Ink-Dipped Advice

Direct Mail Steadily Works

image courtesy of Edoardo Tommasini vix pexels.com

I’ve always loved direct mail, both as a freelancer and as a potential customer.

According to this article on The Mail Shark, direct mail response rates run at a half a percent to 2%. And according to this piece on Amsive.com, direct mail gets a 10-30% higher response rate than digital mail, with 60% of those asked saying they remember the content of a physical piece better than an email. Now, remember, both of the above companies are trying to sell their direct mail services. The small business newsletter Chron (a Hearst newspaper affiliate) talks about a half a percent to 2% return as well.

As a consumer/potential customer, I find that rings true. If I get an email about a product or service, I put it aside to “look at later.” I usually forget about it, and when I go in, weekly, to do my bulk email deletes, it’s gone.

When I receive a direct mail piece in my physical mailbox, I look at it immediately.You can thank all those organizing gurus who’ve touted “handle the piece of mail once immediately when you get it” for that. If I’m interested in it, I put it next to my desk so I can respond within the next few days. If it’s something I know I will want down the line, I put it in the appropriate file folder, and then I have it when I need it.

As a freelancer, when I’ve done direct mail campaigns for Fearless Ink, I generally get a 25% positive response, which is much higher than the above-mentioned 2%. And imagine, if 2% is 10-30% HIGHER than a digital campaign, imagine how small the return is on most digital campaigns!

Having worked both digital and physical direct mail for various clients, it depends on what’s offered and the target audience. I find clothing, books, and jewelry tend to get high rates on digital campaigns, while larger goods and services tend to do better with physical direct mail. That’s just my personal sampling over a variety of years, and, especially in digital campaigns, doing a lot of A/B marketing tests and constantly changing course to compare and grow results.

What Kind of DM Piece?

For my freelance business, physical direct mail is one of my best tools for growing or shifting my client base. My best tool is a quarterly postcard. It’s very simple, with my business name, the tag line of the Fearless Ink Website, and a short list of information, with a link back to the website and email contact. Since I only do phone calls by appointment and charge in 15-minute increments, I do not put my phone number on the card. Sometimes I print the card on seasonal cardstock; other times I use the standard card with the logo.

I used to have a brochure as well as the postcard, and would hand out brochures with the card and my business card at networking events, pre-plague. I sometimes sent the brochure out with a physical LOI (letter of introduction/interest), or attached a digital version with a digital LOI. My last brochure was very specific to the region in which I lived, and needs a complete overhaul (which is on the schedule for this spring).

I have portfolio links on my Clients and Publications page, along with the link to my online portfolio over on Clippings.me. A new media kit for Fearless Ink is in the works.

I have not sent out a postcard since I moved to the Berkshires, but intend to correct that by February.

Although I have a quarterly newsletter for the fiction under the various names (you can subscribe to Devon’s Random Newsletter here),  and my Substack account, The Process Muse, is technically, a weekly newsletter (you can subscribe here), I do not have a newsletter for the business/marketing side of my business, Fearless Ink.

Most freelancers, especially those in business and marketing, have a weekly or monthly newsletter, and it’s an important tool. Because the focus of my business writing is changing, I do not believe that I have business content of regular value for a newsletter (I use this blog instead). No one wants to get a weekly email screaming “Hire me!” I’d rather talk about specific topics here twice a month and include interesting pieces in the quarterly newsletter.

If you have enough to say, and you don’t want to blog (or have enough to say in addition to a blog) a regular newsletter is a good tool. I find newsletters, at this point in the game, work better digitally, while business outreach works better on a physical direct mail piece. That’s just my experience. Talk to the freelancers in your circle to get a sense of what will work for you.

These direct mail pieces are separate from any holiday greetings I send. Holiday greetings are sent purely to wish someone the joy of the season. They do not mention work.

How do I put together the list?

My list is a mix-and-match, and ever-growing.

–Former clients (provided I still want to work with them). I keep in touch with former clients on a fairly regular basis. A lot of my work is one-and-done, rather than the advised weekly, monthly, or retainer work. So there are clients I might only work with once a year, or once every few years. However, when their work comes up, I want them to think of me first.

–Businesses to whom I sent LOIs, and either got a “we like your materials, but don’t have anything right now” or whose work intrigues/excites me enough that I want to keep my name in front of them. A physical postcard allows them to stick it in a folder or on their board and see it when the right assignment comes up, and by reminding them of my existence every few months, I’m more convenient than having to search for someone. Making the client’s life easier is a big part of getting and keeping work.

–Local business with whom I want to partner. It’s always good to have a solid local client base, providing they are professional, meet your rate, and respect the work relationship. In my previous location, there was a lot of talk about supporting local businesses, but they felt that local freelancers/copywriters/marketing people should be willing to work for free or a low rate “for exposure.” They only respected large firms out of town, who didn’t need to work with them. Also, even when there were decent local clients, most of them refused to make referrals or provide testimonials, because they didn’t want their freelancers to work for anyone else in the area, even though they didn’t have enough work to keep the freelancer employed. Where I am now seems to have a more reasonable and respectful view of the partnership between freelancer and client. I’m sure, this year, I will find out if that is true or an illusion.

–Regional businesses with whom I want to partner. Similar to the above, but with a wider reach. I’m in the Northwestern corner of Massachusetts now, so “regional” includes not just the Berkshires, but southern Vermont and the region from Albany/Saratoga/Troy.

–National and international businesses that interest me. Because I work asynchronously and choose which hours to work on which client project, I can work across time zones. I rarely accept an assignment that demands I work for that client within specific hours, because, to me, that’s not “freelance.” That’s a part-time employer.

I make the list by reading about companies doing interesting things, looking at Chamber of Commerce member listings, and checking which companies are hiring for what. I used to attend lots of chamber events in person. If we ever get enough of a handle on COVID, or a place institutes safety protocols (ha!), I will start going to a limited number of in-person events again. I might not want to send a resume to a job I see on a job board, but I might be intrigued enough to research the company and then send them an LOI, detailing how working together will solve a particular issue of theirs (without insulting them).

The list is constantly growing and changing. It’s a living document, not a static one, and that’s part of what makes work as a freelancer so interesting. Successful businesses grow and change. Growing and changing along with a business is always exciting, as is finding new businesses, and helping them get their passion and message out.

Do you use direct mail? Do you have a newsletter? How do you build your lists? What do you find does and does not work?

Social Media Experiments, Part I

image courtesy of Thomas Ulrich via pixabay.com

Happy New Year! I hope you had a peaceful and joyful holiday season, and feel optimistic for the New Year.

With all the chaos going on over at Twitter, I spent the past few weeks experimenting on different social media platforms. I’m trying to figure out which does what well, and where my likely audience(s) have migrated, so that I can start targeting my audience with information about my work, and share others’ work that excites me.

A monkey wrench went into that work when my computer crashed in mid-December. I don’t want to have all these platforms on my phone; my phone’s not fancy enough to carry it, and I resent being forced to tie things to my phone anyway. So there was a (much-needed) two week break from most social media. I was pretty active on Instagram, posting photos of holiday baking and decorating, and that cross-posts automatically to FB and Twitter. I also had scheduled posts dropping regularly on several platforms, so it wasn’t like I was totally absent.

Anyway, I don’t have all the information for which I’d hoped, and I’ll do another update probably in early June, and then again in late autumn, to share my experiences and how things have changed over the months.

I am annoyed at those who sell subscriptions to “scheduling tools” for still only supporting FB, Instagram, Twitter, and, sometimes, Pinterest. That doesn’t help. I need a scheduling tool where I can connect to any and all platforms on which I have a presence. I was already less than pleased with Hootsuite and Buffer; while I continued to use them for relevant clients, they’d already become next to useless for my own business. Now, that’s even more the case. I want ONE tool that allows me to connect across ALL relevant platforms, so that I can block off four or six hours once a month, upload and schedule unlimited content across multiple platforms and not have to think about it until the following month, when I gather data and make adjustments. So far, I have not found a tool that connects to everything I need (and I’m not willing to pay for a subscription that does not serve my needs).

Why am I on social media?

On a personal level, I love crossing paths with people with varied interests from all over the world, with whom I might have never interacted otherwise. I have built some real, wonderful friendships online that then transferred to real life. And, during the ongoing pandemic, it is a way to feel less isolated.

On a professional level, it’s to grow my network of contacts in a variety of fields (writing, publishing, film, television, theatre, textiles, freelancing, gardening, cooking, architecture, history, et al). It’s to share information about upcoming, ongoing, and backlisted work. It’s to grow my audience for the books, the serials, and the blogs. Long-term readers of the blogs tend to get interested in reading about a book as it’s written, and then buy the finished book, because they’re already invested time in reading about its creation. I also love to share others’ creative work, and help build their audience.

I want to make clear:

–these are MY experiences, not based on large data studies or corporate numbers. It’s not THE ultimate article on social media and the be-all and end-all. It is simply MY experience to date.

–they are in relation to my own work, not client work. I had already stepped back from doing social media for clients before the whole Twitter kerflamma began.

–I did not experiment with right-wing extremist platforms; those users are not my audience. So there will be certain platforms missing here. There also may be other platforms I haven’t heard about or tried. There are several other platforms that I looked at, and knew they weren’t the right place for me (such as Reddit and PillowFort).

–I have not yet experimented with Tik Tok because I am strictly an off-camera person. If I can figure out how to do short pieces that are about the work and do not require to be shot on the phone or have me onscreen, I’ll expand and play with that platform, too. YouTube is not on this list, either, as again, it’s about on-camera. As a former filmmaker, I’m happy to put others on camera, or play with animation (if I had the technical capacity), but I am not going on camera.

For the first quarter of the year, instead of trying to be everywhere all at once, I want to spend more focused time on the different sites. I’m blocking off bigger time blocks for specific sites on different days, so while I’ll check in regularly on most weekdays, making the rounds, I will spend more time for quality interaction on different sites on different days. Trying to do that on every site every day is too overwhelming. Eventually, I will pare back, focusing on the sites best suited to my work, my interests, and my audience.

As far as people complaining about “not having time” to learn various platforms, how nice to have that luxury. I do not. I need to figure out what works best where, and focus portions of time for each different thing I do to the site that best supports it.

I am also not positioning myself as a “Social Media Platform Transition Guru.” (Yes, I’ve seen people advertise themselves as such, and, in my opinion, blech). I don’t believe any of us know how this will shake out yet. I’m not taking on social media work for clients right now, because I don’t believe I can give them the information necessary to plan the year’s marketing campaigns. I’m learning and sharing what I learn in the hopes of helping someone, not taking their money in exchange for something that doesn’t work.

I’ve listed the sites in alphabetical order:

Bluesky: As of this posting, it has not gone live yet. I’m on the beta testing list. I’m wary – Jack Dorsey is part of the reason Twitter is in such a mess, in my opinion, and I don’t trust him. But I’m also curious as to whether he’ll try to recreate the best of Twitter, or turn it into something more along the lines of Reddit or something else.

Cohost: I haven’t been able to poke around enough on that platform. What I’ve found so far indicates that it skews to a younger audience that’s more interested in gaming and fanfiction than to the type of work I do. Interactions have been pleasant, but my initial sense is that the interests of many of its members are different from mine and what I explore in my work. For the moment, I’m posting steadily, and we’ll reassess mid-year.

CounterSocial: This has become my favorite place for in-depth conversation. It does not work on algorithm. It’s easy to block or mute annoying people, and trolls tend to get ignored until they do something nasty enough to get banned. Most of the trolls weed themselves out, because they don’t get the attention they seek. I’ve run into a few miserable accounts over there, but I simply unfollowed and/or blocked, and that was that. I’ve reconnected with some Twitter pals with whom I’d had sporadic interactions on Twitter due to all the noise and the adjusted algorithms. Now, we can actually settle in and have conversations. I’ve met a lot of interesting new people. And people there tend to click on the links back to the blogs and the books and the other work (especially over to Ko-fi and Substack and the garden journal, Gratitude and Growth). So far, it’s been an excellent experience, overall. There was a bit of a learning curve when I first signed on, and the dashboard is very much like Tweetdeck’s. But when I asked questions, people were very nice about either answering them directly, or sending me to the right spot in the user manual. I tend to block rather than mute. I’m either all in with someone’s varied facets, or all out.

Creative Ground: This is a site for New England-based creatives. It’s not a typical social networking site; it’s more along the premise of LinkedIn, where you put up a profile/portfolio, and people can connect for work or collaboration. I found 48 hours on Creative Ground worth more than 3 years on LinkedIn. I wish there was more of a social media aspect to it, although it’s definitely driven traffic to the serial, the Topic Workbooks, and Pages on Stages, the website for plays and radio plays.

Ello: Ello has been one of my favorite sites for several years. It used to be UK-based, but I think it’s now out of Belgium or the Netherlands. It has a great mix of artists from all disciplines. I get far higher views there than I get anywhere else. Sadly, it can’t drive Kindle Vella traffic, because Kindle Vella is only available in the US. But it’s been a factor in book and Topic Workbook sales, and gotten me quite a few regular blog readers. They also have a section on “creative briefs” where companies are looking for creative pitches, and I’ve got my profile set so people know I’m interested in collaborations and hirings.

Facebook: I’ve had multiple pages on FB for years. I’m not a big fan of the site AT ALL. However, I have some friends and family whose only internet presence is on FB, and if we want to stay in touch, that’s the best place for us to do so. Additionally, for the serials running on Kindle Vella, it’s a necessity, since there are multiple author and reader groups targeted for Kindle Vella. I hate to admit it, but paid FB ads result in higher sales (and the ads can cross-post to Instagram). Right now, FB is necessary to my bottom line.

Hive: I’ve only gotten as far as signing on. It took 45 minutes to upload my profile image. Then Hive went down for a few weeks, due to security issues. They do not have a desktop application, only a mobile one. Since I refuse to have it on my phone, I have to use my clunky old tablet. I hope the upgrades they’ve done will make everything easier; so many writers I know have migrated there, so it sounds like a good place for a writer hang. But I don’t have enough direct experience with it yet to know.

Instagram: Yes, I know it’s owned by Meta and pairs with FB. Makes the cross-posting easier. The purpose for my Instagram has always been to be my “fun” account. Very little promotion; mostly cats, garden, cooking, decorating. I expanded the promotions for LEGERDEMAIN to Instagram (even though I have to rescale all the graphics) and will do so with ANGEL HUNT. It builds audience. I don’t want to tip too far out of the “fun” aspects, but posts there lead people to the site with the buy links. I choose not to use LinkTree in the Instagram bio, because then the metrics go to LinkTree and not the creator. I’d rather drive them to my flagship website, and go from there. I also don’t like all the scammer accounts, and the inappropriate requests for direct messages. I waste way too much time reporting scams and blocking accounts.

LinkedIn: I have always hated LinkedIn. It is next to useless for me. I only keep a profile up because it’s necessary for my freelance writing. I have never gotten a decent lead from it. All I’ve gotten is people wanting me to either work for free or to sell me a course. The worst was when there was some sort of breach, and I started getting emails on my personal email (which is not posted on my profile) from creepy Midwestern white middle-aged men with inappropriate content. Dude, if I was looking for a date or illicit sex, it wouldn’t be here. LinkedIn shrugged it off when I complained.  I have a presence there, but they are not a site I enjoy or use often. I know a lot of people who swear by it and are rabidly loyal. I’m glad it works for them, but it’s too traditionally corporate for the way I work.

Mastodon: People are strident about whether they love or hate it. It’s another site that has a learning curve, and when one is tired and overwhelmed, it’s difficult to get settled. However, again, I’m finding some interesting people there, especially other creatives across a wide range of fields. I was lucky enough to be invited onto an “instance” (server) by a screenwriter, so my “home” is within my field.

For navigation, I find that “home” is where I’m building community, and I always check that second (after “notifications”). There are people from all different servers/instances with similar interests who I follow and/or follow me. Then, I check the “Local” feed, which is the feed of my home instance/server. Since it was started by a screenwriter and is primarily screenwriters and other film pros, I can get a lot of my industry information there, and also talk about projects, and celebrate or commiserate with others on their projects. The “Federated” feed is the general feed, from all over, and I go over there last, when I’m trying to find more people or reach a wider audience. I then find people to follow, and they turn up in my “home” feed.

Finding individuals can be complicated, if you don’t already know their Mastodon handle. But if you go up in the search box and search by hashtag (like #writer or #screenwriter or #Knitting or whatever), you have a good chance of finding whom you seek, plus a whole lot of other interesting people. When I first signed on, there were too many Content Warning police – to the point where any talk about one’s work or just about ANYTHING was demanded to be put behind a content warning. I’m sorry, but if you call yourself a “writer” and it depresses you to the point you need a content warning if someone else lands a deal or has a release, curate your feed for that; don’t expect everyone to do your administrative labor for you for free. I checked the Code of Conduct on my instance, and there’s nothing that says discussions about my work need to be behind a CW. So, instead, I block anyone who whines about it, and my life and feed are better for it. As I said up in the CounterSocial paragraph, I tend to block rather than mute. BIPOC have mentioned concerns that Mastodon’s demands for CW flash too much white privilege and suppression. In many cases, I agree; my experience is it has a lot to do with one’s instance and how one sets up the feeds. Mastodon had a surge, and then a lot of people left; those who are still there tend to give each other more room to share experiences and have discussions without calling everything a trigger. Overall, my experience has been more positive than negative to this point. Again, I don’t have the metrics for sales, but users definitely follow links back to the material and then talk about it, and/or boost it.

Pinterest: I’m redefining my relationship with Pinterest, to see how I can make it a tertiary support to the work. I’ve used it for my own inspirations, but I also want to do more with visual inspiration boards that I can share as part of my creative process. That is on the agenda for 2023. When I was deeply active on Pinterest, waaaaay back when, I had a lot of fun with it.

Post: I was on the waiting list for about three weeks, before I could sign on. At first, I was worried it was Very Serious, but as more people sign on, with a wide variety of interests, it’s fun to read, in-depth posts, about those interests. I have not explored monetizing posts there yet, and I’m not sure I will. So far, I like the interactions and the calm but lively discussions. I need to spend more quality time there, and dig deeper. It’s a good place to read about a wide range of topics, and then use it as a jumping off point for further research. I anticipate using it as a place to find people to fact check information I use in my books when I research, or to point me toward reference materials. As far as how it translates to growing my own audience, it’s too early to tell. I signed on only a few days before the computer crash.

Ravelry: This is a social media site for knitters, crocheters, spinners, and other fiber artists. It’s one of the few where I use a different handle, to keep it a little separate from the rest of my social media interactions. I’ve just started dipping my toe into it. I got some interesting patterns, but I also wound up being spammed via email mercilessly by a company who ignores my requests to unsubscribe. I hope to spend some quality time on there this winter, as I work on knitted and crocheted projects. I’m not on it to drive audience to my work (unless I start up The Tactile Muse blog again).

Spoutible: At the time of this posting, it has not yet launched. It’s supposed to go live in early February, I believe. I’m looking forward to it. I like the people who are behind it.

Tribel: This one has been kind of a wild ride, so far. When I first signed up, there were a lot of familiar handles from Twitter. Tribel encourages people to “follow” each other, but only “friend” people you actually know in real life. However, early on, I was getting a lot of friend requests from weird white dudes who wanted to send inappropriate messages. I’m more careful about follows, too. There are too many accounts over there with no bio or any other information, so I’m leery of just doing follow-for-follow. Also, you have to choose a topic under which to position your post (most of mine are under “fiction” but I have some under “gardening” or “foodie” or “tarot”). The categories are frustrating, because they’re limiting, and one can’t post without choosing a category. It tries to force too much niche, in my opinion. But then, I am the Anti-Niche.  It works on algorithms, likes, boosts, etc. I haven’t seen evidence of it translating into website hits or sales, but the year-end data on some of my sites won’t be ready for another week or two.  I post regularly, but I need to spend some more time digging deeper, looking for people with similar interests, and cleaning out the weird, botlike, or skeezy accounts out of my feed. There’s a lot of screaming and many posts that remind me of Twitter at its worst, and I want to navigate away from those. I’m going to put some more time into it before I make a decision.

Twitter: I’ve been on Twitter for going on 14 years now. That’s a looooong time in terms of tech. Twitter used to be the best source for high-paid freelance jobs, and I landed some of my best clients there. It’s been a huge source of audience reach for the fiction, the classes, the serials, and the Topic Workbooks. When I was fighting cancer the first year of the pandemic, and going through the Move From Hell in 2021, the support on Twitter made a huge, positive difference. When I go on now, too often, it just makes me sad.

I have no idea how it will play out on that site. I’m tempted to lock my account, but then I can’t get the audience spread from retweets that’s a big source of incoming traffic to my sites. Basically with Twitter, I’m in a holding pattern as far as social interaction. As of the end of 2022, it was still driving a lot of traffic to the Topic Workbooks, the serials, and my blogs. I’m doing a lot of blocking, and a lot faster than I used to. At the same time, I’m also finding some cool accounts, especially several focused on textile history and fashion that got lost in the previous feeds. I’m hoping Twitter can course-correct (change of ownership, perhaps). But, even so, it won’t be what it was, because the world changes. Twitter has changed over the years, and not always for the better. We’ll see. I hate to lose it, but it might have run its course and it may be time for different virtual “town squares” to build that learn from this platform, and build something even more powerful and useful.

WT Social: I deactivated my account within 48 hours, due to the misogyny and nastiness on the platform. Not for me, at all.

I’m on some other platforms, too, which aren’t really social media. Substack walks the line between social media, subscription service, and newsletter. Their metrics are clear and strong, and it’s easy to see where growth is happening, and where interest lags. I love having The Process Muse over there, and love the growing community, although there’s so much excellent content, it’s often difficult to keep up. The readers there tend to follow embedded links into my other work. I vastly prefer it to Medium, which did not work for me at all, creatively or financially. Ko-fi has been a fun place to put weird little pieces that don’t really fit anywhere, along with tarot and oracle spreads. At this point, I haven’t figured out how to monetize it properly. It’s more of a playground. I’m on BookBub, but haven’t yet utilized it to its full potential. I may join Litsy, although that’s more about taking about my reading rather than my writing. Which isn’t a bad thing, especially considering how much I read; it’s just a case of figuring out if I can afford the time, or if that time needs to be spent promoting my own work elsewhere.

As always, I find that my websites are the best basecamp, so I try to link back as much as possible to the websites.

Again, this is my experience, based on a few months’ worth of experimentation and interaction during a busy time, and then a break when the computer was in computer hospital. I’d hoped for more dynamic metrics, but, because so many of the sites aren’t ad-and-metric driven, it takes longer to see where the results of creative calls-to-action shake out.  I’m sure the experiences will grow and change on each platform as the population changes. People are going to try things and not like it. They will move to different platforms and try different things until they find something that meets their needs. Platforms have risen and fallen in that way since they began. I do still miss those original CompuServe bulletin boards. Those were fun, and quite the learning experience.

What new platforms are you experimenting with? What’s your experience on them?

Research Gets Harder

image courtesy of Foundry Co. via pixabay.com

Research Gets Harder

As we build our freelance careers, we and our clients find each other through a myriad of ways: referrals, seeing work and wanting to work with the creator, putting out an ad, LOIs (Letters of Introduction).

One of the most important (and time-consuming) portions of the finding-clients process is researching and vetting them. This is getting more and more difficult, because of all the disinformation out there. Is what you’re hearing/reading about a potential client true? How do you vet?

If it’s a referral, then the person making the referral matters. If I’m referred by someone with whom I’ve had a bad experience (such as late payment or change of direction without renegotiating a contract or multiple points of contact trying to be heard instead of the single point in the contract), then I do extra research.  Because if a problematic client refers me, the person to which I’m being referred may also be problematic.

Freelancers talking to each other is important, especially when there’s a sense of trust between them. If you talk to a fellow freelancer and trust them to tell you the truth of their experience, rather than worried they will try to sabotage you, everyone wins. If another freelancer, especially one I know well and respect, has a bad experience with a company, that’s a red flag on the company for me.

I keep a list of companies that have asked me for free labor as a part of the interview process. This includes any sort of “test” or expecting me to create something specific to their company, especially before any conversation has happened. “Oh, it’s just a headline” or “it’s just 300 words, it should take ten minutes” means they don’t understand what I do, and they don’t respect it.

Big Red Flag.

I have a specific contract for tests and samples. When the demand is made, I send the contract. Nine times out of ten, the company ghosts me. The tenth time, someone argues with me and says, “But I had to do it. It’s not a big deal.”

And my response is, “I’m sorry your self-esteem is so low. This company and I are not compatible.”

If someone asks me about a company and they’re on my list, I let them know the company expects free labor as part of the interview process, and the individual can decide from there.

I research the company online, see what kind of “giving to the community” they involve themselves in, check out Salary.com and Glassdoor’s reviews about companies, interview experiences, etc. Although, for the latter, if I don’t know the individual, I am less likely to take it at face value without digging deeper.

It gets even more complicated if you want to know the ethics and political positioning of the company. I don’t want to work for a company that funds politicians working to strip me of my rights and promoting authoritarianism. For me, there is no middle ground. Others will say, “Oh, politics doesn’t matter when you’re a professional. Just do the work.”

Fine for you. Not fine for me. Why would I give my time, energy, and creativity to a company actively working to cause harm? For a little cash? In the short run, it might help me as an individual. In the long run, it hurts the collective community.

Saying no up front is a better choice for me.

If I’m vetting a non-profit, I start here: Charity Navigator. Then, I take the information, and look for at least two independent, trustworthy confirmation sources (the way I did as a journalist).

When I want to know which candidates companies or executives donate to, I see if I can locate the politician’s public donor list. I check Followthemoney.org and Open Secrets. I use the FEC’s database of individual contributors. I also keep an eye on Marc Elias’s Democracy Docket, which fights to protect voting rights. With Citizens United, there’s plenty of dark money that’s harder to track, but these are places to start, and then, again, get independent, trustworthy confirmation sources.

Decisions are made from there.

This takes time.

But instead of saying “I don’t have time” I believe that choosing to place my time in this research serves my overall vision for my work and my career better.

How do you research companies in which you are interested?

It’s All Life

image courtesy of Dr. St. Claire via pixabay.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s the reality of the modern work.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Toxicity of “Team Player” Syndrome

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

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

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

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

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

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

Broadway.

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

Theatre.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t settle for less.

Expand Your Definition of “Freelance”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plan accordingly.

Lessons from the “Work Wins” Journal Experiment

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Lessons From the Work Wins Journal

At the beginning of September, one of my colleagues from the Freelance Chat, group, Matthew Denton of WinningSolo.com, presented us with a “Work Wins Journal Challenge” for September. He keeps a Work Wins Journal each day to track achievements, so the focus (as I understand it) is on what works and what is accomplished and what needs to be adjusted, rather than always worrying about what’s not getting done. He talks about it here.

Anything that involves a journal is like catnip for me, so of course I jumped in.

I kept the journal for work days, although I did list “accomplishments” if I got things done over the weekend.

Going back over his post, I had to laugh at myself. He talks about listing 3 things in ANY of his listed categories – meanwhile, I worked to make sure I had something in EVERY category EVERY day.

Oops.

Mercury Retrograde much?

But one of the things he talks about is how it helps spot patterns.

I had designated work days in the month. Labor Weekend fell in there, early one. And I had to take some additional days to recover from the COVID booster. So I lost a few days in there.

Looking back at the “Mindset” category, I’m dismayed by how often the entry was “burned out” or “exhausted.” Sometimes it would start optimistic, and fade as the day wore on. There were a few days marked “determined” or “tired but optimistic” and even fewer marked “optimistic.”

That means adjustments have to be made on the work front. I should be excited and feeling creative more days than not.

The Good Habits category held steady: early morning writing, yoga, meditation, work in various journals. I had wavered in my daily yoga/meditation practice in August, so it was good to get those back on track.

The Accomplishments tab was steady each day (and often on weekends, when I did additional or catch-up work. The “September Wrap Up” post over on the Goals, Dreams, and Resolutions site that went up this past Monday details those. So, in spite of feeling exhausted and burned out most of the time, I still got a lot done.

Client Feedback was trickier. Because so much of what I do is not in the traditional “client” mode, and, if anything, I’m moving further and further away from what many freelancers consider “client” relationships, that category is getting less and less relevant to my work. In the traditional client relationships, I got positive feedback per project, so it wasn’t at any set point. As far as script coverage, I received a steady stream of writer satisfaction bonuses and tips. On the writing front, the Topic Workbooks sold steadily, the serial is gaining traction (albeit slowly), the radio plays are well received. Editors and publishers and producers and  readers and creative collaborators aren’t clients, though. They are creative partners by my definition, even with financial exchange as part of the relationshp. I look at a client as someone for whom I do copy/content/business script writing. It’s very much a transaction of we contract, I create, you pay, we move on to other projects or other client partnerships. There’s definitely creativity involved on both sides, but it’s a different kind of creative partnership than with an editor or a producer or a publisher or a reader or someone with whom I’m creating an artform. Those creative partnerships also tend to talk longer to create, and therefore take longer to show financial gain.

Those partnerships are part of my work, and therefore my business – not a hobby, a side hustle, or something cute and unprofitable. But the relationship and definition are a little different. And becuase much of my work runs on royalties and residuals, that’s an entirely different payment system.

So, for what I do, “client feedback” is less relevant than simply “feedback.”

As far as supportive words from others, there was that, from trusted friends and colleagues. There, unfortunately, were also the usual condescending/patronizing/attempts to dimmish creative work as not “real” work in terms of business that irked me, but also showed me where I need to step back from certain engagements. I respect my work, and I expect others to respect it, too, even if they don’t understand it. If they try to diminish it, that gives me a lot of necessary information about the bigger picture.

The “things initiated” slot had quite a few listings, but most of those are long-term plans rather than immediate payouts. I admit, I was sadly behind on where I wanted/needed to be on LOIs. Part of that was frustration with attempts to design my autumn direct mail postcard, with my new Fearless Ink logo. Since my direct mail postcard campaign usually gets a 25% response rate and sets me up in those traditional client relationships well for the quarter, I need to get back on that.

I think, for coming months, I need to add a category after “things initiated” for “projects in progress” to track follow-through. Because, as stated above, much of what I do is long-term, and the path from “initiated” to “accomplished” has small victories along the way, and I want to acknowledge those.

On my GDR site, for the Monthly Wrap-Up, the categories I find useful are:

–Done

–In Process

–Moved/Dropped

–Unexpected Additions

–Disappointments

–Successes

That is more in alignment with my work, but only makes sense to list monthly, not daily (although I open the document at the beginning of the month and add things as they happen).

The “people helped” category was sometimes a challenge, and sometimes not. I don’t always know when I’ve helped someone, unless I see a request for information or answer a direct question/request. But there were a few people I know I helped over the month. Again, so much of what I do is solitary, I don’t know about the response/reaction/impact until months or years after completion.

It was a good experiment, and I’m glad I participated. Now I can see what needs to be adjusted, and how to do it in a way that works for what I do and need.

How do you track what’s working in your work life?

Your Roadmap Plan

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Why do you do what you do?

That’s an important question. Whether it’s a job, a career, a passion, or a mix, you need to know why you do what you do.

Maybe it’s just for the paycheck. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Maybe you love your job (and it’s a surprise) and it’s turned into a career.

Good for you!

Too many people hate their jobs, and then try to punish those around them who love their jobs.

But take responsibility for the “why” of what you do. That gives you a great deal of freedom.

Now, then, what do you WANT to do?

Maybe you’re doing what you want, and that’s wonderful.

Maybe your current job is a steppingstone to what you want.

If they are different, don’t lose sight of what you want because you’re either too comfortable in what you’re doing, or too afraid of change. If the pandemic taught us anything, it was how much misplaced loyalty most workers gave their companies, who thought nothing of throwing them away at the first sign of trouble. Which is why workers went off and started doing their own thing instead of going back to being treated like crap for subpar wages.

If you are not doing what you want to be doing, try this:

Take a piece of paper. Landscape orientation works better than portrait orientation for this exercise, and I suggest doing it by hand, not on screen.

On the far left, write what you do.

On the far right, write what you want to do.

On the page, they are relatively far apart.

How far apart are they in reality?

In the middle, jot a bunch of steps to take you from one to the other. Don’t do them linearly. Just jot them all over the middle of the page, squiggly, sideways, upside down, whatever. Write them down as you think of them, in no particular order. Take your time.

Go back and take a look at what you’ve written. It doesn’t have to be right away. Sometimes, it’s a good idea to put something aside for a bit, and then take another look.

Now number the steps, so there’s a sense of order (even though the steps are all over the page).

Take a different colored pen and draw a line from where you are to each step, in turn, to where you want to be. There will (and should) be criss-crossing lines, because creativity is not linear. The best journeys have tangents, while still driving to their destination.

How can you take that first step?

More importantly, WHEN will you take that first step?

Put the first step into your calendar.

Do it.

Look at the page and do one step at a time. Regularly reassess to see if your needs, interests, and goals have shifted. This is a roadmap, not a prison. You can take other exits as you wish.

But you need to start.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Content Calendar Tips

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Welcome back! I hope you had a lovely summer. Taking regular breaks from content creation (not just creating extra content ahead of time and scheduling to post) is something I find alleviates burnout.

I’ve created and uploaded content for client content calendars for all kinds of projects in my freelance career. But creating and doing them for my own projects this past summer was a revelation.

I had two large projects (each with multiple moving parts) that went live this summer, and I learned a lot about what I, as an individual artist who is also a small business, needs from a content calendar. I’m sharing what I learned, in the hopes that it will help you.

The two big projects I had were the re-released of updated editions of The Topic Workbooks and the launch of my mystery/fantasy/comedy serial LEGERDEMAIN. Both intersected at the end of July into August, and need steady promotion for as long as I can imagine.

The Topic Workbooks consist of seven workbooks, built around writing classes I’ve taught/continue to teach, both in person and online. Six of the workbooks were updated editions, integrating new technology, information, and changes in the industry.  Those were: THE SERIES BIBLE, SETTING UP YOUR SUBMISSION SYSTEM, THE GRAVEYARD OF ABANDONED PROJECTS, THE COMPLEX ANTAGONIST, ORGANIZE YOUR WRITING LIFE, and CREATIVE STIMULUS. The seventh workbook was for the class I taught at the beginning of August for the Cape Cod Writers Center Conference, and that was DEVELOPING THE SERIES (for novels, not screen). The workbooks initially re-released over three weeks, and then the promotion continued.

The serial, LEGERDEMAIN, started on Kindle Vella as of July 28, with episodes dropping every Tuesday and Thursday for as long as it’s viable. The initial vision contains three large story arcs. The first story arc is uploaded and scheduled, and runs 41 episodes. The next two will run between 30-40 episodes each. I know it takes several months to gain traction on Vella, unless one comes in with an already huge audience, so those ads had to be geared toward both short and long-term visions. The first three episodes are (and remain) free. The other episodes are read via the purchase of tokens.

The Topic Workbooks are non-fiction, geared toward writers and artists. They’re geared toward writers, but artists in other disciplines have also found them useful. The serial is fiction, geared to a genre audience who loves serials (most important), mystery, fantasy, and likes some odd humor sprinkled in.

Both campaigns had to launch, and then run, simultaneously.

I spent some time in the summer, while off from writing this blog, playing with online scheduling tools. I mixed, matched, and did comparisons of several. None of them fulfilled my needs, integrated the way I need them to, or could handle the fact that, as a freelance juggling multiple projects, things change ALL THE TIME.

So I went back to trusty old paper.

Content Vision

The first thing I had to do was to have a vision for the way I wanted to promote each project. The Topic Workbooks are pretty straightforward. They are consistent. These editions are updated and published, with fresh covers. I keep them priced low, so that they’re budget-friendly, and they’ve always made up in volume what they lack in high prices for individual workbooks. Distinctive ads in a similar style with blurbs and buy links would do the trick. Consistent promotion, albeit changing up the type of promotion, makes the most sense. The Topic Workbooks have their own page on the flagship DevonEllingtonWork site, so links can take interested viewers back to that page on the site, and then the individual buy links for the buyer’s device is readily available, including library sites.

The serial is a little more complicated. Two episodes drop per week. That means each episode needs an individual ad that’s a hook for that specific episode. It also needs more general ads as a draw to the series in general. Also, the hooks can’t give too much away, or someone could just follow the episode ads and feel like they don’t need to read the series. While there’s mention of the serial on the main DevonEllingtonWork site, there’s enough material, and enough tertiary material to build its own subdomain site for Legerdemain. (Note: this site has some content up, but is still under construction at the time of this posting, and has not been widely promoted).

Because of Amazon’s strict rule that content can’t be anywhere other than on their site (and they won’t even let me link the website to the serial), I had to figure out a  workaround of additional fun content that didn’t break the Kindle Vella laws, gave readers who follow the serial some fun additional content, and gave potential readers a taste of tone to drive them to start reading.

The Topic Workbook content is fairly static, and will be changed as individual workbooks are updated every few years, and as new workbooks are added (because you didn’t think I was done, did you? I mean, this is me we’re talking about). There’s also a Media Kit in progress, which will go up on both the Workbook page, and in the site’s Media Room.

LEGERDEMAIN’s content will grow as long as the serial grows.

Someday, LEGERDEMAIN will stop being a serial, have to take a breath when it comes off Kindle Vella (I’m thinking at least 3-5 years down the road), and then become something else. The website will be able to support whatever it turns into. Again, that content is created with a vision toward both short and long term.

Frequency

How often to post?

At the launch of each Topic Workbook, I decided to do an intense 13-day campaign of one to two ads per day across social media. After the initial 13-days, I would run one ad per workbook per week. That took me through the end of September. Now that it is September, I am looking at the workbooks and deciding what the vision is for promotion October – December.

Series Bible Ad
Setting Up Your Submissions System Ad

With LEGERDEMAIN, each pair of episodes gets an intense campaign during their week, until the next week’s episodes drop. For August and September, I then run day-long weekend campaigns with all episodes to date. On top of that, I pop some general ads in there. Again, in October, I’m changing it up a little, for the overall series, while keeping the intense focus on the ads for episodes as they go live.

Example of an episode-specific ad for LEGERDEMAIN
Ecample of a general ad for LEGERDEMAIN
Example of a general ad for LEGERDEMAIN

I vary the hours for both the workbooks and the serial ads, because I want to take a look at the metrics and then see what works well where.

When I created content for a clothing designer, I scheduled the daily content to post at noon each day, because people were looking at social media during their lunch hour or just before/after, and that got the highest response.

The Content Itself

I create batches of content. I created each workbook ad as soon as the workbook was ready to publish. As soon as the buy links went live, I added them to the ads and to the various websites on which they can be found.

Same with LEGERDEMAIN. I uploaded/scheduled the polished episodes in batches of 10 (although I had most of the first arc written and revised before I uploaded anything, in case I needed to plan something early on for the end). As soon as I uploaded the episode and noted the release date, I create the episode log lines, and then I can create the individual episode ads. Then, I go back through that batch of episodes to see what general ads I can create from the content about other businesses, themes, or jokes that are in those episodes, and where I can expand on information for the website that would drag down the pace and the narrative drive of the serial itself.

Uploading the Content

I block off several hours, and I upload and schedule at least a month of content, preferably two or three, in that time period. If you use a scheduling tool like Buffer or Hootsuite, you can schedule across multiple platforms (provided your subscription allows it). It’s worth it, because then you don’t have to think about it for two or three months.

For the Topic Workbooks, as soon as I got the buy link, I started uploading and scheduling the content I planned through the end of September. When I decide on October – December’s content and frequency, I will block off a few hours and upload/schedule all of that in one go, too.

Because I have the content ready to go (it’s created before I upload), the upload/scheduling time goes relatively quickly. It takes about 2 hours to upload 2-3 months’ worth of daily content.

I also use the weekly calendar sheets broken down into hours by General Blue and write in what ads run where. I can see how the content flows, and where I have room to plug in other projects (because releasing ads for different projects at the same time is often counterproductive). They can run close together, even just a few minutes apart, but not releasing at the same moment.

For the serial, as soon as the episodes are scheduled and I’ve created the episode loglines and episode-specific ads, I block off time and upload that next block of episodes. This is where having the hourly paper calendar comes in handy, because I can see what episodes have promotions scheduled when, and build on themes and images. When the general ads are created, I slot those in around the episode ads. Again, it usually takes a couple of hours to schedule a month or more of content. It’s worth it, because then I don’t have to think about it; I just have to look at metrics later on.

The social media promotions I do are on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Ello, Counter Social, and Tumblr. Then, there are other ads or direct mail pieces, depending on the project and budget. Don’t forget the budget! The content calendar integrates all of it.

Metrics

I look at the traffic that’s driven to the various sites by the ads, and then, of course, the sales that result. It’s harder to do with the serial, because Amazon holds their information close to the vest, and doesn’t allow links to individual episodes, or metrics on individual episodes, just to the general page. And I couldn’t build momentum ahead of the launch, because the page on the Vella site for the serial didn’t go live until the serial went live. On top of that, one cannot gift tokens or use Amazon gift cards for tokens for the serial, which affects things like promotional giveaways.

I expect it will be 4-6 months before I get a real sense of how the ads are doing in the bigger picture.

In the smaller picture, I see regular sales reports, and I can also see who and how often colleagues on social media are liking or boosting my work. That figures into my personal metrics. I boost the heck out of the work of friends and colleagues. If I don’t get that in return, or if I suspect they’ve muted the ads or the project, it’s not become a non-reciprocal relationship.

 Yes, I know, all that “you have the right to curate your timeline” and “you do you” and all the other palliatives. You DO have the right to curate your timeline for your own purposes and pleasures.

So do I.

Writing is my business, not my hobby. It is how I keep a roof over my head, and the bills paid. I mix and match a wide variety of writing in my profession. But it is my profession, and that means I have to promote my work.

That doesn’t mean I DM people asking them to buy. That’s tacky and unprofessional.  And someone who DMs me immediately after a mutual follow to sell me something, anything, is guaranteed to be blocked, and put on the list of “never buy anything from this person ever.”

If I’m promoting the heck of someone’s work and they never promote mine, then they’ve become a drain on my resources and my energy, and I want them off my timeline. I clear out my timeline once or twice a year. It gets out the deadweight, and then I can go back to having actual conversations and interactions. How someone supports or does not support my work affects the place they have (or don’t have) in my life. While I may mute some threads that get overly tangled, I tend not to mute people. I’m either in or out. Either I accept all of someone’s facets, or I’d rather steer clear. And if someone is “muting” me because I promote that which keeps a roof over my head or for any other reason, that means they aren’t accepting all of my different facets, and the further I get away right quick, the better for my life and work.

But hey, “you do you.”

Conclusion

Planning content ahead of time makes a huge difference. A content calendar helps you track what happens where, where there are holes you can turn into opportunities, where content gets crowded and needs a little breathing room.

By making the time to plot out your content, by making the time to create the content, and then batch uploading/scheduling, you take the immediate pressure off the day to day, and that allows you to create more (which you will then have to promote).

The content calendar supports both the plan and the execution. It will help you when you analyze your metrics, and find the best times/days to schedule your content. It will help you see where you need more, and where you can cut back.

It has also taught me how to adjust my rates, should I go back to offering this type of service for clients again in the future. As a solopreneur, I am the creator and the content manager. However, when I take on clients, I am the content WRITER, NOT the graphic designer OR the social media manager. Too often companies are hiring one person to do all three jobs when they are three separate jobs and require different skills, time frames, and headspaces. Not only that, most companies want to pay a single person to do three jobs only a portion of what one job is worth. Don’t sell yourself short. If you CHOOSE to accept a position where you are creating, doing graphics, and managing the content calendar/uploading/metrics, make sure you charge enough to encompass all three sets of skills.

But the calendar is THE tool that eases pressure AND promotes positive engagement, which is good all around! And batch creating and batch uploading/scheduling makes the next few months much calmer.