Friday, September 18, 2009

30-Day Branding Challenge: Brands you already understand

Most writers will tell you they don't know anything about brands: That brands are the Warhol soup cans--devoid of any real substance, all style. Brands, in other words, have nothing to do with what you do.

Think again.

It's not that writers are lying. It's just that we can't think of anything we respect that's part of a brand.

Here's something that I hope will change that thinking: If you've been a newspaper reporter or worked at a magazine or trade publication, you know all about a brand. You've lived it. It was your publication.

Think about it: The New York Times has a very different brand than the New York Post than The National Enquirer than The New Yorker than Body + Soul than Ladies Home Journal than Slate than Gothamist.

We get that intuitively. But what's the difference, really? They're all publications. They're all words printed on paper or splashed across a Web site.

It sounds like a dumb question: What do you mean what's the difference between the National Enquirer and The New York Times? That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard.

But why? Because the New York Times is "all the news that's fit to print" and The National Enquirer supplies information for "inquiring minds." But they both purport to tell stories about people that are true. They both make corrections. They've both been sued for libel. (And, of course, some would argue that there's not enough of a difference between the Old Grey Lady these days and gossip magazines, but that's another conversation.)

The difference is that they both purport to do something different and they approach what they do with a different style: The New York Times spends a lot of money on very good editors who spend lots of hours shaping stories that are up to their standards. They fact-check. The National Enquirer--well, I don't know much about the National Enquirer, but I'd be willing to bet that they don't spend their money the same way and they don't want deep, thorough stories. Their Web sites look really different from one another: The New York Times looks closest to a newspaper of almost any newspaper Web site. The National Enquirer has huge photos and splashy headlines like "The Grace Kelly Curse Strikes Again."

Those are not mistakes. They do these things on purpose. The New York Times isn't competing directly with The National Enquirer, though I'm sure they share readers.
What this means for you

Likewise, you are not competing against every writer out there. Obviously, you aren't competing with business writers if you're a parenting writer. But you also aren't necessarily competing with every other parenting writer. If you focus on tween issues, you aren't competing with pregnancy and newborn writers.

But your editors only know that if you don't have a brand:
  • If you spend money that backs up what you like to write about--learning more, attending conferences--and you pitch stories based on the topic areas you want to cover.
  • You write in a fun, lighthearted style if your vibe is intimate and informal. You write a web site with moving copy if you write narrative nonfiction.

The examples go on. The point is that The New Yorker's brand is not a coincidence, and it's also authentic to what it excels at. I'd hate to see The New York Times do any more gossip than it's already done. Doing so would confuse the heck out of its readers. And I shudder to think what the National Inquirer would do to thoughtful healthcare reform coverage.

So what are you? How do you show it?

Photo by Terje S. Skjerdal.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

“A brand is no longer defined only by advertising-driven perception. Rather it is defined by the customer’s experience in buying the product; satisfaction in using the product; and the services wrapped around the product with positive consequences.”
Andrew Cohen, Founder, Exposed Brick

Photo by AleBonvini.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

30-Day Branding Challenge: Authenticity and transparency as brand

Most of this video is this guy ranting and advising people to quit jobs and start something new (spoken like a trust fund baby), but if you scroll to minute 10:50, you'll start hearing some interesting things about what a brand is really about.

Here's the essence: Your brand is your passion--what you want to do forever--plus being yourself. Don't imitate other writers you love. Be the best version of yourself as a writer.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

30-Day Branding Challenge: Your personal life and your brand

How much of what you do in your personal life should be part of your brand?

It's an important question to ask yourself as you craft your brand. Since you're writers, I think I have an analogy that you'll understand.

I'll start with a story.

When I was in college, my journalism professor taught us to do a "letter from"--a combination of a first person essay and reported feature. In teaching us about the writing voice to assume, he was very clear. In essence, he told us that none of your readers care about you as a person, not really. They don't care what irritates you personally, what you think is funny. You aren't famous enough or charismatic enough--probably--for that to be compelling. You are, most likely, the generic first-person.

The only personal stuff you share in your story is stuff that advances the story. So if it advances the story for you to be funny, share the bit about the funny behavior of the bell hop in the hotel. If is advances the story to talk about your childhood raised by a single parent, share that part of yourself.

But not everything belongs in the story.

Likewise, not everything about your personal life belongs in your brand. But if you are a financial writer, talk on your Web site about working on the stock exchange. If you're a real estate writer, talk about your experience as a landlord or a renter.

If you look at the bio on my Web site, you'll see that I write openly about having lost 85 lbs. in the past five. I also write about my decade-long love affair with yoga. But I don't write about other parts of my life--parts I'm going to keep to myself even now.

I'm a health writer, and I excel at stories about regular people taking charge of their health with small but important changes. Guess why I include that stuff in my bio? Plus, the vibe I go for on my Web site and with my clients is friendly and personable. So I don't mind sharing parts of my personal life. I also don't mind showing myself dancing around on this blog, apparently.

So think about this: What in your personal life motivates your work? If there isn't anything in particular, don't feel like you have to come up with something. But if something authentically makes you passionate about the work you do, celebrate it, and tell your editors about it.

Photo by tiffa130.

Monday, September 14, 2009

An image is not simply a trademark, a design, a slogan or an easily remembered picture. It is a studiously crafted personality profile of an individual, institution, corporation, product or service.
--Daniel J. Boorstin

Photo by

Friday, September 11, 2009

"A brand that captures your mind gains behavior. A brand that captures your heart gains commitment."
Scott Talgo

Photo by aussiegall.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

30-Day Branding Challenge: Reflecting your brand in your queries

Yesterday, we examined how the queries you send can help guide the creation of your brand. Today, we'll talk about branding the opposite direction:

How do you put your brand in every query you send?

Yesterday I touched on one way: In your "why I should write this story" paragraph (and if you don't have one of those, you should create one for every query), you should include one sentence that cogently explains your brand. You create it by finishing this sentence:

I specialize in...

For example, "I specialize in simple changes that make a big difference in one's health and relationships;" "I specialize in moving and in-depth investigative stories that make a difference;" or "I specialize in upbeat, quirky stories that revel in my subject's humanity, not their flaws."

Whatever it is, you should know it and you should be able to express it.

But you should also be able to do that time-honored writer thing: Show don't tell.

And you show your brand by pitching stories that are consistent with it. For Jen Miller, she markets her brand by pitching stories on the Jersey Shore. You can do this by pitching stories on quirky people you want to profile, or by pitching investigative pieces.

There's a side benefit to this kind of brand development: This is an opportunity not only to embed your brand in your clients' heads, but to get closer to the type of writing you love to do.

So take a few minutes and free write: What do I love? What do I specialize in? What am I great at?

If you've won any awards, this is one way of telling what you do well. And if you've won those awards doing writing you're good at but are burnt out on, then it's a chance to refocus your querying toward work that feeds your soul.

And then start coming up with vague ideas for stories. Any little kernel that's been fermenting in your head, write down. If it fits with your brand, give it a top priority with your querying.

It's not that you can't query short or simple stories that might bring in money while you build up a practice that supports your brand and your passion. But you should be querying every week or every month stories that support your brand. Make it a goal to send at least one query before the month's end that reflects your passion and your strengths, and then you're marketing your brand.

Photo by Valeriana Solaris

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

30-Day Branding Challenge: Using querying to refine your brand

Jen Miller said something great in our Q&A last week: "I feel that pitching articles, too, is a form of branding."

I love this idea, as it brings together two things I'm passionate about: Marketing and branding.

I wondered if she could explain more of what she meant, and here was her response:
Sometimes I send letters of introduction instead, and then follow up with a pitch or two. I want them to see me as the expert so that if they have a shore idea, they'll think of me.
That last sentence is the essence of branding: You live in your client's head as the perfect person for X, Y, or Z story.

And it's an interesting thing for us to consider as writers: Do our brands reflect what we're querying? If not, it's a good opportunity to refine our brands, or better direct our marketing. Here's how:

Refining Your Brand

If your stated brand is that you write upbeat service stories and love helping people, but you're constantly pitching and interested in long-form narrative fiction, then maybe your brand has outlived its usefulness. So take an inventory:

Go back through the last month and look at the queries you've pitched. Rather than asking yourself what the subject matter was--health, real estate, business, etc.--ask yourself what type of story it is:
  • Is it an upbeat inspirational story?
  • Is it a serious piece of investigative journalism?
  • Is it a profile driven by your source's quirky personality?
  • Is it a snarky short?
  • Is it a service piece?
Now, tally it: Is there a pattern here? Do you constantly pitch quirky profiles? Do you always pitch service pieces?

Ask why:
  • Why do you pitch service pieces? Is it because they sell more easily than in-depth features? Or are they your passion?
  • Why do you gravitate to profiles?
  • What is it about short, snarky pieces you love?
Once you have the answers to these questions, take a look at your stated brand. If your stated brand, like mine, is to focus on inspiring regular people (thus my tagline "Writing with a human face"), compare that to what you're pitching.

You may find that your pitching is right in line with that: Person-centered stories of overcoming challenges. Or you may find that you prefer to pitch service pieces.

If that's the case, it's a chance to tweak your brand. You don't have to abandon what you have. You can simply clarify it--for yourself and your clients. Maybe your love of person-centered writing extends to the reader. Maybe the reader is the person you draw inspiration from and therefore you want to help with service pieces.

How do you express that on your Web site? How do you express that in your queries? In your "why I should write this story" paragraph of your query, do you have one cogent sentence that explains that you "specialize in stories that..." Fill in the blank. You should have one sentence in there that clarifies and highlights your strengths and interested. It's part of your brand, so editors have an easy time matching you with stories you'll be best at. That's what Jen has done, and it's worked really well for her. Every time they think of the Jersey Shore, they think of her.

What do you want editors to associate with you? Make that part of your brand. Tomorrow, we'll talk about how to market that.

Photo by striatic.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

"If you don't get noticed, you don't have anything. You just have to be noticed, but the art is in getting noticed naturally, without screaming or without tricks."
Leo Burnett

Photo by Indigo Goat.

Monday, September 7, 2009

30-Day Branding Challege Web Sites I like: Anne Ford

I spend a lot of time with my coaching clients talking about the need for a Web site. But when it comes to branding, it's not enough just to have a home page, bio, recommendations and clips. You need to have a site that presents you as a the kind of writer you want editors to know you are. And the best way to illustrate this is with examples. Today's is the first of what I hope will be a series of great examples of freelancers' brands. And if you have a recommendation of a Web site you love for writers, email it to me at heather at

[Full disclosure: Not only is Anne a fabulous freelancing colleague of mine, but she's a dear friend who's known me since my acid-washed jeans days in middle school. So I have great love for her as well as for her talent.]

Anne Ford is a freelance writer who excels at quirky, upbeat stories in the vein of This American Life. So when you land on her Web site, you want something that shows you that. What I love about her site is that she tells you that with so many words, but she also shows you that in the way her Web site is designed.

Land on her home page and you see a sunny picture of Anne, an bright and sunny orange-and-red color scheme with stylized flowers jutting up all around.

Visit her About page and you get a taste of her wit in the first line of her bio:
Writer or Nun: Those were the most memorable results of my high-school career aptitude test.
Her quips about being a decent square dancer and able to talk about highly-virulent strains of hospital-acquired infections--just not during dinner--give you the flavor of her writing and her personality.

And it goes on: The profiles she features meld well with her stated style, and even her health clips for a trade magazine--a genre not known for its adventurous voice--are even witty. And then she's got the recommendations that call her "an editor's dream" and say she "really knows what magazine writing is all about."

I don't have any money for her, but I'd hire her after reading her Web site.

This gets to a point about Web sites: You can't just say that you're a great writer--you have to show it on your site. I tell this to clients all the time. You want your Web site to read like your best article. It should:
  • Show off your writing style.
  • Illustrate your "voice" with the images and even colors you choose. Anne does this by choosing, bright, sunny colors to go along with her warm, sunny copy.
  • Back up your stated skills with clips that show it (and if you don't have any yet, clips that at least hint at your ability to follow through on your claims).
  • Provide testimonials that do the same--because editors will believe other editors before they believe you.
  • Be specific about what you excel at. Anne doesn't say she's great at investigative series, though I'm sure she could do one. That's not her chosen genre. She's specific and clear about what she likes to do and what she does with aplomb.
Thus, Anne leaves editors with a kernel of a vision of her before they call her or email her. She's planted herself in editors' brains without even talking to them. She now lives in them as a complete person and a professional. And her brand leads editors to believe that she's the right person for a specific type of story that Anne loves to write and at which she's an ace.

That's your goal. What can you do to bring it to life?

Photo © Charlie Simokaitis

Friday, September 4, 2009

Brand inside is more important than brand outside for sustained success.
--Tom Peters

Photo by The Wandering Angel.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

30-Day Branding Challenge Profile: Cynthia Alvarez

In an effort to share how other creative freelancers build their brand, I've done an interview with Cindy Alvarez, web strategist and startup aficionado. I think you'll find the steps she's taken to create a brand are things you can do as well.

Tell me about your career trajectory. What industry did you started in and what industry are yon in now? How do you describe your consulting business now?

I started doing web design in the early days of the web browser. As Web sites became less brochure-like and more interactive, I started realizing that visual design came too late in the Web site and product development process: I needed to be involved earlier to make sure the right thing was being built, not just making the wrong thing prettier. I've been doing interaction design and product management for the past few years.

I help companies use a customer-driven process to ensure that a) customers are interested in their product, b) their product solves specific customer problems and frustrations, and c) their product is usable. This involves interviewing real people and then an iterative cycle of showing them stuff, getting feedback, incorporating that feedback into new stuff--"stuff" being the very professional software development term.

Before you went freelance, what did you think of when you thought of branding? Is it a new concept for you?

I've actually been actively branding myself for probably eight years now. Both interactive design and product management are roles that mean totally different things in different companies.

It didn't take me long to realize that I have a very specific combination of skills: I don't have an MBA or MFA. I haven't worked in Fortune 500 companies. I don't have a lot of patience for formal process. I do have a rare combination of understanding technical details and design theory. I'm an excellent presenter and writer. I find a way to get the impossible done. This means that there are some companies and products where I'm absolutely the best person, and others where I'm mediocre at best. I want to associate myself with those areas where I excel, even if that means opting myself out of other opportunities.

How long have you been working on creating your new personal brand?

The most evolution has happened in the past 18 months or so. I've really focused what I want people to associate with me professionally, and what I can put forward to ensure that association happens.

Tell us what your brand is.

There are four elements that I consistently use across various channels:
Name: I'm always cindyalvarez and blog at
Icon: See above
Tagline: Serious About Launching Great Products
Content Topics: user experience, product management, startups, doing things quickly/pragmatically, experimenting/trying new things
Persona: optimistic, blunt, action-oriented

How did you come up with your brand? Was it difficult?

I brainstormed a list of phrases and topics that described what I am and what I aspire to, professionally. Things that are differentiated (i.e. everyone would like to be thought of as "smart") and memorable. I didn't come up with everything all at once - I kept discovering new brand contexts - oh, how do I describe myself in 100 characters or less? oh, what should my short bio be?

How do I know my brand works? When people I've never met face-to-face forward me articles that I'd be interested in, or introduce me to people or client opportunities that are great fits.

What steps would you recommend other creative freelancers take to create a brand?

Take a stand. You are not good at everything, be upfront about that. It's easy to think, I need work, I can't afford to turn anyone away, but there's no advantage in branding yourself generically. Focus on a few things you do really well. It makes you more credible, and it makes you a more attractive consultant to the people who need your specific skills.

You need to care - you don't come across as authentic if you don't really care about the associations that make up your brand. It feels very natural for me to write about user experience design and how to be a better product manager and how to do user testing because I've done those things and it frustrates me to see them done badly.

Prove it. (and don't brand yourself on "unprovable" qualities). You want people to think of you as helpful? Proactively answer questions, share useful resources, educate others in your community. Put something out there - blog posts, case studies, tweets, endorsements - that proves that you are the things you brand yourself as.

Be memorable at a glance. I use the same blue+orange "c" icon everywhere - whether you're skimming through Twitter or comments on someone's blog or a professional social network, it's always consistent. Most people use faces or complicated logos - those are very hard to distinguish when they're shrunk down or in the midst of a sea of other little icons.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

30-Day Branding Challenge Profile: Jen Miller

If you're a writer looking to figure out how branding fits in with your work, you could do much, much worse than to take Jen Miller's example. The 20-something freelancer has written a book, regularly contributes to the New York Times and writes two blogs: Down the Shore with Jen and Book a Week with Jen. It turns out her high profile is no coincidence. Jen is a writer who knows how to work a brand. Consider her approach below.

For many freelancers I know, branding seems like an alien concept. Did it seem that way to you when you started? How so?

It didn't. I'd worked in medical PR before, so I had some idea of what it took to get something noticed. I also review books and write frequently about authors, so I knew how many books are published every year. I go to Book Expo America every spring and probably see less than 1 percent of all new titles! I feel that pitching articles, too, is a form of branding and marketing, so I applied all of that knowledge to attach myself to the Jersey Shore.

Why did you decide to create a brand for yourself? Or was it something you fell into?

I didn't set out for the Jersey Shore to be my "thing." I just wanted to sell books. So I started a blog, Down the Shore with Jen, while writing my book. I started my PR campaign two months after I turned the book in. Even though I didn't have galleys to send, I started reaching out to bloggers to see if they were interested in the book. I also interviewed people with shore ties on my blog, and they told their friends, which helped get word out there. When the book came out, I continued to write articles about the Jersey Shore. I started a twitter account as @jerseyshorejen. My editors realized that I was an expert, so they kept assigning. By November of last year, I was ready to take a shore break when the magazine editors came calling, wanting to secure my services for Shore 2009 writing.

I never expected the brand to work so well, or translate to more article assignments. I was shocked when the New York Times reached out to me with their Jersey Shore idea, even though I'd written about one of the shore towns for them before.

Describe for me your brand: Any catchphrase you have, and what its components are.

Down the Shore with Jen -- follow along with the adventures and misadventures of one gal down the shore, and her writings along the way.

What steps did you take to create your brand?

I took Sandra Beckwith's Book Buzz online book publicity course. That gave me an idea of how to get my book out there. I didn't realize that it would also build my brand. Once I garnered coverage of the book, I used that expertise as author and then clips of shore writings to pitch more shore articles. I share links of shore articles on my blog. I update people on facebook of what I'm working on. I have a high Google ranking for shore related search terms. The twitter account and a good facebook presence has helped, too.

What do you find to be the advantages of having a brand?

Editors know me or are referred to me sometimes when they have an idea but no writer.

What are branding's disadvantages for you?

Sometimes I'm seen as just a shore writer. I do a lot of work in health, fitness, home & garden, and personal finance, too!

How did you know it was working?

My bottom line. Each year, I am assigned more articles about the shore than the year before.

What do you think are the biggest misconceptions of branding among freelance writers?

That it's not necessary. I still consider myself a generalist, but being known for one thing can be a big boost to your income.

Anything else I didn't ask that you'd like to add?

This is hard work!

Monday, August 31, 2009

The primary focus of your brand message must be on how special you are, not how cheap you are. The goal must be to sell the distinctive quality of the brand."
-- Kerry Light, Brand Strategist

Friday, August 28, 2009

30-Day Branding Challenge Profile: Nader Khouri

Nader Khouri has been in the position of many of my readers: Former newspaper staffer, passionate about his work, took a buyout and is now trying to make his way as a freelancer in this economy.

Khouri, a photographer, has morphed his impressive photojournalism credentials into corporate and other photography work, and he has a brand to prove it. Here's how he did it. Oh, and do yourself a favor and check out his heart-rending photos at his Web site. I especially recommend looking through the "Picture Stories" tab. There you can find some of the photos he refers to below.

Tell me about your career trajectory. You used to be a newspaper photographer. When did you leave that job?

I worked for 10 years as a newspaper photojournalist at the Contra Costa Times. I left the Times in early 2008 and my departure was part of a buyout. Much of the shakeup at the company originally started when the shareholders of Knight Ridder (who used to own the Contra Costa Times) decided in 2006 that the newspaper business wasn't profitable enough. Knight Ridder, the second largest newspaper publisher in the U.S. with 32 dailies, sold all of its papers, and it was downhill from there. Right now I am running my own business as a commercial photographer. I couldn't be happier now that I am working for myself. My success is much more in my own hands, whether the economy is good or bad.

Before you went freelance, what did you think of when you thought of branding? Is it a new concept for you?

I knew branding only from the point of view of a consumer. I had no idea about how branding could be developed for my business. I now see it as a process of identifying what I love to do and then researching the market(s) to see how it connects with making a living. It's a combination of my passion and the market's needs.

How long have you been working on creating your new personal brand?

Since leaving the paper in early 2008. I took a semester-long class in marketing through Berkeley City College that helped me narrow down my focus and set goals for myself. It was geared toward helping each student prepare a strategic marketing plan, which included a mission statement, core values, goals and objectives and strategic infrastructure.

Tell us what your brand is.

My brand is photography that helps support a healthy planet and economy. It consists of subject matter that has anything to do with supplying healthy food, sustainable energy and business. My brand also includes my style of shooting where I put value on composition different from your average straight shooter. Many clients value a developed sense of seeing.

How did you come up with your brand? Was it difficult?

No, not at all. It was easy to come up with because it was a fusion of the causes I care the most about: food, energy, and business. Some people have argued that it isn't focused enough, but I am happy with it. I don't think that marketing oneself solely based on subject matter (i.e. shooting food, fashion, autos, etc.) is totally necessary. Having more than one thing to focus on is okay.

I have three life experiences that have helped fuel my motivations for photographing food and helping preserve the right to eat healthy food. First is the connection that started after I photographed Palestinian olive farmers. They still use the same farming methods passed down from generation to generation. It is there where I became most connected to the land and where I also began to worry about how that way of life is becoming endangered. Also fueling the food passion was my experiences photographing all of the farm communities here in the California delta. I spent a lot of time photographing in the fields of both small and large farms where I gained a lot of respect for immigrant laborers and learned about the different issues farmers face. Lastly, my food passion comes simply from the love of eating healthy food. I have seen how a healthy diet really can make a difference in my own life.

The energy part comes from seeing the conflicts in the Middle East that have such a direct effect on our lives here in the U.S. I would love it if the U.S. did not have to exploit other countries for their natural resources. That is why through my photography I support causes that would allow the U.S. to be dependent on its own resources for energy while also cutting down on the burning of fossil fuels.

The business component of my brand comes out of my desire to help businesses get through this difficult economic climate. Websites these days are a necessity for any business and I have seen too many businesses with websites that are either unprofessional looking or severely outdated. I think good design and photography are crucial for any business whether new or established so I work with branding firms to help businesses develop a look that fits their character.

What steps would you recommend other creative freelancers take to create a brand?

Start calling yourselves entrepreneurs and start thinking more about the big picture. Then, start networking like your life depends upon it. You've got to make solid connections with people in other professions and start saying the words "collaborate" and "partner." Hang your goals on the wall and start to convince yourself that they will happen. Keep them in your site as much as possible. The more you see them, the more you become them.

Photo courtesy of Nader Khouri.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Build brands not around products but around reputation.
--Richard Branson

Photo of Richard Branson by tobybarnes.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

30-Day Branding Challenge: It's not as hard as you think

I'll confess: I thought branding was for cattle when I started freelancing.

As a newspaper reporter, I cheered and high-fived colleagues when a story I wrote on consumer protection led to an advertiser pulling an ad. Advertising--and by extension, I thought--branding, was the problem, not part of the solution.

But then I found out the truth: I already had a brand, and it was based on these things:
  • What my clients/employers thought of me.
  • My writing voice.
  • My track record.
  • How I interacted with my clients.
  • My strengths, real and perceived.
  • My passions.
It sounds obvious, right? How we're perceived, our reputations and what we actually do. That's not a brand, you'll argue. That's just your reputation.

But reputation is a component of your brand. And it's really important to understand it, because without your reputation, all a brand is is something you're trying to convince people of.

This is why I tell my coaching clients that every freelancer needs a Web site, and every freelancer's Web site should include testimonials from editors. After all, you can say whatever you want about your brand. But until a client hears it from another editor or experiences it for him or herself, they won't quite believe you.

So if you're building a brand, go out and get some testimonials. Ask editors to share honestly what your strengths are, how they'd recommend you to a fellow editor who's looking for a kick-a$$ freelancer. And then feature them prominently.

Photo by benketaro.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Your brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room.
--Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon

Monday, August 24, 2009

30-Day Branding Challenge: How branding can improve your integrity

To start off this challenge, I want to address one of the biggest barriers writers have to creating a brand: Integrity.

To most of us journalists, branding will always look like Andy Warhol's Campbell's soup cans--artificial, utterly devoid of meaning, designed to sell, to manipulate and to lie. It's a lot more Mad Men and a lot less The Wire.

So how do you get over the hump? Should you?

Consider it differently. Branding is not only about the message you send but also the message your clients receive. In other words, you could create a brand that, say, tells your clients that you're fun, outgoing, perfectionist and well-organized. And that may be the way you'd like to be. But if what your clients actually experience is that you're juggling a million assignments, scattered when you talk to them and drop facts, forget to follow up on things, you're delivering something different than they've been led to expect. You're out of integrity.

So if you're hesitant to work on a brand, approach it from a different direction. Working on your brand can help you find ways in which what you do doesn't live up to what you strive to do.

So take these steps:

First, create a mission statement: How do you strive to be in your business? What are your key words?

Here are a few of mine: Accurate, enthusiastic, professional, collaborative, inquisitive, prompt, thorough. These are all ways I strive to be with my clients: I give them an accurate impression of what it will be like to work with me. I act professionally and enthusiastically to bring my clients prompt, surprisingly good work that's of service to them and their readers. And I do it in a collaborative way, harnessing my inquisitiveness and writing skills.

Now you try.

Next, compare your mission statement to how you actually work. You can do this by asking yourself honestly these questions about how you behave at work:
  • Do you like talking to clients between appointments?
  • Do you ask questions of your clients or like to figure stuff out on your own?
  • How do you react to edits?
  • Do you fact-check your work or double check facts all the time? Do you have a system for this?
  • Do you take work that bores you to tears and that you struggle to complete?
  • Do you regularly file stories over word count, past deadline, or do you regularly ask editors for extensions?
  • How often do you like to update your clients on your progress?
  • Do you give clients a head's up on the sources you're planning to use or would you scoff at that?
  • Will you take source suggestions from your clients or does that violate a line for you?

Finally, compare the two lists: At least according to your estimation, are your goals in integrity with your behavior? If so, give yourself a gold star and move forward with your branding. If not, it's a chance to move your work in the direction of your goals. Start by identifying your weak spots and paying attention to them every day. Bring your support network into the issue, ask for help, make phone calls.

It's not about lying to convince your clients that you're better than you are. Can you imagine how much overselling yourself could kill your serenity? It's about giving your clients an accurate image of what to expect when they work with you. Branding is about the experience your clients have with you, not just the story you turn in.

How'd you do in this exercise?

Photo of Andy Warhol's soup cans by loop_oh.

Monday, August 3, 2009

It is decided: Branding Challenge. Send your questions

The votes were tied: Half for a recession survival challenge and half for a branding challenge.

Since I get to be the deciding vote, and send my coaching clients are working at various stages of branding right now, I'm coming down on the side of branding.

So! Send your questions here or email me at heather @

What do you want to know about branding?
What myths have you heard about branding?
What do you hate about it and in what ways do you think it doesn't apply to you?

Let me know and the challenge will start on the 15th.

Photo by Sarah Jane.

Friday, July 31, 2009

“Do not be impatient with your seemingly slow progress. Do not try to run faster than you presently can. If you are studying, reflecting and trying, you are making progress whether you are aware of it or not. A traveler walking the road in the darkness of night is still going forward. Someday, some way, everything will break open, like the natural unfolding of a rosebud.”

–Vernon Howard

Photo by ManojVasanth.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Serenity Tip: See your work clearly

It's so odd the veil between how I see the world and how the world actually is--especially in my freelance work.

Last year, I wrote a complicated story on the foreclosure crisis, focusing on people who were in a financial bind because of the healthcare costs associated with multiple sclerosis. Of course I worked hard on the story. I always try to keep in mind how my work can be of service to my clients and my readers, so I went beyond the sources the client gave me (it was a custom publication, where they often supply the people they want quoted) and sought out the best stories to illustrate the issue. I dug into the edits to illustrate the suggestions of experts with the lived experiences of people kind enough to share their struggles while they were in the middle of them.

But then, after the piece was done and I thought it was well received, I got an email from my editor, asking me why I hadn't responded to calls from another editor. Apparently, they'd been trying to reach me for weeks. I was mortified. I called back right away, gave them the information, but couldn't shake the feeling that I now appeared to them to be a flake.

I couldn't let go of the lapse--a lapse I didn't even realize had happened because I hadn't received any calls or emails. In fact, I still felt mortified yesterday, when I emailed the folks at the association for which the story had been written. At the suggestion of another freelancer, I contacted the association directly, seeking to reacquaint myself with them and, hopefully, get more work. As far as I could tell, that one lapse was the only dark spot in my record with them. I hoped they wouldn't remember it.

Well, I got an email back right away and the respose startled and elated me. It started with:

Of course we remember you.
You don't have to sell your talents to us!

That alone would have been enough to make my day. But then it continued to this startling revelation:

I’m not sure the message ever got to you that “Foreclosure and the Art of Saving Your Home” won a 2009 Apex Award of Excellence for Financial & Investment Writing.

For a second, I sat in stunned silence, staring at the computer screen. Then I grinned broadly and did a little jubilant dance in my office chair. This was the story: The story I thought of as a smudge on my otherwise stellar record with them. Not only did they not see me as a flake, but they were thrilled enough with my work to submit it for an award. And it won!

I tell this story not just to share my joy, but because my coaching clients are always trying to hedge their bets. They're always trying to be one step ahead of the mythical editors they imagine checking out their Web sites. They don't want an editor to see them as too much of this or not enough of that. They're convinced, in short, that their experience and their writing doesn't measure up.

But what my experience has taught me--and what this particular experience makes clear--is that as freelancers, we can't see our work clearly. If you're like me, you blow up the negative and shrink the positive. You see yourself through the skewed lens of your own self-doubt and insecurity. It's only natural. We're human. And we work alone, where we don't get to hear the plaudits of our editors unless they make the explicit effort to call us or email us with them.

I encourage you to do what you can to adjust your gaze--to see yourself as clearly as possible.

Chances are, if people are always telling you you're a good writer, you probably are.
If people tell you they like your work, they probably do.

They aren't being polite. They aren't sparing your feelings. They're trying to get you to see yourself clearly, too. Sometimes the obvious reason for their statement is the real one. Sometimes it really is that simple.

Where do you need to adjust your vision? Where is the fog of self-doubt still clouding your impression of your own work and worth?

Photo by terren in Virginia.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Another Possible 30-Day Challenge: Recession Survival

Last week, I proposed a 30-day challenge on branding. I'm still gung ho for that, but another also occurred to me.

30-Day Recession Survival Challenge
It seems sometimes like the point is just to get through so you can live to write your dream story another day. And in this economy, with editors not responding, some of us are having to go to our Plan Bs.

This challenge will help you create a Plan B while still being open to continue on the path you're currently on, and will include guest posts from people who have expanded their brand in order to make money in ways they may not considered before--and how that can be a blessing.

So your choices are: Recession Survival Challenge vs. Branding Challenge.

What's your poison?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

"Everybody has to be able to participate in a future that they want to live for."
--Dean Kamen

Image by

Monday, July 6, 2009

Next 30-Day Challenge: Building your brand?

Hi gang,

A moment of housekeeping: I've been thinking for a while about how to build your brand when your brand is, well... You. (The image to the left notwithstanding.)

So what do you think of a brand-building challenge? Comment below and let me know if you'd be interested in that. If you are interested, leave a question or two you have about branding--ranging from "what the heck is it?" to something more complicated.

Image by Intersection Consulting.

Friday, July 3, 2009

"The season of failure is the best time for sowing the seeds of success." Paramahansa Yogananda

Photo by karamellsauce.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Save the Date: Creative Freelancers Conference

I've been reading the Creative Freelancer Conference blog for a while. It offers short posts and interesting info on the business side of freelancing--my favorite topic as a coach. So when I got an email from the organizers, I was thrilled. They wanted me to let you know about this freelancers' conference, and I'm always big on expanding your network and having new experiences as a freelancer. The following is just information. I'm not endorsing it and I have no ties to it. And they aren't paying for the announcement. I just thought it might be something you'd be interested it.

The 2009 Creative Freelancer Conference, presented by HOW magazine and Marketing Mentor, is coming to San Diego, August 26-28. Freelance designers, copywriters, illustrators, photographers and other solopreneurs will get the tools they need to drive their businesses forward from an expert panel of speakers led by Marketing Mentor's Ilise Benun and Peleg Top. Topics include:

. How to create compelling presentations
. The ins and outs of social media
. How to plan for estimated tax expenses
. And more

Plus, the opportunity to network and connect with other creative solopreneurs before, during and after the Conference will prove invaluable to the growth of any freelance business.

For complete program details and to register visit Freelancers who register by the July 15 Early-Bird deadline will save $50!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Serenity Tip: The joy of the bookend

You've got a client to call back, some contract changes to request, maybe even a story you're stuck on.

Call in reinforcements.

That is, make some book-ending calls.

Here's how it works:

1. Gee I'm stressed. I need to finish this story but it's just not coming. It's due tomorrow. What do I do? I need help.

2. "Hey Alicia. I'm just calling to tell you that I'm stressing out about this story. I've got most of the information I need, but I seem to be afraid to start writing because I'm afraid to discover that I don't have enough. I'm afraid this story is going to suck. But I've got to get it done. So I'm going to commit to working on it for the next hour and then I'll call back."

3. Work, work, work--sometimes easily sometime haltingly.

4. "Hey Alicia. I'm just calling back to say I did it! I worked on it for an hour and I have the skeleton down. Now I just need to insert quotes and get one more piece of information. Thanks so much for your support!"

That's it. Just call before and after doing something that's scary for you. It can be calling a potential client. It can be writing. It can be sending the query you've been working on for a while.

If you're on the receiving end of one of these book-ending calls, here are some ways to help:

Ask what she wants.
Does she want you to just listen and be supportive? Maybe she wants you to role-play the conversation with her, with you standing in for the editor/source/client. Whatever it is, ask at the beginning so the call can be of maximum benefit to both of you.

Offer to say what she wants to hear.
When she calls back, praise her for being courageous or diligent or a bad ass freelancer--whatever you want. You can even pretend again to be the editor/source/client and tell her exactly what she wanted to hear. It can be gratifying, even if we know it's all make-believe.

Return the favor.
People like to be helpful. Now you know her process. So hopefully when you're feeling stressed and like you can't possibly make the call or send the email or write another sentence, you know there's someone out there willing to listen to you with gentleness, support and just the right attitude.

Give it a try today.

Photo by Atilla1000.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Serenity Tip: Michael Jackson, dancing and righting work stress

Last week, I was stressed and anxious. Work wasn't coming the way I wanted it to and I was cranky and discontented. Then it all changed.

So this is my tip for you for the week: Find some way to blow off steam and have fun.

The following is a video of the Michael Jackson Flashmob that descended on San Francisco the day the singer died. I'm in there a couple times. I'm the one with the light red, short curly hair waving my hands in the air like I just don't care. Because for a few hours, I didn't.

This moment reminds me of an idiom: Happiness isn't the absence of misery but the presence of joy. Getting out and doing something that's just fun injected my week with that joy. For those of us who are task masters with ourselves, getting out and having fun can be just as much of a challenge as marketing is for those who aren't in the habit of it.

The next morning I woke up feeling giddy and happy. And it's all thanks to some friends, a little exercise, some fun and ceasing to think about work for a few hours. It makes me happy just to watch this. Maybe that's part of why I'm posting it.

So I'll ask you: What can you do to inject fun in your day today? What's your hobby? And if your hobby is work, what did you used to do for fun? Can you do it today?

Monday, June 29, 2009

Serenity Tip: Partner Up

Last week, I wrote about working with groups of other freelancers to increase the numbers of queries you send. But what if you don't have a crowd of fellow freelancers to lean on, or even three more? Could you find one?

Here's why you should.

The advice to partner up isn't just good when you're a little kid faced with crossing a busy street. If you're a freelancer looking to navigate the sometimes-treacherous world of freelance business ownership, you need a buddy, too.

In a formal capacity, this is what I do with my coaching clients: I help them navigate the freelance business world. We come up with markets, we set deadlines, and when we talk, they report back on their progress. I hold them accountable.

My support as a coach carries more weight because my clients are paying for me to be their accountability buddy. You can create that system with another freelancer, however. You just have to find the right freelancer.

She has to work at a similar pace as you

If you want to send a query a day and your goal buddy wants to send one a month, you may not help one another. Instead, the one looking to send a query a day may feel slowed down by the once-a-monther; and the once-a-monther may find herself comparing herself to the uber-prolific one and beating herself up. That doesn't help anyone and doesn't get either of you closer to a sale or a more serene business life.

She has to show up

Sure it's obvious, but it's also one of the most important requirements. If you agree to call each other once a day, she has to show up. And so do you for that matter. A flaky goal buddy will leave you working by yourself, and that will defeat the whole point of seeking support.

She has to be your cheerleader, not your critic

If you find yourself dreading talking to your goal buddy or you find it excruciating to stay on the phone with her because all she does is complain about what's not working, it won't help. It could even feed your own self-doubt and run down your stamina. Keep looking.

The only way to know if your goal buddy is right for you is to try it out. Sure, do a gut check when you first talk to each other, but then take the plunge, with the caveat that you'll reassess the relationship at a predetermined interval. I recommend a month, but you might know after two weeks. Or a day. Who knows?

Now that you've got a buddy, set goals for working together. Ask each other:
  • What freelancing task do you struggle most with?
  • What kind of support has worked for you in the past?
  • What kind has derailed you?
  • What step do you want to be held accountable to?
  • What do you promise to do if you don't meet your goal?
With a freelance friend, we made a bet: We'd each send a query a day, and if either of us didn't make it for a month, we'd buy the other dinner. If we both did it, we'd split the meal, ideally with all the money we were making from our sales. It was a fun way to have it mean something and to build our freelance friendship.

Who can you recruit as your goal buddy for the month?

Photo by Rob Hoey.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Serenity Tip: Being SMART About Your To-Do List

I know you probably have one--a to-do list with more things than you can accomplish in a day. Or, you're so scared of how long your to-do list might be that you keep it in your head. The advantage is that you don't have to see how long your list might be and how overwhelming your schedule is. The disadvantage is that you forget things.

The following is a video of an interview with work/life balance coach Kirsten Mahoney, owner of Insight Out Life Coaching. I met her recently and she's as down-to-earth and sweet as she appears on the segment. I love how she emphasizes saying no--both to others and to yourself. As a self-employed person it's so common to feel like you have to do it all and you have to do it all today. But do you really?

Serenity means doing what you have to today, and letting go of that which you don't. How you define "have to" is a question for another post--one that Kirsten herself may very well contribute.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Serenity Tool: Challenge Yourself, Part 2

One of my favorite and primary roles when I work with coaching clients is to help them refine, target and send queries. I love playing the role of cheerleader and editor. And when I need someone to play that role for me, I turn to my fellow freelancers. This week, I'll talk a little about working with others to make your querying goals come to life.

Monday, I shared a query challenge approach that requires lots of other freelancers to make it work. But what if you've only got yourself and a few others? Let me tell you about another challenge.

The Query-a-Day Approach

In the freelance writers group I belong to, I might be the most maniacal querier of the bunch, but I'm not immune to the need for support. When I found my querying slipping a few months ago, I emailed my freelancers group and asked if I could join them. They'd been doing a query-a-day challenge for a month already.

Here's how it's set up:
  • Gather at least four freelancers, available via email.
  • Pair yourselves off.
  • Promise to report in daily on your progress.
  • At the end of the week, one of you tallies the score and sends it off to a group email, in this case a Yahoo! Group.
It's pretty simple. Every day, my query buddy and I emailed one another our progress. It was just a moment to check in. Sure, you could say it kept us accountable. But I prefer to think that it gave us an opportunity to check in with ourselves on our intentions, our resistance, and our successes. We cheered each other on, we kept each other honest, and we got to know each other better.

The Rub

Now, there were no points required in this challenge--no tallying three points for this, one for that, etc. Our goal was simply to send one query every work day--defined as Monday through Friday for the workaholics among us. But what was motivating us? Wouldn't it be easy to fall off. There were no stakes, after all.Well, after I joined, I discovered that there were stakes: One of the writers had promised, if she failed to send the number of queries she intended, to donate money to the political campaign of someone she hates. Now that's motivation.

A Little Story

It was during this challenge that I resurrected a query I've been sending for two and a half years. It's a great story. I love it. But it's very specific, very niche and I'm determined that it deserves a wide audience. So I got an email from a fellow freelancer alerting me to change in leadership at a publication, and I sent the query off again.

I'm now in talks with the editor about possibly writing the piece for him.

It's not to say I wouldn't have sent the query to the editor anyway. But the support always helps. It's always welcome and it's always encouraging when you have an agreement with someone that they will cheer you on if you email them. That can never be a bad thing.

Friday, one more post on query support.

Photo by
Heart of Oak.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

"Patience, persistence and perspiration make an unbeatable combination for success."
--Napoleon Hill

Monday, June 22, 2009

Serenity Tool: Challenge Yourself, part 1

One of the primary roles I play with my coaching clients is to help them refine, target and send queries. I love playing the role of cheerleader and editor. And when I need someone to play that role for me, I turn to my fellow freelancers. This week, I'll talk a little about working with others to make your querying goals come to life.

If you've never buddied up and challenged yourself to send lots of queries, get started today. I'm participating right now in a query challenge organized by a professional writers' community to which I belong, and it motivated me to send 10 queries last week. Yeah!

I've participated in two different kinds of query groups. Today I'll talk about one of them.

The Mighty Mass Challenge

In the challenge I'm participating in now, there are dozens of freelancers chatting via Yahoo! Groups every day. We've been divvied up onto teams, and the goal is to make as many points as we can. The points are divided this way:
  • 1 point for every query;
  • 1 point for every letter of introduction; and
  • 3 points for every assignment.
At the end of every week, we report how many points we've generated. My group is going like gang-busters: I think last week the gang generated 171 points between something like nine team members.

In addition to counting points, everyone gives a tip at the end of the week to stay motivated. But frankly, doing the challenge is motivation enough.

A Little Story

When I started freelancing a few years ago, I was in that gray area of working a lot for low-paying clients and not having enough money to live on. I loved the work. And my editors were great--don't get me wrong. But I wasn't working toward either my financial or my professional goals. So I heard about the query challenge and I took part.

I sent a query to a national health magazine on a lark--just to get the point, I told myself. It was the only way I could screw up the courage. After all, if I wrote for them, it would represent a huge leap in my writing business. I was writing for small local pubs that paid fast but paid poorly. They'd pay me $1/word and people across the country would read my work. If I thought too much about it--and I did--it could paralyze me.

So I sent it. And it bounced back. But I'd already reported the point. I felt obligated to send the query again. I found an anonymous editors@ email address. A month or so later, I got the assignment!

If it weren't for the challenge, I wouldn't have bothered. I would have just let it go. But the challenge, because I wanted to be honest, kept me going. It pushed me to be accountable and it supported me in being brave.

That's why I sent 10 queries this week. I saw what others were doing--sending tons of queries and getting tons of assignments by selling reprints or by meeting with editors--and it inspired me to do the same. This is where my competitiveness and my need for community come together to support my business. I got to know freelancers whose names I'd only previously seen on faceless posts on a bulletin board. Heck, I even sent first drafts of articles to freelancers I met on query challenges, and shared story ideas with others.

We work together to place story ideas, and we cheer each other up when we despair of paying the mortgage or getting enough work. While I still sit in my office alone, I don't feel it.

Keeping focused

But I want to add that I still maintain my querying standards: I send a minimum of 3 or 4 queries to markets that pay $1/word or more a week. It's easy to get points if you send queries to markets that don't pay enough to live on--they're desperate for writers.

But that wouldn't serve me. It wouldn't keep my accounts solvent and it wouldn't get me any closer to the kind of journalism I want to do. So I make the challenge work for me, not the other way around.

Tomorrow, I'll share another way to work with others to get your queries out the door.

How do you get support to query?

Photo by Heart of Oak.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Inspiration Sunday: Writers We Admire: Jane Mayer

In a continuing effort to imbue you with the joy of our job, check out this Authors @Google interview and talk by writer Jane Mayer:

Friday, June 19, 2009

Two Ways to Change Focus from the Economy to Your Economy

I'm hearing from more and more people the state of the freelance landscape today:

"Since January, I've had three assignments (not high paying) and have sold two essays. My financial situation is far from good, and I'm the only breadwinner in the house."

"I have a large project pending but the client's counsel doesn't seem to be in any hurry to review my contract revisions. I am counting on this project to break my slump. "

"I'm only now seeing positive results, with two assignments I'm working on this week and potentially two more coming in this week. I've been at this almost full time each week since December 15. Getting out queries, LOIs, followups, etc. I can't give you an exact count right now, but I've gotten out at least 100 queries (new, revised or tweaked), more than 100 followups, and dozens of very targeted (with ideas) LOIs."

Still, sometimes, isn't it tempting to think it's YOU? In a way, it's almost comforting: If there really is a cabal of editors out there talking smack about that one article that took tons of revisions, then there's something you can do. You can try to change minds.

Whereas, if it's just the economy and the only answer is to stay vigilant and stay persistent and deepen your patience, then you've got nothing. There's nothing you can do but wait. And entrepreneurs? We're not known for our patience. Especially when the mortgage is due.

I talk a lot about the serenity hypothesis: That serenity isn't being happy all the time or getting everything you want (ask most lottery winners and they'll tell you the same). Serenity is focusing on what you can control and moving away from that which you can't.

And this economy? It's the epitome of what you can't control.

So how do you keep focused and sane and serene right now? Here are two techniques:

Look for role models
If you're a lone freelancer, staring at your barren inbox in frustration and worried about bare cupboards, it's easy to think that something has gone terribly wrong in your business. But if you hear, as I have recently, about tons of other freelancers going through the same thing--and getting through it, surviving and actually thriving--you have a road map.

Ask them:
How did you get through the slow times?
What did you do to keep yourself motivated?

How long did it take for the slump to pass?

How did you occupy your time?

How did you develop patience?

Especially those who say they've been through the slump a million times before--grab them. They're the ones whose resilience you want to learn from.

Pull a switcheroo
Serenity is all about switching focus from the uncontrollable to the controllable. So:
  • Instead of focusing on editors not responding, work on a new query.
  • Instead of focusing on two months from now when you're sure you'll be destitute and on the street, start teaching yourself a new skill.
  • Instead of obsessively crunching numbers, revisit your business plan.
  • Instead of replaying every stressful interaction you've had with a suddenly MIA client, send a thank-you card to an editor with whom you've always enjoyed working.

Can you think of more?

Photo by tomsaint11.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Getting Over Outsiderism

One of the things I loved about Jacqui Banaszynski's recent guest posts on this blog is how frank she was about the challenges of looking like you know what you're doing and feeling the opposite. In the post on fear of seeming rude when you do the kind of persistence that leads to great stories, she said:
[T]he discomfort with self-promotion is very familiar. The same mother who taught me to hold my own in a sibling tussle also taught me that it’s bad manners to go bragging on yourself. And yes, she taught me to mind my own business, not be nosy, not pry into others’ affairs, etc.

Quite the dilemma for journalists, yes?

I’ve known a lot of journalists in my time who are flat-out hustlers, and I say that with admiration — perhaps even envy. They can charm, schmooze or bully their way into almost any situation and come out with the goods.

Not me. I’ve always believed — sometimes naively — that good work will get you noticed; and if not, good work should be its own reward. I also tend to lean more towards doing what works for the bigger group than for my own “score.” (Studies indicate that may be, in part, a gender-based tendency.)
I bring this up in particular because a coaching client of mine recently admitted that part of her hesitance to query had to do with feeling like she should be at a different point in her career by now. She described her main newspaper job as being with a crappy paper. She's been a full-time mom for several years now. How can she compete, she seemed to be asking, with people like me, who went to journalism school, worked at lots of papers, and is established?

What I told her is similar to what Banaszynski intimates above: Guess what? We all feel like we don't belong.

To illustrate, I told a story:

I went to Columbia Journalism School. Fancy, right? The best journalism school in the country. You'd think we'd all be walking around possessed of a level of confidence not experienced by mere hacks. We were the chosen ones, those who, the school's administrators constantly reminded us, would Save Journalism For The Next Generation.

You'd think that, and you'd be wrong.

Instead, there was a joke in the school: In our yearbook (because, in addition to being journalism nerds we were regular nerds as well), writer and former stand-up comic Barry Lank wrote a humor piece about how he didn't deserve to be at the school: Some guy named Bernie Link, or something, was out there somewhere, wrongly denied his spot at the illustrious school.

It was like the whole school had a case of impostor syndrome.

And it's not isolated just to students. Recently, on a professional freelancers board I frequent, someone posted a question with the title: "Do You Ever Feel Like You Just Don't Know What You're Doing?" The question got 13 responses, often with the reply, "All the time."

So if you're struggling with your right to be part of the group that calls itself full-time freelance writers, I'll tell you a secret. Feeling insecure is almost one of the requirements for admission. Just know that everyone is trying to find the next assignment, the next gig, the next piece of work that's going to make her career path make sense.

We do this job despite the fear, not because we're free of it. Maybe there's some level at which that fear is removed, but I haven't found it yet. I'd be willing to wager that the writer you most envy has his or her bouts with the same insecurities. There's always someone more honored out there to which we can compare ourselves.

So let's apply the serenity principle to this: If serenity comes from letting go of what you can't control and focusing on what you can, then feeling like you don't measure up definitely falls into the former category. It's antidote?
Get into the groove.

Finding and working on a query and a story you love--getting out of your brain and into your subjects' lives will--remind you that, though you may feel like you don't belong, you are exactly where you're supposed to be. The job will start making sense. You'll see that maybe you have something to contribute after all.

It's the thinking about it that bogs us down. So don't think. Do. Whatever's next on your to-do list, just do it. Get excited about your job. As Richard St. John said in one of the TED Talks I posted yesterday, passion and getting into the flow is key to success. Enjoy it.

Photo by TimWilson.