Ink-Dipped Advice

Ink-Dipped Advice: The Personal Strategic Plan

Businesses have strategic plans, update, and implement them regularly. Perhaps you already have one for your freelance business (if you’re a small business owner reading this, rather than a writer, consider hiring a good writer who knows how to put one together to help you — it will be some of the best money you’ve spent, provided you actually follow through).

Perhaps you don’t yet have one. And, as a freelancer, we choose to live our lives differently than a business, with more freedom to use our lances where we choose. So it’s more personal than many corporate plans.

You need several elements to create your own plan:

Vision
Where do you want to be? When do you want to get there? For me, as an individual at this point in my life, ten years is too much. I look at five years, then three years, than a year (also, for me, considered New Year’s resolutions).

I’m not a big fan of “vision statements” because I think they often use market speak to cover the real destination/determination. But if you feel a vision statement is helpful for you, craft one. If you feel sharing it will garner the business that helps you reach your vision, then, absolutely, post it on your website.

Part of my “vision” when I work with clients is to communicate THEIR vision in an exciting and engaging way, and in their unique voice.

With my own work, my vision has to do with each project improving in both art and craft, over the previous ones.

Some people break down “vision statements” and “mission statements” into separate categories. I feel they should be integrated, especially for a personal plan.

Core Values
Whenever I see a company talk about “core values” I am suspicious. Do they walk their talk?

But for your own strategic plan, you have to decide what your core values are in relation to how you want to progress in your working life.

One of my values is that I now extend my practice of “conscientious consumerism” to when I hire on with clients. If I don’t trust their integrity and values, if I feel they are hypocritical, or if they are trying to profit off something I believe is harmful — we are not a good match.

We all have to make our own decisions, and draw our own boundaries.

SWOT Analysis
This means:
Strengths
Weaknesses
Opportunities
Threats

I’m not a big fan of this element of a strategic plan, although it’s good to clinically look at your own strengths and weaknesses, and then decide how best to use both.

Opportunities? As freelancers, we daily create our own.

Threats? For freelancers, it’s usually the threat of our work and boundaries not respected.

Read a few corporate strategic plans and the SWOT will chill you. It explains a lot of why we are in the mess we’re in.

Long-Term Goals
This is important. As freelancers, we’re often trying to get through the day, the week, the month.

Look at the best of the freelance community, the ones who thrive — they’re looking ahead. They’re using each assignment as a building block to long-term goals, not as a stopgap.

Break yourself out of crisis mentality and look at what you want long term.

Again, most of us are freelancers because we want a better work/life/personal/creative balance. In our personal strategic plan, we need to work on goals for different areas of our lives.

As freelancers, we tend to want and need a more integrated life than a compartmentalized one.

Manageable Steps with Deadlines To Reach Them
It’s great to take time to come up with all these lists and plans, but if you don’t take action on them, it’s all useless.

Break down your goals and visions into manageable blocks, and give yourself a deadline for each one.

We’re freelancers; we’re used to deadlines.

Then take the actions necessary to see them through.

Timed Assessments
I like to check in with myself on my goals every month, and then do a big reassessment every year.

Daily To-Do lists make me feel confined and imprisoned; monthly ones give me the flexibility I need to get it all done without feeling overwhelmed. See what works for you. It’s okay to change.

Adjustments
As you assess, as you grow, you will see that you have to let go of some things in your plan you were sure about early in the process.

It’s okay. It’s not failure to realize that something no longer works in your evolution. It’s healthier to let it go than to stick to it just because you wrote it down.

Implementation
The most important thing, in any strategic plan, though is to take action and not expect it to happen without the work just because you wrote it down.

The elves aren’t going to show up and write your books and clean your house and send out your media kits and LOIs. You have to sit down and put in the work.

Start now.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Multi-Tiered Self-Marketing

I mentioned last week that I was working on both a marketing plan and a personal strategic plan, and that there would be places where they would intersect.

The personal strategic plan won’t be ready until sometime in February. But I’ve been working on the marketing plan, because that’s important to land the work.

My plan is multi-tiered. I work marketing myself as far as the books, plays, radio plays, etc. I work marketing myself when I pitch to publications or bloggers editors.

I also work marketing myself to potential clients, where I write up THEIR marketing plans. A future post will talk about some of those challenges, especially when it comes to small businesses.

Each of these tiers has a slightly different focus. A different slant.

I’m an advocate of media kits, especially for authors. You want top-tier coverage? Put together a good media kit and get it out there.

My own challenge with my main media kit is that I tried to put too much into it and it became unwieldy. So I’m streamlining it. That’s a conversation for another day.

First Question
For me, the absolute, most important question in any marketing plan is:

What do I want?

When it comes to the books, the answer is “book sales” or “coverage that will lead to book sales.”

When it comes to the plays or radio plays the answer is “a production contract.”

When it comes to publications/editors, the answer is “a well-paid assignment that will hopefully lead to more of the same.”

When it comes to potential clients, the answer is “a meeting to see if we are compatible.”

The latter answer is fairly new. The answer used to be “hired by the client.”

But what I want from a client relationship has changed, especially over the last year and change. It’s not just about getting hired, any hire; it’s about working with and for someone I can like and respect. Someone I believe has ethics and integrity on multiple levels.

You can talk all you want about how “being professional” means you can work with anyone. Great. Go ahead.

That is not my choice.

I want to work with clients who have both personal and professional integrity. Who are doing something about which they are passionate. I might not know much about it, or be passionate about it myself, but if they love it, I can use that passion and communicate it effectively, thereby growing their business.

But not if I think they don’t have personal and professional integrity. That is a personal choice. Separating last year from a client whose ethics I felt were shaky (although everything was technically legal) was the right move.

This shift changes the way I market myself to clients. It means I do more research earlier in the process about the client and the business, before I even send an LOI. Not just that they’re a company with some stability and not a fly-by-night, but more about how they do business, with whom they do business, how they interact in the community.

It also adds value to the initial meeting.

So, my first question in any marketing plan for myself is “What do I want?”

Which is different than when I meet with clients to work on THEIR marketing plans — again, a conversation for another day.

Different Strategies for Different Tiers
Since I do many different things, I work on a strategy for each type of work I do. My marketing plan for the books includes new releases, the back list, re-releases, how I work with the publisher, what portions of the marketing burden the publisher takes on, doing swag for promotional packages, adding in appearances, workshops, etc.

Budget factors hugely in this; 2018’s biggest obstacle was not having the marketing budget to do what I knew I needed and wanted for the books. I hope to make the necessary adjustments for 2019.

The marketing plan for the plays is about sitting down with the Theatre Guild’s list and seeing what play fits with which theatres in the US, and going through lists of international companies to see if any of them would be a good international fit (although, on the current political scene, it’s much harder to go international now, which is a blow to me, since my work does well overseas). The marketing for the radio plays is similar to that of theatre plays, although there are fewer venues.

With the plays and radio plays, it’s also seeing about who’s accepting pitches to commission new works and seeing if something I want to write fits. Commissioned work is important in this field.

This doesn’t need a lot of money; it’s more about well-written plays, outlines, samples, and previous credits. It is, however, about time and research.

Articles/publications marketing/pitching is constant, because editors move and publications start and cease. It’s about keeping up with the market, having an updated portfolio of samples (or, in my case, several), and sending out pitches every week. There’s also tracking the pitches, which is important for all of them.

Pitching to clients is about networking, watching businesses and listings, and seeing who needs what, and who might not know they need something, but I can suggest an approach that is useful.

It’s full of moving pieces, and, in my case, requires a large print calendar where I can see a month or more at a time.

Every electronic calendar I’ve ever used has failed me.

Constant Flow
The hardest habit to get into is constant marketing. When you have a lot of work, you want to focus on the work, not getting more work.

But this is exactly when you need to focus on getting more work, so you’re not scrambling with NO work when you’ve finished your current work.

The more you can have certain materials ready, the less time it will take to put together your pitches and get the out the door. I talk about this in detail in my workshop and Topic Workbook Setting Up Your Submission System.

Have these pieces ready:
Current resume (I have more than one, each with a focus)
Sample portfolios (online and as samples you can send. Again, I have several)
Updated clip files (online and hard copies)
Quick bio paragraph with credits (about 250 words)
Updated website

For fiction/plays/radio plays, as soon as I deem a piece ready to go out on submission, be it to agent or editor or producer, I prepare the following (each in a separate document):
Logline
One paragraph summary
Chapter outline (if applicable)
Synopsis (if applicable)
First 3 Chapters/50 pages/10 pages in .doc and .rtf
Radio plays in both BBC format and US format (I only do US Numbered format upon request)

Keep Logs
I have a Submission Log of the full pieces that go out, and a Pitch/Query log for pitches, queries, and partials.

I dropped the ball on my LOI log last year for business writing, which was a huge mistake. I will remedy that in 2019.

Logs help you track deadlines, payments, contract dates, and follow-up.

Regular Marketing
It’s not always possible to market every day, but set aside a few hours each week, and make sure you get out there.

Taking a few days to set an overall plan for the different facets you plan to explore will save you time in the long run.

The more you pitch, the more likely you are to land a good assignment, and the less likely you’ll have to scramble during fallow times.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Hit the Ground Running

Are you the type who hits the ground running, or starts slow and then accelerates?

Both work, and it’s an individual choice.

I, however, prefer to hit the ground running. When I used to do National Novel Writing Month, I’d write ahead; at the top of the year, I try to get ahead. Because I know how things can change and upset all those apple carts we so neatly set up.

One of the things I do is work on my Goals, Dreams, and Resolutions for the year. You’ll see some questions to muse over for the year here, although my answers are on the main page.

I’m also well aware that those answers can and will need to shift over the course of the year. They are a roadmap, not a prison.

It is the second of January, a Wednesday, and I will be working on site with one of my clients today.

On my own time, I will also be working on two things I believe are important for my own growth and success this year: my personal strategic plan, and my marketing plan. They will intersect at certain points. But they will also form another roadmap for what I want in my business-related work, and in getting the work I do for myself (rather than clients – the novels, stage plays, radio plays, etc.) out to a wider audience.

In 2018, I got overwhelmed and discouraged. Instead of focused targets, I splattered a bit too much, and wound up settling for work in the short term that was necessary, and not pushing through for better work in the long-term that would have fulfilled more than one aspect of what I’m working toward.

I’m adjusting that this year.

Now, some of the things I set up last year are paying off this year — one in spring, one in fall. So I wasn’t completely off-track. But I let too much go, because of a difficult, demanding situation that took far too much emotional energy as well as physical energy. I have to adjust that this year.

I’m not sending out pitches and LOIs this week — where the holiday falls, let people enjoy it and clear off their desks a bit. But I’m planning and writing pitches and working on campaigns that will launch next week. Campaigns that are aligned more to the long-term rather than the short term.

I will talk more about this in the weeks to come.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Assessing, Adjusting, Planning

This is the last post on this blog for the year. I’m finding the “Best of” lists exhausting this year, so I’m not bothering with my own.

What I am working on is a year-end assessment (as part of my Goals, Dreams, and Resolutions). What worked this year? What didn’t? Where did I fall short? What did I choose to give up because it no longer worked?

From there, I can make adjustments. We all have things we think we want, but as we get closer to them, we find we don’t, or other bits of our lives have shifted, and it no longer makes sense. There’s nothing wrong with that. Realize it, and make adjustments. Change the plan.

You don’t have to stick to a plan that’s no longer working simply because you put time into it in the first place.

With your new knowledge, decide where you want to go from here. Make a plan.

Realize it’s a roadmap, not a prison. You’re allowed to change it any time you want.

I am an advocate of New Year’s Resolutions. I think it’s important to set the bar and then meet it and exceed it for yourself. You don’t get a prize just for showing up. You roll up your sleeves and put in the work.

When people whine about them, about not keeping them, it’s usually because they make resolutions that they feel they SHOULD make instead of something relevant to their lives.

Many of the ones who get huffy about New Year’s resolutions (especially creatives) are people who, when you look at their work over the past year, haven’t done all that much. They don’t want it enough, aren’t willing to make the compromises/put in the work necessary to achieve it, lack the time management skills, and, most importantly, the will to get it done.

We’re all juggling difficult lives and often multiple jobs and childcare or elder care or a million other things. We have to make choices along the way that will get us closer to our goals, and get us OUT of living in crisis mode every day.

There’s nothing wrong with getting help to find a way out of that spiral. If you’re in a self-defeating pattern, do your research and find someone who can help you break it. Be it a therapist or some sort of coach or some other professional. That’s a positive step, not a negative one.

There are other people who don’t make New Year’s Resolutions without denigrating those who do. These people are out and about, creating the lives they want. They don’t need to make New Year’s Resolutions because, to them, every day is the opportunity for a fresh slate, and they are determined to do something positive.

They smile and nod and wish us well on our resolutions, while taking the actions necessary to make their own lives better on every level — which, in turn, often betters the lives of those around them.

So take some time amidst the holiday insanity. Think about what you want and what you need (which aren’t always the same thing).

Break down some manageable steps that get you closer to the life you want.

And take every opportunity, every day, to do something kind or beautiful or unusual, which will also feed into building the life you want.

Have a lovely holiday, and I’ll see you on the other side of it!

Ink-Dipped Advice: Holiday Considerations

We all like to get as much work as possible off our own desks and onto someone else’s before the holidays and/or the end of the year.

But sometimes, you risk getting lost in the shuffle.

Everyone needs a break, so consider the why and the who before you hit “send.”

Contracted Deadlines
Obviously, if you have any deadlines around the holidays, meet them. In fact, put in time earlier in the season (like October and November), so that you can get them in to your agent or editor a little early.

Submission Deadlines
Some contests and publications have year-end deadlines for a particular issue or event. Again, try to get it in a week or two early. Don’t wait until the last minute, when something is bound to go wrong.

Pitches, Proposals, Queries, Manuscripts
Unless I’ve been asked for something by a specific date that falls within the winter holidays, I stop submitting/pitching on December 12 and start up again January 6. Unless it’s a short piece with a quick turnaround, there’s really no point.

That means, of course, that I have to plan earlier in the year to cover what’s basically three weeks without those going out – that means I’ve pitched early, and already scheduled work that is due/pays soon after the holidays, so I don’t have a fallow period.

In theatre, we always struggled in January and February; I try to make sure I plan ahead well enough so that I’m covered in my freelance life then, too.

Of course, if you hit fallow points, then you dig in, do your research, and pitch soon after the first of the year.

But I don’t do cold pitches/proposals/queries/submissions to agents, publishers, or editors during those three weeks. It’s not fair to any of us.

I do use the time for work that has a longer lead time, or for researching new-to-me markets and preparing pitches and queries to send in the new year.

Holiday Cards
As I’ve stated before, I’m big on holiday cards. However, when I send a holiday card, it’s just about sending a good wish for the holiday. It’s not pitching myself or asking if the former client needs anything – that happens again, after January 6.

Those former clients and prospects who got cards? They get a follow up note or email, along the lines of “now that the holidays are over, what are your needs for the coming months? Is there a project where you’d like my help?”

This way, you haven’t put pressure on them during the holidays, but you’ve reminded them of your existence, and now you’re following up for business.

Planning
This is a great time to plan what you want, need, and the changes you plan to implement to your working life in the next year.

I usually start thinking about this in autumn. I have a site called Goals, Dreams, and Resolutions, where we work on questions for the upcoming year, and then track our progress.

The planning involves what I want for the next cycle, the research, and a list of new prospects. I prepare proposals or LOIs as pertinent. I have everything written and ready to go by early January.

It’s also a good time for me to look at submission deadlines for theatres for their reading cycle for an upcoming season. Then, I pitch, query, or propose as is relevant to each organization that I think is a good prospect.

It’s also a good time to assess what didn’t work for you in the past year, and what you want to change. When you know what to release, when you make room for what’s better, you can start planning active steps to make it happen.

Don’t Forget to Have Fun
Spend time with the people you enjoy.

Also make sure you pay attention to those around you who are struggling. A kind word or a helping hand can make all the difference.

Go to at least one new-to-you event locally, whether it’s a networking event or a concert or an art opening. Do something different to prepare for positive change in the new year!

Ink-Dipped Advice: Holiday Business Etiquette, Blaming Women, and The War on Theocracy

The original intent was to be a simple post on suggestions for business etiquette during the holiday season, but there’s so much crap being thrown around, that it’s not going to be simple or mild.

First, the basic common sense:

What is the culture of your workplace?
For most freelancers, the bulk of our “workplace” is the home office or the creative space we rent to work in. Sometimes, we are on site, for meetings or for short term work. Sometimes, one or more of our gigs requires us to spend X amount of hours on site (I have one long-term client where I’m in their office for a handful of hours on three regular days at the moment).

What holidays do staff members celebrate? Are there company traditions?

When I worked backstage, each show had their own holiday traditions — usually including everyone’s different holidays, a mixture of decorations and Secret Santa joy and potlucks with favorite foods of the season. It was truly a joyful time. Since we worked while others played, we built family. We shared. We made sure that those who struggled during the holidays had love and support and family.

It was similar when I worked for a publishing company and a library. We had traditions, we included, we celebrated, we supported those struggling.

As far as physical contact, it’s important to gauge someone’s comfort level. Some people don’t like to be touched, unless it’s by an intimate partner or family member. I spent most of my life in theatre. We are a huggy-kissy, physical contact bunch. We find strength and comfort in touch. But most of us (except for some slimy producers and directors and executives) can also read when someone DOESN’T feel comfortable with that kind of contact, and then we refrain.

What are appropriate gifts?
As freelancers, it’s rare for us to get a bonus the way one does in a regular company situation. I was shocked this year that one of my clients gave me a bonus. I’d grown the profile of the company in a way that was appreciated.

I’m big on cards. I send physical cards to anyone with whom I’ve dealt in the last three years for whom I have an address. I send e-cards only when I don’t have a physical address.

Depending on the relationship, I’ve sent small gifts as well as cards to my agent, my lawyer, my editor, my book designer, my copy editor, etc. Those are small gifts that show I know a little about them, and it’s something specific to their interests. Cards, too, but often small gifts. If I don’t have a close relationship, or rarely talk to the editor or whomever, then it’s just a card. But when it’s a relationship where we are in contact several times a week, it’s a gift. Nothing elaborate, but something individual and sincere.

For neighbors, local clients, and people I deal with regularly — the firemen, the library, the transfer station, my mom’s doctor, non-profits with whom I work, etc. — I prepare and deliver one of my infamous cookie platters. I talk about the cookie platters on Ink in My Coffee in this week’s Upbeat Authors post here.

The 80’s and 90’s were full of more elaborate gifts. And, in theatre, the actors I dressed and I exchanged personal gifts (in addition to Secret Santa, et al) and anyone else on the show with whom I was particularly close did, too.

My gift to my newsletter subscribers is usually a new holiday story. In following years, it may be reworked and then released, but I try to come up with something fresh and fun for them each holiday season.

If I know someone is passionate about a particular cause or charity, I’ll donate to that, in the person’s name.

Books
As a writer, I’m also a reader. I love to give books as gifts.

I’m uncomfortable giving my own books as gifts. I try to introduce friends and family to new authors I like in the genre they like to read.

Where appropriate, I also give books to work colleagues.

If you have writers in your life, I have a post up on A Biblio Paradise with suggestions for gifts for writers; an upcoming post will also be a list of books I love to give.

Greetings and the Faux “War on Christmas”
If I know which holiday or holidays someone celebrates, I greet them with their holiday. If I don’t know, I with them “Happy Holidays.”

“Happy Holidays” is not an insult. It is an inclusion.

I had a client, a few weeks back, start screaming, “it’s Christmas! It’s Christmas!”

I looked at her and responded, in that calm, reasonable tone guaranteed to annoy, “I start my celebrations on October 31 and go straight through until January 6. There are a lot of holidays in there. I celebrate holidays.”

She shut up.

There is no “war on Christmas.” That’s a marketing term by those who want this to be a theocracy. What they are doing instead is to wage war on inclusion.

Not going to let your narrow definition of the holiday destroy my joy in celebrating the holi-DAYS.

When I lived in NYC, just off Times Square (I could see the ball come down from my window), our entire floor used to put up a display that included Winter Solstice, Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa. We had potlucks and cocktails and enjoyed each other’s joy all season.

The Corporate Holiday Party/Blaming Women
There’s a lot of huffing and puffing this year that companies have cancelled their holiday parties because of the #MeToo movement. They claim they’re worried about lawsuits.

I call bullshit.

First of all, this is an excuse for them to save money. Instead of spending money putting on a nice event for the people who actually do the work, they can hand a check to executives who sit on their asses all day while their assistants to the work.

It’s about money.

Second, it’s a way to reinforce the “blame the woman” cliché. Women are blamed when men prey upon them, harass them, or attack them. They wore the wrong clothes, they said the wrong thing. They smiled or didn’t smile. They were breathing.

It’s a way to blame women for “ruining the fun.” It’s a way to say, “We can’t have fun because you’re too sensitive and can’t take a joke.” Because, hey, there can’t possibly be a party with laughter and alcohol and witty conversation if there’s no groping or hasty sex in a closet involved.

What an insult. Not just to women, but to men.

Hey, corporations, how about not hiring sexual predators and harassers? How about working on changing your culture, instead of the nudge-nudge, wink-wink and then telling women they have to “deal with it”?

When I was in college, I worked as a temp for a lot of companies. One of them was a large company, now defunct. The male executives would go out to lunch every day and come back drunk, and start groping the women who worked there. I wasn’t having it.

I complained to their HR department, and was told, “they’re just being boys.”

Most of them were middle-aged men, married, and should know better.

I complained to the temp agency and was told I had to “deal with it, because it’s important to keep the client happy.”

The next day, I slugged the man harassing me, walked out, and quit that temp agency.

I have no regrets.

By the way, that temp agency no longer exists, either.

We’ve forgotten how to flirt. We need to take lessons from some of the Europeans, especially the French. Flirting isn’t about scoring later that night (necessarily). It’s about acknowledging and appreciating the attractive qualities in the person with whom you’re interacting, without pressure.

We can be witty and gracious and friendly and charming without being aggressive. We can enjoy each other’s company — even over drinks — without demanding the Big Finish.

We can appreciate each other as people.

The best holiday parties support that. You get to talk to people you don’t normally see often, and can have actual conversations. It’s not venting about work. It’s about appreciating your co-workers as unique and interesting people.

That is how we take back the holiday party.

Your company’s not throwing one this year? Host a potluck, invite your co-workers, and to hell with the corporate crap.

When In Doubt, Create What You Crave
Holidays can be stressful because they come with expectations.

Instead of letting others dictate how you feel during this time, decide how you WANT to feel.

Integrate your favorite traditions of past years with new traditions that evolve, and that make you and those around you happy.

If someone derides what you’re doing, listen. Are they in pain? Do they need or want to be included? Or do they just not want to participate? Do they want to force you into bending to what they want? Don’t force participation, don’t be forced into doing something you don’t want to do, but leave room for those around you to be included, as they want or need to be.

This ties in to another post I wrote for Upbeat Authors a few months ago, about conferences. About being the one who notices the wallflower, the shy one, the scared one, and offers a smile, and says, “Pull up a chair.”

Especially at this time of year, it matters.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Navigating the Holidays

 

We’re into the holiday madness now. Of course, I consider the “Holiday Season” to be October 31-January 6, but there you have it.

How can you balance all the extra demands on your time with the extra demands on your freelance time?

Planning.

This is the time of year when your family and friends need –and deserve — more attention.

This is the time of year when your clients are worried about year-end campaigns and planning for next year.

This is the time of year when you need to start planning where you want to expand and enlarge your own reach next year.

As far as pitching to agents, editors, etc. in fiction markets, unless I have a set deadline, I do not pitch projects between December 12 and January 6. It’s just not fair. As tempted as I am to get things off my desk and onto someone else’s, it gets buried with everyone else doing the same thing.

I do research markets and prep proposals during that time (when I can), but I don’t start submitting again until January 6.

Here are some other tips that work for me:

Calendars
Your calendar is always your best tool, but especially during the holidays. I like to use the large desk blotter calendars. I have yet to have an electronic calendar that hasn’t failed me.

I put different elements in different colors. I work backwards from deadlines, break down projects, card writing, baking, etc., into workable chunks, and put them on the calendar.

This way, I can look up from my desk and keep track of what’s going on, and where I am at any particular point. I can also adjust, if necessary. I can get ahead if and when I ever find a pocket of time; I know if I’ve fallen behind, and can add in additional work sessions as needed.

Cards
I am a huge believer in old-school cards, especially around the holidays. It’s a way to stay connected to current contacts, and reconnect with those with whom you’ve lost touch.

If I use a holiday card to reconnect, that’s what it is — a reconnection. Not a request or demand for anything. But a simple well-wish.

For those with whom I reconnect, I usually send off an email or a postcard after January 6, asking where they are and what’s going on, if they need anything, if they’d like to set up an appointment. I do NOT add that in to the holiday greeting. I keep it separate.

By the way, post card contact usually gets me a 25% response rate, whereas email only gets 12%.

Assessments
I keep track of my Goals, Dreams, and Resolutions on a monthly basis (daily To Do lists make me feel trapped). I spend a couple of months at the end of each year assessing and making plans for the following year.

How much do you NEED to earn to pay your bills, keep a roof over your head, keep a quality of life?

How much do you WANT to earn for the extras?

How do you plan to get to both of those numbers?

I write, daydream, plan, strategize, and come up with what I think and hope will work for the coming year. I post it at the beginning of the year, and track it.

I also remain flexible enough for new opportunities to come in, and to drop what doesn’t work.

I assess and reassess every month. My GDRs are a roadmap, not a prison.

Market Lists
Once I assess where I am, where I want to be, and how to get there, I research markets and/or clients. I start putting together pitches, packets and LOIs. My goal is always to send out at least three LOIs a week; I don’t always meet it. When I’m deep in client work, I often let it go, which is the wrong thing to do.

When you’re deep in work is the best time to seek other work. The energy of your current work will spill into your LOI and make you more attractive to future customers.

This past year, I pitched fewer articles. I miss article writing. So in the coming weeks, I will research article markets, prepare pitch packets per their guidelines and editorial calendars, and have them ready to go at the turn of the year. If I see a call that’s got a deadline during the season, yes, I send it. But, for the most part, I wait until January, when everyone’s ready to get back to work, and to build a new slate of projects.

I hunt down reputable listings (in other words, people who vet them as paying a fair wage, such as Jenn Mattern’s All Freelance Writing). I always read the online guidelines before submitting, because guidelines change as editorial needs change.

Most important — I FOLLOW the guidelines. An acquisitions editor I know says 85% of the pitches she receives are tossed because the writer didn’t follow guidelines. Guidelines are the first test to see if you are someone with whom the publication wants to work. Are you worth their time and energy? Because if you can’t be bothered to pitch within guidelines, there are 10,000 other writers lined up behind you who are just as talented as you are who can. One of them will get the job.

My favorite way to create pitch lists is to sit down with the most recent print edition of WRITER’S MARKET, a pad of paper and a pen, and take notes. I read through the listings of any publication for which I think I could write. I make notes. I then check the guidelines ONLINE before I send the pitch.

Working only online, within search criteria, limits me. Reading through the entire book, with all the different publications, opens me to new-to-me publications that wouldn’t turn up in narrow search criteria.

The Personal Strategic Plan
Organizations create strategic plans to forward their growth and agenda. There’s no reason an individual can’t do the same.

It’s a little different than the Goals, Dreams, and Resolutions, while enveloping them.

In the GDRs, I list three practical steps to turn each goal, dream, and resolution into a reality.

The Personal Strategic Plan can go into even more detail.

The trap in going into too much detail is that you build yourself a prison. Workable steps are necessary. Too many details can keep you from noticing and seizing opportunities that could take you farther than your original ideas.

At the same time, you don’t want to pursue every new, shiny idea and abandon your plan completely.

You need balance and common sense.

Build in Fun
Between shopping, working, cooking, assessing, planning, wrapping things up, starting down new roads — you need to have fun. That’s what holidays are about — joy.

What gives you joy?

Think of the time from now through the holidays as “Days of Joy.”

Every day, do one thing that gives you joy, no matter how small.

Watch the positive ripple effect in the rest of your life.

Then, remember to build in the fun into your Goals, Dreams, and Resolutions, and into your Personal Strategic Plan.

We are freelancers in order to create our best lives, not live it for someone else’s convenience.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Word Choice Matters — and Has Power

I had an interesting conversation with a client the other day. She shared that she parted ways with her previous marketing/social media person because that individual did not work with her to communicate the client’s message effectively.

Ms. Marketing Pro came in with the attitude that she knew everything and the client knew nothing. She set up a series of social media channels, used marketing buzzwords, spread identical content on all the channels, but didn’t communicate the message or the product that my client sells. When my client wanted a particular type of promotion set up, or a particular message communicated, she was told that she didn’t know what she was doing, and to leave it to the professionals.

My client was paying; the business did not grow. They parted ways.

When I started working with her last year, I tweaked the message for each content platform, aiming to use the strength and identity of each platform to its best reach. In one month, I expanded the social media reach by 86%, resulting in a 26% sales bump.

I know, as a consumer, there are certain buzzwords that turn me off. If I see something listed as a “boot camp” or a “hack” — no, thanks. I’m not interested in that. Nor do I promote my own work using those phrases. At this point, they are overused and meaningless. Plus, the choice of those terms does not effectively communicate what I want to say to people. It doesn’t give them any information about what makes my work unique.

Also, if a business has marketing materials out there that show a lack of discernment between possessive/plural/contraction, as a potential customer, I assume they’re too stupid to be worth my money, and I go somewhere else.

No, I don’t approach them and tell them their materials are full of errors and they should hire me. That would guarantee they wouldn’t. But when I meet them at a networking event, I give them my card and say, “If you’re looking to freshen up your marketing at any point, I’d like to work with you.”

As a marketing person, I have an arsenal of tools I use to spread a message, that includes web content, media kits, blogging, social media content, press releases, ad creation on multiple channels, PSAs or radio spots as appropriate, pitching articles to the media, and, again, if appropriate, event scripting or video scripting.

Not every client wants or needs all these tools.

I offer them, but I don’t tell them they “have” to use them. We work together to find the best tools to communicate the message.

One of the most important thing I can do, as a marketing person, is genuinely listen when they tell me about their business, why they’re passionate about it, and what it means to them.

By listening and getting to know who they are AS WELL AS what they want, I can help them craft their story, their message, and expand their reach in a way that is unique to their business. Sometimes that does what I call “drawing the ear” — which, to me, is as important as drawing the eye.

Sure, you want strong visuals, and you need to work with a great graphic designer.

But you also need to choose the right words to communicate your message in a way that engages rather than attacks.

When someone hard sells at me, when I feel attacked or as though my space is invaded — be it physically or emotionally — I shut down. If I’m really uncomfortable, I fight back. What I don’t do is spend money with someone who makes me feel bad.

It’s often the same societal structures that cause problems when they are transformed into sales pitches. For the women reading this, how often has a male salesperson used the tactic of invading your personal space, of patronizing you, of treating you as though you should “listen to the man” in order to part you from your money? Or how often has a female salesperson used negative language to make you feel bad about something personal, and tried to convince you that only by listening to her and buying the product, can you feel better and will you change others’ negative perceptions of you (which exist in her mind, and which she tries to plant in your mind).

At this point in my life, when someone is aggressive towards me, I push back. Hard, without filters. As a potential customer, I tell them exactly why I’m not buying what they’re selling.

As a marketing person trying to shape the message, I do my best to:

–listen to the client
–offer suggestions to shape the message for different platforms
–communicate the message in a way for a positive reception by the target audience
–offer options and a variety of strategies, so if one thing doesn’t bring return, we have something else ready to launch

That means choosing words with care.

Just because a marketing Pooh-bah says this is “the” way to present something doesn’t mean it is.

Wanting to cast a wide net doesn’t mean use bland language. If anything, you need to be more specific in word choices.

You want to create a positive, sensory response. So choose words to evoke positive sensations.

Sight, sound, taste, touch, smell.

The five senses evoke emotions.

What kind of emotions do you want to evoke in your audience?

Taste and smell are closely related, as are sight and touch (or texture).

Use active language — verbs rather than adverbs, and avoid passive or past perfect as much as possible. “have been eating” is weaker than “eat” or “ate.”

Use specific adjectives and avoid overused tropes. If someone tells me it’s a “bold” wine, it means little to me, other than I expect a vinegary aftertaste. If they tell me it’s a “deep red with plum, cherry, and chocolate tones” — now I have sight, texture, taste, and scent cues. Not only that, but I expect a deeper sound when it pours into the glass.

My favorite medium is radio. One of the reasons I love to work on radio dramas or radio spots is that I choose specific sounds to drive the story and character. I love that challenge because the more specific I am, the better I communicate with the audience.

Individuals will receive the specifics within their own frame of reference. You won’t please everyone. An individual may have a negative association with a specific detail you and your client choose.

In my experience, I’ve found that those are rare, and more people will respond positively to compelling sensory detail than to vague marketspeak. Overused marketing terms always makes me feel like the seller is trying to get my money for snake oil, and I’d rather put my money elsewhere.

More and more people are practicing conscientious consumerism, choosing where and how they shop to align with their values. I think that’s great. I want people who align their wallets and their ethics to connect with my clients.

Here’s an exercise for anyone who reads this to try, be they a marketing person, a business owner, a consumer: For one week, only speak and write in specifics. Remove vague language from all your interactions. Keep track of it.

You will notice a remarkable difference in the level of communication.

What are your favorite ways to choose the best language when you work with clients, or as you communicate your business?