The Local Wild: The Pink-Spotted Lady Beetle.

Springtime is lush with local wild activity, so its especially difficult to decide what, exactly, I will write on this week. Already a trove of photos of potential topics clutter my list—garlic mustard, trout lilies, garter snakes, dandelion, stinging nettle—but today I want to revisit a subject touched upon last fall: ladybugs.

As the weather warms, the Asian beetles emerge from hiding. Already, folks are correcting me, saying Asian Lady Beetles are not ladybugs. However, if you recall from last October’s Asian Lady Beetle piece, you’ll remember that those invasive and very annoying species of beetle are, in fact, ladybugs and, to quote that article exactly, “When it comes to Asian beetles, calling them ladybugs is not incorrect, it’s just less specific.”

Now that we’ve got that settled (again), I’d like to introduce you to a native species of ladybug that I stumbled upon while weeding last week: the twelve-spotted ladybug.

pink-spotted ladybeetle_Woken-Jessica_May2019

A pink-spotted lady beetle crawls quickly up my arm as I attempt to take a snapshot. / Jessica Woken

This dark pink insect of the Coccinellidae (pronounced “cox-in-elly-die”) family of beetles is one of the more common native ladybugs in the United States. Sadly, like other ladybugs, their numbers are falling as a result of the invasive Asian beetle, which is both a more aggressive predator (and eats the competition’s larvae) and carries a microscopic fungus called microsporidia which can infect and kill native species. Other than the fact that they’re native, what else distinguishes the twelve-spotted ladybug from the much-hated Asian beetle?

First, they’re different in color, shape, and pattern. Color: This indigenous beetle is a hue of dark pink instead of bright red or deep orange we’re used to seeing. And, instead of a perfectly round or domed shape, the twelve-spotted ladybug is oblong like a little pink and black football, and lacks the characteristic white “M” the Asian beetle sports on her thorax. (Author’s Note: While all ladybugs are not female, I’ll be referring to all ladybugs in the feminine for the sake of conversation.) Also, as her name implies, the twelve-spotted ladybug sports twelve spots. Other names for the twelve-spotted ladybug are pink-spotted lady beetle and, simply, spotted lady beetle.

Omit dandelions from your yard, and you’ve just made it that much harder for the twelve-spotted ladybug to thrive.

Entomologists prefer “lady beetle” over “ladybug” because “bug” is a very loose term that can refer to a very broad spectrum of organisms, including microorganisms like bacteria or anything else little and creepy crawly, like worms. However, the terms “ladybeetle”, “ladybird beetle”, and “ladybug” can be used interchangeably and usage is regionally dependent.

As far as mannerisms go, the twelve-spotted ladybug is more ladylike than others. For one, she really likes her flowers! Up to half of the twelve-spotted ladybug’s diet consists of pollen or nectar, which is atypical for the predacious Coccinellidae family. Her flower of choice? Dandelion! This “weed” (it isn’t really) is a favorite of twelve-spotted ladybugs because it is usually the first to bloom in early spring when the insects emerge from winter’s hiding. Omit dandelions from your yard, and you’ve just made it that much harder for the twelve-spotted ladybug to thrive.

Another way this bug is a lady: She doesn’t make a big stink when you bother her. Although all ladybugs emit a noxious yellow fluid from their joints when disturbed, this is a complaint associated more with the Asian beetle than native species because native species are not known to swarm and invade buildings and homes, where their odor lingers for what can seem eons.

MN DNR Lost Ladybug Project poster

A “wanted” poster created by MN DNR for the Lost Ladybug survey project. / Minnesota DNR, August 2014.

Despite dwindling numbers, the twelve-spotted ladybug is still one of the most common native ladybugs in North America. Sadly, three other native ladybugs—the Transverse ladybug, the Two-Spotted ladybug, and the Nine-Spotted ladybug—are so rare that the Minnesota DNR has asked the public’s help in the past in keeping tabs on them. This relates to something called The Lost Ladybug Project, begun in 2000 by Cornell researchers in New York State; the project has since spread across all of North America. More about The Lost Ladybug Project can be read at www.lostladybug.org/participate.php.

There are many ways we can help native ladybug populations thrive, the first being to plant or allow to grow native and naturally occurring flowers like dandelion and milkweed, or to simply let the wild ones grow wild. Herbs like dill, fennel, cilantro, and parsley also make for great ladybug territory. It seems counter-intuitive, but spraying your garden for insects like aphids removes ladybugs’ food sources, thereby removing the ladybugs! Overall, what you want to do is create a ladybug paradise that specifically attracts native Coccinellidae, and, funny, that also means making a bee paradise. Just goes to show that what’s good for bees and butterflies is good for everyone—including ladybugs!

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Many thanks to Cannon Beacon for allowing me to publish Local Wild entries on this blog.

Sources:

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The Local Wild: Indian Paintbrush.

While the State of Minnesota is solemnly awaiting the weather to catch up with the Spring Equinox, my son and I ventured southward to Texas for a weekend to visit family. While traversing my parents’ one-acre lot my young son discovered a small bunch of bright pink flowers and happily proceeded to pick them from the yard. For the full visit, despite my efforts to goad him into admiring other white or blue posies, these large, pink, single-stemmed flowers became a favorite of his to search out, pick, and collect.

A little introspection revealed the flowers were the Texan variety of Indian Paintbrush, a flower so named because it looks like its end has been dipped in bright paint. A little research showed that Indian paintbrush comes in a wide variety of colors and—lo and behold!—is native to the North Star State, too, although in a different color.

Its scientific genus is Castilleja: Castilleja for the Spanish botanist who discovered them (Domingo Castilleja) and, in Minnesota, Coccinea, meaning “red”, is the species. With almost 200 species within the genus, Indian paintbrush is native across most of North America, from southern Texas all the way up into Canada.

Indian-paintbrush_Myer-Cua_April2019

A close up of an Indian Paintbrush spotted in the Dallas, Texas area. Yellow tips of the flower can be seen hiding among pink leaf bracts. This variety can range in color from magenta to hot pink or deep pink. Minnesota versions are commonly scarlet or yellow. / Photo: Cua Myer.

In contrast to it being pretty, it turns out Indian Paintbrush is a greedy, thieving little plant. Like mistletoe, which pulls its nutrients from host trees, Indian Paintbrush is a hemiparasitic, which means it derives some of its nutrients—like water and minerals—from surrounding greenery even though it’s still getting energy and nutrients through photosynthesization of sunlight. For gardeners, this means Indian Paintbrush can be damaging to nearby flora, so it’s best to plant far away (if you’re intentionally planting it) or weed them out if discovered near or in gardens.

The flower of the Indian Paintbrush is well hidden: The colored portions of the plant are actually leaf bracts, not petals, and the flower—a small, pointed, yellow segment—hides bashfully within them. The leaf bracts come in a variety of colors: white, magenta, purple, deep red, orange, and yellow.

Despite its thieving and bashful qualities, this plant holds medicinal value for those looking to forage. Colored leaf bracts can be consumed in small amounts and in moderation (perhaps as a colorful sprinkling atop a salad) and are said to have a mild sweetness. Consumption of these colorful parts only—green parts of the plant and roots should NOT be consumed!—provide high levels of Selenium, which may aid in rheumatism and boost the immune system.

With almost 200 species within the genus, Indian paintbrush is native across most of North America, from southern Texas all the way up into Canada.

Bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds love this plant! If you’re interested in adding Indian Paintbrush to your landscape to beautify your own segment of the local wild and help propagate this native plant, seeds can be purchased from these and other websites: Seed-balls.com, AmericanMeadows.com, and VermontWildflowerFarm.com. It’s a tough little plant to get going, though, so NatureSeed.com suggests planting seeds in “rocky, sandy soil with good drainage and place in full sun or part shade. Remember to include a host plant or two, preferably plants that are naturally found sharing the same habitat as Indian paintbrush.”

I am looking into a handful of seeds to scatter along the edge of our driveway, which is altogether sunny, sandy, and rocky (gravel driveways, anyone?), with lots of native grasses and weeds for this little hemiparasite to feed off of. Wish me luck, and happy painting, everyone!

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Many thanks to Cannon Beacon for allowing me to publish Local Wild entries on this blog.

Sources:

The Local Wild: Mosquito Season

While we’re still in the thick of the wet, muddy havoc of Winter Melt-Off 2019—and the Cannon River is still receding from its escape from its banks—the minds of optimists are deep in dreams of warmer spring and hotter summer weather. The ongoing joke claims Minnesota has only two seasons: Snow and Construction. I thankfully don’t drive often enough through construction zones to have it impact my life in such an acute and disparaging way, but I do have my own, rural version of our state’s two-season condition: Snow (there’s always snow) and Mosquito.

I had hopes that the record-breaking freeze would wipe out most of this year’s mosquito population, only to be corrected by a friend who said the mosquito population will be in full-swing, if not extra potent, this year due to the resulting wetness of the still-lingering snow. Even folks in Georgia are expecting bad mosquito populations this year, so it’s not just us Mid-Westerners suffering.[1] Drat.

I have my own, rural version of our state’s two-season condition: Snow (there’s always snow) and Mosquito.

In my last Local Wild column, I discussed the snow midge, a wintry mosquito doppelganger. Midges are unlike mosquitos in that they have no biting proboscis, don’t carry disease, and, other than being annoying when they swarm, are harmless to humans. However, like midges, mosquitos are surprisingly hardy over-wintering insects.

Exactly how a mosquito endures cold weather differs by species, but most of them will go into diapause—a state akin to, though different from, hibernation—when temperatures drop below 50°F. According to Pestworld.org, “The mosquito responsible for transmitting Zika…overwinters in the egg stage. … [Eggs stay] in water-holding items [and] enter a state of diapause, a process that suspends their development during the coldest months.” For some species, adult females die after a final spout of winter egg-laying and the eggs go into diapause; adult females of other species may not die, but will instead hide (in the ground, a tree hollow, a barn, etc.) and go into diapause themselves.

Diapause is activated by hormones that pause an organism’s development until better conditions ensue. Adult female mosquitoes who go into diapause can extend their usual 6 to 8-week lifespan to up to 6 months, allowing them to wait out most winters unscathed and ready to propagate when they warm enough to awaken, like this week when we’re expected to hit 50+°F.

But enough about the wonders of mosquito over-wintering. What about how to control them in the spring and summer?

Cannon River overflow_Jessica-Woken_21March2019

Standing water from overflows of the Cannon River could result in unanticipated ponding, creating massive breeding grounds for mosquitos. / Jessica Woken

First, the obvious: Get rid of any standing water or containers that might catch and hold water, including recesses in the ground that may turn into long-standing puddles.

Next, kill or deter the existing mosquitoes by use of chemicals, electric zappers, or a combination of natural methods, like chickens and plants.

If you’re not one to spray vast areas with pesticides and are hesitant to invest in an electric mosquito trap—they can range from $50 to $900—consider planting (in a garden), potting (around the house), or pruning (native plants) the following to help keep mosquitos at bay:

  • Plant or pot: Citronella, lemongrass, lavender, peppermint, basil, lemon balm, rosemary, sage, marigold, chrysanthemums, garlic, catnip
  • Prune: Wild Mint, Sweetgrass*

Mentha_arvensis_Wild_Mint

Wild Mint. Image: Wikimedia Commons. Lazaregagnidze (photographer), 11July2011.

As a bonus, mosquito-repellent plants offer up a side of landscape beautification as well as opportunity to attract beneficial insects we actually want around, like bees and butterflies.

Keeping chickens may also help control the mosquito population, as the birds will do their able share of eating as many mosquitoes as they can. (I’ve seen members of my own flock race across the yard in hot pursuit of a mosquito snack.) Some researchers believe chickens may be the next big thing in mosquito control and malaria prevention![2] Keep in mind, though, that having chickens can also backfire if their run is prone to muddy puddles or the coop isn’t kept clean and dry, both of which serve as excellent mosquito housing.

Good luck, and Happy Mosquito Season! (I think?)

*Author’s Note: Sweetgrass is a natural insect repellent traditionally used by Native Americans. It’s key chemical, coumarin, is also the special ingredient that makes Avon’s ‘Skin So Soft’ a popular insect-repellent lotion![3]

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[1] Walker, Doug. “Mosquitos could be a big problem this spring.” Rome News-Tribune, 01Mar2019. URL: http://www.northwestgeorgianews.com/rome/news/local/mosquitoes-could-be-a-big-problem-this-spring/article_905cd592-3c47-11e9-a80d-3fa27c05430e.html. Accessed: 21Mar2019.

[2] Horowitz, Kate. “Could Chickens Be The Mosquito Repellants of the Future?” MentalFloss.com, 20July2016. URL: http://mentalfloss.com/article/83461/could-chickens-be-mosquito-repellents-future. Accessed: 21Mar2019.

[3] “Using Sweet Grass To Repel Mosquitoes”. CBS MN, 19Aug2015. URL: https://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2015/08/19/using-sweet-grass-to-repel-mosquitoes/.

Gifts Had, Shared, Multiplied.

In addition to being a stay-at-home mom and writer (as if that weren’t enough), I’m a musician. As I prepare to leave the Minnesota chill for our annual Christmas trip to Grandma’s House in California, I’m putting together a song list for a Los Angeles County drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility ministry I’ll be performing at on Sunday, December 23rd. This is my first time volunteering to provide a worship experience at this rehab ministry, or even a place remotely like it. I don’t know what to expect, if I’ll enjoy it, if I’ll walk away heartbroken or inspired by the people in attendance, if I’ll do it again. If… anything.

Regardless of those answers, I’m already feeling the benefits of my heart offering to the Kingdom’s cause. No, not some self-satisfaction with my own generosity (how vain!), but a quiet joy—a fulfillment of my call to worship—in knowing I am utilizing a talent built within me by God and offering it out to others in a way that only I uniquely can.

I’m already feeling the benefits of my heart offering to the Kingdom’s cause: A quiet joy—a fulfillment of my call to worship.

Perhaps that is part of what accepting Jesus into our lives is about: Not about accepting gifts from outside ourselves, but accepting, and using, the gifts within us that, in their use, gift others.

Pastor John Piper of Minneapolis implores: “lay down all your idolatry and false worship to find your ultimate satisfaction in a God who finds his glory in your satisfaction. Such a world have we been given.” Amen!

This season, I wish everyone a plethora of gift exchanges! Not only an abundance of blessings from gifts received from others, but also the intimate, private blessing, healing change, and quiet joy the use of personal gifts provide to ourselves.

Merry Christmas to all!

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Thanks to the Beacon paper of Cannon Falls, MN for allowing me to share this message on my page.

Ref: Piper, John. “Worship: We Get Joy, God Gets Praise.” Desiring God, 26June2017, www.desiringgod.org/messages/gospel-worship/excerpts/worship-we-get-joy-god-gets-praise.

It’s On: MOI Gets Credit on Copyright Page

Copyright pages are something most readers pass over immediately. But, if you’re an editor, writer, or publisher, you likely find this page that’s hidden between cover and main content and full of legal information as fascinating as I do.

As part of See Farther (MOI’s business motto for 2017) and 2018’s Baby Year concept, I creatively contracted with my latest client, real estate agent Rich Cordaro of Pennsylvania, to help move MOI forward and check off one of my writing bucket list items: having my name printed on a copyright page.

Of course, the ideal and perfect situation would be for the copyright page to be all about ME: me as the author, me as the editor, me as the illustrator, et cetera. To have my name on the copyright page of a book that is truly and completely all my own!? Ahhh… The dream!

But let’s get real. We’re working in baby steps, remember? So as part of the contract with Rich I offered a reduced rate in exchange for copyright credits on his book, The Essential Guide to Selling Your Home. I’m pretty strict when it comes to setting my rates–after all, I worked long and hard to earn the experience that enable me to justify the rates I charge!–but you have to consider that charging fees is not all about what you can get in money, but also about what you can get in benefits.

The Benefit of Barter

Not to beat a dead horse, but bartering really isn’t a dead concept! Some people even took bartering virtual and it’s a big hit (in larger, urban areas, that is).

Even though the typical method of payment nowadays is cash, there are still many businesses (and even governments!) that will exchange services for product, service for service, product for product, et cetera. It’s a great way to get goods and services that you otherwise couldn’t afford, or non-monetary and immaterial benefits that can’t be directly valued (like a copyright page credit).

This latest project with Rich is a perfect example of mutual benefit from a strategic barter. Sure, I could have charged my usual rate and made more money, but that wouldn’t have accomplished anything more for me in the long run. By negotiating a lower rate for copyright page credits, both parties got the best deal: Rich saved money and I got to check a box on my bucket list!

Richard Cordaro_Essential Guide to Selling Your Home

Rich Cordaro and I worked out a contract where I would be mentioned on the copyright page of his book in exchange for a reduced editing fee.

About Rich’s Book: A Well-Thought Real Estate Guide

Rich and I found each other via Upwork and I’m so glad we did! Working on this book with him was such a joy and it’s rare to have a client as open, flexible, understanding, and focused as Rich Cordaro.

He wanted his book to be easy and fun while still making sure readers would be able to understand and apply his real estate advice. Could I do that, he asked? Of course I could!

We brainstormed ideas during the first couple months. Once those were solidified we worked together to…

  • blend graphic illustrations into the text;
  • create worksheets;
  • develop an Index and Glossary of Terms; and
  • offer the book in both print and electronic versions.

Not only was Rich a pleasure to work with, but I was also able to gain some really valuable experience during the project, like…

  • Learning more about the Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (Amazon KDP) requirements and process;
  • Learned about the 99Designs process;
  • Get hours logged using Adobe InDesign as a publishing layout tool; and
  • Get [more] hours logged for Adobe Photoshop (to turn hand-sketched images into digital graphics).

Good experience is hard to put a price tag on. Even though Rich has expressed his joy with the project’s end result to me more than once, I can’t help but feel like I got the better end of the deal on this one.

And THAT’S the proof of a great barter: When both parties feel like they got the better piece of the pie!


If you’re in the market for an easy how-to real estate selling guide, please pick up a copy of Rich’s book ($9.99 paperback, $3.99 Kindle). He really lays out his strategic–and proven!–selling methodology in an easy-to-read fashion (i.e. no confusing lingo!); the worksheets contained within the text can be immensely useful; and the graphics we put inside the text make it a fun and quick read. (And, no, I don’t get any portion of royalties. I just think it’s a great book!)

Baby Steps: Starting Out Anew

In January, I declared a new motto for Mountain Owl Ink in 2017: See Farther. You probably don’t know that when I created that motto I had no idea I’d give birth to my first child in a few short months. And, how appropriate, because I’ve come to realize there is little that makes you see farther into the future more than having a child.

Then, on November 17, just over a month after my son was born, I had recuperated from childbirth and gathered enough of myself together to reflect upon 2018, the year I’ve come to call The Baby Year. And, like my 2017 motto, I’ve just come to realize that the name takes on a double meaning:

Not only is 2018 the first full year of enjoying my literal baby, but it’s also a time for me, in my “baby” stage as a new mother, to reevaluate myself and make changes. It’s a time for Mountain Owl Ink, in light of those changes, to restart itself in infancy and move forward in baby steps.

Taking Baby Steps

When my son takes his first steps, it will be something new. I’ll be amazed at how he’s developing. I’ll be happy and proud and slightly afraid as I am faced with the reality that he’ll forevermore be increasingly mobile.

At the same time, to him his first steps may not be much of a shocker. He would have been working toward that goal for a while, his whole life, in fact. After all, before he stepped out, he’d have been working on looking around, at rolling over, at sitting up, at standing, all these things would have happened before he took that first step out.

So, while I, the outsider, may be shocked at the development, to my son it’ll be something he’d been (more or less) planning on and pursuing for some time. It will be exciting, I’m sure, but it won’t be a surprise.

His developmental leap, from my perspective, will be just another “baby step” for him.

What Baby Steps Mean

In this light, baby steps are those small leaps forward that we take that go largely unnoticed by the outside world. They can be internal (emotional, mental, or spiritual changes within us) or they can be external (physical changes or material achievements, like a diploma or accolade), just as long as they bring us closer to a preconceived goal.

As an example, when I decided to wake up every morning and get dressed as if I were going to an office (even though I worked from home), that was a mental change I made even though it materialized as me wearing different clothes. But, did it matter how I dressed to the outside world? No. Absolutely not. Nobody knew that I was in office wear while puttering around my house. Did anyone notice I wore heels while I did laundry or vacuumed? No! But I certainly did. That was an attitude change — an internal baby step — that brought me closer to a preconceived goal (that is, taking my business seriously and not just as a hobby).

Baby steps mean you’re working toward improvement, whatever “improvement” means for you. And, when you can track those steps, you’re better able to see how far you’ve come — and how much farther you have to go — to reach a goal you’ve set for yourself.

But that brings up the question…

Can baby steps backtrack?

Absolutely.

When my son starts walking, he’ll undoubtedly fall down. He may just bump down onto his heftily padded rear end (thank you, fluffy cloth diapers!) or he may topple forward and hit his head on the floor.

After such disappointment (and pain), he may not think that walking is as great as it’s hacked up to be. Nobody really wants to face plant on the floor. Nobody wants to be disappointed after putting in so much work and effort.

But he WILL keep trying, because that’s what babies do. They don’t obsess about what happened last time; that’s a grown up thing. Babies just keep on keeping on.

And that’s what babies can teach us: To stop obsessing about “last time” and just keep on. Sure, we’ll face road blocks, disappointments, backtracking, bumps, pain… but those are ways to learn to baby step better, not reasons to avoid baby stepping at all!

Let’s Learn from Babies

So, 2018 will be MOI’s Baby Year. I’ll be starting over with a fresh perspective about what I want from me, about what’s important to me and how I might get there (a little of this I already shared in my last post).

As a result, MOI will be shifting gears. I already know that that’ll involve working more on my own projects and less on being hired out to work on other people’s publishing dreams.

I also know that Le Mieux will be taking a temporary pause while I create a clearer path for it’s development (can you say website and swag?) and movement forward. That’s a sad thing to admit, but sometimes we need to backtrack in order to baby step forward. Nobody knows this better than writers, who sometimes have to face the difficult task of tossing a few pages in order to change the story and make the whole of the book better.

More to come… See you in the new year!


Is 2018 YOUR baby year? If so, what changes do you foresee making for yourself, your business, etc.?

Asking For Money: Why We’re Afraid To Do It and Why We Shouldn’t Be!

A contact of mine — let’s call her Nancy — mentioned something that happened to her:

A freelancer she’d hired with whom she’d become friends with during the course of a project started sending vague ‘What’s up’ texts.

“It wouldn’t have been awkward,” Nancy said, “if they actually had something to say or share, but it was just text-y small talk. You know, ‘What’re you doing?’ and ‘How’s things?’ We don’t small talk in person. Why would we small talk on text?”

Even though emotions are notoriously difficult to decipher in texts, “I knew something was up. I could just feel it.”

Turns out, she was right.

As a result of some recent life drama she’d completely forgotten to issue payment on the freelancer’s latest invoice. She knew she was the one to blame for the slip and apologized, saying she’d pay them right away — “I was mortified. How could I forget to pay them?” — but the freelancer was also apologetic… for bringing up the subject in the first place!

“That struck me as weird,” Nancy said.

And, I agreed: It is weird. But also, sadly common.

Why Are We Afraid To Ask For OUR Money?

Can you imagine your telephone company apologizing for asking you to pay your bill? Of course not! They’ve provided a service with the expectation that they’ll given money that is, in a way, already theirs.

So why are so many freelancers shy about asking to be paid? Just off the top of my head, maybe they’re worried they…

  • #1: Won’t receive future work from that particular client if they nag for payment.
  • #2: Will be told their work isn’t any good and that’s why they’re not being paid.
  • #3: Have a client who never actually intended to pay.

There may be others, but these three particular fears stand out. However, when broken down, they’re actually pretty pointless. Here’s why.

Worry #1: Fear of No Future Work

Has it ever happened that a client will not offer more work if you nag for payment? YES. However, the keyword here is “nag.”

There is a critical difference between professionally asking for payment (even professionally demanding payment) and nagging about it. The latter involves whining, complaining, pleading, insulting the client, and other annoying dialogue that will only manage to get you blacklisted and not respected (or paid).

If you’re sure you’re being professional and the client is still playing hard to get, consider this:

Do you want the kind of client you have to wrestle money out of at the end of every project? If your answer is “no” (and it should be!), then just get payment ASAP for what you’ve already done and let them go their merry way.

Then there’s this: If your fear of not getting rehired is getting in the way of you asking for payment, then freelancing simply isn’t for you. Sorry, guy.

But, if you’re willing to bravely face the “Pay me” discussion, there are

Ways To Reduce Your Anxiety Over Getting Paid

  • Write a Contract and include an arbitration clause.
  • Write a Contract and include terms for an upfront deposit.
  • Write a Contract and set terms for payment at project milestones, like:
    • Setting up an escrow account in a money handling service like PayPal, or
    • Directly arranging the work through a site like Upwork, where escrow is already a fixture in the system.

I mention WRITE A CONTRACT multiple times because doing business without a contract is just asking for trouble. Contracts are Freelancing 101 and, if you don’t have one handy to present to clients at the start of every job, I strongly encourage you to draft one now.

 

Incorporating details like an arbitration clause, upfront deposit terms, or payment deadline terms can help payments stay on track and on time and leave your worries to more critical matters… like just doing a good job on the project!

Worry #2: “Your work isn’t worth it.”

Let’s consider what “freelancing” means in the first place.

By definition, a freelancer is “a person who pursues a profession without a long-term commitment to any one employer.”

No commitment to any one employer? It sounds so… freeing, doesn’t it? ::wink:wink:: But that also means that the employer (or client) also has no commitment to YOU other than those terms they’ve agreed on and are legally held to (you know, via your contract).

There are two good reasons to nix this worry in the bud.

First, if payment is dependent on TIME (i.e. $/hour), you should get paid for work done even if the client doesn’t like the end result. This is part of the hourly arrangement: pay is largely independent of product (unless, of course, the product is grossly disastrous, in which case you should let the client keep their money).

Flat fee arrangements are tougher to negotiate, as they more strongly imply a product-dependent payment system (“I’ll pay you for 5 hours spent writing XYZ” vs “I’ll pay you $100 for an article on XYZ.”).

Either way, consider including one or both of the following in your contract(s):

A. Require an upfront deposit (e.g. 30% or 50% of the full fee, or the equivalent of 5 hours of work) before you even begin. This encourages the client to feel vested in you and the project and offers them the opportunity to show they’re serious about holding to their end of the bargain.

B. Use an Escrow service. Arrange escrow through PayPal or set up the job through a writing brokerage, like Guru, Upwork, or Servicescape (though, beware: ServiceScape demands a steep 50% commission!).

The main trouble with using a writing brokerage is that if the client hasn’t used it before they’ll have to set up an account and learn how to use a new platform, which they may not be eager or willing to do. In this way, PayPal is easier because the client doesn’t need an account to deposit funds into a PayPal escrow.

Finally, let’s say the client really did intend to pay you and they are dedicated to the project. What gives? Well, it’s time to ask yourself a hard question:

Is your work worth paying for, or not?

Either you produce a good product or you don’t. Unless the client can point out glaringly obvious reasons why they shouldn’t pay you (e.g. outlandish editing mistakes, blatant spelling errors, or an article that’s off-topic) clients may use the excuse “I don’t like it” to see if you’ll let them off the hook.

Why would they want to get off the hook? Two reasons come to mind:

  1. They changed their mind about the project. Maybe jumped the gun and hired you before thinking it through, or didn’t realize that a writing project is actually a lot of work (for them, lots of reviewing and approving your work). Or…
  2. They didn’t realize how much it would cost and are facing sticker shock. (See “Hard Truth #3” HERE.)

Don’t give in: Neither of these excuses are your fault and you still deserve your money! Be firm about receiving payment, about the amount due, and about your end product, especially if the client had many chances to cancel the job or make changes along the way that would have alleviated the above two problems.

Worry #3: The client never intended to pay.

Unfortunately, this does happen. And it doesn’t feel good because you realize you’ve basically been scammed. In fact, one of my first clients hired me to write a few product descriptions for $10 apiece. After I submitted the work, they fell off the map.

Classy.

Look, some people will do this. Why? Because some people are jerks. And even with safeties in place to protect yourself, something as small as $100 due won’t get you much attention in small claims court or be worth the trouble of hiring an arbitrator. In my case, I wrote it off as a learning experience and a monetary loss on my taxes.

 

At the end of the day, a solid contract with clear terms and expectations from both parties will help alleviate anxiety over all aspects of payment, from initial deposit to milestone payments to final invoice.

Other than that, all you need to do is provide a product worth paying for.


Have you had any experiences with non-payment? Share your stories — and solutions — in the comments.

Putting My Mouth Where My Money Is: Setting A Fair Rate & Sticking To It!

I wrote recently about drawing lines when it comes to money in freelancing. And, today, I had to put those brave words into practice.

Today, I sent off a well-formed quote to a potential client.


As a freelancer, I have a history of erring on the side of self-doubt, which often left me working hard for not much pay.

That’s not a fun place to be in, ever. Seasoned freelancers know that charging fair rates — fair to both you and the client — is one of the biggest hurdles to get over when learning how to operate your business.

I spoke to a long-time freelancer friend last year who does graphic design. She’s GREAT at it. She’d been working in the industry as a freelancer twice as long as I had been at the time we talked, maybe even longer, and she admitted she still undercharged clients on a regular basis. We vowed to keep one another in line when it came to charging properly for our services.

I didn’t really work — I mean, it did at first, but the novelty of having a money angel on my shoulder soon wore off and I went back to my old habits of undercharging.

But, now, I’ve finally come to the stage in my career where I’m taking myself seriously. Seriously.

You see, I wrote those articles in April for ME as much as I did for YOU.

I needed someone on my side who wasn’t distracted by a client’s dangling carrot, the job that I “could” have but maybe wouldn’t because “What if I charged too much?”

I needed a voice of reason, spoken from a place of neutrality, to bring me back to center.

I knew what I knew, but I was hesitant to apply that knowledge whenever it came time to actually tell clients what I wanted to charge. Instead, I’d doubt myself (again) and fall into the trap of bidding what I thought my clients wanted me to charge.

Stupid. I know.

So I read a ton of blogs on how to bill clients, how to estimate a job, about how undervaluing your work actually does more harm than good… I read a LOT on the subject, but I still didn’t want to take the leap.

I was still afraid. Why?

We live in an age of cheapness. As a culture, we love discounts, sales, clearances, coupons, and finding the lowest price. Paying full price is thrown around like a status symbol — “Oh, look what could afford!” — whereas buying something for a discounted rate is, for the rest of us Scrooges, something to brag about.

However, as thrifty consumers, we also know that the lowest price doesn’t always equal the best value and can so often mean less-than-mediocre work,

Sending that quote out today was uncomfortable, yes, but only because I’d been drastically undercharging clients for far too long.

What does drastically undercharging look like?

Undercharging looks like a my fresh-out-of-high-school, year-2000-minimum-wage (that is, $7.50/hour), even though I have a Bachelor’s Degree, four years of experience, and multiple projects and happy clients under my belt.

Undercharging looks like Textbroker basics (500 word articles for $5 each) on a full-time basis, as a necessity and not as a supplement when I’m bored or a quick daily writing exercise to get my brain warmed up.

Ultimately, undercharging looks like making myself look cheap and my work look cheap because I’ve mentally displayed it on the discount rack instead of front and center, on a fancy end cap, with the premium goods.

I am not a low-end writer.

There’s a market for low-cost writers who’ll pop out content for pennies on the proverbial dollar just like there’s a market for discount clothes, tech equipment, and kitchen tools. Heck, I used to be in that market when I was just starting out, needing experience over money.

But I’m not in that market anymore.

Now I’m here to provide quality goods at a fair price. Yes, my clients may have to come to expect bigger numbers on the bill, but they’ll also notice the quality I provide is worth it. Unless they aren’t looking to spend the money…

In which case, I’ll suggest they find someone on a freelance brokerage site like Upwork, Textbroker, or others where there are plenty of discount writers available for hire at discount rates.


What are your experiences with pricing your work as a freelancer? Join the conversation here or on Facebook.

Drawing the Line: Conclusions

This entry is one part of an April 2017 Mountain Owl blog series on drawing lines in freelance work. To read the previous post, click HERE.

It’s Wednesday, April 26th. I’ve purposely waited to publish this post today instead of Tuesday, which is the day I’d been posting previous blogs of this series this past month.

What makes today special? Well…

admin prof day

It’s a special day for secretaries, admin assistants, and all you freelancers out there tackling your insane list of to-do’s on a day-to-day basis. I know you’re often underappreciated for all the crap you juggle, so here’s a hat’s off to you crazy folk for hanging in there. (If you’re wondering how this relates to the blog topic, visit my first post.)

But, to get to the real subject…


Hopefully you’ve done lots of line drawing in the past three weeks.

By now you know how important it is for both YOU and your BUSINESS that you draw lines (that is, create boundaries) for yourself and your clients.

Here’s the recap:

  • On TIME…
    1. It’s the only thing nobody can make more of and the single most valuable asset you have. Spend it wisely, and be frugal with giving it away.
    2. Learn to take breaks. Working too much can have a negative impact on your health and reduce your creativity.
    3. ACTION PLAN: Establish your office hours, post them, and, most importantly, ENFORCE them. Nobody will respect your hours of operation if you don’t either.
    4. If you work from home, get out of your PJs and put on some adulting clothes. It’ll help your brain get into gear and out of that at-home-and-lazy lull.
    5. Creating time boundaries comes down to RESPECT.
  • On MONEY…
    1. Time is your biggest asset, money is your second.
    2. “What do you charge?” is the toughest question a client can ask. Be prepared to answer it and stand by your answer.
    3. If you don’t take your money seriously, no one else will. People are naturally cheap, so don’t let a client swindle you into thinking your price is too high or let your lack of confidence make you question your rates (which you hopefully set within some reasonable guidelines). If the client wants your services, they’ll pay for them. If they don’t, they won’t. It’s that simple.
    4. NEVER work for free! Don’t let anyone act as if your time isn’t worth something. Nothing is “quick”, nothing is “free”, and people will either see value or they won’t.
    5. Start with a base rate, post it, then stick by it (with some flexibility). Remember: Bartering is also a form of payment. If a client can’t afford to pay you cash money, perhaps there is something else they can offer you that would be worth your effort.
    6. In the end, setting your value is about RESPECT.

Did you notice a common theme with those final points? That’s right: RESPECT.

In the end, drawing lines comes down to RESPECT. 

rooster.jpg

BWAAAK!

Without a strong sense of self-respect and a respect for your business — and an expectation that clients will also respect you and your business — you’ll be hard-pressed to find satisfaction in your work. (However, be sure to distinguish between self-respect and cockiness. Nobody wants to work with a rooster!)

Everyone, in every business and occupation, freelance or not, needs to know what they’re willing to do for a paycheck and where they draw the line. 

So, yeah, this serie’s lessons on applying boundaries to business can and should be applied to life, too. Surprise! #Lifelessons #HappyWriting


This entry is the final part of an April 2017 Mountain Owl blog series on drawing lines in freelance work.

Drawing the Line: Money

This entry is one part of an April 2017 Mountain Owl blog series on drawing lines in freelance work. To read the previous post, click HERE.

Last week I talked about how time is your most precious resource.

This week I want to address the thing we spend our time chasing: Money.

Hopefully by now you’ve established some good boundaries for yourself and your clients in regard to when you’re available. If you haven’t, read (or re-read) last week’s post.

Again, you either have lines, or you don’t.

If you don’t want lines, that’s fine. Some people don’t care for them. Maybe you feel like boundaries negatively impact your creativity, or prevent you from doing your best work.

But if you’re resisting drawing time lines for yourself because you’re a workaholic, maybe consider that studies show taking breaks increase productivity, information retention, creativity, focus, and overall happiness.

Time off doesn’t sound so bad now, does it? Still, while

Time is your biggest asset, money is your second.

That’s right: Money isn’t only a goal, it’s also an asset.

The adage “It takes money to make money” rings true, especially for freelancers who have to spend it on things like office supplies, fuel, and marketing efforts in order to keep business going. (Psst… a bookkeeping program like GoDaddy Bookkeeping can help keep track of expenses and incomes for only $9.99/month. I’ve been using it since 2013.)

At the end of the day what freelancers reinvest in our business will (or should) earn us more in the long run than if we get sticky fingers on all of it now.

Another thing about money: It’s a touchy subject. Discussing fees and negotiating rates is one of the most disliked tasks of freelancers, and some think “What do you charge?” is the toughest question a client could ask.

If that’s where you’re at, prepare to step up, get tough, and set yourself a money line, because

If you don’t take your money seriously, no one else will.

One of the most frustrating things I’ve encountered is people asking me to do work for free, for the “exposure” or “experience”. Even jokes about this make me boil. It’s like someone saying, “Well, you only write as a hobby, so would you mind looking this over? It’ll only take a few minutes.”

It’s insulting to my business. It’s insulting to me as a professional. It’s insulting to my dream and all my efforts.

It’s just insulting.

I have an even harder time expressing my emotions when a friend or family member asks me to do something and give them “the family discount”.

Sorry. I don’t do discounts. (Although I do barter.)

That’s why I’ve learned over the years to say bluntly “I charge $45 per hour” to anyone who might be implying that I do something “quickly” and for no charge.

First of all, nothing is “quick”.

I’ve never edited anything — not an email, not an ad, not a 250- or 500-word article — and had it take only a couple minutes. The quickest job I had was editing an email with notations in 15 minutes. At my standard rate, that’s an $11.25 bill.

And if $1 is worth McDonald’s charging for a soda, then $11.25 is worth me billing over.

Second of all, nothing is “free”.

Admittedly, even my offer for a “free consultations” aren’t free. Maybe in the sense that no cash is directly exchanged, but they aren’t free for me or for my potential client, because we’re both spending our time on it.

A free consult is essentially a time barter. It’s still an exchange of valuable assets, even if they aren’t obviously monetary.

Thirdly, either there’s demand or there isn’t.

Either the person asking you for help wants your expertise or they don’t. Either they’ll think it’s worth it the money, or they won’t. Either they respect your business, or they don’t.

If they’re the latter, pass up the offer. Do it professionally, of course, but do it swiftly and clearly. Stop that little spark from turning into a fire that says, ‘Well, they didn’t say no, so I assumed they were going to do it!’

Don’t let anyone assume anything. Don’t let them assume you’ll work for nothing and don’t let them assume you have a “friends & family rate”. And, most of all,

Don’t let them assume your time isn’t worth something.

You drew boundaries on your time because it’s your most valuable resource. Now it’s time to draw boundaries on the VALUE of your time because YOU are valuable.

In the end, drawing lines is about valuing YOURSELF.

This video says all you need to know about what it means to work for nothing except “exposure”. It may be funny to watch, but if you’re a freelancer or entrepreneur who’s had to live this scenario you know the humor only lasts for those first five seconds when you think the person needing the work done is joking.

How To Draw Your Money Line

#1: Start with a STANDARD FEE or BASE RATE…

This is your minimum rate. You can say per hour, per 500-word article, per page, per-whatever, but set it and let it be.

Not sure what your rate should be? Consider peeking at the Writer’s Market’s “How Much Should I Charge” document. It’s outdated, sure, but do some calculations to factor in your experience and inflation since 2006 (according to the US Dept of Labor, $1 in 2006 is like $1.22 in 2017) and you’ll have a good starting point.

#2: …then POST IT…

Like with hours of operation, make your standard fee (aka base rate) obvious to potential and current clients. Post this rate on your website or social media page, or on any ads that you might put out.

(TIP: If you’re a member of freelancing brokerage sites like Upwork.com, be sure your posted rate there is the same as the rate posted on your website. Then smart clients who check out your background won’t think you’re trying something fishy by charging a premium to customers who contact you directly through your website.)

Mountain Owl posts standard hourly rate and others in a table format via a link on our Services tab.

#3: …then BE FLEXIBLE.

Get this through your brain: Your base rate is just a starting point. If a job requires more time than usual, explain to the client why you need to charge more than the usual BEFORE starting the contract.

For example, I once received a job offer to edit ESL (English as a Second Language) manuscripts that I knew would take me longer to work through and would be more difficult. Therefore, I charged the ESL client more, because it literally took me longer to edit ESL work than it does to edit work written by native English speakers.

It’s a matter of time = money, not social discrimination.

Even though it may be uncomfortable, honesty pays off here. Clients like to know why you charge what you charge, especially when the rate they’re being charged is more than standard. They may not like it or be happy about it, but at least you can give them solid logic to back up your rates.

If they don’t like the logic, thank them for their time and move on. If they’re reasonable, they’ll understand and be willing to pay up.

Either way, it’s a win-win for you.

~ ~ ~

In the end, drawing the money line comes down to RESPECT. 

That is, respecting your business, respecting your profession, and demanding that those you work for and with respect it as well.


Join me next week, April 25th, as I conclude this Drawing the Line series. This entry is one part of an April 2017 Mountain Owl blog series on drawing lines in freelance work.

External related articles: (1) Owais, Samar. “5 Brutal Truths About Setting Your Freelance Writing Rates.”