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Archive for June, 2008

Greetings, my fellow ink-stained wretches! Long weekend here. I’ve flown my mother into Charleston for her birthday. So it’s four days of touristy crap for the lady who not only cracked the whip tirelessly until I finished college, but who also bought me my first computer. It’s the least I can do…trust me, I checked!  L8R…

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There’s an economic school of thought that says in “times like these” freelancers, contract workers, consultants, call them what you will, should be doing OK. Suppose your company has a need for some service. When times are good, your company might go ahead and put someone on staff to take care of that need. Your company then assumes the financial expense of training that person, providing benefits, buying them a computer, printing their stupid little business cards, and so on.

When times aren’t so good, it’s a different story. Assume the need is still there. In a downturn, your company is more likely to contract someone to fill that need. No benefits, no computer, no stupid little business cards, etc.

Also, what if the provider isn’t doing such a great job? In the full-time staff example, the company feels much more pressure to “make good” on their investment in staff. They have to weigh the cost of retention vs. starting the whole process over again. With a contractor, they can just pull the plug.

So that’s the basic economics, all things being equal. But are things ever equal? Things like IT consulting, call center operations, cable installation…these things are specialized skills. Correction…these are specialized skills and people recognize them as such. Copywriting? Not so much.

When times are bad, people mistakenly cut back on promotion and marketing, precisely when they should be marketing and advertising more than ever. At these times, it’s hard to convince them that:

  • They should be communicating value to their prospective clients, through direct mail, revamping their website, blogging, etc., and
  • They need a professional copywriter to do that. Someone who can help find their value and state it in ways that entice the buying public and search engines alike.

I’d like to hear some ideas on convincing potential clients of the importance of A, B or both! Help a brother out…I’ve got some marketing to do!

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Sorry, gang. I was all set to regale you with the story of running and gunning across Europe producing corporate video. But something’s up with the PC. Suddenly my laptop doesn’t recognize my USB devices. Printer, scanner, remote keyboard, wireless mouse, the flash drive where my file is trapped…nothing. Device Manager says the drivers are fine, that it’s the devices that are bad. But all of them, suddenly? Anyway, I’m stumped. What do you think? Rebooting hasn’t helped. Time for a system recovery?

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Can you (and by you I mean me) find writing jobs in the want ads? If you don’t live in New York, Chicago, or anywhere there are more people than livestock, I’m not so sure. Every town is different, of course, and there are different kinds of writing.

Take Charleston, for example. Type “writer” into the search box. Immediately scratch off the five “Service Writer” jobs at the local auto dealers. And you are left with about 20 legitimate writer ads a day. Sounds great for a town the size of Charleston (the #80 metro area.) However, I guarantee you 19 of those 20 ads will be for a Technical Writer.

Let me pause and say that there are jobs I can do and like doing. There are jobs I can do but don’t like doing. And there are jobs I can’t do well, and don’t care to improve because I don’t like doing them. Technical writing is the latter.

And technical writing is where it’s at in Charleston, particularly in government contracting.  It’s strictly “tab A into slot B equals cruise missile.” I have done a fair amount of government/military stuff, but it has been on the marketing end, for instance: “Somewhere in a far-off, dusty land the Liberty Gun stands a lonely vigil, tirelessly defending the freedoms we hold dear.” Hey, I just made that up…wanna buy it?

When you do find a marketing/advertising writer job, they tend to boil down to the following: “Looking for 23-year-old kid seeking first big break to serve as our entire communications department. Must be proficient in every software program created in the past 20 years. Strict adherence to AP style! Must love long hours, intense pressure and low pay.”

So, I tend to read the ads not to find jobs, but companies. A company searching for a webmaster, public relations director or publications manager obviously needs writing services. Do they need them enough to hire your freelancin’ ass? Well, that’s what you have to find out.

I try my best to associate a name with the company, which isn’t easy sometimes. First of all, half the ads are from recruiters (Hulk angry! Hulk SMASH!) However, if you are searching locally, there are times you can piece together enough clues to make a guess. They make a certain thing? They’re located in a particular suburb? Then it’s probably XYZ Corp.

Then I head to their website, if they have one. Their About page might have officer bios, maybe even with email links. Or, their News page might have press releases, at the bottom of which you may find “For further info contact Joe Blow, Corporate Communications Director.”

There you have it, my fellow ink-stained wretches. Use your innate creativity to turn your miserable job search into an exciting detective novel…and make looking for work up to five percent less humiliating!

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We have lost one of the English language’s unlikeliest defenders; George Carlin is dead. Carlin said that there were three arenas of life that informed his comedy: the world at large (war, politics, religion, etc.) the peculiar observational world of the comic (the “didja ever notice” stuff) and the English language… “the words, phrases, sayings and the ways we speak.”

And he was full of them. Apparently his mother inspired his love of language. She was a single mom and (I believe) a schoolteacher with an incredible command of the language. George tried to impress her by picking up as much of her vocabulary as he could, and she would challenge him further. Carlin’s example:

George: “Hey ma, care to peruse the newspaper?”

(He waits for praise. Instead…)

Mother: “I’ll give it a cursory glance.”

Over the years, Carlin railed against the sources of abuse of the English language. Whether theses abuses came from advertising, government bureaucracy or political correctness, Carlin was merciless. However, for me at least, his rants on the language made me want to get it right. And one specific example has stayed with me forever, the abuse of “irony.” Typical example:

Me: He was cutting his grass and a car jumped the curb and killed him.

Other guy: Wow. Ironic, isn’t it?

Me: How so?

Other guy: Umm, well, uh, I have to go now.

Carlin’s first book “Brain Droppings” is full of great examples of oxymorons, redundancies, euphemisms and just plain abuses. I will be rereading it today in his honor.

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Somehow, I have managed to maintain a mix of copywriting clients of various sizes and workloads. There’s an ebb and flow; one client’s writing needs are down, while another’s are up. And over the years, I have managed to pay the bills. Not exactly rolling naked in obscene piles of money…just paying the bills. The other half of the equation is learning to not have bills! I also have several other useful tips like:

  • Marrying money
  • Being touched by an angel, and
  • Hiding jobs in a hollow tree until winter

Anyway, recently that thing happened that happens from time to time: more clients’ writing needs were down than up, and it was time to start beating the bushes even more than usual. So I started perusing these listing sites.

“Designers! Copywriters! Programmers! List your services here! Let the client come to you!!”

There are a bunch of these sites, and they each work a little differently: from a straight, yellow-pages type of listing, to a sort of RFP-type setup where you submit bids. And here is where it gets depressing. First of all, a typical client listing: “Need 100,000 words of SEO copy, budget $200.”  Right away you think, “Dream on, pal.” But, sure enough, not only are there 5 writers willing to do it for $200, there are 5 more with names you can’t even pronounce, from places like Bangalore, India who are willing to do it for $75!

So that was the beginning and end of my bid-site experience. Anybody else had any better luck?

PS…It’s Friday, and the fact that there’s no more Battlestar Galactica until frakkin’ 2009 is killing me!

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I’m late to the party, admittedly. But I just spent 5 weeks in blogger purgatory and, damn it, that experience had to have been for a reason!  I’m referring to spending hours each day writing blog posts or comments, as well as “informative” articles about topics related to a client’s product.

The point is to write fresh, SEO-rich content on the client’s subject matter. Finding a fresh topic requires a bit of research skill I liken to being able to “see the Matrix.” You race thru article portal sites staring at the screen, watching the glowing green characters cascade in front of you. Somehow, you see the nut of the story and tease it out.

Now, here’s where you separate the writers from the hacks (as that cranky bastard The Copywriter would say.)  Some pro bloggers simply lift the copy from someone else’s article. Others lift and then reword just enough to avoid plagiarism. Me, I lift the topic and then try my best to recall a personal experience, or a friend or relative’s personal experience, or something I saw on TV, and make something fresh out of it.

As I have tried to tell the aforementioned cranky bastard, the amount of “lift” vs. “fresh” can sometimes depend on your workload.  I was expected to churn out 15 200-word posts in two hours, followed by 15 to 20 comments in another two hours. I still managed to do much more “fresh” than “lifted,” but it was tough.

Anyway, having been through this experience, I am going to try to make something out of it. So, I am going to make another page of the site dedicated to blogging, commenting and article writing, and we’ll see what happens.  Fun and profits…I’m SURE of it!!

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