Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Tool of the trade

Aside from my computer, there's no tool more important in my freelancing arsenal than my Olympus DS-2 digital recorder. (Prior to owning it, I went through probably a half-dozen microcassette recorders of varying crappy quality...and still have a bunch of those stupid tapes lingering around.) The other item that goes hand in hand with it is the TP-7 recording device, which is an ear bud that allows you to record both sides of the conversation when you're talking on the phone. Yes, I always ask if it's OK to record; I've only had two people say no.

In short, here's why I can't live without it:
  • If I'm playing back a fast talker, I can slow it down to 87%, 75%, 60% or even 50% of actual speed. If I need to blast through tedious stuff? Speed it up to 125%, etc.
  • It allows me to capture exactly what someone said, no note-taking required. Clients love it when they hear their own words...and interviewees appreciate the accuracy.
  • Depending on what quality setting it's on, it can hold hours of content
  • I can download everything to my computer through a USB cord
I'm not a huge gadget guy, but this thing is an absolute lifesaver. Note: The links are to Amazon, but you can shop around for a better price.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Are you serious?

It's a constant refrain at this blog to treat your freelancing like a business. (That's not to say that you shouldn't be massively creative or just plain goofy much of the time, but rather that there are times when you can't.) Part of that is being responsible for yourself when things don't according to Hoyle. Yeah, I'm talking about insurance.

Health insurance. From my Freelance Forecast 2009 survey (click here to download the pdf) earlier this year, I know well that health insurance is a major sticking point for us solo practitioners. An article titled "Health Insurance for Freelancers" at Freelance Switch offers a wide range of ideas and links--the comments are recommended reading as well. It's worth the time to investigate your options and even revisiting the details of your current plan. Back when I first went freelance, for example, I discovered personally that COBRA was far more expensive than what I could get on my own for the coverage I wanted.

Disability income insurance. Today's cheery thought from Freelancers Union: You're much more likely to have a period of disability than you are to die. (Yet many of us have insurance to protect against the latter but not the former.) The good news for freelancers is that we're in a low-risk field and premiums are cheap. I've owned a policy from Country Financial for several years.

Errors and omissions insurance. Also known as professional liability or publishers/media liability, you may have to show proof of this if you do contract work for a larger company; depending on your business, it may make sense to have a policy anyway. Some basic info to start your research can be found at ChubbPro E&O and Publiability, which offers a program called WriteInsure that is targeted specifically at authors, self-publishers, bloggers, freelance writers, and small publishers.

Disclaimer: I'm not an insurance professional and I don't play one on TV. The above links and opinions are provided to get you thinking about and researching the topic as it applies to your business, not as specific recommendations. What you want, need and can afford ultimately need to strike a balance with your risk tolerance and life circumstances. But I will say this: When you consider that these are the types of insurance that an employer would purchase on your behalf if you were a full-time employee...isn't it in your best interest to take a serious look at how well you're protecting yourself?

Friday, August 21, 2009

A little housekeeping

Through other channels, I've been informed by several folks that the comments link has been buggy and occasionally unusable. So, please accept my apologies if you've been among those experiencing a problem--your shared insights, stories and humor keep me going.

Based on the help page, I have "reset the widget template"...hopefully that will help.

In the meantime, shoot an email to Jake (at) BoomvangCreative (dot) com if you're still having issues.

Have a productive, profitable day!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Monetizing Your Brain

An old editor of mine used to keep a folder into which he'd toss ideas that were interesting but not quite broad enough to warrant coverage. Once he had a critical mass of related or semi-related tinder, the spark was lit.

That thought occurred to me this week as...

For any business, pricing your product or service properly is absolutely critical to survival, let alone profitability. Your spreadsheet includes not just the hard costs and time to execute the project, but the overhead costs--everything from the furniture, office supplies and utilities to healthcare and insurance.

My experience is that creatives in general (and freelancers in particular) tend to shoot too low--whether it's due to lack of experience, poor business sense, or simply undercharging for doing something they enjoy. Obviously, it's difficult to always put a monetary figure on something you've produced through nothing other than the gray matter between your ears. But one thing is for certain: If you fail to price your skills right, your clients will surely fail to value them properly.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

You may be a winner! Or...maybe not.

I jinxed myself.

Last week over at the always thought-provoking Teenie Thoughts, copywriter/blog philosopher-in-residence Teenie lamented getting copy back that has been "hacked and twisted and uncarefully rewritten." Smartaleck that I am, I responded glibly that "I don't try to fight it anymore" when someone wants to change my words.

Which is all well and good until I was reminded today that "not fighting it" occasionally comes with its own peculiar punishment.

The backstory: A long-time, loyal client needed a one-time-insertion newspaper ad for a sweepstakes giveaway. The prize was terrific--worth several hundred dollars. The challenge, though, was that I couldn't write the copy I'd ordinarily recommend for a case like this, i.e., an unsubtle screamer that pounded home the message WIN A *BLANK* AT *BLANK* WORTH $XXX!!! This company's branding approach simply won't accommodate such crassness; and belaboring that point with my contact would only frustrate us both, since she knew it was a battle she couldn't win with her higher-ups.

I did my best to harden up the soft-sell approach, and off the ad went to design. Approved, and off it went to the printer.

In the back of my head, I was clinging to a hope that the ad might work despite itself, based on the strength of the offer (albeit buried deep in the copy, *sigh*) and the company's name. In the front of my head, I knew that was pathetically naive. So, when I contacted the client this morning to inquire about the results, I was unsurprised to find out the response rate was crummy.

There are a lot of painful aspects to me about this, not the least of which is that, given exactly the same scenario again, I'm not sure I'd be able do anything differently. Just call it a TKO before the bell even rang.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Eight wrongs don't make a right

Came across this little beauty in the UK-based Times Online about the New York Times' error-riddled obituary of Walter Cronkite. The correction, one of history's longest and, as the Times Online notes, frankest, read as follows:
An appraisal on Saturday about Walter Cronkite’s career included a number of errors. In some copies, it misstated the date that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed and referred incorrectly to Mr. Cronkite’s coverage of D-Day. Dr. King was killed on April 4, 1968, not April 30. Mr. Cronkite covered the D-Day landing from a warplane; he did not storm the beaches. In addition, Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969, not July 26. “The CBS Evening News” overtook “The Huntley-Brinkley Report” on NBC in the ratings during the 1967-68 television season, not after Chet Huntley retired in 1970. A communications satellite used to relay correspondents’ reports from around the world was Telstar, not Telestar. Howard K. Smith was not one of the CBS correspondents Mr. Cronkite would turn to for reports from the field after he became anchor of “The CBS Evening News” in 1962; he left CBS before Mr. Cronkite was the anchor. Because of an editing error, the appraisal also misstated the name of the news agency for which Mr. Cronkite was Moscow bureau chief after World War II. At that time it was United Press, not United Press International.

It was so bad that the paper's public editor felt obligated to write an op-ed, "How Did This Happen?" Well worth reading...particularly by the Times staffers.

But wait, there's more! From Gawker, which has apparently been beating on Alessandra Stanley for years: Play-By-Play: The Self-Loathing NYT's Ultimate Alessandra Stanley Flogging

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Playing "Easy to Get"

A not-insignificant portion of my freelance time is spent tracking people down. For corporate copywriting clients, that time is generally on their clock--no harm done, part of the frictional cost of doing business. When it's a resource I need for a magazine feature, however, any runaround comes at my expense--deadline and pay rate.

A few weeks back, I contacted a well-known political figure for an article in Speaker magazine, which named her as one of the nation's 25 top professional orators. She replied by email that she was too busy, and her assistant was equally unhelpful and unresponsive. I frankensteined together a profile from existing public documents; serviceable enough, but unsatisfying.

Contrast that with yesterday. I'd been assigned to write a profile about someone whose book currently resides on the New York Times bestseller list. Mentally, I prepared myself to endure a multi-week game of phone tag that would push me up against my deadline, and to perhaps never reach him at all.

Low and behold, I received a positive email response back in less than 2 hours. Within 3 hours, his assistant had sent me a list of 10 possible interview times to choose from. Woohoo! There are all manner of conclusions you can draw from this type of response, not the least of which being the difference in responsiveness one can expect from a businessperson compared to a politician. Most of all, it reminded me how powerful a personal statement it is to be easy to reach, fast to reply and eager to help.

I can't reveal his name or the name of his book at the moment, but will do so at a date closer to publication. I'm about halfway through the book, and very much looking forward to interviewing him later this week.


I'm still wrapping my head around what a surprising and fantastic trip we had through Atlantic Canada, and will write further in the coming weeks. But what I will say is that St. John's, Newfoundland, was the most genuine, most welcoming place I've ever been. (I was going to say "bar none," but they're kinda famous for the several dozen watering holes on George Street.)