The Struggling Writer

The chronicles of a freelance writer as he tries to make a living.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Dependability vs. Skill

I am constantly trying to turn my experiences as a consumer into lessons as a business owner.

Early in my writing career I decided to hire someone to take care of my yard, freeing me to focus on work. Phoenix has four million people and approximately three million of them offer yard services. How was I going to narrow the field?

The first thing I decided is that I wouldn't consider someone who didn't have a web site. Huh? I hear you saying. A web site just for someone to mow your lawn? Yup. Any idiot with hedge clippers and a truck offers yard work and too many of them are appallingly unprofessional about it. It is a field that attracts far too many people who play at working without treating it like a business, something that is also true of freelance writing. Web sites are cheap and easy and there is just no excuse for any business not to have one. Even a one-page website with an email address under your own domain creates a professional image.

Despite this, I certainly still had my share of unreliable people. Phone messages to dozens of providers went unreturned. One guy showed up for the initial cleanup and did really nice work but was spotty on the follow-up work until he just stopped coming.

The one I finally used was very business-like. His wife stayed home to answer the phone and do the books. I got invoices every month rather than the pay-as-you-go most of them do. He showed up promptly every two weeks like clockwork.

It's a pity his work was lousy.

I stuck with him for about a year. I cut him loose recently because I really can't afford the luxury at this point. I went back and forth over that decision because it's smart business to outsource things like that. I would have kept him if the work had been better but I couldn't justify the cost for him to do work no better than I can do myself.

His professional demeanor got him the contract and certainly put him ahead of the competition. However without the skill to back it up, the monthly cost wore thin.

I'll still need someone to come back about once a year for cleanup. So who am I going to call: the unreliable one who does a great job or the dependable guy who does mediocre work? I'm going to go for dependability and I think most customers feel the same way. I'd rather have second-rate work done than great work not done.

Thursday, April 03, 2008


I've had a recurring nightmare lately. I'm trying to make my way through an airport. Sometimes I'm going home, sometimes I'm trying to get to a plane, sometimes I'm in the parking lot but usually I'm in the terminal. And I'm lost. Everything keeps twisting and I end up in odd places. Stairs lead up to the 2nd and 4th floors, but not the 3rd where I need to go. There are lots of people around who all know where they are going. The more I wander, the more annoyed I get, occasionally getting so angry I wake myself up.

OK, I'm no dream expert but this one doesn't seem hard to interpret. Fear of change. Or at least fear that change is getting you nowhere.

Not surprisingly, these dreams started as I changed my business plans.

As I think I mentioned before (I blog so seldom that I forget what I've said and what I've just mumbled to myself about) I'm at the point where my goals exceed my actual work. I use these unrealized goals to pay myself for non-writing work tasks such as sending queries, reading about business plans, and doing my taxes. This has forced me to make decisions about what the next step in my career is.

Until now I've been depending on a single client who gives me keyword articles to do. It's not the most fun I've ever had, but it pays a good hourly rate and is steady. She does the marketing and subcontracts to me so it's easy for me to get complacent. However I need to diversify.

My original plan had been to start offering services to non-profit organizations. I decided recently that with the economy in its current sorry state, this would be a bad time for that. Nonprofits are tightening their belts and probably not interested in hiring services.

My goal now is to send letters of introduction to a number of trade magazines. Before I do that I have a few other tasks I want to get done such as getting some clips together. I also need to rewrite my website. I've never been happy with the text there and it's not a good sign when a writer's website is badly written. I was trying too hard and I need to go back and write it in my own voice.

But as I move out of my comfort zone, I experience anxiety. I was reading a book on business plans today and my stomach was in knots. Once I put the book down, they went away. I've always been pretty transparent.

The cure for anxiety is desensitization. The more you do something, the less nervous you get. I need to keep to my goals, get some of those letters out, and get moving.

Once I do that, maybe I'll find my way through the airport.