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!