Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Why hasn't Apple thought of that?

When things are moving fast and furious around here, I tend to be pretty quick on the "SEND" button...which means that I'll occasionally send an email without an attachment. No harm done, and I'll usually just make a joke about it with the client.

Anyway, I use Apple's stock Mail program for my everyday correspondence. I have one client, however, who's big on Google chat, so I use Gmail when I email him because it's more convenient. Imagine my surprise when I just went to email a file to him and the following error message pops up:
Did you mean to attach files?
You wrote "I've attached" in your message, but there are no files attached. Send anyway?
Sure enough, Gmail had prevented me from a minor faux pas. It ain't rocket science, but it is a nice safety valve for those of us with an itchy "SEND" finger. So, whaddaya say, Apple? You already warn me if I try to send a message without a subject line. Think you might implement a no-attachment-preventer in Mail Version 3.6.1?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Freelance Forecast 2011 surveys

If you're a freelancer or someone who hires creative freelancers for your business, it's time to head over to Dr. Freelance for the details on Freelance Forecast 2011!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Cooks Source gets its just desserts

When I blogged today on Dr. Freelance about "would a magazine editor steal my story idea?", I had no idea that it would be the day that Cooks Source editor Judith Griggs announced the magazine's demise, precipitated by their stealing a freelancer's story in its entirety. (Certainly a magnitude greater than idea-filching.) If you haven't been privy to the scuttlebutt, the background can be found here.

Heaven knows I'm just piling on by even writing about this, but I'd be remiss if I didn't add my one overriding thought: As businesspeople, freelancers deal in intellectual property, and that's a lot harder to defend than installing an alarm system or pulling out your shotgun on a home intruder. It's nebulous. People don't understand it, or choose to ignore it. We live in a time when music and video file-sharing is considered A-OK by a good percentage of the population. Copy and paste is part of getting through an average person's day, and apparently part of an occasional publishing person's day — one who should have known better.

I won't shed a tear for Ms. Griggs, who seems focused on enumerating excuses rather than repenting. I can't say if the punishment, the loss of everything she's worked for, fits the crime.

But perhaps, just perhaps, freelancers owe her a debt of gratitude while they're enjoying a steaming bowl of schadenfreude. If Judith Griggs has served a purpose, let's hope it will be as a deterrent — to make other folks think twice about stealing intellectual property.

Gawker snarks.
TechCrunch says "Congrats, Self-Righteous Internet Mob. You Killed a Magazine."

Monday, November 1, 2010

Mean handshakes, toddler criminals and watching your own tail

I'm the innocent bystander
Somehow I got stuck
Between the rock and the hard place
And I'm down on my luck

—Warren Zevon, "Lawyers, Guns and Money"

On back-to-back days this week, I came across articles with the following headlines:

4-Year-Old Can Be Sued, Judge Rules in Bike Case
Candidate Files Criminal Complaint Over Firm Handshake

Then, last night, a 5-year-old girl dressed as a lion for Halloween told my wife, "My mom says that you shouldn't have candles in your pumpkin, because my tail is flammable."

To which my wife replied, "You're going to have to watch your own tail."

Indeed. I really wish that people would watch their own tails.

What kind of society do we live in that can sue a toddler for negligence on a bike, in which a politician can gripe over a grip-and-grin, or in which a kindergartener is allowed to scold an adult for having a votive candle burning inside a gourd?

Now, in the case of the elderly woman who got hit by the runaway cyclist and broke her hip — yes, it sucks. If you're a political candidate, and you get kung-fu gripped, sorry, that's part of the territory. If you're out on Halloween night and you're in a flammable outfit, by all means, please stay away from open flames.

Stuff happens. Sometimes awful stuff. No one should expect to be entitled to a risk-free life, and there is no way to legislate or adjudicate every single bad thing that occurs. According to a book by Harvey A. Silverglate that's next on my reading list, the average person commits Three Felonies a Day without even knowing it. Every year, more laws and more byzantine rules about every aspect of our lives go into the books...and our ability to take personal responsibility and manage happenstance seems to erode.

And, as a result, I suspect that the young lady in the lion suit has a promising career ahead of her as a personal-injury lawyer. Or if she works on her grip strength, maybe even a politician.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Federal copy editors run amok

Cross posted from Dr. Freelance. Just because.

There isn't much breaking news in the world of editorial jobs, but this article from The New York Post, "$27 million to change NYC signs from all-caps," is straight from the are-you-freaking-kidding-me file, sure to warm the heart of the most strident grammar pedant.

At the risk of offending any of my friends or readers who happen to have one of these federal copy editor jobs (Really? Such a position exists? What's the annual salary, I wonder...), I have to say this is asinine. It's worth reading the whole thing to get a sweet taste of the pure, harebrained wastefulness, but here's a quick excerpt:

Federal  copy editors are demanding the city change its 250,900 street signs --  such as these for Perry Avenue in The Bronx -- from the all-caps style  used for more than a century to ones that capitalize only the first  letters.

Changing BROADWAY to Broadway will save lives, the Federal Highway Administration contends in its updated Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, citing improved readability.

At $110 per sign, it will also cost the state $27.6 million, city officials said.

For starters, when is an editor allowed to "demand" anything?

Mind you, I am no fan of all caps. It is harder to read. It looks like you're shouting. I'm also no fan of signs that are misleading, misspelled, misaligned or mis-whatever. I'm sure it would be awful to have people looking for "Broadway" and driving right past a sign for "Brawdweigh." Replacing signs at the usual rate of 8,000 a year, OK, whatever.

But as Jason Alexander's character in Shallow Hal says, let's just cut through the old crap cake here. This is money being spent on an accelerated basis in a weak economy on the weakest of premises. Upper-lower formatting and changing from standard-issue highway font to Clearview is going to SAVE LIVES? SAVE FREAKING LIVES? (Yes, this is me shouting.)

Maybe I'd feel better if they would simply be honest about this and admit it's a make-work (please don't call it a stimulus!) program to keep starving copy editors and signmakers off the dole. But if they insist on trying to spin it as some sort of do-gooder way of preventing old people from getting into fender benders, I'm having none of it.


Thursday, September 30, 2010

Disposing with dignity

Hold on a sec. Not talking about eliminating dignity, here — I'm referring to throwing away things on your own terms.
We recently moved, and part of that process included disassembling my office over THERE and re-creating it over HERE (in a slightly smaller space). As I gazed upon the stuff that had accumulated over the years, I knew that there were a couple of Hefty bags in my future.

Which brings me to disposing with dignity. With some items -- boxes for electronics past their warranty, faded neon paper that I used for a long-ago direct mail campaign, several miles' worth of USB, Firewire and ethernet cable — it's not a hard decision to pitch.

But then you get to those things that may once have held some meaning but now just collect dust: stacks of photos that didn't make the cut into an album or onto a wall; silly awards; CDs of stale computer archives; and, perhaps most painfully and poignantly for a freelance writer, stacks of magazines, samples and old clips that are way past their expiration date.

I threw it all away. The "disposing with dignity" principle is something my wife and I formulated and have employed (usually when moving), and it comes down to this: As the owner/possessor of an item that has some emotional value to you alone, it's best that you are the one to throw it away. Not to go too morbid on you here, but if you were to die tomorrow, this is stuff that would be chucked away without remorse. In fact, it might only serve to annoy the people who wondered why you kept all that crap.

In any event, purging felt good. I had one final chance to pay my respects and reminisce on those things that I didn't really need anymore. I just heard the garbage truck do its pickup...but I still have my memories.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

International Freelancers Day online conference

If you haven't already heard or signed up, the International Freelancers Day online conference will be taking place on September 24, 2010. A quick look at the agenda and 25 speakers makes it look like a worthwhile confab. It's founded by Steve Slaunwhite, Pete Savage and Ed Gandia of, which is one of my regular RSS reads.

And it's free, too.

If you're registered, you'll also be able to watch replays of the presentations, in case you're working on deadline or out of town.

Friday, September 17, 2010

I am MacGyver

No, I'm not talking about the mullet I wore back in the late 1980s. I'm talking about the fact that, as a freelance writer, there are going to be times when you're given a piece of dental floss, a stick of gum, and a Bic lighter, and you're expected to create a nuclear weapon a brochure or ad campaign or website out of it.

Earlier this week, I started work on a project for a longtime client. He's a great guy, funny as hell, and I know exactly how he works: It starts with a kind of fuzzy, two-sentence email about what he wants the project to be. That's followed up by me giving him a call to find out the details...only to find out that there really aren't any yet, just kind of a big picture this-is-what-I-want-it-to-be. Next, he sends a couple of links to websites that kinda do what he wants to do, but not quite. Similar, but different.

Day two, he sends me a follow-up email to find out how it's going. Which prompts another call from me to say I need more information. Now, I click on the digital tape recorder, and play Mr. Reporter for a while, asking as many questions as I can, grasping at threads. The conversation ends, I transcribe the file, and I'm marginally farther along.

I start writing babble-style, then suddenly the piece starts to take form. Hmmm, not half bad. I shoot him the draft, he shoots a bunch of holes in it (as I mutter to myself, "Why didn't you tell me that earlier?), and I give it a rework. In the end, he's happy, I'm relieved, it's all good, another one's in the books.

The reality is, I wouldn't put up with these antics if I didn't genuinely like him and know that it's just the way he is. It wouldn't do me any good to try to change his style, either. I simply accept it, and I know I'll provide him a product that does what he needs it to do.

And the other reality is, it's kind of a kick to strap on my MacGyver mullet-wig, and create something explosive out of damn near nothing.

Now, where the heck did I put my Bic?

Friday, September 3, 2010

Losing a loyal client or editor

It happens to all of us eventually: Losing a loyal client or editor to a new position elsewhere. But hey, I'm nothing but an undaunted optimist — in fact, it can be a bit of a Johnny Appleseed opportunity, with new work and opportunities in a new company with an old friend. Developing a strong client relationship, always, always, always, is a freelancer's best business strategy.

More details and thoughts on how to handle a client/editor departure at my newest post, "Losing a loyal client."

Monday, August 30, 2010

Freelance Follies: "How much is it going to cost?"

Time's short today...we're moving and I have to install a hardwood floor in my new office before I can transition the desk, computer and filing cabinets over. And in the midst of it all, trying to get all my work done.

In the meantime, enjoy Freelance Follies, Episode 3: "How much is it going to cost?"

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Lessons in self perception

It's a bit hackneyed to say that playing a round of golf with people will tell you everything you need to know about what they're like in business: Are they fun? Do they cheat? Are they a stickler for the rules? Do they take stupid risks?

I'm reminded of all this as I recently returned to playing golf after a 16-year hiatus. I used to be halfway decent; in fact, my first two editorial jobs were with Golf Digest and Golf Illustrated. Today, I have several clients in the golf business, so I've committed to bringing my game to an acceptable standard.

But coming out of retirement has been a reality check: I am older, weaker, less flexible, and have worse depth perception. On the flip side, I'm also a bit wiser, slower to anger, and more patient -- funny enough, much like I have become in business. Recognizing that I was getting worse with each progressive round, I knew that I needed help, or I might just abandon the game again for good.

So, I paid a visit to a pro at the local municipal course last night. Before doing anything, she asked me to hit a couple of balls to see what my swing looked like. Stage fright took over, and I hit a series of awful-looking line drives and topped shots that bounded feebly down the range.

After making a few quick technical adjustments, though, we spent the next hour working almost exclusively on perception vs. reality. What I thought I was doing was pretty different from what I was actually doing. Really, you kind of need to trick your brain into rethinking its understanding of alignment. One hour didn't get me back to 1994, but I was amazed at how much more comfortable I felt. There's hope for me yet.

Your mileage may vary, as far as using golf (or any activity) as a way of judging personality. But the business lesson for me was very personal: Getting to the end of my rope, and seeking out the help of a skilled third-party professional, was a reminder that we're often terrible self-judges of what we're doing.

And perhaps more important, that asking for help is not a weakness, it's a strength.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The taxonomy of bad freelancers

Reading "Freelance Screw-offs" this morning at Lori Widmer's Words on the Page blog, I was reminded of one of the reasons I got into freelancing in the first place: As an editor, I knew quite a few freelancers who weren't particularly skilled writers or adequately responsive to my needs. Missed deadlines, botched assignments, and a bucketful of excuses is no way to go through life, son.

Yet, they seemed to make enough money to survive. I figured I could do better, simply by operating as a business rather than someone who took assignments for granted and expected a dollar a word for a mail-it-in effort.

In any case, I highly recommend a click over to Lori's blog, whether to make yourself feel better (you'd never make any of those mistakes, right?) or to remind yourself to hew to a higher standard -- and avoid a place in the taxonomy of bad freelancers.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Freelance Follies: "When are you going to get a real job?"

It's every freelancer's favorite question: "When are you going to get a real job?" (I think I finally stopped hearing that after I'd been in business for myself for about, oh, five years. Your mileage may vary!) Then again, depending on how much someone likes working for The Man, they just may never understand why you'd want to be an independent freelancer.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The psychology of "inclusive we"

In grammar, there's an inclusive we, which means you're including the addressee, and an exclusive we, which means you aren't (not to be confused with the royal we, which is, being snobby). Wiki's definition does a good job of illustrating the distinction.

What I'd like to throw out for consideration today is the power of using the inclusive we during the sales process—and I believe it's critically important for a freelancer. When I'm in a prospective client meeting, the sooner I can get a prospect to think of me as a member of his or her team, the better. As an example:
  • Outside Consultant Voice—"Your large email database makes an e-newsletter an affordable option."
  • Team Member Voice—"It'll be a slam-dunk to generate ROI for our e-newsletter." 
  • Outside Consultant Voice—"What's my deadline?"
  • Team Member Voice—"What's our timeframe on getting this completed?"
It's a subtle shift in psychology by being conscious of the words you use. On the other hand, you don't want to overwork it, or make the shift too soon, lest you come across as presumptuous (or pompous, a.k.a., being mistaken for the royal we). You need to have established some basic rapport for it to be credible; which means being sensitive to the client's demeanor. (Which is what it all comes down to in sales, anyway!)

So, are we on the same page? I thought so.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Curing writer's block

Before you get your hopes up that I've conjured up a magic elixir of inspiration, my post "Curing writer's block" at Freelance-Zone actually takes a more cynical view of what gets lumped into writer's block and why curing it really ought to be a non-issue for the professional freelancer.

Read it there, and comment on it there...or here! Sorry for being lazy and stealing from myself, but I've got two meetings and several deadlines before the day runs out.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Yiddish folklore and the freelancer

In my days at McMurry (an excellent custom magazine publisher and communications firm based here in Phoenix), a coworker of mine told me an old Yiddish folk tale that went something like this...
There was an office drone who ignored his inbox for a good period of time, and it stacked up halfway to the ceiling. At some point, he decided that it was a danger to his job, and maybe a fire hazard, so it was time to address the accumulated pile.
He started from the bottom. The issue in the first memo had already been solved. Reading the second piece of paper, he found that it was about a project that had been dropped. Same with the third, fourth and so on—every single problem had either been resolved, put on hold or abandoned entirely.
Upon returning from my vacation, my inbox isn't necessarily like that. But I am comforted by the fact that nothing blew up while I was away. I'd like to think it's because I planned well, gave all my clients plenty of notice, and left things in relatively good shape. The reality is, it's more likely because things always seem more emergent when you're available to work on them.

Now, gotta go. Back to my inbox.

Friday, July 23, 2010

New FreelanceZone post up

In the interest of turning a negative experience into a positive, educational one, I posted "9 rules of effective voicemail messages" to FreelanceZone this morning. Certainly email remains the best tool of reaching out to someone (in my opinion) but voice-to-voice still has its place for the freelancer trying to make contact with a client or interview source.

Things will be quiet, well, actually complete silent, around here next week, as I'm journeying out for some much-needed, no electronics R&R. And if you haven't taken a vacation in recent memory because you're a sole proprietor and think the world will end without your presence, take a quick refresher at my post from last year—"Vacation, all I ever wanted"—and start making plans!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

"Are you done yet?"

Based (very!) loosely on a recent client experience. Names have been omitted to protect the guilty. And I've given the, uh, actor playing me a lovely head of blond hair.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Apologizing when you blow it

This morning's post by Dan Smith at All Freelance Writing, "How to Turn Down a Freelance Job Professionally and Respectfully," hit home with me, because this week I blew it—failing to deliver a new-project estimate after a few weeks had elapsed. It fell off my radar while excuses piled up in my head: I've been super busy, the project was a bit outside my comfort zone, did I really want to add another microclient...and so on. The longer I waited, the more my anxiety increased and the less I wanted to do anything.

Let's just state for the record, however, that "Not responding at all" doesn't qualify as professional or respectful, even if it's a tiny job for an unknown prospect. I've been doing this long enough that I should have known to use two of the items Dan mentions—explain why you can't do it and offer an alternative—to simply say, "No, but thank you for your interest, I'm all booked up." I'm still not sure why I didn't heed my instincts that I already had too much on my plate.

So here's what I wrote and emailed this morning:
Dear Mr. X:

I need to apologize for not getting back to you. I won't make excuses, but simply wanted to email and say that I am sorry. I strive to hold myself to a higher professional standard than what I've shown you, but have fallen far short in this case.

If you prefer to take another direction, I completely understand, and I wish you the best in your pursuits. If not, please give me a call.

Thank you for your understanding,

Short, to the point, sans excuses. I don't know if I'll hear back from him or not, but apologizing cleared my own head of guilt, even while it serves as a reminder to myself that 1) I'm not perfect and 2) a fellow businessperson deserves to be treated better than that.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Who do you write like?

Found this nifty little Tuesday time-waster from fellow writer Nate Hansen:
I Write Like.
Check what famous writer you write like with this statistical analysis tool, which analyzes your word choice and writing style and compares them to those of the famous writers.
Any text in English will do: your latest blog post, journal entry, Reddit comment, chapter of your unfinished book, etc. For reliable results paste at least a few paragraphs (not tweets).
I produced Kurt Vonnegut on one try, and Douglas Adams on another. Take it, and share your results in the comments!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Freelance lemmings go Komando

I've never been a Kim Komando fan--too much Microsoft cheerleading, and computer talk makes for crappy radio regardless--but there's no question that she's succeeded in carving out a lucrative geek niche.

However, I darn near puked on my dashboard this morning as I pulled into the parking lot for a meeting, and a new radio ad piped through my speakers: Komando is now shilling for Associated Content and Helium, content mills extraordinaire, as a way for aspiring writers to Get Published!!! and Get Paid!!!

Mind you, I am a red-blooded capitalist. Frankly, I don't give a damn about the existence of the content mills, because they're so far from providing quality that I don't consider myself to be in the same business. And I don't begrudge Komando's ability to leverage her "personality" into a payday.

I just hope all of her fanboy/fangirl lemmings realize what they're getting into before they jump the cliff & quit their day jobs to augment the country's already scary unemployment numbers become professional writers. The ad should really come with a Surgeon General's warning rather than "America's Digital Goddess's" seal of approval.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Writing in your head

On my old web site, I used to have a collection of a dozen or so sayings about the craft of writing. One of them ran to the effect of "If you sit down to write, but don't put anything on the paper, your intention was not to write." I've googled and can't find it, and I'm on my laptop without access to archives, so I can't dig up the original. So it goes.

But the point of it is this: You should never confuse thinking, pondering or musing with writing. And there is value, for me, in thinking without writing. If the definition of an extrovert is a person for whom no thought goes unverbalized, I don't necessarily feel the compulsion as a writer for my every word to exit my fingers into a keyboard or pen.

Sometimes, thinking, and being alone in my thoughts, is exactly what I intended to do.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Father's Day musing: Is entrepreneurship genetic?

Is entrepreneurship genetic? As the freelancer son of a self-employed dad, it didn't surprise me to learn that a study from Case Western Reserve University discovered a hereditary component: roughly one third to 40 percent of the tendency to be an entrepreneur is innate rather than taught. Independence, tolerance for risk, ability to recognize opportunity, and leadership are all affected by your genes. The study's author, Scott Shane, published "Born Entrepreneurs, Born Leaders: How Your Genes Affect Your Worklife" this spring.

My dad died a few weeks before Father's Day in 2000. (Far too young, five months shy of his 60th birthday.) Like me, he had spent his early career in corporate jobs — in sales rather than editorial — before becoming self-employed. A few months into my first "real world" job after college, I was whining to him on the phone about some office injustice or another, and he came right out and said, "You know, you're eventually going to work for yourself."

As is the case for many hereditary traits, it took an environmental trigger to actualize my entrepreneurial gene as a freelancer not quite a decade later. In fact, I made the freelance leap just a few months before my dad passed away, but I sensed that among all the people who were worried as hell about me and my family surviving (me included), he wasn't concerned in the slightest — he was proud I had the cojones to do it and knew that I'd succeed.

I'd also like to think he knew he had set a business example I could follow:
  • He worked hard in bursts (and took plenty of time off, even random weekdays)
  • He saved enough money during good times that we could squeeze through the occasional rough patch
  • He celebrated success when he made a big sale (I can still taste the sicky-sweet André Cold Duck on my mind's tongue)
  • He was a bullheaded optimist (even during the gawdawful Carter years, when he netted $0.00 a couple of times)
  • He pretty much didn't give a crap about what other people thought 
The time-worn saying is that "the older I get, the smarter my old man was." I don't know if he gave me a freelance gene or sales DNA...and ultimately, it doesn't matter. Regardless of my nature, I value and appreciate my nurture more. Thanks, Dad.

UPDATE: More fatherly wisdom in my new Dr. Freelance post: "Why you need a go to hell fund."

The photo at the top is from '84, when I caddied for my dad in the finals of the golf club championship at our home course south of Boston. He didn't win, but played a gritty, grinding match in his typical style.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Social media for freelancers EFA teleconference

Some exciting news: I'm one of two guest panelists for an Editorial Freelancers Association teleconference on June 8 at 7 p.m. Eastern. The topic is using popular social media platforms (blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn) to increase professional visibility and make connections with clients and colleagues. My co-guest will be social media strategist Greg Pincus of You have to be an EFA member to attend (and if you're an editorial freelancer, you should definitely look into joining!), but I'll be sure to share applicable insights here as well as at my Dr. Freelance blog.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Customer relationship lesson: For want of a penny

I've been a loyal customer of a local credit union for nearly 20 years now. In light of the government-funded shenanigans at the Too Big To Fail banks, I'm even more committed to keeping my money local in my own quixotic attempt to starve The Beast. And an experience yesterday underscored my beliefs that you get better service from a bank you have a relationship with.

In addition to our primary checking account, I keep a small emergency business fund at this bank, right at the limit which avoids the monthly service fee. A few months ago, they raised the limit by $500, and dutifully, I added $500 to my account.
The problem was that my average account balance still came just under the limit for the month—and by deducting the $10, it put me under the limit for the following month by $0.01. Yes, a penny. That, of course, resulted in another $10 charge that put me further under the limit. You can see where this was headed.

So, I called and pleaded my case that it seemed pretty cruel for a 1-penny shortfall to result in a cascade of $10 charges, and reminded him that we've been long-term customers and keep a fairly large overall sum at their bank. The customer service agent stuck to his guns at first, and there was a bit of back-and-forth.

Ultimately he asked what I wanted as a solution; I said I didn't even care about the original charge, that all I was interested in was the $10.01 which would put me back above the line. He put me on hold and came back with more than I asked for: They wiped both charges. Based on past experience, I am confident that there's no way in hell Wells Fargo or Citi would have done that.

The customer service lesson here is that asking your client what they want is often the fastest route to resolving a problem. The fact that the credit union actually gave me more than I asked for, well, that was just icing on the relationship cake.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

"Poor planning on your part..."

Say it with me: "...doesn't constitute an emergency on my part."

If you've spent any time in a corporate environment, you've known someone with that saying tacked to their office wall. It's usually (though not always) a signal of a person who's out the door at 5 p.m. on the spot, and not likely to pitch in when things go sideways.

The successful freelancer can't afford to adopt such a poisonous customer service attitude, unless you don't want to eat and/or have any client loyalty. The key is to de-escalate whatever you can. For the past week, I've dealt with a number of emergency projects; my general guiding principles can be summarized thusly:
  • Find out what the true problem and key components are—sometimes the client is not communicating clearly in the panic.
  • Uncover what the client thinks he or she needs—right now, you're just listening; don't talk solutions yet.
  • What's the timeline and deadline?—ask for specifics, don't settle for "OMG ASAP!!!!"
  • If the solution is easy, present your idea immediately. 
  • If the solution requires more thought, say you'll get back to them in a half-hour with a couple of ideas.
Now it's time to consider your own situation: Is this a long-term client or a client with long-term potential? Do you have any pressing deadlines that you need to manage? Do you have a couple of different ideas on how to accomplish what the client needs? Are there other resources you could draw upon to help you out? What is the simplest, fastest way to put out the fire?

Ultimately, if you feel the need to tape a sign to your wall, it should be "My loyal clients are worth my 100% support in a crisis. It will pay off in the future." 

All that said, if you have...
  • a task that is truly, objectively impossible given the time and resources, say so as soon as you realize it; i.e., don't start something that you know has no way of succeeding.
  • a Client Who Cried Emergency on your hands, i.e., someone who *never, ever* has a plan, you need to do a better job of guiding them...or you might be better off parting ways.
  • a client whose *first* job is a five-alarm emergency, the universe has kindly given you a glimpse into the future. Plan accordingly.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

New contributor at

Hey all, it's been a crazybusy couple of weeks, hence the intermittent posting regimen. Wanted to let everyone in on some great news, which is that I've made the leap from regular commenter to regular contributor at They're one of Writer's Digest's Top 100 Blogs for Writers, so I am thrilled to become a part of their crew. My first post, "The 411 on new 1099-MISC rules for freelance writers," addresses a scary accounting change that comes to us self-employeds as a result of the new healthcare law. If it stands, it will mean a LOT more paperwork and research during tax time.

I'll still be posting my ruminations here, as well as at my Dr. Freelance blog--so please don't delete any bookmarks! In fact, you can make life easier for yourself by subscribing to the RSS feeds...and that way you'll be notified any time a new post comes up.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Are you attracting the clients from hell?

Legendary stock investor Benjamin Graham (a hero of Warren Buffett), once said something to the effect that, in the short run, stocks are a voting machine; in the long run, they are a weighing machine. In other words, the true underlying value will eventually emerge.

This connection to client-freelancers relationships was made in my brain by a recent post on Freelance Folder, "Clients Are Not Demons From Hell."  I appreciated the fact that the author attributed a challenging client's ill behavior to lack of understanding rather than malice. Hey, we all love sharing a client horror story or too (and I posted a Dr. Freelance anecdote in the comments that I won't take the space to repeat here), and there is plenty to learn from songs sung blue.

And I'm not saying that there aren't bad clients out there.

What I *am* saying, however, is that if you find yourself with a glut of clients who take you to the brink of insanity, you need to take a long, hard look at what you're doing:
  • Are you attracting clients who aren't a good philosophical, emotional, or technical fit?
  • Are you establishing a positive, professional rapport from the outset, with clear expectations on both sides?
  • Are you completing the assignments with every ounce of your skill and attention...or are you withholding that last little bit because you don't want to waste it or risk it?
Some day, when you look back at the sum total of your career, you'll get a pretty good view of what the market's "weighing machine" had to say about your skills, abilities and approach. You can take responsibility for that whenever you like.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Naked Marketers podcast, Episode 07

Good morning all. I've been swamped here and I should be writing instead of posting, but I needed a mental break, so it goes. It's a quickie, which assuages my guilt somewhat. Somewhat.

I had the great honor and pleasure of being the featured (and fully clothed) guest on the Naked Marketers Episode 07 podcast with my friend Pete Wright of Fifth & Main in Portland, whom I spoke about last year on my 10th anniversary of being in business. The whole episode is worth listening to, as the panel talks Tiger to marketing and social media trends to technology and Pete's infatuation with the new iPad. My segment, which dives into a variety of freelance writing topics—choosing your battles, the importance of experimenting, how to tighten up your copy, and how technology is changing the lay of the land—starts around minute 40.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Paging Dr. Freelance

I've been populating content into a separate blogging project for a while, and it's high time to release it into the wild:

I receive thought-provoking questions on a regular basis from a variety of colleagues, friends and over-the-transom folks, and I thought that an advice column for freelancers (or for clients with questions about working with their creative independent contractors) would be the ideal format to amplify that. The healthcare theme, ripe with metaphors of diagnosis, sickness, healing and wellness, seemed just goofy enough to be perfect for me.

And my parents always wanted me to be a doctor.

I'll still be posting regularly here at Jake's Takes, continuing to focus on my usual "business anecdotes with a moral" theme.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Just 15 more days till tax Canada

My family and I spent most of 2009 as expatriates in New Brunswick, Canada, but today, alas, I bring no bawdy tales of being screeched in as an honorary Newfoundlander, or of seeing mooses in Cape Breton, or of watching whales blow in the Bay of Fundy, or learning how to curl (which is far more difficult than it looks).

No, comrades, the topic du jour is an international freelancer's view of the differences in our income tax systems, which for some reason is on top of my mind today.
  • I can't speak for anyone else, but at our income level, a Canadian pays more than a comparable U.S. citizen. A lot more. Keep in mind, this is on top of an already-nasty federal/provincial sales tax (13% in N.B.) and, worst of all, wicked tariffs on liquor. Oddly enough, easy access to unemployment benefits (known shorthand as "EI," for Employment Insurance) and healthcare are not free. They are expensive.
  • Although we paid into the healthcare and EI systems, we were not eligible for benefits. We were covered by a Cigna International policy.
  • That being said, I admire how simple the Canadian T1 General Income Tax and Benefit Return is. Ours was 19 pages long, and it covered both federal and provincial taxes.  
  • By comparison, our fed and Arizona forms ran 47 and 16 pages, respectively. And to add insult to injury, the postage to mail our 1040 cost almost a dollar more than the T1!
  • The T1 is also admirably clear about what your tax rate calculation is, compared to the byzantine B.S. charts in the U.S. system. The Canadian government appears quite content to spell out how badly you're getting reamed.
On a final note, for U.S. citizen freelancers who find themselves outposted north of the border: Make sure you're an LLC. As it turns out, freelancing in Canada went very smoothly and my fears from last May of owing taxes to the Dominion on my worldwide income were unfounded. Our tax preparer concluded that "Boomvang Creative does not carry on business in Canada through a permanent establishment maintained in Canada."

Uncle Sam, you're very welcome.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Client communication 101 (and Schrödinger's Deadline)

I was recently working for a client for whom English is a second language, quickly discovering that our easiest form of communication was chat. The project at hand was hot, requiring a good chunk of my time several days in a row. On Day 2, he asked me how long I thought a certain section would take to write, and I answered, "Oh, about an hour." He responded that he thought that seemed fast, and I typed back that it might take a bit more time in revisions, but the first draft would indeed take around that long.

The next day, panic struck. I found out through a third party that I "wasn't hitting my deadlines." I was a bit dumbfounded, since I really hadn't been given a specific deadline in the first place. How can you miss a deadline that you didn't know about? (I'm coining it a Schrödinger's Deadline™, in tribute to the famous thought experiment with the cat in a box that might be dead or alive depending on whether a radioactive source had broken open a flask of poison. It's a quantum physics thang.)

Anyway, I puzzled for a while before coming to the explanation: He had expected to have the piece in his hands 60 minutes after our initial conversation.

I sent this knowledge back up the chain of command, and as far as I can tell, everything was effectively patched up. What I do know for certain, even if I'm still unaware of a deadline, I know in the future to cite not only the duration, but the projected time of arrival.

Friday, April 2, 2010

9 secrets to becoming Superclient

(OK, maybe "Superclient" is a bit strong, but at least a client who makes us creatives super happy and therefore super productive. And that's what you want, isn't it?)

The always-entertaining Ad Chick runs a little ad agency in Hooterville, U.S.A., and her Wednesday post, "Being a good client" hits the mark on a number of levels. I found it particularly interesting that it was driven by a client 1) realizing that they had been Behaving Badly and 2) wanting to turn that around. In all my years, I've never heard of that before.

For me, Ad Chick's list underscores the importance of respect and trust in the client-vendor relationship. (It's also a good reminder for those of us who put on the client hat when we sub out work to other solo entrepreneurs.) Not only is it more productive that way, it's a helluva lot more fun.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Motivating yourself with a "win" board

One of my independent-creative friends joked that it's tough playing hooky when you work for yourself, because you're automatically busted. That set off a string of banter about there being no point to calling in sick, how it's awkward to give yourself an annual review, and the difficulty of reprimanding yourself.

The truth is, freelancing can be a pretty solitary enterprise if you let it. (Some prefer it that way!) And if you're in the business long enough, it can often seem like you've fallen into a feedback-free zone or a negative-feedback-only rut.

As a matter of practice, anytime I get an attaboy from a client--could be a thank you, or a compliment about a story, a positive anecdote, a great result from an advertising campaign--I print it out and push-pin it to a bulletin board on my wall. I'm a very internally motivated person, and I don't waste much time worrying about criticism, but there are times my "win" board serves as a reminder of why I do what I do. Even when things go sideways with one client, it sure helps to have a reminder that your skills have been appreciated by a horde of others.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Ask me no questions, I'll tell you no lies

The always-insightful George "Geo" Tannenbaum at Ad Aged is constructing a list titled "99 lies. A work in progress." The count was up to 43 as of a moment ago, but he's continuing to add if you want to give a shot at mocking ad agency/creative world prevarication.

His first five are:
  1. I will never lie to you.
  2. We're all in this together.
  3. The only thing that matters is the work.
  4. I'm a straight shooter.
  5. I like it.
For what it's worth, my suggestions were:
  • We're interested in trying something different.
  • I'm not worried about face time.
  • We're focused on the results, not the process.
  • It's not my call.
  • That's my final offer.

10 things you shouldn't ask a freelance writer

Susan Johnston at the Urban Muse posted a nifty little item yesterday, "10 Things You Should NOT Ask a Freelance Writer," assembled from an informal poll of her Twitter and Facebook followers. She was kind enough to h/t me for her #9 item--but all of them will surely generate a laugh or a cringe from anyone who's been in the biz for more than a few minutes.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Is self employment really what you want?

I recently had lunch with a longtime friend and business associate, let's call her Kathy, who got laid off a few months ago. She's been filling the time with intermittent freelance gigs, but her frustration is palpable--having been at her previous corporate employer for more than a decade, and given the state of the economy, perhaps that's no surprise.

So our conversation turned to what she has found most difficult about self employment and the freelance world. For Kathy, it's "Not knowing where my next project is going to come from, or when it's going to happen."

That intrigued me, because I'd say that's one of the aspects I like *most* about running my own business. I totally groove on the excitement of not knowing what's around the next bend, what that next phone ring will bring. Sure, sometimes it takes a bit longer than you'd like, but eventually the committed entrepreneur needs to come to grips with it. If not, you're likely better off in an office environment where the assignments (and paychecks) come more regularly. No shame in that, though probably best recognized early on. A desperate freelancer can't be a successful one.

Kathy also made an important point for those of us who are in a position to help someone who's unemployed or underemployed. She said it's amazing to see the number of people who she thought she could depend on who suddenly weren't available when she ran into tough times. If you're a writer, editor or graphic designer, a free resume/cover letter polish goes a long way; if you're a web guru, provide some help to someone who could use an online portfolio. Lend a sympathetic ear. Make a phone call. Send an email. Pay it forward.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

PR Pro, Part II: 3.5 reasons why I can't show you the story

Last week, I recounted one of the best encounters I've ever had with a public relations professional helping me with a story. (Go here; I'll be here when you get back.)

Today, I want to touch briefly on the reasons why the surprisingly common "Can I see the story before it runs?" request chafes me so terribly:
  1. By asking the question, you're subtly implying that I might misconstrue your story, make your company look bad, make your competitor look good, etc., etc. It's much nicer to operate from a position of mutual trust and respect. After all, I'm assuming that you're giving me the straight scoop about your client. (You are, aren't you?)
  2. Most editorial policies preclude me from showing you anything other than direct quotes. Thus, you're putting me in the awkward position of telling you "no" right after you did me the favor of providing resources for my story. I'm a nice guy, but my allegiance is to the publication that gave me the assignment.
  3. Even if I did show the story to you, I wouldn't change anything unless it was factually incorrect. I calls 'em like I sees 'em, and I pride myself on getting things right.
Finally, Reason 3.5 is this: Keep in mind that, if I have a question about whether something is accurate, I will certainly contact you.

Now, in defense of the PR pros who insist on asking the question, I suppose there is the occasional writer, editor or publisher who says, "Sure! I'll send it right over!" (I've even known a couple of ad salespeople who've sent a galley proof clandestinely, which is about the sleaziest thing you can do.)

Using the shotgun method to find those people is your right. At the same time, it's my right to stick to my own guns: Trust me.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Sex, violence and the freelancer

This past weekend, I headed down I-10 to the Tucson Festival of Books, where I staffed the Editorial Freelancers Association booth for a couple of hours each day. During one of my breaks, I attended a workshop titled "Writing Convincing Sex Scenes (the PG Version)." While I'm not currently working on a novel, the title broke through the cacophony of "how to get published" and "you can make a living as a writer" offerings that populated much of the schedule. I figured, why not?

David Fulmer, author of The Blue Door and Chasing the Devil's Tail, among others, taught the session. He was at turns hilarious and insightful about these sensitive topics, which he has taught at the university level. (The course title usually includes violence as well as sex, but it was truncated to fit in the festival program.) In his own books, he uses profanity sparingly, doesn't talk about specific body parts, and cuts the scene "when the clothes hit the floor" so that the reader has to do some of the work.

Obviously, most of us don't spend much time freelancing about sex or violence--at least the circles I travel in! Nevertheless, Fulmer made a number of points that apply to our craft in more general terms:
  • You can't be afraid to step out of your comfort zone.
  • You can't care about what friends and family think, or you're in the wrong business. 
  • As a storyteller, everything you do needs to move the plot forward--if it's gratuitous, dump it. 
  • To succeed, you have to blend a writer's creativity with an editor's objectivity.
I'm not sure I've got the guts to write the ultimate steamy scene, nor do I know how many projects I'll get out of the festival, but at the very least I collected a pocketful of business cards and oddball stories. And in the meantime, heaven knows what kind of entertaining Google search word hits it'll drive having "sex" in the headline.

Friday, March 5, 2010

In praise of a PR pro

Public relations and its practitioners often get a bad rap. (I still have scars from a quick stint in corporate PR back in the early 1990s.) Sometimes it's self-inflicted--Exhibit A being the follow-up calls to ask "Did you get my press release?"--but just as often, it's the nature of the beast. Particularly in unskilled hands, PR comes across as a "push" industry in a world that favors "pull."

Today, I encountered a PR pro at the top of her game:
  • She wasn't dismissive or irritable when I told her my deadline is next week, even as she admitted that she couldn't get the interview that I was hoping for. I could tell she sensed I was in a bind, and guilt-tripping me wouldn't do her any good. It's amazing how many PR folk get crabby with an on-deadline writer...and equally amazing how much farther empathy, support and treating us like customers would get them and their clients.
  • When I asked her about the availability of hi-res photos, she had them and a media kit in my email box in less than 45 minutes. (And based on her time zone, she probably stayed late at the office to do it.) No effort required on my part, compared to the many resources nowadays that demand written requests in order to acquire a photo. 
  • She didn't ask to see the article, which a surprising number of PR people do. (Most magazines don't permit anything but direct quotes to be reviewed by sources.) This is such an important issue, I'll dig deeper in an upcoming post.*
  • What impressed me most, however, is how she clearly delineated what makes her company different, without lapsing into a sales pitch. The way she described the industry and how her company fits into it was brief and objective; her presentation was confident, smooth and simple, she didn't really need to brag.
I'm still writing the story, so I'm not at liberty of naming the person and her company. I will do so at a future date. In the meantime, I just thought it would be a proper thing to end the week by spreading some good karma, as well as sharing the handiwork of a skilled professional.

*3-18-10 UPDATE: Followup to bullet #3 can be found here: "3.5 reasons I can't show you the story."

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

$100 and restoring my faith in humanity, kindasorta

Late last spring I did a small brochure project for a new client who'd been referred by a local designer. Slam-dunk project, total price tag of $400. Wrote it, revised it, invoiced it.

Then waited. Then sent a reminder invoice, then another with a cc to my lawyer, then a phone call. Etc., etc., etc. I continued to follow up regularly; not only did I never get a check, I didn't even get a response. The brochure was on a real-estate-related topic, so I chalked it up to bankruptcy (not the only such case in the past year).

Fast forward to yesterday. I stopped by my office mailbox, and--lo and behold!--there's a check in there for $100, with a hand-written note: Hope to send more soon. Thanks for your patience.

In addition to learning what a "debtor in possession" is, I'd describe the experience as similar to finding a twenty in a pair of pants I hadn't worn in a while--not life-changing, but a pleasant surprise. Mentally, I'd written it off to a project that was so small and quick that (naively, in retrospect) a deposit didn't seem necessary. But, the net effect of the $100 and note was to restore my faith...maybe not in humanity, but at least in small businesses willing to do the right thing despite financial challenges.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Simplicity is hard. Let's go shopping!

Simpler, generally speaking, is better. A clever little riff on the subject can be found here.

H/T to my tech-entrepreneur-iPhone-app-developer-and-deep-thinker bud Chris DeVore.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

4 business tips for freelancers...from Molly Maid

I know you're thinking, "Molly Maid? Really?" But hang with me here. A few weeks ago on a lazy Sunday, I contacted two cleaning services through their respective online forms. Here's how it went down:
  1. The owner of the local Molly Maid franchise called me at 8:30 a.m. on Monday, while his competitor didn't call till later that afternoon. I know that there's a desire among freelancers to be perceived as busy and exclusive, but don't forget that there's considerable impact from being prompt and responsive, too.
  2. The Molly Maid guy was brief on the phone. The other company's rep did way too much rambling and bragging about why his company is superior before he ever asked me about my needs. In the excitement of having a prospect, beware the temptation to gush information. (You'll have plenty of time to prove how wonderful you are once you start a project.) Ask questions instead.
  3. The bid was presented as a range that would be finalized after the first cleaning. I'm a huge believer in "estimated ranges" for freelancers because they A) give the client an incentive to be easy to work with and B) give you an opportunity to reward that behavior. I was pleasantly surprised when our first cleaning came in at the low end of the range, whereas if he had just given a hard number and hit it, it wouldn't have thought anything of it.
  4. A significant portion of Molly Maid's business comes from people weary of independent agents who were inexpensive, but inconsistent about how well they cleaned, or who would switch days and times, or simply not show up at all. So too, in many, many cases, a prospect for your creative services has been burned by a previous bad experience with Freelancerius flakius. Your job, particularly while mopping up someone else's mess, is to reassure them with professional reliability.
I've resisted the temptation in the headline and body text so far, but I can't any longer: Freelancing may be a Dirty Job, but these four tips can help you clean up.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

What's in a word: "Backronym"

Backronym is one of those neat words that means exactly what it says: Taking an existing word and retrofitting words to make an acronym from it. (It also happens to be an example of one of my other favorite word/concepts, a portmanteau: two words blended to make a new one with a meaning that combines the two. Lewis Carroll gets the credit for using that word first in Alice in Wonderland.)

Two famous examples of backronyms that come to mind from childhood are Fiat standing for "Fix it again, Tony" or Ford meaning "Found on roadside, dead." The backronym for posh--"port outbound, starboard home"--is falsely believed to derive from the location of wealthy passengers' berths on trips between England and India. More likely, it was derived from slang for money.

Backronym is such a terrific word that I was surprised to see that it's a relatively young one. Wikipedia attributes it (spelled "bacronym") to a Washington Post language contest in 1983.

And if you really, really have too much time on your hands, take a spin on the random Backronym Generator.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The S-word, the R-word, and the F-word

When my daughter was about 4, she tattle-taled that her 5-year-old brother had said "the S-word." This didn't seem right to me; even though my wife and enjoy cussing, I was pretty confident that we'd shielded their young ears from four-letter words to that point. (That's no longer the case.)

After a bit of cross examination, I managed to get her to reveal that Nick had actually said "stupid"--yes, a banned word in our household, though mercifully not the one I'd feared.

Which brings me to the recent kerfuffle about "the R-word" as a placeholder for the word retard or retarded. I will say that Rahm Emmanuel's use of it, paired with the F-word gerund, is appalling language for a person in the public eye. It was appropriate for him to apologize. On the other hand, I'm not on board with the pledges to forcibly remove retard or retarded from the everyday lexicon, and scrubbing it from U.S. law seems quixotic at best, Orwellian at worst. It is a completely inappropriate pejorative, but where do you stop? Languages are full of nasty, hateful words.

I'm confident that turning "the R-word" into a euphemism for an ugly phrase doesn't solve the root problem, which is crudeness and thoughtlessness. Anyone with a brain knows EXACTLY what the placeholder means. That's why I loathe the phrase "the N-word." Hiding behind that "N" is a concept at its ugliest.

On a lighter note, I wonder who's in charge of deciding which word gets first rights to the use of each of the letters in the alphabet. (The OED?) On occasion, I'll jokingly call freelancing "the other F-word," because so many people have had a bad experience on one side of the fence or the other. But right now, you can just call me "the B-word": bored with the whole stupid issue.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Derek Zoolander Center for People Who Can't Spel Gud

During a recent visit to a hospital to cover a story, I spotted a suggestion box labeled "CHAPLIN REQUESTS." (Yes, I resisted the temptation to ask if they had any mustachioed silent-film stars handy for my amusement while I waited.)

In fact, I didn't say anything. The instant calculation in my head was that 1) it was not misleading as far as its intended purpose, 2) most people won't even realize it's misspelled, and 3) it's kind of funny.

If your brain is wired for language, you can't help but notice spelling and grammar abuse at every turn. Makes you feel superior, eh? The question, then, is whether to say anything when you do--hence the "instant calculation" I performed in my head. For me, the inputs include:
  • the seriousness of the error (lethal, misleading or just silly?)
  • the location it appears in (high traffic or inconsequential?)
  • the cost that it would take to fix it (signage, printed material or website?)
  • my relationship with the responsible party (client, vendor or someone who would likely think I was a know-it-all smartaleck?)
My longtime proofreader Bonnie Trenga has a section at her Sentence Sleuth blog for people to add their own "criminal sentences." She secured my business back in the mid-'90s by marking up a magazine that I edited and asking if we could use her services. A risky tactic, but it worked.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Challenging client? Pick up the phone.

As writers, we're not afraid of expressing ourselves in text. Indeed, there's a certain amount of pride at our abilities to make the written word do a little jig on the page, to persuade, to entertain, to make people laugh, cry, etc. We can do anything with a clever turn of phrase, right?

But my experience has been that the phone is often the best tool to deal with an interminable back-and-forth with a client. The other day, I experienced a pingpong of emails with one of my usually low-maintenance clients. Little editorial tweaks on an article I'd written--nothing major, but each time required pulling up the file, making the change, and sending it over for re-approval.

I realized, after around Round 4, that we weren't getting to a resolution, so I called her up. It was the best decision I could have made: She was able to express herself much more quickly verbally than she was doing via email. And it also gave me a chance to schmooze her a little bit, ask her about how things are going, and get on her calendar for coffee in a few weeks.

A few closing thoughts:
  1. Part of successful communication is understanding which mode is best suited to a given situation.
  2. On the phone, you can pick up and deliver subtle cues that can't be conveyed in text.
  3. As a businessperson, you need to recognize that being a skilled writer doesn't mean that it's the only or best tool in the box.
So, a question for you: What tricks do you use to derail the re:re:re:re train?


Note: While we're on the subject of client challenges, Planet Word has a two-entry series on "Selling Your Value" that's worth a read.

An earlier version of this was cross-posted at Freelance Writerville II [registration req'd]. 

Monday, January 25, 2010

Escaping the Freelance Habitrail

"Whenever aspiring writers ask me for advice, I usually tell ’em this: Don’t just write there, do something. Learn how to shingle a roof, or tap-dance, or raise sled dogs. Because if you don’t do anything, you wind up [someone] for whom words are props and codes and metaphors but no longer expressive of anything real."
--Mark Steyn

Whether or not you embrace author/commentator Mark Steyn's worldview or political leanings, there's no question that he's an incisive and vivid writer. The point he makes here is an essential one, because it points toward the value of being a multidimensional human being, not just a skilled rearranger of words. We are the sum of our experiences; as a writer's career progresses, a danger lurks in remaining immersed solely in the world of language. It's where we're comfortable, often too much so.

I'd argue that it's even truer for those of us who transact in the corporate realm--clients dig insights that come from outside the advertising/marketing Habitrail. Reading about diverse topics can help, but nothing tops experiencing something out of the ordinary, or even experiencing the ordinary itself.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Time for Timer

I've always envied those writers who sit down and crank out hundreds of words for hours on end. That's not the way my brain works. I'm more of a sprinter: write for short bursts of time, then do something else for a while--invoicing, filing, go for a run, etc.

So, the other day on the Wall Street Journal, I came across a review of time management/organizational techniques. The Pomodoro Technique description caught my eye for its simplicity: You set a timer for 25 minutes, after which you've earned a 5-minute break. (I downloaded the ebook but haven't read it yet...I'm wondering if I even need to.) There are several Mac Dashboard widgets to accomplish the task, but I chose "Egg Timer," which pings you with verbal message when it expires. Mine says, "Time to check the Pomodoro."

Also on the WSJ recommendation, I also purchased a copy of "Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity," and it's an interesting read so far. It's designed to be a "whole-life" organizer, and I particularly like the ways in which it departs from the standard Franklin Planner method, which never really worked for me.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

What your business can learn from another roadside attraction

On the Trans-Canada Highway in New Brunswick just shy of Nova Scotia, there's a tourist attraction called Magnetic Hill. It gained fame in the 1800s as a place where your horse cart would appear to roll uphill, though today it's arguably better known as an amusement park/water slide/zoo complex that also holds rock concerts for long-in-the-tooth headliners like AC/DC. There are enough "gravity hills" in the world that Wikipedia has an entry for the phenomenon, though the one from which this particular site takes its name is pretty well an afterthought at this point.

Like so many roadside attractions, Magnetic Hill is, alas, a tad underwhelming. You pay your five bucks, get your instructions from the hill attendant (a frontrunner for Boringest Jobs in North America), and drive to the appointed marker a hundred meters or so in the distance. Put the car in neutral, crane yourself around so you can see out the rear window, let off the brake and, voila, your brain thinks you're coasting uphill. The illusion isn't terribly convincing--as my teenage son put it, "I think it's more like Momentum Hill."

So, the business angle. You always hear experts say that you should never overpromise and underdeliver, but that's the business plan of just about any roadside attraction, isn't it? Their marketing abilities deserve the utmost respect, surviving on no more than an endless tease of billboards and quarter-page ads in local tourista publications. Because they're dependent on a fool-me-once clientele, the "underdeliver" part doesn't really matter. Repeat customers, on the other hand, require reliability and trust. The lesson in here for freelancers, or for that matter any type of businessperson, really comes down to promising and delivering. Say what you're going to do, then do it, and you'll have a good chance to do it until you don't want to anymore.

Then again, you could argue that our family has derived far more than our $5 worth of laughs since being lured off the highway on that fateful summer afternoon. Unforgettable experiences come in a variety of packages, eh?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Surveys in, tallying begins

The Freelance Forecast 2010 surveys have closed, and the results of this year's more than 400 participants have been posted at

If you'd like to participate in next year's survey there is also an email sign-up link—welcome aboard!