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A Different Take on Marketing

One of my pet peeves is people who don’t understand that marketing via social media takes time and effort, and that unless you’re doing it yourself, you’re going to have to pay someone else for the time they spend pursuing those ends and setting up those communities (you can’t just add social media to their job description).

I agree with all those out there who have made the case that social media is a great way to market both oneself and one’s business – but, I also believe (firmly) that there are other options that are less time consuming (and, in many cases, cheaper).

Social media is a GREAT tool, but it’s one that only works if you can enjoy it. Think of it this way: would you want to be friends with someone who was forced to attend a party and spent the whole time making it clear that party WAS NOT where they wanted to be? If you don’t embrace social media, chances are it won’t work.

Bertrand Russell got it spot on–”A sense of duty is useful in work, but offensive in personal relations. People wish to be liked, not be endured with patient resignation.”

And some people just aren’t ready to jump aboard yet. They approach social media with “patient resignation.” For those people, it won’t work.

If you’re ready to go for it and just don’t know where to start, check out Marian’s blog and shoot her an email. She offers some seriously kickass services in that regard. But if you’re not, don’t fear my friend. This post is for you. Here are two tips (with more to come if this post is popular) for marketing your business without using Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin or even MySpace.

Join HARO. If you’re not familiar, HARO stands for Help A Reporter Out. The website (www.helpareporter.com) sends out a daily email with a list of articles that reporters are working on, that they need sources for. And you can volunteer to be a source.

As a writer I can submit a story topic and say that I need to talk to interview a lawyer or a bookkeeper… and they will include my request when they email everyone on their email list.

As a small business, what better way is there to get free press than to be interviewed on your industry for a magazine or newspaper? It’s free editorial content that positions you as an authority in your industry. And sometimes the queries are even just a call for products to include in reviews. So rather than begging to be included in a publication, you get an email requesting information. And all you have to do is scan these daily emails to see if any of them apply to you.

Host a party–or attend one. Have you heard of Tupperware parties? What about sex toy parties? Well, now they have candle parties and pocketbook parties too. There’s a reason for this–parties are a powerful marketing tool. Many of the pet stores I profile for the day job hold “Yappy Hours,” where customers are encouraged to come back after hours with their dogs, to chat with other customers over a glass of wine or a few pizzas and, naturally,  free bones for the dogs.

Merchandise is sold at these events, but the focus is on having a good time. They create word-of-mouth; they give people something to talk about. And, more importantly, they don’t have to be expensive. One retailer I talked to said Yappy Hours cost her about $60–but bring in significantly more than that in revenue. Another retailer, this one the owner of a clothing boutique that sells Mother-of-the-Bride dresses, actually has events where customers pay to be the first to peek at that season’s dresses at an after-hours event. Imagine, customers paying to come shop.

This works just as well for services industries or for individuals. For example, one freelancer I know has gotten involved with Media Bistro and hosts media parties–what better way is there to be well connected! Or you can give seminars.

The key is to set up  a situation where you meet people who you may not have met before; people who may become customers or who may recommend you to someone who may then become a customer.

Being social in real-life is just like being social online; it puts you and your business out there. So go ahead–wine & dine ‘em!

A Word on Contracts

For me, one of the least fun parts of any job is drafting a letter of agreement. Most of my boilerplate contract / agreement letter is taken from Secrets of a Freelance Writer by Robert Bly (yes, I do have a ton of books on freelance writing). In the back of the book he provides a sample contact / letter, and permission to use it as a basis for your own.

I definitely took him up on that.

His contract is pretty simple. It includes sections on the following: Fee, A Note About Fees, Deadline, Revisions, Caveats and Results. His contract is straight forward, without an attempt at legal jargon. He also includes a sample letter of agreement, about a page long, that is similarly simple and straight forward.

My contract is a adapted version of his, with the same section headers but slightly tweaked content to reflect the differences in how we work. For example, I guarantee my final invoice will be within an hour’s work (I charge hourly) from the original estimate. The downside, of course, is that I don’t have a lawyer look over each contract or letter of agreement that I send out.

The way that I see it, having a formal written agreement is mostly for the security of the parties involved (namely, me and my client) so we know what to expect from each other. If it gets to needing legal intervention, it’s probably cheaper for me at this point to let the project go than to prosecute or pay to see it through the courts. No matter how hard that blow would be to my pride.

Still, have a written fallback means if I did choose to see a case through legal proceedings we’d at least have a starting point; something to hand to a judge and say, “this is what we agreed.” And, perhaps more importantly, we HAVE agreed to something.

One of the few barter agreements I’ve agreed to do is for the hosting of my website–I edit and write for the gentleman who owns the hosting site in exchange for free hosting. However, we never set our agreement out on paper. He wasn’t sure exactly where he’d need help and, at the time, I wasn’t worried about it. In retrospect, I wish I had bothered to make him cough up specifics. There are months where the balance of work just doesn’t seem quite even. And I worry about that. It would have been a small thing – less than half an hour’s work – to write out an agreement letter, formalizing our relationship. Instead, we just email back and forth on a per-project basis.

All that said, from now on I’ll make sure to have a contract or at least a letter of agreement in place before I begin to work with someone.

Below is an abbreviated description of what I include in my contracts–feel free to use it as a template to develop your own (I believe in paying it forward).

Intro: Explains who the agreement is between; asks the client to reply to the email I send with the contract in the body of the email, agreeing to everything is fine.

Fee: I set out my hourly fee, the amount of time I expect the project to take, and what that money is for (i.e. an overview of the project).

A note about fees: I require 1/3 of the cost up-front; I include payment options here (paypal, check or money order).

Project details: I write out what the client can expect from me; a detailed description of the work I intend to do.

Deadlines: Pretty self explanatory; I also state here that if the client doesn’t get back to me with the deposit, or at some point in the process is late getting me materials the final deadline will me push back an equal amount.

Revisions: This one I took almost straight from Bly – I offer two revisions, free of charge. After all, my ultimate goal is for the client to be happy with my work. I’ll do what I can to ensure that’s the case. If they are unhappy with my work, I’ll redo parts of it, or rewrite sections.

Caveats: I charge a kill fee if clients cancel a project once I begin. For most projects, this is equal to the amount of their initial deposit; essentially, I am not responsible for refunding them money if they cancel. For projects that are more time intensive / expensive, I offer more detailed kill fee assessments with different amounts charged depending on how close the work is to being done.

Results: This, too, I took from Bly. This section reads “There are many factors in your marketing – product, market, price, list, demand, consumer preference, major events – that I cannot control. Therefore, while I can and do guarantee your satisfaction with my copy before you test it, I do not and cannot guarantee specific results.”

UPDATE

I don’t do updates often, but Mary Budge (thanks Mary!) pointed out on Brazen Careerist that I’d forgotten to mention a few important points. She wrote, “…as an attorney I always want my clients to have a written agreement in place to protect them and their interests. It can be a simple agreement (even a letter agreement), but I think there are a few things missing from your letter agreement such as payment terms, who owns the work, a limitation of liability, etc.”

I DO generally include rights information and I consider the “Results” section a limitation of liability; however I can’t believe I haven’t included payment terms until now (ie. payment is due within x days of completion) and will definitely remedy that!

Why staring out the window is working

One of my favorite writer-ly quotes is this one, from Burton Rascoe:
“What no wife of a writer can ever understand is that a writer is working when he’s staring out of the window.”

Whether it’s because our unconscious brains continue to mull over problems even when we’re not actively thinking about them, or because we think before we type, I find that the best work happens when I spend a lot of time not working.

Ideally, whenever I’m working on a piece about a new topic I like to spend several days researching and learning about it, then give my brain a few days to process all those new ideas before putting fingers to keyboard. I frequently come home at the end of the day and just lay on the couch, letting my brain wander where it may. Then, after relaxing almost entirely, I’ll get an idea.

Sometimes that idea is a concept for a new article; a new subject I want to write about. Other times it’s just a neat turn of words that expresses perfectly something I’ve been struggling to get out or a solution to a writing problem that suddenly lines up mentally, like solving a Rubik’s cube made of words. Then words flow from my fingertips and TA-DA! I accomplish something in half an hour that I’ve been trying to do for days.

Writing is funny that way.

I think, as a writer, it’s important to learn how to judge when you need that “downtime.” You have to know when you walk away from a deadline, even if only for ten minutes, so that you’re words don’t come out forced.

I’d like to say that that’s what I’ve been doing and that’s why I haven’t put up a new post yet this week, but in truth that’s not the case. In truth, I’ve been crazy busy. First I got a call from someone interested in having me do some work for him because a friend had recommended me. Then I got it in my head to read a book on SEO (I’m reading The Art of SEO – so far, it’s fantastic).

Then two different people I met at a networking event almost three weeks ago contacted me and asked for estimates. I’ve also written two articles for iGrad in the past two weeks – one on networking and one on loan consolidation – and oh, yeah, I’ve been dealing with my student loans coming due (aka I’ve been consolidating loans, which spurred the topic for the article I wrote and serve nicely as research).

All that’s really good news. But it means I haven’t had that downtime I mentioned above – so the ideas have sat stagnant instead of coming out properly. I’m ready to flush them out and get some words on the screen though; in fact all the time spent working on projects means I have a lot of ideas I’m dying to puzzle out.

Part II: A Q&A with Chris Rodell

This is part II of a two-part Q&A with Chris Rodell. Chris has written for everything from the National Enquirer to Esquire. For Part I see here. For more about Chris see below, check out his blog, Eight Days to Amish, or visit his website.

Jargon Writer: Either what’s the biggest obstacle you’ve overcome or what has your greatest success been thus fair?

Chris Rodell: The greatest source of my frustration is to hear so many compliments about my writing and my ideas and not being able to earn any money. It’s not from lack of laziness (the only thing more prolific than my blog output is the frequency of the rejection letters I receive). Really, but by now I thought I’d be a big deal. I take comfort in the fact that anything good that’s happened to me in my life has always happened 10 years after it should have.

JW: What changes have taken place in the industry since you first began freelancing?

Chris: The old order is gone and has been replaced by tumult and fog. It’s going to be fascinating to watch how it plays out. The disappearance of newspapers saddens me, but I love the ‘net. I used to be able to sell a generic travel story to ten different Sunday newspapers and earn between $125 to $450 per paper. It was great. Now, I rarely even pitch the papers anymore. That’s a substantial loss of income for a guy like me. But what’s replaced it has allowed me to do what I love — write offbeat features and humor columns — for free. Now if I could only find a way to make money out of it! But that’s what everyone in the publishing industry is trying to figure out, isn’t it?

JW: What was the biggest thing you had to learn?

Chris: One of the greatest things I’ve ever heard said about me was from my 4-year-old daughter in 2004. She and her little circle of friends were going around the table asking what their daddies did. One said, “He builds houses.” One said, “He fixes cars.” And one said, “He sells clothes.” When they got to my daughter, she said. “He plays with me.” Man, I thought, that’s not going to look good on the loan applications. The point is, I learned I was able to carry on with my job, but not let it drive me or ruin my perspective. You need self-discipline to succeed as a freelance writer, but you never want to be a stranger to the ones who matter most. Or the golf course! Or the gang at Happy Hour! Work like crazy when there’s work to be done. And play like crazy when there is not.

JW: Do you have a top tip (or two) for others who want to get into freelancing?

Chris: Again, blogging is key. It’s amazing how many great little lines from old posts I can use to pitch other stories or even book proposals. Also, keep up with industry trends by subscribing — it’s worth it — to sites like www.mediabistro.com and www.writersmarket.com. And never quit. Read a great quote recently that most people give up one yard from the goal line in the final minute of play just as they’re about to score the winning touchdown. Don’t let that happen to you!

Chris Rodell is a Latrobe, Pa., based freelance writer who’s been published by many of the most prestigious magazines in America and been rejected by the rest. He teaches creative non-fiction at Point Park University in Pittsburgh. Check out his blog, Eight Days to Amish, or visit his website.

Can’t Win it if you’re not in it.

My freelance writing has come a long way. Since starting this blog and beginning serious efforts to become a freelancer, I’ve changed how I see myself. I used to view myself as an editor, who wanted to be a freelancer. Now, I see myself as a freelancer holding down an editorial job until I can sustain myself as a freelancer full time (goal is to be able to make the transition in a few years).

I have a slogan–helping people put what they’re passionate about into words–and I’m working on my professional website. I have yet to choose a business name, but that will come with time. I have a Google voice account, and am using that as my business phone number.

I’ve gotten to a point where my marketing efforts are beginning to reap rewards; I have clients who are coming to me instead of me looking for them. I have a few people a week asking me for quotes. I’ve done a few projects and am writing regularly for a few sites.

But I have another hill to climb.

See, now that I’ve learned to network–online and off–I need to finish up my website and begin to look for companies that could use my services; then I need to pitch them. I’ve pitched people before, but now that I have the core of the business just about set, I need to really begin looking for clients who will be interested in hiring me for repeat work.

I had a great idea to pitch to a bank–I have to write it up and find some banks that might be interested, then figure out who to contact and pitch the idea.

I have a few article ideas that have been floating around in my head for a while; I need to solidify those, figure out a few publications to pitch to and write up pitch letters.

But I’ve been running into that fear of not being perfect that Parker talked about (and I mentioned) a while back–the idea that as a writer, my site and public information should be so amazingly well written that it blows people away. I need to get past that, and remember instead that you can’t win the race if you never leave the finish line.

So, among the to-do list I already have written up for this weekend, I’m also going to try and draft some pitch ideas. Because you can’t win it, if you’re not in it and that’s a fact.

Why E-Friends Rock (and a few that do)

The Panelists: Meredith, Amy, Michell, Rebecca, Megan, Alison, Erin

Blog Out Loud had its first east coast event last night, and I was in attendance. The panel consisted of a bunch of awesome ladies, and the hour-long discussion flew by. They touched on all the classic blogging and social media discussions – developing your voice, where to set your boundaries between your professional life and your online life, how to build a following, etc. but for me the most interesting and biggest take away (other than an awesome gift bag) was something I haven’t heard discussed before, but that really hit home.

The discussion about how to build your audience led to a conversation about online relationships. One of the panelists said that by making friendships online it allowed her to find friends based on common interests, people who she could form a real connection with, instead of just people who were geographically located nearby.

As someone who has formed a number of amazing relationships online through social networking and through blogging, I couldn’t agree with her more. And tomorrow I’ll be meeting one of my online buddies In Real Life (IRL) for the first time. Marian Schembari, the awesome lady that she is, has a meeting in the big apple. So after I get off work we’re grabbing coffee.

I’m super excited to meet her before she moves to London. If you haven’t read her blog and don’t follow her on twitter, you should, you’re missing out. Marian found a job in publishing by posting an ad on facebook; today, however, she freelances teaching authors and job-seekers how to use social media to make things happen.

Marian isn’t the only awesome person I’ve met online though – so I figured I’d call out a few others here and let you know you should totally check out what they’re up to.

Lindsey Donner and I met through Brazen Careerist. Then I applied to write for iGrad and she responded – of course she had read my work here and we already knew each other, so it was a done deal. She writes and works as an editor at iGrad, while also owning her own freelance writing biz. On her blog, Use Your Words, she writes about being a freelancer and shares tons of great advice. Naturally, she’s also on twitter, where she’ll post links to all sorts of great things (including the articles I write for her) and chats about what’s going on in her all-too-busy life.

Susan Johnson is another writer, based in Boston, where she hosts Media Bistro events. I’m pretty sure I “met” her through twitter (though we haven’t met IRL), but she also keeps a great blog about her adventures writing, reading and leading a creative life. She is a frequent contributor to Work Awesome and has written for a number of prestigious publications, including The Boston Globe.

Just one more, because I don’t want to overload you with the amazing people I’ve met without ever actually meeting….

Chris Rodell is our most recent Q&A – the first half of it went up this weekend past and the next half will be up soon. Chris has written for everything from the National Enquirer to Esquire; his blog, Eight Days to Amish, only talks about writing sometimes, and instead delves into all sorts of interesting things. He’s recently finished his novel for the 17th time, and is always up to chat. He’s also on twitter.

While this is far from the complete list, I hope at least one of these folks catches your fancy and that I’ve helped you make a connection… if there’s someone your following who is AWESOME feel free to leave their blog site or twitter handle in the comments & I’ll make sure to check them out!

Responding to Rejection

A while ago I applied for a job on Craig’s List to do some writing on holistic nutrition. While I don’t subscribe to the lifestyle, I know a reasonable amount about it – more than your average person, but less than an expert – and I believe that being able to do research and write about anything is one of my most valuable skills as a writer. I interviewed with her, and she asked me to write a sample piece, which she’d pay me for, so she could make a final decision.

In the end, she went with another writer (rejection happens to the best of us) but I emailed her back, thanking her for considering me and letting her know I’d be happy to work with her in the future if she ever had any other projects she was looking for a writer for.

I haven’t heard from her since, but this weekend I got an email from another nutrition expert, who said she had recommended me. I spoke to him on the phone and he seems very interested in having me do some work for him. So, despite not getting the original assignment, my attitude about being rejected led to future assignments.

I’m pretty excited about the new project. But it goes to show that rejection doesn’t always mean what you think it means – sometimes, it’s really just not a good fit, and not that the potential client wasn’t impressed.

Part I: A Q&A with Chris Rodell

This is part I of a two part Q&A with Chris Rodell. Chris has written for everything from the National Enquirer to Esquire. Part II is coming soon, but for more about Chris now, see below, check out his blog, Eight Days to Amish or visit his website.

Jargon Writer: What was your first freelancing gig? How did you land it?

Chris Rodell: I come from a newspaper background (Nashville Banner 1985-88, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review ’88-92). But in between those jobs, a friend of mine put me in touch with editors at the National Enquirer. They flew me to Florida and showed me the operation for two splendid weeks. I took the job back home in Pittsburgh and thought it would never be anything more than an odd memory.

Then one day in 1990, the National Enquirer called me up and asked me to do a story on America’s Cheapest Hamburger in Dunbar, Pennsylvania. My boss said it was okay. The Enquirer paid me $720 and I was off. I soon found all kinds of fun, offbeat stories that they paid me to write for up to $1,000 per piece. So I shed the newspaper career and long, boring nights covering municipal authority meetings to chase the wildest stories in the world.

JW: When and why did you decide to become a freelancer?

Chris: As I was doing Enquirer stories (as many as four a week), I wanted to ensure I could eventually return to the mainstream and use all these great stories for other venues. I maintain that a great Enquirer story is a great Wall Street Journal story is a great Esquire story. In fact, stories I’ve seen in Wall Street Journal eventually became stories I wrote for Enquirer and then, years later, Esquire.

I remember one story about America’s longest serving bartender, a Pittsburgh gentleman I saw in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. I eventually wrote about him for Pittsburgh Magazine, Playboy, Enquirer, Maxim and about four or five others. But to get to that level from a tabloid, I started by pitching smaller magazines to get good clips. It’s like climbing a ladder. For me, one of the early and satisfying freelance gigs I had was a charming little publication called PetLife. I think the stories paid about $450, but yielded wonderful clips.

JW: How do you measure your own success? Do you set goals for yourself and if so, what goal(s) are you currently working toward?

Chris: Right now I’m concentrating on pitching book proposals and keeping my humor blog, www.EightDaysToAmish.com, lively and fresh. I’ve had golf and humor books published, but nothing substantial. Getting one of these big high-concept books published is a goal that is near, yet remains elusive. But I can’t stress how much fun and how rewarding it is to tend a blog and watch it grow from zero to a fun and feisty readership. Pittsburgh Magazine named it one of the five best blogs in the ‘burgh and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has three times in the past seven weeks cited it in its Sunday Forum page, “Cutting Edge” column, as a must-read. I love that something with “Amish” in the title is considered cutting edge!

I encourage every writer to start and maintain a blog. Stephen King says writing is like lifting weights. Do a little bit each day and you’ll get stronger. I get a real kick when I hear some flattering feedback on a blog item (like the sort Melissa’s been kind enough to share).

Chris Rodell is a Latrobe, Pa., based freelance writer who’s been published by many of the most prestigious magazines in America and been rejected by the rest. He teaches creative non-fiction at Point Park University in Pittsburgh. Follow him on Twitter at @8days2amish.

Put off Procrastinating

By nature, I am a chronic procrastinator. I love the thrill of working on deadline–and that leads me to putting things off until they just can’t wait any longer. You’d be amazed at the ways I procrastinate.When working on a blog post (like this one), I’ll spend an hour looking for an image to use. I’ll try to eat my way through the contents of my fridge. I’ll get up six times to use the ladies room. I decide now is the best time to catch up on all the blog posts I haven’t read in my google reader. I reorganize my post-it note collection, or my bulletin board.

The list could go on and on and on.

So when I read Andre Kibbe’s post on WorkAwesome I found myself first nodding in agreement, then shaking my head in disbelief. His suggest just seemed too simple to work. The principle? Aim for non-zero. He writes that it’s about getting past that blank screen. Then moving on to the next step. No way, I thought. It won’t work. I’ll just sit and stare. But then he mentions the 10-minute dash.

Basically, this involves setting a timer and deciding that for the next 10 minutes you’ll do nothing OR you’ll do an assignment. And then either making yourself sit there and literally do nothing…. or beginning work on a given project. I just had to try it.

So today, after reading his piece, I searched Google for an online timer and set it up for a ten minute count down. I opened up a project and hit start. And you know what? When I told myself I couldn’t get up to get a drink until those ten minutes were up, I actually started doing work–I didn’t check my email (even though there was an annoying red message at the bottom of my screen telling me I had a new email) or read a blog post–and I didn’t stop when the timer went off.

I had built up momentum by the time the timer went off and had almost completed the assignment. So I stayed seated and finished the last few sentences. I went from not accomplishing anything, to almost finishing a project in ten minutes–I had successfully put off procrastination.

Try it yourself. Or leave your tips for putting off procrastination in the comments.

Learning to Listen (or where ideas come from)

Everyone knows a big part of being a good freelance writer (and of networking) is learning how to listen. But sometimes we forget that we can learn to be a better freelance writer or networker by listening to our peers.

I generally think I’m pretty good about being open to new ideas. I believe that ideas come from everywhere, and that one of the differences between a good freelancer and a mediocre one (and who wants to hire a mediocre one) is the ability to connect seemingly unconnected events in a way that makes sense and that creates a space for others to think.

But, despite Marian Schembari praising the powers of linked in on a regular basis, I hadn’t given it a serious chance. Marian had mentioned several times that she’s found it a fantastic platform for finding clients. Each time my face twisted in slight disbelief. After all, Linked in has a poor user interface and is organized in a way that’s not-even-close-to intuitive. Then one day last week she posted that she had found three new clients in an hour on linked in. I thought, no way, nuh-uh.

And I decided to give it a shot.

Well, I should have listened sooner. I joined a number of discussion boards and over the last few days I have gained four potential clients – and I spend less than half an hour a day doing it. End result? In the future I’ll pursue things that people I trust recommend. I’ll listen and instead of giving in to my preconceptions I’ll give new things a shot.

And if any of you out there want to learn how to be a killer connection maker on linked in, check out Marian’s site–she is an awesome chick who teaches social media (Check out her linked in tutorial), and at the moment has up a free video guide–The #1 Reason LinkedIn STILL Isn’t Working For You and How To Fix It.



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