Melodie's Blog

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Write it Out
Mar. 27, 2017

Patience is a virtue. Or at least that's what they say. Personally, I have a bad habit of being patient to a fault. I will sometimes let others' poor behavior slide or put up with situations for longer than I probably should. That's not to say that I won't stand up for my convictions - if something is seriously wrong, I will say something. But in the day to day, I would much rather avoid unnecessary conflict or drama, and just live and let live. I figure things will always change. Just be patient.

However, this weekend I felt like my patience was being tested, or maybe I was just in an irritable mood. (It happens.) On Saturday morning, I awoke to a flood of agency-work emails pouring in. I really shouldn't check my phone as soon as I wake up. Regardless, it set the tone that maybe it was time to clearly speak my mind about all of this unpaid agency-work.

Typically, when you start a job or business partnership, contracts or agreements are signed in the very beginning. Since I'm now a few months without any paperwork, and am not getting paid for any of my agency-work, I had to question if my patience is once again acting as an obstacle to progress. Maybe it was time for me to be more firm than friendly?

My other related concern, which I've shared before, is how I've been paid in unpredictable instalments these last few months for all other client work. February was the first month where I thought things were finally dialled in, but with another reworking of our compensation structure, not quite. I need to know specifics so I can budget my life. It's not too much to ask, and believe me, I've been asking....

Since I've brought these points up in conversation a few times before, I decided the best approach now would be to write it out. So, over the course of a couple hours, I wrote out all my desires, hopes, fears, and grievances, and then edited them again and again. I did the math on how much time I've invested into the agency so far, and checked my day timer to track our previous contract-related conversations and progress. When I was done, I had my husband read my email over to ensure that I wasn't being too prickly or redundant.

The difference between my previous conversations and this email was that I was finally setting boundaries. I would have to stop taking on agency-specific work if an agreement wasn't in place by our fiscal year end, March 31st. I felt like that was a reasonable deadline. I agreed to continue doing client work for the agency, but said that I would require a more specific payment schedule and outlined compensation, versus random amounts not addressed to any client in particular.

Satisfied with my approach, I then took a shower and thought about it... I decided that since it had only been a week since I last verbally reminded her about our contract, I would give her until the end of this week to address it on her own. If she didn't say anything by Friday, I would send the email or explain my position in a call.

Less than 24 hours later, she called me to address compensation on her own. She has finally figured out a reasonable way to match project points to hours worked to wages. I am happy with the structure she came up with. My contract will be rewritten to reflect this new system, plus address my equity partnership.

While I'm obviously relieved that I didn't have to get firm and send the email, I am just as glad that I took the time to compose it, identifying my terms and feeling confident in my position. It was a really therapeutic exercise just to write it out.

 

All Things Considered
Mar. 11, 2017

Last week my husband was offered a full-time job with a local tech company. During his interview, he casually mentioned that I'm a marketing copywriter. Apparently, one of the women interviewing him perked up and said, "Tell your wife to apply!"

While things are picking up with our little agency, I have to say, I've been seriously thinking about applying elsewhere. After repeated requests, I still do not have a proper contract in place that outlines my equity in the company. In the meantime, the hours that I'm freely investing are pretty much meaningless. I average about 27 agency hours a month and haven't been paid for them in about 3 months because of this pending equity deal. I need a proper contract. Now.

Until then, I owe it to myself to know what else could be out there. When my husband was hired this week, I discovered all the additional perks he would be receiving at this new job that I'll never obtain as a freelancer. Things like health coverage, investment matching, bonuses, discounts, and a pension plan. He may even have the opportunity to work from home, which is a big part of the appeal for freelancing.

So, I don't know.... That is something to consider....

And yet, if I can secure a fair contract that I'm happy with, then I could continue to enjoy the variety and flexibility I have as a freelancer to work on different things, while still enjoying many of the benefits my husband gets at his job.

Beyond the agency work, I've also had a few other freelancing jobs that have kept me busy lately. On March 1st, I started a contract with a charity I care about. I'll be helping them craft an inbound marketing strategy and content plan.

If I got a full-time job, I would want to continue with freelancing gigs like this charity, because I enjoy working for them. Maybe I could see about working part time for the company so I still have time to freelance? Or maybe I'm getting way ahead of myself!

My Week of No
Mar. 4, 2017

As a freelancer, I tend to say yes to everything that crosses my path, because you never know which opportunities are legit and which ones won't pan out. This month, quite a few jobs ended up working out, leaving me feeling a bit overwhelmed as I've been under pressure to get everything done - which I did, and with time to spare!

Of course, the ability to get things done this week was also due to my ability to just say NO. At the beginning of the week, I was feeling anxious. Wednesday and Friday were looking like write-offs, filled with off-site meetings that would take me away from my actual work. As I mentioned in a previous post, sometimes meetings are very helpful. Other times, they are huge timewasters. Being able to manage time effectively means being able to prioritize and say no when something doesn't contribute to overall productivity.

So, this week I started saying no. And the more I said no, the more in control I felt, and the more my anxiety subsided.

My first no was easy. I was invited to an 8 a.m. conference call on Wednesday morning. The meeting was to review some software functionality that had no bearing on the features I actually use. Meanwhile, I had another meeting I needed to attend at 9 a.m. I knew my morning would be better spent preparing for my 9 o'clock meeting versus listening in on a call for an hour, while not contributing anything of value. I kindly declined the invite.

My second no was more of a two for one. At 11 a.m. I had another meeting scheduled with one of my clients in a coffee shop downtown. The purpose of that meeting was for the client to review their quarterly progress with my marketing partner. She suggested that I join her for a second meeting afterwards with another local agency. She needed to speak with them about taking on some technical work for us that we didn't have the bandwidth for. I could see my day quickly slipping away....

I decided that since I'm not an account rep, I did not need to attend the client meeting. I've already worked well beyond my allocated hours on that contract. I shouldn't be expected to volunteer additional time just to sit in and listen, when I have other to-dos that need to get done. I also knew that I definitely did not need to attend the second meeting with the other agency, as once again, I would just be tagging along for no reason. With those two meetings cleared from Wednesday's schedule, I was able to buckle down and get some work done.

Then came Thursday.... Word of mouth recently brought us a new client who was interested in having me write their website content. We finally connected on the phone and the conversation went as follows....

New Client: I would like to meet in person on Monday. You can come to my office. (Side note: His office is four hours away via a mountain highway that is pretty treacherous in the wintertime. I know someone who was recently stuck in their car overnight when the highway was shut down due to poor driving conditions. But I digress...)

Me: I actually live four hours away.

New Client: Okay, Tuesday.

Me: How about Skype?

New Client: You're not coming to my office?

Me: No.

That no came without without hesitation. And even though I didn't give it any thought, it still felt really good - because, no, I am not travelling eight hours and spending a night in a hotel for a 15-minute meeting. C'mon....The final three no's came on Friday.

First, a little context: Exactly one week earlier, my partner negotiated with a local production company to do an interview on a national TV show. Usually there is a fee to be featured on this show, as entrepreneurs leverage upon the footage to promote their business. But instead of paying the fee, my partner offered them five hours of free copywriting work in exchange for the publicity. While I agree that it's an awesome opportunity for our agency, I was irritated about being used as a bargaining chip without any prior consultation. I have other paid contract work to consider. I can't have her offering up my time so she can be interviewed. I likely would've said yes anyway, but it was the assumption that burned me.

I was expected to attend the interview along with her, but sit off camera in a supportive role since the show is about "one on one" interviews, not "one on two." I really wasn't keen to attend. Plus, I already had another obligation lined up that afternoon. The movie I had co-written with my husband (who also directed it) was being screened in his hometown, only a block from where he grew up.

I told my partner about our movie screening out of town and how I had been invited to attend. Which is technically true... except that I had already decided that I would NOT attend. A weekend alone sounded way too appealing after I had worked through the last three. Plus, I've seen our movie a zillion times. I'm sooo done with it!

After the interview, my partner contacted me. She was originally concerned about being in front of the camera because she has zero acting ability. However, the chance to be herself and answer questions knowledgably gave her confidence and allowed her personality to shine. The interviewer (and owner of the production company) was really impressed and asked her if she had any TV show ideas of her own that they could work on together. She touted my writing ability and suggested that I could whip something up. She then informed me I no longer had to write the five hours' worth of content. Instead, she suggested that we brainstorm some ideas for me to write a TV pilot for a show that would feature her.

Now, in theory, this sounds like a cool opportunity, except two things:

1. My partner may have enjoyed an amazing interview, but she admits that she is not an actor. Therefore, if she is to be featured in a TV show, it should really be a reality show about entrepreneurship or something along those lines where she can just be herself. Not something scripted where she'll have lines to memorize and deliver.

2. Writing a pilot is A LOT of work. Writing a good pilot is even MORE work! And there is never any guarantee that it will get picked up for distribution. I have a great pilot script that I've been pitching for over two years. My co-writer and I have finally made some headway on it, but still, nothing in life or entertainment is ever guaranteed.

With that in mind, I simply told my partner that a reality show might be the way to go for her, because writing a script is a ton of work. A gentle no, but a no all the same.

It felt good to stand my ground and get my work done, instead of being stressed out and distracted by unnecessary obligations. As my "week of no" wrapped, I knew what the topic of this blog post would be. I was excited to jump into writing, but decided to hold off. Instead, I spent my weekend spring-cleaning, collaging, singing loudly, and enjoying my own company, which is SO much healthier and happier than working a fourth straight weekend in a row!

 

 

Imposing My Agenda
Feb. 21, 2017

Our little marketing agency is now up to a total of seven clients. The original intention was to keep each client on a certain points plan, but as I mentioned in an earlier post, our points allocation keeps evolving as we learn and grow. In the meantime, each client has their own needs and approach, so we've been providing bespoke solutions.

As there is an increasing amount of information about each client to track, I've insisted on weekly meetings between myself, my agency partner, our strategy gal, and beginning this week, our new web design dude. I've tried this "let's have a weekly meeting" suggestion before with clients, but didn't get quite as far as their schedules are often busy and it's not always easy to coordinate. Even so, I think as an internal practice it is absolutely crucial we debrief weekly. It is also helpful for my own peace of mind to know what is going on with whom, and what work is coming my way.

Back when I worked at the ad agency, I would have to do weekly agendas for our New Business Meetings. We had all kinds of spreadsheets for tracking progress in the pipeline, projects milestones, work-back schedules, etc. I also had daily status meetings with my manager where we would discuss what was on my agenda for the day, since agency life can keep you on your toes. However, many of those meetings with my boss usually turned into conversations about art or gossip. For that reason, I felt like some of those old meeting agendas were more time-consuming than useful. However, I'm grateful for the organizational experience as I feel those ol' spreadsheets are definitely necessary now.

I figure if my official role is Copywriter and Communications Specialist, then I need to facilitate communications. My agency partner is often on the road focused on driving sales and the admin side of her business. The ability to be on top of the nitty gritty for every project is not quite within her priority list, but it's still important she stays in the loop. Plus, I think a nitty gritty list will help keep me sane.

Last week I asked everyone for their thoughts and then distributed the agenda before the meeting, but this week I got wise and created a Google Doc where everyone can add their points themselves. I have also volunteered to take notes during our meeting and then update the agenda into a minutes doc, where outcomes can be reviewed and action items are assigned.

Actually, that is one of my favorite things.... Assigning to-dos. I'm gradually learning how to delegate, and as our meeting coordinator, I have the perfect advantage to gently impose my agenda on others. (Well, I guess I should say literally impose my agenda.) There are times that tasks within the software are not quite my forte, and I know they will take me longer to set up than someone else. Now, I can easily suggest who might be a more appropriate assignee, and relieve myself of the stress and sense of obligation I feel when I see that something needs to get done and worrying that its not on anyone else's radar but my own. For instance, I'm not a designer and the amount of time I've spent working on page layouts is just silly. I should be writing, not fighting with footer templates. I'm always open to learning new things, but I am also a believer in efficiency.

I think... I hope... things are about to get a lot more efficient. This week felt good. So, we'll see how we do for week two!




My Plans Have Gone to the Dogs
Feb. 14, 2017

I had a plan as this week began. It started out with a list of good intentions and projects that would receive my undivided attention. But then a website contract with a quick turn-around popped up, so I jumped on that. Then a bunch of other little tasks, meetings and favors added up all over the place. The next thing I knew, my week was over and while it felt busy, I didn't finish everything I wanted. Although I did get a lot of other things done that I didn't expect, so I suppose it all evens out?

I used my weekend to focus and be productive without workday distractions. On Saturday evening, I sent off my first draft for the unexpected website job. Then on Sunday, I designed the bulk of my sister's website. My sister breeds and shows champion Basenjis, a type of African barkless dog. She also has a couple German Shepherds, one is a retired show dog and the other is a PTSD service dog. She recently started her own kennel, and wants to promote her purebred puppies and dog training services.

Wrapping up this website has been on my to-do list for weeks, but I've been held up for a variety of reasons... The main reason being that my sister co-owns 17 Basenjis who live at different kennels all across North America. Most of these dogs look exactly the same to me, so sorting through unlabeled pictures on Facebook and obtaining accurate info on all of them has been tough. We've decided not to feature all of her dogs on the site, just her biggest award-winners.

My sister's dogs are her biggest passion in life. Growing up, my sister and father would always watch the Westminster dog show together. She loved going to local dog shows and checking out the different breeds. Two years ago she fulfilled her dream of attending the show at Madison Square Gardens. Her dog, Tibby, competed and won Select Dog in his category.

She has always had a way with animals, and has helped rehabilitate, train and rehome many dogs over the years. I could never keep track of all the animals passing through her doors. It also was a bit of a surprise to discover that she currently co-owns 17 Basenjis, when I could maybe name 5? I suppose it was only a matter of time before she decided to have her own kennel.

I haven't shown her my progress on the site, but I'm getting excited to. I saw the sites for some of the other kennel owners she's affiliated with, and they look like they were designed in 2002. Not that I'm a designer, by any means.... But I think most of those other kennel owners designed their sites themselves, whereas I at least have some experience with building websites. I'm using a modern WordPress template that is clean, uncluttered and mobile friendly. It's not quite finished yet, but I think it'll look good when it's done. And it'll be one more thing to check off my list!

Growing Pains

Feb. 7, 2017

While January showed signs of building steam, February seems to be ramping up even more.

Last week one of our clients asked how much it would cost for our agency to take over all of their marketing efforts, instead of me just polishing the work they do. A few hours later, another client called me and asked how many hours I could allocate for his company per month. His eventual goal is to have me exclusively writing for them all the time. Even if my hours go over budget, he said they would find the money. The client also shared that one of their technology partners would like me to start writing for them this month too.

This is all great news and so uplifting to feel in demand. My only concern is the financial bottleneck between the client and my bank account, as the agency's books aren't fully in order yet. They're closer than before, but now it seems that everything is shifting. Shifting in my favor, but still.... We will have to re-figure out how it should look if I'm getting paid 25 percent for each contract, but doing 80 percent of the work. I guess these are what they call growing pains....

The Agency Owner admits that while she's a rock star at sales, bookkeeping is not her forte. I recommended a friend of mine to do bookkeeping for us. She could manage the agency's invoicing, collect payment from clients, and ensure that all of the agency's bills and people are paid on time. We have a few new clients that have just started onboarding this month, so we can't afford to get caught in the weeds and start falling behind. Hopefully the issue will be resolved this week.

Fingers crossed.

Past as Prologue
Feb. 3, 2017

Once you graduate from post-secondary, your social circle is gradually defined over the years by your places of employment. While you may always keep in touch with your old school friends, new friendships will naturally evolve through work, marking the different chapters of your life. Some of those friendships may last a lifetime, while experiences with some people may leave a lifelong impact.

During and after my college internship, I worked at a neighborhood pub. While it was barely a two-year pit stop on the road of life, I recognize that time as being significant. I am still in touch with a number of friends from those days, and I moved away knowing that I always would be. Distance is not death. Until it is....

Last week, I learned that an old friend from the pub had passed away. His story is a tragic one, but it's not the story of this post. Instead, his passing has me reflecting on a different experience from 15 years ago.

It was a day of mass protest and I participated in the afternoon's events. I was excited to get to work early that evening so I'd have time to chat it up with a few of my favorite regulars, one of whom was J.D. Instead, when I got home from the march, there was a sobbing phone message on my answering machine: J.D. had died of a heart attack.

I was stunned. While J.D. was twice my age, he was certainly not old at all at only 46. I had lost grandparents before, but I had never lost a friend - and certainly no one so suddenly.

A large group of us attended the funeral a few days later. There, the priest shared a story that I will never forget. Breaking away from his scripture, he expressed that J.D.'s story struck a personal chord with him. The priest explained how J.D.'s death mirrored that of J.D.'s father who had also died of a heart attack at the age of 46.

Murmurs rippled through the congregation. What a sad coincidence!

The priest added that his own father died of a heart attack at 46 as well.

More murmurs. Wow. That would hit close to home.

After a beat, the priest concluded that he himself had just turned 46.

I'm sure J.D.'s life and death had a profound affect on that priest. It also had a deep impact on me.

Life is short. And time's a wasting if you're letting fear stand in the way. That doesn't mean that you ever stop being afraid of trying some new things, but fear is comforted by knowledge and inspiration from living the life you want to live.

At the time, I had briefly contemplated the idea of moving across the country, but I was cozy in the life and friendships I was cultivating. I had started leaning more towards keeping my next move local. J.D. made me realize I shouldn't put off new experiences I really want to try because I'm afraid of letting go of what I already have. Friendships that matter will always exist no matter where you are. Only death is permanent.

Or as singer Ani Difranco says, "I've been a long time coming, and I'll be a long time gone. You've got your whole life to do something, and that's not very long."

Four months later, I left to explore a new life. A businessman at table 20 once told me that a town in the west had gorgeous beaches, so I decided to see for myself.

Even though my experience as a server at that particular pub was a mere blip in time and a potential detour from my writing career, it was integral to who and where I am today. You never know what random moments will shape you, but it's interesting to reflect on the ones that do.

Jan. 23, 2016
Clearing Muddy Waters

As a few new clients start signing on to do business with our Marketing Agency, it has become abundantly clear that we need to better define our package offerings. There have always been four different service levels to encompass the needs from small businesses to large corporation, but those package outlines haven't exactly been adhered to, as each client has had unique requests. On my end, this has made both delivery expectations and financial expectations rather tricky.

As a copywriter, I get paid a percentage of every contract; however, my to-dos for each contract haven't been clearly defined. As a business, we're still learning, growing, and probably being over-accommodating instead of sticking to our package plans. I often find myself wondering if I am doing too much work or not enough? I never want to drop the ball, but I also don't want to be wasting effort on things that aren't being requested (or paid for).

To help me out, a couple weeks ago, our lovely new Strategist recently assigned weekly tasks and put some deadlines in place. That's when I pointed out that I don't know if our clients are actually paying for all those items on my suggested to-do list. Up until a month ago, I had been invoicing for my hours. The plan now is that I will automatically get paid as per the contract percentage, which has felt muddy at best. Because I haven't been paid yet and percentages vs. hours invested have been evolving, I'm not entirely sure how much I can expect to get paid per client.

Our first inbound marketing client was considered a bit of a test case. They knew they were our first (besides ourselves) when it came to using this new marketing software. My involvement has consisted of mostly proofing, reformatting and publishing their newsletters, emails and landing pages. It has never been totally clear how many blogs I should be writing for them, so I decided to do about one or two a month, depending on how much they have going on.

Our second client is very, very small. He originally provided us with tons of info for his website which meant a lot of extra work up front - although, I'm told it will even out eventually. On a month-to-month basis, apparently all he wants is a little help polishing and publishing a blog or two. Maybe a newsletter. He is open to doing more, like some quarterly email campaigns, but that scope still needs to be defined.

Our third client is not using the marketing software. Right now they only want to focus on content creation. This custom package makes it a bit dodgy, because if I get only a percentage per client contract, but all the client wants from us is content, then does that mean I'm doing the majority of the work, but still getting paid for the same percentage of the contract? Bah. We are still trying to hammer out their monthly strategy, so I know what sort of time commitment they are paying me for.

Thankfully, my other clients are all on a flat-rate or hourly system, so there's no question about how many hours per tasks factor into points and percentages. Ugh. I so do not have a mind for this stuff!

These concerns found their way into my head at 5 a.m. this morning, after my cat woke me up demanding to be fed. I didn't get up to feed him that early, because I'm lazy like that, but I probably should have, as opposed to allowing vague responsibilities and questionable finances taunt my tired mind as another month winds down.

 

When I finally got up, I discovered that also shortly after 5 a.m., our Strategist (who is three hours ahead) had sent an email that had my mind. (Actually, it was probably based on earlier conversations about the importance of getting this stuff straight.) She provided a proposed outline clearing up expectations for each package. The Agency Owner also provided an updated points document that outlines how much each item is worth in points vs. hours, and how they will get charged to the client.

Things are starting to clear up, I think, which is good. Once I finally get paid later this week, I should finally know what I can expect month-to-month and arrange my time and budget accordingly.

Jan. 14, 2016
Structure and Flow

Last week I had my nose to the grindstone as work poured in. It was nice. I had a meeting nearly every day, which got me out of my writing silo and engaging with clients and coworkers (and in one case, in front of 80 professionals). Although meetings can occasionally be huge time-wasters with a lot of talking and not a ton of accomplishing, communicating everything through email can also be very time consuming. A productive conversation can resolve a lot.

I am a really deadline-driven person and need structure to keep myself accountable. Meetings also help me to keep others accountable in getting back to me. So, moving forward, three of us from the Marketing Agency will begin Skyping on Mondays to discuss our weekly workflow and strategy. Then on Fridays, our software client has agreed to a weekly meeting with me as well. I think this new process will be really good.

Having deadlines and a process in place with clients will also help me keep organized as things ramp up. I know, I know... it feels like I've been forecasting a tidal wave of work for months now... which I have. But it's finally reaching the shoreline and getting my toes wet, so I need to be on my game. Fortunately, I've been ready and waiting for this moment since, like, October... maybe earlier?

As I've mentioned in the past, freelancing is a feast or famine lifestyle. While there is great potential to explore and try new things, it is just as often unpredictable. (Then again, isn't life unpredictable?!) My strategy has been to just keep saying yes, and eventually some of those projects I've said yes to might pay off in time. It can be a tease when some projects fall through, but you just have to be resilient and grateful for the ones that happen.

Sunday morning, I hadn't even poured myself a cup of coffee when I discovered three new opportunities in my inbox. The Marketing agency had just signed a new client. A creative partner of mine asked if I'd be interested in writing web copy for a new client, then asked me to quote on another branding/web project she had coming up. She had me quote on yet another branding project earlier in the week too.

While those last two projects may or may not come through, since I only suggested a price for my work, two out of four isn't bad. You just never know how life will flow.

However, one thing I do know is that I love being busy.

Jan. 6, 2016
Butterflies

This New Year has taken off with a bang. Especially these last few days, as unique opportunities come flying in. I don't even know where to start! Maybe in order as things happened....

1. I received a draft contract for equity in the Marketing company. There are a few areas of concern, so I had a knowledgeable friend take a look at it for some better insight as to questions I should be asking, in addition to my own. I know my partner is flexible and just trying to get an agreement rolling, so I'm trying not to worry about negotiations. We have a meeting this evening to hash a few things out.

2. While chatting with said knowledgeable friend, he mentioned a marketing opportunity that he was pushing for within his non-profit organization. They didn't have the bandwidth to pull it off internally, so it had been sitting on the backburner for a while. He felt that I would be an ideal fit to outsource the work to. I have freelanced for this organization before and worked with several of the people employed there at a previous job. Although the opportunity doesn't quite exist yet (he still needs to get buy-in and a budget, which could take a while), the chance to work with old friends for a good cause gives me a happy tingle.

3. My software client got back to me about the whitepaper I wrote before the holidays. They not only loved the tone and style, but quite coincidentally, they were also recently approved to host a panel at SXSW on the very same subject I chose to write about! Then, this week, they had a designer create a new look for their brand. They wanted to give me something fun to write as we begin collaborating together, so they based their new imagery around a hip female character who they feel captures the essence of their brand. They want me to decide who this character will be, since they feel I already have a good handle on her voice. Honestly, they seem as excited to work with me as I am to work with them. It's quite a thrill!

4. My image consultant client has a big presentation for 80 people on Thursday. I had been helping her with her PowerPoint slides, but then just a few hours ago she asked if I could also attend her presentation. She would like me to be her assistant up in front. It has been well over a year since I've been in front of a crowd that large. I used to be responsible for the Town Hall presentations at my old advertising agency job. We sometimes had between 60 - 100 people at those, but I pretty much knew everyone. This will be different as it'll be in front of a bunch of strangers, and the topic is all about having the right image. As a girl who spends much of her day working isolated from home with no need to dress up, it makes me feel like a bit of a fraud standing alongside someone who is telling a large room of successful professionals how to act and dress. I know this is part of her intention to begin mentoring me, I just didn't expect it to kick into high gear in front of an audience. Ha!

There have been quite a number of other little things rising to the surface this week, but these were the biggest ones. At more than a few instances I've felt my heart skip a beat and almost as if I can't catch my breath. I'm excited though - even with a belly full of butterflies!

Dec. 16, 2016
Appy Developments

So, as I mentioned in my last post, a couple Fridays ago, my cowriter met with an App Developer (AD) who had expressed interest in working with us. That afternoon, I was told that we had to write the dialog for an app experience by Monday or ideally Sunday. While I had some creative ideas brewing, there was a problem: We had no strategy behind what we were supposed to be writing.

While it's super exciting that an AD who specializes in VR (virtual reality) wants to partner with us, I obviously had a million questions about how we were supposed to be approaching things. However, my cowriter only had 10 minutes to debrief, condensing hours of conversation and pages of notes into one quick phone call.

During our chat, she suggested that this app experience would be used only as a promotional tool to pitch our series in order to crowdsource funds.

This raised a bunch more questions -- raise funds for what? To shoot a few scenes from our super-expensive TV pilot? To invest in continued app development for a series no one has ever heard of? While I was still trying to wrap my head around things, she sent me a link to a "reserved" Go Fund Me page. I have to credit her for being an absolute go-getter who definitely wastes no time. I know I slow her down, but I always like a map to know where I'm go-getting to.

Fired up with enthusiasm, she tweaked the contract we had the lawyer draft for those sleazy producers a few months ago. In it, she proposed that we sign over one third of all profits for our series to this AD who I had still not yet met. My head was spinning.

The amended contract wasn't applicable, as it was based around producing a series vs. producing a promotional app. I pulled in the reigns and suggested that we speak to our agent first. After all, that's what she's there for. I also said that I wouldn't be turning over any new content for an app until I had spoken to the AD myself. After our yucky experience in the summer, I am ever firmer in my resolve to trust only my own judgement.

Fortunately, I'm happy to report that I met with the AD later in the week, and he seems like a genuine guy. We are totally on the same page. He has always wanted to create a VR-integrated series, so this is as much a passion project for him as it is for us. We discussed strategy and all the potential directions we could go with the creative. He was clear that nothing had been nailed down with my cowriter yet and that there was really no urgency for me to write an entire script in a matter of days. He expects this process to take months to define and develop. I'm glad. If we're going to do this, we're going to do it right!

Our agent has composed a few deal points and discussed them with him. We will finalize our offer once we agree on a proper strategy and scope for the creative. We've also all agreed to drop the crowdfunding idea, as we plan to go for deeper pockets in terms of producers and private investors.

All that to say, there's still a ways to go yet, but it's something interesting to look forward to.

Dec. 12, 2016
Weekly Randoms

It's been a busy week, but a good week. Lots of interesting things to keep me on my toes and inspired for the future.

A few of the things I've between working on...

1. The agency's December marketing campaign

The details have finally been ironed out for the agency's first official marketing campaign. I wrote emails for the 8 different audiences our Marketing Agency is targeting. We are inviting people to take a quick three-question survey for a chance to win a complete digital assessment, valued at $900.

In addition to the emails, there is a thank-you page and a follow-up offer to download our Intro to Inbound Methodology ebook.

We should hopefully be set to send the emails out by the end of next week. Fingers crossed we get some decent results!

2. Wrapping my head around our new technology client

These guys are huge and we're super lucky to have them on board. Because they're a sophisticated company, they already have a lot of existing content as well as branding guidelines. So, it's really nice that we don't have to start from scratch, especially with subject matter that is so technical.

We had a meeting with the company on Wednesday and they seem like great people. They do a ton of really cool things and so we're breaking things down into bite-sized priorities. They want to start us off at a manageable speed so we're not overwhelmed with too much all at once. I'm feeling far less nervous and pretty inspired.

3. Finalizing website details for the mortgage company

I wrapped up writing and editing most of the content last week, but there was still some work to be done behind the scenes. All 17 service sub-pages still needed to be connected to the main service page, and their calls to action connected to the Contact Us page. This was kind of mindless work, which I almost found zen-like. Highlight, command-K, select link, save, next!

4. Brainstorming a VR app for our series pilot

Today my cowriter on the sci-fi TV pilot had another meeting with the new media company about developing a VR/360 app that would accompany the series we are pitching. We've been answering the media company's questions and tossing ideas around all week, such as which scene in the pilot could the app be modeled, and what would the player do in the game?

Actually, this item is a whole other blog post in itself and still evolving as I type. In fact, I have a lot of homework ahead this weekend writing the dialog for the app as they want to get started developing it by Monday. Seriously! This feels like it is happening way too quickly, but I'm rolling with it. I think it's less about the dialog and more about the actions within the story, in which case, I have some creative ideas...

Dec. 6, 2016
Some Truths About Freelancing

This has been a week of "hurry up and wait." Work for the Marketing Company itself has slowed down quite a bit, as they can't afford to pay me just yet, so I've had to pull in the reins. In the meantime, I'm still waiting for our new clients to finish their onboarding process so I can begin writing (and invoicing) for that work.

Our onboarding process for new clients includes a "Discovery" session, where the client team speaks with the Client Manager about their organization's needs and expectations. From there, the client completes a bit of homework, providing us with their buyer personas (descriptions of the ideal customers they are targeting) and any content they have previously published about their company, whether via social media, advertising campaigns, blogs, etc. Based on all info collected, a Kick-Off Guide is developed.

The Kick-Off Guide encompasses Goal Planning and Strategy, Buyer Personas, Content Creation, Campaign Execution, and then an introduction to the HubSpot platform, which is the online software we use.

While I wait for the Kick-Off Guides from our new clients, I've been gradually plugging away on some website content for one of our smaller "beta" clients. The client provided me with about 65 pages of random content - far more than we'll ever need on his website - so I've been divvying it up to see what can be allocated for future blog posts, infographics, ebooks, etc. vs. what information belongs on his site right now.

As I mentioned, this client is technically a beta customer as we familiarize ourselves more with the HubSpot platform. Therefore, we aren't charging him anywhere near full price. Unfortunately, because the majority of the work involves writing, that means a ton of work up front for me for no pay. (Well, actually, I shouldn't say "no pay." I think I'm supposed to get paid about $50 for what has been approximately $800 worth of work so far.) I'm trying not to be frustrated with this information thrown into my lap, looking at this as an opportunity for trial and error with the new system. I'm also told that the client signed a year contract and that the work to payment ratio will balance out as the months roll on. So, fingers crossed - or otherwise, lesson learned - as a freelancer, I do have a right to say "no."

Speaking of paychecks, I'm overdue. A harsh reality of freelancing is that clients aren't as regular with payments as your typical 9 - 5 job. The owner of the Marketing Company I'm freelancing for needs to collect money from our clients first in order to cover my invoices, and clients can sometimes take up to a couple months to pay their bills. This means the Marketing Company owner is never really clear as to when she'll be able to pay me. And that means my ability to pay my personal bills this month has not been very predictable at all, as I'm waiting on paycheques for invoices over a month old. Sigh.

I had to be politely upfront with the owner a couple weeks ago that while I totally believe in the company and am excited about the new clients we are taking on, I might need to find some full-time work elsewhere, as I can't afford to work for free for months at a time. I'm supposed to have a call with her this afternoon, so hopefully we will get a few things sorted and I will receive some straight answers.

Earlier this month when I asked about getting paid, she promised that I was her first priority, since the majority of inbound marketing work is writing content, and I'm her only writer. She paid me one quarter of what she owed at that time, but that was two weeks ago. Such a tricky situation when I see this huge wave of opportunity for me on the horizon, but rent is due now....

Anyway, I think I'm going to create a profile on a freelancing website where people bid on projects. Hopefully I'll have some luck picking up a few more bucks until these new clients start picking up a bit more steam.

Wish me luck!

Nov. 27, 2016
New Year, New You

Last Friday I met with my Image Consultant client's team to discuss what project she should focus her energy on first moving forward. She has a variety of different ideas for different demographics - affordable modules for young professionals, high-touch services for VIP clients, and professional development presentations and workshops for corporations. She wants to do everything at once, but we need to move in one direction first.

Since her focus project will be used to kick off the New Year, I suggested that she should offer a "transformation" package. It would be a six-month program where she could help individuals to refine their image with services customized to their specific needs. The thinking is that those with the financial resources may be inclined to then transition to her ongoing monthly VIP membership services if they can experience a bit of a transformation up front.

To me, it seemed like quite an obvious suggestion - the whole New Year, New You idea - but it ended up being the big takeaway from the meeting. The next day, my client reached out to thank me again for my contribution, adding that she knew a secret about me....

So now I know a Melodie secret...you are quiet and observant and your hearing is highly tuned to match your high intellect. You downplay your skills and talents, but you reveal your true colours when you are ready.

Yesterday was such a moment for you and I won't soon forget that you produced the word that personifies what it is that I do.

How kind. She was right, though -- I am a quiet listener and always wait for my moments in meetings until everyone else is done talking. Sometimes that means others will suggest what I was thinking before I get a chance to speak, but that's just how it goes. Still, I felt like I was getting quite a lot of high praise for such a small suggestion. I wrote back and thanked her for appreciating my little contribution.

She replied...

Your gentle and tactful contribution was a GIANT one, not a little one. You are so modest.

I would really like to work "with" you to bring you into the light a little more. I would be happy to do this on my own time.

You are a gem with many talents and the world needs to see and hear from you on more social media platforms. You are in the business after all, and your opinions really matter. We could start at whatever pace you feel comfortable with. A new photo showing the beautiful and refined you would be a good starting point.

Think about it and let me know. I am on your team too.

Sounds like she wants to transform me - a generous offer, even though the idea of getting myself out there makes me cringe. Of course, I realize that she is right - as a freelancing professional, marketing my services is something I really need to do. I don't even have a website, but generally rely on word of mouth. Funny how my career focuses on marketing others, but I am so reluctant to market myself.

And photos... don't even get me started on that! I cannot take a decent photo to save my life. That's not to say I am unhappy with my general appearance. I prefer to say I'm a "natural beauty" - as in I look better in person than through the lens of a camera. I always freeze up when my photo is being taken, making me totally un-photogenic. I wasn't raised on a steady diet of selfies and should probably practice my poses before booking a photo-shoot. I know it's probably time I get a professional headshot though....

Anyway, it sounds like my client is keen to work her transformative magic to help coax me towards a brighter self-promotion spotlight. While the thought makes me a bit nervous, I know it's a good thing. It'll be interesting to see how life will change a year from now.

Nov. 19, 2016
Virtually Learning Something New

My horoscope for this week tells me that I should learn new ways to learn. It suggests that deepening my knowledge base will make me more valuable to others.

I don't know if that advice is actually written in the stars as much as it is applicable to all of us most of the time. Even so, I was thinking about how appropriate it is for me this week. (Although I have yet to pursue the act of learning just yet, but I'll get to that...).

It feels that the general theme where I should deepen my knowledge base is around apps relating to virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). The subject has been crawling into my day-to-day life lately more frequently lately, in a way I can't ignore. I need to expand my awareness of these subjects to be successful as a writer in two different areas.

The first is regarding my sci-fi TV pilot. As I may have mentioned, the plot takes place in the not-too-distant future, and deals with a controversial VR game that has taken the world by storm. After our whole debacle with that seedy production company this summer, the experience got my writing partner and I exploring different areas of opportunity. We agreed that we should start thinking ahead -- instead of trying to get our show on TV (that no one watches anymore anyway), we should look into new media.

As technology advances, there's a growing demand for content for these new forms of media and entertainment. Shows like ours could make for an interesting meta experience -- a plot about VR that is experienced in a VR environment or integrated with a VR game. For example, after each episode viewers could be presented with a challenge to explore one of the scenes from the show. Snoop around the set, look in drawers, check out the fridge, wherever... and hidden clues that provide them with insight that may be useful later on in the series. Using VR, we can engage viewers with interactive content.

That's just one example, but I'm sure once I do some more research, I'll really get the creative juices flowing. It would benefit me to see what's possible and what's already out there because next week my co-writer will be pitching to a new media company and we'll need to have some exciting ideas to pique their interest in working with us. It's no longer about our story. It's now all about the concept.

The other reason I feel like I should start immersing myself into VR is due to the new big client the Marketing Company is about to sign on. They've been tied up with a bunch of new projects and contracts themselves, so progress has slowed down a bit. But at some point within this next month, I'll be given a few topics to blog about related to creating media in VR, AR, apps, etc. So, I had better familiarize myself with this subject matter to prove to them that I can do the job. I'm sure there is some hesitation about my ability to generate regular relevant content if that techy subject matter is not within my wheelhouse, if you know what I mean.

Either way, I think I'm up for the challenge. I'd much rather spend my time researching all these cool new forms of media and their potential versus something far less interesting, like infrared heaters. (I got my copywriting feet wet writing about infrared heaters during my college internship.) So, on that note, I guess I should start exploring the online world to see what I can learn about the virtual one.

Nov. 19, 2016
Virtual Learning

My horoscope for this week tells me that I should learn new ways to learn. It suggests that deepening my knowledge base will make me more valuable to others. I don't know if that advice is actually written in the stars as much as it is applicable to all of us most of the time. Even so, I was thinking about how appropriate it is for me this week. (Although I have yet to pursue the act of learning just yet, but I'll get to that...).

It feels that the general theme where I should deepen my knowledge base is around apps relating to virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). The subject has been crawling into my day-to-day life lately more frequently lately, in a way I can't ignore. I need to expand my awareness of these subjects to be successful as a writer in two different areas.

The first is regarding my sci-fi TV pilot. As I may have mentioned, the plot takes place in the not-too-distant future, and deals with a controversial VR game that has taken the world by storm. After our whole debacle with that seedy production company this summer, the experience got my writing partner and I exploring different areas of opportunity. We agreed that we should start thinking ahead -- instead of trying to get our show on TV (that no one watches anymore anyway), we should look into new media.

As technology advances, there's a growing demand for content for these new forms of media and entertainment. Shows like ours could make for an interesting meta experience -- a plot about VR that is experienced in a VR environment or integrated with a VR game. For example, after each episode viewers could be presented with a challenge to explore one of the scenes from the show. Snoop around the set, look in drawers, check out the fridge, wherever... and hidden clues that provide them with insight that may be useful later on in the series. Using VR, we can engage viewers with interactive content. That's just one example, but I'm sure once I do some more research, I'll really get the creative juices flowing.

It would benefit me to see what's possible and what's already out there because next week my co-writer will be pitching to a new media company and we'll need to have some exciting ideas to pique their interest in working with us. It's no longer about our story. It's now all about the concept.

The other reason I feel like I should start immersing myself into VR is due to the new big client the Marketing Company is about to sign on. They've been tied up with a bunch of new projects and contracts themselves, so progress has slowed down a bit. But at some point within this next month, I'll be given a few topics to blog about related to creating media in VR, AR, apps, etc. So, I had better familiarize myself with this subject matter to prove to them that I can do the job.

I'm sure there is some hesitation about my ability to generate regular relevant content if that techy subject matter is not within my wheelhouse, if you know what I mean.

Either way, I think I'm up for the challenge. I'd much rather spend my time researching all these cool new forms of media and their potential versus something far less interesting, like infrared heaters. (I got my copywriting feet wet writing about infrared heaters during my college internship.) So, on that note, I guess I should start exploring the online world to see what I can learn about the virtual one.

Nov. 12, 2016
First Marketing Campaign

Over the last couple months, I've been writing new blogs and creating premium content offers for the Marketing Company. Now that we have a little bit of an inventory built up, this is week we began outlining our first official campaign targeted at our existing list of contacts. The theme of the campaign is a reintroduction, since many of these contacts previously knew the Marketing Company as only a media company.

Our database of contacts has been segmented into the following categories:

  • Auto Industry
  • Real Estate Industry
  • Retail Business
  • Restaurants
  • Educational institutions

While each email and landing page will be customized for the related target audience, the call to action will be the same - to fill out a quick survey. The survey will provide us with better insight into what is important for each of these industries so we can nurture our leads by marketing offers that are relevant to them. Since the landing pages will be segmented by industry, the survey will only contain two questions:
1. What is your job title?
2. What is your marketing priority is for 2017:

  • Attracting new visitors to your website
  • Engaging more leads
  • Increasing sales
We plan to offer an incentive (yet to be determined) for taking the survey, as well as a bonus question. If the survey-taker answers the third question, they will be entered into our draw twice. The third question will be:
3. What form of inbound marketing are you most interested in?
  • Blogs
  • Videos
  • Email
  • Social Media
  • Search Engines

On the thank-you pages, we will have a new call to action to sign up for a premium offer based on the offers we have (mostly) developed in our inventory. For instance:

  • The auto and real estate industry pages will link to the ebook, "How Sales has Changed";
  • The retail and education industry pages will link to the "On-Page SEO Template";
  • And, the restaurant thank you page will link to the guide, "How to Attract Customers on Facebook".

We also plan to have social media ads targeted to these groups that will link to relevant blog posts:

  • Auto Industry - Automotive Marketing for Digital Micro-Moments
  • Real Estate Industry - Integrated Inbound Services with Hubspot
  • Retail - Increasing ROI with Inbound Marketing
  • Restaurants - Marketing Your Business on Facebook
  • Education - How Schools Can Use SEO to Attract More Students

Each blog post will then have a call to action which leads to the same content offers mentioned above. It will be interesting to see how effective this is.
While we're still supposed to be onboarding our new clients, the process has slowed down a little bit this week as we wait on further info from them. This is fine by me as it gives me time to write and wrap my head around everything else.
Speaking of wrapping my head around things, I finally took my HubSpot Inbound Marketing exam yesterday. I figured I've applied enough knowledge over the last few weeks that hopefully the answers would come naturally. I whipped through the multiple-choice exam faster than expected, knowing that I could always take it again in 48 hours if I required further study time. Fortunately, I passed with 85 percent. My next step will be to take the HubSpot Marketing Software certification. That course will help me pull all the pieces of the software program together more effectively. I suppose it's probably a good idea to start that course sooner than later before I get too busy applying knowledge I haven't learned best practices for.

Nov. 2, 2016
Do Something Today Your Future Self Will Thank You For

Things have been zipping along at a happy pace lately. Funny to think that only a couple weeks ago, I was nervously awaiting an emerging tidal wave of work, unsure if I could handle it all. It's as if I had somehow forgotten how much I love to be busy. I'm definitely a deadline-driven person who thrives under pressure. If I don't have a deadline, I'm not as inspired and will distract myself with other things. (Because there are always other things - especially when you work from home.) But now that I'm gradually falling into this new flow, I feel motivated and in control. And if I can't handle it, I know I have backup. It feels really great.

With the onboarding of our new anchor clients, the Media/Marketing agency is looking at restructuring its marketing business to become its own separate agency. We are in the process of defining our new brand now. And I say our brand because I've kindly been offered equity in the company alongside three other partners. It's exciting to be working with such a great group of talented women whom I admire and respect! It almost makes me a little giddy to think that just over a year ago, I was employed in such a toxic environment. I took a huge risk by leaving it for "nothing" - and yet that "nothing" has now become exactly what I want to do!

Around this time last year I bought a day timer to write my "done" list into each day. (I prefer to record lists of what I've accomplished instead of listing what I need to do. Sometimes unexpected things crop up and shuffle priorities around, so I like to stay flexible.) Anyway, I choose a day timer with a quote on the cover that reflects what I often say when talking about being kind to "later guy." The quote is: "Do something today that your future self with thank you for."

I've tried to stay mindful of that phrase as I record each day's work into my book. There are always those periods of time where it feels like things aren't happening fast enough. During those occasions, I've invested my energy into other worthwhile efforts, like my passion projects, painting, gardening, exercise, or whatever. They're all activities that my future self (or ever-present self) will thank me for. These days I'm thanking myself for pursuing the freelance thing over this year. Freelancing can definitely be a feast or famine path, with unpredictable paychecks and workflow. But it feels like it is finally paying off.

The other unexpected opportunity that came in was from the image consultant whose website I worked on earlier this year. I started blogging for her a little while ago, and this week we met to discuss building her business. She needs materials for modules to incorporate into workshops, presentations, and a marketing campaign. She also wants help promoting an exclusive very VIP program. As part of her offerings, she'd like to offer VIP clients my editing and writing services since strong communications, speeches, and presentations are also part of projecting a professional image. She has other projects she also wants to launch. Truly, she's got a million balls in the air and wants me to help her with all of them. I'm going to get her to create some SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timeline) goals and we can develop a manageable plan.

Yesterday I got up a little earlier than usual, and worked until shortly after 5:30. As I closed my laptop for the evening, I caught myself singing aloud to myself a little made-up song about being happy about work.

And just now, as I saved today's post to my files, I noticed that ONE YEAR AGO TODAY I wrote a post in this blog called "Building a Mini-Agency". Its contents were about being introduced to the woman I've now partnered with and her goal to eventually create her own agency.

What a difference a year makes!

Oct. 30, 2016
First Campaign

The week started off with still no news about the campaign we were due to launch for a car dealership. This was our first official campaign for a client, and we had less than a week to pull it together. A workflow was put in place, but without any content about the deal, I had no idea what I was supposed to write. On Tuesday afternoon, I received a direct mail piece that the car dealership planned to mail out. This provided me with enough details to get started writing.

From there, I wrote a list of 10 items I assumed I was expected to write as part of this campaign, as well as a list of follow-up questions. You'll notice most of my questions revolve around content that hasn't been provided yet and data collecting forms, which are not my forte.

Here is part of my message that outlines my to-do items and questions. I'll follow up each item with the outcome of what I actually ended up doing:

Task 1: Landing page that provides a premium offer download for those who aren't ready to take a test drive.

Questions: What is our offer? Various suggestions have been made such as a video, white paper, or FAQ. Do we have a strategy for this, or will I be provided with content to include from the dealership?

Outcome: It was decided that we would skip the premium offer page, as there was nothing readily available to provide at this time. My hope is that with future campaigns, with more time to plan, will include some sort of premium offer for those who are interested, but not quite ready to take action.

Task 2: Campaign landing page to book a test drive

Question: I figure we will need a dropdown menu so visitors can specify which car they are booking a test drive for, as well as their desired date and time. Could I please get some assistance to set this form up on the landing page so I can rest assured that it's done properly?

Task 3: Thank-you page for those who book a test drive

Question: Will test drivers be automatically entered to win a tablet just by booking their test drive, or should there be a separate call to action on this page to enter to win after they've booked? (I'm assuming they are automatically entered, but it's better to ask than assume.)

Outcome: Test drivers will be automatically entered to win upon completing their test drive, so there was no need to include an extra call to action button and form on this page.

Task 4: Email to encourage booking a test drive, which points to landing page

Question: No questions.

Outcome: As there were no questions, the task was straightforward. I composed an email encouraging prospects to book a test drive. The email linked to the landing page.

Task 5: Reminder email to those who haven't booked their test drive yet.

Question: No questions asked.

Outcome: Done as suggested.

Task 6: Welcome to your test drive email

Question: Is this simply a confirmation that they have booked their test drive? If so, will we be able to include fields that have the date, time & vehicle for their test drive? Again, I may need some assistance on the backend to ensure we have the right fields available to set this up nicely.v

Outcome: A field was created just to input their test drive schedule. The model of vehicle was not necessary.

Task 7: Email after the test drive: "Did you enjoy driving your XX car?"

Question: Will this email need to be duplicated X number of times to encompass the fleet of vehicles, or can the specified vehicle just be a custom field? Which specific vehicles are we featuring in this promotion?

Outcome: Three models of new cars were part of this test drive promotion. A field was added to the email to say which vehicle they drove.

Task 8: Second follow-up email to test driver providing them with a customer case study or testimonial.

Question: Do we have a customer case study/testimonial that we can use?

Outcome: Nope. We do not have any customer case studies/testimonials yet. So we just removed this email from our workflow. It can be something to consider for a future campaign.

Task 9: Third follow-up email offering a free assessment/consultation with sales team.

Question: Aren't consultations with sales people usually free? What will they be assessing - the value of their trade-in or financing on a new vehicle?

Outcome: This email was also removed from the workflow. Perhaps a future campaign with more time to plan can include some additional thought on follow-up offers.

Task 10: Blog posts to be published throughout the month of Nov. for each of the vehicles featured during this promo.

Question: What models are we featuring? Coupe, sedan, hatchback... anything else? Will these blogs point back to the same landing page to book a test drive, or duplicate landing pages that are specific to the vehicle they just read about?

Outcome: I will write three posts featuring each of the models mentioned above which are part of this promotion. I might also do an additional post speaking more generally about the make of car itself. All blogs will point back to the same landing page, so there's no need to create customized duplicates.

With the exception of a few minor tweaks upon final approval, I have completed everything on my to-do list except the blog posts. Those are the next items I will tackle.

While there is still other work on my plate, it all feels very manageable at the moment. Asking questions has helped me organize my workload and feel on top of things. I don't want to jinx anything since the campaign hasn't officially launched yet (it will on Tuesday) but I THINK so far, so good. I will be very pleased if this continues to go as smoothly as it seems to be, considering it is our first "official" campaign. It definitely gives me hopes for what we're capable of in the future!

Oct. 20, 2016
Work, Work, Work

So, the unexpected news... .

Last week, the CEO of the Media/Marketing Company had some meetings in the city with a new marketing client we are onboarding. While she was in town, she decided to touch base with a Technology Company she has been trying to wrangle a media deal with.

The Tech Company does all kinds of innovative stuff with apps, virtual reality, etc. However, their newest development is a really cool digital mirror that works like a smartphone. These new digital signs will be used in stores and hotels, engaging captive audiences with advertising as individuals admire their own reflections in the mirror. Customers will be able to interact with the digital mirrors and do things like follow the business on social media, enter contests and promotions, place an order, ask a question.... basically anything that an app can be created for. The Tech Company is also hoping to introduce some new elements soon that will enhance the mirrors with augmented reality features -- all very cool futuristic type stuff that you see in the movies.

The Media/Marketing Company CEO has been hoping to make a deal with these guys so she can offer these digital mirrors to some of her existing clients to use at their locations. While she was chatting with the Chief Marketing Officer, he switched gears and expressed an immediate need for marketing assistance with content creation. The Tech Company wants to search-engine optimize their website, add blogs, boost their social media, initiate campaigns, and so on, A.S.A.P.

The Media/Marketing Company CEO jumped at the opportunity, letting him know that she recently launched the marketing side of her business. Being the savvy sales girl she is, she successfully sold him on my writing skills much better than I could sell myself, insisting that I could write anything he needed. By the time she left his office, he had verbally agreed to a marketing contract with her that was much bigger than the digital mirror contract that she was angling for. I was the first person she called to share the good news with, because I'll be doing all the work.

As the Tech Company is a very large multi-million dollar business, I couldn't help but feel a bit intimidated that their inbound marketing efforts will now fall squarely upon my shoulders. Am I ready for this? I was excited and overwhelmed by the opportunity. Once the contract is officially signed, this company will become our anchor client and give us huge credibility... if we can successfully pull it off. No pressure.... .

This week, the Tech Company provided us with a two-page list of what work they're looking for by the end of October. In short, they want us to update their website, write 10 blog posts, seriously amp up all their social media accounts, create three sales decks, and write and distribute two press releases. Considering there is only about a week left this month, it is an insane amount! Not to mention, one of our other new clients wants to launch their first campaign on Nov. 1st, but they still haven't provided me with all the details of the offer. All I know are the general needs for the campaign, which includes about five blog posts, separate landing pages, and thank-you pages for each, as well as a series of follow-up emails. I'll be required to hit the ground running the moment it's provided, which probably won't be until Monday.

The Media/Marketing CEO went back to the Tech Company with some questions about their two-page list, and a proposal to create a strategy with phases over the next three, six and 12 months. There's been no word back yet on what they intend to do, but I really hope they recognize the benefit of planning ahead instead of expecting so much in such a short time frame.

This morning I awoke at 4 a.m. after a stressful dream. I found my mind spinning, anxious about the work ahead, wondering if I was really capable of pulling everything off. So far the process feels very disorganized, like we're flying by the seat of our pants. I also have two other freelance contracts that will be launched next week. I think the need for some writing assistance might come sooner than later. I may give it a month to see what I'm capable of, but time (or lack thereof) will tell.

Oct. 10, 2016
Learning the Ropes

This week I've been getting my bearings, applying my new HubSpot Inbound Marketing training for the Media and Marketing Company. No, I haven't taken the certification quiz yet, as using my newfound knowledge has taken priority for now, but I intend to take it next week. If the individual class quizzes are any indication, chances are I may need to take the final exam more than once, as it is done in a tricky multiple-choice format. I hate how some multiple-choice quizzes are worded in such a way as though they were designed to confuse the test-taker. You either understand the question or you don't. Misleading suggestions should have no place in test taking.... end of rant.

Anyway, in the meantime, I've used my new knowledge to create a blogging editorial calendar for the company, and also wrote a couple posts to get started. Since every blog post should tie back to an offer in some way, it wasn't as simple as composing a post and publishing it. In order to analyze and track results, other things need to happen behind the scenes in HubSpot for everything to tie together.

First, I updated an ebook called, "How to Use Facebook to Attract Customers." This will be one of our premium offers that we will encourage prospects to download. Like all premium offers, before someone can download it, they need to enter their email address. This enables us to identify them as a lead who is interested in marketing their business using Facebook, which gives us the opportunity to reach out to them in the future about our social media marketing services. I then created a specific call to action button for our ebook offer. This button will go at the end of my post about Facebook marketing do's and don'ts.

I also created a separate landing page so we can promote the ebook offer on its own via social media and email. Finally, I created a thank-you page that people will see after they've entered their info to download the offer. The thank-you page includes another call to action in the sidebar, offering prospects a chance to take the next step with a complementary social analysis and strategy call.

The Media and Marketing Company has a Virtual Assistant who is located in the Philippines. She is our HubSpot guru and will iron out any kinks in my attempt to connect the dots within the HubSpot platform. I really appreciate her assistance as I familiarize myself with all the various pieces within the program and how they all tie together. I'm especially grateful because very soon I won't just be doing this work for the Media and Marketing Company itself, but for the new marketing clients we bring on board.

Speaking of which, this week two new marketing clients have started the onboarding process. One is a mortgages/real estate company, and the other is an automotive dealer. The CEO of the Media and Marketing Company mentioned that she also has six other leads she is warming up and hopes to bring on in the coming weeks and months. It has always been her intention that we'll get to the point where there will be too much writing for me to handle, at which point she would like me to hire and can manage a team of writers. After a year of slow and steady progress developing the foundational strategy for the marketing side of her business, it feels as if that may be a very real possibility in this coming year.

Then last night, I got a call. Nearly breathless, it was the CEO with some more exciting, unexpected news....

I'm cautiously optimistic, so maybe I'll wait a week and then tell you what shakes out.

Sep. 30, 2016
No Regrets, Part 2

This past year ushered in many changes at the advertising agency my husband and I used to work at. We had no regrets about our decision to leave. So when my friend and former co-worker suggested that we would be extra super-duper happy we had left, I could only assume that there had been further shake-ups. I wondered what else could've happened. As it turns out, last week everyone in my husband's former studio was let go and then replaced the very next day.

"Wow!!!" I texted back, "What was the logic of that?"

"That's a big question," she replied.

Indeed. While it's not unusual for companies to restructure internal processes, thereby eliminating or downsizing departments, it's a bit more rare for a company to wipe the slate clean by letting go and replacing an entire team in one full swoop. Or maybe I'm just naive. Either way, my friend offered a bit of insight on why this might have happened:

"I think it was a combination of not skilled enough in digital art, attitudes, and the idea that it would be simpler to hire a new fully capable team rather than get them up to speed."

Now, I realize this post is starting to tread the line between relevant "work life" subject matter and office gossip, but I do think there is some value in expanding upon my friend's speculations.

So, let's begin with reason #1: not being skilled enough in digital.

The studio's main client is finally moving more of their advertising online. Their particular industry has always been very heavy-handed with print ads, so the studio previously employed mostly print artists. My husband was the only digital production artist in the room, so it is possible his job may have been spared with this shift to digital -- or maybe not? Either way, the print artists were given the opportunity to take professional development to expand their digital skills. The company would pay for this weekend program. Only one agreed to take the course....

Which brings us to #2: attitudes.

The lone artist who took the course would always complain whenever she was asked to tackle any digital work. What's the point of taking a course if you get angry when you're asked to use your new skills? Of course, this wasn't unusual behaviour. This particular artist complained about everything with equal resentment. Honestly, she was easily among the most hateful people I've ever met. "Attitudes" is putting her problem politely.

Finally, speculation #3: the idea that it would be simpler to hire a new fully capable team rather than get them up to speed.

I suppose the new Studio Director felt that the artists had been given enough opportunity to expand their skills and get up to par. Meanwhile, the lead artist couldn't even handle multi-tasking enough to check his email. No joke. In fact, apparently before the layoff there was an analysis done, and at the end they weren't really sure what he actually did. If he had answered his emails, there would have been a digital paper trail as to what he was working on. Instead, he appeared to do less work than everyone else. (I'm also told he was 10 times slower, which is probably another factor.) That said, if you can't show enough initiative to occasionally glance over to your email in a fast-paced environment where you need to check your email often, how quickly will you get up to speed using new design software?

In any case, office gossip and speculation aside, this experience does go to show how unstable even the most seemingly secure jobs can be. These artists had worked at the agency for about five years, and intended to work there for years more. In fact, the lead artist was very vocal about his plan to coast from this job into early retirement. I'm certainly not extra super-duper happy about this outcome for our former co-workers, but I'm definitely grateful we left the agency on our own terms. You can never predict when the carpet might be pulled out from under you. All you can do is give it your best -- your best work, your best attitude, and your best try - and then hope for the best!

Sep. 26
No Regrets

Just over a year ago, my husband and I left the stability of well-paying jobs in advertising to take a stab at something new. For over two and a half years, we worked at the same ad agency together. My husband worked in the Studio as "Interactive Production", a.k.a. a digital artist, designing animated banner ads for one of our clients. I worked as the agency's Communications Coordinator, which was a catchall title that encompassed internal communications, public relations, new business, award show coordinating, asset management, and art buying. I was also the soft-spoken buffer for our hard-nosed CEO. (Although I suppose that could fall under my role in 'communications'.)

Quitting a job without having anything lined up isn't something I would normally recommend. However, our work environment was rather toxic, as we were both dealing with some pretty ugly personality types in our respective roles. Sure, there's always a bad apple in every bunch, but for some reason this agency had more than its share.

To illustrate my point, without getting into the dirty details, even the city's most reputable plant decor guy quit working with us. He claimed that he had never seen his plants whither and die so quickly after delivery, even with proper sun and care. He blamed the bad energy in our office and refused to sell any more to us, despite being offered more money. I figure when the plant guy finally quits, it's like the canary in the coal mine. (Canaries used to be taken into coal mines because they would be the first to die from any dangerous poison gases, giving the miners enough time to escape.) Just like the plant guy couldn't put a price tag on his plants' health, we couldn't put a price on our own mental wellbeing.

My husband and I really wanted to move back across the country to a place where we knew we'd be much happier. We tried sourcing out employment beforehand and had a couple phone interviews. But ultimately we felt we'd have to physically move before we could really land anything substantial. With a little money saved, we sold off most of our furniture and possessions (again) and took another leap of faith.

A year later, our bank accounts aren't quite as flush as they used to be, but I would say that our quality of life overflows. We live in a beautiful city. We're much closer to my husband's family and friends. And we work from home, doing what we love. We have no regrets, trading money for happiness.

I feel it's important to note that we don't have children to consider, so the risks we choose to take in our lives are ours alone. However, an element of risk still exists in even the most seemingly stable environments. Like they say, if you don't happen to change, change will happen to you.

Shortly after leaving the agency, the angry CEO was relocated, and so was the office itself - a block down the street to a less desirable location. Processes have been shaken up, perks and parties have been eliminated, and so have several jobs. In fact, six months after we left, my three direct reports (the CEO, the New Business Director, and the Studio Director) were no longer employed with the company. My new Communications Coordinator replacement was also let go. Despite the fact that I left her with pages of detailed notes on what to do and when, sources tell me that she only did a fraction of the work I used to do. I can't help but wonder had she been properly trained or motivated to embrace the many hats the role required of her, if she would've had more job security in the end. Maybe... Maybe not....

What I do know is that if we had stuck it out for the money - because that's all it came down to in the end -- it would've been for naught. I'd still have to find a new job. Meanwhile, my husband would be stuck at this toxic company alone without my lunchtime companionship or private office reprieve. We both felt grateful that we made the decision to leave when we did.

Then came yesterday... I was texting a former neighbour and co-worker who is still with the agency. We used to cat-sit for each other, so I was telling her about a mouse my cat brought into the house. (Silly cat hasn't caught a mouse in 12 years, but he brought this one inside and then let it go! It climbed inside our washer and somehow turned it on... but that's probably a story for a different blog.) While empathizing with the situation, my friend added, "PS - I know you are already glad y'all left, but you should be extra super duper happy!"

She was right. And I'll tell you why next week.

Sep. 15
Freelance Flight and Flow

Last week I travelled across the country for my sister's wedding. I still had some work on my plate before leaving, but that's the beauty of freelancing, you can do it from anywhere - even 3,000 feet in the air, which is where I was when I created the cafe's event planning checklist.

I was supposed to have two conference calls the day after I arrived in town, but my kind clients suggested postponing until I was home. I'm grateful for their flexibility, because despite my sister's wedding being a very low-key celebration, my days were quite busy getting as much as I could in order for her. The wedding itself went as smooth as expected -- which is to say there were a few bumps between rainy weather and not enough napkins -- but again, my sis is as low maintenance as they come. And if she was happy, I was happy. I'm sure I was far more concerned with the details than she was.

One of my clients did reach out during my hiatus, however, but only for a moment to share her excitement. Her media company's Twitter account was buzzing with notifications of new followers and retweets thanks to my scheduled content. While it can take forever to build an audience on Twitter, I'm happy that we are already seeing some action. It'll be interesting to review which tweets get the most traction, so I can try to replicate similar results next month.

I planned to wrap up some more work on my flight home last night, but was too beat to bother. After a full day of travel and more visiting with friends and family, by the time my flight took off at 7:30 p.m., I wanted to do nothing but chill. Luckily jet lag didn't stop me as I hit the ground running this morning. Before breakfast, I had already tackled a few chores and made final edits to the cafe's event planning checklist.

After breakfast, I tweaked the cafe's Facebook ad. Then I created a landing page where prospects will enter their email to download a checklist, and another page where they will actually download it. I also wrote a blog post for another client, then contacted a third one who said they have some more work for me.

It's finally time for lunch now, and I'm feeling good with the day's progress thus far. While it was great to visit with everyone, September has been a very busy month. It's nice to get back into the zone of my freelance flow.

Sep. 3
Everything Old is New Again

About a year ago, I blogged about a time three years earlier when I moved to a new city and took a job at a cute little cafe, even though it wasn't in my field. I figure an interesting life is one that is full of new and unexpected experiences and I was attracted to this little cafe for a few reasons. It didn't matter much to me that I'd be paying my bills as a barista instead of as a writer for a while. Instead I looked at it as the opportunity to try something different, make new friends, and, yes, eat some really good food. By allowing myself to enjoy the experience, I was able to make the most of my time there, instead of viewing it as a temporary means for income and totally wasting my time there.

Working at the cafe, I made the most of my time making sandwiches by also making lasting friendships. I didn't just learn how to do fancy heart art on the cappuccinos; I also had the chance to showcase my own art on the walls. I didn't just expand my culinary skills preparing delicious food; I also had the chance to keep my marketing skills fresh by taking over the cafe's advertising, social media, and launching their newsletter.

I certainly cannot take any credit for the cafe's "right place, right time" success, but it has been a joy to watch it grow in popularity since it opened its doors 5 years ago. The little hub is frequently credited in the press for its revival of the neighbourhood, by giving the community an inviting and comfortable place to come together. It was really the first to attract many other businesses to the hood, making the area much more vibrant than only a handful of years ago. Not to mention, they're always winning all kinds of awards and accolades for their amazing breakfast sandwich. But before I get myself starved for hot buttery biscuits, I will get to the point of this post....

This week my friend, the Cafe Owner (CO), shot me a note asking for some marketing assistance. She felt I made an impact back in the day when they were just getting started, and was hoping I had some time to work with her again. Of course I'm more than happy to!

The cafe does great business from walk-in customers; however, part of their revenue also comes from their catering services and being rented out as an event space. Even though the holiday season is still a few months away, now is the time most businesses start planning for their holiday parties. Obviously, CO wants to get the word out now in order to boost bookings. She asked me to map out a strategy, deadlines and quote. So I did. Here are the highlights of what I proposed:

1. Website: Ensure the web content is search engine optimized so it has a better chance of appearing when people Google holiday event space rentals in Toronto.

2. Premium Content & Offer: To attract and qualify leads, I will create a Free Event Planning Checklist that people can download from the website by entering their email address.

A week after they download the checklist, I will send out a follow-up email to see how their event planning is going and remind them about the cafe's special offers: 10 percent off your event space rental or a free space rental with a $500 catering order

3. Social: Twelve weeks of paid Facebook promotions at a modest weekly budget, advertising the premium content and offers described above. These will be targeted to the 2,000+ fans of the cafe's page, friends of fans, and other qualifiers to better target our audience.

By having 12 weeks of lead-time, we can experiment and watch the analytics to see who is responding to which ads. Qualifiers and ad content may change based on what's working and what isn't.

4. Email Campaign: Spam laws make it illegal for businesses to randomly email anyone who hasn't specifically agreed to receive correspondence from you. Because the cafe once had a monthly newsletter, they have already built up a decent opt-in list of loyal fans. This means we can jump right into emailing those customers with our premium content and offer.

In addition to all of the above, CO would also like to kick-start her blog and newsletter again. I had resigned from doing all this a couple years ago when I got too busy with full-time work at the ad agency, plus my own projects. Now that I'm making a go of the freelance life, I'm once again more than happy to take 'em on again!

August 28, 2016
Songs of Opportunity

Sitting out back with my laptop beneath the trees, I can count at least four varieties of birds singing and chirping above me. My cat is scratching at the door to get out -- but that has more to do with the laptop keys clicking than the chickadees singing. (She's more of a spider and butterfly hunter anyway.) I feel like it's been a mellow week here, but looking through my day planner I realize it's been one singing with variety.

As I've mentioned before, I make a habit of saying yes to almost every project that crosses my path, including a lot of volunteer ones, because you never know when something might turn into something more. Naturally, not all projects happen or at least not quickly. Things take time, as people like to get their ducks (or writers) in a row months before they need to. So I just keep saying yes, figuring that things will fall together whenever or however they're meant to.

However, lately, conversations from nearly a year ago are resurfacing, along with a few new opportunities. While most of my projects are one-time projects or don't require a long-term or time-consuming commitment, two of these new opportunities would likely require me to allocate substantial time towards them as I would be in a management role.

This week I started getting my toes wet with the first "big" opportunity that was initially mentioned to me last October. A national digital media company is expanding its services to include a marketing division. I've been doing a fair bit of writing for the CEO over the last year. She is a super smart salesperson, but marketing communications is not her wheelhouse. Since I've been writing most of her communications for a while now, I've gradually stepped into the role of directing her company's marketing communications as well.

This means that each month I'll be responsible for creating a marketing content calendar and writing....

  • Blogs two or three times per month
  • Social media content every day for Facebook and Twitter
  • Marketing campaigns once a month, which includes customized email and landing page content, as well as a call to action that ties into at least one of the blogs and some of the social media content each week
  • Downloadable resources to go hand-in-hand with the marketing campaigns and help generate new leads. For example, when prospects enter their email address to download "20 Tips to Improve Your Company's Digital Marketing", they qualify themselves as a possible lead, because we now know that they want to improve their marketing and might benefit from our services.

As the company's marketing clients grow, I'll be writing more blogs, website content, newsletters and campaigns for their business as well. Right now only a few of the company's media clients have started using their marketing services, but there's tons of room to grow once the marketing side of the business "officially" launches - which is what September is all about.

It's an exciting opportunity to be able to lead the marketing team, even if that team only consists of a designer and a virtual assistant right now. In the future, it'll also be my job to hire new writers as the workload piles on (and fingers crossed, it will.)

Then there's the other "big" contract opportunity I've agreed to, which involves managing the public relations and marketing for a certain genre of independent films. This one I've been more wishy-washy about since it's not my preferred genre, but work is work. I've been in frequent contact with the owner of the entertainment company and was recently given an 85-page marketing plan to read. However, as of this morning, I'm starting to get the sense that they might be looking for me to invest more "free time" towards their projects than I'm comfortable with.

The preface to this long-winded document informed me they're now switching gears with their company's focus. They've decided not to market others' films in this genre, but instead focus their efforts on promoting their own projects (which are still in early development) adding the line "the money WILL come." That tells me to proceed with caution. While I don't mind volunteering my services for friends or causes I believe in, in this case it feels like a bit of a bait and switch. I'm not getting paid to read the novella on how they plan to market their unfinished project, and words like "help" and "insight" often indicates volunteer. Since I have no established relationship with this contact and I don't like their genre of film, it's definitely not something I want to volunteer my time on.

I guess like the birds singing above me, some opportunities sound more pleasant than others. There are those I want to nurture and feed, and others that I'd be fine to see fly away. It might be time to let the cat out...

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August 24, 2016
Old Endings, New Beginnings

Before summer break, I left off on a bit of a cliffhanger as I felt myself being pulled along a reluctant journey into a shark tank. To recap, my co-writer and I were going into contract negotiations for our TV series idea with some pretty shady people. The red flags were there from the very beginning.

My co-writer originally reached out to the production company via LinkedIn. However, they had no common connections.) The moment their VP of Development read our synopsis, he began frequently sending us long-winded emails and press releases. It struck me as strange that he was trying so hard to build up the reputation of his company. - especially since he had only read a brief synopsis. That is not how the industry works. A production company usually doesn't pitch itself to writers. As writers, we're expected to pitch our projects to them. First red flag.

I was uncomfortable, but my co-writer convinced me that they were a new, hungry company looking for exciting projects. I decided there was no harm with her meeting them to get a better feel in person while she was in L.A. When my co-writer called me with her first impressions, I could sense a shade of uncertainty beneath her usual enthusiasm. Still cautious, I agreed to join her in a call with the VP of Development and the Executive VP.

Both VPs seemed nice enough. Their excitement for our project's potential felt genuine, even though I couldn't confirm if they had actually read the script yet. I agreed it was OK for them to send us a contract to review. I didn't agree to their request that we discuss the details with them first before sending it to our agent. Especially considering all their calls are recorded. Second red flag.

The next day, when writing my weekly blog post for this site, I realized that I never caught the Executive VP's last name. I started doing some further research. He wasn't mentioned on their website nor on IMDB. Thankfully Google made a smart suggestion that led me to thousands of articles about this man's other aliases, his run in with the FBI for fraud, among other sleazy practices. Let's count that as 342,000 red flags, as per my Google search results.

I felt sick. My agent and co-writer suggested that the crimes he was charged with are common practice among producers. "He was just stupid enough to try that trick too many times with the same bank and he got caught." Great. So he's shifty AND stupid. That didn't exactly ease my mind. At this point I had stopped counting the red flags. I felt pressured to agree to further negotiations, on the condition that their vague contract could be transformed into a good deal, and if we could guarantee their accountability. I wasn't holding my breath, because honestly, a deal is only as good as the people you're making it with.

Of course, to ensure we were proposing a rock solid contract with our best interests at heart, we had to invest in a lawyer. I rationalized that even if this deal fell through, it was worth the money to protect us from diving like a chump into a shark tank. The contract was returned to the producers. We heard nothing for two weeks. Finally, they contacted us to say they sent the deal notes back to our agent a week earlier and hadn't heard anything. Were we in or not?

I had a call with our agent to see what the deal was. (No pun intended.) She expressed her frustration. The producers changed much of the legal language in the contract and a few other deal points, basically making it into a very bad deal for us. She said she was so angry that she didn't know how to handle it. I told her I was fine with just letting this deal go. Meanwhile, my co-writer suggested that we all have another chat with the lawyer. I didn't participate in the chat. I didn't need both our agent and a lawyer to convince me that these guys were fools. The outcome of their conversation was to give the producers two days to agree to certain terms or else we would end negotiations.

The next day while I was in line at the grocery story, my co-writer called me in a breathless panic. "Have you read your email?!" I hadn't. She reassured me not to panic. (I wasn't.) She had already spoken to our agent, and everything was going to be okay - she was not going to honor their accusations with a response.

Honor their accusations? What? My co-writer then informed me that the producers had sent us a very nasty email. They accused us of shopping our project around behind their backs, which is considered poor form for writers. They taunted that they already had a $1.5 million VR game deal lined up for our series, but we blew the opportunity with our dishonesty. As a result of us wasting their time, THEY were ending negotiations with US. Ha!

This did not upset me. In fact, their ridiculous audacity only made me laugh. I promised my co-writer that I wouldn't panic or get angry when I finally read what harsh words they had to say. Then I got off the phone, paid for my groceries, deleted the email without ever reading it, and enjoyed the rest of my weekend.

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June 17, 2016
Contract Cliffhanger

Wondering how long negotiations will take between our agent and these producers is like wondering how long is a piece of string. I really have no idea. After we agreed to move forward, I could only assume that things were clicking along behind the scenes without my involvement. However, yesterday I learned that wasn't true.

Last Friday, my co-writer received a missed call from one of the producers. Because the producers are to deal with our agent only, my co-writer emailed her to see where she was at with them and what their call might be concerning. Our agent never replied.

Now, this isn't too unusual. I'd say our agent never gets back to about 70 percent of correspondence. Actually, talk show host Bill Maher joked the other week about how he can't get his agent to return his calls -- which I'm sure isn't true, but it does speak to a stereotypical reputation. Agents are often portrayed as being either sleazy or flakey. Despite being a lovely woman, ours seems to be the latter.

Most production companies won't accept unsolicited material, so having an agent to vouch for you and pass your script along means that you're a legitimate professional. When we approach a cold contact, it works 1000 percent to our benefit to say, "Can we have our agent send the script to you?" Without having her in our back pocket, we wouldn't get through any doors at all. Where our agent really earns her 10 percent is by handling all contracts for us.... which brings me back to this week.

A couple days ago, co-writer received a call from a different number. This time she picked up. It was the other producer wondering if we were still interested in dealing with them. They were still eager to work with us, but hadn't heard from our agent in two weeks. Keep in mind, she had previously told us that it was important to get back to them within 24 - 48 hours of that first (and apparently only) call. The producers said it's not uncommon for an agent not to act right away on an offer, allowing the deal to die before it even gets to the table. (See note on agent stereotypes above.) They were happy to hear our revised deal points were still forthcoming, and suggested we give our agent a nudge - which we did.

Scattered as usual, our agent suggested the delay was due to her meeting with her team to get their feedback on the deal first. She promised to send the revised points off to the producers within the next three hours, and asked if we wanted to see them beforehand. My co-writer basically told her that if she was just changing the items we previously discussed, then no, we don't need to see the points again - just hurry up and get it to them. I wasn't on the call to suggest we proof it first - or else I would have.

After sending the points off to the producers, our agent forwarded them along to us to review. The name of their company was spelled wrong throughout. My last name was misspelled throughout. There were also two points that were different than what we discussed. We let her know. She didn't address the sloppiness, but explained that those two points were changed as part of a negotiating tactic. I was fine with her decision.

After sending the producers the revised points, they got back to our agent right away and asked why she still hadn't sent the contract. She explained that she didn't want to go to the effort of updating the whole contract if they weren't going to agree to some of these bigger points she changed. (Do I laugh or sigh? I can't decide if her approach is smart or just lazy?) The producers requested the full contract anyway, which she feels is a good sign. I agree it's not a bad sign... but I think they just want her to do her job and negotiate the deal properly. Which isn't such a bad sign either. She agreed to have the updated contract to them by today.

So, I guess I am to assume that negotiations are now happening behind the scenes. Exactly where I was a week ago. I can't help but wonder where I'll be when I return to this blog in August? Maybe we'll have our series in development... or maybe I'll be focused on something different altogether!

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June 13, 2016
Line in the Sand

It's been another interesting week. Not quite as dramatic as the one before, as I'm trying hard to keep a balanced perspective as things unfold.

On Tuesday, my cowriter got a text from the production company. They wanted to know when our agent would be in touch. It seems they're still interested after all. I was somehow hoping our attempt to do things properly turned them away.

We regrouped. Our agent told us that she had been doing some further digging. She admitted that what this producer got in trouble for is actually pretty common practice in the film industry - using an unofficially signed deal memo (based on a verbal agreement) as collateral to get the money to shoot a movie. This guy made the mistake of getting caught by a bank that got extra angry with him. Wanting to set an example, they made it a federal case - quite literally.

Our agent chuckled that while it certainly doesn't excuse his bad behavior, she has yet to meet a producer who is 100 per cent honest about everything. I'd like to hope that's not true - and yet I've never met anyone who is 100 percent squeaky clean (although some shades of grey are darker than others). Anyway, she agreed to meet with these producers and get a feel for them herself.

Now, what I didn't mention in my earlier posts is that when I first spoke to these two men, I found myself completely on the same page as them. They seemed to understand our vision for the series and its potential. If my gut relied on how I felt about them based on that conversation, it would be very different than how I feel based on my Google search results.

What also adds to my inner conflict, besides the lack of specific details in the contract, is that the overall deal itself is actually very fair. Plus, they are offering my cowriter and I co-creator and executive producer credits. This may not sound like a big deal to get "credit" for something you created, but it usually doesn't happen that way. Often writers will sell a script and get credited for writing the story, but lose all control of what happens to it. In the end, they may not recognize it at all... if it even gets made. If our series gets off the ground, as co-creators and executive producers we will be involved in its evolution. While other parties will certainly have their share of input, to some extent it will continue to be a reflection of our vision, and we will get credit (and paid!) for that.

Of course, what does any of this good stuff matter if you can't trust the people you're working with? I was curious to hear our agent's impressions after chatting with them.

We regrouped again. Our agent said she had a very nice conversation, and that they said all the right things whenever she challenged them. They got the point and still seemed game to play. She suggested that if we were able to get them to agree to terms we're comfortable with, and if we hired an entertainment lawyer to review the contract to ensure we're protected from any possible shenanigans, it could be an excellent opportunity. As it stands, the contract is only for 18 months - not the usual four to five years - so, if things don't work out, it's not a huge time loss in the end.

Before moving forward, my co-writer had a consultation with an entertainment lawyer. (Now there's a lucrative career to consider! For her to review our contract it's going to cost us $255/hour -- which is actually less than I was expecting. The international business lawyer I just worked with charges $650!) The lawyer advised including a separate point in the contract about audit rights, so there is a promise of transparency and accountability. She also reinforced that the overall the deal sounded very fair, and pointed out a few other good things that have us covered as well.

We regrouped once more. It was decided that if we choose to ignore this particular producer's past - which I'm not crazy about doing, as I'd much rather learn from history... even though his past is apparently no worse than that of his producing peers -- and just move forward as legally as possible, it could be a very good thing. It's also completely possible that they might not want to agree to all our terms, and the deal dissolves naturally. Either way, if we do things right, we have nothing to lose.

So, like I said, I'm trying hard to keep that "nothing to lose" perspective - drawing a line in the sand to define what amount of yuckiness I'll accept in my life... hanging on to hope that the one thing I have to lose -- my integrity -- doesn't gradually get washed away.

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Jun. 7, 2016
Go With Your Gut

Today I finally feel like I can embrace the day with a clear mind and heart. But up until now, this has been a gut-wrenching week for me. On one hand, it felt good to know that my early red flag with this production company was warranted, as much as I tried to dismiss it. I was immediately suspicious of all their eager attention, as they heavily promoted their company to us before even reading our script. My cowriter was right when she said they were hungry.

Hungry sharks!

Unfortunately, convincing my dear cowriter of such has been my biggest challenge. When she saw that one link was from the FBI, she became fixated on trying to disprove that this man could be our guy. Her research finally confirmed that it was his full name - which is where I ended last week's post. You'd think the next thing she'd do is finish reading that FBI article, and then maybe some of the other 150,000+ search results you find when you Google his name. I know that's what I spent my time doing: researching this man with the shady past. This man who forged documents, lied to the FBI, and wore a wire to shift blame onto his partners. This man my co-writer wants us to do business with!

Instead, while I'm agonizing about the reality of the situation, she's updating her Facebook status with phrases like, "Dreams really do come true!" Ack. More like a nightmare!

It took her six days to read beyond the opening paragraph on that link from the FBI. After she confirmed the name, she somehow gleaned from the first paragraph that his charges couldn't be that serious, and never got around to reading the rest. Like I said, it's been a gut-wrenching week.

In that time, I've been killing myself trying to get her on the same page as me. A few days after this discovery, the production company's contract arrived. My cowriter was so worried that they had lost interest in us, but I knew there was no way. They told us to discuss the contract with them first (on their recorded conference call line) before showing anything to our agent. No way! At least she agreed with me on that point -- we show the contract to our agent first. That's her job!

Before connecting with our agent, my co-writer and I had a pretty passionate phone call. I re-emphasized the fact that this company is intentionally hiding the Executive Vice President's last name; I can't find anything online at all about the president's history - which tells me it's an alias; and that the guy we've been dealing with was also the screenwriter on one of the most recent fraud deals -- an incident that took place even more recently than the FBI case. Red flag, red flag, red flag! I'm not going to be an idiot and go into an agreement with someone I can't trust. (She didn't like the idiot comment, but I recovered quickly. I honestly didn't mean to call her an idiot... I was just feeling like one.)

I very reluctantly agreed that we wouldn't mention our suspicions of these characters in our call with the agent. We only wanted to hear her thoughts about the contract for now. I felt sick, but I knew that I wouldn't be signing anything, so I decided it was fine to bite my tongue for now.

Our agent's initial impressions was that the contract looked like a great deal overall; however, some fees were too low, other percentages were too high, and there were zero specifics on anything. She told us that as long as these guys aren't slime balls and we all trust and like each other (ha!), we can tell them that we're excited about the opportunity, but please connect with our agent moving forward.

Yeah....

My cowriter let them know in an email. AND THEN, she finally decided to finish reading the articles and do some more research on who we were dealing with. One of the guys left her a polite, brief message on her phone asking to speak.

We just had a call and she's turned a big corner. Thank goodness! She suggested we could at least honor the request to have a call with them - but commit to absolutely nothing, and defer everything back to our agent. We could also use it as an opportunity for Executive Vice President, Mr. First Name Only to come clean with us, and give them a chance to be legit. She texted back, letting them know that we are fine to talk.

Haven't heard anything yet. And with any luck, we won't.

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May 30, 2016
Misadventures in Hollywood

Shortly after writing my last post, my co-writer called. She had received a text from the production company. One of their executives had just returned from the Cannes Film Festival in France and wanted to meet us sooner than we expected to talk about our pilot. We arranged a conference call for noon on Saturday.

Now! I was originally going to write this week's post about what we discussed in our call. There are some pretty exciting opportunities and overwhelming work ahead if we sign this deal.... However, a new mystery began to unfold only moments ago. In fact, it happened as soon as I started writing this post!

I was searching online and through my emails to find the proper title of the executive who just back from Cannes. (He's the executive vice-president, btw.) That's when I realized that I never actually got his last name. I tried Google, which made a connection for me that I didn't expect. Google suggested a last name, which led me to a press release on the FBI's website! I'm serious....

Apparently, a few years ago, a producer with the same first name as the man we met went to prison for bank fraud. In a nutshell, he was getting approved for huge bank loans to produce movies using forged documents that made it look like certain deals were in place before they actually were. He made a plea bargain to work with the FBI and wear a wire to trap someone else who was in on the scheme - the brains of the operation, he said. As it turns out, that was a lie under oath, because he was actually the initiator of the whole thing, not the other guy.

Suffice to say, my heart has been pounding! I sent an email to my co-writer to see if she remembers the executive's name. I keep thinking, oh please, oh please, oh please, don't be our guy!

We haven't signed any deals yet, but the conversation really went well. It actually lowered my previous red flags that were set off by their eagerness. But this red flag I can't ignore. I try to rationalize that once caught, twice shy - even so, it still speaks volumes to one's integrity of character. And that makes me nervous.

Okay, my co-writer just got back to me. As it turns out, his last name is not so different at all. In fact, in one of the articles I read, he sometimes goes by a similar alias. Yup. Sadly, I think he's our guy.

Jeez Louise... She just sent me a second link. Full name and company confirmed. He's definitely the guy.

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May 24, 2016
The Good and the Ugly

When I reflect on this past week, it has certainly had its share of big highs and lows. I can't help but smile a little in recognition of this pattern I always seem to repeat. Maybe this happens to all of us, but I've noticed the most exciting moments in my life are always contrasted by concerns for heavier things. The balance between the two events often arrives days apart - at this point, I should almost be able to predict it! I could probably rattle off a dozen examples of times this has happened, but I'll stick to the week at hand.

I'll start with the ugly since that happened first. Last Friday, my memoir co-writer discovered that she has breast cancer. The good news is she feels confident they caught it as early as possible and expects to have surgery very soon. However, she is already going through a lot of other really difficult life stuff, so I feel awful that she has this to deal with too.

Interestingly enough, she calls the diagnosis a wake up call and pin in her side to wrap up the memoir. She's been absolutely pouring herself into writing these last few days as a constant distraction. She is like a machine, sending me more material than I can keep up with. I've yet to read her 10+ pages of new insights, let alone incorporate them into earlier chapters. From what she's shared with me so far, these additional experiences are really going to help enhance the themes that tie her life story together. And what a life! She's already an incredible survivor. I have no doubt she'll beat breast cancer too.

On Monday came the good news. My other co-writer for the sci-fi pilot had her meeting with the L.A. production and distribution company. Since the last time I mentioned them, they've continued forwarding us press releases of the recent deals they've made. I've been trying to dismiss their enthusiasm -- it's so unusual it makes me uncomfortable. I'm used to being on the end that holds none of the cards. I was hopeful my co-writer could get a good read on these guys face-to-face, and determine if they are seriously legit, or if they're just good at creating a buzz. (Which isn't such a bad thing to have on your side either.)

Cutting to the chase, my co-writer said that the meeting was great. They love our story and the writing, but are also super enthusiastic about our project for a variety of other reasons, which explains why they were all over us before they even read. Their initial interests had to do with funding opportunities and VR gaming connections. It sounds like they could be a good fit for us, but there are still some important details that need to be ironed out. We're supposed to have a conference call next week to ensure everyone is on the same page. If we decide to go with these guys, then we're one big step closer to getting our series made!

Truth be told, it almost makes me weak in the knees with butterflies of nervousness and excitement to think that I might have to write the rest of the episodes for this crazy series. I would love the opportunity to work in a writer's room, bouncing ideas around, but the thought of all the work ahead is a little daunting too. Fortunately, I've never shied away from doing a ton of work. Anyway, we'll see what happens. I'm not going to get ahead of myself good, bad or otherwise. It's better to keep a balanced perspective and ride the waves as they come.

May 9, 2016
Derailed

I swear I was probably as distracted this week, as I was productive. My day timer looks full, giving the impression of a busy week. But the way things look in writing, and the actual hours spent writing, are two different things.

Here's what I know I got done this week:

- Wrote a blog about a new hybrid car coming out this summer.

- Wrote an article about factors that can influence college decisions.

- Wrapped up the final tweaks to the lawyer's website.

- Clarified the image consultant's service offerings for her site.

- Fleshed out campaign ideas with my activist friends.

- Tweaked a line in the sci-fi pilot to something better.

- Discussed some new material my cowriter wants to add to her memoir.

- Edited my cartoon pilot.

This is what I felt like I spent all my time doing:

- Gardening. I probably spent about six hours between two days, but I never have any regrets about gardening. It's best to do during certain hours of the day, so you need to grab those hours when you can. Plus, the microbes in the soil promote mental health. Gardening is good for you! I've definitely been enjoying my gardening breaks between writing projects. OK, so like I said, no regrets with this one.

- Unpacking. I've had a few boxes in storage for nearly four years that I just retrieved this weekend. I've been tripping down memory lane quite a bit, rediscovering old photo albums, family heirlooms, and meaningful trinkets that have been stashed away out of sight and mind. It's been kind of nice. In which case, I guess I don't really regret the time I've spent doing that either. I got a task out of the way, and enjoyed myself in the process.

- Monitoring. My niece recently inspired me to join a site where artists can display and sell their work. She mostly uses it to express herself artistically with drawings, quotes, and photos. Anyway, it's pretty cool. Of course, what isn't cool are online predators. After posting her first photo of herself, she has had a certain fellow hanging around. She shared his messages with me, which is the smart thing to do. I suppose I don't regret the time I've spent casually keeping an eye on this creep. I do, however, regret that this is something young women have to deal with.

- Planning. I'm so ridiculous sometimes. I knew what restaurant I wanted to eat at for my birthday dinner next week. Still, I probably wasted a good hour or two this week reading reviews on every other restaurant in town. In the end, I went with my first choice. I can't be the only person who does this... .

So that was my week -- which probably balanced out a lot more than I realized. I think it's because my writing time was splintered between lots of little things that it didn't feel as significant next to my other bigger distractions. I suppose it was a fairly productive week after all.

Apr. 11, 2016
Time to Blog

One of the contracts I recently picked up is writing a blog for a car dealership. Full disclosure: I don't know anything about cars. I don't even drive. I mean, I've had my learner's a few times, but I've always let it expire before going for the full deal.... Yes, it's a lifelong issue that probably has its roots in my childhood, but that's a topic for a different blog. Finding things to say about cars when I know nothing about them is my topic for this blog today.

Right now, I'm basically on my own to write and publish whatever I think sounds good. While I appreciate the autonomy, I do wish I had some guidance - otherwise I'll never have any idea if the material I'm writing is the kind of content they're looking for. I just have to use my best judgement to ensure that I'm saying what the dealership would want me to say. For example, in my research I read quite a few negative things about leasing a car. Obviously, a dealership would want me to highlight the benefits of leasing instead of drawing attention to the concerns.

So far, I've written three posts: the first was to introduce the blog to readers; the second one provides tips on shopping for a new car; and the third post is about how to get your car ready for summer. Thank goodness for Google - I've got an instant education at my fingertips. Despite my lack of expertise or insight from the client, I'll admit that I've been having a bit of fun researching cars and applying this newfound knowledge into snappy little blog posts.

The only issue I have with this contract is that the budget is lower than originally suggested. To balance the scales, I've been trying to reduce the amount of time I invest into each post.... but that's really hard. While I do believe it is good practice for me to be more aware of the time I spend writing and attempt to compose things faster, I'm hampered by my addiction to tweaking. I frequently spend too much time playing around with words or rewriting things, instead of just calling it a day. Once you add my time spent tweaking on top of my time spent researching and writing, my hourly rate quickly plummets.

Then again, I guess if I enjoy what I'm doing, it's not about the money, is it? It's about writing something new and building my portfolio. It's about getting a foot in the door for other projects coming down the pipeline. It's about accepting my process for better or worse, and just going with the freelance flow.

April 18, 2016
Productive Distractions

In case I didn't mention it one hundred times before, I enjoy having variety in my workload. Jumping between projects keeps my mind active and my eyes fresh. I like that I can take a break from working on one project, while still being productive on another. Then when I return to the first one, I can spot things I missed more easily.

This was already shaping up to be a very productive week bouncing between projects, but then a few more to-dos began cropping up. Next thing I knew, I found myself working from morning to night - but actually enjoying it.

My original projects lined up for this week included:

1. Wrapping up website tweaks and a LinkedIn bio for a general contractor who focuses on building for wellness and sustainability

2. Writing a whole bunch of web content for an international business lawyer who has handled a wide variety of unique clients, but for confidentiality reasons, cannot speak to the specifics of anything he's done. (Now that's been an interesting challenge!)

3. Helping an image consultant decide what services she wants to offer on her new website. We're still getting there... v

4. Incorporating new material into the biography manuscript

5. Polishing up the second draft of my cartoon series pilot

6. Oh yes, and writing this blog! Ha.

It was already looking like a pretty full week. But then....

After an inspiring presentation on a cause I care about, a couple of friends and I started collaborating on ways we could contribute our skills to make a difference. We've started outlining our content ideas for couple of online resources we want to build. Obviously this will be no small undertaking, but we're realistic and don't expect things to happen overnight. My personal goal is to launch in six months. Maybe.

Then, while I was entering our ideas into a project management system, my sister texted me. She decided to start selling make-up from home, and asked me to help her build a Facebook group. She was texting me with questions every two minutes, so it was much easier to just create the content myself. (Admittedly, it was kind of fun too.) I have a feeling that I will be creating her FB posts for her on an ongoing basis, but I don't mind. Maybe she can return the favor by sending me some of that fancy mascara she's hocking.

Finally, a woman I used to volunteer with asked me to write her a letter of recommendation. No big deal - she was a pleasure. Even so, it was another task added to my increasingly bulging basket. She immediately called to thank me afterwards, but I was busy and missed her call. It's been two days and I still haven't called her back yet. Yikes. Does this make me a bad person? (And yet, how could I be a bad person if I just wrote her a page full of flattery?) Honestly, I'm just not a phone person and would rather get work done than shoot the breeze for an hour or two, which is how long her calls tend to go. I guess I should at least send her an email reply so I don't come off as rude. I'll put that on my to-do list for today!

But first things first, after a week spent working day and night indoors, I have to go get outside for some sunshine....right now! I think I've earned it.

April 11, 2016
The Making of a Memoir

I mentioned the other week that I was given the opportunity to pitch the memoir I'm currently co-writing to a large literary agency. While I've written numerous proposals for work over the years, I've never written a book proposal before.

I started out by doing some research. I read a handful of reputable articles about book proposals and then spent the next two weeks furiously working away on our own. I was pretty impressed with what I managed to come up in such short order since I kept reading that some proposals can easily take months to iron out. (Yikes!) Fortunately, our story is nonfiction with a specific narrative already set in place by the life events of my co-writer. Solidifying our storyline was not a time-consuming challenge, unlike what a fiction writer might encounter when outlining their book.

Our final proposal included....

- Synopsis - A one-page summary on what the book is about.

- Chapters Outline - Brief descriptions that follow the main storyline (no subplots). I started each with an italicized quote pulled from that particular chapter to help give our characters a voice.

- Sequels - My co-writer wants to do a three-part series as her adventures continue. I wrote brief summaries of what the follow-up books would entail.

- Audience - We identified who we would market the book to based on the demographics (age, location, gender, etc.) of those who are already reading the blog. This was easily facilitated by our Facebook page stats as it allows us to track those who are engaging the most with our posts.

- Similar Publications - Three examples of other books with similar themes or that target a similar market. We then identified what makes our book different - and better!

- Writer's Bio - Here I provided my bio only, since my co-writer is the subject of the memoir. Therefore, the first 19 pages of our proposal were all about her.

I also included relevant photos throughout the package as a means of adding a punch of color and reinforcing the "real life" factor.

As fate would have it, the day I was wrapping up the final tweaks on our package, I was contacted by the agency. Before even reading our proposal, they requested to read the manuscript as soon as it was ready. I sent the proposal anyway, and told them that the final draft of the manuscript is underway.

My co-writer is currently re-writing the final two chapters, which have been the most emotionally exhausting for her. Meanwhile, I've started going through earlier chapters with fresh eyes. Even though this isn't my life story, I've become incredibly close to it over the last four years. I know the stories that are being told between the lines. Our readers won't.

Plus, over the last few months, my co-writer has revealed a lot of new heavy material that has a real impact on the story. While most names have been changed, there is still a lot of content that could ruffle some feathers. But how much does one say without either disturbing readers or risk being too vague? I think casually alluding to events can do a greater disservice than spelling out the truth. Otherwise, readers will fill in the blanks themselves and quite possibly jump to the wrong conclusions. My current challenge is to find a better balance between discretion and clarity within these first few chapters. A delicate dance, but it will only help to make the memoir stronger in the end.

March 29, 2016
Freelance Flow

There's a saying that when you're a freelancer, your workload is either like a feast or famine. I've done the famine thing more often than not, but over these last few weeks more opportunities have been piling on my plate, promising a future feast.

I find I am always the most productive when I have lots to do. I suppose that sounds like stating the obvious - when you have more work, naturally you have more reason to be productive. I guess what I mean is the more work I have, the more inspired I am to work. I love having a variety of different projects to jump between. If I hit a wall or get bored with one project, I can switch directions by diving into something else. Then when I finally return my focus back to the first project, I see it again with fresh eyes.

Aside from a varied workload, I also really enjoy the freedom and flexibility of a freelance lifestyle. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I recently moved. Since the move, I've taken on a few home-improvement type projects, like refinishing some second-handed furniture and getting a jump on gardening season. Having a variety of physical tasks to do mixes up the day and gives my eyes a break from the computer screen. Also, much like jumping between different writing assignments, physical activity helps to get the creative juices flowing too. Even just stepping out for a walk or doing a little housework can give your subconscious an opportunity to mull things over, while you focus your energy elsewhere. I know a writer who always has their biggest epiphanies in the bathtub.

Between the new work coming in and my productivity around the house, I really feel like I've been in a good groove. I feel more in control than ever before. I'm sure part of that has to do with finally settling into a more permanent place. I was living in a vacation rental for the last six months, and I think when your life is in transition, there is a greater feeling of uncertainty. Then again, there is no certainty in even the most stable and predictable of lifestyles. The only constant in life is change.

Fortunately, I'm pretty happy with the way things are changing right now and am excited to see what happens next! Maybe my writing contract with the media company really takes off. Maybe one of my passion projects gets picked up. Or maybe I suddenly find the need to subsidize my income by frothing lattes for a while. No matter what happens, I will do my best to continue going with the flow, embracing whatever change may come.

March 22, 2016
Prepping to Pitch

It's been an interesting week on the passion project side of things.

My co-writer on the sci-fi project recently learned that the pilot she acted in has been green lit. She'll be in L.A. shooting the first season for a few months, and plans to take advantage of that time to pitch our project to whoever will listen.

To enhance our pitch package it was suggested that we create a sizzle reel, which is like a fake trailer that conveys the tone of the series. Last week we passed along our script, some voice-over narrative and a bunch of inspirational clips to a video editor. A few days later, he sent us back his first draft of a sizzle reel. It was interesting to see what he came up with and how it makes our project feel even more tangible with visuals and music. We had a handful of notes that he was impressively able to implement in short order, and in less than a week, we had a legit sizzle reel. Hopefully it'll help excite potential producers. It certainly can't hurt.

Also this week I was contacted out of the blue by an old schoolmate. Growing up, I wasn't a close friend with this particular individual as she was a grade below me, but we did have one art class together in high school, and she seemed like a very nice person. Anyway, she happened to see my face pop up on a mutual friend's Facebook page, and thought the background of my photo had a familiar landscape. We both grew up on the other side of the country, so when she discovered that I lived in the same city as her, she reached out to see if I wanted to grab a coffee.

As it turns out, we had more common ground to discuss than just art class and our little hometown. I discovered that she is currently working as an assistant professor of literature at the local university and her partner is also a writer. As we chatted about our lives and the paths we've taken, the conversation turned to creative projects. I enthusiastically shared the details of the biography I'm helping to write about a fascinating woman. She was gripped. After a pause, she pulled out her phone and scrolled through her contacts, asking if I was interested in pitching it to a friend of hers who was a literary agent with a big publishing agency in NYC. He was always asking her if she knew of anyone with exciting new material he could read.

While my co-writer (who is the subject of the memoir) and I still have two chapters left to complete in our book, I figured it couldn't hurt to make a new contact in the meantime. Plus, my current literary agent only represents me for screenwriting, so I could rest assured this wouldn't be a conflict of interest with her. When I got home, I researched the agency a bit and contacted my co-writer for her blessing. She was the one who excitedly pointed out the agency's fancy Park Ave. address. My classmate wasn't kidding - this really is a "big" agency!

I contacted the agent to introduce myself, and our project. He told me to send along a five- to 10-page proposal and he will pass it onto one of his colleagues who specializes in memoirs. I have written a synopsis for our story before and we have an ongoing blog, but I've yet to write full-on outline. Since most of the book has been written complete, I think it should be fairly straightforward to do a summary of each chapter. I told him I was currently reworking our package (which truthfully I started a long time ago, but then got sidetracked with other things since we weren't ready to pitch yet), and that I would have it to him sometime next week.

So guess what I'll be doing this weekend....

I just love when random stuff like this happens. It all goes back to what I was saying in a much earlier post about how you never know where future opportunities may come from. If I was the art class jerk, it's unlikely she would've reached out of a coffee 15 years later. Just goes to show that a good impression can go a long, long way!

March 7, 2016
Move It

What a whirlwind of a week! Timelines shifted by a month and I found myself in the midst of an unexpected move. My little lake-house was transitional, so I kept a lot of stuff in boxes that I shipped from out east. Even so, after six months I had unpacked enough, and I'm proud of how I managed to get it all packed up again so fast.

Moving is always a drag, but I've done it often enough in my life that I've found a rhythm. I try to make it into a bit of a game, fitting things together in boxes and packing as creative and efficient as possible -- like old school Tetris. Sounds lame, but it gets the job done.

Also like a bad game of Tetris is how everything can quickly pile up. Not just all your stuff in boxes, but all your other responsibilities. Even the most organized move still cuts into your schedule. Because this move wasn't planned in my immediate schedule, I didn't have time to prepare for it and had to push back a few writerly to-dos. Fortunately it was not a big deal, but still not ideal.

The whole moving out process took about a day and a half longer than I would've liked (even though I still insist I packed like a pro - you should see me go!). But instead of crashing at the end of the intense moving marathon, I think all the action got me into a focused flow that I was able to bring into my work. As soon as the process started to slow down, I've been crossing things off my list with a decent speed. I've even done a little spring-cleaning and removed some of the slightly dated items on my to-do list, like finalize a few further tweaks to our sci-fi show pitch package, and finish my profile on Basecamp so my clients can put a face to my name.

There's still a lot to do before I'll be all settled into the new place, but I think as long as I keep this motivated rhythm, it'll be a smooth and productive transition.

Feb. 22, 2016
Final Words From a Quitter

After a week of shifts at the angry little restaurant, I visited a lounge in another part of town. I had a hunch that the owners and I had some common acquaintances. (And by hunch, I mean I used LinkedIn.) To my surprise, the woman I listed as an employment reference was not just a close friend of the two managers, but she was also a witness at their wedding!

While it seemed like I had the job cinched, I didn't want to take any chances. Next, I paid a visit to my soon-to-be new neighborhood. Only three blocks from where I was about to move, was a cute organic cafe -- a little farm-to-table kind of place with smiley staff and big bright windows. The owner and I immediately hit it off on a personal level. She was a former English major who dreamed of becoming a writer. And I was a writer looking to pay the bills. She found it inspiring. And I learned to make lattes!

Within hours of getting the cute cafe gig, one of the lounge managers called me back. Could I start tomorrow? I felt an obligation to the lounge since we had mutual friends, so I decided to see if I could swing both jobs. The next morning I headed in for my first shift.

Even though it was a sunny day out, you'd never know it at the lounge. The windows were small and tinted. It was dark at 10 a.m. With the exception of The Price Is Right playing on all the TVs, the atmosphere was a bit more intense than I realized when I first applied. It wasn't my scene, but I knew I'd adjust. The real test would be my first night shift, which is a different beast from the day, and also what I'd be working the most.

The next afternoon, I began my first string of shifts at the cafe. Everyone on staff was so sweet and friendly. I loved that they supported local farmers. Plus, the food was amazing. I got a delicious free lunch with each shift, and could take home any leftover muffins and croissants after closing. Best of all, I would never have to work later than 6:00 p.m. at the latest, and could be home in five minutes.

I recognized that the cafe was the better fit, before I was due to work my second shift at the lounge. Then in a bizarre twist of fate, I discovered that a former acquaintance had also moved across the country at the same time, and got a job at the same lounge, on the same day, most likely using the same connections. I discovered this because she had just done her first shift as well when she contacted me out of the blue about taking over her next two. We ended up doing our second shifts together on the same night.

Full disclosure: while I've honestly tried at various points to like this person, I've always had a hard time respecting the way she acts and treats people. I knew I would have to find a way to gracefully handle her now that we were working together. After all, there are a lot of different personality types out there, not everyone is going to be your tribe. The shift went fine. I reminded myself again, like any new situation, I would adjust soon enough.

Closing time. I ran for blocks to catch the last subway at 2 a.m., but missed it. I'd have to take the night bus across town instead. I checked the route and schedule only to realize that the bus would drop me off in a sketchy area at around 3 a.m. From there, I would still have to walk over half a mile to get home. Now, I'm an avid walker, so half a mile is nothing in the daytime. Alone at night-- no thanks.

I hailed a cab. I already had enough shenanigans on my way to work that evening, I didn't need to take my chances on my way home. (Two blocks from the lounge, the guy on the sidewalk in front of me started chasing a group of tourists into the street with a hammer. Thankfully no one got hurt, but it definitely put some steam in my stride.) I realized then my nightly commute to and from the lounge wasn't going to work for me. The little cafe was looking better and better with its sunny atmosphere, sunny people, and the sun still shining on the walk home from work.

Before the lounge could write up the following week's schedule, I went in and apologized. I planned to accept the full time hours offered to me by the cafe. I felt bad, but it felt right.

Working at the cafe provided a perfect balance as I transitioned into my life in a new city. To keep my marketing skills sharp and my professional resume current, my boss paid me to do the cafe's social media, website and communications. The cafe also had a rotating collection of artwork by local artists. I've painted for as long as I can remember and have always wanted to have a public showing somewhere. The cafe gave me a goal to paint towards with an opportunity to fill the walls for a three-month show. My artwork got a warm response and gave me the encouragement to try showing my art somewhere else. And I did.

Lesson Learned: When you know, you know.

Feb. 15, 2016
More Advice From a Quitter

The next two jobs I quit early on actually took place within a couple weeks of each other. I certainly don't advocate jumping jobs so frequently, but given the circumstances of both, I still stand by my decisions to leave. I had just moved across the country to a new city. I knew I had to find work fast until I could land something more permanent in my field.

The first gig I picked up was at a high-end Italian restaurant in the Entertainment district. "Everyone wants to work here," I was told. "This is where a lot of celebrities eat when they come to town." I didn't care. The fact that this place attracted such upscale clientele actually seemed more nerve-wracking to me than exciting. I had handed my resume out to every eatery along restaurant row. This just happened to be the first one to offer me an interview the same day.

During my meeting with the manager, I honestly explained my lack of recent server experience, as it had been a few years. I had just moved to be closer to my family, and needed to quickly get back on my feet.

"Family is very important," the manager agreed. "You know, this is a family restaurant. For that reason, we're actually in a very strange position. We don't hire new people very often. Most of our staff has been with us for 10 years or more."

Restaurants typically have a high turn over. I was impressed by the longevity and dedication of the staff. It already sounded like a great place to work.

During my first shift, I was told multiple times that I needed to have very thick skin to work there. Apparently the girl I was replacing, the most recent newbie, had survived two years before she began to crack. A couple weeks earlier, she had left the building barefoot and screaming, never to return - or so the story goes. It sounded like a crazy tale meant to rattle me, but somehow I could almost understand it.

The staff was peppered with bullies, all connected to each other somehow through history, commonalities or blood. Instead of being trained, I was taunted. Everyone demanded perfect respect, but few gave it in return. When I asked about a process in the kitchen, I was curtly told how it was done and then warned, "I tell you once. Next time I won't be so nice." Gee, nothing like making the new girl feel welcome!

It didn't take long to realize that this place's vibe was not a healthy one. I had barely started my first shift and was already dreading my second.

I will admit there were a few individuals who weren't bullies. But their moments of kindness were chalk-full of red flags or whispered warnings. I've never been one for workplace politics, but I decided it might be wise to pay attention. I wanted to know why this was such a weird and hostile place to work.

Over the course of the week, the message was clearly spelled out for me without much reading between the lines. And I wasn't about to waste precious energy fighting to be an insider of such an abusive clique. Life is too short!

I found a job somewhere else, finished off my week, and collected my check.

Lesson learned: It's better to walk away from a bully or toxic situation early on, than to run barefoot and screaming two years later.

Feb. 10, 2016
Advice From a Quitter

Sometimes it can take a while to find the right window to leave a job, like with my friend Sophie. Financial obligations mean you really have to look before you leap. But that isn't to say you shouldn't take a leap of faith now and then to go after something you really want. You've got to let your gut be your guide.

It's also very important to let your gut be your guide for job situations that don't feel right.

I understand that time is precious when you're looking for work. You want to start bringing in some cash, and not pound the pavement forever and a day. But your life is precious too - which means your safety and wellbeing should always come first. Why get entrenched in an employment situation your gut tells you is wrong? You're far wiser to keep your eyes open for something better that doesn't give you any icky feelings.

In an earlier post I wrote about a "marketing job" where I was driven an hour outside town for an unpaid day of training. I was stuck with no way back, walking door-to-door selling dollar store items. That experience was enough to tell me that this company had a shifty way of doing business, and I was best to keep looking elsewhere.

That was not the only job where I lasted less than a week before walking away. I've done this three other times in my life. And I know that each time it was for the very best.

The first bad job I quit was the summer after I graduated from high school. I had recently moved out on my own, and had been working a fast food gig for a couple years. While doing laundry one afternoon, the Laundromat owner asked if I'd like a second job working for him. He was a one-man show and needed someone to free up his time so he could run errands, etc. The job involved selling soap, making change, wiping down the machines, and catching rays on the back deck. It sounded like an easy way to make a few extra bucks.

I had three shifts scheduled that week. By the end of the first shift, I already knew that I would not be going back for a second week. Sitting alongside the owner all day, I came to discover that he was horribly inappropriate. Honestly, just about everything he said went past the line of what is acceptable conversation. He even told me of crimes he wouldn't commit only because he is too lazy. -- like that somehow makes everything OK?

I cringe to remember how I tried to passively put him in his place with a polite smile and snappy comebacks. He deserved to be yelled at, at least. I really should've left sooner. Instead, I stuck it out and picked up my money at the end of the week with my boyfriend in tow. The owner did not have enough money to pay me at the time, saying I would have to return for the rest later. (I think he owed me less than $100 total.) I sent my boyfriend back alone two days later for the remainder, and started doing my laundry elsewhere.

Lesson learned: Don't let employers abuse their authority to make you feel uncomfortable. You don't deserve it and they certainly don't deserve you.

Jan. 29, 2016
Knowing When to Move On: Sophie's Story

I have an old friend whom I'll call Sophie. After going to university for social work, Sophie found a temporary summer job investigating insurance claims. Even though the job was not in her field and she didn't enjoy it, Sophie allowed herself to become trapped by golden handcuffs. The money was good, and whenever she considered quitting, Sophie's boss would always promise her more money (eventually, once X, Y, or Z happened) as incentive to hang on just a little longer.

For over five years, the majority of my conversations with Sophie were dominated by her venting about her toxic work environment, the around-the-clock phone calls from her boss, and the crazy things she made Sophie do - some of them not exactly legal, or at least against good moral judgement. Sophie's health and happiness seriously suffered as a result. She only quit when her doctor warned that she would soon end up in the hospital or worse if she didn't. After a two-week sick leave enforced by her doctor and boyfriend, Sophie came to the conclusion that she really couldn't go back.

Desperate to find a new job a.s.a.p., Sophie took the first one she could get. Sadly, she found herself in another toxic workplace. For almost two more years, Sophie talked about looking for a new job, stressed out and concerned that this company wasn't totally legit. Despite her gut instinct to leave, Sophie wanted to buy a house and therefore needed to prove that she had been in a stable job for a decent length of time. Sophie got the mortgage, but just a few months later, as suspected, the company went belly up due to poor business practices. Once again, Sophie was unemployed, only now with a mortgage to pay.

Fortunately, Sophie's partner helped her stay afloat until she finally found a job she could feel proud of. This new job was in office administration, within her desired field of social work. While certain aspects of the role weren't ideal, Sophie was happy enough and managed to rationalize any conflicts away. After all, she had just survived seven years of terrible employment situations, at this point she felt she could handle any challenge the job threw her way. And handle them she did!

In fact, Sophie managed her job so well, she eventually began taking on more and more of her boss' responsibilities too - only without any credit or raise. The gradual stress of working two jobs began wearing on her. Sophie persevered for a couple more years, but as the pressure piled on, her health began to deteriorate once again. Sophie recognized the pattern of symptoms. She knew it was time to make a change and started putting out resumes. Unfortunately, months passed and she never heard anything back.

Towards the end of last year, things quickly went from bad to worse: budget cuts, censorship and finger pointing. Sophie's health took a nosedive. Her doctor advised that no special diet or medication would fix the issue -- something in her life needed to change sooner than later. Sophie decided if she couldn't afford to change her job right away, then she needed to change her strategy.

Instead of applying to various jobs across the city, Sophie began looking for job openings in different departments within her organization. As an internal applicant, she knew she would at least be guaranteed an interview. Sophie figured this would give her a much-needed boost of confidence to help lift her spirits. It would also give her an opportunity to practice her interviewing skills, so she'd be prepared when it came time for the "real thing."

As expected, Sophie landed an internal interview right away. Without the stress over whether or not she would get the gig, Sophie answered her "practice questions" with honest courage, telling the interviewers exactly what she wanted out of a job and where she saw herself going in her career. The interviewers were so impressed by her responses that they called Sophie back less than an hour later to offer her the job.

Sophie admits that she didn't really understand the full scope of the role when she initially applied for fun. But now that she knows, she is amazed at how perfect a fit it is for her. Sophie will soon be making great use of her existing skills, with the bonus of more autonomy, prestige, and money than any job she's had before. She can't help but feel like it's a long-awaited reward for finally taking the leap and trying something new. And I can't help but be thrilled for her. It's about time Sophie found a job that makes her happy.

Jan. 21, 2016
When Inspiration Strikes

I always manage to keep busy hopping between my various creative projects. There's the fascinating biography and blog I've been co-writing; the sci-fi TV (or web) series idea I've been pitching; and finally, my oft-neglected mockumentary screenplay, which I've been trying to carve out more time for. I really have more than enough to keep my plate full, but when inspiration strikes, sometimes it's too hard to ignore.

The area I live in is booming with opportunities for animated series. The reason for this is because the entertainment industry is given special tax incentives to do their work in particular states or cities, which factors into the overall budget of a show. To put it simply, the bigger the tax incentive, the more money a production can save. Apparently, there's a huge tax incentive right now to do animation in this area, which means a lot of series are outsourcing their work here. Meanwhile, new animation companies are expanding or setting up shop to meet the growing demand.

Usually when I think of the animation boom, my mind immediately goes to the existing animation jobs I see advertised online. And an animator I am not. As for developing an animated series, that's a creative avenue that's never really crossed my mind, even though I was told a couple months ago that the demand for intellectual property is high. Apparently, our local animation companies are always on the lookout for their own original content, instead of producing shows that are created and owned elsewhere. It was suggested that if I could think of an idea for an animated series, I should definitely put a package together.

This weekend I was encouraged again to give it some thought. So I did. I asked myself, what kind of shows did I like as a kid? What sort of show would I want to write?

As I kid, I loved all things spooky or dark. And if I were to write a show, I would want to base it around the coolest and also spookiest kid I know, my niece, Josie.

For obvious reasons, I need to keep the premise under wraps, but suffice to say, once I identified those two things, the ideas just came flooding in! I did some research and surprisingly, I have an original premise. I would've thought someone had made a show like the one I have in mind, but fortunately no one has. I already know my main and supporting characters (loosely based on a few of my relatives), the arc for the pilot episode, and have a few ideas brewing for a decent first season. I jumped into the pitch package yesterday and got half of it done. I firmly believe if I stay focused, I should be able to pound out a 22-page script and polish the package within a month.

I love feeling fired up over something that's so personally fulfilling - a fun story my family will surely appreciate, with the kind of angle I would've loved as a kid. I realize this means my mockumentary script will probably fall to the wayside yet again, but you need to honor inspiration and opportunity whenever it strikes.

Jan. 18, 2016
So Close Too

As I mentioned in my last post, my cowriter and I both had pretty decent meetings regarding our TV series pitch. Since I went into detail about my meeting, I thought this time I'd describe the meeting my cowriter had.

First of all, I should say that when you walk into a pitch meeting, the producer (or whomever you're meeting with) owes you no kindness. They're extremely busy people who hear pitches several times a day. While I personally don't have years of pitching experience in the biz, I'm well aware that it's not uncommon for an exec to keep a poker face, holding their cards close to their chest. Offering a writer compliments, suggestions, or constructive criticism is not their job. In fact, anything beyond a handshake is considered generous. For that reason, it was wonderful to hear that my co-writer was also given warm praise for our script.

The producer felt that our package was very professional. And using the words of my friend, she "really, truly enjoyed the script" and felt "it was so very well thought out and firmly executed". Yay us! Honestly, when you're so close to a project, writing and rewriting and rewriting some more, it's hard to see the forest through the trees. I often tease this particular cowriter, who is actually a lifelong actor, that she has "actor's confidence" while I have "writer's doubt." I always think our work could be better. (I still can't stand to watch the movie I got made because all I see on screen are its flaws. I just sit there cringing.)

While the producer couldn't offer a home for our script, she did offer some good suggestions of other companies to approach. That's the great thing about entertainment these days - there are way more viable avenues than there were only a handful of years ago. It used to be just film and television, with television being considered a lower tier. But these days, there are more channels, which means greater competition. The television industry is starting to produce shows that have larger budgets, with more innovative storytelling, and are attracting bigger stars than ever before. Plus, now we have all these online outlets, such as Netflix, Amazon and Hulu, producing high-quality web series. More options mean more opportunities. v

Another suggestion the producer offered was for us to make a sizzle trailer. A sizzle trailer is basically promotional short film that we can use as part of our pitch. It could be a single gripping scene, a compilation of scenes, or whatever we feel would be enough to hook an audience and make a future exec stand up and say, "I must see the rest of this! Please take these bags of money and go shoot your pilot." Ha.

That said, producing a sizzle trailer could cost a bag of money to do effectively. I know some people who've managed to edit together relevant scenes from other films to create a trailer that conveys the style and tone they want to go for. However, with our unique parallel reality/simulated world angle, no particular scenes in existing TV shows or films comes to mind that would be the right fit. We'd definitely have to shoot something fresh ourselves. Oh well, food for thought.

Not unlike the development exec I met with, this producer also really wishes to help us in any way she can, and encourages us to reach out to her with any questions, other projects, etc. We are so lucky to be making such helpful industry contacts. It's kind of exciting. In the meantime, we can always polish our package and keep plugging away. I can't help but feel like something is going to happen this year, if not with this project, then with another. There's just something in the air....

Jan. 11, 2016
So Close

Last week, my co-writer and I fielded two meetings at the same time. At 9:00 a.m. PST, I had a conference call with a development executive. Meanwhile, at noon EST, my co-writer had lunch with a producer. I'll cut to the chase and say that neither meeting resulted in the immediate paid development of our TV series; however, we both agreed that the outcomes were otherwise pretty successful.

Before our meetings, both of our contacts read our pitch package and TV pilot script - which was a great relief, because then we could just dive into discussing the series. Nothing is worse than having to do a cold pitch, especially with such a sophisticated sci-fi concept like ours that has tons of ground to cover.

The development exec I met with thought we had a "really, really cool concept" and only had flattering things to say about our script. He added that they're seeing a lot of content these days about simulated and parallel realities, but our story takes a very unique approach they haven't seen before, and that he feels it would resonate well with their audience. Having said that, they already have a series in development about a simulated reality. Obviously they can't have two, as it would be a conflict of interest. Even so, it was great feedback to hear that he thought our story was strong and unique. Hopefully it's just a matter of time before it finds the right home.

When asking for advice on how we could improve our pitch, he suggested that since we've already nailed the high-concept aspect of our story, perhaps our package could benefit from more of a focus on individual character arcs through the series. The good news is that my co-writer and I actually started our collaboration by writing in-depth character profiles, since we knew we wanted this to be a character-driven series. I think we have nearly 70 pages about our characters' backgrounds, their struggles, and growth throughout the series. So at least the heavy lifting is done. Now it's just a matter of condensing everything so we can convey it all in a concise and compelling way.

The development exec wrapped up our meeting by saying they have two series in development that they think are about to be green-lit (approved for production). If that happens, they'll be looking to hire people on in other capacities. He also added that they have an open door policy and like to support writers. So if I have any questions, want feedback on this or other projects, or if I have any other concepts to pitch them in future, I should feel free to contact them anytime. With that in mind, I briefly pitched the book I'm working on, that my agent thinks would make a great series. He was very intrigued and would love to take a look at some of our material once it's ready.

A couple hours after the meeting, the exec sent me a friend request on Facebook - a surprising, but very positive indication. Usually after a pitch, you don't hear from anyone again unless you reach out. I took his invite as a sincere sign that he wants to keep in touch.

As I said, we might not have sold our series this time, but I don't think that meeting could've gone any better.