This year’s marketing swag (so far!) has arrived. Men’s dry wick tees and women’s tanks are going out to employees and clients today. Next up? Colored shirts, hoodies and eco-friendly water canteens.

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Calling It Quits with a Client

Breaking up is hard to do, whether it’s with a love interest or a business client. People tend to hold on to things longer than they should. They cling when the relationship isn’t benefitting them, when it’s not fitting either party, and when it’s obvious ties should be severed. Nobody likes to have “the talk”—and it can be even more nerve wracking when you feel indebted to the other party. I’m no exception.

 

Some pairings just aren't meant to last that long. (Photo by Chintan Mehta at Pendleton Roundup 2014).
Some pairings just aren’t meant to last that long. (Photo by Chintan Mehta at Pendleton Roundup 2014).

I’ve continued working for clients even when they still paid me at a rate 50 percent less than my standard. I felt indebted to them because I had worked for them for so long. There was a time, years ago, when our agreed upon rate was fair for my experience. Maybe they gave me a chance in an industry that I didn’t know at all. It’s likely that I “liked” the client and let emotions get involved where they didn’t belong.

As a writer, whether freelance or with your own business, there will come a time when you need to break things off with a client. Don’t linger. The Band-Aid approach is best.

Here are a few clues that the relationship is dead. The sooner you snip off that dead weight, the sooner you open yourself up to more, better, and more lucrative opportunities.

  1. They won’t/can’t meet your current standard rate

I’ve posted about this before, but I highly encourage writers to only charge per word or a flat rate per project based on average word counts. Never charge per hour—but make sure you have a personal “hourly rate” that you “need” to meet in order to grow your business. If it takes you 20 minutes to create a $20 piece, that’s $60 per hour. For some writers at certain points in their career, that’s a reasonable amount.

However, if you have a client or project that ends up paying you anything below $60 per hour, it’s time to call it quits. Otherwise, you’re stalling your career and your revenue.

  1. You dread their projects

There will always be times when you don’t want to write at all, or you don’t want to write for a certain client. However, if this happens every single time you have to write for a specific client, that’s a red flag. You’ve reached burn out and there’s only one cure: Letting them go. Only you can ask yourself if the pay makes it “worth it”. For example, if your minimum hourly rate is that $60 but this client pays $100 per hour, you might think it’s worth sticking around. Or you might not—that’s your call, and only you know what your hour is worth.

  1. They’ve been complaining more often than usual

In my experience, it’s very rare for a client to complain or ask for re-drafts after your initial learning curve. Of course, some clients are more demanding than others. Personally, if a newish client has continual requests for changes, I usually end things right there—it’s clear this isn’t a good match for either of us.

On the other hand, if an existing client starts suddenly requesting more changes, has more complaints, or otherwise is taking up more time than usual, read between the lines. This means one of two things: Either there’s a new manager somewhere in the mix you’re not meshing with (and likely never will), or you’re nor performing like you used to because you’re burned out. Either way, it may be time to move on.

So, how do you break up with a client? There are as many ways to break up with a client as there are to break up with a significant other. Be professional, be clear, and don’t leave any wiggle room. You can certainly come up with an excuse if you like, such as a mysterious new project that will take all of your time, but avoid bridge burning. After all, you never know when that client might come up with a new project that’s more in line with your passion—and pays handsomely.

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Is There Such a Thing as Evergreen?

"Evergreen" is all around you...especially for writers in the Pacific Northwest! (Photo by Chintan Mehta).
“Evergreen” is all around you…especially for writers in the Pacific Northwest! (Photo by Chintan Mehta).

As a writer, I find it much more challenging when a client requests “evergreen” content rather than news-related, trending, seasonal or anything other type of content with a short shelf life. However, the term “evergreen” is a bit of a misnomer—kind of like the namesake. Even evergreen trees will eventually fall, whether from disease, natural disasters, logging or lack of nourishment. Nothing lasts forever while remaining relevant, and the written word is no exception. But that doesn’t mean writing evergreen content is pointless.

As a rule, evergreen content should last as long as possible while remaining helpful, entertaining or both. For example, one of my clients that especially likes the evergreen approach is an endodontist (dental surgical specialist). When it comes down to it, the approaches, tools and strategies for dental surgery are “rooted” (couldn’t help it!) in tried and tested approaches. A root canal is a root canal, even if the latest YAG lasers make the process faster and more efficient.

There will always be demand for evergreen content because basic 101, proven best strategies, and “best of” pieces will always have a place in content marketing.

Make it Easier on Yourself

What helps make content “evergreen” in the digital era is the fact that “forever” isn’t quite as long as you think. The odds of a website today holding true for over ten years with largely the same content and layout is slim to none. Businesses close, they get sold, they get re-branded and the owners want an overhaul of the website. This means that evergreen content you’re writing likely has an intended lifespan of one to five years. That’s a much more feasible goal than forever.

However, you never really know when a website could stick. When writing evergreen content, avoid citations that will date the content. If there is a bunch of links or mentions of 2015 throughout the article, how’s that going to look in 2016—or 2018? The only time dates should be included is when they’re already settled in the past, such as the year the first porcelain veneer was created (it was 1928 for those gearing up for trivia night).

Forever Ever?

If you’re a writer asked to pen evergreen content, steer clear of breaking news, trending items, or just about anything that will date your piece. This is a time to cover the basics, provide a refresher course on the subject, or delve a little into history. Get as much information as you can from the client, because they might have a very different idea of “basic” pruning, home staging, re-upholstering, or whatever other niche they may be in than you do. Your best source of information with evergreen content is, well, the source. Make use of it so you and the client will be happy with the results.

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10 Red Flags When Bidding on Writing Projects

If only all "signs" were this clear. Pro tip: Pants ARE totally optional when perusing writing gigs online. (Photo: Personal, taken in Northern California).
If only all “signs” were this clear. Pro tip: Pants ARE totally optional when perusing writing gigs online. (Photo: Personal, taken in Northern California).

I’ll admit it—up until a couple of years ago, I depended heavily on Craigslist for writing gigs. I dabbled in some other sites as well, but CL remained a staple in my writing bid diet. In fact, it’s where I found my very first freelance gig (which showed me you really can make a decent living as a writer!). However, the underbelly of CL is also well known, but don’t think it’s the only platform where you’ll get crazy clients, non-paying clients, and clients who think writers are automatically also graphic designers, website developers and basket weavers.

Luckily, I’m now at the point where I’m not accepting new clients (and the most recent ones all came from existing client referrals). However, I know that one day I’ll be back on CL bidding on projects and sending writing samples for new gigs and contracts. That’s the nature of writing for a living. I’ve learned a thing or two in my years of CL work and can spot a red flag like a pro now.

Here are some of the most common to watch out for as a writer looking for honest work:

  1. “You’ll be the first batch of writers to get paid when the website starts making money!”

If you’re a professional writer, that means you get paid for your work. Period. It’s not contingent on whether your client makes money, their website makes money, or what their financial situation is. This is like agreeing to ghost write a book and hoping it’ll sell, making the author millions. That’s not how it’s done.

  1. “No ridiculously high bids!”

Trust me, the definition of low, high, mediocre, fair, and any other word to describe your project rate is highly subjective. It depends on your experience, speed and going rate. If a poster already seems angry about potentially paying a “high price” for a writer, don’t even bother. They might as well say, “I’d prefer a volunteer writer, but will pay you half a penny per word if I really have to.”

  1. “Get in on the ground floor!”

No, thank you. See number one for this blazing red flag.

  1. “Send me a free writing sample and I might contact you.”

In some instances, it’s perfectly reasonable to ask for a sample. However, 99 percent of the time, this should be a paid sample (perhaps not at your going rate, but at least to prove the gig is legitimate). There have been times when I’ve drafted a quick sample for free, but it’s always an intro paragraph or other content that can’t really be used for anything besides a sample. Otherwise, you’re providing free labor.

  1. There’s a picture/logo

I’m sure there are exceptions, but every time there’s a photo/logo on a job ad, the pay has been subpar. I’ve often found these are either really young startups that don’t have the budget to pay professional rates or an enterprise that wants to pay hourly rates (always charge per word/project). In my experience, these posts are always a waste of time.

  1. “Mah grammers bad so i gotta hire a writer asap!!!!”

This isn’t what the ad usually says, of course, but if it’s not professionally written, don’t expect a professional experience. On a related note, if an exclamation is used in the job posting, get ready to deal with a rollercoaster of a client. The red flag should start waving even stronger if they offer a strangely high rate that just doesn’t mesh with the lack of professional presentation.

  1. “Go fill out this online application that’s 20 pages long.”

This can be one of two things: A “test” to see how serious you are or just a means of collecting applications for data usage, reporting, and the like. As a full-time writer, I don’t have the time to jump through those hoops. I’m sure sometimes this approach could work out, but you’d better be pretty certain you’ll get the gig (a perfectly alignment of their demand and your supply) and you should know for a fact that the pay is high before you waste your time.

  1. “Call Billy Bob at…”

You don’t want Billy Bob to have your number. Plus, if someone’s hiring a writer, don’t they want to see their writing chops first (like with an intro email)? I’m all for phone or video “meetings”, but not from the get-go.

  1. “Let me tell you about this horrible experience with another writer…”

You’re not a therapist. If someone’s been burned by another contractor or professional, they shouldn’t be airing their dirty laundry for all to see. This is the same as getting into a relationship with someone who just broke up with their cheating spouse last weekend. You’ll be the one dealing with the fallout.

  1. “I need a writer for something. I’m not really sure what. Let’s collaborate!”

Unless you’re also a consultant, steer clear of these. A client should know exactly what they want from a writer (ahem, it’s writing). Your time is worth money, not just you’re writing. Clients who want to talk, scheme, plan and dream don’t realize that every minute of yours they’re using is your money wasted. They don’t mean any harm, but they’re a leech you can’t afford.

These are just a few to avoid if you want to streamline your writing career and business. Most importantly, trust your gut. It’s always right.

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The Drunk Writer (and Other Stereotypes We Need to Break)

Are all writers drunks? (And other ridiculous stereotypes). (Photo by Eric Choy for Chance Fashion).
Are all writers drunks? (And other ridiculous stereotypes). (Photo by Eric Choy for Chance Fashion).

As writers, we’re cloaked in stigmas, myths, stereotypes and clichés—and like it or not, it’s our responsibility to dispel them, break them, and project a professional image that counteracts negative connotations. I’ve personally known some writers who used their profession or hobby to excuse alcohol/drug abuse, not supporting themselves financially, or as a dictation of their moods (They got published? They’re flying high. They got a rejection letter? It’s going to suck to be around them for the next two weeks).

I’m not saying I’m immune to this, either. “Writers have issues.” “Writers need inspiration to work.” “Writers are moody.” It’s kind of like blaming your Zodiac sign on a personality trait, characteristic, or bad behavior—when you can shift the blame to something beyond yourself, it’s pretty easy to indulge guilt-free.

Here are some of the classic writer stereotypes out there and why they need to go:

  1. Writers are alcoholics

Some of them are. There are also architects, teachers, full-time parents, police officers and CEOs who are alcoholics. There are even complete books focusing on the relationship between writers and alcohol(ism). However, alcoholism is a disorder (sometimes genetic) that anyone can potentially struggle with. Regardless of whether statistics show writers are more likely to abuse alcohol than other types of profession, that doesn’t make it an excuse.

I’ve personally had people tell me, “You should try writing drunk!” The stereotype that writers are drunks who do their best work under the influence is a dangerous, seemingly accepted idea. Luckily for me, the few times I’ve tried writing after a glass of whiskey (let alone being drunk!), the result was total garbage.

  1. Writers are depressed/suicidal

You can point to Sylvia Plath, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Mark Twain or a slew of other greats to back up this point. However, depression is becoming a more and more common diagnosis—some say because more people are seeking help and there are better avenues for a diagnosis. Few professions beyond writing encourage people to put their innermost feelings naked on the table for the public to peruse, tear apart, and read into.

Depression is a chemical imbalance that may require medical intervention. It’s not feeding your creativity or writing chops, so don’t think treating it will make you a worse writer.

  1. Writers are broke

Some certainly are, and there are also broke attorneys, executives, and even movie stars. Your college degree and/or profession won’t dictate your earnings—your ambition will. With a BA in English and a master’s in writing, I was asked one of two questions during my studies: 1) So, you’re going to teach? or 2) What kind of job can you get with that degree? (Don’t get me wrong—teaching is an extremely challenging profession but I have no interest in it or talent with it!).

Fortunately for writers, we’re in the digital era where every single business is realizing they need professional writers. It’s no longer an indulgence or optional. Certain types of writers, like those who specialize in SEO, can earn six-figure salaries. Others go on to start their own content writing business and breach the million dollar mark. Still others are adamant that they’ll make it big selling a screenplay and barely break the $20,000 mark every year while living off their spouse. Success and failure hinges on what you do with your talents, not your talents themselves.

  1. Writers sleep around

All type of people sleep around—and it’s getting easier and easier with apps like Tinder and hookup sites like Adult Friend Finder or Grindr. This doesn’t mean all people sleep around of course, or that there’s anything wrong with a lot of sex/sex partners if safety and honesty is part of the picture. However, there’s not one “type” of profession that’s more prone to infidelity than another.

But here’s the thing: Writers like to (surprise!) write about their life. Their passion. What enrages them and turns them on. Simply put, writers are more likely to share their sexual stories with the world than, say, a plumber. Unless of course said plumber regularly stars in “I’m here to clean your pipes” type of films.

What are some writer stereotypes you’ve encountered?

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Why Mobile Readiness for Your Site Matters (or Does It?)

Mobile readiness doesn't mean what it used to. (Personal photo, my dad and I).
Mobile readiness doesn’t mean what it used to. (Personal photo, my dad and I).

“Mobile readiness” is more than just a 2014 buzzword—and it has a lot more staying power than its counterparts like “on fleek”, “bae” and “thot”. Really, it’s just a name given to a movement that’s already arrived, and it’s just what it sounds like. Mobile readiness means that your website or business is “ready” for any mobile device. It sounds pretty simple, but it’s actually a big beast to tame.

Consider how many mobile devices are out there, from smartphones to tablets, and how many will be launching this year alone. Then think about all the mobile devices used around the world, like those multi-million dollar gold-plated phone behemoths in the United Arab Emirates (I’m speaking from astounded personal experience here).

But What the Heck is It?

Ask different experts what “mobile readiness” is and you’ll get a bevy of different responses. However, I’ve found that it generally falls into two categories: A mobile version of a website, an app, or both. I’m also of the camp that considers mobile readiness a sub-category of responsive design (RD). RD is also just what it sounds like: Making sure a website is “designed” so it “responds” quickly and well no matter what device or platform a person is using.

Obviously you want your website to load quickly and display appropriately no matter what. However, that’s getting tougher and tougher with new mobile devices seemingly popping up every day. Plus, mobile users are even more demanding than desktop users! Google researchers recently found that mobile users won’t wait a blink of an eye longer than they deem necessary for a page to load.

Instant gratification. It’s the MO of the mobile world.

So…Am I Mobile Ready?

Maybe. Remember that just because your website looks great on your various gadgets, that doesn’t mean it’s true for everyone else. Try checking out your website on your Chrome browser vs. Internet Explorer (or any other combination) and you’ll easily see there are big differences—and that’s on the same device with the same Wi-Fi! Just imagine how your site might appear to someone with a totally different device using Firefox and relying on dial-up in rural India. Suddenly the need for mobile readiness makes a lot more sense.

There are a few ways to tackle mobile readiness:

  • Make sure your website is designed for mobile readiness. Obviously, right? The good news is that platforms like WordPress automatically include responsive design. If you rely on a web designer, you need to have the RD/mobile readiness discussion pronto and find out what they’re doing to ensure a good user experience.
  • Check your web host. There’s only so much you or your web designer can do to offer fast loading times. Your web host also plays a role. A lot of people go with the default web hosting option offered when they register their domain. There are thousands of web hosts out there—shop around. (I also write for Hosst, which offers some great tips on web hosting selection).
  • Get your images in check. This falls into the overall mobile readiness/RD design aspect, but images that are too big can wreak havoc on your load time. Plus, they might not necessarily be displaying well on mobile devices with small screens.

What About That App and Mobile Website?

Here’s the deal: Not everyone (and every site) needs an app or a mobile version of their website. Only you can determine that, preferably with research and asking your audience what they want. If an app won’t benefit you and nobody will use it, why waste the time and effort on developing one? If a mobile version of your website isn’t more convenient than the “regular” version, why bother?

Responsive design is a must. Mobile readiness is an option. Start with RD, then ask yourself whether mobile readiness will benefit you, your business and your audience.

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5 Truths about Working from Home (or Wherever)

Working from home, in Costa Rica circa 2011, in the backyard hammock.
Working from home, in Costa Rica circa 2011, in the backyard hammock.

Working from home and running your own business is worlds away from being allowed to telecommute as a permanent employee. There are a lot of myths about it, rumors swirling, and envious glances when you can make that 10am spin class that nobody else can swing. Is it a dream come true? When I think back to my own days of the daily grind as a worker bee, definitely. I haven’t worn slacks, a suit, or hosiery in years. However, that doesn’t mean working from the couch is always glitters and unicorns, either.

Of course, every small business owner, entrepreneur, and telecommuter will have a different experience. Here are a few of my daily realities—for better or worse:

  1. The whole yoga pants/work on the couch thing is true

I actually do work from a couch (sorry, ergonomics) in yoga pants most days. In my defense, I’m also a certified yoga teacher and practice on a regular basis. I just don’t get into the whole home office thing. Working from a desk and in an “office chair” just makes it feel too much like I’m working for someone else. Perhaps it was all those years of conditioning that turned me off “an office” for good.

  1. There’s no such thing as an alarm

The only time I set an alarm is when I have an early morning flight. Otherwise, I’m naturally a morning person, complete with pepperings of insomnia from time to time. My work day usually starts between 5 and 6am and ends around 4 or 5pm.

  1. Yes, the TV’s on

However, it’s on mute and it’s more for “company” than anything else. Seeing flickers of people and colors peripherally keeps me out of tunnel vision. Plus, I know I should be done with Client X’s work of the day by the time Frasier segues to How I Met Your Mother. And if I don’t have Client Y’x stuff done by the time Grey’s Anatomy is over? I’ll be pulling double duty that day.

  1. There’s no such thing as leaving work at the office

Even if I had an actual office, this wouldn’t be the case. I have clients around the world. My contact in Thailand regularly sends me requests during her normal work hours, which is the middle of the night for me. When you have a backlog of requests nagging at you on a weekend and you have some down time, it’s easy to think you’re “getting ahead” by squeezing in just a few more articles. In three weeks, I’ll be taking three weeks off (forced without Wi-Fi thanks to rural India). It will be the first time I don’t work for more than one day, consecutively, in five years.

  1. I set my own schedule (for the most part)

Of course there are deadlines, but here’s the thing: Writers are notoriously flaky (I know, I’ve gone through a laundry list when hiring them myself). That means clients often give me way more time than necessary. Thus, I work when I like, can take any gym class I want, shop in the middle of a weekday, and never have an issue squeezing in appointments.

In the end, there are pros and cons just like any work situation. I don’t miss the commute, the “having” to get ready every day, or the staring contest with the clock when you’re working by the hour. However, the work from home lifestyle isn’t “easy”, either—luckily for me, I just happen to be cut out for it. It’s about finding the best environment, career path, and work style for you (and if yoga pants fit into the picture, that’s all the better).

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