Making the most of “the calm before the (holiday) storm”

By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, NAIWE Board of Experts-Networking
Owner, I can write about anything!®, Communication Central, An American Editor

For many of us, the few weeks from mid-October through late November are a form of calm before the storm. The holidays are coming up fast, and a lot of clients seem to slack off on work requests, creating a false sense of relaxation for some of us and a feeling of “how will I make it financially through the end of the year?” panic for others.

The storm, of course, is the holiday season itself, with all the fun, stress and frantic activity it demands; there’s also the end of the year, with its requirements for wrapping up record-keeping and preparing for tax season early in the new year. We have to balance family plans and expectations against client demands and deadlines, and all of that against the needs of our businesses, and that isn’t always easy.

Here are a few tips for making the most of downtime if you don’t have a lot of work in hand at the moment.

  • Get a head start on organizing tax records. If you’re flush, figure out what business-related expenses you can take care of before the end of this year to reduce your tax burden.
  • Review your recent income and expenses to see where you need to make improvements, and start working on a plan to generate more income in the new year. Plan on a rate increase, identify clients who aren’t worth keeping, look for new markets to explore, etc.
  • File stuff!
  • Update your résumé, website and promotional material.
  • Write a few blog posts or articles to build up a bank of material to publish over the next few weeks or months, so you have it ready to go when you’re mired in the holiday or end-of-year demands. (This is something I have to do myself!)
  • Learn a new skill or program that will benefit your writing or editing business.
  • Look for colleagues to follow online, especially those with blogs you can comment on, to learn something new and build your online presence.
  • Plan your professional development activities for the new year: organizations to join or rejoin, conferences to attend, etc. This will help you start putting funds aside for such expenses (think of them as investments in your writing or editing business).
  • Review past published material to see what you can update and resell or repurpose.
  • Start writing that book!
  • Do some holiday gift-buying or — if you’re crafty — -making.
  • Consider taking a refreshing few days totally “off” — a spa day, a weekend trip to somewhere fun, a family trip when the prices are inflated by the holiday season.

If this time of year is when some of your clients do the panicking about packing a lot of last-minute work into November or December, consider yourself at least somewhat lucky — many colleagues would like to be in your position. Do as much holiday planning and purchasing as you go along as possible, and enjoy being well-employed!

Long-time freelance writer/editor Ruth E. Thaler-Carter is the Networking member of the NAIWE Board of Experts and owner of Communication Central, which partnered with NAIWE this year to present the 14th annual Be a Better Freelancer® conference. Her website is www.writerruth.com and she can be reached at Ruth@writerruth.com.

Why bother with networking?

By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, NAIWE Board of Experts-Networking

Owner, I can write about anything!®, Communication Central, An American Editor

Fresh from the 14th annual Be a Better Freelancer• conference, co-hosted this year by NAIWE for the first time, I’ve been reflecting on networking.

I’ve been called the Queen of Networking thanks to my active membership in at least a dozen professional associations and many years of contributing to communities of colleagues, including creating and hosting the Be a Better Freelancer® conference. Throughout all this time, I’ve often been asked why I bother to be such an active networker.

It’s a good question, because networking takes time, effort and a commitment to service, and the payoffs aren’t always immediately obvious. Payoffs being important, of course, because there’s certainly a level of self-interest in networking, no matter how much it involves giving back to colleagues, communities or professions.

Why do it

We network for the selfish reason of building our businesses and contacts, but ideally to be of service to colleagues and communities as well. Networking creates visibility and credibility if we do it right, and that should lead to new clients and projects.

Arguments against

Networking can create issues, especially for die-hard introverts. It can be hard work, it requires constant effort and, as noted above, the payoffs aren’t always immediately obvious.

If you aren’t comfortable with communicating frequently — even constantly — with peers and other colleagues, that’s fine: You can be an effective networker even if you only interact with one group or make posts once a month. If you’re shy and introverted, you can network electronically rather than attend meetings or conferences in person.

Figure out what is comfortable in terms of frequency or types of information to share, and resist pressure to do more than you can handle.

How to do it

The essence of networking is that it’s a two-way process, as well as a constant one.

Start on the right foot by introducing yourself to the group(s) you’ve chosen to join: Let colleagues know something about your training, skills, experience, preferred types of projects and clients, etc. Before asking for help, try to provide something of value to the group. It isn’t that networking can’t involve getting help with your independent writing or editing business in general or with specific aspects of that business, but that you don’t want to be seen as someone who constantly takes from colleagues and never gives anything back to the group. And “Gimme” is definitely not the image you want to present in your message to networking group!

What to share

Networking can include sharing information about yourself — your publishing triumphs, new projects, speaking engagements, awards, certifications, etc. — but is its most-effective if what you share is genuinely helpful to others. That can mean, for instance, letting colleagues know about new books, events and software programs that are useful for our work; providing tips for managing an independent writing or editing business (including how to use standard tools like Word); answering colleagues’ questions about their work or projects; etc.

It can also mean alerting colleagues to new scams aimed at our profession, such as the one that circulated recently through various professional associations involving a fake editing job offer — supposedly from major companies such as Penguin and Bayer — apparently intended to either capture respondents’ identity info or sending counterfeit checks for more than promised to clean out recipients’ bank accounts. Networking also often includes warning colleagues about skeevy clients.

What not to do

If you’re new to networking, keep in mind that — again — it’s a two-way process and not a purely self-promotional one. That means your first message to a networking group should not be a request for “overflow” work or referrals. No one knows who you are, or what your training, skills and experience might be, so why would members of the group hand off work to you or refer you to potential clients on first appearance? We build our networks of clients and colleagues with care, and few people will jeopardize those connections by bringing in or referring someone who’s a total unknown. And few of us would be comfortable with telling a stranger the names of our contacts at publications, publishing houses and other client businesses.

When it works

Doing networking right can have huge benefits. Being seen as someone who provides value builds your credibility and visibility, which makes it likely that prospective clients will learn of your existence and colleagues will contact you about working together, or refer you when they hear of projects that they don’t handle or can’t take on. A good networker is likely to be asked to make speeches, write for professional publications and take on new projects. Your business — and income — should increase as you become noted for your networking chops and contributions.

And while those are the self-serving reasons to network, there is also a strong sense of gratification in being helpful to others in the field; it does feel good to do good. Not to mention that effective networking also can result in making new friends!

Why a website? Highlights of conference session

By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, Communication Central owner and
NAIWE Board of Experts member for Networking

I’m looking forward to talking about websites for freelancers at “Gateway to Success,” this year’s “Be a Better Freelancer® conference, coming up October 11–13, 2019, in St. Louis. This topic is always fun to discuss because there’s always something new in the world of creating and managing websites, and because it lends itself so well to graphics and illustrations. It’s also kind of fun to share what doesn’t work in a website, alongside what does make an effective site to promote your freelance business.

It’s become common knowledge that freelancers in any skill set need websites to build and support our business efforts. Sure, you can promote your business at LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, but a website is important because:

  • It’s all yours; no one else controls or limits how it looks and what it presents.
  • It helps you be found — it comes up when someone searches for the skills and services you provide. That’s especially important for anyone starting out, because unknown freelancers won’t be found by their names.
  • It gives you a permanent e-mail address.
  • It’s flexible — you can choose what to post, what and when to update it, the amount of information you provide, etc.
  • It speaks for you with clients who aren’t local; it’s your portfolio in an era when you probably will work with more clients who aren’t in your geographic area than ones who are, and you aren’t likely to meet them in person to show your work samples.

Even if you already have a website for your freelance services, it can probably benefit from insights at this session. You might gain new resources for making it look or read better, and more effective at getting you business and educating prospective clients about who you are and how you work.

Think of your website as the base and office of your freelance business. It’s your showroom. It’s your path to being a better freelancer!

To benefit from this session — and many other ones — by registering for the conference, go to https://naiwe.com/conference/. This is the 14th offering of the conference, and the first-ever partnership between Communication Central and NAIWE. We hope to see you there!

About getting older

By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

Inspired by a colleague’s request to write about birthdays, I came up with a few thoughts. Here I am in my 60s, and not quite sure what it means — but not worried about it.

Supposedly I’m old — but I don’t feel old. Of course, it helps that I seem to still be mentally intact and involved, can still look after myself, continue to be able to do the work I love. I think it also helps that I have a marvelous network of long-time friends who keep me feeling young, perhaps because we keep our wacky childhood and high school memories so fresh by staying close and seeing, or at least communicating with, each other fairly often.

Even if I did feel old, why would that be a bad thing? I’ve survived more than just the passing of the years, but a wide range of crises over those years, and that’s something to be proud of. It’s why I don’t let myself be pressured into coloring my hair when I go to the salon for haircuts (well, other than a splash of purple!): I earned every gray or white hair, and see no need to cover them up.

I know how I got here: born, raised, lived; still living. That’s a good thing. As my mom used to say whenever someone complained about the infelicities and challenges of increasing age, “Consider the alternative.”

Some aspects of all these birthdays are a nuisance — my knees and hips have started to creak a bit and make it difficult to get up from a chair or the bed, and to negotiate stairs, but … consider the alternative.

Getting older does mean dealing with loss. Both of my parents have died, and I miss them constantly, but … I had my dad in my life for more than 40 years and my mom for 60; that’s a lot longer than many friends can claim, and those were all wonderful, loving, supportive, fun years — also more and better than many people experience. And it’s natural for parents to go before their children. When life takes the opposite direction, it’s unimaginable.

My beloved husband, who was 12 years older than me, died last year and I miss him every moment of every day, but … we had 30 delightful years together, which is —again — more than many people get from their relationships and marriages. He was a tough guy (a retired steelworker; my man of steel!) who accepted the limits of aging with surprising grace; rather than complain (“Consider the alternative!”) or give up, he focused on what he still could do. His attitude toward birthdays, aging and increasing fragility was admirable: “I can’t do what I used to, but I’ll find a way to do as much as possible. If I can’t walk on my own, I’ll use a walker so I can still get around and go places. If I can’t carry all my cameras, lenses and gear, I’ll switch to digital. If I have dietary issues, I’ll reconfigure my favorite recipes so I can still enjoy some of the things I love to eat …”

Keeping in mind that increasing age probably will mean decreasing physical ability, I made a huge life change last year. What started out as thinking about moving locally to a neighborhood that would be more walkable and accessible turned into moving halfway across the country and becoming a first-time homeowner at this ripe age! While my new place — a condo — doesn’t have the front desk and onsite staff of the building I left, it is right across the street from a beautiful park and within two to five blocks of everything from shops to restaurants to a library branch, small concert venue, bookstore, medical center and more. I’m prepared for pretty much anything; I even have a dedicated guest room in case I ever need live-in care, instead of hving to use a second bedroom as my workspace.

Being “old” has its advantages. I qualify for Medicare, so I save a bundle on medical insurance, and can start getting my Social Security benefits whenever I’m ready to stop working (if that ever happens; I do find retirement hard to envision, but that’s because I enjoy what I do, and not — mainly thanks to my financial genius of a mom — because I have to keep working). And I get a kick out of senior discounts, even though I don’t see myself as “senior.” My recollection, although my brothers disagree, is that my dad loved using his 60-plus discounts; he said he earned and deserved them, and I concur.

I see every birthday as a type of new year, so I have more than January 1 as a moment to reflect, refresh and sometimes revamp. A birthday is an opportunity to celebrate still being here and to think about what new things I might do to stay as sharp, engaged and active as possible, both physically and mentally; socially and professionally; intellectually and maybe even emotionally. This year, I decided that my birthday present to myself would to be more creative and expand my interests beyond activities related to my work life. I’ve started playing around with painting and glasswork — neither of which I do very well (yet), but who knows where these might go! — and am looking into going back to a long-ago hobby of ceramics.

These projects are birthday gifts to myself that I think will take me into increasing age with increasing creativity and continuing mental and physical agility, a sense of joy and achievement, and appreciation for survival on many levels. They are my ways of fulfilling the concept of “I’m not (just) getting older; I’m getting better.” As actress Renée Zellweger told AARP’s Modern Maturity magazine (yup, I’m an AARP member) recently, “… I don’t call it aging; I call it winning.” I try to embrace getting older and having more birthdays. After all, “consider the alternative.”

Here’s to happy birthdays for all of us, and graceful, grateful perspectives on getting older!

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter (www.writerruth.com) is the owner of Communication Central (www.communication-central.com), which is hosting “Gateway to Success,” the 14th annual “Be a Better Freelancer”® in conjunction with NAIWE. NAIWE members get a special rate for the conference!

Freelancing and freedom

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

The 4th of July celebrations this past week, along with a prompt from NAIWE executive director April Michelle Davis, got me thinking about the connection between freelancing and freedom.

The link between my areas of expertise — writing, editing and proofreading — and our country’s role as an exemplar of freedom is easy to make: I live in a country where I can express what I believe and want to say, and edit or proofread materials that relate to my beliefs and perspectives. I can accept assignments that are consistent with those beliefs and perspectives, or turn down assignments that go against my principles and beliefs. I can even use my skills, as well as the income those skills generate, to support causes I believe in. I can set my own schedule and fees. I am not just a freelancer; I am free.

That freedom is invaluable, and not something I take for granted. I’m the daughter of Holocaust survivors (yeah, it happened). I’m a member by birth of a religion that is still stigmatized and under constant attack even these days — and sadly, even in my own country — and by choice of one founded on principles of freedom. I see examples of the lack of freedom in the headlines every day. Both in the USA and beyond, there are many, many people who cannot claim the luxury of living in a country or community where they are free to do the work they love, be with the people they love, or simply enjoy comfort and peace on a daily basis.

I am very lucky.

My country is not perfect, and certainly is seeing an unprecedented level of hostility and threats to our freedom in the current political realm. But it is still a, if not the, leader of the free world. Most of us are still free to express our beliefs and advocate for what we think is right and fair. We owe it to ourselves, our families, our histories, our futures to use our communications skills to keep it that way, for all of us.

Kids, summer and writing — opportunities for fun and the future

By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, NAIWE Networking Expert

It’s summertime and the livin’ is supposed to be easy, but some of our kids (and grandkids) might want to make use of the vacation months to do some writing. While summer is traditionally a time when many kids are encouraged to read a lot, writing is also something they might enjoy doing for fun and as a way to fill the dog days of the season.

I’ve never forgotten the first publications I created, back in high school days: a literary magazine I put together with friends after being turned down for the official school version, and a “yearbook” for a summer leadership program I was in one summer. I still have copies of both (and I still remember the smell of the ink from the A.B. Dick mimeograph machine that we sued to create them). Today’s kids are probably a lot more sophisticated when it comes to producing versions of their own writing; you might be pleasantly surprised at both the content and the look of what they come up with.

In many communities, finding writing opportunities for kids might be easier than you might realize. In my hometown of Rochester, NY, the Writers and Books literary center has a Summer Write program for youngsters. I’m sure many other communities have similar programs, so if your kids want to write the summer away, a first step would be to look for a local or regional writers’ or literary center to see if it hosts anything along these lines.

If that doesn’t work, look into your area high school continuing education programs; library system; bookstores — both chain and independent — and book clubs; museums — especially children’s museums — and art galleries; newspapers (there’s a national Newspapers in Education program that might work with you on this kind of project); colleges and universities; or various not-for-profit organizations — the local YMCA/YWCA, JCC, Boys and Girls Club, Urban League, etc.

And of course, if your town doesn’t have such resources, consider being the innovator and starting a kids’ summer writing project yourself. It can be as small as you and your own children; it could be a neighborhood project; it could even become city-wide. A successful summer program could even become a year-round activity.

If you do get involved in such a project, be prepared to help kids come up with ideas for what to write about. Encourage them to be creative with fiction, poetry, graphic novels, even playwriting! Make sure they don’t feel pressure about making their writing letter-perfect, especially if they’re very young. Ask them to share what they write, just in case anything evolves that suggests someone needs help with challenges such as bullying or abuse, but be prepared for some children to be shy about showing their work.

You don’t have to have children of your own to do this. You can find kids’ writing programs on behalf of nieces, nephews, grandkids, neighbors’ kids, even the children of total strangers.

It’s never too soon to encourage children to express themselves in writing. (Those of us who are editors or proofreaders will need them as clients in the future!) Let us know what you find and how your kids enjoy a summer writing experience.

A great start to the new year

It’s an honor and a pleasure to start the new year as a member of NAIWE‘s Board of Experts, especially with Networking as my area of NAIWE expertise. As many of you know, I’m a long-time, even passionate believer in networking, as evidenced by the many professional associations and online communities of colleagues that I belong to, along with the Communication Central “Be a Better Freelancer”® conference that I host every year. Even more important to the concept of networking is that I’m far more than what I call a “checkbook member” – I don’t just pay dues and wait for the membership to do something for me; I’m active and visible in every group I belong to (yes, it’s OK to end a sentence with a preposition).

For organizations such as the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA), Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), ACES-The Society for Editing, Greater St. Louis Association of Black Journalists (GSLABJ), International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), Association of Independent Information Professionals, Association for Women in Communications (AWC) and NAIWE, I do everything from write for and edit newsletters to  present webinars, workshops and conference speeches; write booklets; contribute to online conversations; manage and update websites; organize events, etc. That may seem like a lot of work, but I enjoy it (I’m the poster child for extroverts) and it means that I’m constantly learning from, not just sharing knowledge with, colleagues at all levels of professionalism. Even better from a professional success standpoint, it means I become visible and known within these groups, which often leads to being hired or referred for projects. I even make a few bucks from some of these activities in and of themselves.

In addition to the professional advantages of networking, I’ve also made great friends through many of these organizations and found resources that have made my work life easier, more diverse and more interesting.

My point is that networking is a two-way process. You don’t get much, if anything, out of joining an organization or group and waiting for it to do something for you. When you engage in genuine networking, the group benefits you in a number of ways, many of which can be quantified in terms of income and renown. Do keep that in mind as NAIWE makes it possible to do more for ourselves and each other in this new year.

Here’s to a successful, profitable, enjoyable year of writing, editing and networking for all NAIWE members. To coin a version of a popular phrase, may we live well and prosper!

Registration open for freelancing conference

Registration is open for “Be a Better Freelancer”® – Profiting in Publishing,” the 11th annual Communication Central conference, Oct. 28-29, 2016, in Rochester, NY, with a special extra session on Oct. 30.

The conference offers a stellar line-up of speakers – including NAIWE’s Janet Campbell! – and topics of interest to a wide range of colleagues, both new to and established in freelancing in general and editing, proofreading, writing and other areas of the publishing world in particular.

Rooms in the conference hotel are eminently shareable and many colleagues will be looking for roommates. There also may be opportunities to share rides from the DC area to Rochester. To share a ride or room, send a message to conference@communication-central.com.

The hotel is part of a new complex with a Barnes & Noble, several restaurants and shops, and easy access to parks, the Genesee River and the University of Rochester. Partners, spouses and offspring will find plenty to do while participants are conferencing.

For program, speaker and registration info, go to:
http://www.communication-central.com/category/conferences/

Clients’ books are in print!

Books by two of “my” local authors (that is, I did editing and design & layout for one, and editing and proofreading for the other) are in existence! I’m so pleased for them. These are really fun, creative projects.

Jane Austen fans, check out Carolyn Meisel‘s PuzzleBooks for Readers – six books, each based on an Austen novel, with crossword, story and scramble puzzles for each: www.puzzlebookforreaders.com

Those who sew, are sure to enjoy Meredith Drake‘s Song of the Seam Ripper & Other Sewing Poems: www.songoftheseamripper.com (props to Victoria Brzustowicz, www.VictoriaBCreative.com, who created Meredith’s website).

Now to help these authors set up some readings/signings in area bookstores and shops!

Date and speakers set for 2016 conference for freelancers

NAIWE founder and director Janice Campbell is among the speakers who will share their expertise, tips and insights on how to “Be a Better Freelancer”® at the 2016 Communication Central conference, Oct. 28-29 at a new Hilton Garden Inn in Rochester, NY.

Other speakers include Rich Adin, Bevi Chagnon, Kat Friedrich, Carolyn Haley, Daniel Heuman, Pamela Owens Hilliard, Jack Lyon, Ally Machate, Dick Margulis, Adrienne Montgomery and Lori Paximadis. Geoff Hart may present a special workshop on Oct. 30.

NAIWE members are eligible for the colleague’s discount on registration. Watch this space for more details about session topics, speaker backgrounds and registration! Information also is in the Conferences section of www.communication-central.com.