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Archive for March, 2008

Why Freelancing Sucks

March 26th, 2008 by Bob Bly

GM, a reader of this blog, posed a question to me recently.

“Bob, you say that the freelance life has a large number of pros ? and probably an equal number of cons. What would you say is the #1 drawback of being a freelance writer?”

I think there are as many answers to that question as there are freelance writers on the planet.

I talk with a LOT of freelancers. Among their most common complaints are clients who: don?t like your copy ? ask for endless revisions ? haggle over fees ? rewrite everything ? want copy written overnight ? never return calls ? or don?t pay their bills on time.

For me, the biggest drawback to self-employmentn is the outrageous expense of paying for private health insurance. The annual premiums for our family are now equal to the annual salary I earned in my first writing job out of college, as incredible as that sounds.

Every month I write that huge premium check, and it makes me sick. Then, when we file medical bills for reimbursement, they send them back again and again for verification or more information — improving their cash flow by delaying our check.

The freelance life isn’t all beers and skittles. What bugs YOU about being a freelancer? What’s YOUR biggest headache in your freelance writing business? I’d love to know!


Category: General | 70 Comments »

I Have Seen the Future, and It Is Automated

March 25th, 2008 by Bob Bly

Decades ago, there was a terrific restaurant in NYC with no waiters: the Horn & Hardart Automat.

All the food was displayed behind glass windows. To order, you inserted your bills and coins in a slot, pushed a button, removed your sandwich or pie, and put it on your tray — no waiting, no being ignored by busy wait staff, no tipping.

Now, automation and self-service are returning with a vengeance:

** In LA, you can buy medical marijuana from a vending machine if you have a magnetic card authorizing you to do so.

** Expensive consumer electronics, including cell phones and iPods, can also be purchased from vending machines, eliminating the need to go to Best Buy or Radio Shack.

** At my local supermarket, there is now a self-service line with no cashier or clerk to ring up your items or pack your groceries.

“Are we coming to a day and age when we will never have to interact with another person ever again?” asks NYC radio personality Elvis Duran.

Of course, there are cons as well as pros to automation and self service. When buying consumer electronics, you can’t haggle over the price with a vending machine or robot.

Presumably, you get less service with self service (inherent in the term “self service”).

You also deny yourself the expert advice and help of knowledgeable salespeople, such as the do-it-yourself tips you might get from the older clerk in a good neighborhood hardware store.

But even that kind of expert advice may soon be computerized: in France, they are developing a PC software program that can substitute for a live psychotherapist.

Beta versions have received high marks from both patients and professionals alike.

Is there any of us who isn’t at risk of becoming obsolete and replaced by a machine sooner or later?


Category: General | 62 Comments »

Are You a Broken Man (or Woman)?

March 17th, 2008 by Bob Bly

In an interview with The Record (3/13/08, p. 20), rabbi and author Shmuley Boteach warned readers that there’s much more to life than the pursuit of professional success — something that many entrepreneurs are obsessed with.

“The broken American male’s only criteria for success is professional success, how much money he makes, how many things he acquires, how far up the ladder he climbs. He is trained to be a lifelong competitor.”

Aside from being perhaps a tad materialistic, what’s wrong with that, you may ask?

Plenty, says Rabbi Boteach, because there is always someone higher up the ladder than you … and in comparison, you will always feel like a failure.

Our culture, he says, is not a circle where everyone is treated as equal, but a pyramid, where only men like Donald Trump and Bill Gates are at the top.

The broken American male “compares himself to them and he feels like a failure” … because in our society, money and power — not personal commitments — are the locus of our self-esteem.

Certainly, many of the “make money online” promoters play on the consumer’s inferiority complex.

Their online ads brag about their latest million-dollar home or $100,000 sports car — saying, in effect, “Gee, look how great I am; don’t you wish you could be me?”

I have found myself growing tired as of late of all the online bragging and boasting … and wishing these promoters didn’t have to build themselves up at others’ expense.

Do you measure your own self-worth mainly by money and achievement — and if so, do you ever beat yourself up for falling short?

Or do you enjoy a balanced sense of self, in which the kind of person you are is just as important as what you own or how much you make?


Category: General | 56 Comments »

The #1 Perk of Freelance Writing

March 12th, 2008 by Bob Bly

A few weeks ago during a tele-seminar, the interviewer asked me, “Bob, why did you become a freelance copywriter?”

I answered with the first thing that came into my head: “The thing I love most about being a freelance writer is not having to wear a suit and tie.”

He laughed. But I wasn’t kidding.

Yes, the freelance life has a large number of pros … and probably an equal number of cons.

Some of the perks are big things: the ability to work at home (which I don’t), spend more time with family, throw away your alarm clock, work your own hours, choose the work you do, and be your own boss.

But sometimes, it’s the little things that make a big difference.

The little thing I hated most about my stint in corporate America was having to put on a suit and tie every day.

As a freelancer, I can throw on a pair of jeans with a rip in the knee and an old flannel shirt in seconds, and I am ready to start the day.

Beard stubble? Shave later … or tomorrow. Need a haircut? I’ll worry about it next week.

Next to not dressing up, the second best thing about freelancing is not fighting rush hour traffic.

Most freelancers work at home and brag about the 60-second commute from their bedroom to their attic office.

My rented office is only 8 miles from my house — a pleasant 15-minute drive through local streets that totally avoids rush hour traffic.

I know all this may sound a bit petty … but as I said, it’s often the LITTLE things that make the biggest difference.

Are you a freelancer in your field? If so, what’s your favorite thing about the freelance lifestyle?

If you’re not a freelancer — but are thinking of making the transition from corporate employment to self employment — what tempts you most about the freelance business?


Category: General | 37 Comments »

Another Nail in Print’s Coffin

March 11th, 2008 by Bob Bly

One of my greatest pleasures is to read trade journals, newsletters, and business magazines at home or during lunch (like many of you, I don’t have time to read them during working hours).

But according to an article in BtoB (3/10/08, p. 28), I may soon be denied that privilege, as magazines discontinue their print editions and make their content available on the Web only.

The article notes that advertising in printed magazines plays “an increasingly subordinate role in marketing communications.”

Alan Meckler, CEO of Jupitermedia, comments: “I would think that every b-to-b magazine is being wound down and will ultimately be online.”

Publishing online saves publishers a king’s ransom in printing and distribution costs.

But I want a magazine I can read at the counter of the diner where I eat my lunch. And the highlight of my weekend is reading the Sunday New York Times while having coffee at my kitchen table.

How about you? Will you miss print publications when they are gone — and do you agree with Meckler that they will indeed soon vanish?

Or would you rather read your industry trade publications on your PC screen — and celebrate the impending demise of dead tree media?

Late-breaking development: according to a cover story in today’s DM News (3/10/08, p.1), Ziff Davis, the magazine publisher, just filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

The handwriting is on the wall….


Category: Writing and the Internet | 57 Comments »

Are Your Clients Ignorant and Arrogant?

March 5th, 2008 by Bob Bly

My late friend, the accomplished Michigan ad man James Alexander, once told me: “I can work with a client who is ignorant. I can work with a client who is arrogant. But I cannot work with one who is both.”

A client who is ignorant but not arrogant doesn’t know anything about advertising, cheerfully admits it, and defers to your superior knowledge and expertise.

A client who is arrogant but not ignorant is one who knows at least as much about advertising as you do, and more than you do about their product and market. The best relationship with this client is collaborative in nature.

A client who is both arrogant and ignorant is the one who cheerfully admits she knows nothing about advertising, and then proceeds to tell the copywriter or ad agency how to do their job. If there is a disagreement, she seldom listens to advice, and trusts her own admittedly minimal instincts and experience instead.

The client who is arrogent and ignorant should be avoided. You may tell her there should be only one cook in the kitchen (you), or that if she hired you as the chauffer she should let you drive, but it is usually to no avail. It is nearly impossible to do good work for the simultaenously ignorant and arrogent client.

Which kinds of clients do you serve? Ignorant? Arrogant? Neither? Both? And what is your reaction when they make changes that in your opinion will make the marketing less effective?


Category: General | 159 Comments »