The rate debate … it’s not complicated

An independent writer told me recently her day rate is $500, and she won’t leave the house if she can’t get that rate. “How much business do you have?” I asked. “Actually, none,” she replied.

Like the AT&T TV commercial with the guy sitting at the little school table with the cute kids says, “It’s not complicated.” In my mind, working for less than a preferred rate beats sitting at home watching the soaps.

Then again, there are limits. A sports writer contacted me recently and asked if I had any openings. A newspaper in Iowa, he told me, called and asked him to cover a golfer from Iowa in the U.S. Open. They wanted a 15-inch story and a photo and offered to pay $75. Math was never a strong suit, but I wonder what that hourly rate would work out to after expenses. Think of it this way … he would have had to pay for gas to get to the course, pay to park, spend all day on the course, buy lunch, buy a bottle of water, ask some questions in the interview tent, drive home (more gas), write and file the story and photo.

That seems to sum up the problem in trying to write for almost any publication. Their budgets for contract writing, if they exist at all, are terribly low. I’m finding more success doing public relations writing, business-to-business writing and book editing than writing for consumer or trade magazines.

A script I wrote for a PR agency is being used in Holland this week. I’ll present half of a book editing project on Friday. I’ll deliver a capabilities statement to a consulting firm in Northern Virginia this week or first of next. And I need to start building a media list for a PR proposal it looks like I’m going to get in Texas. Finally, with any luck, I’ll file two stories to Mother Nature Network and CNN this week.

What about you? Where are you finding traction with contract writing? B-2-B or B-2-C? Or, is an inflexible day rate keeping you home watching TV?

Don’t take clean water for granted

Toccoa River near Blue Ridge

Mother Nature Network, which is the world’s best-viewed online environmental site and frequently publishes my stories on the environment and garden-related topics, published a cool infographic today on the importance of drinking a sufficient amount of water each day. ( That’s eight, eight ounce glasses, according to the infographic, which points out that the human body is 75 percent water. Dehydration, according to the text, can cause you to become sick and fat.

I thought about the importance of rivers as a source of clean drinking water while fly fishing for trout in the Toccoa River in the North Georgia Mountains recently (above). Many people in developed countries, I suspect, take clean water for granted. They shouldn’t. Not everyone is so lucky.

The 6,000 resident of San Antonio de Los Cobros high in the Andes Mountains of Argentina are a case in point. The arsenic levels in the river that provides the town’s only source of drinking water are so dangerously high that life expectancies are cut short. Adults often don’t live long enough to develop relationships with their grandchildren.

A new Atlanta company that specializes in providing engineered water treatment solutions, AdEdge Water Technologies, worked with an N.C. missionary and a few others to solve the problem. They figured out how to create and install a treatment system – no easy feat at 14,000 feet – that reduces the arsenic to below acceptable standards. Companies like this that not only specialize in sustainability but use their expertise to improve people’s lives around the world are a joy to write about.

What companies that specialize in environmental sustainability and have big hearts do you know about?

Lack of communication is frustrating

A recent newspaper article about how often a job applicant should follow up with an HR department after sending in a resume caught my attention. A general rule, according to the article, is that the applicant is allowed one call to be sure the resume was received. Any additional calls may brand the job seeker as a nuisance.

Does the same hold true when you are making a pitch to a potential client? Few things are more frustrating than to have an initial interview with someone that you would like to do business with go well and then have all follow-up attempts ignored. When is it appropriate to stop trying to re-engage? If you stop too early, are you viewed as lacking aggression? If you keep pushing are you a pest? When this happens I always wonder if it’s a test of some kind. I hate tests!

My instinct is that it’s better to quit too early than push too long. Just recently a person I had hoped would become a client but who I had not heard from in a year contacted me and signed a contract. Perhaps that will happen with several very promising interviews that recently became dead ends.

Maybe a lack of response is the result of the culture of our impersonal communications technology. Friends who are in business for themselves have confessed to sharing similar experiences and frustrations.

What about you? Do you find that sometimes good leads just die out and your attempts to keep them alive go unanswered? If so, when do you decide discretion is the better part of valor and stop emailing or calling?

Labor Day and business is on the uptick

I didn’t realize there was such a thing as a seasonal newspaper until I was managing editor of Cox News Service and started coordinating the daily relationship between Cox’s 44 newspapers. The Palm Beach Daily News, the Cox newspaper in affluent Palm Beach in South Florida, changes from daily circulation to publishing just three days a week during the summer. After Easter, its readers flee the tropical heat for cooler climes. The Shiny Sheet, as it is affectionately known, becomes a daily newspaper again after Labor Day when people begin returning to the island.

The business world also has seasonal ebbs and flows. My real estate agent wife has told me for years that activity slows down during the summer when the kids are out of school and families take vacation. I’m now learning that first-hand as the owner of my own business.

Luckily, during the last few weeks as summer has been drawing to a close I’ve noticed an uptick in phone calls. Emails, too. New business has appeared, and it looks like a proposal I made a year ago just may be coming to fruition. Maybe this positive news coinciding with the arrival of Labor Day is a sign that the book editing contract I’ve been waiting on will be coming in soon.

What about you? Do you notice business slowing down in the summer? Now, with Labor Day here, are you ready to roll up your sleeves and get ready for a busy few months until the business world slows down again during the holidays?

Face it … Networking pays off

‘People have to see your face,’ I keep telling myself about business development. That philosophy paid off through traditional networking and social media last week.

Two consulting companies called, and we’re now doing business — albeit in one case a final deal is contingent on acceptance of a RFA we’re writing for a five-year federal government contract. As it turns out, both calls, which were unrelated, came from Northern Virginia.

In one case, the company is a start-up. The owner found Worldwide Editing through a person who serves on an international business group I counsel. In the other case, a business principal found Worldwide Editing on Linkedin through a keyword search for an urban agriculture special interest of mine, Farm to School.

How are people seeing your face?

The next big idea

I confess, I didn’t know about the Aspen Ideas Festival until I read about it in a column by my friend and former colleague, Bert Roughton, managing editor and senior editorial director of the Atlanta Journal and Constitution. Bert was in Aspen looking for ideas to help keep newspapers relevant.

He found plenty of company. Newspapers are just one of many industries facing challenges to a once-solid business model.

In one session, for example, Robert Spano, the music director of both the Atlanta Symphony and the Aspen Music Festival and School, talked about how many music lovers no longer subscribe to 24 weeks of concerts a year in advance. That doesn’t mean they don’t want the product, Spano said. They do. But, he said, “The world changed.” The challenge for symphonies going forward he said, is how to structure, fund, nurture and perpetuate the product.

Doesn’t that really it sum it up for so many businesses? Isn’t it true whether you are a corporation with a solid brand or a start-up creating a “what-will-they-think-of-next-product?” In a world where software is changing so rapidly hardware is having a hard time keeping pace, how are you nurturing your product or service? How are you structuring and funding your business. Can you perpetuate what you are doing?

The Aspen Festival wasn’t supposed to supply answers. It’s goal was to get people thinking about where this changing world is going. And that’s not a bad idea.

Water harvesting is smart business

water harvesting

The gurgling sound behind me as I weeded the entry to the garden was unmistakable. Without turning around, I knew it was condensation draining from a PVC pipe on my neighbor’s air conditioning unit just a few feet away.

What a waste. The water pooled up beside a patch of fescue lawn where some if it was absorbed by the ground. Most of it, though, trickled down a hill to no useful end.

It was hard to resist the temptation to put a drainage hose on the PVC pipe and redirect the precious water to my ornamentals and a few green peppers growing among them. Then, I could have used the water from my nearby rain barrel elsewhere in the garden.

Jim Harrington has turned rainwater waste into a business in metro Atlanta. His company, Rainwater Collection Solutions, Inc., harvests rainwater and stores it in a water pillow made from a reinforced polymer alloy that is approved, with a filter system, for potable use. Potable and non-potable pillow systems are available for residences and corporations.

What companies do you know that deserve a shout out because they either specialize in designing or installing rainwater harvesting systems or have made a commitment to the environment and are already harvesting rainwater to irrigate the grounds on their corporate campuses?

Sustainability matters


Have you ever captured the wind and held it in your hand? I had an experience like that Saturday. A hummingbird sat motionless in my palm.

The occasion was a banding event with two licensed banders for a story I’m writing about how to attract hummingbirds to your yard. The story is for Mother Nature Network and CNN. The bird, which at first was frightened and squealed and squealed during the banding process, calmed down when it figured out we meant no harm. Finally, after much picture taking, ooohing and aaahing, it flew off into a backyard hummingbird habitat of 50-60 tubular and saucer feeders that looked like a Six Flags for hummers.

The few minutes the little bird, a first-year hatchling that will leave in the fall for winter grounds in Central America, spent resting in my hand brought home the importance of writing about the environment and sustainability. A clear trend among entrepreneurs seems to be to create businesses to restore environmentally distressed areas or to produce sustainable products. What companies do you know that are leaders in sustainability?

Sowing the seeds of sustainability


Dr. Larry Mellichamp (above), professor of botany at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, reminded me last week why I enjoy serving as a communications counsel to business leaders and scholars in the areas of the environment and sustainability. They make products or provide services for future generations, not just for themselves. Mellichamp, who plans to retire next year, recently led a carnivorous plant and fern walk for the Cullowhee Native Plant Conference on several private tracts in the Sherwood Forest retirement community in the N.C. mountains. Near the end of the walk on the second site, the homeowner urged him to be sure to see a colony of Fothergilla major, a spectacular native American shrub that produces white bottle brush blooms in the spring. One of the plants carried seed pods that Mellichamp said would be ready in the fall. “If I give you my address, would you send me some?” he asked her. She, of course, readily agreed. “I am always looking to start seeds or cuttings, or plant plants, many of which will take years to mature, without worrying about my life span,” said Mellichamp. What business leaders do you know who produce sustainable products with the spirit of Larry Mellichamp? One company immediately comes to my mind: Tree Zero. Based in an Atlanta suburb, they make copy and packaging paper entirely from sugar … and save the trees future for generations to enjoy.

Building a buzz benefits your brand

Cullowhee blog

Gardening with native plants is one of my passions and one of my favorite topics to write about. An upcoming article for Mother Nature Network will debunk the myth that native plants by definition have a wild and messy look. Instead, the article will focus on the curb appeal of natives. The topic will be on the agenda at the Cullowhee Native Plant Conference that starts this week (Wednesday, June 16) at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, N.C. The conference has seen registration drop off sharply during the recession and recovery. I was asked to join the Conference Steering Committee in charge of publicity and use my business communications skills and media relations experience to reverse this trend and start building attendance back to previous levels. This year’s gathering marks my first full year on the Steering Committee, and the buzz on social media is that lodging and field trips for the conference are full. That’s great news! Not only because the information about natives shared at the conference is so helpful in supporting the environment, but it shows the high level of interest in sustainability and how effective good marketing can be to building or restoring a brand. Worldwide Editing has strongly marketed this year’s conference to Master Gardeners, landscape architects and flower clubs throughout the Southeast and to regional media in Western North Carolina. I’m anxious to get on the road and spend a few days with many new tree hugger friends. Leaving the summer humidity of Atlanta for the cool air of the mountains will be a welcome relief as well!