Archive for December, 2008

All the cool kids are doing it. By “cool kids” I mean sweaty web nerds. And by “it” I mean domain mapping.  As I understood the concept, I could somehow employ elfin magic to drop the “WordPress” from my URL and go commando with simply “LivelyExchange.com.”

The only problem? I don’t own LivelyExchange.com. I used to own it, for years and years. Somewhere along the way, though, I must have found another use for that $14 per year.  Now, some squatter owns it, and I didn’t even bother to inquire as to a price.

Instead, I did an end-run and purchased “ALivelyExchange.com. Then I routed all hits to this blog. Same site, new name.

The pros? The web gurus tell me that this makes the site looks more professional, and less bloggy.

The cons? First, this may put a dent in my Google rankings in the short term, as the switch takes effect.  Second, those 500 business cards I just had done are instantly obsolete.

The price of progress!!

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This might have been a good post for the beginning of my vacation, instead of the end. At any rate, I went home for the holidays. I’ll be back in bidness  by midweek. Froeliche Wienachten, and whatnot!

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cautious optimismPreviously, I have referred to the post-9/11 recession as the starting point of my middling freelance career.  And I have tried to draw comparisons between that downturn, which was largely events-based, with the current one, which seems to have resulted from deep structural issues in the economy.

On paper, you would expect this one to be worse. So why am I less pessimistic this time around?

First and foremost, faith. My Christianity doesn’t get huge play on this professional blog, but there it is. Deal with it.   One thing’s for sure: it certainly isn’t blind faith. It’s based on concrete signs I am seeing in my IN box.

  • I have just been hired to write for a big website and print project for a consumer electronics startup.
  • My old agency in Ohio is suddenly percolating again, and projects are popping up on the horizon.
  • A certain newsletter keeps plugging along.
  • Most interestingly, a successful writer in town is expanding operations, and we are teaming up, Justice League-style, to meet the demand. “Wonder Twin powers–activate!”

Anecdotally, I am hearing a cautious optimism from the agencies and design firms I regularly harass.  Where is this coming from? Based on my English-major’s grasp of economics, I have a couple of thoughts:

  • The election. Whatever you think of the outcome, it is thankfully over. A lot of people were waiting for the results to plan their next moves, and that planning has begun.
  • The nature of the downturn.  Like I said, the last one was about 9/11. Basically, you held your breath and rode it out.  Today, right or wrong, a lot of people think that “the fundamentals are not sound,” (sorry, Mr. McCain.)  There’s an impression that change is coming, and we might have to break some eggs. It seems that people are determined to do what they can to not only survive this scramble, but to prosper.  It’s a cliche that “the smart client is one that increases his marketing in a downtown.” But, knock wood, this is what I am seeing.
  • Staff vs. Consultant. Sad to say,while that marketing may increase, this doesn’t mean the marketing department is free from danger. That marketing effort may instead come from contractors.  This sucks for the staff but, on the other hand, this is how a lot of freelancers are born.

Despite my guardedly optimistic assessment, I can’t deny there’s pain out there right now.  If you’ve been hit, you have my prayers and best wishes. If you know somebody who is feeling the pinch, reach out.  ‘Tis the Season!

Merry Christmas!

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eyeball1…with apologies to indie-film auteur John Sayles.

One thing I freely admit is that I have always had more creativity than technical skill.  In the world of video production, this would apply to lighting and shooting as well as editing.

I have been in video production, off and on, since college.  For many years it was a full time job but, for the past several years, it has been a sideline to the writing.

I think it is a function of the job I had for the bulk of the time: a catch-all video producer for a large manufacturer.  Being part of a two-dude team producing some big training or merchandising video every other week, I acquired a basic set of lighting, shooting and editing skills that always got the job done. But, trust me, they would win no awards.

As a director, producer or interviewer I always felt more than competent.  The only tools required were a brain, an eyeball and a telephone. Anything requiring machinery was a different story.  As a videographer I could compose a fine shot, but which f-stop or lens filter to use? I’ll leave that to the real technicians.  As a gaffer, I could light a mean interview.  For anything wider than a head, shoulders and necktie, better call the professionals.

Editing was where the disconnect was most obvious. In the old days, we had a Grass Valley 300 production switcher. I don’t know where the “300” came from, but it could refer to the number of buttons it had on it…of which I could operate no more than 12.  But, like I said, I always got the job done.

Then came Mac-based non-linear editing.  Being the capital investment proposal-writing supermen we were, we got in on the ground floor. I think the serial number on the back of the processor was 0003 or something.  That technology kept improving, and the capabilities exploded. Then there was AfterEffects and .mpegs and a dozen different codecs for CD-ROM and DVD mastering and live streaming and…

And I said, “You know, what I really want to do is write!”

Which has led to an interesting niche for me…video scriptwriting.  Frankly, as immersed as I have always been in video, I would not have considered it a niche, but it is. Talented writers who bang out websites, blogs and print pieces all day long often have trouble with video scripts.

Video scriptwriting is way more 3-dimensional than a lot of writers are used to. Obviously, you have to think in pictures and, on the left side of the page, you have to be able to describe these pictures for the director.  In industrial how-to video, you have to describe functions in their precise order, and in roughly the same amount of time it takes to perform said function.

I know this sounds elementary, but try it sometime! Or just call me!

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Blogging about blogging reminds me a little bit of the Staples commercial where the hipster is trying to find his EASY button in the cluttered office…

We have a few minutes before the hole in the universe reaches our quadrant, so read quickly!

I was at a Christmas party over the weekend, where a group of salesmen (hardcore 1099’s who live entirely on commission) were anxiously commiserating about the coming year.  Misery loves company, of course, so someone turned to me and said, “How about you, Mike? You operate on the tattered fringe of the business world. How’s your oh-nine look?”

Suddenly, I realized…not horrible. Now, it’s safe to say that 2009 won’t be anybody’s banner year. Comparitively speaking, “not horrible,” “gettin’ by” and “payin’ the bills” will look pretty good this time next year.

Intrigued, someone asked “Mr Lee, how DO you get these shirts so soft?” Naturally, I shushed them and whispered, “Ancient Chinese secret!”

Some hotshot! Actually, I had never thought about it. However, I had just completed my last blog entry about a client/partner success story, so the topic was somewhat fresh in my mind.  I think it boils down to a few points:

  • Narrow focus on the right client
  • Cold calling the right way, and, oddly enough…
  • Blogging

The salesman I was yakking with was entirely on board with my first two points.  But number three elicited a hearty “WTF?”

Honestly, I am not a salesman, so I am not the best resource. I only know what has worked for me. And “worked” is a subjective, relative term.  See if this makes any sense…

Blogging has elevated me from number 60 (or so) on Google for “copywriter+charleston+sc” to top-3 in six months.  Correction: it took about a month to get there, where I have remained.

My blog’s back pages contain my value statement, resume, references and writing samples.   It’s all in one location, and easier to access than tearing open the envelope, reading my cover letter, popping in my CDROM, etc.

I like to think that my blog posts make some kind of impression. They give a glimpse of my personality (lucky you.) And they can be a kind of soft sell. For instance, rehashing some humorous incident that happened to me while producing an industrial video in Germany is a subtle way to remind you that I have produced internationally… if that’s your bag, baby.

Finally, most importantly, by the time a client calls or emails, he or she has read the value statement, resume, etc., and is very nearly sold. They are calling to “talk about upcoming projects and look for the right fit.”

All in all, this cocktail-grade conversation really helped give me a brighter perspective on 2009. In appreciation, I will not reveal my yak-mate’s sales profession. Why? To give him a head start as…you guessed it…he begins his blog! Knock ’em dead, killer!

Or, should I say CAT killer?

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Revenflo is one of my cold-call success stories. It’s an inspiring (!) tale of persistence, providence and targeting the right kind of client.

Previously lauded as “hardcore Web 2.0 perpetrators who get all up in yo’ strategery and whatnot,” Revenflo is located in the Charlotte exurb of Rock Hill SC. They provide expert web solutions to midsize and small businesses of all stripes. Services include:

  • Web Team: Consultants, Designers, Developers, Writers (that’s ME!) and SEO jockeys.
  • Content Management Systems (CMS): Design, Build, Customize, Implement and maintain Open Source CMS websites.
  • Leads Management: Manage web traffic and lead generation systems.

I hooked up with these guys back in August, and it’s been quite fruitful. In that time, we have done:

  • A couple of website projects for local radio stations
  • A home security website (check out the Learn More buttons)
  • A website for the county school system (I think I did the Career pages)
  • A residential real estate website (I did the Contact interfaces. More than just a link to MS Outlook, each interface contained a sell message. Smart!)
  • A replacement window website (energy-savings SEO article on the Home page)

Does this seem like a lot in  less than four months, or not? Considering I have another single project I’ve been on for five months and still don’t have copy approval, personally I appreciate a client who gets it done!

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office-001me21I had an interesting freelance revelation (frevelation?) this morning.  You know how I’m always saying, “Just start writing?” Now, allow me to add, “Just keep marketing.”

It’s easy to say that you can never stop marketing your services. So easy that it’s usually what I say right before I stop marketing my services.  I mean, come on…self marketing is tedious, slightly humiliating and, ultimately, successful about 2% of the time. (Disclaimer: I know nothing about conversion, so it’s my own damn fault!)

But here is a prime example of the need to never let up. A good friend and associate of nearly 15 years told me of his awesome new job…heading up media production for a…well, a huge national concern. This corporation has multiple subsidiaries, each with its own media production department. This friend is the production chief at the main office and, I assume, for all the divisions.

So, the entire group had a meet and greet. Intros, airing of grievances, mapping out the new year, etc. Exciting stuff.   Now, it’s a week later, and I am hearing this report over the telephone. My anticipation is building…multiple divisions, ongoing productions, unlimited freelance writing potential… I said, unlimited freelance writing potential.  Ahem! Unlimited….

My mind stopped racing long enough to realize that he was finished relaying his story. But, as far as I could tell, no word on the unlimited freelance writing potential.  So, I had to ask (did I mention that it’s slightly humiliating?)

The reply? “Whoa. I didn’t think about that…”  (Wait, it gets better.) “They did say that writing was a big stumbling block!”

Kids, lest you think I am ragging my old friend, I’m not. This is just how it is in the freelance copywriting business. And I guarantee that any freelancer reading this is blaming me, not him.  Ironically, back in the day, the roles were reversed. Basically, I was him, and he was a freelance video shooter/lighting guy. Our entire association and friendship of 15 years resulted from the fact that my previous lighting dude was unavailable to work for me…one time.

Bottom line…out of laziness, pride or an over-inflated sense of worth, I have sometimes been guilty of neglecting these old associations.

So, um, I guess I orta not to done that.

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taxgiftIt’s that magical time of year when a freelance copywriter’s thoughts turn to tax-deductible gifts for his clients. So, with a spirited cry of “Ugh…again!?” he sets out to find that perfect memento for $25 or less (that being the individual gift deduction limit, Ho ho ho.)

There are two big questions you must answer this time of year…what, and for whom.

First, let’s tackle the considerably more difficult decision…for whom? Gah! Well, let’s give a cursory glance to your list of clients…

  • Guy you’ve known for years who uses you constantly
  • Guy you’ve known for years who doesn’t return your calls anymore
  • New guy who has used you once, and seems very promising for the future
  • New guy who used you once, but doesn’t return your calls anymore
  • New guy who seems very promising, but who hasn’t used you yet

Is that everybody? Many shades of gray, right? Sorry to say that I have no advice here, other than to approach it on a case-by-case basis. One thing’s for sure: you don’t need to keep score like your mom used to…as in, “Aunt Margaret stopped sending us a card, so I stopped sending one to her.” You’ve probably figured out by now that this is a one-way street. Your giving decision is rarely based upon whether you will receive a gift in return, or even a thank-you…because you probably won’t.

On the other, more cheerful hand, the decision about what to give gets easier every year. For example, at the checkout line at your local Kroger or Publix, next to the candy, soap opera mags and E-Z Widers, you will find a wide assortment of pre-loaded gift cards. Bed and Bath, Red Lobster, Amazon… you can pretty much find it all.

This year, my all-time, foolproof, go-to utility pick for gift cards is the iTunes card. 25 bucks is 25 songs (with one-quarter of a song left over…talk about value!) As a gift, the iTunes card’s “ease of purchase-versus-personalization” ratio is off the charts in your favor. So, for Cynical Santas everywhere, it’s my five-star (of Bethlehem) gift recommendation for 2008!

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Postscript: Speaking of cynicism…there’s the real kind, and (my preference) the literary kind that spices up blog posts. So, trust me, if you happen to receive a surprise in your stocking from old Mister Wiseguy, it’s sincere.

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