Tuesday, April 26, 2011

In praise of Verizon

I resisted getting our two teenagers cell phones for as long as possible, before finally relenting a few months back. I pretty quickly regretted my decision when I received a Verizon bill for several hundred dollars for going over the limit on texts. Yeah, call me Naive Dad, Poor Dad.

But there was a catch — in previous months, when they'd exceeded the allotted number, I'd received a warning from Verizon so I could tell the kids to cool it. This time, the bill came through without a peep.

I called customer service to plead my case. The first person I spoke to offered a 50% discount. Thanks, but no thanks. Moreover, she basically blamed me for not keeping track of the account usage, and said the warnings were at Verizon's option. I asked to speak to a supervisor, but she was at lunch, so she would call me back later. She didn't.

A few days later, I called and pleaded my case to a different rep. This guy repeated the same 50% offer, which I declined, but also took the extra step to inform me of a better plan for our usage pattern. I signed up immediately. Again, no supervisor was available, but someone would call me back.

And again, no callback came. So, this weekend I made one final call and finally hit paydirt:
  • The rep, Pam, heard me out without interruption or a guilt trip.
  • She agreed that the situation was not right.
  • She apologized that I had received poor customer service from previous reps.
  • She immediately put me on the line with a supervisor.
The conversation with Vonda the supervisor lasted about 2 minutes. I gave her the Reader's Digest version, she was profusely apologetic, and credited my account as I'd been requesting since Call #1. I thanked her and let her know that she had renewed my faith as a longtime and loyal Verizon customer.

Was I disappointed that it took so long to resolve my issue? Sure. But I'm a cheap SOB and nothing if not persistent when it comes to a couple hundred bucks! The customer service lesson in here is a familiar one: Ask the person what he or she wants, and solve the problem on the first call if you can.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Embrace your inner honey badger

The following video is 100% utterly not safe for work (NSFW), so don't say I didn't warn ya. But amongst the rough language and ewww-disgusting imagery...well, there are a few lessons for freelancers, just as there were in the analogy of "I am MacGyver." I say, embrace your inner honey badger!

Freelancing isn't risk free — it's some pretty rough terrain on which to stake your livelihood. So what's the takeaway from the wacky antics of this lovable little creature?
  • Sometimes, you've got to be a bad***, whether it's chasing away jackals or digging into a bee's nest.
  • Once in a while, you're going to do all the digging, and some other creature will benefit unfairly from the fruits of your labors. "Thanks for the web content, Stupid!"
  • You need to have broad shoulders, and thick skin helps, too.
  • Don't give a s*** about being bitten by the occasional cobra. Take a nap and get back to work.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Where can I find high paying writing freelance jobs?

I usually refrain from promoting my Dr. Freelance entries here, but I'm making an exception for a guest poster, All Freelance Writing's Jennifer Mattern: "Where can I find high paying freelance writing jobs?"

Her sage advice applies not only to freelancers who focus on writing and editing, but any creative field, as well as entrepreneurs of any stripe. If you hope to find gigs that pay well, you need to go beyond the publicly available listings of what's available out there — and Jenn's provided some excellent, practical thoughts on exactly how to do that.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Go ahead, go on strike

The Huffington Post blogger brouhaha has descended from farce into...whatever the heck is one step stupider than "farce."

Here's the most recent bit: "Arianna Huffington: 'Go Ahead, Go on Strike -- No One Will Notice.'" (Practical question: Can you really go on strike from a job that you weren't even paid for?)

Sorry, bloggers-for-nothing: You've been pwnd. You voluntarily chose to work for free, in the naive hope of getting famous. Nobody forced you to do it. Your boss-owner may not be the most gracious person in the world, but she made a zillion dollars, and you'll see none of it, regardless of the lamentations of The Newspaper Guild, California Media Workers Guild, and National Writers Union of how unfair it all is.

You cut your own deal, and it was an epically crappy one from a business perspective. And quite frankly, you pretty much piss me off, since your lack of business acumen devalued what freelancers do.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

I'm sorry, Jake. I'm afraid I can't do that...

Apple Time Machine saved my business last night. It also saved all of the digital photos my family has taken in the past decade, all of the music we've accumulated (including painstaking rips from vinyl to MP3s), our tax records since the early '90s, and a thousand other items I won't belabor.

Here's how it went down. 6:03 p.m., I'm about to wrap things up for the day. I quit Firefox, or rather *attempted* to quit Firefox. But instead of shutting down, I got the little Spinning Beach Ball of Death. Calmly, I tried to force quit the application, and in the back of my head I hear HAL from 2001 intoning, "I'm sorry, Jake. I'm afraid I can't do that." It doesn't work, which has never happened to me. So, I power down the computer.

But when I tried to reboot, I got the flashing question mark folder instead of the Apple. I tried the usual schtick: Reset the PRAM. Nothing. Safe reboot. Nada. I hop on the laptop, do a quick search describing the symptoms, and conclude the hard drive is kaput.

At some level, nagging people to "back up your computer" is a bit like anti-smoking or anti-obesity ranting. It's something that we all know. Either you heed the warnings or you don't, devil take the hindmost. The fact that I'd protected myself allowed me to sleep last night...knowing that a new $79 hard drive and a click of the "restore" button would bring me right back to where I left off, semi-panicked, last night.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Welcome to 1984, but lamer

My 8th grade daughter came home from school the other day and informed us that they're not allowed to use the word "dice" in school anymore. In a political-correctness-run-amok moment, they're now known as "number cubes."

I wish I were joking. I am not.

Heck, by the time I was in 7th grade, my dad and I had a weekly nickel-dime-quarter poker game with my best friend and his dad, and I have taught my kids everything I know about poker, blackjack and craps strategy. Indeed, I consider it one of my core parental responsibilities, based on the old gambling saying that "If you're at the table for 5 minutes and can't spot the sucker, it's you." As in cards, so in life.

And if the schools believe that they're somehow going to deter kids from gambling with a P.C. word construction as lame as "number cubes," they are simply delusional. Ignorance is not strength, no matter what the Ministry of Truth might want you to believe.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Suckerpunched (or Why Friends and Family Make Lousy Clients)

Dante's circle for unscrupulous businessmen
Tim Berry at Planning Startups Stories wrote a nice post earlier this week titled "Tip: Mistakes are more fun than tips." In that spirit, allow me to share a doozy of a stupid that I committed a few months ago that finally imploded yesterday.

As a general rule, I don't do paid work for friends and family. My experience is that they expect too much for too little, and emotions play too much of a role — i.e., they're lousy clients.

But in late fall, during a slow week and as a favor to a family friend, I took on a referral for writing the content for a small website. The owner seemed nice enough, her website was ghastly, and she needed a few business letters written. I offered a modest bid. Which she promptly accepted.

The two business letters were the top priority, so I promptly and heavily rewrote what she'd sent me, and she signed off on them after a round or two of revisions. So far, so good. I commenced on the website copy, and she seemed to be happy with the initial two pages.

She's an event promoter, so the remaining items were brief summaries of the various events she handles. And that's where things got sticky. It turned out, there really wasn't any source information on the events other than what she'd posted in previous years, and some of the events had no information at all. So, I asked if I could interview her in order to gather some raw ideas about what she wanted. She was unresponsive. I MacGyvered it as best I could, but she wanted more and fresher information. I reminded her of my offer to do it interview style, and again, she just seemed more inclined to grumble than to help me help her.

At this point she wanted to know exactly how much her tally was. I provided a summary, subtracting out what she claimed was unusable. She asked me to send an invoice, and I did.

Then I didn't hear from her. Then I sent a second notice, and a polite email asking when I could expect payment or if she'd like to break it up into two installments. No response.

Fast forward to yesterday. I called her, and again, as politely as possible, inquired about the status of the invoice. At which point she informed me:
  • She had to heavily rewrite the letters I'd given her (which was news to me, since she'd approved them)
  • She had to rewrite the copy I'd provided for the web page (which was an outright lie, based on comparing what I sent her to what's currently posted on the site)
  • She had shown my invoice to another writer she knows (!) who thought that it was too high (unsurprising, given that the other writer charges her about half my hourly rate)
I'd been suckerpunched. I asserted that she did indeed sign off on the items I'd provided, and she retorted, essentially, "Nuh-uh-no-I-didn't." I stood by the invoice, in which I'd been painfully generous, and she basically spat on it. After a bit of back-and-forth, I simply said, "You know what, Sandy [not her real name], clearly we're not getting anywhere here. I think it's best if you just send me a check for what you believe you owe me. If that's $0, that's your prerogative."

I've already wasted the time, no sense in wasting further mental energy, and the piddling amount isn't worth pursuing legal action. Even after full-time freelancing for almost 12 years now, evidently I occasionally need to re-learn stupid mistakes in order to remember them. Tattoo it on my butt and carve it on my tombstone: No more friends and family clients.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Freelancer Bill of Rights? No, thanks.

My friend Katharine O'Moore-Klopf of KOK Edit posted an item about the Freelancers Union Freelancer Bill of Rights over at the EFA Yahoo Groups board, and I couldn't help but toss in my two cents. (Update: As Katharine notes in the comments, she is not affiliated with the Freelancers Union and was only providing information for freelancers to check out. My apologies for not making that clear!)

I confess I don't particularly groove on the language from their intro page: Freelancers have the right "to empower themselves to demand fair treatment from clients."

Really? *Demand*? I'd argue that fair treatment is earned, not guaranteed.

The list itself? Meh. Nothing you haven't heard before. Frankly, you can already do all of the items they outline if you'd like — but I come down in the camp of the commenter who said: "If every time I hired a plumber, electrician, or snow plow guy he came back with a 'Plumber/Electrician/Plow Guy Bill of Rights' I wouldn't do business with him." Bingo. My primary issues are these:
  • A document such as the Freelancer Bill of Rights positions clients as adversaries rather than business partners. 
  • Do you really want to come across as defensive and difficult to work with? Chill, breeze.
  • As Lori Widmer riffed in "The Freelance Nevers" and "Writerly Misconceptions" this week, there are no absolutes.
Call me cynical (trust me, you won't be the first), but I believe this type of initiative actually holds freelancers back: Thinking that there's some sort of magic pill that'll make all the bad clients go away. Thinking a big brother like a union will enforce The Rules to protect you. Thinking that setting a minimum price will protect you from lowball clients.

As we discussed on Halloween, it all comes down to watching your own tail. You choose, every day, what you want to do, who you want to do it with, and how you want to do it. No like? Don't do.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Waterboarding the English language

Last week, I received an emergency story assignment from one of my longtime editors who was heading out the door for vacation. I needed to get a short quote from a few different sources for a piece about improving your finances in the coming year. Easy peasy.

I was reminded, in the process, that our country is litigating itself into oblivion.

I'm accustomed to running quotes by my sources, though there are reasons why I won't show someone the entire story. That said, this particular situation was truly a stunner. One of my sources gave me a two-sentence quote of fairly standard financial advice that needed approval from her compliance department. As it happens, she had received an honor in 2010 as one of the country's top 100 women in her field, and I wanted to mention that as a way of boosting her credentials. The compliance department said that was fine, as long as I included the following disclaimer:
"Source: Magazine X's Top 100 Women [in her field], [month/date], as identified by Magazine X, using quantitative and qualitative criteria and selected from a pool of over 450 nominations. [People] in the Top 100 Women [in her field] have a minimum of seven years of [experience] and [seriously large amount of money that they manage]. Qualitative factors include, but are not limited to, compliance record, interviews with senior management and philanthropic work. [Specific performance] is not a criterion. The rating may not be representative of any one client's experience and is not indicative of the [specific job title's] future performance. Neither [the source's company] nor its [people in the same job as my source] pay a fee to Magazine X in exchange for the rating. Magazine X is a registered trademark of the [even bigger publishing conglomerate name]. All rights reserved."
In case you're not counting, that's about 150 words to disclaim a 8-word phrase that stated a simple fact that someone had received an industry honor.

How, exactly, those bon mots of legalese would prevent anyone making a foolish decision with his or her money, I am not sure. But, what I *am* confident of is that this little exercise in the waterboarding of the English language — not to mention common sense — surely cost the interviewee's company several hundred dollars in legal fees.

Fees which the parent company eventually charges as fees to its customers, making life more expensive and retirement ever more elusive...and proving that our lawyer-legislators are ignorant, above all, of The Law of Unintended Consequences.