Independent Writers
of Chicago

Log in

Stet | May 2016

01 May 2016 2:58 PM | Cynthia Tomusiak
Stet Newsletter
May 2016

Volume 35 | Number 5

Editor's Note

Stet Editor Cynthia TomusiakCynthia Tomusiak

Writing is a fairly solitary occupation. You can work on projects with other writers, you can go to your local coffee shop, park, or library and be around other people, but at the end of the day it is just you and the pen and paper or computer keyboard.

Brainstorming is a group activity. It promotes creativity, creates new ideas, solves problems and is team building.

Writing is a fairly solitary occupation

So how do freelance or independent writing and brainstorming come together? Well, there’s an app for that! Okay, not exactly an app but there are several brainstorming tools available on the internet.

  • Wridea - A collection of brainstorming tools for writers. A free service that also lets you take and organize your notes online.
  • Bubbl.us - Create color-coded mind maps with this outstanding brainstorming tool.
  • FreeMind - A free mind mapping software, written in Java, also doubles as a productivity tool so you can get more writing done.

If you want to work without the internet, the folks at the University of North Carolina Writing Center have a few ideas as well. Some of the ones they suggest trying are:

  • Freewriting.
  • Write out lists or bullet points.
  • Consider the audience and their point of view.
  • Create a graph or chart for a more visual perspective.
  • Break down the topic in levels such as: General, sub-topic, phrase or single term/word.
  • Break out the journalist side of you and ask: Who? What? When? Where? Why and how?

For more ideas, click to check out the Writing Center.

Brainstorming is a group activity. It promotes creativity, creates new ideas, solves problems and is team building.

Brainstorming can help add depth and perspective to your writing and help overcome writers block. Good luck and happy writing.

I hope you find all of the links in this month's issue of Stet helpful. If you would like to contribute an article to Stet contact me and please send in before the monthly deadline of the 15th. Thank you.

- Cynthia Tomusiak

May Meeting Preview

Planning Your Business, Marketing, Sales Strategies

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Planning your own freelance business? Devising your marketing and sales strategies? Interested in improving your existing business? It can all be exciting but planning and strategizing are also enormous, multi-faceted responsibilities.

For business planning, you must adopt a roadmap for success and take into account your company’s profile, marketing research and analysis, brand of writing and editing services, goals, structure, registration, location, equipment, licenses, permits, laws, financing and taxes. In the process, you are projecting activity and revenue three to five years in advance.

It can all be exciting but planning and strategizing are also enormous, multi-faceted responsibilities.

With the marketing section of your business plan, you are thinking about what makes your freelance business stand out, the direction and methods you intend to use to spur sales and retain clients, your business growth and your communications strategy.

Then you organize the sales section of your plan into activities: you identify your clients or sales prospects; once you’ve made a list, you prioritize your contacts, choosing the leads most likely to use your freelance services, and; you calculate the number of sales calls -- or e-mails or social media appeals -- you will need to make to engage and maintain clients.

Prepared to shed light on it all for IWOC members at our next workshop Tuesday, May 10 is Mark Ferguson, public information officer/economic development specialist/loan officer of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Illinois District.

Ferguson is also one of us -- a freelance writer and businessman -- so he understands the steps we must all take before planning and the benefits, drawbacks and setbacks we must anticipate in launching and expanding our businesses. He says he is pleased to use the SBA “as a platform” with its “programs, services, resources and partner relationships” to “train and coach” business owners, including freelance writers.

The online services that the SBA makes available to business owners -- and Ferguson is ready to expound upon -- include SBA’s Business Plan Tool, the market analysis Size Up Tool, the government contracts eligibility Size Standards Tool, the Events Calendar and 130 free online courses on a variety of topics.

Offline, Ferguson points out, the SBA also offers business owners some 40 SBA resource partners who are willing to serve as their mentors or counselors from the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE), the Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) and the Women's Business Centers (WBC) as well as relationships with affiliated banks, credit unions and community lenders.

During his presentation, topics will include:

  • Business planning, marketing and sales specifically for freelance writing and editing.
  • The fundamentals of business planning, including for securing financing or technical or development support.
  • Marketing or branding freelance writing specialties and boosting sales or capturing clients, and,
  • Expanding or branching out with more than one specialty or accepting more clients.

Just as he would any other class of business owners, Ferguson urges freelance writers to acquaint ourselves with our markets and to learn as much as possible about our clients, our own competition and the economic state of our trade. He says we must collect information on the competition, the industry and our type of clients.

Ultimately, we freelance writers must be aware of the options we have for launching our enterprise.

Ultimately, freelance writers must be aware of the options we have for launching our enterprise. What business model would you want to adopt? Only you can choose.

To avoid making mistakes or repeating the mistakes of other businesses, Ferguson encourages freelance writers to cultivate mentors and counselors who can provide advice on any aspect of the launch and development of our enterprises. He says that he is among many on hand at the SBA to serve IWOC members in this capacity—beyond next month’s workshop.

- Vladimire Herard

Back to top...

April Meeting Recap

Technology for Freelance Writers - What Works Best

Panel: Brent Brotine, Roger Rueff, David Steinkraus, Vladimire Herard

In a lively panel discussion format, four IWOC members demonstrated favorite technology tools that help them stay productive. Common threads included easy ways to record interviews and lengthen battery life.

Tom Lanning, Program Chair, introduced the panel with a quick demonstration of his most used “semi-digital” mobile device – a standard reporter notepad.

First up was David Steinkraus, IWOC President, whose business focuses on environment, science and technology. His first recommendation – his MacBook and his iPhone. Richard Eastline offered some life-extending ideas for your phone battery: Reduce screen brightness. Turn off Bluetooth and Wi-Fi when not needed. Switch to apps that have white type on a black background.

  • Record interviews and meetings. David recommends HDR Pro, an iPhone app. His key advice: whichever app you use, make sure it prevents the phone from sleep mode while you’re recording. In fact, David recorded the podcast for this presentation using HDR Pro on his iPhone.
  • Make and record calls. If you have not used Skype for outgoing calls recently, David recommends giving it another try: the call quality has greatly improved. If you want to record your calls, he recommends the Call Recorder plugin by ECAM software. It even records video for Skype-to- Skype calls.
  • Energize your devices. David uses a portable phone battery charger for an extra 10,000 hours of phone life, which means you don’t have to stop to recharge in the middle of the day. Before you buy, make sure the ports are compatible with your products. If in doubt, get a charger with both fast and slow ports. Other brands: Brent likes the Jackery Giant + 12,000.
  • Save your wrist. Mousing all day can be hard on the body: moving the mouse means moving your whole arm, which can be lead to neck and shoulder pain; griping a mouse can irritate the wrist and lead to carpel tunnel. David recommends a trackball pointing device, specifically the Kensington Slim Blade Wireless Trackball Mouse. In addition to saving your body, the trackball gives you greater accuracy for detailed photo and audio editing.
  • Focus on writing, not file finding. For most documents David relies on Scrivener software which combines word processing and project management. Because you can import all your research – Word files, PDFs, photos, web pages, sticky notes – to one tab, you save time looking for files scattered among several apps. Plus, it offers a dual pane view, one for writing, one for the research. Jennifer Lyng Rueff added that she loves the sidebar view, which makes it easy for her to find scenes, and drag-and-drop them to other places in her book manuscript. It exports to Word, ePub, rtf, and more.

Next was Roger Rueff, who has a business focused on software documentation and training manuals, plus a side job as a scriptwriter. Currently, Roger writes “old school” using Vista and Microsoft Office 2003 on a 2006 PC, but he is updating to a new Samsung KO2US laptop, which brings up migration issues.

A word about wiretap laws If you’re curious, the Digital Media Law Project describes state and federal laws. But the easiest thing to do – just record your subject giving consent to being recorded when you start your interview .
  • Streamline email storage. Roger needed an improvement over the notoriously bloated Outlook. He found cloud-based FastMail, which frees up PC space, is accessible from all his devices, has advanced filtering, prevents advertising, and offers unlimited email addresses. Because Gmail limits user email addresses to just five, it was a no-go for Roger, who has multiple email addresses just for his work as IWOC web guru.
  • Grab better screen shots. Roger relies on the advanced features of Snagit for the shots in his documentation. Snagit offers drag-and-drop screen grabs – even capturing long, scrolling webpages – a timer to get shots that include the pointer, stamps, text boxes, highlights and other special effects. PC and Mac
  • Create software demo videos. For his training videos, Roger uses Camtasia, a Snagit companion, with advanced video editing for demos, training videos and PowerPoint slide shows. PC and Mac
  • Measure your angst. Lastly, Roger recommends the iPhone app, Seismometer, which measures impact when you bang your head on the table after a frustrating call.

Vladimire Herard, who reports on health care, pharmaceutical and senior living industries, focused on tools for interviews.

  • Interview online. Vladimire meets her subjects in Phone.com conference rooms, which automatically records her sessions.
  • Record in-person interviews. Vladimire’s recommendation: the Olympus WE-802 voice recorder, which holds 1000 hours. Recordings are scene indexed to save time finding the exact quote she wants.
  • Read textbooks. She finds the Kobo reader especially helpful for reading books related to her specialty.

Brent Brotine, advertising, marketing and direct response expert, handles a lot of detailed financial information. To make sure he captures the details, he has several ways to record calls.

  • Record VOIP calls. Google Voice offers free VOIP phone numbers that forward calls to your cell phone. Google Voice calls are recorded automatically.
  • Record cellular calls. Brent uses an Olympus TP-7 Telephone Pick Up cord that connects to both his iPhone and his Olympus VN-702PC voice recorder, which is similar to Vladimire’s.
  • Record landline calls. His Radio Shack Digital Voice Telephone Recorder 43-01237 plugs into his landline phone and its headset.
  • Transcribe calls. When he needs a written script, Brent looks for transcribers on Fiverr.com.
  • Amplify your headphones. Brent uses his Boostaroo Audio Amplifier and Splitter to share movies and music with his spouse on long plane rides.
  • Amplify yourself. Brent carries packs of Starbucks Via to give himself a boost anytime.There’s always hot water somewhere!

IWOC Members:
Click here to access the meeting podcast!

Lastly, Stewart Truelsen, who produces high-quality interviews for broadcast, recommended pro gear.

  • Record podcast quality. Stu uses a Marantz PMD660 recorder and a Shure microphone.

Where to find all these gadgets? IWOC has no affiliation or recommendation for retailers: the links in this article go to Amazon, simply for all-in-one place convenience. Other hardware retailers include Best Buy and B&H Photo, a New York store that carries pro gear, often at better prices. Apple software is available through iTunes or the App Store. PC software can be downloaded.

- Laurel Johnson

Back to top...

President's Column

Tools for Membership

David Steinkraus

I have a bandage on my left middle finger, the result of not paying attention while cleaning a kitchen knife. It’s one of those deep, narrow cuts that ache and produce enough continuous pain to make you think. In this case, it made me think it would have been smarter to pick up a dish cloth instead of trying to quickly rub off cheese crumbs with my bare and vulnerable finger. The proper tool would have done wonders.

That brings us to Twitter, another tool. Twitter is on a downward slide, you know. This former darling of the technology cognoscenti is showing no user growth and has come under fire. Longtime technology writer, Walt Mossberg faults the service for not giving users enough control over what they see. He complains he cannot keep up on posts he misses. A New York magazine column compared Twitter to a formerly nice neighborhood park now filled with bats and perverts. This writer was driven away by a swelling proportion of abusive comments.

The proper tool would have done wonders.

I am proud to say I am ahead of the curve because I have done nothing with the Twitter account I set up a couple of years ago when everyone was telling everyone else they had to be on Twitter. I abandoned the platform before it was trendy to abandon the platform. More to the point, I don’t find it a useful tool. Trying to assemble a coherent thought from a series of disconnected 140-character references and links takes too much of my valuable time. I believe you have to choose your tools carefully lest the time you invest is more than the value they return.

A few days ago I listened to a webinar on how to turn members of the millennial generation into members of an organization. One point the presenter made is that millennials are very careful about spending their time. Even though time is the only thing they can control because of a weak economy and student debt loads, spending time carefully is a good strategy because time is a fixed resource.

And a good way for people to spend their time is with IWOC. Unlike Twitter, IWOC delivers continued value: ideas about new markets to probe, ideas about running your business better and smarter, job leads, and a network of skilled professionals who can help you solve your particular problem or find work. For millennials, we offer the chance to learn how to be self-sufficient and develop a set of skills that will supplement an entry-level job.

And a good way for people to spend their time is with IWOC.

I bring this up because growing IWOC has been a continuing topic of conversation for the board of directors. It was the reason behind the book publishing workshop we unsuccessfully tried to organize. It is the reason behind the successful community presentations by Jeff Steele and Sally Chapralis about freelance writing. If you know some millennial writers, invite them to come and visit us. And if you are one, please come. The first meeting is free. In the meantime, one of the ideas the board has been debating is whether to create a student membership. At the moment we’re thinking low-price but with limits on professional activities through our website as we now limit associate members. Like this idea? Hate it? Have your own suggestion for recruiting new members? Please tell us.

Our satellite groups are another way to forge a network of writers. Scott Spires, who lives in Lake Bluff, thought there must be people in the northern suburbs who want to meet, so he organized the first meeting of IWOLF in April. IWOLF is the Independent Writers of Lake Forest, and it joins groups in Rogers Park (IWORP) and Oak Park (IWOOP), and you must admit that it has the catchiest acronym. It’s close enough that I come for lunch, and I would love to meet and talk with those of you who live in northern Chicagoland and find it difficult to make the monthly meetings downtown. If Lake Forest is inconvenient, consider starting your own group. (If you’re seeing this for the first time and need more information, look at the calendar on our website.)

As I said, growing the organization is a continuing topic and task, and the board would love to hear your thoughts. Email any of us (we’re all listed on the website), or click here: president@iwoc.org.

I have one last, quick note. You may be wondering whom we picked as Stet editor and membership manager. Well, we haven’t done that yet. Five very strong candidates applied for the jobs, and the board couldn’t arrange interviews with all of them in time to make a decision at the April meeting. We will have news for you following the May meeting.

- David Steinkraus

Back to top...

Featured Member

Laura Stigler

Laura Stigler

What is your specialty? Advertising and Marketing. I started out at J. Walter Thompson Co. writing the Big Three: TV, Radio and Print. Since then, Advertising has changed tremendously in how it reaches out to target audiences. Which meant I had to change as well. So I’ve expanded my portfolio to include everything from web content and blogs, to social media. I also write direct mail, newsletters, brochures – you know, the kinds of things that never go out of style and have time-proven success rates in their reach and results.

What advice would you give a client working with a writer? Communicate. The more you can tell a writer about your business, your mission, your philosophy – the better the writer can translate it all into salable, appealing content. In advertising terms, think as well of your “USP” – your Unique Selling Proposition. Every company/client has one. It’s what will set you apart from your competition.

What is one of your favorite books that you recommend to everyone? Erik Larson’s “The Devil in the White City.” It reads like a page-turning thriller. Yet it’s all true. It juxtaposes the soaring, inspirational heights as well as the horrific depths of which human beings are capable. It also fired up my imagination and interest in the 1893 Columbian Exposition (the White City). I could not believe such a magical place existed in this city – a part of history that makes me very proud of the good Chicago can accomplish, and how it had such a positive influence in the development of this country.

Communicate. The more you can tell a writer about your business, your mission, your philosophy – the better the writer can translate it all into salable, appealing content.

For a dream vacation, where would you insist someone visit? Snowvillage Inn near North Conway, New Hampshire, overlooking Mount Washington. You must go in autumn. I felt like Heidi prancing around the Swiss Alps. When arriving, you travel up this long, winding, mountainous road. On approaching the Inn, you’ll swear you landed in a fairy tale.

What food would you recommend to Julia Child, were she alive today? The Chicago Hot Dog. Julia would have appreciated it. The salty Vienna all-beef Kosher dog, the soft poppy seed bun, the celery salt, the pungent onions, ripe tomatoes, atomic relish, crunchy dill pickle and hot sport peppers – a perfect melding of flavors that sends you straight to pig heaven on that very first bite. No bouillabaisse could compete. (Although I do make a kick-a** bouillabaisse, if I do say so.).In advertising terms, think as well of your “USP” – your Unique Selling Proposition.

Website? www.laurastiglerwriter.com Thank you for visiting!

- Laura Stigler

The questions for next month are: 1) What is your specialty? 2) What one line of advice would you give a writer working with a client? 3) How do you get inspired? 4) What Chicago site do you suggest as a “must-see” to out of towners? 5) Favorite quote?

Back to top...

IWOC Events

Give a Little Time, Reap Great Rewards

In the next two months IWOC will be involved in two events for which we need a bit of your help, and where you can do some good networking and learning.

On May 13 and 14, a Friday and Saturday, we will have a table a the city’s Lake FX Summit + Expo. This is for creative people from all the arts, and those of you who write scripts or do marketing and public relations will especially find people to talk to because of the involvement of the film and music industries. Many come through the exhibition hall during breaks between the free workshops. Give us an hour or a couple of hours of your time at the IWOC table, and then take in a workshop or two and network.

On June 11 and 12 we will have a table at the Printers Row Lit Fest. If you want to meet people this is the place; the festival typically attracts 70,000 to 80,000. Again we ask that you give us an hour or two of your time, and as at Lake FX you can then peruse exhibits or take in one of the author sessions. We’ll also sell your book for you if you’re an IWOC member. You pay $10, and your only responsibility is to drop off books at the IWOC table when the festival opens and pick them up when it’s done. We’ll handle the sales and taxes, and pass the proceeds to you.

To help at either event or both, or to arrange a book sale, contact board member George Becht (gbecht@sbcglobal.net) who is coordinating our participation.

- David Steinkraus

IWOC Board of Directors

David Steinkraus (President), Laura Stigler (Vice-president), Cynthia Tomusiak (Secretary), Brent Brotine (Treasurer), George Becht, Vladimire Herard, Tom Lanning, Jeff Steele, Karen Schwartz

Copyright 2011–2021, Independent Writers of Chicago
332 S. Michigan Avenue, #121–W686
Chicago, IL 60604-4434

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software