Ink-Dipped Advice

Ink-Dipped Advice: Winter Work

image courtesy of Printboek via pixabay.com

Depending where you live, January means winter. In a place with seasons, winter work is often different from summer work.

I live in an area that relies heavily — too heavily, in my opinion — on tourism. January, February, and part of March are the fallow seasons. The snowbirds fled to Florida. The seasonal businesses are closed.

Although this winter hasn’t yet been too bad, weather-wise (it’s been WEIRD weather-wise), there have been winters when the power’s been out quite a bit due to storms, we’ve been snowed in, and it’s been about keeping the fire in the fireplace going and staying warm. Of course, as I write this, several days before it’s scheduled to post, we’re in record high temperatures, the little bit of snow we had is gone, and my yard is Very Confused.

I don’t do well in hot and humid weather, so I love winter — as long as I can stay warm and cozy at home and not have to drive much in bad weather. It’s a great time to buckle down and work on the novels and the plays. It’s a great time to curl up with my books and research the novels and plays in my pipeline. I read contest entries and the books I’m hired to review. If the power is out, I can always take notes or write in longhand by candlelight (and yes, I do).

It’s a time to prep the quarterly postcards, sent to current and potential clients, following up after the holiday greetings. It’s a time to shift the focus to the type of project and client I feel will be the most fulfilling on both creative and financial levels.

It’s a time to clean up old files and set up new files. To decide what kind of skills I want to learn in the new year, where to find the teachers and make the time to fit them in, and how to add them to my information so clients know my skills and range keep expanding.

For print publications, it’s a time to look about eight months ahead to editorial calendars. What do editors want in August, September, October? Time to think about next autumn, polish those pitches, read the editorial calendars, and send them off.

It’s time to assess memberships in professional organizations. I have an assessment formula I use. I measure the financial obligations (dues, dinners, events, materials, conferences, etc.) versus financial gains (new clients, new contacts, new projects, how many books sold after an event, etc.) versus the emotional benefits (did I enjoy myself at events? Did I meet terrific people, even if they didn’t become clients? How often did I have to challenge racist or misogynist remarks?) versus time and energy needed for all of the above.  If it’s expensive and doesn’t result in financial or emotional gain and is full of people making inappropriate remarks about others, I’m outta there. Done. It’s time that could be spent creating rather than having the life sucked out of me. That’s how I decide if I will renew membership. That’s how I decide if I will go to an organization’s open house as they try to expand their membership. Too many organizations around here expect one-way support. 

It’s time to look at the markets I’ve for which I’ve always wanted to write, but thought were out of my league. There are magazines I thoroughly enjoy, and for whom I don’t want to write. I’d rather just enjoy them. There are other magazines where I’ve often thought, “I’d love to write for them.”

Now is the time to sit down and take a hard look at what I do. Do I write what they publish? If it’s out of my wheelhouse, is it a stretch in a direction I want to take? Do I have the skills to do what they need?

If the answer is yes, then I sit down and do it.

It’s time to catch up on trade news in the various industries with which I work (I often get behind during the holidays, I admit it). Are there new start-ups that are interesting? New trends? Is something I’ve been doing and touting for the last few months becoming a “trend” I can use in my pitches? Who has moved where? Who is new to a position? 

Who has achieved something interesting and exciting in a field that interests me? I don’t have to have anything to pitch to them. I can just be happy for them, and send them a congratulatory note or email.

Who is feeling a bit down and could use a bit of encouragement? I know when I’ve gone through rough patches, sometimes an expected email or note has made a huge difference.

It’s time to look behind to see what’s achieved, what had to be let go, and look ahead to plan. Make the roadmap for the coming months. Know you may have to take a few unexpected exits along the way.

Commit to enjoying the process of the work, not just the results.

How does your work life change in winter?

Ink-Dipped Advice: What Does Starting With “A Clean Slate” Mean?

I hope everyone had a lovely holiday break. I think it’s important to change one’s routine every few months, for a break, and a fresh perspective.

With the turn of the year and the turn of the decade, there’s an urge to start with a “clean slate.”

But what does that mean, exactly?

According to the site The Idiom, this particular saying came into the lexicon during the 19th century. Slates were used for writing (especially in schools).  To start fresh, the slate could be wiped clean and something new written.

 We have that opportunity every day (as Lori Widmer reminded us in this post), when we wake up, or at any point where we decide we need to change perspective and/or attitude. But there’s something about a fresh year and the collective energy of millions of people wanting to do better in the coming cycle all at the same time that is exciting. Riding the collective energy can help motivate the focus and energy needed to work toward new goals.

How will you start with a “clean slate” this year?

Will it include:

–New work

–A fresh approach to existing work

–Professional development

–Something personal that matters to you that affects your work life positively

–A physical activity that enhances your mental strength and focus

–Change of direction

–Change of perception

–Change of location

I plan to take elements of all of the items on the above list, mix and match them throughout the year, see how they work, and adjust as necessary.

What are your plans?

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: Keep The Pitch Out of the Holiday Card

image courtesy of pixabay.com

Those of you who know me — or have read one or another of my blogs over the years — know that holiday cards are a Big Deal for me. I am a big believer in writing them; I love receiving them.

One of the joys of living on Cape Cod is that holiday cards are still a big deal here. The year we moved here, there was an article in one of the local papers how the Cape is one of the places where the most holiday cards are sent from in the country. It’s still an important tradition (although not as important now as it was when I moved here a decade ago).

There are plenty of people with whom the only contact I have is the annual holiday card. Some sniffy person on Twitter had contempt for this saying something along the lines of why would I want to talk to someone at the holidays I don’t talk to for the rest of the year? In toxic situations, of course that’s valid. 

But I find that sitting down and writing those personal, once-a-year catch-ups give me a great sense of joy. I love to reconnect with those people.

The sadness comes when I double-check an address and come up with the obituary. The person died during the year, and nobody bothered to let me know. I’ve come across three of those so far, and I’m not finished writing cards yet.

I write cards to my clients — current, and for the past three years ones from the one-off jobs. After three years of no contact, I often move on, be it personal or professional.

But that’s all the card is — a card wishing the person/company well for the holiday season.

It is NOT a pitch for more work.

I was so excited the Saturday after Thanksgiving. The mail came, and it was obvious there was a holiday card in it. Our second holiday card! Our first comes around Halloween, from a friend in NYC who is always working a tough schedule over the holidays, so she sends out her cards at the end of October.

Well, it was a card. From a business that wrote a pitch about why we need to replace our windows, and the holiday season is the perfect time so to do. How he wanted to come by and give us a quote.

Not only was I disappointed, I was ANGRY.

Basically, this rep has stalked us for the last few years. First of all, we are the tenants here. The OWNER makes the decision on the windows. I said this repeatedly, when I also told this guy to LEAVE US ALONE. He shows up at the house, unannounced, and pounds on our door. More than once, it’s been at an inappropriate time and scared the bejesus out of us. On top of that, I have a sign on the door clearly stating “No Solicitation.” On TOP of that, I have complained to his company about his behavior. They assured me he wouldn’t come by again. But he does, and now he’s sending us a sales pitch wrapped in a holiday card telling us he’s coming by during the holidays?

He shows up, I call the cops.

This is NOT the way to use holiday cards to expand business.

Send the card as just a greeting.

What I do then, in January, with former clients, is send a postcard, asking if they need any help with their year’s marketing/content/writing/planning, and suggesting a consultation. 

My name has just been in front of them with the holiday card — that asked nothing from them. Now it comes before them again, with a suggestion.

That’s the way I prefer to receive communications, and that’s what I’ve found to get positive results when I do it.

So have a good holiday. And, if you send cards or good wishes, please, please, let that be ALL it says!

Ink-Dipped Advice: Time to Freshen Your Contract & Update Your Rates

 I hope everyone who celebrates American Thanksgiving had a good one, and those who don’t celebrate had a good week.

We are getting into our holiday madness, now. Not only is it important to remember to stop and take a breath, use “no” when necessary to keep your boundaries/sanity, it’s time to look at your freelance contract and update your rates.

A typical cost-of-living increase is between 2-3%. I don’t know about prices where you live, but my expenses for 2020 have already gone up a lot more than that. My rent went up 9.5%. The cost of food has gone up 35% over the course of the year. I have no idea how much my insurance and utilities will go up. I know that there are more expensive car repairs in my future.

My current rates are not sustainable.

Now, I’m not going to raise everything 45%. That, too, is unsustainable.

But I figured how much I need to make next year at minimum in order to get done the big transitions that need to happen, and  what I’d LIKE to make (which is higher) to give me a cushion. Break that down by 52 weeks, and I know how much I need to make every week. Break that down into a day rate (always good to have a day rate for certain gigs), and I have my numbers.

Now, I match that against the time/work ratio of individual projects, and I know how I need to adjust for that.

I don’t post most rates on the website, because there are so many variables for a project that it hurts both the client and me to have fixed rates for MOST projects. There are always exceptions, and those will be addressed/updated.

I’m also going to post my initial first consultation rate. This is controversial, because so many people offer a free first consult.  I’ve done that in the past; not doing it any more. Too often, the potential client wants information in order to go and do it in-house. Great.  But one of the things I am is a marketing CONSULTANT, which means I am paid for that consulting time that gives the client the ideas/itinerary that is then put into use in-house. 

My mantra for 2020 is “No more free labor as part of the hiring process.” That includes ideas and the constant question “How would you handle x?” which pretends to be a question to test skill level, but is, in actuality, a way to gather free advice from a variety of sources without paying anybody.

I am aiming my LOIs at a slightly different market, too. My focus is still hunting down companies whose work excites me and convincing them they can’t live without me. Some of them need a multi-year courting process. It’s worth it.

I’m moving away from LOIs to companies just because they’re local. I’m a big believer in supporting local businesses, but I, too, am a local business, and when the attitude is that my skills aren’t worth paying for because writing “isn’t real work.” then I’m pitching to the wrong market.

I plan to expand my corporate workshops, where I come in and train the staff in unusual marketing/writing techniques they can apply to business. One of the things I’m doing this month is crunching the numbers to set a good price. I’d started expanding this before I moved from NY to the Cape, and abandoned it when I was here. I enjoy it, I’m good at it,  the people in the workshops have a great time, and the company who hires me benefits in the long run.

I’m freshening my contract, and I’m clarifying a few points that need adjustment, mostly to keep up with changing technology. I am also adding the caveat that I do not go on camera. None of my client work is about ME. I’m happy to write scripts and set up productions/social media systems for on-camera representatives, but I am not that individual. Not an actor, don’t want to be a spokesperson, I am strictly behind-the scenes.

These are some of the changes I’m making to my freelance work for 2020. What changes are you looking at ? How do you plan to implement them?

If you need some general goal-setting questions, hop on over to my Goals, Dreams, and Resolutions site where I have specific questions to help you achieve what you seek.

Ink-Dipped Advice: The Artist Statement

One of my favorite projects to work on with clients is the Artist Statement. I love learning about the passion that drives an artist to make particular choices, and to help that artist articulate the passion, vision, and work ethic to an audience.

While it’s most often visual artists such as painters and sculptors who use artist statements, they are useful for writers, dancers, musicians, filmmakers, fiber artists, actors, and basically any other art form.

Why? What possible use is an Artist Statement?

On a public level, it introduces you to a larger audience and provides context for your work. The Artist Statement is used in:

—Grant Proposals

—Residency Applications

—Web sites

—Media kits/rooms

—Introductions to your work that go deeper into context than the bio

Bios are important, too, and I’m an advocate of the three bio lengths: 50 words, 100 words, 250 words, to cover every occasion.

The Artist Statement runs between 150-250 words. You want enough to inform and tantalize, but don’t want to run on and bore. Even if you’ve had a thrilling career, attention spans are short.

The Artist Statement needs to include:

Your medium. Talk about what your form is and why you chose it.

The passion that drives your work. Why do you do this? Why not spend your time and energy on something safe? What drives you to create? That can include a couple of biographical sentences, provided they are relevant to your work.

Project specifics. This is a changeable paragraph. In some uses, you will need to talk about a project to which the statement/proposal/residency is geared. In other uses, you will give a sentence or two about a handful of your best/favorite projects and their context — the why and where of the creation.

Process. This is a short, succinct paragraph on HOW you do what you do. Avoid run-on sentences and navel-gazing. Use active language throughout the statement, but it is especially important here.

Avoid:

Passive voice

Overuse of adverbs

Ego-centric adjectives

Exclamation points (unless they are part of a work’s title)

Write your initial statement longer than you need, and cut. Cut, cut, cut. Tweak language and word choice. You want it to sparkle. You want it to have impact to engage and enchant, not to make the audience recoil (even the work itself is meant to disturb).

Read it out loud. Read it, record it, listen to it. Better yet, have someone else read it, so you can really hear it. You want a musicality to the flow. You want it to build, not be a set of disjointed paragraphs. You are sharing a piece of your soul.

Realize it is a living part of your body of work. Revisit your statement after any major project, and at least once a year. Make necessary changes. Update it in all the places you post it publicly. 

As your work grows, so will your Artist Statement — although it doesn’t get longer! You adjust it for different phases of your career.

Keep your old statements. Keep a file of your old statements and re-read them every few years. You will see the growth and change. You can also decide if you want to use any of the information for your Career Overview, which is a different type of piece.

Don’t be afraid to pour your passion into your drafts. Then use craft to hone the final draft. Ultimately, your Artist Statement melds your passion to your talent to your craft, and shares it with the world.

If you have any questions about the Artist Statement, leave it in the comments, and I will respond as soon as I can. If you want to contact me about help writing your statement, you can email me at contact – at – fearlessink – dot – com. My rates are reasonable.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Creating Client Voice

image courtesy of hornstjj via pixabaycom

How does one create client voice?

There are dozens of techniques. Because of my background in theatre, I approach it as developing a character that represents the company, product, service.

This is a little different than if the company’s owner/founder/CEO is the primary spokesperson. That involves melding the individual’s personality with the personality they want to project to the public with the product or service. It’s more layered, and one often deals with more ego, especially in small business. Something the owner’s family thinks is a “cute” trait does not always go over well as part of a marketing campaign.

To create client voice, I need to know and understand:

–the company’s vision

–the company’s mission

–the product or service

–the creation process

–the target audience

–the possible extended audience

Plenty of freelancers I’ve encountered along the way will say this is more complicated than it needs to be. All you need is product/service and target market. That’s their approach, and more power to them.

But I’m creating a layered, complex character to engage an audience in a simple, direct way.

Because I am a theatre person, I approach the marketing piece as a play or film or radio drama, and I create characters. Not “representational” characters — they’re flat and boring. Not caricatures. But nuanced individuals who can communicate the company’s message.

Preliminary information is often on the website. If I’ve been hired to do a complete overhaul from the company, then we talk about how to change the tone and cadence of what’s on those sites and carry it through all the marketing materials.

“Vision” and “mission” are often thought of in terms of non-profits or large corporations, but they’re useful for small businesses, too.

“I create clothing (with pockets) that makes women feel beautiful and confident” is the vision statement for one of my clients who is a designer.

“I create pieces that flatter the figure, have pockets, and can be dressed up or down with confidence for any occasion” is the mission statement for the same client.

Yes, I created both of those to help focus her campaigns in my time with her.

But they are specific. My client is not trying to change the fashion industry or create shows for Fashion Week. She wants to make pieces that real women can wear and accessorize in flattering cuts that make them feel good. Some of them even have inspirational quotes sewn into the garment, so the wearer smiles and is inspired whenever she puts it on. She also knows the value of pockets in women’s garments, so most of her pieces have pockets.

There’s a sense of fun, easy elegance, and the use of natural fabrics that breathe and drape.

Her audience is women of all ages. Her extended audience is anyone who buys these women gifts or gift certificates.

Another client is an organic landscaper. His vision is that this area contains organic, sustainable yards around homes and in public areas that are beautiful, permaculture, and more habitat than putting green. His mission is to work with clients, one at a time, helping them create the yard of their dreams that is all of those things, and either continuing the maintenance, or teach them to care for it. His company also does educational programs for people from 7 to 97.

His target audience is residents of our area. His extended audience is anyone and everyone interested in sustainable, edible landscaping.

Both of these small business owners are strong personalities with distinct voices. It was a case of enlarging and dramatizing natural cadence and massaging out unnecessary words, such as qualifiers, too many adverbs, and passive voice.

What if a company or service does more than one thing?

Then, I create an overall “company tone.” I use what already works, and tweak, unless they specifically want a re-branding with a fresh voice. To change it simply to change it is ego on the writer’s part.

By “company tone” I mean the way any marketing material sounds inside the head of a potential audience member as they encounter it. We all “hear” as we read. By the choice and arrangement of words, I create a distinct voice that the reader hears as they read.

Within that company tone, each product/service gets a slight tweak to make it unique, but still fit within that tone. Each product or service becomes a character within the ensemble.

Part of creating the company tone is then rehearsing those who go out into the world and speak the company’s mission in that tone. The executives, the marketing people, the Board of Trustees (where appropriate). Again, this is something that many writers don’t do or see as part of their job. Technically, it’s not. The writer writes. What’s done with it from that point is not their business and out of their control.

But again, because of my theatre training, I can come in (or do via Skype) sessions that are similar to working with actors in a rehearsal studio to teach them how to speak in the company voice when they go to Chamber Events or do outreach in booths at fairs/tradeshows or however they physically deploy people to get the message out. It’s a lot of fun. It uses role-playing and rehearsal techniques to help people feel comfortable and have confidence to speak in the moment with enthusiasm and skill.  It helps the introverts of the company who are too often forced into extroversion have training and knowledge to sound spontaneous. They don’t have to search or fumble; it’s there for them to pull when they need it. They realize it’s not about them as Harry or Mabel or Serge, but about the company, and they are a conduit. Training in the voice takes a huge amount of pressure off the individuals who actually have to speak in that voice. Even for extroverts, it’s helpful for them to have the tone and points at the fingertips of their minds, ready to pull out in an instant.

We also laugh a lot, which makes any training seminar or workshop better!

I’m not telling them to be fake or be someone else or mislead the potential audience — I’m teaching them to layer the company voice over their own cadence and merge the two when they are out in the world as representatives of that company.

It’s sometimes a fine line, but an important one.

That tone is then consistent on the website, in the newsletters, correspondence, media kits, social media posts, and whatever other materials a particular company uses. It’s modified for blog posts, because it’s vitally important to have unique voices when you have more than one blogger. Still within the framework of the company tone, but with each voice being unique. I think of it as the way singers work in a choral ensemble: the unique voices blend in harmony to sing the company song. Or the way different instruments in an orchestra blend to create a symphony.

In my opinion, one of the reasons many magazines tank is because the individual writers’ voices are smoothed out to an even tone throughout the publication. I used to read magazines to get excited by snippets of unique voices; now, every article sounds the same, and the same type of piece shows up every year in the same season.

A way to make one’s blog more engaging is to have more than one person writing content, or at least SOUND like more than one person writes content if it’s in-house. I admit, I have ghostwritten blogs where I’ve written in more than one contributor’s voice. I’ve written it all, but we talked it through, and each post sounds like the individual under whose by-line it appears. Another possibility is to invite guest posters who are knowledgeable about the product or service. Yes, they’ll all need editing, but if the editor keeps the writer’s voice and lets it sing within the company voice, the blog’s readership grows. The blog will both engage and sustain.

Getting back to the “how” on creating voice:

Listen, listen, listen, listen. Then listen some more.

I talk about listening constantly.  I ask questions. I listen to the words. I listen to what is under the words. I listen to what is between the words. Subtext matters in marketing, although it needs to be even more delicate than in fiction or on stage. I look at the actions. I prefer to do this in person, or via Skype. Phone-only is the last choice (and, since I charge for phone time in 15-minute increments, more costly for the client). Meeting time is paid, not free, although a set number of meetings either in person or via Skype are part of the standard contract. Phone time is always separate.

Then I create.

The creative process is difficult to break down and dissect. Much of what I do to create client voice comes from within, once I absorb mission, vision, cadence, target, and once I know, inside-out, about what I’m writing. It’s taking the best of what I know about character development from writing scripts and fiction and melding it with a real product. Background, motivation, frame of reference, stakes, desires — all of that go into building a character. All of that relates to how an individual responds to a product. It relates to how to convince the audience, through the character, that the product or service is worthwhile.

It borders the realm of marketing writing with mission-specific entertainment.

Writing a video or audio script with actual characters to sell a product is a little different. That adds another layer to the client voice, by breaking it down into facets and challenges, and will be the basis for another post (or this one will go on forever). That is closer to mission-specific entertainment, but again, there’s a subtle difference.

I take the process seriously, and it gets results. That’s why content mill work and “you’re expected to write 10-20 articles a week” isn’t the type of situation that works for me.

Creating a client voice that shows the best of the product/service/organization and engages, enchants, and expands an audience takes time, care, LOTS of revision along the way, and focus.

But the results are worth it, for everyone involved.

How do you create client voice?