Ink-Dipped Advice: Sometimes Local Is The Wrong Choice

image courtesy of eyeimage via pixabay.com

The title got your attention, and the topic may annoy people.

We’ve spent so much time talking about “shop local”  and “buy small.” There are even weekends dedicated to that – the Saturday after Black Friday, for instance.

In many cases, I’m all for it. I’d much rather spend my hard-earned dollars on a local artisan making a terrific product than at a big, anonymous box store.

However, there are also artisans and small businesses who create great products all over the country and all over the world. I like to support them by purchasing their products when I can. That does not negate the local businesses.  I can buy from both.

With the re-opening, sometimes shopping local is even less of a smart choice. While my state mandates that local businesses must require customers to wear a mask to enter, it’s rarely enforced. One of the local businesses I supported during stay-at-home is allowing people in without the required masks. They SAY they want customers masked; but when I was in there last week, customers walked in wearing the mask, then slid it down to their neck and got right up close and personal with employees and didn’t social distance.

I call them the Sliding Mask Skanks.

I’ve shopped a good deal at this business since I moved here ten years ago; won’t be going back any time soon, since I don’t feel they are protecting either their employees or their customers. I was uncomfortable, angry, and felt unsafe. I bought much less than I planned, because all I wanted to do was get away from the Sliding Mask Skanks before one of them contaminated me. I considered putting everything back and walking out without buying anything, but that would have put me at more risk that simply checking out with what I had.

Another local business, offering the same type of product “strongly encourages” masks, but does not require them. So I’m not shopping there.

Meanwhile, a local business in the same line of work about forty minutes away not only requires the mask, but takes the temperature of customers before allowing them in.

I’ll drive the forty minutes and shop there instead.

Too many businesses are not enforcing the mask rule, are not protecting either customers or employees, because they’d rather get a few bucks out of the Covidiots, especially if they’re tourists, then build a sustainable future in the community by refusing them entrance. Or making them leave when they take off the mask.

These businesses have not yet figured out that when everybody’s dead, there’s no one to buy their products.

They will.

I don’t intend to be one of the casualties.

There are other local businesses that are letting the guidelines slide, while claiming they are following them. Not shopping there.  I’ll hunt down individual artisans and order from them instead (and ask that they not ship via UPS, since UPS has now lost three packages in the past month. Again, not acceptable).

I’m keeping track of the businesses that aren’t protecting employees and customers. I will think long and hard when there is a vaccine and there is treatment and it’s “safe” to go out and about like we used to – do I really want to give my money to a place that didn’t look after their people, but were willing to put their lives at risk during the phased re-opening? Do companies that were willing to put lives at risk in such a reckless manner deserve my money?

If I have another option, I will use it.

Even if it’s not local.

As a writer and remote worker, I have clients spread out all over the country and the world. With remote teams stationed wherever they’re stationed, “local” has a more individual meaning.

I might be working for a company that has a distributed remote work force. However, the money I earn from that company benefits my local community when I go out and spend it.

Except for those companies who are not following guidelines and protocols. I’ll skip spending my money there and put it to companies who ARE looking after both employees and customers.

If there’s a product I want/need from a local business and they’re letting Covidiots in without masks, potentially infecting employees and customers, potentially creating a hotspot, I’m not shopping there. If I can get the same product, also from a small business, that’s in a different location, and they are shipping and following safety guidelines, that’s where I’ll put my money.

What if they’re not actually following them? What if they are doing what local businesses are doing here, which is posting that they are following guidelines, but not actually doing it? How can I possible know if I’m not right there?

Anything that enters the house goes through disinfectant protocols and is sanitized and/or quarantined. Whether it’s local or delivered. However, if it’s delivered, I have not been in contact range of the reckless Covidiots dancing around with unenforced protocols, and I have a much smaller chance of getting infected.

So I’ll order from a small business that’s somewhere else. And NOT spend my money locally, where I KNOW they are disregarding safety protocols. They haven’t earned the right to my money. I buy from a different locale.

“Local” has become more complex.

Remote workers are fantastic for their local economies. If I’m living where I want, happy where I am and working remotely, earning a fair living from that remote job (which I sure wouldn’t be earning in-person locally), and I spend that money on property, gas, food, and at local businesses who earn my trust – that serves the local economy.

But I am paying attention. I do not “owe” it to local businesses to spend my money there if they are not doing everything in their power to protect the health and safety of both their employees and their customers. But especially their employees, who have to deal with germy strangers coming in and out all day.

I “owe” the health and safety of my family and my community at large to spend my money in businesses that I believe operate with ethics and integrity. There are plenty of businesses owned by people whose values are far removed from mine. I do not “owe” it to them to spend my money there. They do not “owe” it to me to hire me to write for them (I’d refuse the gig anyway).

That is one of the marketing spins during this phased re-opening that hits me as a red flag – chambers of commerce and business associations telling the public they “owe”  their patronage to businesses in the area simply because they are in the area.

If the business earns my trust and treats employees and customers with integrity, I’m happy to spend money there (provided their product meets my needs). If they don’t earn my trust and don’t treat employees and customers with integrity, or stop doing so, I do not owe them anything.

This is something marketing people need to discuss with their clients as they plan and implement re-opening campaigns to engage and enlarge their audience/customer base. Customers don’t “owe” you their patronage. You have to earn it. You have to stand out and give customers reasons to want to engage with you, to want to spend their money on your product or service, rather than one someone else’s.

Health and safety concerns have added another layer to that equation. It’s not two-dimensional anymore, but multi-dimensional. It’s interesting, frustrating, and sometimes disappointing to see which businesses step up, and which ones fail.

How are businesses in your area handling things? Any surprises? Disappointments? How do you feel about the local marketing? How would you advise these companies differently?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Who Are You?

image courtesy of Drigo Diniz viz pexels.com

There’s a lot of discussion in person and online, as we try to navigate the often reckless re-opening plans around the country, how to restructure the marketing message to hold customers rather than drive them away by being tone deaf, and to engage new customers.

With the world literally burning down around us, the institutions/structures we either trusted or ignored exposed as toxic, flawed, and/or corrupt, and the fact that going to the grocery store could literally kill us, “messaging” isn’t enough.

Who are you, as a business?

Where do you fit into the structure of you local community, your region, your state, your country, the world? What does what you do, the way you do it, how you walk your talk, and how you communicate it, say about you?

More importantly, who are you as a person?

It’s often argued that one’s personal beliefs don’t matter within business context. A professional writer can write anything for any one in any tone. The fact that one can and does is proof of one’s professionalism.

I’ve often had a problem with that, and even more so now.

Which is your soul and which is your mask? What damage do you to do your soul (and the world) when all you offer is your mask, and the results of that mask cause harm?

We hear about the need for “authenticity” in connecting and engaging an audience. That term is yet another that has become over-used, meaningless market-speak. The minute someone starts talking about the “authentic self” the warning bells go off for “hypocrite.” Because those who actually ARE authentic don’t run around talking about it. They are BEING. They are DOING. Their actions provide the copy. The copy does’t cover or divert from the actions.

I don’t have all the answers, although I keep asking the questions. I don’t have the right to make decisions for anyone except myself. But I do have to face myself in the mirror every day. I have to ask, “Who are you?”

On the days when I can’t answer, or don’t like what I see, it is time for radical change.

So. . .who ARE you?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Do You Live & Work in Scarcity or Abundance?

An article on my Twitter timeline last week pressed some buttons. I didn’t even realize how deep it cut until I started my response. It made sense, after a few minutes, to shut the heck up, think about WHY it caused such a heated response on my part, and set out my argument.

It was an article on having various “calls to action” in newsletters, content, etc. “Calls to action” is another marketspeak term that’s getting overused and overdone, in my opinion, although it makes sense — you’re enlarging your audience and potential customer base and you want them to take the action of buying your product or service.

But one of the CTA points that worked my last nerve was “create a sense of scarcity and urgency.”

As a customer, when I am targeted that way, it angers me, and is more likely to turn me off the product and service than engage me. It makes me feel manipulated in a way I don’t like.

Because, quite frankly, my buying is not decided, for the most part, on missing a trend. If I feel a company is trying to manipulate me into buying something this second or missing it — I’d rather miss it.

Even the word “scarcity” has “scare” in it – a scare tactic. You try to intimidate me into parting with my hard-earned cash, and I’m going to push back.

Obviously, when a store is having a sale or an airline is having one of their special deals, scarcity and urgency are part of the deal. A store can’t have an endless sale, or it becomes the regular price. There has to be a start date and an end date. You don’t shop within that time frame, and you miss it. You wait too long, and they’ve sold through.

Another time that works is with one of my favorite shops, a soap maker who does small batch soaps using natural ingredients.  When the batch is sold through, it’s done, and there’s no guarantee it will be made again. She’s up front about that, is good about posting when something is sold out, and that’s that. I don’t feel manipulated. If I miss it, for whatever reason — whether I didn’t see the email in time or forgot or can’t afford it this month — no problem. Her emphasis is on the new products and new batch, not into shaming her customers for missing something. The way she presents her materials — positive, engaging, inviting — means I am more likely to buy as soon as something new comes up, because she INVITES me instead of BERATING or trying to SCARE me.

Some of the struggling chain stores around here seem to think that they can recover by having constant sales in finite hours.  You run in and buy something on your way somewhere else. They give you a slip stating you’ll get 20% off your next purchase, but only if you shop between 9-11 AM on Friday, or, even worse, only if you come back and shop again that very day.

No. Just no.

Where I live, people are either retired living on independent income, or struggling with three or four part-time jobs. Few people have the time or the inclination to build their day around a two-hour sale.

As one woman pointed out, “I’ll plan my life around Black Friday, but that’s only once a year.”

Another woman said, “It would cost me more to take off work to attend the sale than I’d save on the sale.”

A third person said, “Sales tactics like this are why I order online from Amazon.”

In other words, the stores are not listening to the people who live here and would shop here. The manipulative “scarcity and urgency” they’re promoting are actually driving customers away from them and to Amazon.

It also speaks to a deeper issue often called “prosperity consciousness” and “poverty consciousness.”

Scarcity is often manipulated in order for specific individuals to profit. If you’re always scrambling because you feel you don’t have “enough” — and many of us, living paycheck to paycheck are scrambling all the time just to pay our bills and survive — you wind up in a downward spiral of panic. You’re afraid the deal will never exist again, so you better buy it at this price at this moment or you’ll lose out forever. Sometimes, you’ll plunge yourself further into poverty in order to get this “deal.”

But do you really need it? What is the worst thing that will happen if you miss the sale and it’s not part of your life?

Part of a marketing campaign is to create the desire for whatever the company is selling. That’s part of the encouragement, of the manipulation  — give me your money for this product or service, and your life will be better.

With the subtext being, if you don’t GIVE ME YOUR MONEY for this product or service, your life will be worse.

But is that true?

Or will it keep you in the cycle of poverty consciousness?

This article, by Dawn Demers, talks about developing prosperity consciousness, and how our words have meaning, and how we become what we think about. I don’t agree with everything in this article (“tithing” has a negative religious connotation for me), but I do agree that if we are going to live a healthier life, we have to deal with the fear of not having enough. When you’re working three jobs at minimum wage with no benefits, it’s a very real fear. So when companies try to prey on those fears in order to get you to spend your money ON THEM, you have to be careful.

People talk about living in “prosperity consciousness” or with a sense of abundance or a balanced life. Does missing this sale really mean you won’t achieve it? If you really mean to live your life with the belief that there is enough for all of us, we don’t need to be greedy, we don’t need to hoard, in fact, we can get rid of many of the things we’ve accumulated that we no longer need — do we need to add in this particular thing within these two hours? If you claim you want to live an abundant life, is your definition of “abundance” and “prosperity” the accumulation of items that OTHER PEOPLE judge you need, or things and experiences that actually make you happy? And why would you buy based on being provoked and manipulated by such negativity?

I bet you can count on your fingers the amount of things you bought on sale that actually improved your life beyond a few days.

Yes, they exist. They are different for everyone. But missing most sales isn’t going to damage your life in the long term. You might be disappointed for a few days. You might miss the adrenalin rush that those purchases give us. But it’s rare it will ruin your life.

Further, if you claim you want to live an ethical, balanced life based on prosperity consciousness rather than poverty consciousness, how can you, in all good conscience, create materials that promote “scarcity and urgency” and manipulate people to buy out of panic? Does the money offset any tears on your integrity? Or do you believe it’s not your problem or your business? You’re simply there to create effective materials. If the customer buys, you’ve succeeded.

Where is that line for you?

It’s something to think about and work on. It’s something each of us has to define for ourselves.

I am more and more aware of it as a consumer, and less and less likely to respond to such a “call for action.” My action, more and more often, is to turn away from the company.

As a writer, I am also aware of it. If I feel the materials I’m tasked to create are too predatory, I will fight to rework the materials and word them so they come from a more positive place that still engages and encourages the customer to purchase. And, there are times when I refuse the gig when the client wants predatory or panicky materials created to manipulate the customer with negativity and fear.

I have to define those lines constantly. It’s not easy. But, for me, it’s a necessity.

How do you set your lines? Do you have different boundaries in the work you do for others than the way you live your own life? How do you integrate the two?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Intent

image courtesy of geralt via pixabay.com

At first glance, this seems like a strange post for Ink-Dipped Advice, especially since my Monday posts over on Ink in My Coffee during this cycle are about setting an intent for the week.

But in my writing and freelance business, intent, to me, matters.

What is my intent in my freelance business?

To earn a living is, of course, part of it. But how I earn it and working with which clients on which projects matters to me.

I like to work with clients who are passionate about what they do, and whose products and services make the world a more interesting, more compassionate, and better place.

My intent in working with those clients is to express their passion, joy, and unique product or service to an ever-increasing audience in a positive, engaging manner.

My skills as a storyteller and in theatre/film production translate to the “mission-specific entertainment” I talk about elsewhere on this site help me wrap the client message into an intriguing story with enchanting characters that gets the audience interested.

Because I believe social media is a conversation and not a bulletin board, when I create social media campaigns for clients and provide the response/follow-through, I build on the actual campaign posts with engagement and conversation. Interaction is, in my opinion, THE most important component of a successful social media campaign. If you’re not going to post engaging content and then actually ENGAGE, there’s no point in being on the platform.

So, my intent is getting to know the company, help create characters and stories that best communicate their message, and increase engagement. This can translate into sales/support/business growth.

Underneath this intent is my intent to earn a living from my skills. If you’re not going to pay me and value my work, I don’t work for you. I am not creating content for you without pay as part of the interview process. Read my portfolio. As for additional portfolio samples. Don’t ask me to write for you without pay. Because that indicates you don’t value what I do, or the skills I bring to the table.

My intent is to work only with companies who treat their people well, value skills, and compensate accordingly.

What is your intent?

Endings, Beginnings, Reflections

image courtesy of rughan_basir via pixabay.com

This is my last post for the year with text and substance (the next two are all about holiday good wishes).

This is the time where we reflect, release what no longer works, start with fresh energy once the year (and, in this case, the decade) turns.

But what we need to remember is that we can make a fresh start anytime.

Whenever you feel stuck, or in a rut, or that you’re in a bad situation, take a breath. Start exploring options. Start taking action –whether it’s updating your resume, talking to people, researching opportunities, searching for new learning opportunities to set a foundation for a shift.

It’s not just at the turn of the year, or even the turn of the month, that you can start fresh.

Any day that you wake up, you can make positive changes to your life.

I wish you happy, peaceful holidays, and a joyous and prosperous New Year.

I’ll be back with something to say on January 8th!

Ink-Dipped Advice: Trust Your Instincts

This will be a short post. Lots of things are up in the air right now, and we’ll see where we are when they settle.

As I’m having meetings and making new contacts, I’ve learned to trust my instincts more. When a red flag comes up, or when my gut tells me something is not right, I’m listening more and more. It’s saving me a world of pain.

Yes, it means I’m not landing some assignments. Actually, it means I’ve pulled myself from consideration on a few projects, because I knew they would be a bad choice. The potential client and I were not the right fit. Moving forward ONLY because I want the paycheck, would have been the wrong choice in the long run.

Each situation was different; some of the red flags were similar, some not. But the gut feeling of “wrong” was there. I listened. As I’m making these choices, the good meetings are even more positive. I’m redefining what I want and need from a work situation. I’m refusing to settle.

Settling doesn’t do either me or the client any good. Both parties need to want the best from and for a project. When it feels wrong, walk away.

One of the most helpful resources I’ve found lately is Liz Ryan of The Human Workplace. Follow her on Twitter. Use the resources on her site. Her commitment to dignity in the workplace and positive solutions are terrific.

On the flip side, I came across an article in a business magazine by a supposed HR expert. A reader had questions about red flags that came up in the interview experience. The HR “expert” ripped her a new one for unrealistic expectations. I found only one of the red flags in the interview process “unrealistic” (the interview didn’t start until 10 minutes later than scheduled, which sometimes happens). The rest of the flags were, to me, big reasons to worry.

The tone of the article was snarky in the wrong way, and deeply anti-worker, in my opinion. I’m not linking back to it because I didn’t keep track. But then I reminded myself it was written by an HR “expert” and appeared in a business publication. Of course it would be pro-management and anti-worker. The basic premise of the article was, “You should be grateful we deigned to give you an interview and take whatever’s offered, whether you like it or not.”

Yes, that’s the way too many businesses are run. When they whine about “not enough skilled workers” remember that if the people searching for those workers are going to treat them poorly and without dignity, the truly skilled will go elsewhere.

Trust your instincts. Learn the protocols of whatever business you want to work in. Make sure your instincts align with being treated with basic dignity and courtesy.

That will help you find the best fit possible.

Is this a pipe dream? What if you’re in desperate straits and have to take something, anything to keep a roof over your head? If that’s your current situation, and you have to take a subpar offer, do so. But don’t get stuck there. Keep searching. The minute you get something better, go. The days of 20 years with the same company and mutual loyalty are long gone. Too many companies believe that everyone is irrelevant and replaceable. While we are all replaceable, even though each individual brings something unique to the table, none of us are irrelevant.

Note: There have been some issues with the contact form on this site, with commenting, and adding the recaptcha in. The host and I are working on it. It’s frustrating, because they have me in an endless loop of repeating things that don’t work, but we’re working on it.

You can email me or connect on twitter @ink_fearless if you need to get in touch quickly while we fix things. I apologize for the inconvenience.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Fred Needs a Writer Chapter 2: Writing Samples

I apologize for skipping last week. We had tornadoes on the Cape. While I was not hit, there was a lot going on as far as power outages and damages and clean-up. I did not get this chapter finished and posted.

Our story so far:
Small business owner Fred wants to hire a part-time marketing person for his floor installation business. His buddy Kurt and Kurt’s wife Sandy hire part-time workers at minimum wage off Craigslist ads, and have them do other tasks in the office. Fred posts an ad and is surprised he receives answers from all over the country, that many of them are misspelled, and many of them don’t even send a resume.

Chapter 2: Fred Asks for Writing Samples

Fred and Margaret go through the responses. There are five people who sound promising: Jenny, Walter, Brianna, Cole, and Mallory. He likes the cover letters Jenny, Walter, and Brianna sent. They are friendly, and sound like they actually know what they are doing. Those three are also the only ones who included writing samples. Jenny and Walter sent links to online portfolios; Brianna sent links to some of her previous work.

Jenny’s focus is more on the words. She talks about “partnering with a graphic designer.” Fred wonders if she has that partner in the office, or if she expects him to provide the graphic designer.

“Just hire someone who does both,” said Kurt.

“Make sure they have Photoshop skills,” adds Sandy.

“Yeah, like you’re going to get a decent graphic designer who also writes for minimum wage,” his daughter snorts.

Walter seems to do both. Brianna seems to focus more on something called “gifs” that go on social media. He’s not sure what Cole and Mallory do.

He asks Cole and Mallory to send writing samples of their previous work. He can’t open the file Cole sent him (and he even asked for it to be sent as .doc). Mallory sends him something about a sale at a souvenir shop.

None of them have written anything about flooring. Well, maybe Cole did, but Fred can’t open the file, and he’s too embarrassed to tell Cole.

“Ask them to write something about your company,” said Kurt. “Ask them to look at your website and Facebook page, and write something as though they already worked for you. Then you can see whether or not they know how to write about flooring.”

Fred sends the email to all five of his prospects, asking them to look at the website and write an ad about an upcoming sale.

Walter sends him something that looks good, but there are typos in the words. “If he doesn’t know the difference between ‘there’ and ‘their’ I am not impressed,” says Margaret.

Brianna sends a gif. Fred guesses it’s supposed to be funny, but he doesn’t get the joke.

Cole sends him a file he can’t open. This time, Fred asks him to re-send it in a different format. It comes in the same format.

Mallory sends him a long piece of something about how wonderful bamboo floors are for the environment. It’s about four pages long, and Fred has no idea how he would use it.

Jenny sends him a quick email asking, “How much do you pay for project-specific samples?”

It had never occurred to Fred that he was supposed to pay for them. He asks Kurt, who says, “It’s part of the interview process. You don’t pay for it. THEY are supposed to impress YOU.”

Fred responds to Jenny that he considers the samples part of the interview process, and doesn’t pay for them.

“I have a policy not to provide project-specific samples without a fee,” Jenny responds. “You have the link to my online portfolio. You can see if my samples have the tone and the quality you need for your campaign.”

“But they’re not about flooring,” Fred responds. He doesn’t say that he tried to put the word “flooring” in various articles, and it didn’t quite work.

“If I can write about biofuels, wind turbines, alpaca farms, and new kitchen gadgets, I can write about flooring,” Jenny replies. “Too often, companies ask for free samples, tell all the writers they’re not hired, and then use the samples without paying for them and without permission. My rate for project-specific samples is lower than my regular rate, but I don’t do it for free. Thank you for your time, and I withdraw from consideration.”

“She’s an arrogant little bitch and full of herself, isn’t she?” Kurt says, when Fred tells him what happened. “You don’t need her attitude.”

“But she said people use the free samples without hiring or paying the writer,” said Fred.

“Of course we do,” snorted Kurt. “Cost of doing business.”

That bothers Fred. To Fred, it seems like stealing. Besides, he liked Jenny’s writing best.

“Interview them,” Margaret encourages. “See who you like best in person.”

How do you feel about unpaid writing samples? What’s your experience?

Next week: Fred interviews the candidates.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Holding To Your Own Standards

I admit it. I have some pretty high standards and expectations when it comes to dealing professionally with others.

They often fail to live up to it.

I’ve discovered, however, that it is important to me to live up to my own standards for myself, even when they don’t.

One of the things that I find most insulting about so many so-called “professionals” is the refusal to give a definitive answer. I don’t care if you’re an agent, a publication, or a business. When you’ve interacted with someone and decide not to hire them, TELL THEM.

Only answering if you want to do business with them is not, to me, acceptable. You don’t want to hire me? Fine. Your choice, and I respect it. But have the professional respect to TELL ME, not just never contact me again.

Sure, I get it when X amount of time has gone by.

But it’s rude, infuriating, and unprofessional.

However, it also proves to me that the business wasn’t worth my time for the interviews/meetings. I lose respect.

The next time you approach me? I set stronger parameters with specific deadlines for answers. And the price goes up. Or, I just say no.

Am I always perfect? Of course not. I lollygagged about writing notes after a recent series of meetings that dragged over six weeks. Had I lived up to my own standards, no matter what the result, I would have written notes after each set of meetings. But I felt jerked around, especially when, a few times, the day after the initial meeting, additional meetings were requested, I cleared the time , and then . ..crickets.

Kind of told me what I needed to know.

Should I have sucked it up and written a polite note, even though it would have been difficult on my part to say anything polite that was also true? Yes. Because I am disappointed in myself.

No matter what the other party does, I demand a particular standard of behavior for myself. Small gestures that follow protocols WITHOUT hypocrisy are important to things running smoothly. They also indicate a level of professionalism, in my opinion.

When people choose not to fulfill those protocols, it gives me important information.

I’m not talking about pointless hoop-jumping fake “tests” where I expect someone else to read my mind. I’m talking basic professional courtesy. “Please.” “Thank you.” “Thank you for your time.”

These matter.

When a company or business or individual ignores the small details, how can you be sure they’ll pay attention to the big ones?

Decide what your professional standards are. Live up to them, even if those around you don’t.

What refusals of basic professionalism and courtesy bother you? How do you deal with them?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Mutual Information Sessions, Not “Interview”

Back in the days when I was starting out in the working world, before I worked my way up in theatre to a level where I was paid a living wage so I didn’t have to work temp jobs around show schedules (and then later supplement my income at the rack track), I had a specific attitude toward interviews. I interview them as much as they interview me.

Not much has changed over the years.

What is my purpose, my end game, when I meet potential clients? Why am I pitching myself to them?

My purpose is to be paid a fair fee for using my creative skills to engage and enlarge their audience. The “fair fee” is comprised of my skill, the unusual training and experience I bring to the table, what the work is worth in the competitive marketplace, and how well it achieves my clients’ goals of expanding their business and brand recognition.

I pitch myself to particular clients because what they do interests me, and I believe I’d be a good addition to their team so that they can achieve their goals of business expansion and brand recognition.

Work styles and workplace culture are important to this. If I’m working on site, there are certain things I need: dedicated workspace, the equipment to do the work expected, and uninterrupted work time. I want the environment to be upbeat, friendly, and creative. Preferably with a lot of laughter.

If I’m working remotely, again, I don’t want to be interrupted every two seconds by phone calls or demands. Let me do my work. I’m far more productive and, in the long run, it costs the client less money.

I think I mentioned on this blog (or maybe it was on Ink in My Coffee), the interview I had with a local business a couple of years ago where none of the above was true. It was supposed to be a marketing/writing position. Only my “desk” would be a board set up across two oil drums and a stool. They’d “prefer” I brought in my own laptop, but that it be one that was “dedicated” to their business. (I’m supposed to purchase multiple lap tops for different clients? I think not). I would have to cover reception at least a couple of times a week during lunch. I also had to accept that there would be inappropriate remarks or physical contact because “that’s who these guys are.” For a rate that was less than half of my usual rate, part-time, no benefits or paid holidays or vacation or anything else.

Uh, no.

I thanked them for their time and left.

I spend more time in the early conversations asking about a typical day, the environment, etc. than I used to. I spend at least as much time on that as I do on the actual tasks.

I’m not twenty, on my first job. I know I’m up to the tasks, or I wouldn’t have pitched in the first place.

I also ask where they see the company in the next year, the next three years, the next five years. What are their goals? How do they see the company growing? Do they see a shift in focus? Where do they see themselves in the political, economic, and social contexts? What do they see as their place in the world?

These are not questions for anyone in the Human Resources Department. In the decades since I’ve started my professional working life, I have yet to get any accurate information on anything other than a pay stub from someone assigned to “human resources.” These are questions I ask to the people with whom I’d be directly working.

Very often, I build on my answers to their questions to ask my own questions. This means we cover a lot of ground that is often left in their last question, which is to ask if I have any questions. I usually have one or two, but often I can say, “We’ve covered them in our previous conversation.” That shows that yes, I HAD questions, but we’ve talked about them, and there’s no point in repeating ourselves.

After the interview process (because it’s usually more than one talk), I send handwritten thank you notes. I used to do it after each conversation, but that got too complicated, especially if multiple conversations are set up over a short period of time. The more companies expand globally, the more people in different regions are factored into the equation.

I take notes during the conversation, to make sure nothing is missed — or later changed. I’ve had that, too, especially in terms of money. “That’s not what we talked about.” Actually, yes, it is, and I have the notes to prove it. I date the notes. Sometimes I’ll type them up, but I always, ALWAYS keep handwritten notes during a conversation, dated and timed.

When the conversation leads into a quote or letter or agreement or contract as the next step, I type a letter/memo based on the notes and the conversation to make sure we all agree. So we are, literally, on the same page.

And then we build from there, with the actual work.

How do you handle initial meetings and/or interviews? What are some of your favorite questions to ask? What are questions you’re asked that make you roll your eyes?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Personal Strategic Plan — Core Values

 

Back on January 16, I talked about a Personal Strategic Plan. Then, on February 27, I talked about putting together a personal vision or mission statement, and how the one I use for myself differs slightly from the one I implement for my clients.

Now, we’re on to the next step in the plan: Core Values.

What does that mean for a writer or freelancer or artist?

For me, it means defining the integrity behind the work. What is the core of personal integrity I use in my own work and toward my own work?

Part of it is how I explore characters, situations, and beliefs in my writing. I write to understand the world (or built/fictional worlds) better, even through characters with whom I don’t agree. Sometimes, I write to bear witness. Other times, I write to find a way to do better, as an individual and a society.

For clients, I shape their message to reach their best and widest audience.

However, if I don’t respect what they stand for, I can’t do that. I don’t work for people who want me to shape a message that I believe is harmful or contrary to who I am as a human being.

Which means I’ve turned down quite a few high-paid gigs. And I’m okay with that.

Other people make other decisions, and that’s up to them.

I practice conscientious consumerism. I don’t shop at places who treat their employees badly or who implement religious or racist or gender-intolerant policies. So what if they’re cheaper? I’d rather spend a little more to buy a little less at a place with ethics that align more closely to my own. I choose to put my money elsewhere. I work hard for my money (to paraphrase Donna Summers’s famous song), and I’m not turning it over to businesses I find loathsome. There are restaurants where I won’t eat and stores where I won’t shop. I politely decline invitations to them; I drive to other stores to get similar items. I don’t have to stand on a soapbox and denounce them or attack other people who spend money there; I make my own decisions and act on them.

Do I get it right every time? Of course not. But I make an effort, and if I find out something about a company that runs counter to my core values, it changes my shopping habits.

So what are my core values?

For my own work, it is to shape worlds through words that explore and expand understanding of different points of view, with an intent toward building a better understanding, and therefore, a better society for all.

By the way, I do not believe that runs counter to being able to entertain. So, for all those people huffing and puffing about how they write to “entertain” and stay away from current events or anything else that has meaning in our daily lives, I look at them and think, “cop out.” However, it’s their choice. I’m glad to know that’s their position. As a conscientious consumer, I then chose to put my money elsewhere; I also do not expect them to put their money into anything of mine. We are each acting on our core values. And can have long and happy lives far away from each other.

The most entertaining, deepest work deals with difficulties people face and how they triumph (or don’t). Humor, at its best, speaks to deeper issues in the vein of ha-ha-ow! when it hits properly.

Work that is “entertaining” is not necessarily “irrelevant” or “fluffy.” We all want entertainment we deem as “brain candy” sometimes. We need it. But the best of it works on multiple levels. Yes, it relieves stress and takes us out of ourselves and our daily problems. But when it endures, we can then do back and enjoy it again on a deeper level. That doesn’t disqualify its ability to please us and charm us and offer respite. True entertainment never condescends to its audience OR its own characters. It pleasures and uplifts all of them.

For my clients, my core values mean to work with people I respect; people who are passionate about what they do and want to share it with a larger audience. It is to work WITH them to create the most positive, engaging message to reach the widest possible audience.

Figuring this out took years. I had to figure out not only what I believed and where my boundaries are, but those beliefs and boundaries shifted as I learned and grew as a person. Eighteen-year-old me made different compromises than twenty-five year-old me than the much-older-me today. I learned, I grew, I tried different things, I made A LOT of mistakes, I learned or didn’t from them, I made more mistakes, I listened to other people and learned from them, and I grew. I improved as a human being, thank goodness. I hope I do that my entire life, even while I still make mistakes.

There were too many years when I tried to please people or make money by working for people whose behavior and values made me cringe because we’re constantly being told that type of behavior is “professional.” As recently as last year, I disengaged from a client because, although the client’s parameters were absolutely legal, I felt some of the ethics were questionable, especially in alignment with my values. I was uncomfortable being part of the organization. I felt I was hypocritical to my own integrity, and therefore I did not give the client the best of my work. Which was a negative for both of us. It made sense for us to part ways, and both go on to better for each of us.

Who I am as a person is not compartmentalized from who I am as a professional. Once I stopped buying into the myth that a professional can and will do anything for the cash without caring about ethics, and started doing work that I not only loved but believed in for people I respected, it all shifted. It’s often not easy. It takes more hustle, more energy, more disappointment, a bigger fight to get fair pay. But for me, it’s worth it.

What do you consider your core values, and how did you figure them out?