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July 2017
Issue #94
The Pests That Plague Us

Look up in the morning sky of the western hemisphere this month and you'll see the dog star Sirius rising with the sun. Yes, the sultry dog days of summer have arrived. And with the heat and humidity come the pests--and we're not just talking about mosquitoes!

Buzz on down to this month's [Not] Just for Newbies column and read about an ongoing plague that new and experienced freelances are dealing with yet again. You guessed it; it's another onslaught of upstart media companies looking for free content. Don't let them suck you in. The experience these companies tout comes with a price.

We try to keep away from pests whenever we can, but when we're working on a project it's nearly impossible to avoid pesky team members who wreak havoc. We share a resource in  On the Radar this month that can help you identify and deal with the pests that affect every project. Its title makes us chuckle.

Since it's summer, we understand the temptation to pay less attention to business in favor of play, but don't let the lazy days of summer make you too languorous. If you skip some steps (like preparing estimates) or delay one certain step (namely, invoicing in a timely manner) in the interest of time, you may be left holding the bag--an empty one. We share our experience in Dollars & Sense.

Last, but not least, check out the tactics we share in The Savvy Marketer. They'll make it easier for you to remain professional when you're swatting away pests!

Until next month,

Cyndy and Brian
The Accidental Medical Writer

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Information and Inspiration for New and Experienced Writers 
Experience at a Price

If you think content mills only come after medical writers, think again. Some companies are happy to exploit writers of all ilk for their own monetary gain. A recent article by Austen Hufford in the Wall Street Journal opened our eyes to a current form of what we think is downright writer abuse, and we thought it would be a good idea to explore for whom it really works.

When we're young and starting out in our careers, we're faced with the common irony of needing a job to gain experience and needing experience to get the job. Unpaid or low-pay internships are a great way to cut your teeth and build your portfolio. Yes, the company you're working for is probably a for-profit company. But in return for your investment of time and talent these companies typically teach you the ropes--or at least expose you to the ropes and let you touch them--and might even offer you a job when the internship ends or after graduation.

The same can be said for breaking into medical communications when you have a degree in journalism, years of research experience, or recently earned your advanced degree. But the stakes are higher. Once you're in the "real world" you have bills to pay, and perhaps others relying on you. You can't afford to work for free to break in, you need a break to prove yourself. As much as we are devout freelances and believe every great medical writer should work for themselves, we rarely recommend freelancing as a way to break into the business. Position the skills and experience you have in a way that potential employers can clearly see how it relates to their needs. Then market, market, market yourself. We often recommend developing your own samples. If you're going to work for someone for free it should be for yourself, right?

When you're an experienced writer you may also choose on occasion to write for free. We've both given away our time and talent to help nonprofit companies that are doing good work we believe in and want to support. If you do this, you can even talk with your accountant about whether that investment has value to you as a tax-deductible charitable gift.

Unfortunately, we occasionally encounter an experienced freelance medical writer who is freaked out by a lull in their schedule and tempted to lower their rates to get work. We think that's a bad idea on several levels. Any client you get by working on the cheap is likely not a client you want to work with for the long run, because they clearly don't value your expertise and experience as much as they value your price. Also, it will be difficult to raise your prices back up to where they should be once a client gets used to paying less. Working for less also means you have to work harder and longer to make the money you need. Not always, but often we find the freelances in this situation have dropped the ball on marketing. You must, Must, MUST market yourself continuously because as we've said before, the time to look for work is not when you need it, it takes too long to cultivate. So instead, we recommend investing the time and effort you would put into working for less into marketing yourself more. That's the way to get yourself back on track.

What really broils us about content mills like the ones mentioned in Hufford's article is that they reap huge financial gains from advertisers off the backs of writers who work for free in the hope the "exposure" will get them somewhere. It's a nice hook and a tempting lure, but we don't think it's nearly as meaningful as these companies make it sound. Interestingly, most of the content mills we're hearing about these days are internet-based. Their free content developers are considered "users" rather than interns, contractors, or employees. Would you suddenly start researching and writing articles for your local newspaper or a magazine for free? We think not.
Resources for Medical Writers
Are You Dealing With a Schmuck? 

At the top of our summer reading list is The Schmuck in My Office: How to Deal Effectively With Difficult People at Work. Sure, we don't work in a traditional office, but that doesn't mean we don't have to deal with office troublemakers who disrupt projects, make us uncomfortable with veiled (or not so veiled) criticism, or seek to blame us or others for their own errors. As freelances, we've been stuck in the middle of more workplace power struggles than we care to count.
The authors are 2 psychiatrists with stellar credentials, Jody Foster and Michelle Joy. Dr. Foster is Clinical Professor of Psychiatry in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, Vice Chair for Clinical Operations in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania Health System, and Chair of the Department of Psychiatry at Pennsylvania Hospital. She also has an MBA, with a concentration in finance, from the Wharton School. Dr. Joy is currently a forensic psychiatry fellow at the University of Pennsylvania interested in the intersections between clinical medicine and the humanities.
Here are some of the personality types the authors describe in their book:
  • The Narcissus: The condescending attention-seeker who carelessly steps on everyone's toes
  • The Flytrap: The bringer of chaos whose emotional instability causes an office maelstrom
  • The Bean Counter: The orderly perfectionist who never gives up control even when it's full steam ahead to disaster
  • The Swindler: The amoral, immoral, yet often-charming sociopath who has no regard for rules or other people
  • The Suspicious: The walking conspiracy theorist who believes everyone is plotting against him, especially you.
We don't know about you, but we've encountered a few Bean Counters and Flytraps over the years. If you want tips on how to deal with the schmuck who's turning your latest project into a nightmare, we recommend buying this book.
Advice on the Business of Freelancing 
It's About Time

Anyone who knows us knows we recommend charging by the project rather than by the hour. But make no mistake, time is an important factor in the equation. Why? Because there are still only 24 hours in a day, and only so many of them you can work and be at your best. Into those hours freelances must fit writing, marketing, estimating, invoicing, bookkeeping, project management, IT troubleshooting...oh, and life.

Considering how many years of experience we both have as freelances, you'd think we have this down to a science. But every project, every client, every day, every month, and every year is different. The only consistency is inconsistency, the only constant change. If there's something we're going to lose track of, it won't be the deliverable. But sometimes something has to give.

Recently we were on a teleconference with one of our best clients, reviewing all the projects we're currently working on for them. At the end of the meeting we noted that we realize we need to catch up on invoicing, adding that we've been so focused on meeting deadlines that we haven't had time to get to it. Now, getting so caught up in work that we don't get to invoicing is not a mistake we make very often, but it does happen. You might think it sounds like a good problem to have, and, well, it is. But it's not.

One of our clients on the call responded with one of the funniest and most compelling statements we've ever heard, and we'll never forget it.

"So, as long as we keep you really busy it's free?"

We all laughed, but it was a serious message. Without work there isn't invoicing, but without invoicing there isn't income. The two must go hand in hand. There's a third hand in the deal, too. Estimating.

When you work a lot for a really good client, they come to know your relative pricing and you come to know their relative comfort level and expectation with fees. It really is a beautiful thing. But some projects come through so quickly they're in and out in a matter of days before you even realize you didn't estimate them. Others are so intense there's no time for anything but to get started. And others are so poorly defined you need to get into them before you can even attempt to estimate them. Make no mistake, when you price by the project you must provide estimates for every project. You never know when your interpretation of a project's scope and cost is going to diverge from your client's interpretation and expectation, and after you invoice is not the time to find that out.

We have no magic answer for this. Try as we might, we haven't found a way to cram more hours onto a day. So it's a work in progress. We share it with you here so you know you're not alone (you know you do it, too; and if you're new to freelancing trust us, you will), and to remind ourselves that it's important to estimate and invoice in a timely manner, no matter how busy we are. We'll never forget our client's words!
The Accidental Medical Writer Calendar
We're both gearing up for the 2017 AMWA Medical Writing & Communication Conference being held November 1-4 in Orlando, FL. Registration is open, and you can book your room now at the conference hotel--The Swan and Dolphin--which is an awesome property and just a short, scenic walk to the World Showcase in Epcot. Since there aren't many nearby options for alternate hotels, we recommend you book your room at The Swan and Dolphin soon!

We invite you to check out the AMWA Webinars Archive to view the webinars we've presented. You can access Brian's webinar, Unlock the Secrets to Freelance Success: Essential Ingredients of a Successful Freelance Business, Cyndy's webinar, Unlock the Secrets to Freelance Success: Bad Behaviors That Can Sabotage Your Business, and our good friend and Mighty Marketer Lori De Milto's webinar,  Unlock the Secrets of Freelance Success: Getting the Clients You Deserve, anytime, anywhere, in the AMWA Online Learning webinar catalog.

Brian also played a small but important role in webinar earlier this year, 5 Easy Steps to Making the Ethical RIGHT Choice. It's a free webinar, and you can view it now in the AMWA Webinar archive via the AMWA Online Learning Welcome page.

If you're an experienced freelance and want to kick your business into high gear, you should also check out Brian's webinar,  The Secret Marketing Tactics of Top Freelances.

To access any and all of these great webinars, simply click on the drop-down menu under Education and select Online Learning, then click Explore the Catalog to view the entire online learning catalog and search for any of our webinars by name.

Last year Brian spoke with Emma Hitt on Building Your Medical Writing Business Through Subcontracting, and you can listen to his podcast.
We would love to present at your next upcoming meeting or event, so invite us!
Marketing Tips to Build Your Business 
Your Kindergarten Teacher Was Right

Way back in the dark ages, well, really, 1986, Robert Fulghum wrote the bestseller, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. Filled with simple lessons most of us learned when we were young such as, clean up your own mess, don't take things that aren't yours, and play fair, the book sold more than 7 million copies.
Although many people internalized those early teachings from grammar school, some did not and never will, and they keep Drs. Foster and Joy in business, teaching us how to not go crazy when we have to deal with them (see On the Radar for specifics).
Freelances must perform a unique balancing act, not unlike the tightrope performer in a circus. Since we work remotely, we don't need to get emotionally involved with office troublemakers. We do, however, have to deal with the chaos and drama they cause. And we need to learn how to deal with the different personality types we encounter. Not only that, we have to maintain a professional demeanor while doing so. Just because our client is hard to get along with doesn't mean we should be, too.
Professionalism is one of the best marketing tools we know. Here are some tips for maintaining your professional cool when dealing with the workplace dynamics that affect every project.
  • Strive to develop relationships with clients. As you get to know them, you'll learn their quirks and develop ways to handle them.
  • Avoid getting pulled into drama caused by disruptive team members. Perhaps most importantly, never take sides.
  • Make sure you define and enforce personal boundaries. You don't want clients to think they can call or email you to dish about a coworker.
  • Don't take comments personally; that goes for flattery as well as criticism. The flattery could just be an attempt to get something out of you.
  • Look in the mirror to make sure you aren't the problem. If somebody always yanks your chain, take a closer look to figure out why this person pushes a particular button. The reality is that we all bring our own issues to our work and sometimes that's a problem.
As Robert Fulghum says, "Ignorance and power and pride are a deadly mixture, you know." Hopefully you won't encounter too many clients who display this trifecta. Nevertheless, learning how to skillfully handle people with a combination of these traits just might be one of the best marketing lessons you'll ever learn.
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