Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Dealing With Vague Complaints

When you're self employed, there will come a time where you deal with vague complaints. Now, sometimes these complaints are legitimate and the client simply doesn't understand how to fully express what they don't like about a project. Sometimes the complaints are not legitimate. It can be an excuse to get out of paying what is partially owed or the entire bill.

Quality Is Defined By Your Client

When you're in business for yourself, you have to understand one basic concept: your client defines quality. You may believe that you provide quality services, but what you think of as quality and what your client thinks of as quality are two different concepts. So, before you determine whether a vague complaint is legitimate, you must first understand your client's concept of quality. This includes understanding the purpose of the project, its scope, and how your client wants to be treated (among other factors).  This is something you should understand from the very first stage of communication. This involves you (as a service provider and human) really listening to your client and their needs. 

Is the Vague Complaint Legitimate?

It can be frustrating to get a vague complaint. It basically amounts to buying dinner and just saying, "I don't like it." Yet, you didn't really say what it is on the plate that you don't like. Is it one particular food? Is it the way something was prepared? Was it the way the meal was presented? Was it the service? (oooooohhhhh) So, you have the task of determining what it is that your client didn't like about what you provided. Now, sometimes they will give you little clues. So, you have to make sure that you pay attention to the initial contact to express their discontent. 

Then, it is on you as a professional to ask follow-up questions. Your questions will vary depending upon how much information you received. In extremely vague complaints, my return question is, "Can you tell me something specific in the project that makes you unhappy? I'd be glad to work with you and fix it."

Your idea of a legitimate complaint is often different from that of a client. Something may simply be a stylistic difference. Your job is to resolve it. You may be the professional, but your job is to make the client happy. This isn't necessarily about you being the most creative writer / artist / graphic designer. It's about a happy client who tells their friends about you. It's about you going that extra mile (without complaining about it). Now, with that said, if it turns out that the client doesn't like the sum total end result, you need to evaluate all of your written correspondence. Please, for the love of cheese, even if you have multiple phone conversations, always follow up with an email summary. This documents that you're on the same page. Read over your documentation of the process to determine if you've misunderstood something (because had you documented it in writing, you could have minimized the risk of misunderstanding). If you followed their directions to a T and it simply turned out differently than they anticipated, you have some decision making to do. There's really no right or wrong answer as to whether you should re-do the entire thing without charge or explain that you followed their requests and that if they are unhappy and have a different idea, you'll work with them on a new project amount. 


First, go back and read it. It's probably the best 5 minutes you'll invest in your business this week. 

If you get a vague complaint, follow up with respectful questions to determine the validity of the complaint. Some clients simply aren't good at expressing what they don't like and that makes them vague. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

How I use Gmail as a Freelancer

I am what many people would call the ideal writer. By that, I mean a reclusive cave dweller who may or may not decide to put on pants. I'd like to think that Hemingway would be proud...and that he would live in the middle of nowhere with an exquisite (although expensive) Internet connection that would enable him to write and shake his fist at the monstrosities of this world.

My reclusiveness is coupled with extreme introversion. It literally wears me out to be around people. I need alone time to recharge. I loved teaching college. I loved the idea behind being a paralegal (the law office? Not always so much). So, let's just say that my aversion to society (for numerous reasons) has meant an intense white-hot love affair with technology.

Yet...I also hate technology. I don't hate all technology.. I hate the urgency that it causes many of us to feel. I hate the way it makes us feel like slaves when in reality it is supposed to help us. I use Gmail. It's on my phone. It's on my Kindle. I access it directly from my laptop. I'm a freelancer. Gmail is an integral part of my business. I have clients around the world. It's much cheaper to rely on email than phone calls (and I hate talking on the phone). I also hate the constant notification of email. Used to be that the pinging sound on my phone was music to my ears. It meant business of some sort. Now? It's a distraction.

Okay, it was a distraction...until I screwed up Gmail on my phone...or at least...I thought I screwed it up. Turns out, I freed myself and made Gmail easier and more convenient for me to use as a freelancer. Here's what happened...

I had some notification on my phone. I'll be honest...for a writer, I sometimes read too fast. This time, I didn't read it at all. I can only presume now that it said, "Hi. I'm turning off your email notifications. It'll drive you bonkers for a day, but then you'll have an epiphany and then learn another amazing Gmail features, okay?" I clicked 'Okay' or 'Yes' or something. Hell, I don't know. I probably thought it needed permission to update. I was annoyed because it had gone off.

Then...silence. Later that night, I wondered why I hadn't heard my email notification tone...for hours. I was worried. I grabbed my phone and had to manually refresh my email. Yet, there was still no noise. Then I realized that whatever I had clicked earlier wasn't an update - it was to turn off automatic download of my email and the notifications. At first, I was pissed. I really do have a love-hate relationship with technology.

I couldn't figure out how to "fix it." I thought that I'd have to wait until my oldest son could fix it for me. Disgusted, I went to bed.

The next day I got into Gmail on my laptop. I was looking for a particular client email that I knew had a response that I hadn't read. Usually, I just star items that need follow up. Sometimes, I'll leave it unread just in case I overlook the star. I thought, "This is bullshit. There's gotta be an easier way." I like a clean inbox. I like to keep my email trash emptied. I'm one of THOSE types. I can't help it.

Sure enough, there was a better way. You can arrange your email to keep all unread emails together and all read emails together. Now I don't have to go sifting through email to find what I want. I can just leave it unread and it stays toward the top of my inbox. Here's the official Google Help file to do it.

So, if you're a freelancer and you want to get more done and feel like you have more control over your inbox, turn off the notifications and arrange your email for the unread messages to always be at the top. You'll stop jumping every time your email goes off. You can check it at set times throughout your day. And you'll find what you're looking for a lot faster.

Monday, November 30, 2015

WAHM Lesson #986 Dealing With Difficult Clients

This disclaimer will be part of every WAHM Lesson. While these are true things that I've experienced as a work at home mom, many are written to make you laugh. They may or may not have happened in the order that they are listed. So, why is there a disclaimer? Because I know certain people that read this blog simply looking for dirt. Good luck with that. You won't find any. Go away and worry about your own life. For everyone that's here to read, learn, and laugh...welcome. Feel free to comment.

I've been really, really lucky during the last couple of years that I've worked as a freelance writer and editor that I've not had a ton of difficult clients. Clients with different opinions? Yes. Clients with different communication styles? Yes. Truly difficult? I've been really lucky not to deal too much with that. At least until recently. 

The red flags were there from the first phone call. Client was scheduled to call at a certain hour my time and did not. I went on with my day. My phone rang two hours later and I was busy baking cinnamon rolls. They sent a message essentially stating that I had missed their designated call. I responded with the truth: I hadn't missed the call. They called two hours past the time they said they would. Then, an excuse was provided: power outage. They didn't realize the time. So, I told them to call me later in the evening. I took time away from my evening plans with my friends and family to talk to this person about their project. Their reason for missing the call changed: they had simply lost track of time. Alright, fine. 

We settled on my usual rate and I was asked to provide a paid sample. I used their presentation (provided by them) and their blog (provided by them). I sent it over and a day or so later received a response that they had to "edit" my work more than they've ever had to edit anything. I found that odd. They asked for another sample. I asked that they return my work with Track Changes so that I could correct any issues needed. I've worked with several companies in this fashion and never have I had an issue. 

I looked at it earlier today when I had time. It wasn't a problem with the writing. It was stylistic changes. There was one misspelled word. There was also one sentence the person didn't like and stated they couldn't find it on Google. I can't speak for Google...especially since I'm not in the business of plagiarism. The information came straight from their presentation. Past that? It was minor stylistic changes. 

It dawned on me at that very moment that I am not the writer they need. I prefer honesty. Stylistic changes do not constitute editing. Changing excuses about missing a phone call just isn't honesty. Instead of putting my business or their time in jeopardy, I chose to end the contract. I included a note that stated we had different communication styles and I did not feel that I was the writer they needed. I gave them positive feedback. Why? Because sometimes it really just is the fact that you have conflicting work styles and personalities. It's not a huge problem. They left a little better than average feedback and included a note that "apparently" did not take criticism well and had ended the contract "abruptly."

Am I worried about how it well affect my ability to get more work? No. Here's why: I did and said the right thing. I knew that we would not work well together. Instead of making them or myself miserable, I chose to move on. I wished them well. I had nothing negative to say (although I probably could have). Also, the majority of my clients (including ghostwriting clients) are long term. I don't end contracts abruptly unless there is a reason for it. Anyone can see when they look at the feedback I provided (and the clear reason) and their response (which is essentially a decent rating and a complaint) that I wasn't the issue. 

So, how do you deal with a difficult client? Well, it depends on the difficulty. I've had difficult clients in the past. Generally, I finish the job and just don't work with them again. That's essentially what I did here. Then, it's just a bless and release. To deal with a difficult client, you find a nice way to just break it off. Even when it's not your fault as a freelancer it is generally easiest to give them the "It's not you, it's me" virtual speech. Other options, that you should only use if they are true, include offers for full time contract work and no longer freelancing. 

You can avoid this altogether by watching for the same red flags that I ignored. It's true that in the beginning that you sometimes just have to take what you can get. Most potential clients really don't act like this. Understand the difference between demanding excellence and nitpicking. I'm sought after for a reason, and the opinion of a nitpicking client really won't make or break my day or my business

Seriously, though, watch for those red flags. Also, trust your gut. I knew I should have said no and I didn't...partially because (as Bull says) I try to see the good in everyone. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Crockpot Tortellini and Sausage

I found a crockpot tortellini and sausage recipe on Just a Pinch. I've made a few modifications to it in order to reduce salt and fat.

  • 3 c. low sodium chicken, fat free chicken broth (I use bouillon granules)
  • 2 (14.5 oz) cans of no salt added diced tomatoes
  • Kielbasa
  • 1 package Louisa cheese tortellini
  • 1/2 package frozen spinach
  • 1 (8 oz.) fat free cream cheese
  • Black pepper to taste
  • Oregano to taste
  • Rosemary to taste
  • Sage to taste
  • Ground thyme to taste
  • Garlic powder to taste
  • Onion powder to taste
If you have Italian seasoning blend in your spice rack, you can use that instead of the oregano, rosemary, sage, and thyme. 

You can totally do what Just a Pinch says and dump everything into your crockpot, give it a stir, and cook it on low. I really enjoy the entire process of cooking. So, first I put in the broth and tomatoes. Next, I added the seasonings. I tasted it to make sure that I liked the amounts that I used. As you can see, I didn't add any extra salt. Kielbasa has a lot of salt in it. That, and I'm 37 and have a slight issue with high blood pressure from time to time. 

After I got it flavored the way I know that Bull and I will like it (since it's just us this week - which means I bet I have to freeze a portion), I cubed the cream cheese and added it. Then, I sliced the kielbasa. If you've never had kielbasa, look for it. You can also use Polish sausage. It's essentially the same thing. I do NOT recommend getting John Morrell. The taste isn't very good. Either purchase Farmland or Eckrich. I buy whichever is on sale. Add this to the sauce.

Next, add half of a small package of frozen spinach. You could use fresh spinach if you have it or if that's less expensive in your area. I used frozen because I never use an entire bunch of fresh spinach before it begins to turn. 

Finally, add your package of tortellini. I stirred mine to get as many of the tortellini pieces as I could in the liquid. I have mine on low. I'm a fairly experienced home cook...so I expect it to be done in about 4 hours. I do plan on stirring it from time to time. Which, if you don't know, pushes back your cooking time by 15 minutes each time you open the lid. 

You could cook this on the stove top fairly fast, too. Just boil the tortellini in water (then drain). Then, cook it with the sausage and spinach in your sauce. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Bad moods, slow times, and douchebaggery

When I woke up this morning at 6:30 am, I had three thoughts:

  1. Why the fuck is it pitch black outside? Time just rolled back. Which means that if it were last Tuesday, it would be 7:30 am and pitch black outside. WTF is this shit?
  2. Do I really have to get up and face the day?
  3. Why hasn't my husband's alarm gone off since he had a contract to attend to within an hour?
Queue the waking him up to make sure he wasn't late. He wasn't, by the way, going to be late. His alarm went off 10 minutes later. I'm not an asshole wife. I only woke him up because his alarm has this habit of not working. So weird. 

I was in a shit mood. I wasn't upset with anyone. I wasn't in a bad mood. It was just the feeling of, "Blah...here we go again." Then, my husband fixed it by giving me that hug that everyone says they want on FB. You know, the one where all the "broken pieces" stick back together. And it was amazing. And I felt better...at least, until we hit morning traffic. 

Just in case you were wondering, freelancing (self-employment of any kind, really) isn't for the faint of heart. We've been really lucky over the last couple of years. I have a pretty sound mind for business decisions. Other than the first couple of months when I started, we've been able to predict my income fairly well. We've done alright. We aren't rich by anyone's standards. Yet, we manage to keep the bills paid, the family fed, and a roof over our head. Of course, by world standards that's pretty fucking impressive. 

The last two months have been slow. Really slow. In September, we felt the pinch. No big deal. There's always a bit of a fall slump because of the back to school stuff. I don't know why. It's not me. I work just as much, if not more, than I did during the summer. I think that, in reality, it's businesses taking some time to reassess their needs now that their workforce is back from summer vacation. It wasn't a big pinch. All the necessities were taken care of. In October, it was slow again. Ouch. Double ouch when you think about the upcoming holidays. 

I took the "I'll enjoy the quiet while it lasts" approach because for me? The quiet times are few and far between. So, at first it was like a universe sanctioned vacation. Unpaid, of course. I started an art project. I did some personal writing. I just slowed down and caught my breath. 

I've always been fairly good with money. If you're not good with money, you probably shouldn't be self-employed. I've been able to make less money take care of business. So, overall...it was stressful, but alright. 

Last week, I started to panic inside. Work still hadn't picked up. My academic students already had their papers edited by me. The websites that relied on me for their editing were all caught up. Oh shit. So, I started scrambling and applying for more gigs. I landed a nice one. Of course, it's not full time work or even steady work. It's "as needed." Overall, that's fine. I love variety. 

Oh, then there was a lawyer who contacted me for writing articles for his very well to do firm. How do I know he's well to do? In addition to telling me, he sent me his website which listed all of his awards (both from the community / bar and monetary from court). So, I gave him a below average bid on four articles. It was still a good rate, a reasonable rate for me. He wrote back, "Give me your best rate." Really, dude? My life does not revolve around garage sale bargain pricing. I don't get to call my electric company and offer then $10 for my $100 electric bill. I don't get to call the gas company and offer then $20 for a $200 gas bill. That's what I wanted to say...I didn't. I responded and told him that IS my best rate. He basically responded with, "LULZ...nu-uh! Give me your best rate." So, I know someone that I won't be working with. Such douchebaggery. Do you think he allows clients to haggle his rates? That's a big fat nope.

Then, a week ago today I felt sick. Really sick. At first, I didn't think anything of it. Anyone with kids knows that they are walking petri dishes. Well, I was sick from Tuesday until Sunday. In the midst of that, the work from all of my clients began to pick back up. So, I went from panicking because I had practically no work to panicking because how will I ever get it done? 

So, as I sit here and contemplate if I write the four articles that are due, finish my pitch for a legal website, or edit a last minute paper...the dog has decided I shouldn't do any of it. In fact, she didn't want me to write this blog post to remind you of the instability of freelance work. 

There's no real reason for this post other than I'm killing time. I guess if you need to learn anything from what I said it would be continue to flesh out work or keep good relationships with "as needed" clients during the times you have a ton of work so that you have something to do during slow times. That worked for me for two years. I was lucky that my slow period was only a couple of months, but that still puts a pinch on things. 

Panda says HI GUYS.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015


I received this product for free from INFLUENSTER and popchips for the purposes of testing.

Okay, I love baked chips. I love sea salt. Because of my recent rekindling love of fitness, I don't eat fried chips anymore. So, I was really excited to get a voxbox that I wasn't expecting to get.

Popchips are gluten free. They are vegan. They are cholesterol free and don't use synthetic colors, preservatives, or fake flavoring. Instead of frying or baking, they are cooked using pressure.

Downside? A third of the calories are fat calories. They also have 150mg of sodium although being sea salt, that's just the compromise we make.

I love the texture. I love the crunch. I love that my hands aren't greasy. I love that I can eat a small package without too much guilt. Hey. I do like....almost 11 miles every day so...I think I can eat a small bag of chips! :)

I can taste the rice flour used. Unfortunately, I think it tastes a bit like licking a piece of cardboard.

But...I bet that the other flavors are great. I do like having an option for a "healthier" potato chip. If you watch your salt, fat, or caloric intake for any reason....I'm a heart patient...then you should check out Popchips.

Overall, I like them. I'd definitely get them from a vending machine I'd saw them in there.

Monday, October 26, 2015

WAHM Lesson #67 - Sometimes Your Schedule Doesn't Mean Shit

This disclaimer will be part of every WAHM Lesson. While these are true things that I've experienced as a work at home mom, many are written to make you laugh. They may or may not have happened in the order that they are listed. So, why is there a disclaimer? Because I know certain people that read this blog simply looking for dirt. Good luck with that. You won't find any. Go away and worry about your own life. For everyone that's here to read, learn, and laugh...welcome. Feel free to comment.

I am a big, big advocate of keeping some sort of schedule when you work from home. Believe me, it's just better...because otherwise your entire day has gotten away from you. Before you know it, it's bedtime for everyone. You're exhausted and you damn sure do not feel like working. So, your schedule is your friend.

I don't time stuff down to the minute. That, for me, is a bit over the top. I get up between 6 am and 8 am unless I was already up all night. It's breakfast and family time until school time on kid week. Then, after school drop off I come home and do a couple of chores or a workout....then, I get to work. I work until it's time to get the little one from school. If I didn't work out in the morning, I go around 1 or 2 pm to the gym to get it in.

When we get home, it's snack time and then dinner time is soon upon us. Then, I try to get a little more work in either on client projects or projects of my own. That's usually coupled with hanging out with the family. And, you know, the winding down routine of the evening. Sometimes after he's in bed, I have to work some more.

Yet...sometimes....your schedule doesn't mean shit (and that's not even because of the kids). It could be family emergencies. It could be (true story) texting a client back to set up a call later in the day and their response is, "I'm free now," while you stare longingly at your shower. It could be a last minute change. If you typically go to the grocery store the evening that you are often paid, that will obviously change if your client was busy and didn't send the payment.

So, it's important that you have some sort of backup plan. Make sure that you know what you can work on in times where you're sitting at the ER (unless it's your own kid - then you might want to leave the work at home). Make sure that you know the consequences of texting your clients before you've officially started your day. Make sure that you have a backup plan for when your clients fall behind even momentarily. If you don't, you'll find that losing control of your schedule will drive you crazy. If you're new, you might not give working from home a fair shake because you failed to plan ahead for these instances.