Sunday, August 26, 2018

How to Work with a Professional

I'm sitting here right now trying to decide if I should continue the title of this post. How to Work with a Professional...Editor, Book Publisher, Web Designer, Graphic Artist, Plumber. Could be anything, really, because what I'm about to tell you should apply to any type of professional service you are requesting. And it should be common sense. But with a few recent potential clients who've come upon me for assistance, I'm seeing that that is not always the case.

You reach out to a professional because you want good, quality work done at a fair price. And many times you are a little unsure of where to begin, which is completely understandable. A doctor needing a website, a writer needing a book cover designed, a truck driver needing an editor for his first work of fiction are all perfect examples. It's not your forte. So you need help. But you need to have at least some basic understanding of the end result.  Here are my tips in working with a professional that will greatly improve your experience.

1. Have money to spend
No matter how much you want something for free, professionals are there to make a living. Just like you. So the worst thing you could do is bog them down with a ton of questions when you have no means to pay for the work you are requesting. Picking someone's brain is like picking their pocket. In the end you are taking them away from other clients who are willing to make a commitment.

Maybe you will have money in the future to pay for a service, but you need some idea now of the cost. That's fine. So when you first contact a professional, be clear on what you are looking for and ask for a range. Ask what is covered in the work. Even ask for a work quote. But leave it at that.

2. Commit to your appointments
Don't tell a professional that you'll call them at 6 p.m. and never do so. Don't tell a professional that you'll meet or stop by after work and not do so. Professionals are shifting their days around to accommodate you. And if you haven't paid them a cent yet, this is a HUGE NO-NO. But paid or not paid, professionals are not your servants. Do it once, it strains the relationship. Do it twice, and the professional will have no faith in you. Do it three times, and you deserve a baseball bat upside your head.

The only legitimate excuses for not meeting an appointment are death, birth, or some sort of physical incapacitation. Forgetfulness is not an excuse. Treat every appointment as it were a plane departure. Be on time. Because you know that if you aren't at the gate at 5:45, that plane is leaving without you.

3. Don't be a Big Ole Mess
I can spot it a mile away: someone who has overloaded or overextended him or herself in every possible way that they are like a big ball of chaos rolling toward me. They've joined a million groups, have a dozen projects going on at once (none of them actually finished) and are social media butterflies. I just know once we start talking they're going to drop their life load on me like an anvil. Professionals are not there to hear your life story (unless you're writing a memoir, of course).

A nice meet and greet, whether in person or on the phone, always helps break the ice so you can get a feel for each other. But leave it at that. Get to the point. Know in finite detail what you are looking for. Write it down. Email it. Only spend time talking about what you are hiring the professional for. Save the other stuff for later, if you should develop a deeper relationship in the future.

4. Listen to the Professional

I can't tell you how many times I've told an author one thing, and they do the exact opposite. I designed a truly wonderful book cover for an artist, only to have that artist have a non-designer friend produce a very bland cover. So I asked if I could post both covers on Facebook, without revealing which one was mine, so we could get other opinions. Hands down my cover design was the most liked, some reviewers even offering comments like "Oh, hell no" to the other. But he didn't listen.

It's not always true that the customer is always right. I give them what they want, of course, but you came to a professional for a reason. Put some amount of faith in them. You're paying for it. Look at their past work. Look at their credentials. Look at recommendations from other clients.

5. Don't drag out a project
A project's completion date is often dependent on how quickly you respond to questions from the professional. If something is requested of you, like text for a back book cover, or photos, get to it. This is an equal partnership, the goal being a wonderful finished product that you can both be proud of.  By dragging it out because of laziness or excuses, you risk straining the relationship and the quality of the work. And it also takes away from other work a professional needs to acquire. Get 'er done.

6. Good working relationships reap rewards
Whenever a client and I work well together, meaning they pay up front, give me what I need, and are quick to respond with answers to my questions, I return the favor in many ways. I will promote their new book or new website through my own social media. I will refer others to their businesses. I will talk them up in social gatherings.

When you treat a professional professionally, and with common courtesy, you will most always have a wealth of rewards come back to you. It pays to be nice. It pays to be on time. Don't ever forget that.

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Saturday, August 25, 2018

Guest Post: Morgan Hazelwood on Time Management

Enjoy this guest post from author and vlogger, Morgan Hazelwood. I completely understand her methods and the "guilt" aspect of not moving forward on a project. That's what also provokes me to get stuff done.

The "Just 15 Minutes" Approach to Achieving Your Goals
by Morgan Hazelwood

How to make yourself work when you just don't want to work.

When I first start a project, I'm all fired up and ready to go. But writing takes longer than I can sustain my enthusiasm. As the weeks, months, (years) slip by, progress periodically stagnates.

There are many people who only write when they feel their muse talking to them, then the words flow out of them. Full chapters, books come out in states not-so-far from a finished product.

I am not one of those people.

I've spoken before about my marathon-style writing. In a world of hares and turtles, I am a turtle. A turtle who's been known to take breaks and binge on tv, as though the race itself were on pause.

But, eventually, shame and guilt kick in. I've been slacking off and disappointing the one person I can't avoid: myself.

That's when I tell myself: JUST FIFTEEN MINUTES

If I just sit down at my desk, pull out my manuscript and do something, it'll count myself as having made some progress, as having not skipped yet-another-day of working on my novel. I could do a great variety of things:
  • write
  • edit
  • read
  • take notes
as long as I do it for at least 15 minutes.

Sometimes, that's all I do. I inch forward with the tiniest bit of progress, just enough to claim credit.

But you know what?

Most of the time? I get a lot more than just 15 minutes of work done once I actually get my butt into that chair.*


What tricks do you have for getting work out of yourself?

*Note: This technique also works on laundry, dishes, office work, learning to play guitar, playing with small children**, and a variety of other tasks!

**Note 2: That's a lie, after 15 minutes with small children, I'm ready for a nice, long nap.

Morgan Hazelwood is a fantasy novelist who blogs about writing tips and writerly musings.

She likes taking pictures of the sky, reading a good book, and ambiverting from her living room. She's also a voice for the fairy-tale audio drama: Anansi Storytime and its sister podcast: Legendsmith.

She's been known to procrati-clean her whole house and alphabetize other people's bookshelves.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Stress Management for the Self-Employed

I know stress management.

This year marks my 20th anniversary as a self-employed entrepreneur. It was all fun and games back in 1998, when I was making the same on my own as I was in the last year of my salaried job. Then the recession hit in 2008. And ever since then many of the avenues that used to bring me income have dried up.

No matter what the news tells you, the economy has not recovered. Fewer people are buying luxury items. I’ve pretty much halted all non-essential purchases just to stay afloat. A $30 home decoration used to be a no-brainer. Buy it if I wanted it. Now I’m selling those same items on Craigslist so I can pay for groceries and the electric bill.

I have so many skills to offer people: website design, book design, graphic design, photography, videography, and more. And I’ve had a lot of happy clients. But people are stingier with their purchases and, frankly, too many people don’t have their shit together before they contact me. So I’m constantly producing reasonable quotes and dishing out my knowledge for potential clients that are ill-prepared to make any sort of decision to move forward…which leaves us both at a loss. I like people that know what they want and take action to get it done. Action is the key word.

So how do I manage my stress level when this, plus what’s going on in the news, leaves me feeling a little heavyhearted?

I go outside.

Nature is free. It’s my daily staycation. It’s just a few steps away from my computer and beyond the big red door. It offers sunshine (good for Vitamin D), fresh air, and a glimpse at what’s going on in our natural world. I can watch the squirrels playing, their little heads bobbing up and down while tenants pull in and out of the parking lot. Or the birds fluttering between the berry trees below my balcony. And if I have time, I like to extract myself from my living space to go on photography hikes.

There isn’t a trail in Northern Virginia that I am not familiar with. I’ve traversed nearly every path with my Panasonic Lumix in hand. But that doesn’t mean I won’t discover something new each time I go out. On the contrary, indeed. It could be a species of butterflies that I’ve never seen before mating on a stump, a wild turkey strutting in the deep underbrush a dozen yards away, or a group of deer grazing in an open field. All bring a little calm to the chaos around me. And as I snap away, I am also compiling tangible product that people can purchase. One is my Calmness of Woods DVD, which I call a Photographic Journey into Nature. Set to music are some of my best nature photos, along with tips on how to take better outdoor pictures.

Walking alone and away from the crowd also allows me to think in a different way. I can more easily recognize the “big picture”—the overall tasks at hand. Being out in the wide open almost forces you to do that.

But I’ve also learned to reduce stress just by sitting in my car. Three of my books were written in the shade of a tree at a McDonald’s parking lot. Ever notice how truly quiet the world can become just by rolling up your windows?

On that note, I’d like to end this blog post with a poem I wrote for my Poetry Pizza book. Everyone should try it:

Sitting in Silence
by Victor Rook

Television off
Radio down
Everyone gone
An empty town

Windows all up
Fans not spinning
Phone disabled
No constant dinning

Alone in my room
Minus all sound
In the center I sit
And look around

Slight hum remains
Like sound debris
But that will pass
Then I'll be free

From all that noise
That invades my mind
An inner peace
I soon shall find

It's really a treat
To remove that crap
Unleash your head
From the clamor trap

Like a different world
When you close it out
Not a peep to be had
A chaos drought

The places you go
When silence arises
Your quiet thoughts
Are full of surprises

Feel your heart beat
As time seems to stop
Like a pause on life
Then you're back on top

Try it once a day
Or twice a week
Discover a calm
And you shall seek

This better way
I give as guidance
To reset yourself
By sitting in silence

#BackOnTrackNow, #WbtR

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