs for people from 7 to 97.
His target audience is residents of our area. His extended audience is anyone and everyone interested in sustainable, edible landscaping.
Both of these small business owners are strong personalities with distinct voices. It was a case of enlarging and dramatizing natural cadence and massaging out unnecessary words, such as qualifiers, too many adverbs, and passive voice.
What if a company or service does more than one thing?
Then, I create an overall “company tone.” I use what already works, and tweak, unless they specifically want a re-branding with a fresh voice. To change it simply to change it is ego on the writer’s part.
By “company tone” I mean the way any marketing material sounds inside the head of a potential audience member as they encounter it. We all “hear” as we read. By the choice and arrangement of words, I create a distinct voice that the reader hears as they read.
Within that company tone, each product/service gets a slight tweak to make it unique, but still fit within that tone. Each product or service becomes a character within the ensemble.
Part of creating the company tone is then rehearsing those who go out into the world and speak the company’s mission in that tone. The executives, the marketing people, the Board of Trustees (where appropriate). Again, this is something that many writers don’t do or see as part of their job. Technically, it’s not. The writer writes. What’s done with it from that point is not their business and out of their control.
But again, because of my theatre training, I can come in (or do via Skype) sessions that are similar to working with actors in a rehearsal studio to teach them how to speak in the company voice when they go to Chamber Events or do outreach in booths at fairs/tradeshows or however they physically deploy people to get the message out. It’s a lot of fun. It uses role-playing and rehearsal techniques to help people feel comfortable and have confidence to speak in the moment with enthusiasm and skill. It helps the introverts of the company who are too often forced into extroversion have training and knowledge to sound spontaneous. They don’t have to search or fumble; it’s there for them to pull when they need it. They realize it’s not about them as Harry or Mabel or Serge, but about the company, and they are a conduit. Training in the voice takes a huge amount of pressure off the individuals who actually have to speak in that voice. Even for extroverts, it’s helpful for them to have the tone and points at the fingertips of their minds, ready to pull out in an instant.
We also laugh a lot, which makes any training seminar or workshop better!
I’m not telling them to be fake or be someone else or mislead the potential audience — I’m teaching them to layer the company voice over their own cadence and merge the two when they are out in the world as representatives of that company.
It’s sometimes a fine line, but an important one.
That tone is then consistent on the website, in the newsletters, correspondence, media kits, social media posts, and whatever other materials a particular company uses. It’s modified for blog posts, because it’s vitally important to have unique voices when you have more than one blogger. Still within the framework of the company tone, but with each voice being unique. I think of it as the way singers work in a choral ensemble: the unique voices blend in harmony to sing the company song. Or the way different instruments in an orchestra blend to create a symphony.
In my opinion, one of the reasons many magazines tank is because the individual writers’ voices are smoothed out to an even tone throughout the publication. I used to read magazines to get excited by snippets of unique voices; now, every article sounds the same, and the same type of piece shows up every year in the same season.
A way to make one’s blog more engaging is to have more than one person writing content, or at least SOUND like more than one person writes content if it’s in-house. I admit, I have ghostwritten blogs where I’ve written in more than one contributor’s voice. I’ve written it all, but we talked it through, and each post sounds like the individual under whose by-line it appears. Another possibility is to invite guest posters who are knowledgeable about the product or service. Yes, they’ll all need editing, but if the editor keeps the writer’s voice and lets it sing within the company voice, the blog’s readership grows. The blog will both engage and sustain.
Getting back to the “how” on creating voice:
Listen, listen, listen, listen. Then listen some more.
I talk about listening constantly. I ask questions. I listen to the words. I listen to what is under the words. I listen to what is between the words. Subtext matters in marketing, although it needs to be even more delicate than in fiction or on stage. I look at the actions. I prefer to do this in person, or via Skype. Phone-only is the last choice (and, since I charge for phone time in 15-minute increments, more costly for the client). Meeting time is paid, not free, although a set number of meetings either in person or via Skype are part of the standard contract. Phone time is always separate.
Then I create.
The creative process is difficult to break down and dissect. Much of what I do to create client voice comes from within, once I absorb mission, vision, cadence, target, and once I know, inside-out, about what I’m writing. It’s taking the best of what I know about character development from writing scripts and fiction and melding it with a real product. Background, motivation, frame of reference, stakes, desires — all of that go into building a character. All of that relates to how an individual responds to a product. It relates to how to convince the audience, through the character, that the product or service is worthwhile.
It borders the realm of marketing writing with mission-specific entertainment.
Writing a video or audio script with actual characters to sell a product is a little different. That adds another layer to the client voice, by breaking it down into facets and challenges, and will be the basis for another post (or this one will go on forever). That is closer to mission-specific entertainment, but again, there’s a subtle difference.
I take the process seriously, and it gets results. That’s why content mill work and “you’re expected to write 10-20 articles a week” isn’t the type of situation that works for me.
Creating a client voice that shows the best of the product/service/organization and engages, enchants, and expands an audience takes time, care, LOTS of revision along the way, and focus.
But the results are worth it, for everyone involved.
How do you create client voice?
No post today; I’m nursing a back injury.
I’m working on a post about finding your client’s voice in communications — I plan to have it up next week!
Have a great week.
Recent conversations with fellow freelancers have included discussions on how to decide where to send one’s LOIs. Because I work in different arenas — the business equivalent of working across genre lines — I thought I’d share some of my experiences.
What Do I Want?
The flippant answer is, of course, the gig. But it’s more complicated than that.
It goes back to the work we did on our personal strategic plan. What do I want?
I want to tell stories that engage and enlarge audiences for business people and creatives who are passionate about their work. I want to help them spread the message.
That means I have to give a damn about what they do, and I have to trust their ethics. Plenty of writers don’t have to care, they sit down and write the gig. It’s about craft and communicating the client’s passion, and has little to do with their own. More power to them. My best work is when I also care about what I’m writing about — whether it’s forwarding a non-profit’s mission or extolling a client’s new product. I need to give a damn.
Ethics-wise, I have turned down high-paid gigs because I would be writing to promote something I believed was wrong. To accept the job, the money, and do the work, I would not be true to myself. Therefore, I am not the best person for the job, and refused the job.
If another writer chooses to write against what they believe in for the cash, that is their choice. I don’t live in their skins; they don’t live in mine. We have to make the decisions we need to make, for the various reasons we make them.
In addition, I want to be paid a fair price for the job. I want to be paid on time, as a professional in the field. This is my business, my livelihood, not my hobby. I have the right to enjoy my job. To say that people who love their jobs “don’t need” to be paid for them is ridiculous. So is saying writing isn’t a “real job.”
I want reasonable working hours and decent working conditions. I want to be treated with respect and dignity.
Who Needs My Skills & Do They Meet My Needs?
That’s where research comes in. I keep an eye out for companies and businesses that do interesting things. Sometimes it’s in the arts; sometimes it’s environmental/conservation/non-profit. Sometimes it’s a small business with a product or service. As I said, I do many different things. I’m interested in many different things.
Sometimes I meet someone at a networking event. Or I see a listing for a company and decide to do some research. If I like what I see, I write an LOI introducing myself, why I’m excited about the company, and where I think my skills might be a positive addition to their team.
I don’t bash what they’re doing or demean their current team. I’m there to help them, not get someone fired.
I also dig a bit to find out what negative comments are made about the company, personnel, mission, or product. Then, I try to look at it in context. There are many reasons someone might have a bad experience. Is this something with evidence I can further research? Or a bad match and this is lashing out? It’s not always easy to find out; that’s where I trust my instincts.
I read a lot & try to keep up to date on who’s doing what where, who moves from position to position, how companies change their branding and business models. I also listen at networking events. Sometimes, a throwaway comment over a glass of wine and a crab puff can give you more information than a profile in a business mag.
Quite a bit of work goes into the LOI. It has to, or it’s not worth it for the recipient to respond. Well-researched, well-written introductions can set the stage for a positive partnership. Maybe it won’t be next week. Maybe it will be six months or a year down the line.
But long-term is as important as short-term. We could go into bad garden analogies here, but you get the idea.
How do you decide who to target? Or who not to target, when you create your LOIs?
Content mills are back. They’ve never really left, but most freelancers who actually want to establish a real career in this professon turned their backs on these mills.
However, they’ve returned. Rebranded as agencies that provide content to help small companies grow.
Perhaps some of them actually do this. But the ones I’ve researched thus far (because it sounded like they were legitimately hiring freelance writers for a variety of interesting projects) have this in common:
They GROSSLY underpay writers.
One of them gave me a per-piece quote. The price seemed low unless it was a REALLY short piece. So I asked about word count. They wanted a word count that turned the per-word rate for the piece into .03/word.
They also wanted a commitment of 5-6 articles per week, at 1.5-3K/article.
At a rate that works out to .03/word.
Oh, there’s more: they have to approve a certain number of sources per article. Which, to me, echoes a publication I quit when they told me I could only mention ad buyers in my articles.
That’s not how it works, people.
Article sources aren’t tied to the advertising budget of the publication. Sources are relevant to the veracity of the article.
Then there’s the agency supposedly “hiring” freelancers. Yet when they put out a call for an assignment, they will “submit” you (but only if you have project specific samples) and then you have to do the negotiation with the client. Why do I need someone to submit me if the rate we discussed and agreed upon for me to come and work under your company’s banner has nothing to do with any of the assignments?
“You have to work your way up to our agreed rates through a series of client-managed assignments.”
No, actually, I don’t.
I can pitch directly to clients with whom I think I’d be a good fit. Cut out the middle man. No worries about the agreed-upon rate being changed.
Many of these companies have slick websites that look and sound good until you break down the market-speak. One of these even made one of the local lists about being a one of the top local companies. Yet when you strip away Adobe Flash, it’s still a content mill.
Needless to say, run for the hills when they try to lure in the business by saying they provide content at low rates. Red flag. Right there.
Be careful. Beware. Trust your instincts. Go directly to the companies that need writers. Avoid “agencies” who want to pimp you out cheaply while they profit.
UPDATE: There’s a a problem with the reCaptcha — my host is working on it. In the meantime, freelancer Paula Hendrickson had this to add:
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. At a Chamber of Commerce meeting, he runs into his first choice, and decides to meet and see how they’d work together.
Our final chapter: Fred discovers he’s nervous before his meeting with Jenny and Gretchen. He decides to stop at the bakery to get coffee and treats.
The meeting itself surprises him. After a few minutes, he forgets it’s a meeting. Jenny and Gretchen ask him questions about his business, about how it started and was passed down in the family. He finds himself telling anecdotes he’d long forgotten, and making notes to dig in the old albums for photographs.
He likes the way Jenny says, “There are several ways we could approach this” and then talks about the different ways. He likes that there are genuine differences.
“I like what I do,” he says. “I like my customers. Maybe it’s old-fashioned to like one’s customers, but I don’t think they’re stupid. I try to give them a floor that will look good, wear well, and help them live a good life. It’s not the most important job in the world, but then, most people don’t spend as much time thinking about floors all day as I do.”
He’s shocked that the women find this delightful. He’s shy when he brings out the ideas and the budget he put together. “It’s not much of a budget,” he admits, “but I’m not sure what things cost.”
“The point is to get the best results where you put your money,” says Jenny. “We can track the data, and interpret it, and see if it gets the results you want. If and when it doesn’t, we change direction. The most important thing is to capture your voice, your personality, your passion for your work, and spread it to the widest audience.”
They chart out an initial, six-month campaign that mixes articles, blog posts, direct mail, email blasts, and social media. They add a series of discount codes for new customers who come to them through one of the channels, so they can see who comes through which channel. They will buy a couple of ads in local publications. Jenny encourages Fred to set up another library talk (which she will promote), about sustainable floor materials. She knows of a library hosting a series of sustainability talks, and she thinks his would fit in nicely.
They make some adjustments in the budget, but it’s workable for Fred. Jenny and Gretchen’s fees are higher than anyone else he interviewed, but he likes their talent and enthusiasm.
The next day, Jenny forwards over a contract. This time, Fred reads it with care. It is what they discussed, although overnight he re-considered one or two points. They discuss the points, agree on a compromise, and sign. Fred sends a deposit. Fred tells Brianna he’s “changing direction.” He never even gets a response. At Jenny’s suggestion, he changes all his passwords.
Most of the work is done remotely, although Jenny is around to talk to the staff, pick up photographs, and she and Gretchen oversee a photo shoot with a professional photographer. Everything arrives on time, and it’s even better than Fred hoped.
“You’re paying those girls too much,” snorts Kurt. “And for what?”
“They’re professional women and delivering good quality work,” says Fred. “They’re worth it.”
Kurt mutters a few things about feminism, and Fred doesn’t pay attention. Maybe he should challenge Kurt, but it’s not worth the energy.
Jenny warned him that direct mail usually gets about a 3% rate. He is happily surprised when his gets a 7% rate. The showroom is hopping, and he has plenty to keep his staff busy. His social media response rate is about 4%, still above the average.
“We’ll learn and tweak,” Jenny promises.
Fred does another interview, this time with a regional newspaper. That generates even more business. An online publication responds to one of Jenny’s press releases, and that piece gets him more visibility. He’s asked to speak at the Elks Club, and then to present at a home sustainability conference. He’s even a featured speaker for the Chamber one month. Kurt makes fun of him, but Fred doesn’t care. The library invites him back for a panel discussion with all the sustainability speakers.
“I’m not much of a speaker,” Fred worries.
“You understand your topic, and you’re a good guy,” says Jenny. “That translates.”
He hires her to help him craft a few things she calls “talking points” and he calls “cue cards” that help keep him on track for the speeches.
Reporters start contacting him to ask him for quotes about topics on floors and sustainability. Fred starts reading more, and spending more time studying RENEWABLE ENERGY magazine and on the website for the American Council on Renewable Energy. He also talks about projects that can use flooring that’s ripped out of a site and repurposed into other objects.
The website is freshened, there’s regular interaction on social media (Jenny sends him a weekly report, summarizing any conversations she thinks he should know about; she also immediately forwards any information if someone mentions interest in the product).
Jenny encourages his desire to send clients holiday cards by mail. She suggests he segment his list between clients and prospects, with a different card and message on each type.
Fred is surprised. Clients are pleased to hear from him. Some of the prospects ask if they can set up appointments after the holidays.
“There will be times when things level off,” said Jenny. “Then we’ll come up with something fresh, and we’ll make some more gains.”
“Kurt said we’re bound to fail because people don’t need new floors very often,” said Fred. “He thinks I should install floors that will need replacing after a few years. But I don’t want to install low quality floors.”
“Stick to the quality of your product,” Jenny advises. “You’re becoming an expert source. People trust you.”
That’s the part Fred likes. He gets to meet new and interesting people, who like hearing about floors. His website and mail pieces reflect things he cares about. He can keep his workers employed steadily and even give them a raise. He can talk to Jenny and Gretchen honestly. They don’t make him feel old or out-of-touch. They can take some of his stodgier ideas and put a retro flair spin on them. He enjoys learning new things, and enjoys communicating
Fred and his business are both thriving because his message is successfully communicated to the right audience by the right people.
It’s worth the price.
It took him awhile, but he made the right choice.
What are your best freelance experiences, as the client, or the freelancer? I’d love to hear about them here.
image courtesy of web-36reg via pixabay.com
I will never get over the events of 9/11. Forty-two people I knew died that day. I learn to live with it.
I also schedule as little as possible that day out of respect.
For me, life “going on” doesn’t mean that I book appointments that day like any other day. I do what I need to do to show respect for the day and the dead.
Everyone has to deal with this day in a way that works for them. This is how it works for me.
I will be back with the next chapter of Fred Needs a Writer next Wednesday.
Peace, my friends. Let’s hope we can build a better world before it’s too late.
image by Guiseppo Dio via pixabay
This isn’t Cape Cod, and, sadly, I am not on vacation. But I’m injured and have to curtail as much typing as possible for the next two weeks.
I plan to be back Wed. Sept. 4, with the next chapter of Fred’s adventure.
Until then, hope you get some down time!