Volume 35 | Number 6
June Meeting Preview
May Meeting Recap
Featured Member: Jeff Steele
Be Productive: Tap An App
Lake FX 2016
June 02: IWORP Breakfast
June 03: IWOLF Lunch
June 14: June IWOC Meeting
June 29: IWOOP Lunch
First an announcement: Your IWOC Board Members interviewed several candidates for the positions of Stet Editor and Membership Manager and wanted to hire all of them! With some difficulty, they came to a decision. Pam Colovos is the new Membership Manager and Cynthia Tomusiak is the new Editor of Stet. (N.B. As a Board member and a candidate, I did not participate in the decision making process.)
For myself, I want to say that I really appreciate the IWOC Board’s confidence in me!
So, now I have a monthly column and need to continue to come up with new ideas for it's topics. So far it has been easy enough. The ideas just flow or wake me out of a deep sleep in the middle of the night. However, other times, ideas are few, fleeting and far between. Perhaps, this is familiar to you as well. So, I went to my old standby "Google." One of the ideas that I found was to use Google. That made me feel like I was on the right track, or something.
If you do Google, remember not to get lost in the googling – often I find that discovering one article or item on Google leads to an hour of looking things up and reading them instead of writing. However, if you can avoid that, it’s a great place for ideas. Some of the ones I found were:
Just in case you don’t already, keep a notebook (or several) handy to jot down ideas as they come to you.
You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club. – Jack London
Take a different route while on errands and daily activities. Slow down, if you can, by walking or bicycling and notice new things. Use the stairs instead of the elevator and enter through the back or side door instead of the front.
Talk to people that you might usually avoid and strike up conversations with strangers. Not good advice for children but great for writers. Or go to events that you might usually not, like the circus if it is in town or music event that is not your usual genre. Have fun with it! And as Jack London said: You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.
Talk to people that you might usually avoid and strike up conversations with strangers.
I hope you find all of the articles in this month's issue of Stet helpful; I would like to thank all of the contributing writers. If you would like to contribute an article to Stet or be featured in the IWOC members article, contact me and please send in before the monthly deadline of the 15th. Thank you.
- Cynthia Tomusiak
Personal development legend Jim Rohn once said, “Clear writing is a sign of clear thinking.” Rohn became wealthy producing self-help, leadership and motivational materials aimed at sales people and executives. His appreciation of writing skills leads us to the topic for the June 14, IWOC program—Part-time careers or opportunities that are compatible with an independent writing business.
Being an independent writer is nice, but it doesn’t pay all the bills for most of us. However, as a writer you have talents and a knowledge base that are in demand elsewhere. You are intelligent, creative, a good communicator, detail-oriented and able to make a deadline.
IWOC has assembled a panel of members for the June program to talk about jobs or opportunities they found that are a good fit for writers. By good fit, we mean work that is flexible enough to give you time to handle even last-minute writing assignments and big projects. Some of these opportunities lead to more work as a writer.
The panel members for this program are Sally Chapralis, Pam Colovos, Marjorie Skelly and Stewart Truelsen.
Personal development legend Jim Rohn once said, “Clear writing is a sign of clear thinking.”
Chapralis has been able to balance a writing career with teaching positions at local universities. Her experience includes working with the construction and real estate industries and nonprofits in the health care field. As an adjunct professor she taught nonprofit management, business communications and public relations. Her love of libraries, something common to most of us, also led her to work with authors who seek help in promoting their books.
In addition to being an IWOC member, Colovos is a member of the International Virtual Assistants Association. Colovos got started in professional organizing a dozen years ago and that led to requests for her to create documents, forms and write manuals for business operations. In those days, she usually had to work on-site, but technology changed that. Now she often works as a virtual assistant. Her company, BusinessEase Inc., provides management and accounting support. She has her own VA to help with social media.
Skelly is a poet, short story writer and essayist. She teaches classes in poetry, fiction and choral music at libraries. Her book, The Unpublished Poet, On Not Giving Up on Your Dream, was published by In Extenso Press, and she was recently hired to do readings from her book via teleconference to residents of an assisted living facility. Besides reading from her own book, Skelly has found a niche in leading discussions of books by other authors.
Being an independent writer is nice, but it doesn’t pay all the bills for most of us.
Truelsen is a registered representative for a national financial services firm and a landlord with three rental townhouses. Both positions allow him time to be a writer and video producer specializing in agriculture, business and the environment. He has written one history of American agriculture and is working on another book.
In addition to our panel, we want to open it up to the audience to share your thoughts and ideas on other ways to augment your writing income. So please join us on June 14th at the Gratz Center at 5:00pm for this program, for networking and for fun!
- Stewart Truelsen
Back to top...
“Understand your professional worth, clarify for your clients what you do best, conceive or revise a plausible business idea, know your market and competition, build customer ties and run effective operations.” said local U.S. SBA leader Melissa Duff Brown at an IWOC workshop on business planning, marketing and sales strategies for freelance writers last month.
Brown urged IWOC members to “find your voice” and stay true to “your values” when launching or expanding their freelance writing enterprises. If freelance writers “find” themselves, they’ll be “ahead of the game,” she said.
The components of her “overview of the business process” included “an attractive business concept, lasting customer relationships, a strong [business] organization and effective operational systems.”
If freelance writers “find” themselves, they’ll be “ahead of the game,” she said.
Brown should know. A sales and marketing expert, she is director of the Illinois Small Business Development Center branch at the Joseph Business School in west suburban Forest Park, Ill. There, she teaches business classes and makes similar presentations in three hours instead of one. She is also principal of her own marketing company MDB Solutions.
She advised IWOC members planning or growing their businesses to define their line of work, examine the “feasibility of [their] business ideas” and ponder their niches or “unique selling propositions.” She identified the elements of “an attractive business concept” as a “full defined business idea, a product portfolio, revenue model, [type of] customers and market position.”
When asked by an IWOC member in the audience how flexible a freelance business owner must be in setting goals, she acknowledged that change is inevitable. However, she answered that “a [business] plan is a living document” and that the ones freelancers create or revise “will determine all of [their] business decisions.” If freelance writers are not clear about financing and the direction their businesses must take, then they will invest time and money on the “wrong vision,” Brown concluded. She cautioned IWOC members to “get it [their business plan] out of your head and onto paper.”
She pointed to SBA research finding that seven out of ten firms survive at least two years, half survive at least five years and only a third survive at least 10 years. Additionally, the agency’s reports reveal that, during the year, about 550,000 new firms opened in the United States while 660,000 businesses closed.
Click here to access the meeting podcast!
Why? Business owners “run out of money,” exercise poor financial management and don’t examine the time, energy and resources needed to “accomplish their goals,” Brown explained. She outlined “effective operational systems” of successful businesses to include “financials, funding, production and deliveries, information technology systems and facilities.” To build and maintain successful operating systems, Brown said freelance writers must decide how many projects they need to complete to reach a particular amount of profit, how many customers they must speak to or how many meetings they must attend for steady work. She advised them to become familiar with the buying cycle in their particular specialty. Particularly, she said companies offer a fre-mium. As an example, some apps provide free services or products. If customers need more products or services, the apps will begin to charge money. For pricing strategy, Brown said freelancers must consider such factors as the number of words used in their work products, the length of time taken to produce work, the amount devoted to meeting clients and whether a project will be accepted at the last minute. She told IWOC members that they can base their calculations on the federal government labor guidelines of 2,080 hours worked per fiscal year.
As a result, Brown challenged IWOC members “to have a plan and a way to attract consumers” and “create a persona” of themselves using demographics and psychographics so prospective clients can view their work and testimonials.
When prospecting for clients, Brown recommended ReferenceUSAGov, a research database for government agencies and one used religiously by Illinois SBDC in Forest Park, Ill. Providing more details about clients than a freelancer’s local library, she said that ReferenceUSAGov will yield the names of individuals, companies and their vital statistics.
Freelance writers, she said, must not only set their objectives but should also envision themselves performing them. If, for example, a client asks an IWOC member to deliver a work product of 300 words, that freelancer must “write a contract,” making a proposed project “official.” Brown explained that clients will want to know the other employers a freelance writer worked with and the variety of contracts he or she accepted and completed. Potential customers will ask for proof of their past work, she said. Not all assignments will be given “on a handshake,” Brown said.
Aside from “[running] out of money, poor pricing strategy [and] poor financial management,” she said that among the top reasons businesses fail is “an ineffective marketing strategy, failure to join the digital revolution [and, in some cases] underestimating the competition.” The ineffective marketing strategy correlates with a “failure to connect to the web.” Brown said about “50 percent” of business owners “have no online presence” because “they underestimate the power of the Internet.” Millions, she added, are connected to the web and about $300-plus billion has been spent online over the year.
As a result, Brown challenged IWOC members “to have a plan and a way to attract consumers” and “create a persona” of themselves using demographics and psychographics so prospective clients can view their work and testimonials. She recommended freelancers to look at Google standards, which she said accounts for 70 percent of all searches, Google Alert and Keywords.
- Vladimire Herard
I know summer hasn’t begun. I know the daffodils and bluebells are barely done blooming, yet I would ask you to briefly look ahead to fall and winter. Then you can return to enjoying summer. Promise.
As you look at your calendar, give thought not to what jobs you may have in prospect but what mental repose you plan for yourself. I don't mean a vacation. Between planning, packing, and traveling, and then traveling, unpacking, and running to catch the daily routine, we often need a small vacation to recover from vacation. When I say repose, I mean something that stimulates your mind in a different way so the part that assembles words gets a rest. Winston Churchill famously found refuge in painting. His daughter Mary wrote, “Problems of perspective and colour, light and shade gave him respite from dark worries, heavy burdens, and the clatter of political strife.”
How much have you invested in yourself lately by taking a class? It could be art, like Churchill, or photography. Is there a certification you want to earn? Or what about going to a conference? This is the time to plan for fall and winter conferences. Whether you write about finance or health care, there is a conference for you somewhere, often a warm somewhere that you will appreciate come January or February.
If that isn’t enough motivation for you to begin perusing conferences and classes, consider this: As professional development, you can almost certainly expense it.
Conferences give you a chance to get away, sometimes physically (because Chicago, being Chicago, attracts many) but always mentally. You spend days concentrating on improving yourself while someone else worries about food and such technicalities, and when you return to your everyday world you see it and your work with a fresh perspective.
Returning for a moment to Chicago, some opportunities to learn here come almost free or with other opportunities. On June 11 and 12 the Printers Row Lit Fest returns. There are is a roster of substantial speakers: for the science-minded there is astronaut Buzz Aldrin, one of the few humans to walk on the moon, and on the lighter yet serious side there is former Chicago Tribune reporter Kim Barker whose book about covering the war in Afghanistan became the recently released movie "WTF."
Pause to refresh yourself and gather strength, and when you return you will be much more productive and valuable to clients.
OK, this isn't strictly a class, but there is much to be said for giving yourself time to be inspired by other writers. At the same time, you can help IWOC. Volunteer for a couple of hours at our table (talk to board member George Becht about that) and chat with some of the 70,000 people who come to the Lit Fest, take in some of the sessions (usually a few bucks), have lunch and supper, and — expense it all!
Spring flowers do not appear by accident. They can push up through the earth only because they spend time gathering strength. The same is true for writers, more so because it takes a different kind of effort to be constantly creating. A long nap or a long weekend isn't enough when your brain is fried from constant creation. Pause to refresh yourself and gather strength, and when you return you will be much more productive and valuable to clients.
OK, go back to enjoying the summer.
- David Steinkraus
What is your specialty? My specialty for years has been articles. I've written a lot of articles, many of them for the Col. McCormick’s World's Greatest Newspaper. I didn't start out to do it that way, but that's where the work was and I just went with it. No one, however, survives the freelance wars on articles alone. So in addition to articles, I've written a wide array of other pieces, including white papers, news items, news bulletins, press releases, pitch letters, case studies, field trends studies, sales sheets, brochures, print ads, radio copy, training film scripts, employee profiles, association member profiles, testimonials and a number of other types of writing assignments I've repressed over 26 years.
What one line of advice would you give a writer working with a client? If I had to narrow it down to just one piece of advice, it is this: Look at the deadline you've been given, and then do all you can to beat it. One of my early clients had started editing a magazine, and was using a stable of freelance writers, many of whom apparently didn't take the assignments very seriously. The editor said to me, “Jeff, I can't get my other writers to turn in stories even a week late. Yours come in early.” Guess what writer got the lion's share of the subsequent assignments? I've used that same approach with other editors/clients, and invariably get a thumbs up. And I wrote for that magazine and its successor for more than 20 years.
Look at the deadline you've been given, and then do all you can to beat it.
How do you get inspired? Many ways. One is letting fitness guide and inspire other aspects of life. I'm a long-time fitness walker and well into the equivalent of my third walk coast to coast across the United States. That's at least 11 miles a week, times 52, equals 572 miles, times 13-14 years of consistent walking for something in excess of 7,000 miles. I believe New York to L.A. Is something like 2,860 miles. A few years ago, I decided I'd also start to walk at least a mile every day. So if I can walk a mile a day, I should be able to do writerly tasks like getting off a pitch to a new client or editor or turning in at least a small assignment every workday as well.
What Chicago site do you suggest as a “must-see” to out-of-towners? The Museum of Science and Industry. An out-of-towner could spend weeks ambling around in there and still not do it justice. And its standing, as the survivor of the 1893 Columbian Exposition, just makes it that much more a crucial component of Chicago history.
Favorite quote? Mark Twain: “I’ve never allowed my schooling to interfere with my education.”
Online portfolio? Jeffreysteele.contently.com
- Jeff Steele
The questions for next month are: 1) How would you describe yourself? 2) What is your specialty? 3) What one line of advice would you give a writer working with a client? 4) What is the best advice anyone has ever given you? 5)What do you love most about what you do? If you have questions of your own you would like to answer, that is fine as well. Stay tuned!
Today’s world of technology is so fluid that it seems to present new products and new ways of doing things even before we have a chance to fully savor those that wowed us yesterday. The ubiquitous cell phone is a prime example. Within a single generation it has morphed from just a hand-held telephone to a personal “can’t-do-without” information device. The so-called smart phone is, in essence, a miniaturized, portable computer that also can make phone calls. And, in the spirit of innovation, basic functions like texting and accessing the Internet are augmented by a remarkable range of services—picture-taking, video gaming, office documents, and much more.
Given the limitations of physical size, power consumption, and connectivity, it’s nothing short of amazing that so high a level of sophistication has been achieved so quickly. And what says it better than the immense library of programs (apps) that has become available. They number in the hundreds of thousands if you count the variety of languages offered. One of the professions blessed by sheer volume of useful downloads is that which involves writing and editing. While the advantages of using a full-size computer are acknowledged, the convenience, availability, and compatibility of smart phones readily make them ideal partners to their big brothers. Here, then, are some software additions to the collection of standard titles pre-installed on every phone.
Recommended apps (free unless otherwise noted). They are for Android phones—Samsung, LG, Motorola—but identical or similar versions generally are available for Apple’s operating system All of the following were acquired by accessing the Internet website Google Play Store.
The so-called smart phone is, in essence, a miniaturized, portable computer that also can make phone calls.
WP Office + PDF (by Kingsoft Office Software): A mini office suite for producing documents spreadsheets, and presentations. Resulting files are compatible with MS Office so text content can be transferred to computers. One-click feature allows Dropbox save and share. Has some impressive text formatting features and capability to add or edit images and tables within documents.
Merriam-Webster Dictionary: Lots of dictionaries are available but many use the content from obsolete editions or skimp on the number of entries. This one, based on the familiar Collegiate Webster, provides antonyms, synonyms, and sentence examples. All regular features available offline. In addition, there is voice search as well as audio pronunciations. Free version is ad-supported. For $2.99, the Premium version is ad-free and you get a 200,000-entry thesaurus.
Wikipedia: The “underground” encyclopedia is as free for phones as it is for computers. Due to the size of its content (32 million entries), it’s not for offline use. There have been issues relating to using the search engine but generally not much more than some multiple refresh actions. As you might expect, the app is updated frequently.
Translator (by Recommendado): While Google’s own Translate is considered the leader of the pack, this app seems easier to use and is nearly as well full-featured. Applications like this are not intended to serve as dictionaries. Rather, their usefulness is in translating a foreign word that comes up in reports, interviews, or even signage. Some 50+ languages are represented and the word in question can be typed as an entry or even spoken (don’t count on amazing accuracy). The on-screen response can be copied for insertion into a document. Internet connection required.
Google Keyboard: There is almost a bewildering choice of on-screen keyboards these days. You get one as part of your smart phone’s installed applications and have the option of selecting one or more others to suit your taste. This one has the thankful benefit of adding voice-to-text when you work with documents and e-mail. It’s incredibly accurate even at first use (if you speak clearly and slowly), allowing you to make manual keyboard corrections afterward. All regular features are retained, such as switching from alphabetical characters to numerals or symbols. The newest version has “swipe” (gesture) typing capability which is partly useful, partly gimmicky.
WriteNow (by AeroDroid): Much like a “stickey note,” this app provides the opportunity to place a note directly on an application currently on the screen, such as a document. Touching a certain point on the open display brings up any of several chosen templates for typing (rather than via stylus or finger touching). There’s a choice of widgets for the home screen to summon a note. You can even pin the note to the notification bar rather than attach it to the application.
App or Program? What’s the difference? More than you might realize.
App? or Program? What’s the difference? More than you might realize. “Programs” today usually refer to those that are installed on computers. You acquire one through a website download or from a disk (CD or DVD). It will include a number of files, such as a ReadMe document, an uninstaller, and—most important of all—an executable file (.exe) that does the installation. As long as you have that primary file available, you can re-install the program if it stops working due to a glitch or virus. In other words, you’ve acquired it and therefore essentially own a valid copy. But smart phone programs differ. The application, or “app,” is installed immediately on the phone from an authorized downloading site so that the program is ready to use. You have no .exe file to keep. If the application is compromised during use, the normal recourse is to attempt a re-installation from a back-up option (usually a “cloud” service) or else go back to website and download it again —if possible. The app may have been withdrawn by its creator (primarily the free ones) or updated so that it now performs differently or not at all if your operating system doesn’t meet the current requirements. Also, some sites don’t allow for a repeat download to the same device. Apps, though, do have the attractive feature of being free or available at astonishingly low cost; 99 cents is a common price and very few are more than three dollars.
- Richard Eastline
On Saturday, May 9th, David Steinkraus, Laura Stigler and Jeff Steele took to the dais at the Lake FX Summit at the Chicago Cultural Center. Their mission: presenting summit attendees with an informative hour-long PowerPoint program called “Press Release Basics.”
The presentation marked the second time in three years IWOC has imparted its wisdom to audiences on creation and dissemination of effective press releases. It was the second consecutive year IWOC has taken the stage at Lake FX.
IWOC is expected to again appear at Lake FX in 2017.
Designed to help attendees ensure their events stand out in a crowded media field, the program aimed to convey lessons about the art and science of a press release, the tricks to employ and the pitfalls to avoid.
While the fourth-floor conference room gradually filled with late-comers to the 10:30 a.m. seminar, Steinkraus, Stigler and Steele walked the audience through details ranging from today's media ecosystem to proper press release structure. Some 30 Lake FX attendees sat in on the program, which ended with a lively Q-and- A and garnered thumbs up from attendees exiting the conference room.
Among highlights of the presentation was attendance by one-time IWOCan Adam Smit, who engaged his ex-colleagues in a spirited post-program discussion about the dynamics of press releases.
IWOC is expected to again appear at Lake FX in 2017. The presentation topic is yet to be determined.
David Steinkraus (President), Laura Stigler (Vice-president), Cynthia Tomusiak (Secretary), Brent Brotine (Treasurer), George Becht, Vladimire Herard, Tom Lanning, Jeff Steele, Karen Schwartz
Copyright 2011–2022, Independent Writers of Chicago
332 S. Michigan Avenue, #121–W686
Chicago, IL 60604-4434