Category Archives: Small Business

Freelance Writing Isn’t Free

Writer using laptop

We’ve all heard the old not-funny line about the actress was so new to Hollywood that she slept with the screenwriter. The writer! So unimportant! That’s hilarious! (It’s less hilarious than ever in these days of Harvey Weinstein and his ilk, but that’s not my focus here.)

Without the writing—and the writer—we we wouldn’t have the movie to begin with. Or the sitcom, or the TV drama, or even the ads during those shows. Someone writes what all those anchors read on our insane 24-hour news cycle. Without the writer, we wouldn’t have novels, of course, or news of any perspective. We would live in a world without “content.” There’s a whole world that needs to be filled with words, over and over and over again.

Matt Wallace—screenwriter, novelist, and former wrestler—wrote a powerful piece about why the writing is important, why writers should never back down on getting paid, and, best of all, exactly how writers can respond to requests to work for free or cheap.

Read Matt’s rant and rebuttal guide here. The first part is angry-funny and NSFW. The second part, the how-to advice, is solid as a rock. You have value; your creative work has value. Even, or maybe especially, that mundane writing that just needs to get done has value. Don’t believe anyone who says otherwise, especially if they’re asking you to write for them. Matt equips us with calm and professional responses to people asking writers to work for exposure (as a friend of mine says, “Exposure is something you die of”), for peanuts, or for pity.

* Disclaimer: I have wonderful clients who value my work and pay on time. Rarely do people ask me to write for free (my mom gets a pass) but a lot of writers in a lot of fields get pressured to work for little or nothing, as if writing was so easy (no) and so insignificant (also no) that it’s not worth much.

Good Guidance: Picks from “The Daily Stoic”

Daily StoicI suspect I am not the only self-employed person who finds focus and discipline significant challenges at times. This summer, I turned for assistance to “The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living,” by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman. If “stoic” only makes you think of unemotional endurance, read this. It’s actually a complete philosophy that has tremendous relevance for us right now.

Divided into three disciplines—perception, action, and will—the book offers a daily quotation from a stoic philosopher such as Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, or Epictetus, then gives a paragraph or so exploring how the text relates to our lives and our work.

I’m using these short daily readings to ground myself and start the day well. I’m flagging the meditations that I really like, but I’m happy to know that I’ll come back around to all of them next year.

Here are portions from some selections that resonated strongly with me.

Love the Humble Art

“Love the humble art you have learned, and take rest in it. Pass through the remainder of your days as one who whole-heartedly entrusts all possessions to the gods, making yourself neither a tyrant nor a slave to any person.” Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 4.31

Are you making time to practice what’s really important to you? Love the craft; be a craftsman.

Take Charge and End Your Troubles

“You’ve endured countless troubles—all from not letting your ruling reason do the work it was made for—enough already!” Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 9.26

How often does what we fear actually come to pass? How often have we let jealousy, frustration, or greed lead us down the wrong path? Let reason rule—it will save so much trouble. Your brain can separate what is important from what is senseless.

Corralling the Unnecessary

“Do what you must and as required of a rational being created for public life. This brings not only the peace of mind of doing few things, but the greater peace of doing them well. … We shouldn’t forget at each moment to ask, is this one of the unnecessary things?” Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 4.24

Ruthlessly expunge the non-essential from your life—what vanity, greed, poor discipline, or lack of  courage add to our lists. All of this we must cut.

Preparing on the Sunny Day

“Take part of a week in which you have only the most meager and cheap food, dress scantily in shabbly clothes, and ask yourself is this is really the worst that you feared. It is when times are good that you should gird yourself for tougher times ahead.” Seneca, Moral Letters, 18.5-6

Practice potential misfortunes—a broken hot water heater, a stolen wallet, not having a car. Don’t just think about them, live them, and do it now, while things are good. This will teach us that these things are not as scary as we imagine.

Got a Goal? Use the Seinfeld Strategy

This was originally published in the “Career Hacks” column of a client’s internal newsletter; shared with permission.   

Years ago, Jerry Seinfeld surprised a struggling young comedian by sharing his secret for success: be consistent. He didn’t mean being consistently funny, but being consistent in your work to improve and reach your goal.

Each of us has at least one action that would make an enormous difference in our career if we did it every day. Maybe it’s writing. Maybe it’s spending one hour reading news in your field. Maybe it’s connecting with peers. But taking the action every day – for Seinfeld, it was writing jokes – is where the challenge comes in.

Seinfeld found a leverage technique to keep himself going even when he didn’t feel like it. He kept a large, one-year calendar hanging in a prominent place. Every day that he worked on writing jokes he marked with a big, red X. As one day followed the next, the X’s formed a chain. “You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain,” said Seinfeld. The longer the chain gets, the greater the motivation will be to not break it, and the more established your new habit will become.

Identify your action, keep track every day, and whatever you do, don’t break the chain.

Read more about how to develop good habits

Read the original story of the Seinfeld Secret

Get a Boost from a Blackout

This was originally published in the “Career Hacks” column of a client’s internal newsletter; shared with permission.    

Notebook Cellphone Blogger

Turn off your phone, log out of email, and mark yourself unavailable for IMs. It’s time for a blackout.

Unlimited communication is both the boon and the bane of the workplace. On one hand, you’ve got a world of information at your fingertips and the ability to contact your manager or coworkers whenever you need input. On the other, they also have the ability to communicate constantly with you – and that can be a major distraction from the focus your projects require.

Consider taking a blackout.

By scheduling a designated “blackout time” of 30 minutes – or more – free from calls, email, and messaging, you give yourself a dedicated period to focus. Planned time without interruptions can give a significant boost to your productivity.

Read more about how phone-free time helps your brain, your meetings, and your decision making.

Harness the Career Power of Sleep

This was originally published in the “Career Hacks” column of a client’s internal newsletter; shared with permission.    

We know that pilots have to be well rested for safety. But the rest of us also need enough sleep to accomplish our daily work – and make our careers thrive.

It’s not surprising that being perpetually tired makes you less productive. One study proved that the longer you’re awake, the slower your work pace. And it’s cumulative – getting inadequate sleep regularly makes performance worse over time. Feel like you’re too busy to sleep? Your reduced productivity means you likely would have been better off spending the time sleeping. Beyond simple productivity, however, sleep also affects your problem solving, decision making, and creativity.

Sleep plays a role in the big picture of your career, too. Getting less than six hours of sleep each night can lead directly to stress-related exhaustion, a Swedish study showed. Even your salary is vulnerable to sleep: just one extra hour of sleep each week can result in almost a 5 percent increase in wages over the long run, according to a study from Williams College.

Alarm clockTo sleep more and better, start with simple changes morning and night.

In the morning, don’t hit the snooze button. Sleeping in very short increments cuts back on the restorative power sleep should have. Make getting up easier by moving your alarm clock across the room and programming your coffee maker to greet you with its enticing aroma.

At night, step away from the smartphone. Turn off anything with a screen 30 minutes before you go to bed. The blue light from screens makes it harder for your brain to fall asleep and stay asleep. Also consider keeping your phone in another room so message alerts don’t disrupt you.

Just as you recharge your devices at night, take that same time to recharge your brain.

Read more about how sleep can boost your career (and your general well-being):

Recent Work | METAVERO Collection

In June 2016, I had the privilege of working with John A. Booth and Sarah Schwind of METAVERO as they were preparing their booth and materials for the Kscope Conference. METAVERO provides Oracle implementation and support services. John is the company’s founder and managing director (he wrote a chapter of “Developing Essbase Applications: Hybrid Techniques and Practices,” which I edited) and Sarah is their operations director.

METAVERO BoothFor METAVERO’s presence at Kscope, we developed a tri-fold brochure, banners for their exhibit booth and client event, website content, a PowerPoint template, and two informational postcards focusing on key components of their business. I edited or wrote text for these pieces, but the bulk of the credit goes to the outstanding artists who created the visuals: web designer Ella Hutchings and print designer Stewart Moon. It’s rare these days that I get to work on a project with so much visual emphasis—this was great fun. (Shown above are Larry Geraghty, John, and Sarah in the METAVERO booth; shown below is the horizontal booth banner.)


Tri-fold Brochure


Cards: METAVERO Process and Fishing for Solutions


View the Process card    View the Fish card

PowerPoint Template



Your Professional Words: 7 Tips for Looking Good

Words matter. Every communication that you send—e-mails, letters, reports—influences others’ impressions of you, for better or for worse. We keep this in mind when we’re interviewing for jobs, but we tend to become less careful over time. We’re busy, we’re working quickly, and maybe we don’t have someone on hand to run an eye over our words before they go out into the world.

Your words matter.Some of the shortest and simplest work I do for clients is also some of the most important. I call this service document review. I read over clients’ important e-mails, proposal cover letters, or PowerPoint presentations and make sure the grammar, spelling, and punctuation is correct. Do their plurals and singulars agree? Are their commas in the right places? Did they leave out a word?

Without getting paralyzed by worry that your grammar is making you look unprofessional, you can take some easy steps to feel confident about your writing—both in everyday work and for more important projects.

  1. Read it out loud. They tell the kids that in middle school and it works for any of us: if you want to catch a wording error, read that e-mail or letter right out loud.
  2. Don’t try to be fancy. Use simple language and make your points clearly. If your sentence goes on and on, break it up into separate sentences. Impressive words won’t make you look smart if you use them incorrectly.
  3. Curb your enthusiasm. Use exclamation points sparingly (and only one at a time!) and save emojis, text smiley faces, and LOL for Facebook.
  4. Read over your titles. Now do it one more time, slowly. So often, even professional editors miss obvious errors in titles, headings, headlines, teasers, or captions. Double-check everything—and read it out loud just to be sure.
  5. Make a style cheat sheet for yourself. Do you regularly misspell certain words? (I can never get recommend or embarrass right the first time.) Are there rules you can’t remember? (One Post-it on my desk says “Toward not towards.”) Look them up, write them down, and keep the list where you can see it. Spell check helps, but it won’t catch everything.
  6. Apostrophes cause trouble for a lot of people. Here’s a handy (and funny) guide to using them.
  7. If you need help, hire an editor to put together a short style guide (or cheat sheet) just for you. Have him or her read through a few of your letters, e-mails, or other short items you’ve written, note your common errors, and make a list for your reference. And for those times when a project really matters, working with an editor can help your writing shine.

I hope these steps will make you more confident in the writing your business requires and help your words work for you rather than against you.


What’s the Watchword?

In a flash of inspiration, I had identified “Determined” and “Positive” as my watchwords for 2016. I’ve never had a watchword for a year before. This will be cool, I thought, and keep me focused.

I do recognize that it’s silly for me to take Positive as a watchword, because I have been accused, justifiably, of being a Pollyanna on more than one occasion. In fact, I could stand to take off the rose-colored glasses a little more often. But I was determined to be Determined. It was gonna be great.

However, I’ve realized the unfortunate fact that I’m not by nature all that determined and fighting every day to accomplish a watchword would be counterproductive. If I have to be determined to be Determined, it’s just not going to work. The watchword has to be a more natural fit, but still something that would move me forward, not just acknowledge an existing personality trait. (Sorry, Positive.)

On my recent inspiring dog walk, one thing that came clearly to my agitated mind was a reminder of what works for me. And that is staying open to new things, considering what comes, and reaching out to others. Dogged pursuit (ha) results in nothing. Opening myself to connections and to supporting others results in something.

So I have taken down the sticky note that said, “Determined and Positive.” I also am taking down the one that pleads with me to do yoga every day. “This is quick! And you’ll feel better!” it says. I ignore it anyway, even though it’s bright pink.

I will leave up the note that says, “Do one thing every day to reach out.” New 2016 watchword: Open.

Where are those Post-its?

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The Clarifying Power of Dogs

I woke up irritable. Just toe-stubbing, spoon-flinging, muttering-under-my-breath grouchy. My mind was churning with difficulties on current projects, worrisome gaps in my work schedule, how to start personal writing plans The Right Way, and a general sense of post-holiday disorganization and let-down. I was unsettled. I was crabby.

I’d spent the previous day overcoming this inner turmoil (or so I thought) by working up a big new schedule, both daily and weekly, relating to developing clients and moving myself forward—in a determined and positive way. Those were going to be my 2016 watchwords: determined and positive. I wrote them on a Post-it and stuck it to the edge of my monitor. All was well, right?

DogsWalkingCome the morning, not so much. I felt the big new schedule looming over me, and I felt neither determined nor positive. Fortunately, life stepped in. Saving me from my new plan was the deadline that trumps all others: the daily clock of the dogs. Every single morning, come sweltering humidity or driving sleet, the dogs must walk. They wait impatiently while I drink a little coffee, then off we go.

That day, in the chilly dampness of January, on familiar paths in the suburban semi-quiet, the ordinary magic happened. My brain churn slowly settled itself and a glimpse of clarity emerged.

This is one of the main reasons I have dogs. Certainly, I adore dogs. They make me feel more secure at home, they provide affection and furriness and humor—they are the best. But the fact is that I am lazy and sorely lacking in motivation when it comes to taking care of myself. I have to build into my life an ironclad requirement for exercise that I cannot ignore. That would be dogs.

But it’s more than the exercise. I gain tremendous benefits from stopping my work and going outside, with no conversation, no music, no podcast. Just me and the dogs and the weather and my own mind.

We know that getting outdoors is beneficial, of course.

Walking also does a body good (big news flash).

And regular, long walks without purpose are really, really good for us.

When a funk hits, I turn to walking (thanks, dogs) and making big schedules, but here are some other ways to improve your state of mind.

What works best for you to clear your mind and improve your outlook?