Our Prescription for Summer? Flip Flops and Flexibility

medical writing flip flopsWe’re big proponents of treating your freelance writing career like a business. That means defining your goals, creating a plan, and establishing regular work hours. But for those of us who are parents who work at home, summer changes everything. The 9-to-5 schedule we adopted from September through May often doesn’t work as well between June and August when we’re shuttling kids to summer camps, doctors’ appointments, and the local swimming pool. If yours is the house where everybody likes to hang out, you also need to figure out when to schedule client conference calls so you’ll have the least amount of background noise. Concentrating on your work can be tough when iPods are blaring, video games are beeping, and America’s next top model is strutting down the television runway.

So what’s a freelance to do? Here are some strategies:
1. We find it comforting to retain some aspect of our regular schedule, even if we have to get up an hour earlier than usual. So if you prepare for your day by sitting in your easy chair with a cup of coffee while reading the morning paper, by all means continue this regimen. Eliminating familiar rituals will only make you cranky and out of sorts for the rest of the day.
2. Take it one day at a time. Summer schedules often change on a daily basis. If you anticipate and plan for the fluctuations, you’ll be better able to handle them. Flexibility is the key.
3. Save complex work for times when distractions are few. Is your house quietest between 5 am and 9 am? What about 9 pm to 2 am? You may find it easier to concentrate at these odd hours when you’re not being bombarded with other demands.
4. Be up front with your clients. As freelances we are often elusive, disembodied voices on the other end of a telephone. You can share a bit about yourself without revealing too much to your clients. They’ll appreciate your honesty. If you can’t participate in a conference call because it’s your turn to car pool that morning, say so. Your clients are often caregivers themselves who have to deal with the same demands as you.
5. Don’t feel guilty for taking some time off. As freelances we don’t have the luxury of paid vacations; when we aren’t working, we aren’t generating income. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take an occasional day or week off now and then. Getting out of the office and away from the phone is a great way to recharge. Just leave the guilt behind!

Photo credit: Cyndy Kryder

You Get What You Pay For

MoneyWe were reminded the other day that in medical writing, as in most things, customers get what they pay for. A new client approached us to rewrite several sales-training modules that had been written by someone else but didn’t meet their expectations. They admitted to us that the first writer they hired was the one who had presented them with the lowest estimate. Yes, this writer was highly degreed and had years of experience writing high science. But what had attracted our client the most was the estimate.

Unfortunately, the client ended up with a deliverable they couldn’t use. So they came to us to fix it–and ultimately probably ended up paying more for the writing services overall than they would have had they not gone with the lowest estimate (since they paid us and the first writer).

In our opinion, there are 3 ways medical writers can work: good, cheap, and fast; and clients can choose any 2 they want. Good and cheap won’t be fast, good and fast won’t be cheap, and cheap and fast won’t be good–as our new client discovered.

Photo credit: Cyndy Kryder

Accidents Happen

Tree back yardThis is the view of Cyndy’s back yard today after a presumed microburst swept through her neighborhood last night, leaving felled trees in its wake. She was lucky; the tree landed in just the right spot to miss outdoor structures. The only minor casualties were 2 uninhabited birdhouses.

What does this have to do with medical writing? Well, it reminded us of the old adage, “Man plans and God laughs.” And it got us thinking about all the plans we make as freelance medical writers, and how accidents can change those plans in an instant, requiring us to rethink and respond on the fly.

As professionals, we know it’s important to deliver consistently on time, on target, and on budget for our clients. That’s the plan. But nobody’s perfect 100% of the time. That’s why it’s also important to have a Plan B for how to handle the situation when something goes wrong. If you’re in this business long enough, you will have a project that you under-estimated, a deadline you blow, a client who’s dissatisfied, and something unavoidable that gets in the way of your productivity and profitability. The most important lesson we’ve learned is this–remember that accidents happen, and don’t take them personally. It’s true what they say, to err is human. It’s what you do next, to correct the problem and prevent it from happening again, that makes you a professional.

4 Spring-Cleaning Tips For Your Business

Kitchen table springGrowing up in the ’60s, spring cleaning was a big deal. We had to help scrub windows, move furniture, wash curtains, shake out rugs. The mission was to eradicate the dirt and grime that had accumulated over the long, cold winter. Not such a bad idea. In fact, we recommend freelance writers do a clean sweep of their businesses at least once a year to identify business practices that are holding them back and preventing them from being as successful as they could be.

Here are 4 ideas to consider:

1. Wash away negative attitudes that are dragging you down. If you think you won’t succeed in this business, you probably won’t. Instead of viewing challenges as problems, think of them as opportunities.
2. Kick problem clients to the curb. What’s a problem client? The one who expects you to work for an impossible budget, or the client who is unreasonably demanding. When you let go of problem clients you can replace them with better ones.
3. Refresh your marketing materials, including your social media profiles. If you haven’t updated them in the past year, get busy.
4. Sweep out bad habits that limit your efficiency and productivity. Do you procrastinate? Spend too much time on Facebook? Are you inflexible with clients? Take a critical look at your daily routines and work to eliminate any bad behaviors that might be sabotaging your success.

Is It Ever OK to Write for Free?

In our previous post, we cautioned writers about writing for free or ridiculously low compensation. And we meant it. However, is it NEVER a good idea to write for free? After all, lawyers work pro bono; doctors and nurses often donate their time for good causes. If you have a true passion for an idea or organization and want to help out, by all means, share your skills with no expectation of payment. Just make sure your goodwill doesn’t eat up so much of your time that you don’t have any hours left to work for paying clients.

Writer warning flag

And don’t be lured by companies offering to allow you to “write for free exposure.” That’s a big red flag! Translated, it means writing for nothing while the company makes money from your content. If you want exposure and portfolio clips, start your own blog and create well-crafted entries you’re proud of. You can even earn a little bit of money from your blog by monetizing it with your own Google AdSense account. Another idea: write an article for the AMWA Journal. You’ll be reaching colleagues and prospective clients at the same time.

Photo credit: ashleigh290 via flickr.com/photos/ashleigh290/2444143651/sizes/m/in/photostream/