A reader recently sent me a link to an interesting piece in The Week, entitled “Is Writing for the Rich?” It was written by the editor himself, Francis Wilkinson, who concluded that the future of freelance writing is mighty bleak, and that, given the unfortunate current financial calculus of the craft, it’s become a field only for those who don’t have to make their living from it – trust-fund babies, those living on Daddy’s money, heirs, etc.
I just LOVE reading stuff like this. Makes me laugh out loud. I mean, when the editor of a prominent national publication is saying this, it’s clear that the commercial writing field, by and large, is flying completely under the radar. I should have left well enough alone and let him spread his “Abandon-all-hope-ye-who-enter-here” message unimpeded. But I was torn.
On the one (greedy) hand, the less people who know about our field, the less competition we’ll have (though, that said, you do have to work hard to get established in commercial writing, and that’ll weed out most people right there…). On the other hand, I firmly believe there’s enough to go around for all of us. And I DO have a few books to peddle…
So, I wrote him a note (email me if you want a copy), essentially cluing him in about our field, which can be a most refreshing financial oasis from the otherwise sad and sorry freelancing paradigm. Addressing some of the inane “talk” about the commercial copywriting field, I wrote: “I’ve heard it all (‘sellout,’ ‘going over to the dark side,’ and other assorted and sundry head-scratchers – as if the only ‘writing’ that’s pure and acceptable is that which provides the writer with neither pay nor respect. Sure seems that way sometimes.
Never heard a word back. Big surprise. And that’s fine. I went on record. Meanwhile, the carnage continues out there. All I hear these days is about how tough it is in “freelance writing” right now – magazines paying nothing, asking for assignments on spec, $10 articles for web sites, all the “how-can-a-writer-make-a-living” talk. Meanwhile, many of us in the commercial field are doing just fine, thank you very much.
Part of the problem – and what I say to anyone who asks what the answer is – is that straight articles (especially for the web) are a “commoditized” project type – meaning there are zillions of writers who can write a decent article. As such, it’s a buyer’s market, and rates fall to nothing. It’s when you get good at project types NOT everyone can do (that’d be us…), and hence, are competing with far fewer people, that you’ll start making more money. As long as you’re in a BIG pool of interchangeable skills, it’s tough to make a living.
What do you think when you read articles like the one in The Week?
What would you have said to Mr. Wilkinson?
Are you hearing a lot of wailing and caterwauling coming from straight freelancers these days?
Shoot. Crap-ola. Aaargh. Happens to the best commercial freelancers several times in their careers, but that doesn’t make it any easier to swallow. I finished up a marketing brochure for a commercial writing client a few months back. Everyone loved it. We all looked it over probably 10 times each. How we all missed it is beyond me. Went to print – 5,000 copies. Finally got a few samples in the mail a few weeks back. Turned out nice. Then, uh-oh. Oh, man. Don’t tell me. There it was. Not as glaring as a misspelled word, thank heavens, but rather, unnecessary punctuation. Very unnecessary. Not one of those, “it-can-go-either-way-depending-on-which style-guide-you’re-consulting” kind of punctuation mistake. No, this was pretty clear cut. Though, in truth (he said, rationalizing), it seemed more prominent since I knew what I was looking at. If someone wasn’t looking for it (by definition, the overwhelming percentage of readers), they might or might not notice it.
Of course, first stop was my last file sent to them to see if the error was in there or was added after my hands were washed of it. There it was, in all its cringe-inducing glory. Ouch.
And they printed a 5,000 of them, because they got a good price. I’d emailed the graphic designer before I know how many they’d printed, to say, “Hey, hate to tell you, but I found this error that was MY fault, so in case they’re going to back to print at some time soon, you can fix it.” Course, at the rate they’ll likely go through them, I’ll be collecting Social Security before they run out… Sheesh. I didn’t feel good about it, but he and I decided on a vow of silence. You know, let sleeping dogs lie. But, I’m sure I’ll still lose a few winks over it.
Did I do the right thing?
Have you ever been in a similar situation? How did it unfold and how was it resolved?
Are you satisfied with your handling of the situation?
If you’ve never been in such a situation (you will, eventually…), how would you handle it if you were?
The economy is teetering. Huge financial institutions are crashing and burning. The government, afraid of the ripple effects of their demise, is debating a huge bailout. Unemployment is at its highest level in years. A lot of people struggling out there. And, through all this, happily, I’m busier than ever and enormously grateful I’m a freelancer. My feeling of “job security” is mighty high right about now. Why? Because I have income coming from many, many directions.
Good financial planners live by the mantra of “diversification.” Spread out your money across a broad array of investment vehicles, and you spread out your risk. Same with your work life. Put all your eggs in one work basket (i.e., a full-time job), and if tough times hit, you could lose all the eggs. Hence, the innate logic of the freelance model with its “multiple-clients” feature (and, yes, I know, freelancing is neither feasible nor a psychological fit for everyone, but I’m just sayin’…)
Those with income from a variety of avenues will simply weather economic storms better than most. Right now, I’ve got about 10 commercial writing clients I’m working with. Some big. Some small. But between all of them, they’ve kept me hopping. Love the variety. And I love even more the fact that each client doesn’t have to provide me a bunch of work for me to eat well. Add to that income from my book-related ventures – much of it of the blessed passive variety – and offshoot businesses: coaching, speaking, seminars, articles, etc., and life is good.
Yes, this has been a 15-year process – though the book side of things only the last eight – but it all starts somewhere. And I’m here to tell you: Life can be pretty cool, varied, interesting and lucrative when you’ve got lots of pots boiling on your professional stove.
Not surprisingly, it usually starts with having some specialized expertise or knowledge that’s valuable enough to enough other people to make it worth “monetizing” into books, ebooks, coaching, speaking, seminars, etc. Or simply a skill/talent that can command a healthy price on the market.
If you have multiple stream of writing-related income, what are they and how did they come about?
And if so, any suggestions/cautions/gushing reports to those considering it?
If you aren’t diversified as yet, but are pondering it, what possibilities have you considered?
Okay, unless you’ve been in a cave or a coma for the past two weeks, you’ve heard plenty about the signature event for commercial copywriters: Copywriting Success Summit 2008, coming in October to a computer near you…
I know, we’re promoting the heck out of the thing, but hey, think about it:
1) It really IS the first event of its kind for our kind – those of us happily writing for businesses large and small (brochures, ads, newsletters, white papers, direct mail, web content, case studies, etc.) and for serious hourly rates reaching up to $125 and well beyond.
2) It features those people whose voices and advice you’ve been listening to, following and trusting for a long time: Bly, Slaunwhite, Stelzner, yours truly and others.
3) You’ll have the opportunity to connect with a whole community of other copywriters to share ideas and best practices, before, during and well after the Summit.
4) Every minute of all 12 sessions is accessible from your computer without ever leaving the house (and if you have to miss one, we’ve got you covered with recordings and transcripts).
Can you blame us for being pretty pumped?
But let me say this: I’ve seen and been an active part of the preparation for this event. I’ve been involved in the discussions about what subjects to cover to provide the most value to you, our colleagues in this business. I know the time and care I and the others have put into creating solid, valuable and relevant content designed with one overarching goal in mind: to help you make more money.
In addition, I was part of the crucial discussion about cost, and the importance of setting the price at a level where people felt they had some “skin in the game” but where it was still well within reach of most anyone. And yes, allowing us – the event’s producers – to profit as well. The definition of “win-win.”
Why would the Summit NOT be a fit for you? If you’re an experienced commercial copywriter, making a good writing income and been at it 5-10+ years, much of what we’ll discuss, frankly, may be familiar to you. Do I think you’d still benefit by attending? No question. Heck, given the cost of the thing, one new idea put to use would easily pay for the summit dozens of times over. But I know we all have priorities. Understood.
But, if you’re new to the business and trying to get established, OR been at it for a few years, making some progress, but definitely ready to ratchet things up to a new level of income and client caliber, well, you’re who we’re talking to here.
“Will it be worth it?”
Well, all we can do is provide the best and most topical training possible and the rest is up to you. Given the line-up of speakers and subjects and the sheer volume of training involved, I’m feeling pretty good about us holding up our end. So, the question simply becomes:
Are you ready to take action on some solid income-boosting marketing strategies?
If not, then the Summit could offer the greatest training known to man and it wouldn’t matter. If you are ready, then it would appear we’re both in the right place at the right time.
P.S. FYI, if you visit the link and our talking spokesperson starts getting a little irritating, just mouse over her and you’ll have options to shut her down/off/up.
Got any questions or concerns about the summit?
If you’ve signed up, want to share your circumstances and motivation for doing so? What do hope to get from it?
If it’s not for you, know anyone who should know about it? If so, can you forward on the information to them?
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)?