16 May 2006

Copyright issues

Yesterday, I was contacted bright and early (very early!) by a potential client who wanted me to write feature articles for a website. I sent some work samples and a CV and was asked for my rates. While I was calculating what to charge, based on time I'd need to spend doing the research as well as the writing, they rang me. A friendly, useful and optimistic conversation followed. We discussed rates and I asked for the upper end of what they were willing to pay. We agreed a fee per feature and the client said they'd e-mail me a transfer of copyright agreement. So far so good.

However, when the e-mail arrived, I felt very uncomfortable. The agreement was badly worded and, in effect, I was being asked to transfer all my intellectual property rights including the non-transferable ones. Also, there would be no byline - as every writer knows, getting credit for what you write is vital. Luckily for me, the beloved P was at home at that point as he was about to embark on a business trip. And he's a lawyer. And he does IPR. And contract law. So I got him to look it over. I also took some advice from some fellow journalists and the NUJ.

I mailed back, explaining why I wasn't happy with their proposed agreement and suggesting we use the standard NUJ confirmation of commission form instead, which is much clearer about both sides' rights and responsibilities. They weren't willing to sign a copy of this or accept one from me.

So I then suggested, on the advice I had sought, that if I wouldn't get a byline, I'd accept a biog on a contributors page. And, more importantly, I suggested that I'd be willing to hand over full copyright for my work if they were willing to pay me double the agreed fee. I thought this fair exchange.

Today, the client said there was no chance of doubling my fee, so I pulled out and suggested they recommission the job.

There was a huge principle at stake here - namely, my right to be associated with my work and to be fairly paid for it. I gather from the correspondence other journalists are more willing to hand over their work in its entirety (and presumably for less money than I negotiated initially as well). More fool them. I myself was not willing to cave in under pressure.

My portfolio is a demonstration of my skills and thus also my worth. If I can't get a credit for what I have done, I can't prove I did it. Any freelance could lift an unbylined article off the web and claim they wrote it for the publisher. But why should anyone believe that? There's no proof it's your work. And certainly no proof that it's mine.

I've just turned down a considerable amount of regular weekly income for this principle. I have no regrets. Money is not everything. But holding out for what's right is.

13 May 2006

A productive few days

I was exhausted by Friday evening as it was an exceptionally busy week. I spent two whole days creating copy for a client's website - a process that entailed hours spent on the phone with my graphic designer while we talked things through, looked at the draft designs (which have been approved) and amended the search tags I had to write. The client was unavailable whenever I tried to contact him, which was frustrating. I sent him an e-mail full of questions that I needed answers to, then I sent another e-mail with 5 pages of draft copy. The designer has already seen them and given the thumbs up and, while his opinion is important, the one that really counts is the client's. I know he was around as he'd been at the designer's studio in the morning, being talked through the design drafts. My designer works across the road from my base, so the client could have called, especially as he'd told the designer he was going to ring me. An annoyance, but I'm sure I'll hear from him first thing Monday.

I completed the edit of the latest book chapter on Tuesday. My client, who is the "real" editor, has subcontracted this job to me. She mailed me to say there were definitely 3 more chapters in the pipeline but couldn't say when. We agreed I'd invoice her for the 8 I've already edited. I was relieved about that as I've been on this job since March and have clocked up a lot of hours. Seeing some money would be good.

I found time at the end of Friday to write a free article for an e-newsletter on why small businesses need to hire professionals to write their copy. It wasn't totally altruistic, as I'll get a plug for my own business. But on the altruistic side, it's a subject I feel passionate about - so many start-ups fail because they don't get their publicity right. Badly worded web copy full of spelling errors is a real turn off to customers. In my view, businesses that don't care how they come across often don't care about their customers. Getting it right can make a real difference to turnover and customer retention. Getting it wrong can mean business failure. And with 16 million workers out there with the literacy skills of a primary school student, it's vital that start-ups invest in their business literature. I'm always amazed that start-ups will happily shell out for a graphic designer, legal advice, a book-keeper and the rest but then decide to save money by writing their own copy. It's an expensive mistake.

My local weekly paper is once again running its county-wide business competition. This is the third year of the Cheshire Business Awards. I'm tempted to enter this year, now I've been freelance for more than 16 months. I need to talk it through with my beloved P.

I watched the final of The Apprentice on Wednesday. I shall miss it now it's finished as it's been riveting. Here I am, a sole trader working from home, doing reasonably well, and doing every single job for the business - I write, I edit, I proofread (the stuff that earns the money), then I do the books, invoice the clients and pay my suppliers, make the coffee, market myself to potential clients, manage myself, do my own appraisals... the only thing I don't have to do is clean my office - we pay someone for that. And there are these supposedly competent managers begging to work for Alan Sugar. What a bunch of hopeless, conniving, back-stabbing, bitchy and useless idiots most of them were!. I wouldn't give one of them a day's free work experience at Chateau Wordsmith. I was glad Michelle won, she deserved it. Ruth will do well for herself anyway. Dunno how I shall fill my Wednesday nights though now, unless I go to the belly dancing class up the road from my house. I've been sorely tempted for a while.

I missed my networking meeting on Thursday evening due to the heavy workload. I need to get out more.

09 May 2006

Best laid plans and bad payers

I managed to screw up my work plans today. I totally forgot that it was the funeral of a relative of a good friend of ours. Spotted the date and time scrawled on my notepad, realised it was today and immediately called my friend to let him know I’d be there, P of course, being off on a work trip. I had to rearrange everything I’d planned, dig out something suitable to wear and get over to the crematorium, which was only a short cab ride away, fortunately.

Before I fled the office, I chased up one of my late payers. The money is in the bank already. My statement isn’t due for a couple of weeks and the client had said she was sending me a cheque, so I’d been anxiously awaiting the postie every morning. She’d changed her mind and made a bank transfer instead. The money’s been there for 11 days and I never knew until I logged in to see the state of my account.

At least that one is done and dusted. Another client owes me several hundred pounds for two copywriting jobs I did earlier this year. Back in early February, I was hired to write some web copy and a press release. I sent the drafts and got a reply saying she needed to look at it with her business partner. That was fine – business people are busy people, after all. I was busy in the interim, working on editing a book. However, 7 weeks later, I chased her up as I hadn’t heard anything bar apologetic e-mails explaining that she was still waiting for her partner to approve my drafts. It turned out they’d already used the copy on the website! I rushed off to have a look and sure enough, where there had previously been only a holding page, now my words were there for the world to see. I invoiced her immediately as I was furious. Four weeks later and I’m about to send her a payment reminder – my terms are 30 days and she’s got one day left in which to cough up before I get tetchy.

This is not the first time I've had trouble getting paid. I hate late payers more than any other type of client. I’ve heard every excuse in the book, although I’ve not been inundated with bad payers. The worst client I ever had was a web design company that handled major accounts for multinational clients. They phoned me in a panic and asked me at less than a day’s notice to proofread a site that was about to go live. The problem was that it meant working at their office 20 miles away, in the middle of nowhere, and I don’t drive for medical reasons. I checked train timetables, sorted out cab numbers and off I went. The job was done in half a day and I billed them immediately for my time and travel expenses. Three months later, I still hadn’t seen a penny. Phone calls to the accounts department were never returned (the person I wanted to talk to was never available) and e-mails went unanswered. Finally, I got heavy – I sent an e-mail saying if I wasn’t paid immediately, I’d be taking legal action and charging them for interest and compensation under the UK Late Payment of Commercial Debts (Interest) Act 1998. I had mail back with 5 minutes saying the cheque was in the post…

Yeah, yeah, I thought. I’ll believe it when I see it. Amazingly, the cheque arrived the next morning. I’ve never worked for them again though. I hate travelling to work on premises, for one thing, but I don’t work again for bad payers. Once is enough.

Time to forage for food and watch EastEnders.

A full week ahead

My schedule is extremely full this week. I aim to complete the first drafts of the phase 1 web copy for my client by Friday - that's seven or eight pages in total. Some of it has already been done for the brochure that was completed 3 weeks ago and just needs tweaking for web readability and search engine optimisation. Some has to be written from scratch.

I am in the middle of doing some pro bono copywriting and editing for a campaigning organisation that is close to my heart. This body has been through a major upheaval in the last 18 months, including a change of legal status. The changes are all in place now, in time for a relaunch, which is where I come in. I've been heavily involved in creating new membership information that will shortly be sent out. I spent two hours on the phone last night discussing various aspects. There will be an online meeting tonight for the entire team, which I have to attend as well, to discuss the roll-out.

I have a batch of documents to proofread for a regular client that are arriving in my in-box at odd times and need to be turned around quickly. Another client I have just taken on is using my services daily to proofread her letters before they are sent out.

I have two clients who need chasing for payment and I need to call my website hosting company about a minor matter.

Thursday requires my attendance at a local business networking meeting. I can see I'm not going to have a lot of free time this week. It helps, in a strange way, that my beloved P will be away on business for some of the week. I shall miss him, of course, but his absence will free up some time to catch up with the small tasks.

I have a holiday looming too, which means I need to find time to chase up old friends in the city we are visiting, so that we can meet up again. That involves e-mailing my ex-husband in Moscow, which I'm not looking forward to.

Enough waffling - it's gone 9 am. Although I've already done an hour's work, I still need to shower and dress and start tackling the workload.

05 May 2006

A productive day

Despite my fury this morning, I have done a lot of work. Five documents for a favourite client, the document for the annoying client and some proofreading for a new client I've just picked up from a networking website (plus a long phone call with her and drafting a contract as she will be sending me work on a daily basis). I had a long chat with my graphic designer about the website we are working on for our mutual client. I didn't even start the copy today but we have drafted a sitemap and worked out which pages will be done for which phase. And we threw some ideas around, as I always have the sales aspect in mind for clients and what will or will not work. I also sent out a bunch of invoices and caught up with some of my accounts, called the chamber of commerce yet again about my fees, e-mailed a client about feature writing for her website and e-mailed my accountant about the looming tax return.

Let me tell you about my graphic designer - he's great to work with. We met last year at a networking meeting, swapped business cards and arranged to meet for a pint one lunchtime. He actually has an office about three minutes' walk from me, which is very convenient now I'm no longer driving. Anyway, we hit it off because we like to work in a similar way. Shortly after, I got a call from a client who need a website overhaul. I agreed to take on the job and then it turned out her web designer had gone off to Bahrain or somewhere and was no longer available. So I brought my graphic designer in on the project. We worked amazingly well together on that first job and, since then, have worked together on other projects. This current one is the biggest yet that we have worked on together and has underlined yet again what a great team we make. We are so in tune with each other - he has the ability to see how the words need to work with the design, while I understand the importance of the design when it comes to the patter.

I love the fact that he's local - it's so easy to organise meetings if we are working on joint projects. Like me, he's from elsewhere too, so we also share the fact that we've both only been living in our town a couple of years. It's great to have someone like this you can trust to deliver a good job - he's really talented and easy to rub along with too. On the current project, we have so far created three exhibition banners and a brochure. Now we're doing the company website. There will be other stuff down the line, such as magazine advertisements.

Today he passed on my contact details to a local photographer who wants to use my services. This is useful for me not just in terms of earning from him but also working together in the future. I never know if I will land a client who suddenly needs a good local photographer as well.

That's it for this week. It's gone 5 and I have a glass of wine in my hand. Time to enjoy the sunshine and look forward to the weekend...


I have a client for whom I did a major project last year - a total overhaul of her website (the original one was a disaster zone, it looked dreadful visually and the copy was appalling - badly written and full of typos - not exactly enticing for her own potential clients). I wrote 60 web pages of copy for her and brought in my graphic designer to build her a new, attractive site.

Since then, because her English is not that great, I have done various proofreading and editing jobs for her, mainly cleaning up her tenders and course literature. She has an infuriating habit of calling me at two hours' notice to do a job for her on the assumption that I can do it on the spot. She seems to think I don't have any other clients and just sit at my desk playing computer games until she deigns to call for my help. Sometimes she calls me to resolve her computer problems because she doesn't know how to use it properly. It's staggering that she has a six-figure turnover and doesn't know how to use Windows' most standard programmes. It's not as if she is uneducated, either. Once she sent me a document in a template that had come from a third party, in which she had added text to the requisite boxes. She told me the text was red when it was supposed to be black, and was scored through. I said I would try to resolve it. On opening the document, it was clear that "track changes" was switched on. I did the editing and sent it back to her, only to receive an anguished call from her that everything was still red and scored through. Patiently, I talked her through how to switch off "track changes" so that she could see the final version.

The last time she dumped a job on me at the last minute, I agreed to do it under duress as I was pretty busy that day, and asked her politely to book her work in in future so I could make time for her on my daily schedule. She agreed.

I wish.

This morning she rang me at 7.30 am to tell me she had just sent me a 20-page tender that needs editing. I was in the shower when she called and my heart sank when I played back my voice mail. I already have two urgent editing jobs booked in this morning, plus a chapter of a book I've been working on since March. The latter is less urgent but still needs to be done. I also need to start the copywriting for another client's website, as that has to be totally signed off by next Friday. And I still need to send out last month's invoices.

I was pretty pissed off. Somehow, I managed to call her back and talk to her without losing my temper. I told her firmly that this would be the last time I would reshuffle my work in order to fit her in if she doesn't give me advance warning. I insisted she call me in advance if she knows she has a job in the pipeline for me. She replied that she didn't always know exactly when something would be ready, and I countered that if she knew it would be between x and y dates that would be fine, as long as I had a rough idea of a window in which to squeeze it in. It turned out that she had this particular job ready to send last night, but she didn't bother to call me and ask if it would be possible. I told her that even last-minute jobs can be handled with some warning, even if I have to subcontract to another editor and check it over myself before it goes back to the client.

She wants the document back by 10 am. I told her it would be 12 noon. I hope the message has finally got through to her today that I am not a slave at her beck and call.

I'm very well used to turning around jobs at short notice - I used to work as a financial editor at a major investment bank, where everything was deadline-driven according to the demands of Europe's stock markets, and all the reports were written by non-native English speakers. It was damn tough, especially when you add in the need for absolute accuracy in such an environment.

But I work for myself now and I set the rules. My clients know I am very flexible but on the whole they understand why they need to book their work in with me.

Now I have to re-plan my morning completely and find the time in which to do her work.

04 May 2006

Shock exit

Like a lot of people in business, I've been hooked on The Apprentice and have written about it in my previous blogs on MySpace. Last week, I predicted the exit of Michelle and Ansell, despite my loathing of Paul. So I was wrong, but also delighted when Paul got the boot last night. It was long overdue for the cocky misogynist. I honestly didn't expect Michelle to make it this far but it's fantastic to see two women in the final. My money was previously on the Badger to win, but now I'm not so sure.

A busy day ahead today. More later.

03 May 2006

An introduction

Hmmm, where to start? I've already been blogging about my work life on MySpace but I feel like venturing further afield...

After 27 years as a salaried journalist, editor, copywriter and corporate communicator, I finally turned freelance 16 months ago. I run a small but thriving business in north-west England, which continues to grow as I pick up new clients. I picked up my first client a full month before I started "trading" (that is such a weird expression for someone like me - it seems more applicable to a market-stall holder than a wordsmith) when I was at a networking meeting. I love what I do because it comes as naturally to me as breathing and it seems almost a luxury to earn money from it, although like most people I have bills to pay and rounds at the pub to buy... and I also need the occasional bitchfest when I get frustrated with clients or projects.

This was my day today:

A long meeting this morning with my graphic designer and one of our joint clients. Lots of good things came out of it. The company is "thrilled" with the exhibition banners and the brochure we did. Their latest sales trip has already resulted in increased leads and interest, for which we can take a fair bit of the credit. We discussed the next insert for the brochure (one has already been done) but then the client decided starting the website was more urgent. We agreed. I now have less than two weeks to draft the first four pages of copy and get them completely signed off before the client's next sales trip. Just seven working days and within that time, I need to bone up on tips from the graphic designer for boosting search engine optimisation through keywords in the copy. The rest of the website will be done piecemeal over the summer, as we add product pages etc. Then there's the software manual to do, which will be written by their in-house technical writer and edited by me for readability and user-friendliness. I suggested producing a house style manual at some stage so that the technical writer and I are achieving linguistic consistency. This was agreed. The client also confirmed that this would be a long-term working relationship, given the company's delight at what we have done so far. I'm pleased as the work will be regular and frequent.

Afterwards, my graphic designer told me he wants me on board for at least one new project, possibly two. Excellent news. In return, I've asked him to completely redo my website this summer. It desperately needs an overhaul. I need to draft a very rough site map and start thinking about fresh copy.

I got home to find the client for whom I'd done the early morning job yesterday had rung. I called back. We've booked in more work for the next couple of weeks. We also ended up discussing her website. She's been trying to write her own copy for a year and wants me to proofread it. I agreed and then, to my surprise, she asked how much it would cost if I were to do it. I gave her a very rough figure, explaining why it was very rough, and although nothing has been agreed, the seed has been planted and I hope she'll commission me. I've been proofreading her business literature for quite a few months now and we've got to know each other well over the phone. I like her a lot and like working for her. She doesn't make outrageous demands of any sort, she pays promptly and is always friendly and amenable. I don't earn a huge amount from her - the work is regular but mostly small jobs - but she's an excellent client so I always go the extra mile for her, like working at 7.30 am.

Before my meeting, I fired off a polite but firm e-mail to the chamber of commerce regarding my disgruntledness at their incompetence. No reply, even though I explicitly requested one. Typical. My graphic designer told me he's had the same problem. Also unsurprising. (The backstory: My bank statement arrived yesterday- a quick check showed that my local chamber of commerce still hasn't debited my membership fee for this year. The money has been awaiting them for 4 whole months - all they need to do is call my bank and activate the debit. In the interim, I've had three reminders that I owe them money. I have spoken to them on the phone and e-mailed the chief executive, to no avail. The reminder letters threaten to terminate my membership if I don't pay. Never mind that I have repeatedly offered them the fee, they just don't seem to want to take it. Wearily, I rang them yet again and once more was told someone would call me back tomorrow and sort it out. I despair of such incompetence and if it was anyone else I'd tell them to forget it, but my membership is useful to me.)

A press release I'd written a couple of weeks back for another client ended up on the business pages of the local weekly last Friday. I only spotted it yesterday, when I finally had time to sit down and read the paper. The newspaper had only used a couple of paragraphs in the "in brief" column, but the client will be pleased (reminder to self: must e-mail client with congratulations), which means more work in the future. I was pleased too.

The sun is shining outside, my herb seedlings are temporarily in the garden (they are not quite ready for planting out) and I feel good about things.