Using “Yes, and” to Drum Up Freelance Writing Gigs

While I’m fairly terrible at improvisational comedy (shoutout to the Improv Jam troupe in Red Bank NJ, who know firsthand), there’s a rule of thumb that has done me immeasurable good throughout my professional life – the “Yes, and…” concept.

Essentially, when you are improvising, you want to initially agree to what the other party / parties in your scene state as fact in order to establish the scene. For example:

rave_grandma

WITHOUT “Yes, and…”

Person A: It’s so good to see you, “Grandma” – I’m glad you could come to the rave!
Person B: What are you talking about? I’m not Grandma, I’m your coworker and we’re at the office!

(The scene gets confusing and awkward as the parties try to recover and agree.)

WITH “Yes, and…”

Person A: It’s so good to see you, “Grandma” – I’m glad you could come to the rave!

Person B: You’re darn tootin’ little bobby! Now hand me my glowstick knitting needles and let’s get krunked!

(The scene progresses organically.)

In the second scenario, the “Grandma” agreed that they were, in fact, grandma and that the setting was a rave party. The “and” came as Person B assigned Person A a logical identity (“little bobby”) and made supporting references both to the rave and “Grandmas” age with a knitting needle joke and slang. This was the “and” part of “Yes, and…” – Person B helped the scene move forward and empowered their scene partner with information.

Okay, But What About Freelancing?

Your client(s) hire you to do a specific job the majority of the time – and, as any freelancer can tell you, a great deal of mill site gigs are one-offs. We accept, we write, we submit, get paid and then we never see that client again. It doesn’t have to be that way. The “Yes, and…” concept encourages freelancers to suggest additional topics, discuss future potential needs that align with their writing capabilities, and in general to treat the client as an open conversation, rather than a “delivered letter.”

Are there Drawbacks to “Yes, and…” ?

Freelancing itself is a gamble, and yes, you will run the risk that they’ll take your ideas and make off with them. However, a few ideas off the top of your head shouldn’t be half a novel, nor take more than a handful of minutes to conceptualize and present. If you get one job out of 4, it’s still one more job than you had before! And unlike certain *ahem* writing sites that demand you work for free, it’s entirely up to you whether or not to pursue “Yes, and…” with a given client. Listen to your gut, here. If a client seems pushy or unrealistic and doesn’t pay well, or if they try to lowball you on a bid, that’s not a professional relationship, they’re just waiting for the right moment to take advantage of you. Good clients – the ones worth pursuing and building on – pay you a fair wage and have realistic expectations for project facets like turnaround time and work volume. Save your “Yes, and…” effort for them.

One of my best “Yes, and…” nudges turned into a client I’ve been working with steadily for two years. She pays what amounts to half of my rent each month, and it all happened because I made a few suggestions and offered to deliver content on a regular basis. Remember, there is value in a cohesive tone for a corporate blog or regular social media posts – use that as a bargaining chip when making your “Yes, and…” proposition. They might be able to get similar work elsewhere, and maybe even cheaper, but if you’ve honed your writing correctly, no new writer can ever match your tone exactly.

Good luck out there, fellow writers! Improvise your way to greatness and a bank account that eats your bills, rather than the other way around. 😉

 

 

The Ethics of Freelancing

Part of the reason I love freelancing so much is that I never know what the day’s work is going to bring to my desk. Constantly researching topics, looking for new angles, and pitching ideas keeps my mind active and curious, and makes interesting party conversation infinitely easier. There are some writing topics that I’m just not interested in, but there are also writing topics that I think freelance writers should be honor-bound not to touch.

I won’t be a hypocrite here – there has been a time or two in my career that I’ve written a Shakespeare essay or a similar piece of literary analysis that I was pretty darn sure was destined to carry a lazy or overworked student’s name. I made a rule for myself early on, however – never touch the life-or-death stuff. I won’t write false reviews or unsubstantiated claims about medications or supplements, and I won’t give medical or legal advice in my writing that isn’t fairly common knowledge, and vetted.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean the work isn’t out there. Take a peek below at a job I recently spotted on a board.

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This looks to be a pretty basic walkthrough for a nurse-in-training, and it’s part of an established curriculum, if this Chegg “homework help” page is any indication. This is not the kind of education that someone responsible for medical care should be shrugging off.

While it’s up to each individual freelancer to make judgment calls on what he or she will work on, this is the kind of “opportunity” I condemn and caution against with the strongest terms possible. Keep an eye out, and always consider the deeper ramifications of your actions – our words have the power to inspire, create, sell and comfort, and, as the web-slinger himself once put it…

with-great-power-comes-great-responsibility-spider-man

The Latest (Bad) News on Zerys

I know that some of my readers may wonder why I’m devoting so many blog posts to a site that banned and blocked me for my opinion. I would point to my unusually high number of new blog followers, comments and likes on my Zerys posts as proof that there’s clearly a large audience that wants to talk about their frustrations there, but can’t due to forum censorship.

As I mentioned on a previous blog post about Zerys practices, I have an ex that I’m still friendly with that keeps me updated on some of the craziness going on over there. He was researching approval times recently and came across this admin forum post from last month:

zerys_post

“We understand the desire to know where you stand with every job off the New Clients Job Board. Writers have a right to know one way or the other whether a buyer will add him/her to their writing team, and also whether they have chosen to purchase the initial piece or not.

For all other regular assignments to Favorite Writers, if the client doesn’t review the piece in time, we can auto-approve the piece because the client has already added that writer to their team, and there is some likelihood that the client would approve the content anyways since its from one of their favorite writers.

For initial New Client jobs, however, there is a unique challenge when it comes to auto-approval. We cannot force the client to like a writer, and we cannot force them to purchase a piece that was primarily designed to review a writer’s ability. The reason clients don’t have a review deadline on New Client Jobs is because these are not final, publishable pieces of content, but rather, these are jobs designed to help them identify writers they like, and want to add to their team.

All this being said, the great majority of New Client Jobs are reviewed within the 7-day window, so we are not finding this to be a major issue at thie point. We will, however, continue to watch it closely.”

There are several problems here – notably that “great majority” isn’t qualified – and even then, numbers don’t always work favorably in Zerys’ PR history, as we learned after the announcement that 60% of Zerys clients are not paying for their “samples.” Secondly, and admittedly this is anecdotal, but several writers I know have admitted that their samples sit for weeks, with some still languishing in queue from back during the initial shift to writing for free – excuse me, providing “custom” writing samples –  on the platform, months ago.

So, to recap, in order to get jobs from any new client on Zerys, you’ll need to:

1.) Write a 250 word article for free, knowing that 60% of these samples, by Zerys own admission, will never earn a penny.

2.) Wait for an indeterminate period of time, which is entirely up to the client, in the hopes that you’re one of the “lucky” 40% that actually gets paid for your work.

3.) Keep your work in limbo indefinitely, unable to repackage or sell it, because you’ve essentially created Schrodinger’s Article, which the client can buy at any point in time and lock down a copyright for.

This is what #FreelanceIsntFree is pushing for, my writing readers. These expectations and edicts are a slippery slope that devalues our hard-earned craft and makes new writers feel as if they’re not legitimate until they work for free.

You are worth more than that. Never forget that your work is worth paying for!

 

Who I Am vs. What I Write

Freelance writing is a career with a staggering range of subjects to tackle, especially before you build a consistent roster of repeat clients. For some writers, this mish-mash is an obstacle to be waded through on their way to steady work in comfortable subjects. For others – yours truly among them – it’s the same mish-mash that makes freelancing so darn attractive in the first place.

In the past week, I’ve written about fat-burning cold laser therapy, landing pages for a pizza restaurant in Ohio, specialty Vietnamese sauces, air conditioner seasonal preparation, local business SEO listings, warehousing strategy, the fast food industry, an organic body oil direct sales company, truck cranes and workshop sessions that I attended at the Content Marketing Conference in Las Vegas last month. I love it, because it keeps my mind active and engaged at all times – I’m always learning something new!

However. Sometimes a job will cross my path that makes my stomach sink a little. Either the viewpoint is staunchly in opposition to my own, or the very content would be unethical  (by my own standards) to write – e.g. a review for a product I never tried. A friendWe all need the money, but I’m here to tell you, as a muddled mentor-of-sorts to freelance fledglings…

…just. don’t. do. it.

Question_Mark

Insincerity comes through in something as subtle as your word choice, and trust me – the readers are going to pick up on it. In a career path that’s highlighted as being one of personal freedom and choice, you are absolutely free to pass up on these types of articles. Yes, even if you need the money. If you need someone to tell you it’s okay, and not to feel guilty for passing on projects that make your skin crawl, consider this my blanket forgiveness: it’s cool. 

I’m a bleeding heart liberal and a lifelong pagan (yes, believe it or not, I’m a witch! And I vote! And pay taxes!), so believe me when I tell you there’s never been a shortage of jobs that don’t quite mesh with my worldview.

It took me years to make my peace with not gritting my teeth through uncomfortable subjects, but I came to realize that for every church bulletin I passed up, a religious scholar was shooing off an adult toy description I could pick up. We need to treat this crazy freelancing journey as a group effort, if only academically – stick to what you feel comfortable writing, or researching-to-write, and success won’t be far behind.

Dealing With Problem Clients

Whole libraries have been written on the subject of speaking to a member of the opposite (or same, or other – it is 2016, after all) sex, but precious little covers how we, as freelancers, should chat up our source of income if things start to go sideways. Realistically, we’re also all competing with one another for work, so cards are held pretty close to the vest. It’s not easy to peek at what others are doing in real time to mimic, as you might in other industries.

So what now? Wing it? That’s what most fledgling freelancers are forced to do, in the absence of clear instruction. More established writers have uncovered the trip wires and learned to see the red flags on a problem client from miles away, but those skills were probably dearly learned. I feel that the “new blood” in freelancing needs guidance on this, even if it’s at the cost of a smaller work pool. Why? Well, because it isn’t just about educating them – it’s about empowering them and bringing them into the fold to stand firm against industry-wide issues like scope creep, which affects every writer regardless of skill level.

redflag

Here are my “three truths,” to dealing with potential “red flag” clients, fledgling writers:

1.) Clients will test you. This means that they will often try to get something for nothing, more for little, or everything for a fair amount. The trick here is to master being a willow tree in a sea of oak trees – that is, firmly rooted but willing to bend a bit when it suits your needs. Don’t agree to take on non-writing tasks like backlinking, image-gathering or distributing press releases unless you’re being paid accordingly – these are not typically part and parcel of a writing job, and they certainly shouldn’t be free. If client-requested “edits” are sounding more like “additions” that are going to take you beyond your maximum paid-for word counts, ask politely if they’d like to increase the word count (and pay!) or have you remove some previously-written work from the piece instead. Now, they don’t want to lose work of course, they wanted the new stuff for free, but this is a polite way of acknowledging that you know what they might be up to and stopping it before it has a chance to manifest.

2.) Set the rules of engagement before they do it for you. Unless you’re being paid a staggering amount of money, you are not on call 24/7, so don’t be afraid to set time and communication boundaries. It’s reasonable to expect that you are available 9-5 Monday through Friday in your home time zone, it is not reasonable to expect you’re available at 11:30 pm on a Saturday unless it was previously discussed and agreed upon. Never give a new client your home phone or cell phone, because rest assured they will use it – and use it, and use it. Keeping things confined to email or Skype gives you some measure of control over when and where your client contacts you, and that is important for setting boundaries. If a call is absolutely necessary, offer to call them and frame it as a service benefit – “I would be happy to call you to save you the trouble, what time and number is best to reach you?”

3.) Don’t let them use price or volume as a dangling carrot. Remember that, in freelancing, promises of “more work,” “ongoing higher pay work” or “bonuses” aren’t worth the digital non-paper they’re printed on. A lot of clients will use this tactic on newbie writers to get really great work out of them….once. You work hard, turn in a great article, and wait. And wait. No bonuses, the client is MIA, and there’s no work in sight. All of a sudden, that above-and-beyond effort for that “carrot” was actually for a run-of-the-mill one-off article with average pay, or worse, lower pay. As I’ve mentioned in the Freelance Writer Guide, even new writers should not agree to less than .01 / word – $1 for 100 words needs to be the floor when it comes to fluent English writing. Don’t accept less…a reputable client that actually has fairly-priced work for you will not ask you to work for less than a penny a word, even on a “trial” basis.

Let me be clear: most of the clients you’re working for will be agencies and middlemen, and any promise of “exposure” is hollow or a flat-out lie. If they are an agency or a middleman, they aren’t authorized to allow you to stick the end client’s name or the work you’ve done for them in your portfolio.

If you enter into every project with an (polite!) attitude of self-worth, clear boundaries and a firm price in mind for your efforts, you’ll be able to avoid a lot of problem clients – the most egregious/abusive individuals in the bad client roster are looking for an easy, too-eager pushover they can exploit, not someone that knows what their work is worth.

 

Changing Your Pitch: Writing Tone

Your writing voice is as unique as your fingerprint. Without realizing it, you lean towards and repeat certain turns of phrase, and likely even use punctuation in patterns that are familiar and comfortable to your flow.  You may misspell the same words, tend towards a certain length of paragraph, or prefer a certain type of call to action over others as well. All of these little quirks combine to compose your writing tone and define your work, both personal and professional.  The result is a strong, predictable pace and style that is applicable to many different platforms. Unfortunately, you will probably need to change it up somewhere along the line. Here are three tips for finding, using and maintaining a new tone in your writing.

Zoning Permits

Sooner or later, you will get a client that requests or requires a tone that doesn’t feel “right” to you. This is the nature of the freelance writing beast, and learning to bend a little will keep you in the game while your less flexible peers get drummed out. This client may request a more aggressive tone than usual, asking for numerous calls to action in their freelance writing, and some have a borderline obsession with exclamation points.  Conversely, they could want you to walk on eggshells, softening every point with hemming and hawing and a lot of “CYA” style phrasing. A lot of points could be made that either extreme is ineffectual, but the client should always get what he or she wants, regardless of the freelancer’s personal stances on the tone. (Naturally, if a project begins to swing so far out of your comfort zone that it leaves orbit, it may be time to consider how to fire your freelance writing client.)

Taking a Page

Looking for inspiration in the client’s current descriptions, literature and website is the best place to start. These pieces of writing, provided they aren’t in the process of being replaced, have already met the client’s expectations and thus make an excellent template. If they are being overhauled, ask the client to point out a few sites or competitors that they consider above average – this will give you a starting point to search for tone. Even with this “leg up”, there’s a very good chance that the client may ask for tweaks and rewrites, so make yourself available by email or phone and be prepared to go through a few edits.  Remember, any short-term freelance writing client could turn into a long term one, so put the extra effort in if you can afford to.

It’s Okay to Say No

If you’ve followed the Freelancer Writer Guide advice on finding your writing speed, you’re already using it to determine what is and isn’t worth working on. If a project is x number of words and would normally require x dollars to be worth it, don’t forget to factor in the extra time that adjusting your tone will cost you. If an assignment is already teetering on the border of being too low in pay for the time tradeoff, tonal changes could shove it firmly into “not worth it” when you really break it down.  If you do refuse an assignment, do so as early as possible so you don’t tie the client up, and be sure to maintain a professional tone in all of your communications. Word gets around in client circles as quickly as writer communities, and you don’t want that stigma following you from job to job.

Freelance Writer Guide Chapter 7 – The Ego

A digitally rendered clay figure of a faceless grey man with a red tie on. He is holding a blue vanity mirror in front of his face and checking his reflection as he adjusts his tie.

The critic has to educate the public; the artist has to educate the critic.” – Oscar Wilde

Writing isn’t like working a traditional 9-to-5 type of job; the schedule can be crazy, there are no real co-workers to commiserate with face to face, and feedback can be vague and elusive if you manage to get it at all. In a work-at-home (or Starbucks, or Barnes and Noble, or anywhere with wifi) environment, the theoretical silence can be deafening.

You will get pieces returned to you and rejected at some point, with a good chance of it happening early on. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re a bad writer, or even that your piece was sub-par – these returns are at the whim of the client or editor, both of whom are not the writer! Try your best to take criticism constructively and apply frustration as motivation to work harder and turn out better pieces. Even with the businesslike airs it puts on, freelance writing is an art form that falls squarely in the realm of creativity. One man’s masterpiece is another man’s doodle – outside of agreed-upon constants like spelling and grammar, the beauty of writing is largely in the eye of the beholder.

No matter what sites you end up joining, at some point a set of instructions will be poorly worded, clients will be unreasonable and you will very likely get burned out at some point. Hopefully the occasional pitfalls won’t put you off the track to success, but don’t be afraid to take a breather now and then if it gets to be too much. Writing is an intense vocation, requiring complete focus 100% of the time that it is being done, by its very nature.

As a new writer, be prepared to explain that copywriting is the writing of copy, not the application of patents. You’ll also find yourself frequently explaining that no, you do not also do graphic design – a surprisingly common mixup when the term “freelancer” pops up at a party. In a similar vein, friends and family may have to have the nature of marketing writing explained to them, in particular the difference between sales-oriented writing work and the “Great American Novel” that every stereotypical writer seems to be indelibly attached to.

Be proud of what you do and all that you accomplish – you are effectively your own boss at this point, so periodical self reviews will likely be the only official pat on the back you’ll enjoy. Work hard, enjoy crafting each piece, and take some time to remind yourself each day that every word keeps you further and further away from a lackluster cubicle in a customer service department somewhere.

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