Ink-Dipped Advice

Ink-Dipped Advice: The New Face of An Old Problem

Content mills are back. They’ve never really left, but most freelancers who actually want to establish a real career in this professon turned their backs on these mills.

However, they’ve returned. Rebranded as agencies that provide content to help small companies grow.

Perhaps some of them actually do this. But the ones I’ve researched thus far (because it sounded like they were legitimately hiring freelance writers for a variety of interesting projects) have this in common:

They GROSSLY underpay writers.

One of them gave me a per-piece quote. The price seemed low unless it was a REALLY short piece. So I asked about word count. They wanted a word count that turned the per-word rate for the piece into .03/word.

No, thanks.

They also wanted a commitment of 5-6 articles per week, at 1.5-3K/article.

At a rate that works out to .03/word.

Oh, there’s more: they have to approve a certain number of sources per article. Which, to me, echoes a publication I quit when they told me I could only mention ad buyers in my articles.

That’s not how it works, people.

Article sources aren’t tied to the advertising budget of the publication. Sources are relevant to the veracity of the article.

Then there’s the agency supposedly “hiring” freelancers. Yet when they put out a call for an assignment, they will “submit” you (but only if you have project specific samples) and then you have to do the negotiation with the client. Why do I need someone to submit me if the rate we discussed and agreed upon for me to come and work under your company’s banner has nothing to do with any of the assignments?

“You have to work your way up to our agreed rates through a series of client-managed assignments.”

No, actually, I don’t.

I can pitch directly to clients with whom I think I’d be a good fit. Cut out the middle man. No worries about the agreed-upon rate being changed.

Many of these companies have slick websites that look and sound good until you break down the market-speak. One of these even made one of the local lists about being a one of the top local companies. Yet when you strip away Adobe Flash, it’s still a content mill.

Needless to say, run for the hills when they try to lure in the business by saying they provide content at low rates. Red flag. Right there.

Be careful. Beware. Trust your instincts. Go directly to the companies that need writers. Avoid “agencies” who want to pimp you out cheaply while they profit.

UPDATE: There’s a a problem with the reCaptcha — my host is working on it. In the meantime, freelancer Paula Hendrickson had this to add:

“I was talking about this exact thing this morning—how content mills that paid $5 per “article” seem to have been replaced by content agencies that might pay $50 per “article,” often for an undefined scope or length. They tout how much you can earn per month by writing 10 articles per week, while glossing over the fact that they’re probably keeping more than half what their clients are paying them while you’re working full time for less than minimum wage.  That doesn’t allow  you time to seek out better-paying clients on your own, which perpetuates the cycle.
They might call themselves “agencies” now. They may have realized that they can’t get decent copy at $5 a pop, and increased their rates from pathetically low to super low. But it’s still a mill system: pay providers the smallest amount of money possible, demand a high output of product, then sell their product for as much as you can milk out of it and keep the profits for yourself.”

Ink-Dipped Advice: Fred Needs a Writer: Chapter 6 — The Right Writer (and Graphic Designer) for the Job

Our story so far: Small business owner Fred needs a part-time marketing writer for his floor installation business. After advice from his friend, he put an ad on Craigslist and got a variety of responses. He asked for writing samples specific to his company; he received some, but his first choice of writer refused to do one for free. He interviewed several candidates. Each has strengths and weaknesses, and he’s not sure which one will be the right fit. He hires Brianna. At first, he’s happy, but lately, he feels like she’s not giving him the time and attention the job needs. At a Chamber of Commerce meeting, he runs into his first choice, and decides to meet and see how they’d work together.

Our final chapter: Fred discovers he’s nervous before his meeting with Jenny and Gretchen. He decides to stop at the bakery to get coffee and treats.

The meeting itself surprises him. After a few minutes, he forgets it’s a meeting. Jenny and Gretchen ask him questions about his business, about how it started and was passed down in the family. He finds himself telling anecdotes he’d long forgotten, and making notes to dig in the old albums for photographs.

He likes the way Jenny says, “There are several ways we could approach this” and then talks about the different ways. He likes that there are genuine differences.

“I like what I do,” he says. “I like my customers. Maybe it’s old-fashioned to like one’s customers, but I don’t think they’re stupid. I try to give them a floor that will look good, wear well, and help them live a good life. It’s not the most important job in the world, but then, most people don’t spend as much time thinking about floors all day as I do.”

He’s shocked that the women find this delightful. He’s shy when he brings out the ideas and the budget he put together. “It’s not much of a budget,” he admits, “but I’m not sure what things cost.”

“The point is to get the best results where you put your money,” says Jenny. “We can track the data, and interpret it, and see if it gets the results you want. If and when it doesn’t, we change direction. The most important thing is to capture your voice, your personality, your passion for your work, and spread it to the widest audience.”

They chart out an initial, six-month campaign that mixes articles, blog posts, direct mail, email blasts, and social media. They add a series of discount codes for new customers who come to them through one of the channels, so they can see who comes through which channel. They will buy a couple of ads in local publications. Jenny encourages Fred to set up another library talk (which she will promote), about sustainable floor materials. She knows of a library hosting a series of sustainability talks, and she thinks his would fit in nicely.

They make some adjustments in the budget, but it’s workable for Fred. Jenny and Gretchen’s fees are higher than anyone else he interviewed, but he likes their talent and enthusiasm.

The next day, Jenny forwards over a contract. This time, Fred reads it with care. It is what they discussed, although overnight he re-considered one or two points. They discuss the points, agree on a compromise, and sign. Fred sends a deposit. Fred tells Brianna he’s “changing direction.” He never even gets a response. At Jenny’s suggestion, he changes all his passwords.

Most of the work is done remotely, although Jenny is around to talk to the staff, pick up photographs, and she and Gretchen oversee a photo shoot with a professional photographer. Everything arrives on time, and it’s even better than Fred hoped.

“You’re paying those girls too much,” snorts Kurt. “And for what?”

“They’re professional women and delivering good quality work,” says Fred. “They’re worth it.”

Kurt mutters a few things about feminism, and Fred doesn’t pay attention. Maybe he should challenge Kurt, but it’s not worth the energy.

Jenny warned him that direct mail usually gets about a 3% rate. He is happily surprised when his gets a 7% rate. The showroom is hopping, and he has plenty to keep his staff busy. His social media response rate is about 4%, still above the average.

“We’ll learn and tweak,” Jenny promises.

Fred does another interview, this time with a regional newspaper. That generates even more business. An online publication responds to one of Jenny’s press releases, and that piece gets him more visibility. He’s asked to speak at the Elks Club, and then to present at a home sustainability conference. He’s even a featured speaker for the Chamber one month. Kurt makes fun of him, but Fred doesn’t care. The library invites him back for a panel discussion with all the sustainability speakers.

“I’m not much of a speaker,” Fred worries.

“You understand your topic, and you’re a good guy,” says Jenny. “That translates.”

He hires her to help him craft a few things she calls “talking points” and he calls “cue cards” that help keep him on track for the speeches.

Reporters start contacting him to ask him for quotes about topics on floors and sustainability. Fred starts reading more, and spending more time studying RENEWABLE ENERGY magazine and on the website for the American Council on Renewable Energy. He also talks about projects that can use flooring that’s ripped out of a site and repurposed into other objects.

The website is freshened, there’s regular interaction on social media (Jenny sends him a weekly report, summarizing any conversations she thinks he should know about; she also immediately forwards any information if someone mentions interest in the product).

Jenny encourages his desire to send clients holiday cards by mail. She suggests he segment his list between clients and prospects, with a different card and message on each type.

Fred is surprised. Clients are pleased to hear from him. Some of the prospects ask if they can set up appointments after the holidays.

“There will be times when things level off,” said Jenny. “Then we’ll come up with something fresh, and we’ll make some more gains.”

“Kurt said we’re bound to fail because people don’t need new floors very often,” said Fred. “He thinks I should install floors that will need replacing after a few years. But I don’t want to install low quality floors.”

“Stick to the quality of your product,” Jenny advises. “You’re becoming an expert source. People trust you.”

That’s the part Fred likes. He gets to meet new and interesting people, who like hearing about floors. His website and mail pieces reflect things he cares about. He can keep his workers employed steadily and even give them a raise. He can talk to Jenny and Gretchen honestly. They don’t make him feel old or out-of-touch. They can take some of his stodgier ideas and put a retro flair spin on them. He enjoys learning new things, and enjoys communicating

Fred and his business are both thriving because his message is successfully communicated to the right audience by the right people.

It’s worth the price.

It took him awhile, but he made the right choice.

What are your best freelance experiences, as the client, or the freelancer? I’d love to hear about them here.

Ink-Dipped Advice: 18th Anniversary of 9/11


image courtesy of web-36reg via pixabay.com

I will never get over the events of 9/11. Forty-two people I knew died that day.  I learn to live with it.

I also schedule as little as possible that day out of respect.

For me, life “going on” doesn’t mean that I book appointments that day like any other day. I do what I need to do to show respect for the day and the dead.

Everyone has to deal with this day in a way that works for them. This is how it works for me.

I will be back with the next chapter of Fred Needs a Writer next Wednesday.

Peace, my friends. Let’s hope we can build a better world before it’s too late.

INK-DIPPED ADVICE: Chapter 5: Fred Attends The Chamber Breakfast

Fred Needs A Writer: Chapter 5. The Chamber Breakfast

Our story so far: Small business owner Fred needs a part-time marketing writer for his floor installation business. After advice from his friend, he put an ad on Craigslist and got a variety of responses. He asked for writing samples specific to his company; he received some, but his first choice of writer refused to do one for free. He interviewed several candidates. Each has strengths and weaknesses, and he’s not sure which one will be the right fit. He hires Brianna. At first he’s happy, but lately, he feels like she’s not giving him the time and attention the job needs.

Fred sees the email about the local chamber of commerce breakfast. He hasn’t gone to any events in over a year, although he keeps up his membership. To him Chamber of Commerce membership is a responsibility like voting and serving jury duty.

Kurt and Sandy are going, so at least he’ll know someone.

Fred is surprised by all the new faces, and people of all ages. Even at this hour of the morning, there are lively conversations and lots of laughter. The spread looks pretty good, too. It’s at a local restaurant. Fred’s known the owner, Bart, since they were in school since kindergarten together, and his wife Muriel since she married Bart.

Fred goes over to say hello. “This place looks great,” he says. “You painted? And is that a new logo?”

“We did.” Bart grins at him. “Same good, old-fashioned home cooking, but we freshened the look of the place.”

Fred thinks back to the past few weeks. “You know, I noticed you’re all over the papers. Margaret showed me the article. My daughter said you’re doing a lot on social media.”

“We hired it out,” says Bart. “I can barely Facebook with the grandkids. I don’t enjoy it, and don’t want to make the time.”

“Who’d you hire?” Fred asks. “I hired someone recently, but I think I made the wrong choice.”

“Some of your posts have been a little strange lately,” Bart agrees. “Muriel saw them. Said they don’t sound like you, and were confusing.”

“We were trying to be relevant,” says Fred.

“It seemed more like trying for irony, but came across as sarcasm,” says Bart. “Let me introduce you to the team I hired: Jenny Cotter and Gretchen Rojas. Jenny writes and handles all the posting. Gretchen does the graphics. They’re not cheap, but they’re worth every penny. They’re over there, talking to Jillian.”

“Jillian, of Jillian’s Treasures?” Fred asks. “That new store on Commercial Street?”

“Same Jillian. She’s new to town. Just opened at the start of the season.”

“I see her ads and her logo everywhere,” says Fred. “My wife and daughter kept seeing her name, and started shopping there. Now, they won’t stop.”

“Everyone’s heard of her thanks to Jenny and Gretchen. Come on and say hi.”

Bart introduces Fred to Jillian, Jenny, and Gretchen, who are having a lively conversation. Fred suddenly realizes this is the Jenny whose writing he liked so much, the one who wouldn’t do free samples.

“I wish I’d hired you,” he blurts out.

“You still can,” Jenny smiles at him. “Gretchen and I are a good team.”

They set an appointment to meet at Fred’s showroom.

Fred fills his plate at the buffet and joins Kurt and Sandy. “Don’t see why Bart’s wasting so much money on advertising when the food’s the same,” Kurt mutters.

“The food is good,” says Fred. “Now more people know about it, that’s all.”

“And the locals won’t be able to park and come in for a good meal,” Kurt frets. He changes the subject. “Does Margaret know you’re flirting with younger women?”

“I’m not flirting.” Fred turns red, because he was tempted to flirt. A little. “Jillian has a nice new store that Margaret and my daughter both like. I told her. Jenny and Gretchen do her marketing, and they’re doing Bart’s, too.”

“I don’t know where that Jillian woman gets off thinking she can come here and take over,” Sandy sniffs.

“She’s not your competition,” Fred points out.

“Of course she is,” says Sandy.

Fred has no idea what she means.

“All that over-priced eco-feminist stuff.” Kurt shakes his head. “Waste of money.

“Are you sure you mean eco-feminist?” Fred has no idea what Kurt means.

“Can’t say anything these days with all this political correctness,” Kurt moans. “You can’t mention color. You can’t mention sex. You can’t mention nationality. What can you talk about anymore?”

Fred thinks it has to do more with being a decent human being than politics, but changes the subject. “I made an appointment with Jenny and Gretchen.”

“Both of them?” Kurt snorts. “They’re taking you for a ride, buddy. You don’t need two more women working for you.”

“One writes, one does graphics.”

“Find someone who does both. You save half.”

“That didn’t work so well this time.”

Kurt shrugs. “Your money to waste.”

Fred starts to feel like he’s wasted a lot of time over the years with Kurt.

As they eat, the head of the chamber greets them, and then invites everyone to say a few words about themselves and their business. Fred enjoys listening to the people who run the businesses he uses, and he enjoys listening to the new people. He think Kurt sounds a bit bombastic, and Sandy a little desperate.

When it’s his turn, he feels shy. He tells an anecdote about his father’s time building the business and how his father always said, “You have to stand on something. It might as well be both sturdy and pretty.” It gets a decent laugh.

Jillian’s presentation is charming. Jenny and Gretchen do theirs together, and it’s funny and smart. Fred thinks it’s wonderful. Kurt looks annoyed, and Sandy bored.

He can’t even get near Jenny and Gretchen after the presentations, but waves in their direction as he leaves and looks forward to their meeting.

“Want to play a round this afternoon?” Kurt asks.

Fred shakes his head. “I’m on my way out to a house at the waterfront. They left the slider open on the deck in the storm last week and the floors buckled. I suspect the builder put in something cheap, so we’ll rip it all out and put in a good hard wood.”

Kurt is disappointed. Fred would rather talk flooring with a new client than listen to Kurt moan about the breakfast for 18 holes.

Besides, once he gets back from the client meeting, he’s going to fire Brianna.

Do you attend Chamber events? What is your experience? What advice do you have for Fred?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Fred Needs A Writer Chapter 4: The Hire

 

Our story so far: Small business owner Fred needs a part-time marketing writer for his floor installation business. After advice from his friend, he put an ad on Craigslist and got a variety of responses. He asked for writing samples specific to his company; he received some, but his first choice of writer refused to do one for free. He interviewed several candidates. Each has strengths and weaknesses, and he’s not sure which one will be the right fit.

Fred decides to offer Walter the job.

“I’m interested in the job,” says Walter. “But now let’s talk money.”

Fred is puzzled. “I stated in the interview that the job was 10-15 hours a week, at minimum wage.”

“Sure you did,” says Walter. “That’s the starting point for the negotiation.”

“Negotiation?”

“You can’t expect a marketing professional to work for minimum wage,” says Walter. “That’s for manual labor or fast food or an internship. Professionals get professional rates.”

Fred thinks about the people Kurt and Sandra hire. They’re young, starting out.

“Also,” says Walter, “rather than charge by the hour, I prefer to work per project. What kind of projects are we talking?”

“Whatever comes up,” says Fred. “It changes.”

“I’ll leave you a rate sheet and you can call me when you want to get started.” Walter pulls a piece of paper out of his briefcase, hands it to Fred, and gets up, holding out his hand. “I look forward to working with you.”

Fred is confused. This isn’t at all the way they discussed working in the interview.

“He’s not the right choice,” says Margaret.

Fred decides to offer Mallory the job. She will bring some much-needed quiet to the office.

“Oh,” she says. “I didn’t think I’d hear from you. You know how it is; you go on a dozen interviews and never hear from anyone again.”

Fred didn’t know how it was.

“Anyway,” says Mallory, “I’ve accepted another job. It’s full-time, with benefits, and room for growth.”

“Congratulations,” says Fred.

“Don’t hire Cole,” warns Margaret. “You can’t rely on him.”

Fred leaves Cole a message that he didn’t get the job. After all, it’s only fair, especially after what Mallory told him.

That leaves him with Brianna. He’s not sure she’s right for the job, but maybe her fresh ideas will work. It’s either that, or start looking for more candidates and holding more interviews. The thought of it exhausts Fred.

“You can always just use the samples they wrote for you,” says Kurt. “That will buy you some time.”

Fred thinks that’s wrong (thanks to Jenny’s education), and decides to offer the job to Brianna.

Brianna accepts the job, although she manages to negotiate up to $20/hour. “It’s still lower than my regular rate,” she says. “But I can live with that, for now. This is only part-time, and I’ll have to make it up on my other gigs.”

Penny only gets $15 an hour, even though she’s worked for Fred for several years. He feels like he can’t give Brianna $20/hour without giving Penny the same.

“Don’t be stupid,” says Kurt. “It’s not their business, what each other are paid. Don’t say anything.”

Fred doesn’t feel right about it. Penny is thrilled to get a $5/hour raise.

“You did the right thing,” says Margaret. “But let’s hope Brianna’s good enough to get us enough new business to cover the increased expense.”

Brianna gives him a contract. He glances at it, mostly to make sure the hours and the rate are correct, and signs it.

The first month goes well. Brianna shows up on time, has a positive attitude. She talks to everybody, shadows the other employees, takes lots of photos. She goes to several sites, gets the proper permissions from the homeowners, and takes and posts photos of the work on the website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumbler. She freshens up some of the content on the website, and changes the wording so it’s more fun.

She designs a Facebook ad for a limited-time sale rate, and they do something called “boosting” it. It doesn’t cost very much, only about 100 dollars. According to the data Brianna shows him, it reached 3,197 people. They got 21 calls from it, and 7 walk-ins. It looks like a little more than half of them will actually become customers.

“You need to attend more chamber events and more business events,” she suggests. “Unless you want to pay me to attend.”

“You should do a podcast,” she suggests. “Or a blog.”

That sounds interesting to Fred, until she gives him the cost sheet. “You hired me for social media,” she says. “Look at the contract. Anything that’s not a social media post is an additional charge.”

That includes press releases, which worries Fred. He expected press releases included in the hourly rate. He’s annoyed that he didn’t read the contract more closely in the first place. When he re-reads it, he sees Brianna is correct. It’s all clearly spelled out. Very different terms than they discussed, but this is what he signed.

But Brianna knows a local reporter and convinces him to come and do a story for the paper. Brianna takes the pictures. It looks nice. Fred frames a copy and hangs it up in the store. Brianna buys several copies of the paper (on Fred’s dime). She scans one copy of the article, and makes physical photocopies. She puts them in something she calls a “clip file” and keeps one copy for her own portfolio.

They get more phone calls, and even more walk-ins, although fewer of these walk-ins seem like they’ll actually buy anything. The article just made them curious. But that’s okay. Maybe a year or so down the road, they’ll need a new floor, and they’ll call him.

But then, Brianna starts changing her hours. Fred never knows when she will come in. At first, she calls, and asks for more flexibility, due to her other jobs. But then, she stops calling, and comes in and out at random times, but just for an hour or two. Social media posts still go up regularly. Brianna still bills him for the same amount of hours, saying she’s working remotely.

Sometimes, she shows up when Penny is there. Since they are supposed to share a desk and computer, it means Brianna perches on a stool in the showroom, working from her iPad.

The number of new customers has fallen off. Fred wants to sit down with Brianna to plan out a long-term campaign. He’s proud of himself for even setting up a budget, albeit a small one.

But Brianna never seems to have the time.

When Fred tries to bring this up, Brianna says, “Look, you’re my lowest paying client. I can’t afford to work for you if I have to give you priority over my higher-paying clients.”

“All I’m asking for is the time for which you contracted.” He points to the contract.

“It says 10-15 hours,” Brianna replies. “It doesn’t say when they have to happen.”

Fred isn’t sure what to do. What advice would you give Fred?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Fred Needs A Writer Chapter 3: Interviews

 

Our story so far: Small business owner Fred need a part-time marketing writer for his floor installation business. After advice from his friend, he put an ad on Craigslist and got a variety of responses. He asked for writing samples specific to his company; he received some, but his first choice of writer refused to do one for free.

Chapter 3: Interviewing Candidates

Fred sets up a series of interviews over several days, in his office. He wants to see the candidates in person, and he wants them to see the workspace, which contains flooring samples and a small warehouse.

Jenny withdrew from consideration when she found out that he didn’t pay for writing samples. Fred is disappointed, but he understands. If he paid her, he’d have to pay all of them, and that runs into more money than he wants to spend. Kurt tells him to just pay Jenny, if he likes her so much; the others will never know. But Fred doesn’t feel right about it and won’t do that.

Walter shows up with a portfolio that is partially in a file, and partially online. He’s a nice enough guy (although he was five minutes late for the interview). The graphics are good, but even Fred notices the mis-spellings and mis-use of words. When he points them out, Walter shrugs. “Nobody notices that,” he says.

Fred noticed. He wonders if that makes him “nobody.”

Walter walks around the showroom. He’s personable and starts chatting with the sales guy, and with the guys loading the truck for today’s jobs. He jokes with Margaret and with Penny. He’s a perfectly nice guy with a good eye for design. Who can’t spell.

They talk marketing budget, and Walter says he can work within the range Fred gives him.

Brianna shows up right on time and talks a lot, very fast. She talks about how she wants to see the showroom rearranged to get better pictures. All her work is online, and it’s mostly in the gif and jokey format. “It’s not like anyone is going to pay attention for more than fifteen seconds to a floor,” she says.

When it comes to budget, Brianna tells Fred he needs to triple it in order to have any hope of a return. She also urges him to stop all print marketing and only do digital. She suggests he hire someone to design an app.

Cole doesn’t show up.

Mallory is a nice young woman, a little shy, but it takes her a long time to get to the point of any sentence. She’s polite, but quiet with the other people in the office. Fred thinks it might be restful.

“How could she possible figure out how to create a three-word banner?” Margaret wonders. “She’s more of a novelist than someone who writes ad copy.”

Three days after the interview, a scruffy guy with a large portfolio shows up, just as Fred is locking up for the night. It’s Cole.

His artwork is good, but to Fred it looks like it should be a mural on the side of a building, or a painting in a gallery. There aren’t any words on his pieces.

“The graphics speak for themselves,” says Cole.

Fred isn’t sure how Cole can get the graphic to say, “Buy your new floor here and have me install it.”

But the images are striking.

Walter is the most easy-going and fits what Fred thinks of when he thinks, “marketing guy.” Brianna has good ideas about modern technology. Cole is unreliable but talented. Mallory is shy and pleasant, but not succinct.

He’s the most comfortable with Walter (his daughter says, “You’re such an old white man, Dad.”) He feels like he wants to give Cole or Mallory the chance, but he’s not sure either one can provide what he needs. Nor does he want to miss out on the way marketing evolves, and Brianna seems to have the best handle on that.

Which candidate would you choose? Why or why not? What advice would you give to Fred?

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

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

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

Chapter 2: Fred Asks for Writing Samples

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next week: Fred interviews the candidates.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Fred Needs a Writer (A Freelance Parable) – Chapter 1 – The Ad

We’re going to spend a few weeks on a parable of sorts about different approaches to hiring writers.

Let’s chart some possibilities. We’ll use the fictional Fred as an example. Fred runs a small business that installs flooring. He lives in a medium-sized community that has a brisk summer tourist trade, and “summer people” are the bulk of his business, along with a smaller clientele of year-round residents. We will spend time with Fred, learning different ways he can grow his business, from several sides of the marketing table — Fred’s side, his writer’s side, and his target audience’s side.

It’s a family-owned business. Fred took over from his father. Sometimes, his sons and daughter work for him in the summer. His wife, Margaret, takes care of the bookkeeping and some of the administrative work. Penny, a retired teacher, comes in part-time as an office assistant, 15 hours a week, to help with invoicing and correspondence and other stuff so that his wife can focus on the bookkeeping, payroll, and her many interests outside of the business, such as the local garden club, a book club, a knitting circle, and volunteering for the hospital auxiliary thrift shop.

The business has been in a holding pattern for the past eighteen months. They’re still in the black, but they haven’t expanded much. Fred would like to add clients, but he’s not sure how to get information out there. He’s got a Facebook page for the business, and his daughter talks about Instagram, but how interesting is it for customers to see his guys fitting floorboards on Instagram? Fred used to word-of-mouth to grown his client base, or meeting people directly. Fred likes people; if he can meet them, they usually get along, and when they need his services, they remember him.

But he can’t meet everyone in his region personally. He can’t afford to hire sales reps to go door-to-door. He’s tried those coupon-book direct mail packages, and taken ads in the local paper, but that didn’t bring in enough new business to cover the cost of the ads. His wife’s best friend Carla works in the library and suggested he give a program on the eco-friendly flooring he started using. Only three people turned up, and none of them became customers.

He talks to his golfing buddy, Kurt. Kurt runs a small real estate agency, mostly dealing in summer rentals. His wife, Sandy, runs an event company that specializes in weddings, showers, and large summer parties.

“Anyone can slap a few words together and send out a press release,” says Kurt. “I just have the girl answering the phone do it in between phone calls and scheduling appointments.”

“How much do you pay them?”

“I never pay more than minimum wage.” Kurt is proud of that. It makes him feel smart. He keeps everyone part time, with no benefits, paid holidays, or sick days, although he “generously” will let people work additional hours if they’ve been sick.

“I hire girls on college break,” says Sandy. “They work the events, and they post to social media and take photographs. Good photos are so important in our business. They have to know Photoshop. They are required to use their own iPhones, laptops, everything. If they don’t own the technology, I’m not going to hire them. Saves us on equipment, you know.”

Fred thinks these young women sound skilled. “How much do you pay them?” he asks.

“I never pay more than minimum wage.” Like her husband, she is proud of this. Even in busy times, she makes sure to only hire part-time help, so she doesn’t have to worry about pesky extras like benefits or sick days or paid holidays. Both of them find their employees through Craigslist.

Okay, minimum wage. Fred asks Margaret to run some numbers. They could afford to hire someone for minimum wage for ten to fifteen hours a week. But he’s uncomfortable asking them to use their own equipment. Fred asks his brother, who lives in a city and travels for work, about the equipment.

“I have my personal cell phone and a desktop computer at home,” his brother tells him. “My employer pays for my company phone and company laptop, which I use when I travel, and when I need to take work home. I wouldn’t work for someone who didn’t.”

Well, okay, then. If Fred schedules the new person during times when Penny isn’t there, they can share a computer in the office.

Fred posts an ad on Craigslist, advised by Kurt. He and Margaret are astonished by the replies. They receive replies from all over the country. Fred wants someone in the office; he wants someone local. He’s not sure how people from three thousand miles away found his little ad. One of them mentions that she saw the ad on a job board that picked up the listing and posted it.

The other astonishing factor is that most of the responses are poorly spelled, with inconsistent grammar, and the majority of them think he’s hiring additional manual labor. Few of them have even included a resume. Some of the attachments he can’t open, because they are in a format not compatible with his computer.

When he asks his daughter why he can’t open a file, she says, “Did you tell them in the ad what format you needed?”

Fred admits it never occurred to him. His daughter rolls her eyes.

What advice would you give Fred?

Next week: Fred asks for writing samples.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Holding To Your Own Standards

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

They often fail to live up to it.

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

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

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

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

But it’s rude, infuriating, and unprofessional.

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

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

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

Kind of told me what I needed to know.

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

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

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

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

These matter.

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

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

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