Wednesday, May 30, 2012

When Real Life Goes Awry Will You Be Prepared

My Memorial Day weekend was spent in a hospital with my mother after a trip to the ER to have a nasty injury treated resulted in surgery and an extended hospital stay. Thankfully she's doing much better, but Friday was complete chaos where my business was concerned. I was forced to conduct one client call in the ER examining room because my mother didn't want me to leave her alone. Thankfully my client was quite understanding and allowed me to reschedule our call for another time.

I've successfully navigated my freelance writing business around  unexpected emergencies before. It was much easier to do when we were still in Atlanta and had an awesome network of support in place to turn to. Now that we've relocated to my hometown, it's pretty much just me and hubby right now. The reality of the matter is when you're dealing with an emergency, that's your problem - not your client's. Your client still expects the project he/she paid for to be completed according to the terms of your agreement (Yes, I'm automatically assuming every freelancer is utilizing some kind of agreement BEFORE starting a project).

This morning I came across a really informative blog post addressing the issue of emergency planning tips. I realize my plan needs updating. A few of the writer's suggestions that stood out to me:

Include a Force Majeure Clause in Your Agreement

This clause protects both parties from liabilities and obligations due extreme, unexpected circumstances - anything beyond you control that could keep you from fulfilling the terms of the contract. Examples include "acts of God," war, etc.

Identify Your "Vulnerable Points"

Every freelancer's circumstances are different. If you're a 25-year old, unmarried freelancers with no children or other responsibilities your vulnerability points are fewer than a single mom with two kids and a mortgage. Take it from me, kids get sick, schools spring unexpected vacation days on you - you have to recognize the circumstances that can turn into obstacles and plan ahead for these kinds of situations.

Have an Emergency Savings In Place

It's important to get into a habit of setting aside savings from each job you complete. If an emergency results in you being unable to work for a period of time, you'll need funds in place to float you until you're about to work again.

Create an Emergency Communications Plan

As soon as things go wrong, you'll need to immediately contact your clients and keep them updated.

Do you have an emergency plan in place for your operation?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

It's a Great Day to Be a Writer

Writers’ Worth week is still going strong over at Words on the Page. Today my contribution, "Flexing Your Confidence Muscle," is up, so please stop by to read and comment if you feel so inclined.

It’s still early, but so far it’s been a great day. I've just returned from my 11-year old’s school award ceremony where she reaped the rewards of all her hard work this year. Scholastically she’s much more impressive than I was at her age, and I hope she always retains her work ethic, focus and discipline -regardless of what she chooses to do in life.

In other news... we found a house. Finally. Despite my husband’s repeated threats to see 30+ houses before he'd even considered one. We found "the one" only three houses into the hunt. I will FINALLY have a separate office space! There's plenty of yard and time for me to really get my vegetable garden going! I don’t look forward to moving again. Ugh. I'm hoping the fact that it’s a local move this time around means it won’t be too bad.

We’re more than half way through May and my earnings have already topped any other month of May since I’ve began freelancing full-time. Follow-ups seem to have been key here – one follow-up resulted in a long-term project. Still, I’m heading into what is typically the slow season for me, so even though I’m getting a late start on work today, I have to squeeze some marketing in today.

I’m juggling a lot more personal writing projects than I feel comfortable with right now, but thankfully I’ve set up goals and deadlines in a way that makes me accountable to a couple of helpful colleagues. I did this to motivate me to carry action over to completion. Without accountability, I’d probably keep putting these projects off and never follow through. These “accountability partners” will not tolerate excuses, and that’s exactly what I need.

How’s your week working out? Feel free to share whatever you’ve got going on.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Because You're Worth It

I wanted to give everyone a heads up about the wonderful series Lori Widmer has been publishing this week in honor of Writers Worth Week. Yesterday's post "When the Safety Net Is Gone" by Nancy Oliver was sooooo inspiring! She is living proof that there IS success after content mills. Hop over and check it out - you won't be disappointed. In fact, you may get the inspiration you need to finally stop thinking about freelancing and actually make moves to do it; or maybe find the courage to move away from low-paying clients to a much more lucrative market.

There's something for writers of all levels and backgrounds - whether you're just getting started or have been at it professionally for years. Stop by and share some love with all of the amazing writers who have contributed articles in support of Writers Worth Week. Hope you're having a positive, productive and profitable week. :)

Monday, May 14, 2012

Stand By Your Business Policies... And If You Don't Have Policies In Place, Get Some!

Last week I finally received the go ahead to start a ghost writing project I’d been negotiating with a client for several months. This will be a long-term project (around six months), so my terms included the standard down payment plus scheduled milestone payments. The client agreed, so full speed ahead, right?

Well, there was one small thing… The client contacted me last Tuesday to ask if I’d started working on the project. I let him know that I hadn’t received the down payment yet and (aside from any paid projects received before receiving his payment)would promptly began as soon as I did.

He responded telling me not to worry about the down payment – he would be sending it as we discussed and I shouldn’t worry because the funds are secured. This irritated me. Keep in mind, this wasn’t his first time hearing my terms. He’d agreed to them BEFORE I agreed to take on the project, so I kept my responding email message very simple and to the point. I stated, “It is my business policy not to begin a writing project until the down payment is received.” Thankfully, he immediately issued the funds, and I was paid within 24 hours.

I give my accountability partner credit for teaching me that handy, dandy tip about informing clients that “x is my business policy” when the need arises for me to enforce my terms of service. She has a Master’s degree in psychoanalysis and uses her extensive knowledge of human behavior quite frequently in her copywriting business. She and I were discussing the issue of enforcing our terms of service with clients a while back, and she explained that she finds using the “business policy” statement tends to reduce the likelihood of arguing with clients about issues like down payments, number of revisions, etc.

She speculates the reason this technique works is that it’s a reminder to the client that you are in fact a qualified, professional operating a business and not earning pocket change with some new found hobby. It’s not so easy to argue against a business policy – it’s understood that everyone must follow the exact same established terms, and there’s no negotiation.

Business policies and procedures help establish the basic structure for your operation. Clients don’t need to guess about your rules and guidelines, and can choose not to do business with you if they don’t agree with your terms.  Your policy can include very simple terms, for example: “50% down payment required to begin project.” “Client receives two complementary revisions. Subsequent revisions will be billed at that standard hourly rate.”

Do you provide clients with specified terms of service outlining your business policies and procedures? How often 9if ever) do you meet with resistance?

Monday, May 7, 2012

Believe in the Worth of the Service You Provide

My friend, Lori over at Words on a Page has been doing the most wonderful thing for the past five years. Each year she dedicates a week in May, now known as Writer's Worth Week, to helping both inexperienced and experienced writers recognize and live up to the worth of the words they write and the valuable service they provide to others as freelancers. This year she will be featuring a number of freelancers offing advice and inspiration to writers looking to break out of the rut of low-paying projects.

I’ve been following Lori’s blog ever since I first got a wild hair to try my hand at freelancing for a living. At the risk of sounding like some kind of fan girl, the practical advice and encouragement she shares with her readers is truly invaluable. I’ve actually gotten clients using some of her marketing tips. I also recommend joining the Five Bucks Forum, moderated by Lori and the equally wonderful Anne Waymann to learn everything you ever wanted to know about freelancing. They even answer questions directly and, as the name implies, the cost to join is only five bucks a month. Come on - if you're like me you're already blowing that during the week on Skinny Vanilla Lattes. It's a very worthy investment in your freelancing career.

FYI: If you’re a freelancer with advice about how writers can overcome low paying jobs, or you have a personal story to share, Lori is currently accepting guest posts to publish on her blog.

*Disclaimer: I received no compensation at all for recommending membership to the Five Bucks Forum. And yes, I happily pay my own dues each month.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A Big Freelance No No

A funny thing happened to me at the end of my work day Monday evening (I know this sounds like the beginnings of  a bad joke, but I assure you it's not). I received a call on my business line from someone - another writer who belongs to the same association as I do. She immediately introduced herself and stated that she was just reaching out to fellow colleagues she'd located through the membership database. Immediately my Spidy sense began tingling.

She began asking me how business was going and launched into a discussion about how successful she's been writing within this particular specialty. Can you see where she was going with this? Yeah, neither could I. but i was intrigued, so I listened. She eventually started asking me how I managed the "feast or famine" cycle we freelance writers are known to experience. That's when I asked about the purpose of her call.

She stated that as a freelance writer, she'd come to realize the importance of having a "plan B" for financial security. Freelance writing is her plan A, but what do you suppose her "plan B" Is? I'll tell you: she sells Melaleuca products. And she's doing so well financially, she just had to contact other members of our writer association to let them know about it and offer them a practically no risk opportunity to sign up to sell these products with her.

There are so many things wrong with this situation I can't even begin to tell you; but I'll start with the obvious. She's using the membership site that writers pay good money to join to solicit a service that has absolutely nothing to do with freelancing or the industry. I know for a fact that if I reported her to the Executive Director, he would NOT be too happy. As a freelancer, I understand the "hustle" mentality as well as anyone, but this is crossing some serious lines. There's absolutely nothing wrong with having a "plan B" to ensure your ability to make ends meet, but you have to use common sense.

I was polite to her but i let her know that I did not appreciate being solicited in that manner, and that it is not okay for her to ever solicit me in the future. I also cautioned her to seriously consider the consequences of her actions should the Executive Director ever get wind of how she is using the membership contact list.

I hope that everyone who reads this post already knows not to engage in this type of behavior. Utilize membership contacts responsibly and with respect. Treat their private contact information the way you'd like others to treat yours. Has anyone else experienced something like this? If so, how did you handle the situation?

Monday, April 30, 2012

Preparing for a New Week and New Month

House hunting picks up this week where we left off. My husband is traveling out of town this weekend, so we’ve agreed to schedule appointments to see the interior of at least two that we both actually liked. Fingers crossed – I need this to be over soon…

I spent the weekend creating a very ambitious marketing plan for May, wrapping up a couple of client deadlines and pushing through an ebook project with a May 1 deadline. My business coach encouraged me to get this ebook ready for her special annual promotion of information products guide, but I may have bitten off more than I can chew here. I still need to edit and proofread the content, deal with some minor formatting issues and get the squeeze page together. I don’t want to produce something just for the sake of providing her with a product to promote, so I think I’m going to have to pass on this opportunity and spend a bit more time tightening things up so I can launch it on my own.

Finally received confirmation to start a large ghostwriting project I’d been expecting for a few months(we discussed this initially back in December 2011). That’s the way freelancing goes – sometimes projects don’t come through when you expect or may never come to fruition at all. That’s why consistent marketing is so crucial (stepping off my soapbox now…). It’s coming at a good time. As soon as the client sends the down payment, I’ll get started.

I didn’t earn as much during April as I did in March, but I expected that. Between house hunting, the ebook and some impromptu software training via one of my staple clients, I didn’t put in as much work time this month. A portion of my April payment will arrive in May because I forgot to invoice one of my client’s this month. As long as I get the payment sometime in May, I’m good.

How was freelancing for you during the month of April?

Friday, April 20, 2012

House Hunting While Freelancing

This week I’ve been pretty busy ramping up my marketing efforts, to secure plenty of work for the slower (typically for me) summer months, managing client projects and looking for a house. Yes, the “cozy” rental we’ve lived in for the past 9 months is practically bursting at the seams. We will not be renewing the lease. We need more space, especially since my mother-in-law wants to move here to be closer to her grandchildren. I actually like my mother-in-law, so that's a good thing. :)

Those who know me are aware of how much I dislike the process of making major purchases (cars, houses and such). I don’t know why, but I just don’t find it enjoyable. At. All. The fact that my husband and I have such comically different approaches to decision making doesn’t help. While I’m absolutely desperate to find what we’re looking for and take immediate action as quickly as possible, he takes a much more methodical approach analyzing every possible detail at least 10 times in his head. And then discusses all of his findings and concerns with me. I'll do my best to cooperate.

Between client projects and marketing, I’m also working on a couple of personal writing projects. One has a pretty strict deadline, so I’ll really need to manage my time well over the next two weeks. Looks like I’ll be putting in work this weekend – not too much though. Weekends are for family so I’ll continue with the goal to keep weekends work-free.

I’ll leave you with some awesome posts from this week. Enjoy and have a great weekend!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Week End Review and Link Love

This week was a challenging one for me. I spent the week handling lots of legal and financial business for my mom. I knew this would take up a lot of my time, so I willingly designated the entire week to getting these things done and simply worked around it. If I don’t plan ahead, I become overwhelmed and wind up getting nothing done which is not an option.

Since this week was so busy, I didn't have time to read my favorite blogs. I spent some time this morning catching up and wanted to share some of the good stuff I’ve been reading with you.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Wednesday Ramblings

This morning I’m writing from a coffee shop about a half mile down from where I just dropped my four grumpy children off at school. Like their mother, they are NOT morning people, but thankfully caffeine makes it all better for me.

Today is the day I take my mother to run errands which is a full day activity. I usually wake up an hour earlier to fit in some work since I’ll be gone for most of the day, and then I make up for lost time later in the evening. There’s nothing pressing on today’s agenda. I’m waiting for two new client agreements and payment so that I can get started on their projects. I’m focusing on two magazine queries this week, and yesterday I sent off posts to two blogs I submit monthly contributions to. I also need to pay my taxes today – I don’t even need to forget to do that.

Before I pick up my mother, I plan to hit up this amazing, funky little salvage shop I discovered last weekend to search for more pots for my container garden. It’s normally advisable to wait until around April 15 to plant tomatoes, peppers and zucchini, but it’s pretty hot already and I seriously doubt we’ll suffer an unexpected freeze between now and the 15th.

How’s your Wednesday shaping up?

Monday, April 2, 2012

Hello Monday

For the first time in I’m not sure when, I did absolutely no work this weekend. And it was so wonderful! Last week the kids were home for spring break, so I’d lightened my workload anyway. Once upon a time I always kept weekends work free, but an overabundance of client projects has had me working most weekends for the past few months. Yes, the money was great, but my quality of life suffered. For me, freelancing is as much about being the master of my own schedule as it is about the freedom of being self-employed.

I spent Saturday working on my container garden and reading a book a (something I haven’t done in months!) good friend sent me – “Night Circus,” by Erin Morgenstern while listening to Esperanza Spalding. Sunday we prepared a huge brunch and later that afternoon flew kites. In the evening, once the kids were in bed, hubby and I just chilled, watched movies and enjoyed mango sorbet. All in all an extremely relaxing weekend.

Today I’ll be handling quite a bit of administrative stuff – returning emails, invoicing clients, blog maintenance and working on an ebook project. While tallying my numbers for March, I earned more than the previous month, and definitely made more than this time last year. The client I no longer work with accounts for a significant chunk of my March earnings. While I’m sad to see it go, it’s for the best and I have no doubt that I will be able to replace that income source with something better. I’m already negotiating with a client on a new project this morning, so it’s all good.

After attending Lori Widmer and Anne Wayman’s Trade Writing Webinar a couple of weeks agao, I’m so ready to start querying some trade pubs that have been on my radar. I haven’t written for a magazine in nearly two years, although that’s how I started freelancing. I miss it quite a bit and look forward to diving back in. I don't know if they'll be offering it again, but if you're interested in freelancing for magazines, I highly recommend it.

How was your weekend, and how’s your work week shaping up so far?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Should You Do Business with Family and Friends?

This morning I woke up to an email from a family member (my cousin) asking me to review her daughter’s resume. Her daughter will be graduating college in May, so they are dutifully helping her prepare to hit this struggling job market running.

Over the past couple years I’ve acquired quite a bit of resume writing experience working as a contract writer for a couple of firms (BTW - resume writing can be a nice, income-generating staple gig as Lori Widmer explained in a recent post). I don’t mind helping my cousin out with some helpful feedback and tips to consider. I realize that this job market is not treating recent graduates very well, so I’m more than happy to help.

The comments section in a recent blog post about working in exchange for product/service in lieu of monetary payment got me thinking more about the topic of doing business with friends and family. My general stance is that I don’t. One commenter said it best: “It’s too stressful.” That’s my experience as well. I have a very no-nonsense approach to the way I run my business and I wouldn’t want to strain a treasured relationship with sticky issues like whether or not I should do writing projects for free and whatnot.

What’s your stance on doing business with family and friends? Yay or nay?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Do You Really Enjoy What You Do?

We’re finally wrapping up my mother’s HVAC project today. I think. I hope…

This has to be the most easy, breezy home improvement project I’ve ever experienced. Seriously. The contractor I hired has operated his HVAC business for over 30 years, and has a very pleasant, personable demeanor. He’s been extremely patient about explaining anything that I didn’t understand, and he really loves what he does. Before we started the project, he practically gushed, “I’m 58 years old now. I love doing this kind of work – for me, this is like an enjoyable hobby!”

Recently I made the difficult decision to walk away from a steady, staple client because the demands were beginning to take over my time to a point where I felt like an overworked employee dreading the start of each week. The payment was good, but that feeling… it’s the same feeling I had when I worked for the newspaper. I lived for Fridays, and Sundays were usually overcast with melancholia and anxiety about returning to work each Monday. That’s no way to live.

The decision to walk away was not an easy one. I’d really gotten use to the income this gig generated each month. Unfortunately the growing workload started making it harder for me to find time for other client projects, administrative and marketing tasks and working on personal projects. What looks good in the short-term isn’t always the best long-term business decision.

Even though this client contributed a substantially to my monthly bottom line, I could never get completely comfortable with that kind of set up. I learned the hard way about relying too much on one client back when I first started freelancing. Diversification is the name of the freelancing game.

The HVAC contractor also reminded me that it’s important to enjoy what you do for a living. Freelancing is not the ideal lifestyle for everyone, but it fits me like a glove. I’ve learned over the years to hang in there and ride out the income ups and downs. I’ve learned through trial and error which projects I excel at and enjoy doing most. And I’ve learned to prioritize and actively pursue my personal projects. Freelancing is not a job, it’s a lifestyle of sorts, so for me it’s very essential that I enjoy what I do.

So now I’ll ramp up my marketing efforts and move forward with the confidence that I’ve made the best decision for me. Have you ever walked away from a steady gig? If so, did it turn out to be for the best?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

First Day of Spring Home Improvement Challenge

Since it’s about 20+ degrees hotter this March than normal, I’ve been busy working out details with my mother and the contractor I’ve hired to replace her 40 year old air conditioning unit. For the past four years, my father paid the guy to fill it with freon every summer so he and my mother could enjoy a cool environment during the hot, sticky, muggy southeastern season.

I called the same contractor last summer to come over ato work his air conditioning magic once again. He had trouble getting the unit to blow any cool air on the first day. After two days of fumbling with the ancient unit, he declared she was on her last leg and would absolutely have to be replaced in Spring 2012.

So here I am, on the first day of Spring, working on my laptop at my mother’s house and managing this home improvement project (translation: trying to keep my mother from interrupting the contractor’s work and telling him how to do his job).

I love my mother with all my heart, but I wouldn’t like having her as a client. At all. I’ve had clients like my mother. They need help. They don’t know how to do X so they hire you. While you work on X, they interject with lots of unnecessary advice. I always want to ask, “If you could do this, why did you hire me?”

When a client makes constant suggestions that would override the result they are hoping to achieve, you can wind up spending extra time explaining your strategy, demographics/psychographics, how marketing messages are received, etc.

So I’ll be spending the rest of this week working remotely from mom's kitchen table while also protecting the contractor from her non-expert interference. How’s your week shaping up so far?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Working on the Next Step

A few months ago I mentioned my intention of moving this blog to a self-hosted Wordpress platform. Well, things are finally in the works. I don't have a firm ETA, but I expect to have everything completed in a few weeks. I've been busy, busy, busy working on the details. In the meanwhile, I plan to keep writing, marketing, growing my business and sharing my experiences here as usual.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Will Work for Trade?

When I was a kid, my neighborhood friends and I used to trade stuff all the time. I had something my neighbor wanted and she had something I wanted which made trading pretty much a win-win situation. Fast forward to adulthood – a magazine publisher I once worked with used to participate in trade a lot as she was first getting her publication off the ground. I was hired on to help her with her advertising, and the first thing I noticed is that most of her advertisers were not paying her for ad spots – they were paying in the form of product. This was seriously hurting her bottom line, and eventually she shifted away from it completely.

I’ve always been a bit wary of offering my services in exchange for anything other than monetary payment. I once had a long-term client offer to teach me some of the more technical aspects of Wordpress in exchange for work he normally paid me for, but I declined. Although the Wordpress knowledge was valuable, It’s not something I would spend lots of time doing anyway, and I already had someone I could outsource those tasks to so that I devote more time to writing projects for pay.

About a month ago, an acquaintance contacted me seeking advice about writing a proposal for an online retailer. She had developed a very niche specific product and wanted to contact online retailers to see about having them carry the product. Initially I assumed she just wanted pointers on developing a proposal, but it soon became clear that she wanted me to write it for her. She asked if I would be willing to accept one of her many products in exchange for my writing services. I hesitated and told her I’d get back with her. I needed to speak with my accountability partner first.

My accountability partner provided lots of helpful advice in helping me decide whether or not to trade my writing services. She said she’d only traded services a handful of times, and offered these tips to keep things professional:

Make sure that the product or service you receive is equal to the service you’re providing.

This really is important, otherwise a trade exchange makes no sense. The product or service that you will receive should match the time and effort that you will put into the writing project you’ve been asked to produce. You should also only participate in a trade agreement if the product/service you’ll be receiving is actually something you can use. Don’t participate in a trade just for the sake of doing so if you get no real value from the deal.

Detail the terms of the trade in a contract.

Yep, that’s right, even though you won’t be writing in exchange for money, you still need to have a contract in place. Treat this transaction the same as your other writing projects: outline the terms of service, the product or service that you will receive as payment, and when the “payment” is to be delivered. Don’t make the mistake of treating a trade agreement too informally or you could end up writing for nothing.

Follow up immediately if you do not receive “payment.”

Again, this is a professional business transaction. If you consented to provide writing services in exchange for a client’s product/service, you deserve to receive prompt payment just as if they were paying you via Pay Pal, check or direct deposit. Follow your own business protocol when it comes to contacting clients about past due payment.

Bottom line, I won’t make trading my services a regular occurrence, because financially I just can’t afford to; but it helps to know that a trade between businesses should be conducted in the same professional manner as any other business transaction.

Have you ever traded your writing services in exchange for a client’s product or services? What was your experience?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Telecommuting Opportunities for Writers

Freelance writer, Lexi Rodrigo, recently discussed her decision to take a telecommuting position. Lexi has operated a successful freelance writing business for years, and recently blogged about her decision to accept a telecommuting job. A telecommuter is a paid company employee – who just happens to perform their job from home. My best friend has been a telecommuting medical coder for a southeast hospital for 10 years and she loves it. Her employer provides software, reference material, computer equipment, and anything else required for her to do her job. In the past two years she’s lived in three different states, and her employer could care less as long as she continues to meet the company’s performance standards.

If you rely on freelancing as your sole source of income, you know some months can be leaner than others – especially in the early days when you’re first setting up shop. If you want more financial security, a telecommuting gig is certainly an option to consider. Lexi is absolutely right when she says that many freelancers are missing out on writing opportunities being offered to company employees. Depending on your scheduling and income needs, you could take a part-time or full-time position and freelance around that.

Before you commit to a telecommuting gig, ask yourself these questions:

  • How much time can I devote to the job?
  • Am I free to complete projects on my own time, or do I need to stick to a predetermined work schedule?
  • Will the employer provide training?
  • Will you receive paid holidays, vacations and sick time?

Would I consider telecommuting? Sure, but I currently have a steady flow of freelance clients right now and a couple of personal writing projects that I’m very committed to, so I’d need something that provided LOTS of flexible scheduling. I have no issue at all with meeting set deadlines – as a freelancer that’s pretty much my thing. I just can’t commit to a set working schedule each day.

So where can you find legitimate telecommuting opportunities for writers? I’m told is one source specializing in telecommuting jobs, but they are also available on:

Craigs List (exercise caution here)
Twitter (I see job leads posted quite often)
Company websites
Various job boards

Would you consider taking on a telecommuting writing position working for another company?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Want to Learn How to Make Money Writing for Trade Magazines?

Anne Wayman and Lori Widmer are teaming up again to conduct a 2-part webinar on Trade Writing. Click here to learn more and sign up.

The webinar will discuss the trade market and why it can be a lucrative market for freelance writers, query tips, how to integrate trade writing with your other projects and more. These ladies REALLY know what they’re talking about, so it was a no brainer for me to sign up. You all get a free month membership at the Five Buck Forum - a deal in and of itself. Hope to see you there!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Dealing with Difficult Clients

I’ve been dealing with a couple of difficult clients lately. Thankfully this doesn’t happen often. I’m a big proponent of delivering excellent customer service to the clients I work with. People like feeling that they and the issues that they are dealing with matter to you. When you show that appreciate them and the business they provide, it creates a foundation where loyalty and trust bloom. And let’s face it – it doesn’t cost you a dime to treat people nicely and with respect. My friend, Lori Widmer wrote a fantastic article about how businesses should get back to the basics of offering good old-fashioned customer service as a deliverable to clients. I highly suggest checking it out.

No matter how nice you are, you get a client who cannot be pleased. Some people just like living in the shadow of misery and complaining about everything under the sun. I’m usually pretty good about sniffing these individuals out and avoiding them in both my personal and professional lives; but I’m human and sometimes my “spidey senses” fail to warn me of impending trouble.

Client #1: Nothing is right; but how can it be when he keeps trying to change the scope at every turn? He disappears for weeks and then pops back up at the most inopportune times (e.g. when I’m getting started with new projects) to suggest new changes. To top it off, he has an inflated sense of importance and can be quite sarcastic and demeaning when communicating with everyone working on the project. Now normally I have clauses in my contracts that would have helped me avoid a lot of this type of situation. I took this project on through a marketing firm I used to work with, so I’m kind of stuck dealing with their terms of service.

Client #2: A PR/Marketing and Promotional professional who is completely clueless about what she wants. She’s in need of a professional bio and during our initial phone conversation explained the breadth of her industry experience, saying she wants the bio to reflect that. I prepare the bio based on our conversation and additional information she provided.

Now she says it’s too broad, and she wants it to be more narrowly focused. We scheduled another call to discuss it further, but I realize that she really doesn’t want to participate in the process saying , “I thought I’d just give it to you so that you could complete it without my involvement. I’m just so busy.” Yeah, I gathered that you’re so busy when you missed our last scheduled phone call to instead take part in an impromptu tennis match (BTW - I would NEVER have admitted to anyone that I did that).

All frustration aside, I treat these clients with respect and consideration. Under different circumstances, I would have recognized that they were not the right clients for me BEFORE doing business with them. Nevertheless, here are some of my tips for dealing with difficult clients:

Don’t Let Them Get to You

Easier said than done sometimes, but if my past corporate sales experience taught me anything, it’s that remaining calm and in control when dealing with irate or otherwise difficult customers is important. You have to separate yourself emotionally from the situation and not take things personally. If they get nasty, don’t take the bait.

Don’t Keep Apologizing

This advice kind of seems like the opposite of good customer service on the surface. I NEVER say “I’m sorry by the way. I don’t like that phrase, and think it’s overdone. What I will say is: “I apologize for…” and offer solutions. I make sure that I am clear about specifically what I’m apologizing for. Also, I don’t keep apologizing because when it’s mindlessly uttered over and over it loses its value and just doesn’t seem sincere.

Establish a Rapport if Possible

I’ll objectively listen to a client’s complaints, and offer sincere empathy saying something like, “I can understand your issue with XYZ; I don’t like to be kept waiting either.” Sometimes it helps them calm down and see that I do understand their frustration and am truly trying to help correct the issue or get to the root of it. **NOTE: I don’t recommend doing this if you don’t sincerely feel empathetic because It can come across as completely insincere.

How important is customer service in your business, and you have any additional tips to share?

Monday, January 16, 2012

You Ask Too Many Questions

When I first started freelancing as a business writer, I used to troll Craigslist and other job boards regularly. My experience was pretty positive. I didn’t feel very confident in my ability to approach companies directly and offer my services back then. Responding to ads seeking help was easier.

Over time I’ve noticed the prospect of coming across decent paying opportunities has become pretty slim. My experience on Thursday is a good example. I still wonder over to Craigs List every blue moon (I know, I know). Although I don’t have time to dig around there regularly for clients, I can’t completely dismiss it because back in September I quite literally stumbled across an ad that was NOT your typical Craigs List gig that has so far provided a nice steady stream of well-paying projects. It appears that you can still find a jewel among the rubbish, though I’m not sure I’d recommend relying on it to build a solid client base.

Last Thursday I thought I might have come across another gem – a regular blog writing gig in my area of expertise offering pay that stuck out like a sore thumb among all the $10 and $15 per post blogging jobs you usually see littering the site.

I responded to the ad, and received a response pretty quickly; only it wasn’t at all what I expected. The respondent stated that he was very interested in working with me based on the information I’d provided, but listed a completely different rate for the project – one that was significantly lower than the advertised rate. I replied asking for clarification since the ad listed one rate while he’d responded with a lower rate. His response to that email: “Fine, I’ll pay you $x. When can we get started?” No other explanation of why he changed the rate.

Before you even ask, yes, red flags were popping up all over the place; but I was too curious and couldn’t resist asking a few more questions , namely:

  • How many blog posts will you need a week/month?
  • What payment terms are you proposing (e.g. weekly pay? Monthly Pay?)
  • Do you have a contract agreement? If not, are you willing to consider my terms of service agreement?
  • Do you require an image with each post?
  • How do you want the blog posts delivered? Do you want me to upload them myself into your blogging platform, or deliver them to you in a Word .doc?
  • Do you provide blog topics, or do I submit blog topics for your review?
  • Are keywords involved, and if so do you provide them?
  • Are there weekly or monthly deadlines?

Now I didn’t ask all these questions all at once. Initially I asked my contact if he would be providing project details. He had no idea what I was talking about. He just needed me to start cranking out posts, stat.

Eventually all my questions must have rattled him because he finally responded saying, “You ask too many questions. I like being able to tell a writer what I need and get it. This just isn’t going to work.”

Indeed. I receive no project details (other than the general topic of the blog and some bait and switch per post rate), and then get chastised for asking too many questions?

If you spend time searching for writing jobs on Craigs List or other job boards, scams aren’t the only thing you need to look out for. You must qualify each job opportunity carefully. Sometimes it takes responding to get the full gist of the offer. Lots of people use these platforms to find writers, yet have no idea how to work with a professional writer.

It IS possible to find good projects/clients on these sites, just make sure to do your due diligence when using them.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Identifying Patterns in Freelance Writing

2011 was a very rough year for me emotionally. I was not at all sad to see it end. Ironically it was one my best years as a freelancer. I haven’t actually sat down to crunch any numbers yet, but I’m tempted to say it was my best.

What did I do differently this year from last year? I’ve been pondering this question since reading Lori Widmer’s post “Seeing Patterns.” I spent some time reflecting to see if I there were any patterns that jumped out at me. I spent a good part of the year traveling between two states to help care for my father. Then there was the stress of relocating, finding a house to rent and being forced to become a “reluctant landlord” and rent our own home. To say I spent the better part of 2011 in a state of stress is a serious understatement.

I did market, but not very consistently. I forced myself to continue working on some personal writing projects (which resulted in my extended absence here), and managed a steady flow of client projects while helping my family adjust to our new city. With my head and priorities so all over the place, how was it that I stayed busy through the end of the year, met all of my financial obligations and currently have work lined up through March 2012?

That’s when I recognized that there were two things I did repeatedly during this time:

  • I turned down projects. My energy level was not in a very good place while my father was sick and especially after he died. As an only child, my husband and I are now responsible for the care and well-being now of my mother as well as our four children. Any shred of patience I had left was primarily reserved for them. I had zero patience for dealing with prospects who didn’t want to pay my rates, wanted to haggle over contract terms, or bring any other work-related drama into my world. If I so much as sensed that a project was going to turn complicated, or require too much effort on my end, I simply said no to the job and kept it moving. This helped keep my sanity intact.

  • I followed up with clients I’d worked well with previously. I already knew how these clients worked and what they expected of me, and they trusted me and gave me the space I needed to complete their projects on time. Reconnecting with past clients resulted in more projects (a couple of long-term ones) than I would have expected. I’ll definitely continue doing this.

Even though this is what seemed to work for me in 2011, I know that I need to make so many more improvements in my business operations to meet my goals for 2012. I will commit to marketing consistently. This is usually my biggest challenge, but I can’t argue with facts: it’s what brings in business. I also need to get organized. I’m simultaneously working on various client projects as well as some personal projects. My personal projects are going well, I’m glad I stuck with them. I intend to commit time each week to working on them, so being organized is essential.

What patterns (good or bad) did you recognize in the way you operated your business in 2011?

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