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.

screen-shot-2016-09-12-at-1-44-32-pm

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.

 

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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Freelance Writer Guide Chapter 6 – Getting Started

Three red-fletched arrows protrude from a black and white ringed archery target, all three points are in the red bullseye.

“Consider the postage stamp:  its usefulness consists in the ability to stick to one thing till it gets there.” 

– Josh Billings

 

Step 1:

When you get a project, take a look at the item or webpage and find a handful of features that you feel you can wax on about a little – such as the figurine’s base is made of polished walnut wood, or the webpage offers visitors the chance to sign up for a store newsletter.

Protip: In general, it’s a good idea to break ideas or features down into 100 to 200 word paragraphs, leaning towards the 200-sized chunks for larger projects that range in the realm of 800 words and up. This will speed up writing a bit and give you a clear framework to begin with.

Step 2:

Start strong. If it’s a bank, a short statement about how important it is to have your money in dependable hands would be a great beginning. You want the point / name of the company / item to show up no later than 2 to 3 sentences in –

The future can hold a lot of uncertainty, which is why it’s important to do your banking with a proven name you can trust. Trustybank USA has been serving it’s customers for over 3,000 years with products such as …..”

(In this case, “Trustybank USA” is the name of the organization to be focused on. )

The splendor of nature can be found in the dance of butterflies over flowers, and now on your favorite shelf at home with the Butterfly Beauty art sculpture. This lovely rainbow-hued piece brings one of the most treasured heralds of spring indoors to be enjoyed….”

(In this case, “Butterfly Beauty” is the name of the item being showcased.)

Step 3:

It’s natural to run out of steam about 1/2 to 3/4 of the way through, especially if you’re just starting to write for money. Don’t get discouraged, just take a break from typing away and look at the product or website again with another round of scrutiny. Are there any features you may have missed that can be included in your project? Even something as simple as browser security or smartphone-enabled services can be turned into a very respectable 100-word block if you work at it a little. Are there guides or articles on the website about the subject? Be sure to point these out as well – they’re a great addition to the buyer’s list of benefits for visiting or using that item or page.

Step 4:

Glance through the piece, read it aloud, give it to a friend to look over – anything to run it through one last check before submitting it. Watch for words that may not be used correctly but will still make it through spellcheck – “He laughed at her hare, which was a real mess.” Your writing program probably won’t catch issues like homonyms.

Protip: Unless specifically requested, exclamation points should be used sparingly, if at all. As a culture, we don’t tend to shout in the middle of a conversational sentence, so the written word should reflect that as well.

Step 5:

Close on a strong note as well. Don’t trail off – readers of all varieties prefer a strong ending to sum up the story.

“If you want your financial security in the hands of professionals that care, open up an account at Trustybank USA today and start enjoying the benefits of better banking.”

This sort of phrasing is called a call to action, a term you’ll hear repeated throughout your time in the pro writing circuit. This is basically the communication of an idea that encourages the reader to do something – visiting a site, signing up for a newsletter, buying an item and so on.  

 

Step 6:

Send the client a message through your website’s messaging system thanking him or her for the opportunity to work for them. This step is, of course, optional but may very well lead to a series of privately assigned projects down the line for your polite eagerness.

 

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