Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Freelancing 101

Media Bistro has a discussion going about the merits and challenges of freelancing—the initial question being, “How long does it take to succeed at freelancing?” The discussion deals with how to get started, the benefits of a specialty, the income you might likely make, and how to manage getting gigs.

I would add:

• The Internet makes my specialty—health and medical writing—far more possible than it would have been even ten years ago. I can find medical research that would have been inaccessible to me because I do not live in a city with a medical research university or center.

• The Internet also improves access to experts. I can find emails for major researchers, give them my pitch by email, and add a spiel about my own university experience, which gets some of them to talk with me, as most have some sort of university connection. They can also Google me. One health researcher recently told me he turns down most media requests, but I looked like I knew my way around. He might have meant I looked old, who knows. Still, a well-crafted email with biographical information, which is what I send, can do wonders for access. Far better than a phone message that is by nature pretty abrupt. Of course, some folks still do not use email, so that means I have to develop a well-crafted phone spiel.

• Gizmos like Skype make international calling cheap and easy. You sound a little like Darth Vader, but people in New Zealand are usually understanding when you explain you are calling on your computer. You can even record your conversations.

• It is really easy to get lazy. I have a home office and I get myself in here every morning just like a real job. The afternoon is easy to fritter away, though, especially if I go out to lunch. Still, I am sort of retired, so I think I should have that latitude. But I still feel lazy.

• It is far easier to take good care of yourself when you are your own boss—usually. I get in my daily yoga and my daily walks, and it is easier to schedule around myself than to work around meetings and office hours and other things that require you to be at an office in nice shoes.

• I do sort of complain now when I have to “dress up” to jeans instead of my usual sweats.

• It can be difficult to balance the too-busy times, especially if you get assignments you really want to do. I have had a couple of months that were a tad stressful, but that was because I had a problem magazine I was working with, not because I was working a lot of stories. I dumped the magazine and lost that stress. And $2000 a story. So I have a hole to fill in, or a budget to realign. That’s no way to get to Machu Picchu. But the stress of the magazine was more than I thought was healthy. (Bad editor, bad planning, bad editing, slow payment.)

• I feel less isolated now that the weather is nice. Cabin fever can be a double-whammy when you are in an office with you alone.

• If you spend too much time writing things that you do not enjoy—things that just pay the bills—you might want to reconsider your approach. Good freelancers are strategic—working their way bit by bit to the types of assignments that challenge and reward them with more than just money.

• You have to be your own IT person.  I have a son, daughter and son-in-law who introduced me to Skype and got me started with some cool electronic stuff and who can help me with my random, "What the #@!%$#! is going on" sorts of problems.  And I am in awe of the Apple geniuses at our local Apple store.   Still, nothing can match having the IT guy come in and just fix what you need while you go out for a cup of coffee.  

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Tanner's Inner Ugly Betty

Tanner Stransky (2005) has just published a handy little book, Find Your Inner Ugly Betty: 25 Career Lessons for Young Professionals Inspired by TV Shows.     Tanner takes incidents from shows like Betty, The Office, 30 Rock, and How I Met Your Mother—plus his own experiences as a professional newbie—to demonstrate how to act, or not act, when you want to get a foothold on the career ladder.   It's  a helpful and concise primer on entering the workplace, full of on-target tips and real-life examples and written with Tanner's usual lively style. The Des Moines Register did an article about Tanner and the book this week.  When he in not channeling his inner Ugly Betty, Tanner writes for Entertainment Weekly.   Meet and greet Tanner during Relays week at East Village Books, 510 East Locust St., Des Moines at 5:30 p.m. April 24. He will give an author talk at 6:30 p.m.    

Thursday, April 10, 2008

An Editorial Guy in the IT World

This could be the answer to Meredith editors’ dreams: Phil Morgan (‘94), an editorial staffer with a talent for design, has joined the company’s IT department as a business analyst for content management. Why in God’s name would Phil do such a thing? He has always been a man of many hats, wearing his technology beret with as much panache as his editorial top hat (think Eustace Tilley of The New Yorker).

“I’m excited about the opportunity to be more focused on the type of work I really enjoy—database development and automation tools for editors and designers—but also nervous about working within IT, ”he says.

Phil jokes that it sometimes seems that Meredith’s IT department would like to refashion the corporation to be “a technology company with a very large publishing support group.” He plans to change as much of that as he can.

“I hope to work from within to change the culture. I’ve had plenty of first-hand experience with the current relationship between IT and editorial departments within the Publishing Group. So if I can bring a bit of perspective and a better sense of customer service, I might be able to do a little good.”

An IT guy who understands editorial and design? We see a lot of recent alums with these dual skills, but Phil has been in the workplace long enough to be at a level to really make a difference.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Big Bad Boss

In a comment on the last post, Mark Harbeke ('01) recommended Big Bad Boss, a great site that offers insights into dealing with devils who wear Prada. Check it out.

Friday, April 4, 2008

DEAR PEP: My Boss Went to Charm School with Simon Cowell

My boss is a bully. I often wonder if I have thin skin, or if he's really a bad manager. He tends to easily dismiss my ideas in front of the whole staff, mull about it for a bit, then come back later and present the same ideas as though they were his own. He harpooned me in my review, asking me if I was speaking ill about the magazine to the advertising folks at a trade show we were working. Funny though, because I had the flu and was not at the show. He is the most difficult, egotistical person I’ve ever met, professionally or otherwise. He makes others miserable as well, so it is not just me. It is amazing how we put out such a great product—it’s a pretty dysfunctional staff. I have been here only six months and I’m not sure I want to start a job search again. Should I stick it out or start looking?NOT READY FOR AMERICAN IDOL

DEAR IDOL: People who are overly driven by their egos tend to actually have some level of insecurity. It sounds like Boss Man is a little intimidated by you and needs to put you in your place to settle his own fears. If he were confident of his own ideas , why challenge—then swipe—yours? Or make up bogus accusations in your review? What you do about all this depends on how well you can work in this environment. Ask yourself: Does he make me question my talent or my skills? Is my work suffering, so that I have less respect for the finished product? Do I feel like I am being reduced professionally rather than growing? Does he make me overly anxious? If so, it may be time to get out of there.  But remember: Always go toward something good, not just away from something bad,  so wait until you have another job that is a good match.  If, however, you like your work and are proud of it and still feel like you are developing and growing professionally, then it could be worth sticking it out a bit longer. If you do stay, you obviously cannot avoid the boss, but you can avoid internalizing his nastiness.  When he's a jerk, take a deep breath,  put on your most professional face, and rise above it.  Don't try to argue with him if he is being unreasonable, but do continue to offer your ideas, even if he steals them.  Ultimately, it will be clear that your smarts are strengthening the magazine, and that reality is what is important, not how he sees it. It is always good to have reality on your side, which you do and he doesn't.   Let your work and the rewards of the magazine  be your motivators.  Ultimately, you can control how much power he has over your thoughts and feelings, even if he does control the big red pen. This is a big challenge—it is extremely difficult to not let somebody else’s negatives influence how we see, or live, our lives. But difficult people are everywhere—too often in the corner office—so learning to deal with them is good practice. The best thing we can do is keep their bad attitude from influencing ours.  Plus, it is always possible to outlast him. Perhaps you can start sending his resume elsewhere?