Ink-Dipped Advice

Work Logs

Open laptop with an open notebook and capped pen beside it, on a wooden desk.
image courtesy of  StartupStockPhotos via pixabay.com

The Work Log

With all the issues of certain companies trying to force people back into the office and workers more aware of unfair treatments, and issues such as realizing that HR is there to protect the company, not the employees, I wanted to share a very useful tool.

One of the best ways to see your progress or lack thereof in position is to keep a log. When you feel stuck or frustrated, you can see patterns. If you feel overlooked, or that management has changed their behavior toward you, you have patterns.  You can also see the patterns of growth, as you learn new skills and take on more responsibilities.

Even more important, if there is a dispute, you have documentation, and documentation is one of THE most important aspects of conflict resolution. You can bet your bosses/managers are documenting anything that might help them against you in the future.

That doesn’t mean the Work Log is all negative. On the contrary, I find the most useful logs have an holistic overview of the entire workplace situation. A company can tout their “culture” all they want, but, as they say, the devil is in the details.

The log shines a light on those details.

I encourage using Interview Logs as well, when you are on the job hunt. This will show you where companies try to take advantage of you with drawn out, multi-interview processes, unpaid labor as part of the interview process (including unpaid samples, tests, and one-way interview videos).

I have a contract for samples and tests as part of the interview process. I do not do “interview videos” because first of all, that’s about 3K of unpaid labor being demanded, and, second, an interview MUST be a two-way street, or it’s an audition. I am not an actor. I do not audition.

I keep a list of companies who want unpaid labor as part of the interview process so I can avoid pitching to them in the future (and let those who ask know that unpaid labor is part of their process). I am starting a list of companies that boast about using AI, so I know not to pitch to them, either.

You can keep your logs in a notebook or on a computer. If you keep a log in a notebook, take it home with you every night. Do not leave it in your office. If you keep it on computer, print it out regularly and make sure there is always an updated copy of it at home or in your personal email.

If you love Excel, I’m sure there’s a great way to keep a log as a spreadsheet. I prefer to use Word, since I am a wordsmith.

I have a resume log and a pitch log, where I keep track of where I send resumes and pitches/LOIs. It’s very similar to the submission log I keep for articles, short fiction, novels, plays, etc.

Those logs contain:

Name of Company

Name of individual (where appropriate)

Address of company

Email

Date sent

Materials sent (resume, cover letter, LOI, clips, etc.)

Response and response date

This way I keep track of what materials are out where. I set a goal of how many pitches/LOIs to send out per month, and then try to break it down weekly. And then, of course, there are unexpected opportunities. I have a system in place of different resumes for different aspects of my work, vision statements, mission statements, and samples, so putting together a package takes a few minutes, rather than a few hours.

I keep these on my computer. I work remotely as an independent contractor, and use my own computer, so I’m not breaching any business etiquette. I do have separate logs for my fiction and my business writing.

If you don’t want to feel too spread out, you can expand your resume/pitch log to include any interviews. You can add paragraphs under the information, or list it in the response section of the log (if you’re doing a more spreadsheet style).

With interviews add in:

Date of interview

Names and positions of each person in the interview (if there are more than one)

Highlights of the conversation (both the good and anything that sends up a red flag)

Compensation and benefits discussions

Next steps and the time frame of those steps

Hopefully, you know the compensation range before you send a resume. I usually skip any listing that doesn’t state compensation. If I’m really interested in the company, I email them. If the response is “we don’t discuss compensation until the final interview round” I know this is not a company with whom I want to work. I also refuse to take any sort of personality test (such as DISC or Briggs Meyers) and have no interest in working with a company who wants to box and limit their employees in that way.

Highlights of the conversation are important, because what stands out for you matters. If you really liked something that was brought up, put it in. If there’s a red flag, put it in.

The “next steps” discussion matters, as does the time frame. Is there another round of interviews? Are we talking about paid samples (because unpaid labor as part of the interview process is not an option)? What is next? When will it happen? I always state, at some point during this portion of the conversation: “Please let me know, either way.” Because a company that ghosts interviewees is not worth my time.

If a company says no, but feel free to apply again, my response is, “HR has my information; if something opens in the future you think would be a good fit, they can get in touch with me.”

I’m not going to repeat the work involved in another application. They HAVE the information. If they don’t keep the information of qualified candidates, it’s usually a sign of very quick turnover and a red flag.

If they don’t respond within the time frame, I move on, unless I suspect there are extenuating circumstances (executive shuffle, new vision for the company, natural disaster, etc.) In the latter, I may get in touch about two weeks past our agreed-upon timeline to pleasantly follow up and remind them that I am checking in per our conversation.

This log will be extremely helpful anytime you are on unemployment benefits. Information from the log can go into your weekly claim form. The last time I was on unemployment, I think one only had to list information on 3 applications, but I believe you can list more. This changes from state to state, so check with your home state. You can also bring the log with you to any appointments with an employment counselor.

When you get an offer, make sure to get everything IN WRITING. Discuss specific points. Avoid boilerplates. Negotiate. Some negotiation may happen during the interview process, but don’t be afraid to keep negotiating what is in writing and have it all IN WRITING. A company that refuses to put things in writing is likely to be sketchy.

Now you’re there. So now it’s time to set up your Work Log.

Again, it can be kept in a notebook or on a computer. If you are full time in an office, there is nothing wrong with keeping the log on that computer (in fact, it’s useful, because if your manager ever asks what you do all day, well, there it is).

Email it to your personal email at the end of every day.

What goes in? Here are my suggestions. Feel free to expand, depending on your field.

Date

Time clocked in

Work assigned (and by whom)

Work completed (and to whom it was turned in)

Meetings (who was there, highlights of discussion, time spent) whether they are in person or on Zoom

Phone calls (with whom, how long, what discussed)

Slack or other interactions

Lunch break

Short deadlines

Long deadlines

Unexpected additions to the day

Interruptions

Personal (such as if you have to take time off for medical appointments, family issues, etc.)

Time clocked out

Notes

In the notes, you put general impressions of the day, good and bad; things like planning for a co-worker’s birthday or if someone made an inappropriate remark or if someone offered help on something.

Keeping this log will help you see patterns in your work life within a few weeks. It’s not about being negative and looking for what’s wrong. It’s just as important to put in the positives. If more and more responsibilities are being shifted onto you without compensation or other positives, this will show how it’s happening, and you have the documentation over a period of time with dates and actions. The times when you’re being encouraged, mentored, and given opportunities, you have a chance to track your growth. If you’re sent on a workshop or take one on your own to gain new skills, put it in the log. If you take a trip for work, put information about the trip in the log (it will also back up your expense report).

You will see what areas of your job are working, and where you need to discuss changes. It will be enormously useful for an annual or semi-annual review. It is also useful if you are interested in moving to another position within the company, so you can see how you can transfer the value of your current position to where you want to be.

I’m stating something that should be common sense, but may not be: If you decide to job hunt while still at your old job, you keep your interview log on your home computer/notebook, not as part of your work log. Because the job hunt is conducted on your own time. If you have an interview during your lunch hour, your work log reads that you took an hour offsite for lunch, and your interview log has the details of the interview.

Independent Contractors

Most independent contractors I know keep similar logs as they track the time spent on individual client work. Time tracking matters whether you’re paid hourly or on a per-project rate, because then you can see where you need to adjust rates in the future.

These logs are useful for conversations with clients and for conversations with your tax preparer/CPA/bookkeeper.

This type of log is just as valuable for an artist or a part-time contractor in any field as for a full-time, salaried employee.

It seems like “just one more thing” to add to an already packed life. In reality, it takes about 10-15 minutes a day (often less, if you make notes after each meeting/phone call) and the value in terms of professional and financial growth is huge.

Do you keep work logs? How are they set up? How have you found them useful?

I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

Reminder: This blog takes off the month of August, longing to be European. We will reconvene the first Wednesday of September. Enjoy August!

What Kind of Growth is Right For Your Work?

Tiny white capped mushrooms growing on a forest floor
image courtesy of  Daniel Brachlow via pixabay.com

Business owners, especially small business owners, are constantly pressured to expand. We’re told that our goal is to start in our garages and wind up like Amazon.

But what if we don’t want that? Plenty of small business owners I know started their small businesses for other reasons: being their own boss, earning their living from their passion, and the freedom of their own schedule.

They don’t WANT to become a huge corporate entity.

And that’s okay. It’s better than okay. It’s the right choice for many businesses. Because when you stop loving what you do, it’s then time to wind it up and move in a new direction.

Sometimes, that means selling the business you built and starting something new. Sometimes it means rethinking your vision for your current business and aligning with that.

We all want to make a healthy profit from our work. But the “how” in the way we make the profit matters.

We want to do work that matters to us, because we spend so much time working. We also want to have the time and resources to live our lives.

One of the things I love about where I live now is that most small businesses take a typical business day off, such as a Monday or a Tuesday. That gives them a day to do their banking, their doctors’ appointments, etc., and is a smart way to do business, especially when they’re open over weekends during tourist season.

This is a stronger choice, I feel, than the typical tourist-driven locations which push for 7 days a week “in season” and then everything is desolate out of season. I’ve seen a much higher burnout rate in those choices than in places that set a saner schedule, even in high season.

It’s worth taking the time, when you make your plan for the year ahead, or the season ahead, to be honest about what you want. Is it just about profit? Or is it about earning enough to feel secure while also having a particular quality of life?

Why are you the captain of your own ship, rather than being a crew member on someone else’s?

Once you have the answers that fit YOU (not what someone else thinks you should do), then you can start searching for resources and tools and support to make it happen.

One of the most positive changes I’m seeing in our relationship to work is that it is becoming more of a relationship and less of an obsession. That’s healthier for the person driving the business; it’s healthier for the employees. Ultimately, it’s also healthier for the customers (even if it takes them a bit of time to get used to the business not being on call 24-7 the way huge companies with outsourced customer dis-service centers are).

We’re at the halfway point of the year.  Many businesses end their financial year in June and start a fresh one in July. Other businesses look to September as the start of their next season. Others work on the calendar year.

As you look back in order to plan ahead, what was the most satisfying of the past cycle? What made you feel like you were in a good spot with your business, and how did that make the rest of your life feel supported and secure? How can you build on that in the next cycle?

Even if you don’t plan to make changes until the end of the calendar year, it’s worthwhile to start thinking about it now. Integrate your personal strategic plan with your business strategic plan, and let them feed each other.

What is your vision for your business? How is it changing? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Note: Today is the Juneteenth holiday — I hope you’re taking it and honoring it! Taking holidays is important. Honoring their true meaning is also important.

Blessed Juneteenth to you, with hopes that we’re working toward a better world.

Social Media Experiments Check-In

Mobile phone with facebook log in page on wooden table with scrabble tiles spelling "social media" next to it.
image courtesy of Firmbee via pixabay.com

It’s already June! And that means it’s time for another check-in around social media channels. I can’t believe we are halfway through the year!

My social media needs and uses are still changing, and I’m realizing that one of the elements of social media is about change. I’m still not taking on handling social media accounts for clients, although I will create content that they can then use. But I’m not handling the posting/answering for anyone except myself right now. I’m also on social media far less than I was at the beginning of the year. I think social media fatigue is a very real phenomenon, both for posters and for viewers.

I’m still not happy with any of the scheduling tools I’ve played with. They don’t handle enough social media channels, and if they handle several of them, it’s not at a price point that makes sense for me right now.

Again, the caveat for this post is that this is based on my experiences with what’s worked for me/what I’ve enjoyed over the past six months. I’d love to hear, in the comments, about how your social media habits and needs are changing.

Bluesky: This is where I spend a lot of my social media time. I spend time on this platform in ways most similar to what I did on Twitter, although I do not have the follower count I had there, and it doesn’t drive conversion traffic the same way Twitter did. I keep reminding myself I was on Twitter for 13 years building both follower count and conversions, and I need to be patient. Since it’s moved on from being invitation-only, there’s a wider net of people on it. Fortunately, the controls are solid enough so one can curate out the trolls. They just rolled out DMs. For the moment, I have mine shut off.

Bookbub: Same song, different month. I’m still not utilizing it to its potential. Since I have some books releasing toward the end of this year, I hope to change that.

Cohost: Not on it anymore.

CounterSocial: Every few months, I check in, but don’t spend much time there. It doesn’t drive traffic to any of my other sites, and I can’t afford the time for the platform, either financially or emotionally.

Creative Ground: I keep my profile updated over there, and regularly tour around to check out what other creatives are doing, especially with an eye to future collaborations. Their ArtsHub of Western MA regularly has good information on submission calls, job opportunities, and other creative opportunities. Even though it’s New England-centric, it’s worth it, and I certainly get far more out of it than I do on LinkedIn. I wish it had a social media component, which would make connections easier, but that would need a lot of funding on both staff and technical elements, and I understand why it’s not a possibility at this time.

Ello: Shut down, which is a shame, since it was so useful for several years.

Facebook: Since I’m winding down my work on the Vella platform and no longer have to participate in the author groups, FB is mostly to check in with friends who aren’t on any other social media platforms. The other purpose is ads for my work. FB ads continue to drive traffic and convert into sales. In other words, sometimes I hang out; other times I’m purely mercenary.

Hive: I no longer use it, and don’t miss it.

Instagram: At this point, I’m probably on Instagram more than any other platform (including Bluesky). It’s good for promoting my work; it’s good for cheering on fellow artists and small businesses whose work and mission I love. It’s a mix of fun and work. I do lean more toward the fun, both in posting and in use, but there’s a worthwhile business component in there, too.

Ko-fi: I’m working on a business plan to make it fun for the audience while still feasible both in terms of dollars and long-term audience connection benefits. I’m not there yet, but I’m working on it.

LinkedIn: Basically useless for what I do. I keep an updated profile there because it’s expected. I’m tired of “recruiters” wasting my time and the scammers.

Mastodon: I’m on there less than on Bluesky, but still fairly regularly, especially for various writer hashtagged groups. It’s slow growth, but getting stronger conversion rates than it did several months ago.

Pinterest: Behind on where I should be, as far as using it as additional material around my work. Since most of what I do is text-based rather than visual, it’s not as useful for me as for some other artists.

Post: They shut down on May 31. I did promo posts and read some news, but that’s it. There wasn’t much interaction.

Ravelry: Haven’t used it in ages. Never did make it back on over the winter.

Spoutible: Hardly ever on it anymore. While I enjoyed some of the interactions, it didn’t drive traffic to my sites or have a conversion rate, so it’s another case of not being able to afford to spend the time there, on any level.

Substack: I could not justify staying on the platform when their management is so far out of alignment with my values on multiple levels. I see so many people just ignoring it and joining or staying on the platform anyway, but I could not. I left the platform at the end of last year, and miss it far less than I thought I would. I do not subscribe to any of the Substack newsletters, nor do I boost posts about material on Substack.

T2/Pebble: Out of business.

Threads: I’m still not on Threads, although I probably should be. Just the thought of it makes me tired.

TikTok: has been very useful for promoting the serials, books, and the shorts. The metrics don’t always add up to the same as the numbers on the videos themselves, which is sometimes confusing. This summer, I also want to add some more “fun” content, not just writing-related content, about places I visit, etc. A video up at the lake, or at the sunken garden at the Mount, or out at the Spruces. Things like that. Mix it up a bit. Maybe do some videos on inspirations behind the writing. But staying off camera, because I do not go on camera.

Tribel: I don’t use it anymore. Too much screaming, too little connection.

Tumblr: Using it less and less, as the audience is skewing differently to my audience more and more. Blog posts automatically upload, and I do promos, but that’s about it. Lower conversion rate than FB and TikTok.

Twitter does not exist anymore, and I am not interested in the entity known as X. My account is locked, and I haven’t been on the platform since August of 2023.

There are plenty of platforms I don’t use. If it’s only app-based for phone and I can’t use it on the laptop, it’s not for me.

That’s where I currently am in regard to the social media landscape. What have you discovered in the past few months?

Dynamic Small Business Expo

image courtesy of rawpixel  via pixabay.com

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

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

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

This is one of my favorite events of any year.

Advertorials Tilting Perspective

White question mark on bright blue surface
image courtesy of  Stephan via pixabay.com

Every few weeks, a spate of articles appears, insisting that remote work is “dead” and everyone “has” to come back into the office.

As a remote worker who was remote far before the pandemic, I can attest that this is simply not true. Although many a corporation wishes to make it so, and is putting far too much money into that wish, rather than putting it into something healthy that will actually benefit the corporation and its employees.

First of all, look at the publications running the articles. Go on, take a look.  I’ll wait. Back? What do you see? Corporate-focused publications who are paid to toe the corporate line. Several of those publications, which used to be good outlets for freelancers, now slant more toward advertorials than actual articles.

Oxford Languages defines “advertorial” as “a newspaper or magazine advertisement giving information about a product in the style of an editorial or objective journalistic article.”

I used to write a good number of advertorials. Many of them paid better than typical freelance articles, because they were backed by corporate dollars. However, they were also clearly marked, at the top of the page, as an “advertorial.” The company paid the advertiser’s rate and bought the page on which the advertorial lived. While it was written in the style of articles in the publication (or slanted to the corporate style), it was clearly marked so that there was no question that it was paid advertising, rather than an article assigned by the publication’s editor.

The point of the advertorial was to invite, entice, convince, and expand the audience to the product or service touted in the advertorial, with an eye to profit. It was marked as advertising, but written in the voice of an editorial or feature article. If the reader couldn’t tell, that was on them, since it was clearly marked; but the purpose was to promote the advertiser’s product or service. It challenged the reader to pay attention, especially as the font marking it as “advertorial” got smaller and less significant over the years.

On the internet, many pieces of what used to be labeled as “advertorial” are now simply called “content.” Especially when paired with a click-bait headline. Much of what comes up in “feeds” are advertorials or content on a company site pushing their products and opinions, not actual news or feature articles in an independent publication. There are fewer and fewer “independent” publications as more and more have been gobbled up by corporate interests and not allowed editorial independence.

When I first started my writing career, and did more journalism than I do now, I was trained in the NEW YORK TIMES style of reporting (back when they were actually a publication many of us dreamed about working for someday). There was a whole course on it, that I attended either between high school and college or early in college.  It was a long time ago, whenever it happened, but I use what I learned to this day. In addition to the “who, what, where, how, why” necessities, we were also taught that, for something to be a fact, it had to be corroborated through three separate, reliable sources.

This gets muckier when dealing with whistleblowers and scoops, obviously, but the basic foundation was that, in writing an article, even (especially) on tight deadline, you also had to investigate your sources to make sure they weren’t making it up either for their own ego, or because they were paid to plant information.

On many publications, when I submitted an article, I also had to turn in a sheet for the fact checker, who would check the sources and quotes, thereby making sure I got it right and to protect the publication. This was true in both newspaper and magazine writing.

Most publications have dismissed their fact checking departments.

I remember one of the journalists who spoke to the class telling us, “Assume anyone you interview is lying and work back from there.” Which is cynical, but also often necessary.

That is not a plug for “both side-ism” – especially since that has become the catch phrase for only giving conservative points of view credence. But it means thoroughly investigating information to find out what the spin is on it. Once you know the purpose of the article in enticing you to its point of view and who is behind that enticement, you can make a decision on whether or not it is credible.

And if you “don’t have time” to dig?

Then don’t take a position on what’s being spoon-fed to you until you can gather information from credible sources.

Of course, all this spin makes it harder to know what a “credible” source is. It’s not a source that only reinforces your opinion. Credible sources are getting harder and harder to find, much less define, since so much is about smoke and mirrors and carny barking rather than verifiable information.

So when I see an article that’s clickbait and obviously corporate-funded rather than objective journalism, I remember my old training and do a little digging before I accept what’s in the piece. Especially when my lived experience is so different from what the article insists is “the way it is.”

Are you running into advertorials posing as journalism more than usual, to tilt the public’s views one way or another? How are you dealing with it? Drop your experiences into the comments.

Digital Tidiness Helps With Focus

Laptop, cell phone, notebook and pen on a wooden plank table
image courtesy of stokpic via pixabay.com

Apologies for the break in posting on this blog for the past few weeks. My mom (who is 99) had a small stroke at the end of February. She’s doing very well – speech and motor capacity restored. But there’s still extra elder care and monitoring that needs to happen. I had to pare back on certain obligations, and this blog was one of them.

But it’s a lovely spring now, and we are getting ready to move into summer.

It’s been time to do a big spring cleaning, both physically and digitally. My old laptop died; I had to buy a new one, although I also got the old one sort of fixed, and will probably get it refurbished later this year.

I cut way back on social media, which made me happier, more productive, and the social media on which I remain has a decent conversion rate. I will do another social media centric post in early June, for a mid-year check in.

I’m part of a regional capacity building program for artists from February through July, which has been great. Workshops are helping me focus on specific areas, and make a business plan in alignment with the direction I want for both my artistic work and my more business-oriented work, and make it more holistic.

Don’t ever forget that, as an artist, one must also function as a savvy small business. Unless you can afford to hire someone to manage the business aspects!

I was lucky enough to be part of a marketing cohort of small local businesses led by Francesca Olsen through the North Adams Chamber of Commerce. If you ever have the chance to take one of Francesca’s workshops or hire her as a consultant, JUMP ON IT. She’s smart, creative, fun, energetic, and knows how to pull different possibilities out of various boxes to create something unique to the person/business for whom she’s consulting. What I learned in a few two-hour sessions with her will carry me through this next phase.

I’d already begun going through each of my websites to clean them up, refocus where needed, update information, and keep each site’s unique voice while giving it a more overall voice that ties them all together. People can choose to spend time on one site, or they can follow trails to other sites that have other topics of interest. It’s like having a series of islands in the digital ocean and being able to go from one to another as one chooses.

The main sites remain this one for the more business-oriented freelancing. Pages on Stages focuses on the theatre and radio work. The Devon Ellington Work site is the flagship for work published under that name and some of the other pseudonyms including Ava Dunne, Christy Miller, and Christiane van de Velde. It also leads to the different series that I write, and leads to the main site for Legerdemain, which started life as a serial, and will be many things by the time I am done. I’m putting a lot of work into re-envisioning the Cerridwen’s Cottage site, for the work I’ve done for years under the Cerridwen Iris Shea name that deals with tarot, home and hearth magic, and the like. I’ve never fully tapped into the Llewellyn audience, and it’s about time to do so!

This post should have been posted last week and did not (but then I wouldn’t have much of the information for it). There will be another post next Wednesday, since it is the third Wednesday of the month. The plan is to get back to posting on the first and third Wednesdays of the month.

Have a lovely spring, and drop a comment to tell me what’s new in your life and work!

Managing Communication

vintage brown rotary telephone on a wooden table with a bottle of perfume, a cut of tea, an open page book, and cutlery resting on a white napkin
image courtesy of  u_xbk28dh7pk via pixabay.com

One of the great things about modern technology is that it gives us communication options. We no longer have to put up with our workday being derailed because someone interrupts us with an unscheduled phone call for something that’s not relevant to the task at hand, because they want to hear themselves talk.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of brainstorming and tossing around ideas to find the best approach. But if someone wants to talk their way through a task, I need to schedule it, so it works within my day, rather than destroying it. Being mutually respectful of each other’s worktime and work process results in better quality from all parties concerned.

What about communication tools like Slack, etc.? I do love ZOOM, although I’m a big believer that once you’ve said your hellos in a meeting, you can turn your camera off. We don’t need to watch each other nodding as though we’re hearing Deep Thoughts. We shouldn’t have to perform in a meeting.

Play readings, rehearsals, etc. via ZOOM have really upped the inclusivity and creativity of working across miles and time zones and I love it.

I’m careful about not overbooking ZOOM calls. I have a finite number of time slots available each week; when those slots are filled, the person requesting the meeting has to push it back to the following week or whenever there are slots open. One of the positive things we learned via the remote work during the pandemic is how few meetings we really need. Most work is done in spite of meetings, not because of them. There are exceptions, but if someone has constant “emergencies” it usually indicates poor planning, which needs to be addressed.

Since I am someone who works best in large swaths of uninterrupted time, I am often in “Do Not Disturb” mode on Slack or similar tools. I check messages at specific times in the workday and respond, the same way as I used to do in the old days, when I would unplug the phone as I worked and let the machine (in another room) take a message. Phone calls are scheduled, and they are billed separately from project time, in 15-mimute increments, the way a lawyer bills. We all know that when someone says, “let’s just jump on for a quick phone call” that we’re going to lose at least two hours of our workday. That time needs to be paid.

The quickest way to get a response is to email, because I check email whenever I switch tasks. It’s my palate cleanser, as is sometimes hopping on social media. It keeps the inbox and social media (both are vital tools of my work) under control, while still giving them the regular attention they need.

And, of course, I’m still a big fan of postal mail, but I use that more for personal communication than business communication at this point in the game. The exception is my quarterly direct mail campaign, which still usually gets a high response rate.

All of this is clearly set out in client contracts and in early work style conversations, so that it’s worked out before the project starts.

Another important point of communication: if it’s something that’s important to the process and the project, put it in the contract.

What are your favorite communication tools? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

When Tools Cost Time, Rather Than Saving It

red sand flowing through an hourglass set on a newspaper
image courtesy of Nile via pixabay.com

One of the positives of modern technology is that “they” keep coming up with cool new tools to play with, which are supposed to help us streamline our workday, increasing both productivity and efficiency. One of the negatives is that the people who create these tools rarely listen to the people who actually use them. I found that especially true working for a library, when the regional system changed software systems which created more work instead of streamlined it.

I love playing with new tools when they come on the market. I’m also far enough into my professional life that I know what I need and want in order to support the work, and few tools actually support it. Far too many get in the way of it.

Scheduling and project management tools are a good example. There are so many of them now: ToDoist, Asana, ClickUp, the list goes on and on. I tried a bunch of them, because I do love planning projects, I love calendars, and I have a system that works well for me about planning back from deadlines.

However, when I tracked the time these tools ate up, it turned out they cost me time (which means money), rather than saved it. First, I had to plan it all out and enter it into the schedule. Then, I had to go back into the tool and mark it when it was complete.

Compare that to my giant wall calendar that holds my deadlines in different colors. I add things in as they occur (5 seconds or less), plus spend maybe 20 minutes once a month adding in things like the serial episode release dates and the column deadlines. No need to wait for a computer to boot up, find the site, sign into the site, and then add it in the way the site deems it should be entered. No need to switch sites at the end of the day, sign in, and then update, which can take 20 minutes or more each day. I can pick up a pen and put a checkmark beside the task (1 second).

For me, it is a much more efficient use of time. When I tracked my time, I literally saved a few hours a week not using project management software. I work independently most of the time, rather than in a team situation, which is a whole different ballgame, and which we’ll discuss in a future column.

If I need the calendar on my computer because I’m moving between locations, I can take a photo and upload it. Or print it out and carry it with me. I often work in places without internet connection, so everything I need must be WITH me, not just in the cloud.

All much more efficient than all of these tools. I mean, ToDoist crossed a line when it told me to vacuum my house one day (something I did not enter into the schedule). I have a regular vacuuming schedule, thank you very much, and don’t need to be managed that way.

My rule of thumb with a tool is that if it takes longer to enter and update the information than to do the task, I ditch the tool.

When I draft my work, I draft in the format in which it will be submitted. In other words, I draft prose in standard manuscript format, which is evenly double-spaced all the way through, not the wonky spacing or single spacing most writing software uses. I draft scripts in script format. I draft poems in whatever way I want to spread out the words on the page (and I need flexibility for that).

Drafting in the format appropriate to that medium keeps me in the headspace for that medium, and allows me to use the craft of that particular medium and meet expectations better as I create it, rather than having to rework it later. It helps me create.

Being forced to draft in a software’s format that does not serve the work is just that, for me. It does not serve the work. It is, in fact, detrimental to the work.

I still love learning new tools and playing with them. Whenever a new tool comes out, I look forward to learning it. But I also know when to move on from them, when they start getting in the way of the work, rather than supporting the work.

What tools do you find useful? What have you ditched because it got in the way of the work? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

LOIs That Get Attention

Blue Fox manual typewriter with white page in its carriage
image courtesy of Dean Moriarty via pixabay.com

One of my favorite ways to expand my client base is through the LOI (Letter of Introduction). An LOI is different than the cover letter used with a resume; it covers some of the same points, but has more breadth and depth, and is far more individualized.

When do I send LOIs?

When I see a company that I suspect I’d enjoy working with, and adding something of value to their business. Even if I have a fairly busy client roster, I send out LOIs regularly, because freelance is ebb and flow. If I’m at an ebb, maybe they’ll be at overflow and need someone extra on a project. Keeping a steady stream of LOIs going out is a good idea. I admit, I’ve been lax about it the past few months, but I’m ramping up again.

Once the company catches my interest, I research them. My research on companies has gotten more thorough over the years. I dig into their website, looking for tone, content, values. I read as much as I can ABOUT them – do they take the values they claim to hold out into the world? If they don’t, or if they fund politicians who work to strip away rights and overturn democracy, I move on. People who say working for a company “has nothing to do with politics” have the privilege of ignoring a company’s stance on something. I do not.

Once I’ve decided that yes, I really do like this company, I sit down and write the LOI.

One of the best tools I’ve integrated into the LOI is the hook. When I write a cover letter for a submission for fiction or drama, I open with a hook, which is a statement tied to the theme of the piece to get their attention and keep reading.

Using that same technique in the LOI has served me well, but rather than it being about my piece, it has to do with their company, and is usually tied to what caught my attention about them in the first place (without using that phrasing). It’s tied to what caught my attention and what I offer that supports it. Which means it’s individual to each letter and company.

I then highlight skills of mine and previous work that is relevant; or, if something isn’t relevant but supports the company’s mission, how that feeds into it. I add links to my portfolios, or attach a relevant PDF. I have recently added a clause stating that I do not use AI in my work. A few years ago, I added a clause about having a separate contract for tests or project-specific content created as part of the interview process. Refusing to do free labor as part of the interview process is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. That includes one-way video interviews. A good video interview, even one minute, is about $3K of unpaid labor on the job seeker’s part, not to mention that interviews need to be CONVERSATIONS, not PERFOMANCES. You are interviewing the potential client as much as they are interviewing you.

The one-way interview is akin to an actor sending in an audition reel. Not the way I, as a writer, do business.

After all the business clauses and boundaries, I thank them for their time, sign off, and put the appropriate website of mine under the signature line.

Attachments are usually a resume and/or a PDF portfolio where appropriate, if I haven’t sent them a link within the letter.

Some LOIs get quick responses. Others get a response of, “We don’t have anything right now, but please keep in touch.” When the latter is the case, I let them know that I will, and then add them to the quarterly post card mailing (if there’s an office address) or do a quarterly check-in email. It can take a year or more to get an assignment, but it happens, and they’ve been some of the most satisfying for both of us.

How do you craft a Letter of Introduction? How has it boosted your business?