Freelance Writers: What’s On Your Plate?

WORDS YOUR WAY BLOG

Freelance Writers: What’s On Your Plate?

Athought experiment: You have worked for ten years as a bartender in a restaurant. You’ve saved up some money and you decide to open your own restaurant. Instead of opening a cheap burger joint, a gourmet pizza parlor, or a sushi bar, you open a place called FOOD. FOOD serves whatever a customer wants. On a given Friday night, your first table is a couple on a romantic date. One partner wants Kobe steak, baked potato, and green beans; the other, an organic pork chop with rice and Brussels sprouts. They want to eat by candlelight. The next two tables both want pizza. There is a high school softball team expecting an 18” pepperoni pie for $8.99 with free soft drinks. They play Miley Cyrus on the digital jukebox you installed. Loud. There is group of high-level managers from a local corporation, celebrating the successful completion of an initiative. They order Chicago deep dish with sun dried tomatoes and caviar, and specialty cocktails, which they can expense for $300. You keep the kitchen stocked with a variety of ingredients and retain enough staff to run out for anything you might need for a customer order. Your equipment and tools range from sushi knives to a wood-fired oven. You hire both a sommelier and a clown. You carry extra insurance coverage for those customers who want to come into the kitchen and cook themselves. You advertise in the local college rag, the opera program, and Parenting magazine, and engage a service that will stick your fliers on telephone poles all over town. You recruit everywhere, too, from top culinary academies in New York to the public high school. Sound like a winner? Several years ago, I realized that my freelance writing business was just such a hot mess. Some clients would sporadically send me two or three hours of work on short notice for an hourly fee. Some clients would have me collaborate with four or five team members who did not agree on what was to be said. Still others assigned fifty pages of boilerplate copy to repurpose. I had a bunch of projects of different scopes, sometimes acting as a glorified secretary or an underpaid project manager rather than as a professional writer. I negotiated pricing and other terms individually with each client. Like so many freelancers, I could never predict what my workload would be the following month or how much income I would have. Some of my clients treated me like an expert consultant while others seemed to think they were my boss. The lesson: As it is with a restaurant, so it is with a freelance writing business. You, the owner have to decide what your business identity is. While you are a bartender, you can work at two different restaurants, slicking back the hair and covering tattoos with sleeves on Monday night, and sporting a Mohawk and a surly attitude at the place down the street on Tuesday. In your career as a corporate employee, you might fulfill a variety of roles at different companies under the title “Writer.” If you want a sustainable independent business, you must pull together a model that lets you work efficiently, price effectively, and market consistently. Your particular strengths and interests should guide that decision, so you can avoid burnout. One writer I know recently told me she sometimes generates 10,000 words a day for client projects. (That would exhaust me.) Another described a ghostwriting project for a person who wants her memoir written from her pet cat’s point of view. (Um. No.) Me? I spent the past two weeks interviewing executives; researching industry analysis; reviewing company slide presentations, technical documents, videos, and press releases — all to produce about 2,000 words of integrated strategic content in the form of a newsletter, an email message, and a proposal. Research, conceptual work, analysis. Multiple layers of communication. Density over volume. That’s my kind of dish. What’s yours? Your business is not a job. You decide what’s on the menu.
Barbara Ruth Saunders is a writer, editor, and writing coach.

Stanford Alumni Association Case Study

WORDS YOUR WAY BLOG

Stanford Alumni Association Case Study

Assignment: Text for a visual display in the Stanford Alumni Association lobby, a tribute to long-term alumni volunteers. The marketing manager wrote: “Here are some of the blurbs written about volunteers in the past. They are all a little dry and boring, examples of what we are NOT looking for. We are really looking to create a personality for the volunteer, not just listing their accomplishments.” Sample in the old style: FRANCE CORDOVA ’69 CHILDHOOD AMBITION: Detective, Writer, Physicist LIFE AFTER STANFORD: France became the 7th Chancellor of the University of California, Riverside, July 2002. Prior to this appointment, she served as Professor of Physics & Vice Chancellor for Research at UC Santa Barbara. Cordova was named one of the “100 Most Influential Hispanics”, and one of the “80 Elite Hispanic Women” by Hispanic Business Magazine. New profile voice: HOLLY WOOD ’68 It’s little wonder that Stanford feels like home to Holly: All seven of her children are alum, too. As a prospective student, she observed that the people she met from Stanford were “open, curious, and willing to share.” Her current involvement with Stanford confirms that impression. She sees her children being encouraged, as she was, “to look at the whole world.” One daughter has worked on the Martin Luther King Papers Project. Holly loves her work on University fundraising campaigns: She gets to talk to other alums who represent a “diversity of ethnicity and economic backgrounds” and who share her eagerness to give back to Stanford.
Barbara Ruth Saunders is a writer, editor, and writing coach.

Steve Silberman

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Steve Silberman

“Barbara Saunders is an articulate observer and a lyrical, precise writer. The writing contribution that Ms. Saunders made to my book, published by Doubleday last year [1994], is one of the sharpest and wisest pieces of writing in the book, and I have singled out Ms. Saunders’ contribution several times when being interviewed by the press or on radio. Her gifts, and her authentic presence, would make her an asset to any project.” –Steve Silberman, Author, Skeleton Key: A Dictionary for Deadheads
Barbara Ruth Saunders is a writer, editor, and writing coach.

Paul Glassner

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Paul Glassner

“After each issue of Our Animals, Donna, a longtime, generous supporter and an avid, careful reader, sends me her article-by-article analysis. … She labeled [your piece] “Miracles Delivered Daily” as the “ultimate,” calling it “illuminating, motivational, with enough soft tugs to capture hearts and pocketbooks. … So I say: Thank you, Barbara!” Paul Glassner, Editor, Our Animals
Barbara Ruth Saunders is a writer, editor, and writing coach.

Miranda Culp

“Barbara was the first person brave enough to suggest to me that sending out résumés wasn’t going to serve my creativity or skills. She was the person who told me: ‘the more unique you are, the more valuable you are,’ and I believed her because she had the experience and the context to back that up. She dispelled a lot of myths about being a creative, successful person. Our exploration of what I really wanted in terms of my career, in terms of my real value in the world, was like a weekly satori moment for me. Barbara told me stories that would drive home the electrifying possibilities when I was feeling very little hope. She offered concrete solutions that really evolved. I respect her skills, her intuition and her deft sense of humor when it comes to making a career change. I recommend her to anyone who is looking to build a more meaningful working life for themselves.”

Miranda Culp, fiction writer/corporate content writer