Do You Ask Permission to Post Samples on Your Site? (I Don’t…)

So, I get this email from a FLCW the other day: “I’m embarrassed to say, I have several work samples posted on my website that I didn’t get permission from the clients to use. I realize this is not good business. Do you get permission from every client, even if the piece was posted/published in the public realm?”

My reply? No. Call me crazy, but in my estimation AND experience, this is a non-issue. If I do a B2B or B2C project (virtually all my work) for a company – by definition, one created for public dissemination – I can display it in my online portfolio.

Only once in 15 years – many years ago – did I ever ask permission to use a piece. I was told I couldn’t and given no good reason for denying my request (the pieces were part of a customer newsletter!). So being, I suppose, a bit anti-establishment, what I took away from that unsatisfying encounter was NOT that I needed to ask each time, but rather that I’d never ask again. And knock on wood, in 15 years, I’ve never had a problem.

Sure, if it’s internal (i.e., proprietary and potentially sensitive, though not all internal communication is proprietary), you shouldn’t post those unless you “sanitize” the sample of all sensitive/identifying language, but you’ll know what those situations are.

As I found out, if you ask permission, there’ll be those clients whose anal legal departments have to justify their existences by making grand proclamations about what you can and cannot do with something you created for them. And for no good or logical reason other than they can. Why bother, when chances are literally nil that they’re ever going to know or care that you’ve posted them?

And what’s the worst-case scenario? They tell you to take it down. Think they’ll slap you with a multi-million-dollar lawsuit for posting a sample thousands of people saw? Not a chance. If they decide to be a—-oles about it, they’ll start with a simple “take it down” request. And you take it down. End of story.

She wrote back that she was about to met with an IP (intellectual property) attorney and would ask about it. Straining to not be a smartass, I wrote: “What do you think an IP attorney is going to tell you? Their very professional existence is predicated on coming up with every conceivable thing that could possibly EVER go wrong in a million years. That’s what they’re paid to do. Which, in our case, has virtually no relation to reality.”

She reports back later: “As you suspected, technically we are supposed to get permission from our clients to use their copyrighted material on our websites. It gets stickier if private citizens’ names are used (e.g., in testimonials) as that gets into publicity law which is akin to privacy law.

Same thing for employees featured in the pieces; they would require separate permissions in addition to the company permission. She recommends a form or a letter asking permission to host the pieces on my website to promote my own portfolio.”

There you have it. Sigh. I suppose this is where I’m supposed to say, “Well, defer to legal counsel.” But you know? I’m just not worried about it. At all. If there was ever a more textbook case of the old saying, “Easier to ask forgiveness than permission” this would be it. So, let me have it. Here’s your chance to tell me I’m full of it.

Do you ask permission before posting samples on your web site?

If you don’t, have you ever had a serious issue arise (aside from “take it down” requests)?

What’s your policy on the issue?

So, What Commercial Writing Projects Are You Working on These Days?

In my case, too many, if my long absence from the blog is any indication…. 😉 But that’s a good thing (the “being-busy”? thing, not the “not-blogging”? thing) . And I’ve taken my own advice (from the 7/22/08 post below) and started asking for more money, and no one’s balking. I’m telling you, when it comes to raising your rates – you’re the hardest “sell,”? not the client.

Anyway, I got a note from a new reader of TWFW recently, asking, “Curious. Are you mostly doing web copy in this day and age, or are you pretty much in the same industry as you started?” I guess the thinking was that the web has taken over the world and that, as such, that’s all we’d be doing. He IS new to the business. Obviously, there’s plenty of the traditional marketing communications pieces still being done out there.

But, it got me thinking about what people are working on these days. I figure, by sharing what’s on our plates these days, and how we landed it, it can showcase the wide variety of projects that make up the commercial writing sphere, while also giving us ideas about some new directions to go in, suggest to clients, hunt down, etc. And give any newbie lurkers? some confidence that this gig truly IS for real (in case they’re wondering…)

Me? I’m working on a brochure for an online high school catering to home-schoolers. It’ll be used at trade shows or in other “leave-behind”? scenarios. That’ll be followed by a catalog for the school. A graphic designer found me somehow, asked if I knew a writer in his area (an hour away), nothing panned out, he steered his client to my site, she loved it, called me up, and we were in business.

I’m also working on a case study for a building materials company (my sixth project for them), originally landed through a speechwriter friend of mine (whom I thank with free lunches every few months for the many thousands it’s put in my pocket).

Also working on some copy for a menu insert for a well-known restaurant chain – pretty high-level demographics, psychographics, etc. Amazing how much agonizing goes into what people are thinking when they read a menu (personally, I think they could care less, as long as their meal is good, but hey, they want to pay me well to agonize, I’ll agonize).

Plus, some book titling and back-cover copywriting for three self-publishing authors through my coaching program. Fun stuff.

So, what are you working on these days?

How did you land it?

Noticing any uptick or downturn in certain kinds of projects?

Repeat After Me: “I Will Ask for More Money Next Time…”

Money. More money. Lots more money. With any luck and a bunch of hard work, that’s the financial trajectory of the typically competent commercial freelancer’s career. I started out at $50 an hour in 1994, and over time that rose to $60, $75, $85, $95, $100, $110, and finally $125 (of course, when working on flat-fee projects for long-term clients, my familiarity with their world usually speeds up project time, nicely upping my THR – True Hourly Rate).

Most of the time, those increases happen gradually. You look around, realize you’re getting pretty good at this gig, bunch of happy clients, steady kudos, so hey, it’s time for raise. What’s fun to watch is when some outside catalyst provides an instant boost in someone’s perceived self-worth and drives fees up faster than they normally would. A few examples. Sometime back, got this note from a reader:

I recently did a direct mail postcard, as suggested in your book, after calling some leads. It resulted in a nice 100-hour contract. When putting the proposal together, I debated on the hourly rate. As I was working, I got your ezine and read about not being afraid to charge what you’re worth. So, I quoted $15 more than what I had been charging and I won the contract – a $1,500 increase!

Gotta love that. And a few weeks back, I got another one. In the June and July issues of the ezine, I’m running a two-part feature about Ed Gandia, Atlanta FLCW extraordinaire – who built a PT business ($3-4K/month) while holding down a FT job, and in his first full year as a FLCW, earned over $160K.

At his site (The Profitable Freelancer), he offers a free report, “7 Steps to Landing More (and Better-Paying!) Freelance Projects” when you sign up for his killer newsletter.

One of my subscribers scored the report, which offered up similar “don’t-be-afraid-to-shoot-high” advice, and within a day, sent Ed this note, forwarding it on to me:

You are going to love this. I went on a sales call today for a PR project. The last time I did a project of this general scope, I charged $2,500. Today, when the prospect asked what the fee would be, I calmly/casually said “$6,000.” He said OK. Ha! Thanks again for that report. I know it gave me a boost today. I was going to “ask for” $5,000 but I figured, eh, I’ll “tell them” 6.

SO much of the money conversation is between our own ears. I mean, think about it. In these cases, their clients, by unquestioning acceptance of their newly-higher rates, were essentially the ones to convince them of their own worth!

In this “tougher times” (talk about perception!), it’s probably tempting to adopt a conservative, take-what-you-can-get attitude, and shoot low. If you’re good and know it, try doing the opposite. You might just be the only one who’s surprised when it goes well.

Got any good “I-shot-higher-than-my-comfort-zone-and-they-said-yes” stories?

What was the catalyst for your courage?

What did you learn from it?

Any other comments/thoughts on the subject?

Are You Networking Harder or Smarter?

All networking was not created equal. While I’ve heard plenty of Chamber/association networking success stories over the years, it’s usually when people get actively involved in the organization and boost their visibility. But, by and large, the “cattle call” networking event never did much for me – empirically or spiritually. Such events always feel so mercenary, full of mutual “objectifying”: other attendees aren’t humans, just potential sales.

WA graphic designer Mike Klassen weighs in with this guest blog appearance on the subject, challenging FLCWs to rethink how they approach “networking” and offering up some smart alternatives. Thanks, Mike, for the great contribution!

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One of the top recommendations to build a business is to… NETWORK.

Unfortunately, brand new freelancers don’t always appreciate that networking is more than just showing up at some Chamber networking event or striking up a conversation about your business in the grocery store.

After doing things the hard way as a beginner myself, I found that if I’m really going to be efficient about networking and landing the type of clients I need to meet my financial goals, I need to be more particular about where I put my networking efforts.

Let’s take the traditional Chamber of Commerce networking event. It’s typically promoted as a way to reach others with your products or services – in your case, writing. That’d be great if they promoted the event to everyone else as a way to hire you to write copy. But they’re not, are they?

Nope. It’s marketed as a way for everyone to sell what they have. For it to work, though, someone needs to be a buyer. But, buying something rarely enters anyone’s mind.

Plus, many of these events are attended by small business owners, most of whom can’t afford our rates. To them, copywriting is an expense, not an investment. As long as they have Word with spell-checking enabled, they’ll tackle their writing tasks on their own. Sure, there are success stories, but in my experience and that of many colleagues, large scale successes (i.e., landing writing jobs) at “come one, come all” events are the exception, not the rule. Here’s a better idea…

Look for networking events where those attending are likely to truly need you, already appreciate the value a writer brings, and can afford to pay you what you’re worth. Let me give you two examples of what I call “off-the-beaten-path” networking:

A writer/marketer colleague attended a networking event for Americans and Canadians involved in cross-border trade, where attendees discussed trade regulations, security issues, marketing techniques, and more. While I’m sure sales were made, that wasn’t the point of the event and it wasn’t marketed as such. Yet, arguably, everyone there placed a high value on writing skills in their efforts to promote and sell their products. My friend was the only one in the room providing that type of service. By the end of the evening, she had extremely high-quality leads to follow-up on.

A website design colleague attended a seminar on online marketing. Attendees either had a product ready to market, or were looking to develop one. Since it was an “online” marketing event, how many attendees do you think might have had need for a website designer? Like the other colleague I mentioned, this web designer left the event not only with lots of high-quality leads but also a handful of immediate jobs.

So, yes, networking can occur anywhere. But if you’re going to put your time into it, why not target networking events that increase your odds of success?

What sorts of networking events have been the most fruitful for you?

If you’ve been successful at the “cattle call” type of event described above, what was your strategy?

Any good networking success stories (complete with “Lesson Learned”) you care to share?

Mike Klassen is a freelance designer and writer. His eBook, “I Still Can’t Draw Stick Figures” documents his journey from the corporate to freelance world, and the lessons learned along the way. He also shares his freelancing experiences on his blog. For more information, visit http://www.mikeklassen.com

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How Important Has Being “Forgettable” Been to Your Success?

Say you had some home fix-it project that you hired someone to take care of, because you’ve just got too much going on. You’re thinking, he’ll show up, get the details, and then he’ll go to work. You’ll go back to your to-do list until an hour or so later, when he calls to you up the stairs and lets you know he’s done. Write the check. Finito.

If instead, he kept calling you down time after time with more questions, or asking to borrow tools, or chatting about his operation, or his wife’s shopping habits, or the last episode of American Idol, there’d come a point where you’d say to yourself, (all together now…): F’cryin’ out loud, I’d have been better off doing it myself.

Did an encore plenary speech appearance at the Washington Independent Writers annual conference this past June. The theme of my talk was “Creating a Memorable Box.” Given that human beings like to put things in boxes as a way of quantifying the world around them, the more we can make ourselves memorable to our clients, the more success we’ll have. I defined “creating a memorable box” in this way:

Make what you bring to the professional table a “predictably enjoyable and rewarding experience” for your clients and you’ll find a receptive and returning audience.

One of the memorable boxes I discussed was being forgettable. I do case studies for a large manufacturing company in Atlanta. I get a few grand to do a 1500-word story that takes me maybe 12-15 hours to do. They never question my fees. Why? Because after they give me the parameters in an email, I ask a few questions and then I’m gone – until it’s due. No endless phone calls or emails.

They go back to doing their jobs – which is how it’s supposed to work – and forget aaaaaall about me until the finished product shows up in their email box – ready for prime time. For any writer in any arena, reliability, dependability and yes, “forgetability” are solid gold boxes to be put in.

(NOTE: Not surprisingly, this is a company with money – which is key. When money isn’t a big issue for a company, but bottom line profitability and competitive edge ARE, the work HAS to be done right. As such, the desire for reliable, predictable competence will always trump cost.)

While the following idea should be a “well, duh…,” we all know how that sometimes goes. Here’s it is: A company will hire a writer because they don’t have the skills, time or both to handle it in-house. The whole point of hiring that writer is to create less, not more work for themselves.

After they meet with you once, and give you the scoop on the project, your goal should be to vanish from their minds, gloriously freeing them up to do their jobs. Sure, every job is different, and some involve more client contact, but no matter the situation, the extent to which you operate autonomously is the extent to which you will create that predictably enjoyable and rewarding experience that will keep clients coming back.

How important is it to your clients that you’re forgettable?

What strategies do you employ for being forgettable for your clients?

What lessons has being forgettable taught you?