Reorganization, slightly

Posted on

A housekeeping note: The sidebar was getting a little ridiculous, so I’ve removed and rearranged some of those widgets. Notably, editing- and writing-related links, site search, and links to a few of the top posts and pages on the site are all in the footer. I’ve also deleted the Work History page and folded that information into the Editorial Services page.

I’d been taught all my life to organize my résumé in some kind of chronological order, listing my skills and emphasizing a continuous, focused work history. (Freelance résumés can be structured a little differently. For examples, see the EFA’s excellent booklet Résumés for Freelancers by Sheila Buff, and of course my own résumé.) So when I started writing the pages of this site, even though I wrote a page that focused on my services and projects I’ve edited and proofread in the past and posted a downloadable PDF résumé, I still felt the need to write some kind of chronological story about my work history.

However, my site stats told me that visitors didn’t really look at the Work History page. The majority of site visitors land on my post Don’t get suckered: National Association of Professional Women. When those visitors want to know more, they usually click over to Editorial Services.

So I shortened the story and tucked it into a page where it would more usefully convey information. I’ve been freelancing full-time for a year now, but some changes are still taking time to sink in.


Getting woo-woo for a moment

Posted on

As I said in the sticky post, I moved my feeds to The Old Reader and have been weeding through blogs I didn’t read or that hadn’t updated in six months or more, and catching up with blogs that I loved but hadn’t had time to really sit with and read deeply.

I’d like to recommend some blogs of the latter type. They aren’t really about editing (see the sidebar for editing/writing blogs I like), but they share a focus on being your own self rather than projecting an image that you think is more likable or better at everything. Maintaining that image takes a lot of unnecessary work, and while the image can be a protective shell or a useful mask, it can also be uncomfortable and limiting. In the years before I took this leap, I was increasingly frustrated by the need to divide myself into a “work” persona and a “real” persona. I didn’t feel that I could be as feminist, as spiritual, as silly, as simply human, or as wholly myself while at work. So part of my work in building Last Syllable Communications is to set that image aside, take the risk of being my authentic self, and trust that clients who want to work with me – not just a warm body with X, Y, Z skills and Q years of experience, but me in particular – will connect with me and we can begin a working relationship, whether for the length of one project or over the course of years.

These are some of the blogs I read that encourage authenticity, risk, being your own self, and nurturing that sense of self.

  • Captain Awkward, an advice column for the nerdy and awkward among us (self included)
  • The Freelancery, which I recommend over and over here for freelancing advice and encouragement
  • Momastery, a blog full of light and love and brutiful life
  • Nurshable, about gentle parenting (you may find this blog less useful if you’re not a parent or have a very different parenting style)
  • Beauty Tips for Ministers, advice on dressing fashionably and appropriately at the same time; geared toward clergymembers, but enormously useful to me as I transitioned into my thirties and realized I needed to learn to dress myself again

Coming up for air

Posted on

I sent an edited book back to its author yesterday and an upcoming project was canceled, so I find myself with some free time this weekend. Relief!

So far, I’ve found that spare time in freelancing is different from wrapping up an office job at 5 p.m. on a Friday. There’s always something more to do, some chore that I’ve been putting off (updating my LinkedIn profile, finishing that business plan, checking out a resource I’d bookmarked awhile ago…). I kind of miss the sense of freedom that comes with leaving work at work and heading off into my weekend. Then again, I love the other sense of freedom I have on a Monday morning: sipping my coffee slowly, making pancakes for breakfast, and easing into my workday as I feel ready.

In other news, I’ve made one investment today and am considering another two. First, I bought a domain name, after reading Why everyone should register a domain name and being surprised that rachelleecherry.com was available. (I’ve owned lastsyllable.net since 2005 and just pointed the new domain here.) Second, I’ve been considering a couple of noncredit college classes to fill in some gaps in my skills: Accounting Fundamentals and Grant Writing A to Z, both offered online through my local community college. There are start dates in April and that looks like a good time to take those classes.

And third, after struggling with Excel after a computer upgrade — my old laptop had Excel Starter but my new desktop doesn’t; I’ve been unimpressed with Open Office/LibreOffice, and Google’s spreadsheets aren’t reliable enough – I’m now weighing the usefulness of a Microsoft Office upgrade and whether to go with the subscription model Microsoft is pushing. The Google Reader shutdown has shaken my confidence in the cloud model. I don’t want to wake up one morning, try to open Word or Excel, and find that I’m out of luck.

Finally, a moving/renovation update: The wood floors have been sanded and finished! We’ll wait a few days for any fumes to dissipate and finally start moving in. Plumbing is all set up, I believe, minus the washer and dryer (which we’re still using at the old house). My office hasn’t been painted yet, but that won’t hold up the move. I can’t wait to get this done!


Don’t get suckered: National Association of Professional Women

Posted on

This started out as a post to the EFA members’ discussion list, where we’ve recently discussed a couple of scams, but it got a little long so I’m posting it here. I also gave out my URL and was promised it’d be linked to my member profile, so in case that actually does get published anywhere, I want to emphasize here that I am not affiliated with the National Association of Professional Women. Which should also be clear from the rest of the post.

I come with a word of warning about the National Association of Professional Women. They’re advertising heavily on LinkedIn, I hear, and targeting new business owners whose bullshit detectors might not be finely tuned yet. (That would include me, I’m sorry to say.) The organization seems reputable but they’ll use flattery and high-pressure tactics to upsell you on anything they can.

A week or two ago, I got a postcard in the mail offering membership and providing a preapproved membership code. I thought about it, went and checked out the org’s website, and decided it looked legitimate and possibly useful to me. The site said thatevery woman who applies (should have been red flag #0) gets a complimentary basic membership but that there were many membership levels. I entered the code from the mailing, filled out a form, and figured I’d check it out at the free level.

A few days later, I got a phone call from Savina (at a blocked number; red flag #1) wanting to interview me before my membership was approved and leaving the number 866-540-6279, extension 270. I called back today, and the given extension was Pamela Caldwell’s voice mailbox. I left a message anyway, and Savina called me back an hour or so later. (Red flag #2 — there was no mention of “oops, I gave you the wrong extension” or “Pamela gave me your message” or anything like that.)

Savina seemed friendly, but I could also tell she was reading from a script at points. I answered questions about my work experience, my education, my business, where I see myself in five years, what I hoped to get from the organization, what I was most looking forward to, etc. At the end of the interview she said she was pleased to offer me membership. I thanked her, thinking I’d passed some test or received some honor, and we proceeded with the paperwork process. She said there was the Elite membership level, which cost $900-something, or the Premium level, which cost $700-something but didn’t have quite so many benefits, so which did I want to sign up for?

WHOA THERE. I don’t want to sign up for either! However, we’d now spent about 15 minutes talking about me and what I wanted from the organization, so I didn’t want to feel foolish by saying “no thanks, never mind” at this point. (Red flag #3, in retrospect.) Savina said she could offer me a trial membership at $99. I said, didn’t I see something on the website about a free level? She said that was a listing only and didn’t include all the networking and seminars and other benefits I’d just said I wanted. So would that be American Express, Visa, Mastercard…?

At this point I felt trapped enough to give up my credit card information. I wish I’d come up with some other excuse: I wanted to review the welcome packet she promised to send; I wanted to run it by an accountant or a mentor; I wanted an invoice or an online form instead of giving my card info over the phone. (I later found out that others who’d said things like these were told the offer of membership was a now-or-never thing, or that welcome packets or requested invoices never came.)

So once Savina had my card info and enough information to create my member profile, she then offered to sell me a very nice plaque commemorating my acceptance into membership. She read off what the plaque would say and said that they only reserve two plaques for each member, so did I want to buy one or two for $99 each? That, I managed to turn down. To finish the signup process, Savina told me I’d get an email with my member ID and website login, told me I could download the organization’s logo and put it on my own site and business cards and wherever else, and described what would be in the welcome packet

When we ended the call, I felt swindled. I’d had no intention of spending a dime on membership, but because I’d been enthusiastic about membership for most of the call, I felt pressure not to backtrack. The more I thought about the whole thing, the more red flags started to appear, and I did what I should have done in the first place: researched the organization. My phone even offered “national association of professional women scam” when I started to type in the search box. Uh-oh.

I found blog posts and comments from 2007 through January of this year, all telling pretty much the same story, with some of the same names and phone numbers, though the exact dollar amounts changed from year to year. A post, Women Work Smart: Watch Out for Scams Attacking New Business Owners, and comments that echoed the experience I’d just had. An unfavorable article from 2009 that NAPW wanted taken down in 2012. A speaker who’d been offered a complimentary membership, then asked to pay for memberships and awards. A Ripoff Report article that had a fluffy, glowing “special update” at the top and a name removed from the original, critical report. Even negative Yelp reviews of the organization.

The more I read, the more infuriated I got. I called the number back and pressed 0 for “immediate assistance.” An operator transferred me to the Finance division, where I left a stern message saying I did not want membership, do not charge my card, and call me back to tell me there will be no charges. I read more stories of people getting the runaround and called the number again, this time dialing the extension Savina had given me, which again directed me to Pamela’s voice mailbox — only this time, her last name was something like Jean-Michel, not Caldwell (another red flag!). I left another stern message saying not to charge my card.

I expected I’d have to fight a little harder to avoid charges, since Savina had said that all membership orders were final. But an hour after I left the first message, I got a call from Ben (blocked number) from the Finance division. He asked me to confirm that I’d purchased a membership today. I said instead that I’d done a little more research on the organization and decided not to proceed with membership. He said, “So you looked at the website?” I said that I’d looked at the website and some other recommendations online, and I no longer wanted to be a member of NAPW. Ben offered no other resistance and said that he’d reverse the charges, which could take up to 24 hours. And that was that.

My bank account doesn’t show a pending charge yet, so I can’t say what amount they charged or refunded. If anything does come through, I’ll update the post.

ETA, 3/29/13: I think it’s safe to say now that no charges came through at all. It looks like I changed my mind quickly enough that NAPW really didn’t charge my card, instead of completing the transaction and then reversing the charges.

Update, 2/4/14: There have been so many more comments on this post than I ever expected (almost 200 as of this morning)! If you did purchase a membership at any level in the National Association of Professional Women, I can’t offer specific advice beyond what I’d recommend for any other purchase: contact NAPW for a refund and to cancel your membership. Contact your bank or credit card company and ask to stop the charge if it hasn’t gone through yet, or if it has, ask the customer service rep what your options are. Several readers have mentioned automatic renewals without clear notice — commenter Kim Hales said in December 2013 that text authorizing the renewals is hidden in new/updated terms and conditions that NAPW members must accept in order to login to the members-only area of the website, where you’d need to uncheck a renewal option — so if you’re already on the phone with your bank or credit card issuer, ask if you can prevent that specific renewal charge. NAPW may also have a policy disallowing cancellation within 30 days of the membership’s renewal date.

Many readers have mentioned the misleading ads NAPW has placed on LinkedIn. Yesterday, commenter Karin posted the text of the support ticket she submitted to LinkedIn and the reply she received, in which an Ads Support Specialist promised to “investigate the advertiser in question.” LinkedIn’s advertising guidelines prohibit deception or lying. Since NAPW does have a free membership level, I don’t think advertising a free membership is lying per se, but I do think this tactic is deceptive. If you’re on LinkedIn, you can submit a support ticket here.

Other readers have mentioned NAPW’s Better Business Bureau rating, which seems to have tanked over time. Commenter Glenda said in August 2013 that the LinkedIn ads touted NAPW’s A rating but that, according to the BBB, NAPW was not an accredited business. As of October 2013, NAPW still had a high rating, but commenter Lil W. said in December 2013 that NAPW had an F rating then. Last week, commenter Gabby said that NAPW’s Wikipedia page had a “Controversy” section that mentioned a C rating from the BBB. Here’s the text of that Controversy section as it appears today:

As of January 2014, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) reported 256 customer complaints against NAPW since 2011. Based on these complaints, the Bureau issued the company a C rating (on a scale of A+ to F) for its “failure to resolve underlying cause(s) of a pattern of complaints”, among other factors cited in their review of the company.[10] Dozens of consumer complaints were also filed against NAPW with other complaint bureaus, reporting fraudulent practices. In response to BBB’s inquiry regarding what measures the company was taking to resolve “underlying issues”, NAPW reported that the “trend” of complaints reported to BBB was heavily due to online “negative PR” rather than customer experience.[11]

My post here tends to rank highly in Google searches for the National Association of Professional Women, with or without the word “scam” included. NAPW has not contacted me about my experience (or for any other reason). I don’t think I or my blog really register with them.

The BBB gives NAPW a D rating today, for reasons that match my experience and those of almost all the commenters below: “Many consumers tell BBB that they are misled regarding membership prices, membership levels, and additional fees for processing and set-up. For example, consumers reported seeing an ad for free membership for NAPW on LinkedIn. However, these consumers claim that when they contact NAPW to take advantage of that offer, they find out that joining is not free. Some consumers also allege that they were subjected to high pressure sales tactics by company representatives to join the organization even before they understood the costs or benefits. Other consumers that originally agreed to join the organization but opted afterward to cancel the membership say that they have difficulty reaching any company representatives to seek a refund.”

I’ll continue to update this post with more news as it develops.


Still swamped, yay!

Posted on

Sticking my head up for a moment to reiterate that I’m in the very midst of the busy October I expected. Yay! This is a good thing! Many good things are happening all at once! I’ll let you know in a few months how well my experience matches up to the Freelancery’s paradox, that the time to get new clients and new work is “when you are busy as hell and don’t have the time.”

At the day job, I’ve juggled my schedule a bit to work with a later ending date. Over at the new house, I’m picking paint colors and giving my input on renovation decisions, which have indeed become a pleasant diversion. We decided to make a few more of our planned changes before we move in, so there’s a bit more dust and a bit more to do at the moment. (Why not, right?) Back at the old house, quite a lot of packing still needs to be done, and we’ll start moving boxes and bins and things once the floors are done at the new house. It’s all like having a brand-new baby and I sleep when I can.

I have a few posts drafted here, but they’re low on my priority list. I’ve got an ideas folder with things to write about or pitch or do differently, so once the move is complete, I’ll have lots to post about.


Swamped

Posted on

I am so swamped, y’all. I’ve accepted a couple new clients and have a few more conversations ongoing (yay!). I’ve got a spreadsheet going on (one that’s possibly more detailed than it has to be, following discussion on the EFA members’ list). I’m testing out a new scheduling system on Google Calendar. Half of everything I own is in boxes or plastic bins that are stacked up in my living room, so naturally I find myself needing something that’s in a box halfway down the stack.

October is at least as hectic as I expected so far. Home renovations are going to be a relaxing diversion at this rate.


Link roundup

Posted on

Another set of links that I’ve been reading lately.

What does it say on your tin? I hemmed and hawed about the idea of specialty e-mail addresses, but what really got me was the illustration of three addresses for three different proofreaders with equivalent skills:

Kaz.Dave@theVonTrappFamily.whizzmail.com
sally@knownonions.com
PoliticsAndLaw@ProProofReading.co.uk

There is a four-figure budget for each title with guaranteed repeat work but the clock is ticking. Which of the three do you feel like trying first?

I’m quite fond of my Gmail address but I couldn’t argue with that. This post is the reason my contact e-mail here is now editing@lastsyllable.net. Does what it says on the tin.

The Freelancery: I found this site through a link on the EFA members’ discussion list and spent the better part of my night reading through the archives. I love the encouraging yet willing-to-admit-failure tone Walt Kania has and the nuts-and-bolts processes he discusses. There may be a couple more posts forthcoming where I generally enthuse about this or that post on The Freelancery.

And a couple of literary news items:

“The World Is Not Acquainted With Us” The Emily Dickinson International Society last month showed a daguerreotype that is probably Dickinson with her friend Kate Scott Turner. I’m not a Dickinson expert so I wasn’t aware that there had only been one other image of her. Very exciting to be confirming a second image!

Richard III dig: ‘Strong evidence’ bones are lost king Speaking of exciting news, this BBC article indicates that an archaeological team is close to DNA confirmation that a skeleton found on a dig in Leicester is the actual Richard III. The location of the burial (at Greyfriars, in what’s now a parking lot) is consistent with the historical record, as are some physical characteristics of the skeleton (severe scoliosis and wounds to the skull). This whole thing is just breathtaking.