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?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Inspiration For & From Your Clients

image courtesy of Jordan_Singh via Pixabay.com

We convince our clients to hire us because we bring a fresh, creative perspective to their message and their business. We’re excited about their product or service, and eager to get the message out. They’re excited by our excitement and (hopefully) by the results our messaging brings in, and up their game some more. It can be a lovely upward spiral.

How can clients inspire us?

What is it about their story, product, or service, that makes them unique?

One of my clients is a women’s clothing designer. Many of her designs are Asian-inspired styles and fun fabrics. But you know what one of the most exciting aspects of her designs are? Most of her pieces have pockets!

Pockets!!!!

I can’t tell you how often I’ve bought men’s jackets at thrift shops and worn them just so I have pockets. I get tired of feeling like a snail, carrying my house on my back, as most women I know do, especially women who commute.

I want pockets, damn it!

As a member of her target market, the pockets are one of the major selling features for me. I get excited about them, and use it as part of the marketing.

Marketing that includes mention of the pockets results in more sales than the materials which don’t.

I inspire that client because we share a love of cats and mysteries. We talk about both a lot. One of her styles is a Thumbprint shirt that’s great for mystery lovers, which grew out of our conversations, and she puts cats on lots of her pieces.

Thumbprint shirt

Conversations with a client who’s a bread maker spurs fun little flash fiction with unusual flavors and shapes of bread. Which comes first? The bread or the story? They play off each other (the site has not gone live yet). We get going with our brainstorming; she does recipe development and I do flash fiction and other content.

A former landscaping client became the focus for an article pitch to a national magazine. A theatre client liked my idea of using holiday cards as a way to stay in touch with former performers/presenters and current sponsors, especially when the emphasis was on not asking them for anything! (Yes, that breaks the “rule” many nonprofits tout about using EVERY opportunity to ask for a donation. That’s a rule with which I disagree, and backfires when used on me, so I’m sure it gets old for others). I’m using a theatre based on hers in one of my novels (although I’ve set it in a different state and changed a few things).

Everything can spark inspiration, if you let it.

The basis of that is conversation as real people, not just in terms of market-speak and analytics. Get to know each other. Have real conversations. 

That leads to real creativity.

Which translates into tangibles that benefit you both.

Adjusting To Remote Work

image courtesy of pixabay.com

I’m in between surgeries this week, so I thought I’d pop in and offer some tips on remote work, since it’s become a necessity to do as much of that as we can to keep us all safe.

As an introvert too often forced to behave like an extrovert, remote work is ideal for me. Plus, as a writer, there’s rarely reason I HAVE to be onsite (although far too many employers don’t believe you’re actually working unless they can stare at you, which, when you think about it, is a little stalky/creepy).

If you’re not used to working remotely, it can be a paradox of the freedom of your own schedule and the lack of structure. Personally, I’m far more productive remotely, which means better quality of work and better bang for the buck. But it’s not just doing whatever you want whenever you want.

Here are some suggestions:

Have a Designated Workspace. This is important. You may be working from home; you may move around where you work (especially on a laptop or mobile device), but have a designated space to set up and spread out your materials, so you don’t lose things or get disorganized. It also helps you get into the work headspace.

Set Boundaries With Others in the Home. If you and your partner or roommates are both working from home, talk about how you’ll use the space together. If your partner’s not used to you being around, again, set boundaries. If kids are at home, discuss it with them. Parents are under huge stress, juggling their kids’ online education and their own remote work, or child care if they’re not allowed to work from home and their kids are out of school. It’s huge. Not enough support has been built in for the parents with kids at home, especially single parents. Figuring out how to share electronic devices when necessary, manage time and needs is huge.

You are working; you can’t be interrupted for any little thing or “this’ll just take a minute.” Interact at designated break times. Define “emergency” so if one happens, that’s an interruption. Set the boundaries, then HOLD them. There’s a difference between having some flexibility in your work day and not getting any actual work done because you’re being interrupted every two minutes. You are WORKING. That needs to be respected. And you need to respect the boundaries of anyone else in the house. Talk about it beforehand, make an agreement. If you need to modify, do it after the designated workday, in preparation for the next one. If you’ve got kids home, set up their activities/schoolwork close enough for everyone to feel comfortable, but with enough space for focused work, and take more breaks to hang out with them, answer questions, etc.

Shower. You’ll feel better, if you start the day with your normal shower routine (or maybe you’re someone who does that at the end of the day — whatever works).

Get Dressed. Plenty of remote workers will disagree with me on this. Some of them have “day pajamas” and “night pajamas.” Glad it works for them. My remote work clothes are definitely more casual than for on-site (except for videoconferencing). But they’re clothes. I joke about having to put on “real people pants” if I have to actually leave the house, but the writing clothes I spend my day in are different from what I sleep in, and not pajamas. It indicates to me that I’m in professional work mode.

Keep Hours Close to Your Regular Workday. The lack of commute should help make getting ready for your workday easier.  Maybe you can linger over your first cup of coffee, enjoy your breakfast, take a walk (keeping a safe distance from others). But be at your desk the time you would normally be at the desk; walk away from your desk at the time you would normally leave. Especially the first few days of remote work, keeping a similar schedule will help you adjust.

However, if you have a more flexible remote work schedule and you find your best hours are different than a normal work day, go for it. Clear it with your boss first, so you’re not getting calls and texts in the middle of the day when you’re asleep, make sure people understand you’ll be responding to emails at different hours (and don’t expect an immediate answer if you send an email at 3 AM),  and make sure you hit all deadlines. But if your natural rhythm is to work at 3 AM and you can do it within the framework of your remote situation, do so.

Time Blocks. Instead of checking email whenever it pings; check it once every few hours. Bundle your phone calls together. Better yet, make phone appointments via email. I only do phone by appointment (and charge for it in 15-minute increments). It saves a world of time and a world of pain. Have blocks of uninterrupted time when you work on what you’d work on at your desk — be it a newsletter or a report or a proposal. Track how much time you spend on different things, and your productivity levels. See where you might need to adjust.

Take Breaks. If you were in the office, you’d get up to refill the coffee or ask a co-worker a question or use the restroom. Sometimes it’s easy to forget to do that when you’re in your home office. If your kids are home, take longer breaks in your work and their schooling to do something fun together, if at all possible.

Take Lunch.You might eat at your desk in the office, but take the break for lunch. It’ll give you energy for your afternoon. Maybe step outside for a few minutes (if you’ve got enough yard or a balcony).

Communicate With Bosses and Co-Workers. Maybe you’re texting and emailing. Maybe it’s Skype. Maybe it’s Zoom or Slack or Trello or KanTree. But stay in touch.  Let your co-workers know your progress on projects; ask about theirs. Check in to see how they’re doing.  Research some other remote tools and suggest them.

Don’t Blow Off Virtual Meetings. Pay attention. Take notes. Especially if you’re in a position where you often had onsite meetings, the virtual meetings might need a bit of adjustment. But if a time set for a meeting is way out of line, speak up. 

Set an End Time. Especially early in the process. Aim to end at the same time you normally end your work day. If, for some reason, you took a chunk out of the middle of the day to do something or take care of something, you might need to add in at the end, either now or after dinner. But set an end time and walk away. Don’t keep answering work-related emails or texts or calls around the clock. That way lies madness, unpaid time, and resentment. Working remotely does NOT mean you are on call and working 24/7.

Tidy up Your Workspace At the End of the Day. It’ll make it easier to come back the next morning.

Exercise! If you’ve been walking to and from mass transit, you need something to do.  Try yoga or meditation or home workouts. If there’s a place you can walk safely while not breaking quarantine, do so. If you’re got stairs in your house, use them more frequently. I have yoga, meditation cushions, weights, a jump rope, and an exercise bicycle in the house. It makes a huge difference, both physically and mentally. There are some terrific exercise apps.

Connect With Other Remote Workers. There’s a great community of remote workers, happy to share resources. Scott Dawson, the author of THE ART OF WORKING REMOTELY, runs a weekly Twitter chat under the hash tag #remotechat. It’s on Wednesdays, at 1 PM EST. Michelle Garrett runs #freelancechat on Twitter on Thursdays at noon EST. There are dozens more. Participants are friendly and happy to share resources.

Set Up A Remote Hangout for Co-Workers. Whether it’s a free chat room on ProBoards or something on Zoom or Kantree, make sure you stay connected to your co-workers, especially if any of them are stressed and having a hard time.

Enjoy. Enjoy uninterrupted work time. Enjoy the lack of commute. Enjoy learning new tools and skills. Enjoy being around your family and pets more. Appreciate small moments you might miss in an ordinary day.

Adjust What Doesn’t Work. Some things will work; some will not. Adjust as you need to adjust. Keep lines of communication open. Don’t let worries fester. Try new tools and techniques. Let this be a type of professional development instead of a frightening inconvenience. Talk to those of us who love it –we’ll help all we can. See what tools and techniques you feel make your work and life better, and consider ways to integrate them into working onsite, when that’s ready to happen again.

Fellow remote workers, please feel free to jump in and leave any additional advice in the comments. New-to-remote workers, ask any questions, and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible. 

Stay healthy!