Lessons We Teach Ourselves

What’s on the iPod: Late March, Death March by Frightened Rabbit

How was your yesterday? Mine was somewhat productive. I started the day with a poetry writing project I’m putting on the front burner. It’s something I’ve been wanting to promote and yesterday I had time to do so. I had time also to work on my brochure and to start (and complete) a small client project.

As I was putting together my schedule for next week’s conference, I was remembering some of the correspondence I’d had with conference exhibitors in the past, and how my own perceptions and approach has changed over the years. Things were going more smoothly, I was much more confidence in how I approached people, and my fees were now at a level that I am happy with.

I’d learned some lessons. Best part is I’d taught them to myself without realizing it.

I bet you’ve taught yourself some things, too. As writers, we often learn by trial and error. However, sometimes we let the “error” part of the equation stop us cold in our efforts. We make mistakes. We send the wrong note to the wrong person, or we come across someone who is so unpleasant and sharp-tongued, we just stop trying altogether.

Or we learn from these so-called mistakes.

Here are a few lessons I’ve learned, often the hard way:

Contract language must be comprehensive. Ah, I learned that one way back when my children were little. I’d contracted with a well-known magazine to write a story. Alas, I totally missed the word “minimum” in what they were buying “a minimum of 500 words.” I sent them 2,000 words. They printed them verbatim and there wasn’t a thing I could do — they’d promised to print a minimum of 500 words. I never saw more money (it was a per-word gig), and I made sure they knew I found them sleazy. From that point on, I read very carefully every word in the contract.

Someone else’s fire does not constitute my emergency. I used to devote weekends and late nights to clients who would come rushing in on a Friday afternoon with something that “must” be ready by Monday morning. No more. If they’re not losing sleep over it, neither am I. I now promise to get to it first thing Monday morning. I’ve found that too many times, these “fires” are caused by lack of planning, and that clients who ask for you to give up your weekend aren’t respecting your time.

Deadlines are sometimes quite arbitrary. I know magazines and other publications are on tight schedules, but often clients will toss out deadlines that are unrealistic or unattainable for one reason or another. On pushing back I’ve found that many times they’ve just decided internally to have this project done by a certain date — there’s nothing pressing the deadline beyond the boss wanting it. In those cases, I insert reality by stating how long this should take and how much time I require. If it’s a fit, great. If not, we’ll either work something else out or not.

Nonpayers follow a pattern. After you’ve heard the same excuses or have seen the same accusations tossed out months after the late invoice is sent, you come to recognize the pattern. The patterns include when they: A) ignore the first two invoices and lodge heavy complaints on the third and final one, B) lament how many bills they’ve had to pay this past month, C) suddenly decide three months later they don’t need that article after all, D) say more than once the check was mailed or that accounting has the invoice, E) must have lost the invoice/haven’t reviewed your work yet/didn’t see any invoice/thinks the Spam folder ate it, or F) go completely mute until you threaten litigation/collection. And none of these emotional ploys work anymore for those of us who have been there, heard that.

They need you as much as you need them. So stop apologizing for bothering them. Sell them on your skills and how those skills are going to improve what they do. Just like you may not do accounting or understand a thing about surgery, they may be lousy at creating readable documents. That’s where you come in. You have value — own that.

Those who shop price will never pay what you’re worth. Sad reality. If they’re starting out worried about your rate or how many hours you’re putting in to a writing project, they can’t afford you. No one wants or needs a clock watcher, an hour counter, or a price haggler, especially if they haven’t proven themselves to be worthy clients.

Clients have to be worthy. You heard right — I said they have to prove themselves to be worthy clients. That means they have to establish trust, as well. It’s not a one-sided relationship. If you can’t trust that your client is going to work with you (not dictate terms to you) or pay you on time (or at all), that client gets no special rates or favors. Those are reserved for clients who have respected your time and writing skills enough to treat you like a professional.

Networking and marketing are about relationships. The words sound so cold, yet it’s merely you creating a relationship with someone who may need a writer or editor. It’s making one more friend or friendly acquaintance in the client world or in the writing world. It’s not about sales or selling. It’s about showing them your value.

What have you learned from yourself?

About the author




  • Cathy Miller April 17, 2013 at 12:50 pm

    I have learned many of the same lesson as you have, Lori (thankfully!) Another one I would add is you decide the kind of work you want to do.

    In the beginning, my feeling of desperation had me doing work I did not enjoy. I finally woke up to the thought, hey, what's the point of freelancing if you don't take control of the kind of work you do?

    I dumped what I hated and have never looked back – even when things got challenging.

  • Cathy Miller April 17, 2013 at 12:51 pm

    Uh, make that lessons. Apparently, I have not learned how to avoid typos. πŸ˜‰

  • Devon Ellington April 17, 2013 at 1:20 pm

    I create jobs I want, as well as going after jobs the clients create. I seem to be creating a new niche for myself — as much as I hate niches — mission-specific entertainment. I love doing it, and I'm good at it, so what the hey, right?

    Now i just have to figure out how to market it! πŸ˜‰

  • Cathy Miller April 17, 2013 at 3:35 pm

    Good for you, Devon, and I know you'll figure it all out. πŸ˜‰

  • Lori April 17, 2013 at 6:06 pm

    Cathy, we're not a typo-free zone. It happens. Even the most fabulous of us make mistakes, right? πŸ™‚

    Great point about doing what you love. It's so freeing to say no to something that you know you'll not like.

    Devon, sounds like a great direction to go in!