Monday, March 7, 2016

A Blueberry, a Wildcat & a Chocolate Donut Walked into a Coffee Shop ...

So there's this coffee shop down the street from my kid's school bus stop, and the outside is about as non-descript as you can get, with a giant grey and black sign that simply says, "Coffee & Donuts."

I've driven by this place without notice. Even though it's in my "neighborhood shopping center," I have also walked by it numerous times in favor of a Chinese restaurant next door, my hair salon across the parking lot and a pharmacy that I hit for my sundries. 

But last week, I was hard up for something hot after waiting for that school bus with my child, and I decided that rather than drive about 10 minutes to the nearest Starbucks, I'd give this place a shot.

I was not prepared for the glory inside.

It turns out the sad little "Coffee & Donuts" grey sign was camouflage for a place filled with hipsters and urban professionals alike, crouched over Apple laptops and chatting in business suits against a backdrop of sleek tables, a corrugated steel counter, blackboard menus with colorful chalk drawings, mood-boosting music, local beekeeper offerings of products like "Bourbon honey" and even cool T-shirts.

I didn't even mention the coffee, did I?

By the time all was said and done, I'd walked out of that place about $20 poorer, having spent it on the aforementioned Bourbon honey, a giant Chocolate-glazed donut and the only thing I can describe as nectar of the gods -- a "Blueberry Wildcat" -- which was a latte infused with blueberry syrup, espresso, milk -- and melted white chocolate.

OK, so what does this have to do with your freelance writing business? 

Let's break this down:

My discovery of the coffee shop from Nirvana occurred last week.

All weekend, I was being a good girl with my yoga workouts, but I kept thinking about that chocolate-glazed donut and that Blueberry Wildcat thing. (I'm not sure what's in that chocolate glaze, but I think they're putting sour cream in it to give it a good bite. Anyway, I digress ...)

Fast forward to this morning. I take my kid to the school bus stop, and I know I have a couple of errands to run after he's safely on his way ... and I'm thinking about breakfast. I'd just thrown on my jeans and a long-sleeved T-shirt. No makeup. The hair ... well, if you're a woman, you know how important it is to attend to the hair. I hadn't yet. And I was wearing a pair of scuffed up shoes because of mud left behind by a couple of snow storms. 

In short, I was in no condition to walk into that coffee shop to scratch that Blueberry Wildcat itch.

I did my errands and as I was considering going through a drive-thru for a Starbucks, I thought to myself, "No. NO! I am going to get that Blueberry Wildcat, dammit! I want that chocolate donut, dammit! I want to walk into a place with those cool people, makeup or no makeup, dammit!"

And I did. Despite the ease of a drive-thru window, despite the comparable taste of a Starbucks coffee, despite any embarrassment that might hinder my walking into a place without lipstick on my face ... I went BACK to THAT coffee shop.

And yes, this has everything to do with your freelance writing business.

Are you giving your clients the same craving for your writing services that this coffee shop jarred in me for its coffee and donuts? 

If you're not sure, let's check off a few boxes. Ready?

1. When you do your interviews, do you encourage people to send you their own typed answers in an email, or do you take the time to talk to them on the phone, encourage their verbal responses, push them to open up and work out extra gems of information they might otherwise hold back, even though it might add an hour or two to the time to complete the project?

2. When you write up your story lead, do you go for the path of least resistance and regurgitate your story pitch -- or regurgitate the lead the editor gave you on the assignment form? Or do you go through your story notes and ferret out that perfect quote or anecdote to lure the reader into the rest of the copy?

3. When you have a question about your notes, do you take time to contact your source again and ask if they meant to say things the way you are interpreting what they said? Do you go the extra step to ensure that you are accurately quoting them or representing their thoughts?

4. When you have a pile of statistics in front of you, are you diligent to interpret those and present those numbers in the context in which they were collected?

5. When an editor gives you a deadline, do you meet it?

6. When an editor gives you a word count limit, do you work hard to edit down your prose so that you will pack in as much meaning into a tightly-knit sentence? 

7. When an editor has questions, how do you respond?

8. Are you professional when dealing with your sources? Do you answer all of their questions, even after the story has been turned in? Do you respond to every PR professional who contacts you, even if you've already completed the assignment? (For the record, I do. That's another blog entry, but suffice it to say, keep your eye on the big picture for future stories. Kindness and courtesy never hurt anyone.)

9. Do you look beyond the short-term goal of making money and seeing your byline, attacking each story as if it's a service to the public or your audience? 


10. Do you see your writing profession and skill as a way to make the world a better place?

How many of those did you check off?

If you got through the list and hit most (if not all) ... then congratulations. You're the coffee shop with the Blueberry Wildcat and Chocolate Glazed Donut and Bourbon Honey.

And guess what ... if you're offering that level of service, even if you're not great at advertising yourself (guess what, my website hasn't been updated in 3 years, but I've been so busy with work, I haven't had time to do it) .... your clients will go out of their way to hit you for work ... each and every time.

Next time you consider taking a shortcut with your writing services, just remember me -- walking into a place without lipstick, hair askew, scuffed shoes and a pale make-up-less face, just so that I could get my fix for perfect food, perfect service ... and a perfect way to start the day.

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