It’s All Life

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I’ve talked, over multiple platforms, about how different freelance/writing factions are often dismissive and condescending toward each other.

Business writers treat fiction writers like it’s a cute lil hobby. Many businesspeople who never write a word swear they’d write a book “if they had time.” Nope. They wouldn’t. They’re not willing to do the work. They’d talk the book to someone they hope not to pay and claim they’d split the non-existent profits, but it’s not happening any time soon.

Fiction writers treat business writers as sellouts, because writers should “write for the love of it.” These are usually fiction writers who aren’t getting paid for their work. Those who are getting paid understand the business as well as the passion.

Loving my job does not mean I forfeit the right to earn a living at it.

Before you got “not all” on me, yeah, I know. I know plenty of writers who do both types of writing, or who do one and don’t try to demean the other. But too many believe what they do is “real” and anything else isn’t.

“Making a living writing” means you get paid for your words and keep a roof over your head, no matter what box those words fall into. And, for freelancers, that often means more than one box.

In my post a few weeks ago, I talked about the need to expand your definition of “freelance” since it goes far beyond doing content or tech work for a typical corporation. Artists and entertainers are freelancers. Basically, anyone who works in an at-will state is a freelancer, although you might have a W-2 now and some temporary benefits.

That’s the reality of the modern work.

We were also told, for years, to compartmentalize our work from our lives. “Close the door when you finish for the day.” Great. Boundaries are a necessity. Sometimes we need boundaries to protect us from ourselves.

But we’re also doing a disservice with “work-life balance” and compartmentalization. Work and life are both portions of life.

Work is PART of life. It’s often a big part, because it gives us the money to live the other parts. But it is a part of life, not separate from it. Because so many people hate their jobs, because hating one’s job is considered normal, we’re trained to separate work from life. It can be a protection mechanism. It can also be weaponized against us.

The pandemic taught us many things, things traditional working environments want us to forget. One is that they don’t give a damn about their workers, as long as they profit. Another is that many jobs don’t need to be done within the corporate space, but they insist on it to have more control, and to give cover to bad managers who should have been fired eons ago. Keeping one’s staff controlled, overworked, underpaid, scrambling to survive, and tying health care to the job, are all ways to keep employees under control.

They are ways to prevent employees from living an holistic life.

Imagine if we all loved our jobs. It’s not out of the realm of possibility, since people are vastly different, with vastly different interests.

Imagine that, even if we didn’t “love” the job, we enjoyed the time spent at work. We found the work challenging in positive way; spent creative time with respectful colleagues who didn’t “yes” us or sabotage us, but worked with us; were surprised when the workday was over because the time flew, and we have the satisfaction of a job well done.

If we do work we love, we are better at it, happier in working with our colleagues, and happier in our lives at home.

Rather than subjugating employees, it would behoove corporations to enhance the lives of their employees, because then the employees would bring more creativity, energy, and talent back to work with them. Plenty of companies talk the talk. Few actually do it.

So we’re on our own to create a healthy work life for ourselves, which then creates a healthier overall life for us, our families, our friends, and, yes, our colleagues at work.

Where does your work fit into your life? How can you make it more holistic? How can your job positively feed the rest of your life in ways beyond money?

Is it about different tasks? Different colleagues? A more flexible schedule? Being able to decorate and personalize your space to make it a joyful and comfortable place to work? Genuine conversations with colleagues? The chance to learn new skills? More support during difficult stretches in your life? Stronger boundaries? (More money is a given).

If there isn’t a way to do that, how can you carve out the time and energy to find something that will?

The paths to this are different for each of us. There are times we have to make tradeoffs for the long and short term. But if we remember that work is part of life and not separate from it, we have a better shot at not only a balanced life, but an integrated, healthier one.

The Toxicity of “Team Player” Syndrome

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Have you ever noticed that if you stand up for yourself in a business situation, the person you confront accuses you of not being a “team player”?

How often, in job listings, is the phrase “must be a team player” used? Which is basically a red flag for “shut up, keep your head down, and don’t make waves, even if it’s a hostile or unethical situation.”

When someone in the business world says that to me, I have to laugh in their face. Because I know the subtext is to allow mistreatment or look the other way from unethical behavior.

I KNOW what being a genuine team player is, and it’s not just going along to get along.

How do I know this? Because I spent decades playing on the ultimate teams.

Not hockey. Although I learned a lot about what makes for solid teamwork when I spent eight months embedded with a minor league hockey team quite a few years ago.

Broadway.

Before Broadway, off-Broadway and off-off Broadway and regional theatre and community theatre and university theatre.

Theatre.

Film production (although there’s far more hierarchy in film production).

A Broadway show can take close to 100 people to keep it running on any given day. A film production uses far more. While there may be ego flares, unless one is actually willing to work as a team for the production to happen, it won’t.

That’s why the creative unions connected to theatre and film production are vital. Because corporate factions always try to use passion and love for the work as a way to demean, demoralize, underpay, and overwork everyone involved.

But in order for either a theatre or a film production to happen through to completion, there has to be genuine teamwork. Each individual on the production needs to be good at their tasks. They have to know when to tamp down personal ego in order to benefit the entire production, and to do it in a way that isn’t demeaning to themselves or anyone else. It’s not about self-sacrifice. It’s about keeping an eye on the goal – a completed production – and treating everyone else on the team with respect. It’s about knowing when to put aside personal dislikes to achieve something beyond what the individuals could achieve alone.

Genuine leaders (be they supervisors, managers, executives) know how to bring out the best in each individual, matching the right individual to the right task, and a way that makes them all shine.

One of my more toxic bosses once said to me, “Your job is to make me look good.”

To which I replied, “No. My job is to make the company look good, and when I do that, it reflects well on you.”

Strong, skilled leaders don’t need to give lectures about being a “team player” because they’ve put together teams that integrate well, support each other, and make each other better than they could be on their own. The leaders know when to step in to guide, nudge in a different direction, and, most important of all, they know when to step back and get out of the way.

Weak leaders, who are leaders in name only, have to talk about “team players” because they are unable to inspire, lead, guide, and lead by example. Their own insecurities, their knowledge that they don’t have enough skill, and their own egos get in the way.

Real teams don’t have to talk about how well they flow together, because they are busy DOING it.

Don’t settle for less.

Expand Your Definition of “Freelance”

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I am coming out of a period of frustration with writerly “factions” who put blinders on and can’t see beyond the scope of their own jobs. Even other freelancers.

There’s the copy/content writing freelancer faction that looks at what they do as the only “professional” writing, and work pretty much along corporate lines, although with a looser structure to suit their goals and lives. They don’t take fiction/scriptwriting seriously and don’t believe anyone THEY KNOW could possibly making a living at it; ergo , it’s a “hobby” or a “side hustle.”

There’s the contingent of fiction writers who look at copy/content/business writing as sell-out hack work (forgetting that those hacks who work for the publishers are a good part of the reason their books sell at all). They consider their own writing and that of writers on the same tier as they are as the only “real writing” and are condescending to other writers. Yet even those traditionally published writers on large contracts too often forget that they, too, are freelancers. Their publishers aren’t offering them health insurance and 401k benefits and vacation time, and their publishers can fire them by not contracting more books.

There are plenty of writers in each category who don’t do this, and aren’t condescending to anyone, realizing that we’re all doing the best we can, no one knows what the hell we’re doing, and we all make it up as we go along. We do the best we can to support each other on creative, emotional, and financial levels. We build genuine community.

But, sadly, those faction writers are often the ones we cross paths with, especially on social media. Some are loud and bullying; others are more quietly subversive, finding cracks in one’s exhaustion or esteem to then exploit to make the person they are “advising” feel even worse, and to make themselves more powerful.

As someone who moves between all kinds of writing, I have little patience with those who don’t take any portion of my work seriously. If I write words for anything and get paid for them, I am making my living writing. Writing IS my day job. Writing is my vocation as well as my passion. ALL kinds of writing, not just what some self-important faction deems as “real” writing.

Broaden out your perspective. Broadway? Television shows? Everyone working on them, except for the top executives, is basically a freelancer. Even though, while we work on a stage or film/tv production, we are on a W-2, and paying into health care, benefits, and the rest. Because a Broadway show can close at any time. A television show can get cancelled in the blink of an eye. The film production will finish, and then you’re out there looking for work. This is true for actors and production crew and designers and directors and writers and all the other positions involved in getting you entertainment.

Entertainment work is transient and short term. Okay, except for Mariska Hargitay and those working for 24 seasons on LAW & ORDER SVU. But even that show will someday end.  And she’ll be in a position to choose what she wants to do next. I mean, look, PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is closing on Broadway after 34 years.

There’s no such thing as job security in the entertainment industry.

Of course, there’s no such thing as job security in ANY industry anymore. It’s been obvious for a good many years now, and the pandemic really brought that home when employers were happy to cut lose employees, only to try and hire them back later at lower wages. At first, it looked like it wasn’t working, so corporations, in spite of record profits, are now trying to manufacture a recession in order to force people back into substandard wages. Hopefully, enough people won’t give in.

Artists are freelancers. They are commissioned by project, or by gallery show. Adjunct professors are basically freelancers, having to worry if their academic institution will hire them back. Any state that allows “at will” employment means their employees have no security. It’s not about how well the employee does the job; it’s about corporate whims.

We all need periods of time when we sink into our work routines, know there’s X amount of money coming in, and have at least a few months where we’re not worried from paycheck to paycheck, and try to build some decent savings.

But don’t forget that even the most seemingly secure job can be transient. Companies are sold, change management, go under. An illness or other life change can affect your ability to do your job the way you did before, and the company may choose to cut you loose rather than to make accommodations.

If you’re in a job where you feel secure, bask in it, at least for a little while.

But keep your resume up to date, stay in touch with friends and colleagues from previous jobs, and keep expanding your network. Put what you can aside for the future (many can’t; with wages stagnant, many of us barely make expenses each month, no matter how many coffees we forgo – which is, by the way, a condescending and insulting metric). Be open to new opportunities. If you are happy where you are, you can always say no to switching jobs. But it’s also rewarding to be considered and invited into new opportunities.

This ebbs and flows. Sometimes we’re too tired to make much effort. But putting aside an hour or two every month to connect or reconnect with people will enrich your life (because most people are interesting, if you just give them a chance), and position you for work opportunities.

At the end of the day, no matter how secure we think we are, we are really all freelancers. Especially in a society where a political faction is determined to destroy any safety nets.

Plan accordingly.

Values and Your Work

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We often talk about the value of our work (as we should), and not to undervalue it. We should be paid fairly and appropriately for our work. We should be able to earn a living at it, and turn down work that doesn’t pay fairly for skills. But we also need to consider the values around our work, and those with whom we work.

There’s a lot of noise about politics invading business (when, in reality, it’s the other way around).

It’s always been important (even when not always possible) to understand where your values lie and what lines you will and won’t cross, in the name of “doing your job” or “keeping your job.” Many of us have had to take work, for a period of time, at companies whose values run counter to ours. With any luck (and a lot of work outside of work), it gives us temporary financial stability to find work better suited to us on all levels.

Freelancers have more choice. When we pitch to companies, it behooves us to research them in depth. That goes beyond reading over the website and the employee reviews on various sites (although it includes all of that). It means doing research on the leaders in the company, and seeing where the company places money in the name of “philanthropy.” If a company funds an ideal that causes harm to the environment, to people I care about, or to me, then it’s not a company with which I should work. Even when they pay well.

When I was starting out in the work world, I was told that “professionals” don’t care about the ideology of the company for whom they work. That it doesn’t matter. That, as a “professional” I should rise about ethics concerns and perform the work, or I wasn’t professional.

That, of course, is the crock of (deleted) fed to us to keep us docile, and allowing unethical organizations to profit from our skills. Too often, we have aided companies who actively work against our best interests.

We did what we thought was right at the time. Now that we know better, we can DO better.

Years ago, I was approached by a Major Company to help create a “lifestyle campaign” for their product. A product proven to cause harm. But I was supposed to create a campaign for it, encouraging people to do something that was likely to kill them. I was offered $250,000 for a six-month contract.

It was tempting. But I could not agree to it, because I knew I could not live with myself if I created something successful, that, ultimately, convinced people to make harmful choices.

Believe me, over the years, there were times when I was struggling when I wondered if I should have just sucked it up and signed on. But I’m glad I didn’t.

I recently read a book called VALUES FIRST: HOW KNOWING YOUR CORE BELIEFS CAN GET YOU THE LIFE AND CAREER YOU WANT by Laura Eigel. It’s geared to a much more corporate career ladder than I have any interest in climbing (especially at this stage in my life).  But there are a lot of useful tools in the book to help decide and discern what matters to you in your work life, and then steps to stay true to it.

There’s lots of noise about “cancel culture.” I grew up taught about “conscientious consumerism.” If and when I learn that a company has practices or donates money counter to my values, I stop doing business with them, whenever possible. There are certain businesses into which I don’t set foot, because I already know how despicable their values are, in comparison to mine. I have the right not to do business with them. I have the right to place my money elsewhere, with companies whose vision, missions, and values align better with mine.

As a freelancer, the companies with whom I choose to partner also need to meet those values.

Some of my colleagues shrug and say they look at it as a way of sticking it to these companies, that they are getting money away from the companies, when the companies would be horrified by what these individuals believe. On one level, I understand that. But my disagreement comes in that these colleagues are also making it possible, through their skills, for these companies to cause increased harm.

Have you ever been in a position where you had to accept work from someone actively doing harm? How did you reconcile with that? Have you ever turned down work because of a company’s values?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Creativity is A Business

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Every few weeks, there’s a flare-up about how getting paid for one’s work in the arts is “selling out” and that “real” artists in whatever the discipline should “do it for love, not money.”

Love doesn’t pay the rent or keep food on the table.

Then there are those who “invite” artists to participate in their project, for “exposure.”

As a good friend of mine once said, “People die of exposure. Give me the cash.”

This type of “artists don’t deserve to be paid” or “get a real job” or “art should be free and accessible to everyone, so artists shouldn’t want payment” bullies tend to fall into two camps. One camp is made up of the faction who has no problem profiting off art, but doesn’t want to pay the artist. The other camp is those who “would” make art “if they had time” or “if there was any money in it” or if they weren’t “such a perfectionist” or don’t have the courage to face the necessary rejection involved in being a working artist and therefore don’t believe anyone else should get paid for it.

Art should be accessible to everyone. Our souls require it. But that doesn’t mean artists should starve while corporations profit.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Loving my job does not mean I forfeit the right to get paid. Money and art are not mutually exclusive.

The fact that I consider it my profession doesn’t lessen my commitment. If anything, it strengthens it.

Creativity is a thriving business. Yes. A business. People make money at it. Broadway’s profit in the 2021 season was $845, 414, 945. Broadway is still recovering from Covid. Revenue in the 2018-19 season hit the record $1.829 BILLION. (Figures from thewrap.com, who get it from the Broadway League). According to the Hollywood Reporter, the film industry pulled in $21.3 BILLION dollars in 2021. According to statista.com, the global art market transactions added up to $65.1 BILLION dollars in 2021. The traditional publishing industry, according to AAP StatShot/pubishingperspectives.com, made $1.1 BILLION. The museum industry, which offers programs and artists across disciplines, made $15.4 BILLION dollars in 2021. According to the BBC, the music industry took in $25.9 BILLION dollars. According to the Arts Action Fund, here in my home state of Massachusetts, the arts and cultural sector portion of the state’s overall economy in 2019, pre-pandemic, was $25.5 BILLION dollars. That’s how much the arts brought in, as far as revenue, to the state.

Most of these figures are lower than pre-pandemic. There are also regional theatres, who are at various tiers, and have to re-think sustainable business practices as they re-open post-pandemic, small and independent publishers, the dance industry, and all the other art forms not listed.

SOMEONE is making money. And too many make money off the myth that in order to be an artist, the creator must starve. That is a myth sustained to exploit creators.

It SHOULD be the creators who profit, and, in disciplines that need tech and editors and other support people, everyone involved should be paid a living wage.

The attitude that artists sell out when they are paid for their work while those who underpay and overwork artists make sums of money that could solve world poverty is destructive.

Creativity IS a business.

Artists should not starve, do not deserve to starve, deserve to be paid a living wage for their work, and royalties/residuals on work that continues to bring in revenue, and should not have to work jobs outside of their profession to survive. The same way the plumber, the doctor, the lawyer does not have to work in jobs outside of their profession to survive.

Artists also need to stop allowing non-artists to condescend and patronize that they are “flakey artists” and don’t have the capacity for business. Artists are capable of creating, solving problems, fixing things, stretching budgets, and repurposing the most mundane objects to transform them into creations of beauty. Artists are able to stimulate, provoke, engage, enchant, and connect on an intimate level, challenging their audiences to a greater understanding of humanity and complexity.

Which is why artists are a threat to small-minded, authoritarian-leaning, exploitative control freaks.

The first step artists need to take is to believe in their own value. Each artist’s voice is unique in the world, and each voice has something of use and purpose.

Once artists know their own value, then they can learn how to position it in the marketplace.

Another thing artists need to do is to set the boundary, and dig into the fact that “No” is a complete sentence.

Every potential project needs to fit criteria unique to each artist:

–Does it encourage growth in the artist?

–Does it encourage engagement with its audience?

–How does it fit into the overall body of the artist’s work?

–What bridge does this build, in terms of new audiences and opportunities?

–What sacrifice does it require on behalf of the artist’s investment of time, creativity, relationships? In other words, will the project be worth it? While not everything can be calculated in financial terms, those need to be part of the equation. Should an artist choose to do something without financial compensation, there must be other compensations beyond “exposure” and “you should be grateful I’m asking you to work for free.” There’s no rule about never working for free, unless an individual chooses to live by that rule. But make sure that working without financial compensation has benefits beyond being told it should make you feel good.

–What support systems does this project require? How will they be put in place? How much of the emotional labor is the artist’s, and where are there systems, organizations, and other personnel who can help?

–What other opportunities must be missed in order to accept this one?

Individuals will have different lists of needs, but creating that list for oneself, and then making sure that a new project/opportunity weighs in more positively than negatively against the individual list will allow better working situations, more creativity, and stronger building blocks.

There are times relationships will be lost. Jealousy, envy, pettiness, sabotage, disrespect, and rejection are all part of an artist’s life. How the individual chooses to handle each instance have a lot of to do with how an artist builds a career.

As far as business-related skills, arts advocacy organizations are likely to offer workshops on the business skills needed to support one’s life in the arts. Assets for Artists, in the area where I now live, offers free professional development workshops for artists covering business and finance. Creative Capital offers workshops for managing the business side of one’s career. Spend some time researching, and find out what’s available in your area.

Artists are capable of critical thinking, or they wouldn’t be able to create. These critical thinking skills can be useful in figuring out how to apply business skills in the arts. For instance, I recently read Laura Eigel’s VALUES FIRST: HOW KNOWING YOUR CORE BELIEFS CAN GET YOU THE CAREER AND LIFE YOU WANT. It’s geared toward corporate leaders. Yet there were techniques and exercises and suggestions that are useful in arts-related situations.

Break that mythological barrier that artists “can’t” understand business because they’re too flighty, and that those skilled in business lack creativity. I’m grateful for the art of the accountant – those accountants have a passion for what they do, so I don’t have to. I can learn the basics of keeping my financials in good shape, and then turn it over to a  professional who loves their job (AND IS PAID FOR IT, and no one ever questions that an accountant should be paid). I know when to bring in someone with more skills than mine, and that’s part of the business of art, too. Bring in the right people to do the work.

People are human. They make mistakes. Hopefully they learn, and they try to do better going forward, and demonstrate that effort through positive action and words. The arts teach us about facets of human experience we might not have, and might not yet understand. That is part of makes it both wonderful and dangerous.

Remember: individuals within corporate entities that have clout in the industry are making huge sums of money. Many of those individuals make huge sums of money while trying to pay the creators and craftspeople less for each project, while they continue to make higher profits.

The Trickle-Down Economy has always been a myth to keep people overworked and underpaid, in order to keep them under control, desperate, and helpless. Art is a way to navigate through and learn how to create a better world through beauty, empathy, understanding, bearing witness to injustice, and daring to dream a better world. It makes sense that those making the most money want to sell the anti-artist myths as broadly as possible, to keep control.

Don’t let them.

The first step to creating that better world is knowing your own value in it, and not letting anyone undervalue you, on emotional or financial levels.

Talk Money Early

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With all the chest-beating and wailing hiring managers and recruiters are doing about this so-called “labor shortage” too many of them are still stubborn about not talking money early in the process.

Salary/fee/hourly should be in the job posting and/or description.

A range is better than nothing, but specifics are better.

As a job hunter, if you see a posting without any mention of money, it’s a good indication that they will try to lowball you in the hiring process. If it’s marked “DOE” (which means “depending on experience), that’s also a sign they hope to lowball candidates, since they will move the “experience” goalpost to give themselves the best break.

Instead of complaining about such listings, skip them. Don’t even bother to apply. The job will not pay anywhere close to what it should for the required skills. If it did, the company would be happy to list the payment.

If there’s a way so to do, let the listing site know that you’re skipping a listing because payment is not defined.

Something else all of us should do, whether we are happily ensconced in salaried jobs, entrepreneurial freelancers, or anywhere in between, is to write letters to both our state’s labor secretary and the US Secretary of Labor (currently Marty Walsh, for whom I have a high regard). Request that it become a requirement of any job posting to list salary/fee/payment. Follow up every few months. When you have meet-and-greet sessions with your elected officials, bring it up.

Beyond needing the monetary compensation listed in the job description, it should be one of the first things discussed, either in the interview scheduling or in the FIRST interview.

Far too often, a recruiter has wanted to schedule a meeting, and, when I’ve asked what the compensation for the position is, I’m told, “I don’t know.”

Why don’t you know? Why doesn’t the company TRUST you with that information? You can’t get the best candidates for the position without talking money.

To which I reply, “Please find out and get back to me and then we can talk about moving forward.”

Far too often, money is ignored not just in first interviews, but over a series of interviews. Too often, the interviewer becomes defensive when money is brought up. “If you really were interested in the job, you wouldn’t want to talk money yet.”

Um, sweetheart, one of the reasons I’m interested or not interested in the job is the money. This is how I make my living. I don’t worry about compensation for volunteer work. But when it is my profession, the money matters. As I’ve said when I’m told I should be “grateful” to work without compensation, “I chooose my volunteer work. You are not on that list.”

If you get a response trying to guilt you for wanting to find out if they’re willing to pay for your skills, the best thing to do is to end the interview immediately, citing that this is obviously not a good fit. The subtext is, of course, “and you can’t afford me.”

“Oh, we never talk money until we make an offer.”

This is a reminder that the offer is the START of the financial negotiations. The offer is made, and the candidate weighs if that makes sense in terms of all the different factors different people have to consider when accepting any job: money, skills, time, work environment, how it affects other portions of life, etc. If the offer is acceptable and the benefits package (where appropriate) work, by all means, get it all in writing and accept. Otherwise, counteroffer.

Again, a company that is insulted by a counteroffer is a big red flag.

Professionals understand that both sides want certain things, and both sides need to be willing to compromise on certain things.

The earlier in the process money is discussed, the smoother the entire interview process will flow. If you know the money doesn’t meet your needs, and it’s unlikely the rest of the elements of the job will make up for it, you can bow out gracefully early, and save everyone time and frustration. If the salary range is acceptable and the interview process goes well, there’s room to discuss where in the range works for both parties.

Recruiters need to be honest with both candidates and clients. I’ve sat in far too many interviews, where, through the conversation, the client and I discovered that the recruiter had told each of us what they thought we wanted to hear instead of telling me the truth about the job parameters and the client the truth about the kind of position for which I was looking. Too often, I’ve been thrown at clients, going on the job description detailed by the recruiter, only to find it was vastly different from what the person interviewing me needed – and was something in which I had no interest.

In freelance/consulting situations, money should come up early, and usually does. Whether it’s part of the initial conversation of “how can I help you in your business needs?” that leads to “this is my project rate” or a breakdown of what different portions of the projects will cost, or the hourly rate, talking money early decides whether or not you can work together. If the client is unsure, you can say, “What is your projected budget for this project?” and then, if it’s too low for your rates, suggest ways to tighten the scope of the project so that it works for both of you. And then write up a detailed contract, to prevent scope creep. Or part ways, perhaps making a referral (unless their budget is so small, none of your contacts can take it on, either).

Companies should be delighted to talk money early. Everyone’s time and energy are then better served, and the interview process is more about finding the right candidate instead of the cheapest labor.

Once More, For Those in the Back: No Unpaid Labor As Part of the Interview Process

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I’ve talked about this before, and it needs to be said again: If a company expects unpaid work as part of the interview process, they do not have a positive work culture, no matter how much they’ve paid for whatever award they claim.

This includes assessments, tests, and project-specific samples.

An ethical company will pay you for your time and skills.

You fill out an application and send it through Indeed and they immediately send you a series of tests?

Ignore them.

In my cover letter, I clearly state that I do not do unpaid tests or project-specific samples, and I will provide my rates upon request. I also have a contract specifically to such tests and samples, which requires that they are scheduled in advance, and half of the fee paid up front.

Or the test doesn’t happen.

If the company sends me a form rejection because I did not take their unpaid assessments, it merely affirms they were not the right fit in the first place.

If a recruiter or HR person tries to convince me to create unpaid work samples because, “everyone who works here has to do that. I had to do that” they get a copy of the contract and the terms to schedule the tests and samples. There are also instances where I have said to the HR person, “I’m sorry you have such low self-esteem you felt you had to work for free.”

That shuts them up.

Or, if the response is, “but you have decades of experience, it will only take you a few minutes to do the test” my response is, “Yes, I have decades of experience. I have no need to take the test.”

I repeat: ethical companies will pay you for your time.

Early, early on in my freelance career, there was a company that asked potential freelancers for unpaid samples, which they assigned. I declined, but I heard from several other freelancers who did it, against all our better judgements. Turned out, the company assigned pieces of a big project as the different “samples” and thereby go the entire project done for free. They told all the potential freelancers that they were hiring other people, then changed the name of the company and used the work on their website, without paying anyone. How do I know this? Several of us who pitched to the company had crossed paths on computer bulletin boards (yes, that long ago) and found out we’d pitched. Those who created free samples shared their experience, and one particularly industrious freelancer found out what the company did after telling those writers who did free samples that they were not hired. The writers whose work was used wanted to sue, but had no grounds, because there had never been any contract or agreement not to use said samples without payment.

A company who says they need to see if I can “write in their voice”? Honey, I was in theatre for decades. I can mimic any voice any time anywhere. Read my portfolio. A lack of reading comprehension on your part is not a lack of skill on my part.

Pay for assessments. Pay for tests and samples. The most talented, skilled prospects have enough self-respect not to fall for this crap.

I was irritated beyond belief when, this week, a high-profile company approached me about applying for an open position. They sent a short job description and several pages about why they were such a great place in which to work. Then, the kicker: along with my application I was to send a “sample email” telling a potential customer about why their product was so great and why that customer should buy it.

Um, that would be unpaid labor as part of an interview process, and negates all the positive work culture details the company sent.

Nope.

Even more irritating, LinkedIn sent me an email this week, telling me I should take their special assessments (unpaid, of course) and “earn” skill badges that will attract recruiters. The subject line of that email was “Your skills are in demand.”

Hell, yeah, and that’s why I’m paid for them.

You know where LinkedIn can shove those badges.

Have I ever done unpaid tests or samples? Yes. There was only one instance in which I did not completely regret it. And in that case, I had a slightly different agreement in place, stating they could not use that sample unless they paid me for it, whether or not I was hired for anything else.

I’ve started keeping a list of companies who expect unpaid labor before they even schedule an interview, or as part of an interview process. Referring to that list when something hits my inbox is saving me a lot of frustration and time.

The request/demand for unpaid labor as part of an interview process, or as a condition of interview, denotes an unethical company. Don’t fall for it.

Research Time IS Work Time

image courtesy of Pexels via pixabay.com

A potential client discovered me via LinkedIn, and contacted me about a project. They wanted me to write a white paper-ish document. I use “ish” because it didn’t truly fit the definition of white paper, but was similar. It was in a field out of my usual wheelhouse, but a topic in which I was interested and could get up to speed quickly.

They had no interest in a per-project rate for this; they wanted to pay per word.

I rarely do a per-word rate anymore; per project makes much more sense for both the customer and for me. When they quoted me the per word rate, it was considerably lower than what I use.

I told them that the per-word rate was below my usual rate.

Them: It’s non-negotiable.

I already figured out I wasn’t going to do this gig, but I wanted to get more information, just to either prove or disprove my growing suspicions.

I asked them how much of the research they would provide, how much I would provide, and what sources or references they would point me toward. Some of the information/sites I knew were behind pay walls. What was the budget for that? From the creative brief, it would take somewhere between 12-20 hours of research, along with interviews and fact-checking, to complete the project, if I had to start from scratch.

The answer: None. I was expected to handle all the research.

I then explained that it made more sense to use a project rate quote than a per word quote.

The response: “We don’t pay for research time. We only pay by the word.”

Me: I’m not paid for research?

Them: We don’t pay for research.

Me: Are you willing to provide the research?

Them: No. You’re responsible for the research and fact-checking.

Me: But you don’t pay for research?

Them: That’s correct. We only pay for the words written.

Me: I’m not the right fit for the project.

Them: We don’t negotiate rates.

Me: I understand. And I am not the right fit for this project. Thank you for thinking of me. Goodbye.

Had I accepted this project, I would have worked for less than half of my per-word rate AND put in 12-20 hours of unpaid research. AND paid for anything that was behind pay walls.

In other words, it would cost me money to work for them.

Research time is work time. Finding trustworthy sources, hunting through archives, taking notes, making sure one has the references correct, fact-checking. All of that takes time, and that time is worth money.

Even if a client provides research, one still has to read it and, in some cases, fact-check.

That takes time.

That time consists of billable hours.

Project quotes make more sense for a piece such as this. You can look at the creative brief, figure out how long any research/reading/fact-checking is likely to take, figure in a decent rate for writing the article, and come up with something that works for both of you.

If the potential client’s budget can’t encompass your project quote, you can negotiate scaling down the scope to fit into the budget, or you can refuse the project.

“We don’t pay for research time” is a huge red flag. It means the potential client expects free labor as part of the contract, and is a good indication of future scope creep without compensation.

Value your time. Charge appropriately.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Inspire, Rather than Bully

image courtesy of truthseeker08 via pixabay.com

I’m regularly removing myself from email lists, especially those that claim to be dedicated to causes, because they spend words and our time bullying and shaming instead of inspiring.

“We’ve Been Emailing You Non-Stop”

This landed in my in-box a few days ago. Yes, you have. I’m on your email list. Every time you send out a blast, I’m on the list. Or, I should say, I WAS on the list. The headline of this email alone was enough to make me unsubscribe.

If I haven’t done what you want in response to your email, that is MY CHOICE. Especially if it’s sent from a no-reply address.

An email is an enticement. When it bullies, you’re doing it wrong.

Shaming me for not donating to your cause every single day or every time you send me an email guarantees that I will remove myself from your list and not EVER donate to your cause, even if I believe in it.

I will find an organization doing similar work that doesn’t fundraise through bullying or shaming.

Also, when every email, every petition, every contact asks me to donate – even if it’s a small amount – I’m outta there.

When I have the money to spare, I donate it to causes in which I believe.

IF and WHEN I am in a position to make a regular pledge, I do so.

It’s not just nonprofits that do this. Several years ago, I received an email from a start-up business in an industry in which I spend time and money. The start=up asked if I wanted to receive emails about their new products. I said yes, put me on the list.

I received emails about the products — a little vague, but they were starting up. It wasn’t what I wanted or needed at the time, but I figured, as they came up with new products, there would be something, and I’d buy it when I saw it.

Instead, I got nasty emails, berating me for not buying their product, after asking to be on their email list.

Say what? Being on the email list means I learn about their products, with an eye to buying something that I want. Not buying something because it exists.

I unsubscribed and let them know why, using direct quotes from the nasty email. I got a response saying, “That’s not what we meant.” To which I responded, “But that is what you said. If you’re sending out words that don’t communicate what you mean, hire better writers.”

If every interaction is only an hysterical demand for cash, with a veiled threat underneath that I am a bad person or not committed to the cause if I don’t give all my money to whatever cause that is – that is a perversion of “call to action.” It’s bullying, plain and simple.

Since I do not cave in to bullies who approach me in real life, why would I do so from a bullying email?

This is NOT a “Call to Action.”

A genuine “Call to Action” sets out the case in positive terms – the goal, the steps planned to reach the goal, what is needed for those steps, and how the recipient can participate in successful accomplishment.

It is done in a way that provides information, inspiration, and excitement in the reader. It makes the reader want to be part of whatever it is. Want to be part of the success. Because it incites a response that is excited and joyful, not a sense of shame. Or a response of, “X should not be happening. This organization is working to fix a bad situation, and I want to be part of the solution.”

Most importantly, it entices and engages.

It gets the audience excited about the goal, the purpose, the values, and the process of achieving them. It inspires with “look what we can do when we work together toward this goal. It’s amazing!”

It doesn’t use the “I’m so disappointed in you” or “you don’t really have a commitment to this cause, or you would do as I say.”

You cannot be an organization genuinely working for equity and justice (which means working on anti-bullying) if you use the tactics you supposedly fight against in order to raise money.

Bullying and shaming tactics might gain a few conversions here and there, but sustained support comes from engagement and making your funders feel like they are doing something worthwhile because it makes a positive difference, not because you are shaming them into it.

I’ve left several nonprofits because, in our meetings, when I bring up unethical approaches or accepting money from unethical sources, I’m told that it “doesn’t matter” how they get the money or from whom.

I disagree. It matters. How an organization fundraises and from whom they accept money tells the world a great deal about the integrity and values held by that organization.

Especially after the last six years, it matters.

If you want long-term support, build positive partnerships. Invite, entice, engage. Include these partners in the steps to reach the goal.

If you are constantly falling short in your goals, it’s time to re-think your strategic plan.

But whatever you do, engage rather than bully.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Moving Your Passion to the Center of Your Work Life

image courtesy of Gloria Williams via pixabay.com

Amongst the many pandemic lessons we’ve learned about work, many of us have learned what work resonates more with us, or which doesn’t. At times, we haven’t had much choice – we have to take what work we can land in order to keep a roof over our heads. That’s often exhausting, and it leaves little time or energy for pursuing the work that is fulfilling as well as keeping you alive in a monetary sense.

Being versatile is always positive. In spite of all the screaming about the importance of “niche” – the wider your range of skills and interests, the wider the range of potential jobs. You’ll notice that several of the self-styled job-coaching and marketing gurus have stopped screaming “niche” and talked about “side hustle.” They don’t admit they were wrong, or that life changes, or that people NEED to change. They simply change their tunes and collect the cash.

I find “side hustle” a revolting and insulting term. The minute someone uses “side hustle,” I look at them differently and with suspicion.

There are two reasons for that.

The first is that no one should HAVE to work more than one job in order to survive. The reality is that most of us do work multiple jobs. Let’s stop this toxic myth that the necessity for a “side hustle” is a good thing. Pay people a living wage, and make sure there’s enough housing and food for everyone. That is absolutely achievable in this country, with ethical leadership. Encouraging “side hustle” encourages yet more low-paying jobs without benefits.

If you can’t afford to pay a living wage, you don’t get to have employees. Do the damn work yourself.

The second reason I loathe “side hustle” is that, to me, the “hustle” part of it doesn’t mean “extra work and resourceful time management.” To me, the “hustle” means “fraud or swindle.” So when someone talks about their “side hustle” I immediately associate it with them feeling they must swindle because they aren’t being paid enough at their central job.

Negative connotations all around. People with different frames of reference will interpret the phrase differently. But to me, it reads as “it’s okay for me to find a way to screw you outside of my job to earn money, because my regular job doesn’t pay me enough to survive.”

Work has to serve workers better (and, by doing so, will serve both companies and society better).

But what if you are in a job that IS paying you enough to survive, but you hate it? But you have a passion for something else?

Then, absolutely, pursue it.

When I teach writing workshops, and people ask me how they can “find” the time to write and become a full-time writer, I tell them, “There will never BE time to write. You have to MAKE time to write. If you want it badly enough, you find a way to do it. If you want this to be your only job, you commit to it as though it is a second job, until you’re in a position to make it your only job.”

It means you’ll be tired. A lot. It means you’ll give up time on other things, and sometimes with other people. It means you have to negotiate with those in your life, and decide how important this second passion is in relation to those people. Some will compromise with you and support you. Some will not, and then you have to decide whether or not to keep them in your life.

It doesn’t have to be writing – it can be any passion. How much do you love it? How much do you want it to be your only job? Are you worried you will stop loving it if it becomes your source of income?

Remember, though, that loving your work does not mean you forfeit your right to get paid.

One of the most toxic myths presented to and about creative people is that they “do it for love, not money.” Those are not mutually exclusive, and it is a way for those who don’t have the guts to follow their dreams to punish those who do.

Don’t buy into it.

The pandemic made us more aware of our wants and needs. I hope, as we get vaccinated, and move into the next phases of our lives (because it will not go back to the way it was), we take some of those lessons and implement them, especially when it comes to work.

I already see companies reverting back to toxic models, and, especially, recruiters doing so. It’s up to the workers to refuse to be forced back into those negative patterns.

How do you move the passionate work you do outside your normal job to become your only job?

Hard work, time, money, patience.

Most of us, too many of us, live paycheck to paycheck. So all those “experts” talking about “paying yourself first” and “saving a year and a half’s worth of expenses” – they can shove it right up the you-know-what because that is simply not a reality for most of us.

You need to learn how to contain and direct your energy. You still need to deliver high quality at the place that pays you to survive, but you do not put all your energy there. You save energy for your passion-work.

Biorhythms were a big deal back when I entered the work force. It’s considered a “pseudo-science” and therefore unreliable. But there are elements of that system that ring true. I am at my most creative early in the morning. That is when I do my first 1K of the day, when I write most of my fiction, or work on whatever project needs the most creative attention. Once that is done, I can then direct my energy to other projects, depending on contract deadlines and payment. But that early morning creative time is MINE, and I use it as I choose.

Other people work better late at night. Or in the afternoon. Play with it. Find your strongest time to do what you love, and then, slowly, steadily, rework your schedule so you can use that time. If you’re working 9-5, you may have to do your passion-work early in the morning or late at night, when it’s not your best time. You may have to work when you’re tired. Until you can convert your work schedule to fit your creative rhythms.

Don’t kill yourself with it, but also, don’t give up. Do the work. Create a body of work. Increase your skills.

And remember, that no one, NO ONE will respect your work and your time unless YOU do, and unless you hold firm boundaries.

Then, start exploring how you can use that body of work and increased skill set to earn money. Build the income from it.

If it’s in a field that has the possibilities of grants of other award funding – look into it, and apply for anything and everything for which you think are appropriate. Remember, no matter how many people apply for a grant, it’s always 50-50. Either you get it, or you don’t. Grants and other award funding can buy you time to focus on your passion-work. That time allows you to create more that then positions you better for your transition to doing it full-time. It is worth the time it takes to write the grants.

Once you’re earning steadily in this second, passion-work, enough to feel a little more secure, talk to your regular job about adjusted hours, reduced hours, remote work, or anything else that is appropriate, works for both of you, and lets you spend more time on this second work. If you’re in a benefitted job, negotiate to keep benefits.

As your passion-work becomes more financially stable, you can cut back more on what was your “day job” until you can leave. Or maybe you can work out an arrangement to do freelance work a few times a month, so there’s still some money coming in, but now THAT is your second job (and you don’t need to devote the time or energy to it that you needed to give your passion-work in order to place that front and center).

Some of the work we must do with this new administration is make sure that our health care is not tied to our jobs. It keeps too many of us in toxic situations.

Again, in the faction of those not wanting to pay a living wage, there are the shouts of “it’s all going to be automated soon, you should be grateful” and “no one wants to do this work.”

So why aren’t the jobs “no one wants to do” the jobs being automated? They could be. A robot doesn’t care what the job is. The robot will do the job as programmed. So program them to “do the jobs no one wants” and keep people in the jobs that need to be human, and pay those humans a living wage.

There’s political work we need to do in order to break the toxic culture that too many grew up with couched as “solid work ethic” and there’s the work we need to do to move the work we love into the work that supports us on financial as well as emotional levels.

The great part of this is that there are so many different passions and interests and skills that there are plenty of passionate artists AND plenty of passionate accountants. We don’t all love and want the same work, and that’s part of what makes it both possible and positive to pursue the work we love.

What we have to change is the structure and strictures of work that only serve a small portion of those “in charge” – who are not the people doing the actual work. We do this on individual levels, by doing the actual work we love, and we do this at the ballot box. We do it by communicating with our elected officials.

It is the personification of “Be the change you want in the world.”

How are you following your passions? How do you plan to move them, so they support your life on both physical and emotional levels?