What was your worst-ever job?

workerSomeone posted that question on a writers’ LinkedIn group, and here’s my response:

Can’t decide which job of mine was worst. Working for [name of prominent religious organization in KC] and having to stop for a prayer/sermon twice a day was pretty bad. Two other sinners and I would go to the snack area downstairs on our breaks, smoke about a million cigarettes and complain.

Worse, though, was a short-lived copywriting job with a very small (seven employees), now-defunct consumer packaged-goods agency in KC. The owner/head AE had said before hiring me and my art partner that he wanted “good creative.” He beetled his brows at me when I was sitting at my typewriter (yes, it was that long ago) gazing at a blank sheet of paper. He’d ask the people in the outer office, “What’s she DOING in there?” Later, I realized there was no need for “thinking,” which is that thing I was doing. “Good creative” to him was an ad that looked just like one from a file cabinet full of P&G coupon ads he had collected while he worked at P&G. He fired me on my birthday, which was a fitting gift.

Oh, wait! It was MUCH worse working at Bozell in Omaha. But that’s a long, gut-wrenching story for another time. Preferably at a bar.

Appearing… or disappearing.

Someone once asked local jazz great Bobby Watson why he was playing a gig for so little money. Watson replied, “Because you’re either appearing or disappearing.”

Sax man Bobby Watson

Sax man Bobby Watson

That’s a sobering thought. And it’s a great reason for doing pro bono projects between the paying ones. So last week, I wrote and disseminated news releases for two organizations I belong to (which also involved updating my media list because of all the newspaper staff layoffs). And recently, I submitted the winning entry in the informal “rename the Freebe Awards” (former name of the Freelance Exchange of Kansas City’s annual awards) contest and wrote copy for the call for entries and the event invitation. My designer friend, Laurie Chipman, did a literally cool design for both ICE Awards show pieces featuring a penguin illustration that just makes me smile. Especially because it’s a neat piece for my portfolio. You can take a look at the invite here.

Doing pro bono projects can be fun and can keep you from going nuts while waiting for paying jobs. It also helps out good causes, gets you together with people you like (usually), and makes you feel useful. Finally, when you do any kind of project, you’re out there “appearing,” not disappearing.

Today, I did some paying work, and that’s a good thing, too. So I don’t see my bank balance disappearing…

Are you a negative news junkie?

Hi, I’m Liz, and I’m a recovering news addict.

I’ve switched from watching MSNBC at 8 p.m. to watching “Criminal Minds.” It’s all about a special unit of the FBI profiling and tracking down serial killers. Last night’s was about a psychotic young man who killed people and cut out their vital organs. Nice, huh? How’m I doing?violence.tv

What is it about negative stuff that draws our attention? A wreck beside the highway slows traffic to a crawl, as drivers try to get a look to see if anybody’s hurt. The lead story on the local news usually features a field reporter standing in front of crime tape telling of a shooting that happened on that spot hours ago. The political news is mostly of the “gotcha” kind, less about substance than gossip.

So what’s so attractive about all this? Must have something to do with our lizard brains, the ones concerned about keeping us alive and safe. Only instead of warning us about the predator ahead, it’s slipped into overdrive and is actively looking for things to fear — things that have nothing to do with us, in parts of the world where we’ll never go.

It is important to keep up with what’s going on in the world, so when you go to vote, you know what’s at stake. But I’ve realized I need to cut out the egregious violence and nastiness on TV. I’ve recorded a couple of recent Monty Python specials and Wednesday’s episode of “Glee.” Come to think of it, “Glee” also has violence and nastiness. Check the TV section. Aside from cartoons and the Simpsons (a satirical show that happens to be animated), nearly everything has to do with violence, cruelty and war. Gaaah!

Take a minute and read this good article about what you let into your head. Maybe it will help you clear out the negativity.

The secret of happiness


Here it is, in one word: detach.

Detach from what, you might ask. In answer, I would point out that though most people think “money is the root of all evil,” the actual quote is that “the love of money is the root of all evil.” I think we can all understand that in light of the big investment firms’ mendacity, for which we all are paying.

So desire for money, status, things, feelings or people is the root of unhappiness. Detaching from desires doesn’t mean you wouldn’t like to have a humongo flat-screen TV or a new sports car; it means you take a good look at your desire for it and decide that rather than a desperate feeling of need, it can simply be a preference. So if it comes to you, you’ll be happy. If not, you won’t be miserable.highres_2952806

I would prefer to have a new car, but the one I have is okay. I would prefer that that person adore me, but if s/he doesn’t, I’ll still be okay.

Downgrading desires to preferences is the way out of constant feelings of need and deprivation. It is the secret of lasting happiness.

So now you know. Pass it on.

Here’s something else, from a psychiatric journal article:

“Materialism is toxic for happiness,” says University of Illinois psychologist Ed Diener. Even rich materialists aren’t as happy as those who care less about getting and spending.”


The 5 Steps to Selling Ideas

Rummaging in a drawer for a certain business card, I unearthed something I had saved and posted to my bulletin board long ago. It’s a short version of how to do a sales pitch. Just five steps everyone engaged in the business of persuading should learn. And that’s really everyone.

When I say “sales pitch,” don’t think used car salesperson. Every one of us needs to sell something to someone every day, whether it’s a thing, an idea, or ourselves. So adapt these steps to your own needs. Fill in the details that apply, and try it out.

Step One: Start where people are.

What’s the current situation of the person you’re talking with or advertising to? What’s going on in their life or business? Speak to that. For instance, “I understand that recently, you’ve been…” whatever their present challenge is. Be sure they confirm that’s what they’re dealing with before moving on.

Step Two: Talk about problems and opportunities.

Try to state the person’s real problem concisely. I mean, if they have identified a problem, but you see that the problem actually is wider or narrower than they can see, describe and explain what you see as the real problem. If they agree, then start talking about how that problem offers the opportunity for growth, greater understanding, better relationships, more revenue, more fun, or another relevant benefit.


An account executive wasn’t happy with how his marriage was going. He and his wife didn’t talk much any more, chugged along from day to day all right, but the spark and the fun were gone. So he approached the problem from an account executive’s perspective. He determined an objective: to improve his wife’s satisfaction level with their marriage. His strategy would be to make whatever adjustments in his own behavior would improve his relationship with his wife.

He conducted a one-on-one focus group; he surveyed his wife to learn what specific things she liked and didn’t like about their current relationship. He quantified her responses. He took the findings and developed specific action steps to maximize his wife’s happiness and minimize her unhappiness.

For instance, he found that she really wanted more communication, especially when they both got home from work. So he would make it a point to talk to her when he got home, not just flop onto the La-Z-Boy and grab the channel changer. He would listen to her talk about her day as they washed and dried dishes together. They would go out on a date every Friday night. Things like that. Pretty simple things, but the strategy worked. Lily_Allen_492936a

When he measured his wife’s satisfaction level after several weeks of his “campaign,” he found there was a significant improvement. Job well done!

Step Three: Talk about objectives and strategies.

If your person desires the benefit you’ve outlined (accent is on “relevant”), then the next natural step is to set out a specific objective: what the desired outcome of any action taken will be. For example, “We will increase our profits by 12% in the first quarter of 2010.” The objective can’t be vague, as in “We’d like to make more revenue in 2010.” The timeline and identified goal must be clear. When they are set, you can move on to the next part of this step, strategies.

A strategy is a broad plan of action moving you toward the goal. Say you’re selling a new product nobody knows about yet. Your goal is to achieve a certain level of top-of-mind awareness of your product among an identified target group. “Our strategy is to gain 25% top-of-mind awareness of the product among 18-34-year-olds in three selected areas of town by implementing a free sampling program during the month of March. We will establish a benchmark for awareness, then measure awareness among the target group at the conclusion of the sampling program.”target-blue

Step Four: Then move to the Selling Idea.

Beyond awareness, you want your target audience to be excited about the product’s benefits, too. What is the compelling selling idea? Maybe a new cell phone has more practical apps than iPhone, and the benefit is that you can get your work done more easily. Or maybe the new phone is ergonomically designed to fit the side of your face, so it’s more comfortable to use. Whatever it is, the selling idea has to be strong enough that people who own a different phone will be motivated to switch.

Step Five: Conclude with how the selling idea solves the problem.

Rosser Reeves’ Unique Selling Proposition still works. The USP is a unique statement no other product/service can or does advertise, compelling enough to get people to buy the product, that can be conveyed in the form of a proposition like, “When you buy the ElfPhone, you get 20 practical new business apps that help you get work done in 50% less time.”

Back to the account executive example, his USP might have been, “When you are my spouse, you get a high level of communication and many behaviors that show you how much I care about your happiness.” Now, what woman could resist a USP like that?

Be kind to yourself. Do these 3 things every day.

Most of us have work goals. But what about taking-care-of-me goals?

It’s easy to get caught up with working, looking for work, keeping up with email and phone calls, and just slogging forward from one day to the next. Have you sat back, taken a deep breath, and contemplated what you need to do to take care of yourself?

Taking care of yourself involves doing just a few simple things every day:

• Do something you enjoy



Maybe you feel guilty taking time to draw, paint, play the piano, take ballroom dance lessons, go bowling, call a friend just to chat, or take a drive to get out of the house. But don’t. These times out, when you’re not forging ahead but enjoying the moment, are rejuvenating and necessary.

• Keep your body in good shape

Many of us have active minds but inert bodies. That’s bad. Better to take a walk, march in place, and/or stretch from head to toe while watching TV than have to go to a chiropractor or ortho doctor. Your body needs good food, too, not fast food. Good food takes more time, whether it’s in a restaurant or in your kitchen. Don’t begrudge your body a little time for exercise and a good diet. I know, this sounds so trite. But if you’re like me, you know it know it know it but don’t do it do it do it!

• Get your inner world in order

Your mind is buzzing with work details. Call this person, return that email, look up this information, follow up with him, straighten that bookshelf, take out the trash tonight, clean the litter box… Yaaargh! Enough! Quell the mind chatter somehow.

– The Tao of Music

Go to Pandora.com and create your own radio station playing whatever kind of music lets you unplug and unwind. For me it’s Mel Torme, but for you, it might be Jewel or Coldplay. Heavy metal is out. Sorry. Just sit or lie down and listen for a few minutes. Check your muscles and see if you can relax them more and more.

– The Way of Meditation

Of course, the age-old way to calm the inner turmoil is to meditate. There’s nothing mystical or difficult about it (unless you try Zen meditation — believe me, it’s awful! If you’re trying to do it right, you’re not doing it right. And if you’re not doing it right, you’re not doing it right, either. Maddening.).

The simplest way to meditate is to sit comfortably in a chair, both feet on the floor, your hands on your thighs, and choose a word, any word. Even a nonsense word. I was given a mantra, “ki-ring,” which sounded kind of cool and Buddhisty. It was some time before I realized my mantra was “keyring.” My teacher had a sense of humor. No matter.

Anyway, hold the word softly in your mind (Don’t repeat it in your head or verbally.), and each time your mind wanders, simply notice that you’re straying and gently bring your attention back to the mantra. As my meditation teacher said, “Five minutes is good; ten minutes is very good; fifteen minutes is excellent.” You’re not trying to do it perfectly. You’re just practicing doing it.

ki-ring, ki-ring, ki-ring

ki-ring, ki-ring, ki-ring

SO —

Try having a little fun, doing a little exercise, enjoying a little good food, and doing a little meditation every day for 21 days, and you’ll develop a long-term habit that will do you good. (Me, too, if I can take my own advice!)

FL Sheriff sells ads on jail visitation video monitors

I’ve got to hand it to the sheriff for pioneering heretofore-unexplored ad territory. Wonder why nobody thought of it before? There’s the potential for more than 500 viewers a day, and proceeds from ad sales will go to the Inmate Welfare Fund.

It's true -- you do look 10 pounds heavier on TV!

It's true, honey -- you do look 10 pounds heavier on TV!

Hmmm. What kinds of products and services could profitably advertise to relatives of inmates? Beyond bail bond companies, public defenders and others mentioned in this brief story, I’ll leave that to your imagination.

Florida Sheriff Sells Ads on Jail Visitation Video Monitors

The Charlotte County, Fla., sheriff’s office is selling ads on the video monitors that visitors to the jail use to talk to inmates. The still-frame ads will air for two-minute intervals at a cost of 60 cents per showing. The frame will repeat 24 hours per day. The cost for…

[Read more.]

Here’s the Sheriff’s Office news release.


I see notes on my calendar to “call xxxxx.” Yup. I see ’em, all right. But somehow, I keep moving them from one day to another, one week to the next, and never calling people who might have freelance work for me. Particularly those I don’t know very well, or haven’t worked with before.

You're scarin' me, Mr. Phone!

Quit scarin' me, Mr. Phone!

Problem is, I hate the phone. In fact, I fear it. Especially now that people have Caller ID. When I automatically get their voicemail, I don’t know if they’re really out of the office or just avoiding talking to me. Believe me, I don’t want to bother anybody who doesn’t want to talk to me.

All the small-business marketing gurus say you should call prospects. But I’ve been on the receiving end of those calls — one freelance writer kept calling me once a week, like clockwork, to inquire as to whether I had any work for him — and I did find it annoying. Me, a writer, have writing for you to do? Huh? Perhaps because of my aversion to bothering people, when I call someone I don’t know well, I get all tongue-tied, like a second-grader at “show and tell” time.

I know I need to work on my phone skills, but in the meantime, I’m thinking of starting an email list and sending out helpful info to clients and prospects every couple of weeks or so. These days, an email — just one of dozens competing for my attention every day — has to have a compelling title for me to open it. I’ll work on those compelling titles and offer value.

I am Value, see me fly… And I will try some phone calls (having pre-written a nice, brief phone script, so I don’t hem and haw) and see if I live through it. Aaaargh.

What I love about this job

Learning is, and always has been, my thing. I love what I do because every new project teaches me new things.

For instance, one of my recent projects was doing a trade mag ad for a new client, Creative Displays. I knew only as much about Christmas lights as the average Wal-Mart shopper browsing the holiday kitsch aisles. But on this project, I learned that LED Christmas lights are the big thing now. For several good reasons.LEDLights

LEDs are brighter (much brighter!) than the old bulb lights. Not only that, but they last a heck of a lot longer. The ones my client sells are rated at 50,000 hours. They use much less energy than traditional bulbs. Finally, you never have to replace burned-out bulbs. Hence, my headline, “Beat Christmas Burn-Out!” So what’s not to like?

Creative Displays imports LEDs and all other kinds of Christmas lights from China (where everything is made these days, let’s face it) and sells them at wholesale prices. Most customers are municipalities, shopping centers and retailers. Their catalog is overwhelming in the choices it offers. Kinds of lights I never heard of before.

When I was a kid, you had your basic colored bulbs, and you had your long, slender bubble lights (my favorites). Bubble lights disappeared for years and years, much to my dismay, but they’ve reappeared the last decade or so. Boomers crave the decorations they loved as kids.

Seriously, if you need Christmas lights, go to Creative Displays. I think you’ll be amazed.