As we slowly make our way out of the pandemic, more and more people are looking to go back to work. While we may have been able to practice our art throughout the worst of the pandemic, and even played an essential part in helping ourselves and everyone else make it through, many of us lost day jobs, side jobs, and those opportunities to practice our art that came with a steady paycheck.
Regrettably, it’s not just Utica area artists who are heading back to work. Scammers see the gradual return to the life we were used to before as a new job opportunity as well. Here are just a few of the most common scams to target job seekers in the summer of 2021.
Academic or job training funding
Going back to school to earn a new degree or learn a new trade is a popular first leg of a “back to work” journey. As the recent quarantine and isolation has given many of us increased time for prayer and reflection, many have come to realize they need a change in the way they earn their living. They may decide to branch off into a new area of the job they do by day, prepare for a promotion, or veer off into a completely different career path, but none of those options is likely to come without a significant investment.
Most need some type of financial aid to cover the cost, and this can present yet another hurdle. Financial aid searches can be daunting and frustrating, with every program seeming to disqualify everybody over a single detail. It may be tempting to respond to organizations promising to streamline the process for you by taking your information, and producing a list of financial aid options tailored to you, for a small fee.
These are never legitimate offers. The same information is already available online for free. Sending in your money will only result in the company you hired disappearing, or at best, sending you a list you could have gotten yourself simply by typing “financial aid” into a search engine.
If a financial aid search is too daunting, visit the financial aid office of the school you plan to attend for help.
Fake Zoom Meeting Invitation
During the worst of the pandemic, we all grew accustomed to conducting face to face meetings, visits, and job interviews via video calls on sites like Zoom. While the offline, shared physical space version of in-person gatherings are slowly increasing, many find that virtual interviews and meetings are still a necessity for anyone who has not been vaccinated, as well as those who are, but may not be able to travel to get to an interview, or who may be dealing with other health problems that would necessitate avoiding close contact with strangers indoors.
This can make an invitation to a Zoom job interview or virtual job fair seem completely legitimate, and sometimes, they can be. But do some research before you click on that link.
Real invitations to gatherings held via Zoom come from the host of the event, not from Zoom itself. If you get an invitation to a Zoom employment event, write down the name of the sender, click out of your email, and research that sender to make sure it’s a legitimate company or organization. If you find a webpage, physical address, email address, and a phone number listed, that’s a good sign, but you are still not finished. Step two is to reach out to the company using their contact information, to make sure that they did in fact send you a Zoom meeting invitation.
Clicking on a Zoom meeting invitation link when you are not completely sure it was sent by a trusted person or business can result in malware being installed on your computer. This malware can be used to access your personal information, including your bank accounts.
Cryptocurrency investment scams
One unfortunate economic lesson of the pandemic is that a lot of paying jobs can vanish pretty fast. This leads many of us to work to secure passive income in addition to looking for a new paying job.
Investment opportunities vary, but the latest fad in the “how to make money” community is investing in cryptocurrency.
Bitcoin, Dogecoin, and other cryptocurrency is a form of digital currency that only exists on computers. It can be compared to a casino chip or other token, but there is no physical object. The currency is made up entirely of computer code that is passed from person to person. There is no central computer that holds it all, and it is not backed up by any government or banking system.
The money advice website nerdwallet warns that because there is nothing backing it up, cryptocurrency is volatile, prone to extreme rises and falls in value from day to day. However, if you want to invest in cryptocurrency, or learn more about the option, make sure to stick to the websites of established investment firms that offer the form of cryptocurrency that interests you. Any other offer, website, or “opportunity” is likely to be a scam. Like the scholarship scam, these sites may charge for information or coaching that can be obtained free through an established investment firm, or they may be selling cryptocurrency they do not actually have and pocketing your money.
Travel scams are such “classic” scams, they’re a running joke in American popular culture. Who hasn’t seen a comedy in which a hapless, lovably naive character goes crazy over winning a dream vacation for a small processing fee or finding “the deal of a lifetime”? Cut to the next scene, and they’re gazing helplessly at the “L.A. Beach vacation” that turns out to be a skid row hotel room with a pile of sand dumped on the floor, or the “New York City arts tour” that only results in a bus dropping them off an at abandoned gallery in a crime-ridden neighborhood and driving away.
These types of scams are back with a vengeance now that people are once again traveling, both as a way to give themselves a break after the year we’ve all gone through and for work. And these new versions are often much harder to detect than the obvious “too good to be true” offers from the past.
One common tactic is the use of a spoofed website. These sites are carefully designed to look like the official website of real travel sites. Some of them even feature stolen recordings from the real sites.
The best defense against these types of scams is to go directly to a well-known, established travel website, or give a local agency some business and contact someone who specializes in booking travel in town.
Job searching this summer is difficult enough. Businesses complain nobody wants to work, but potential workers are actually sifting through positions that do not pay enough to cover even their basic expenses. Nothing can prevent substandard employment offers, but we can avoid the outright scams.
Conventional wisdom in the arts suggests that we should take any and all projects or gigs that we can get. But there may be times when it would be a better decision to turn something down. Here are just a few signs you should turn down a project or a gig.
The gig or project falls far outside your professional field.
One easy place to cut down your workload a bit is to turn down those projects that have the least to do with the art forms you practice. Getting involved in several art forms is wonderful. It can help us see our work from a different perspective, generate new ideas, and introduce us to new people. Or it can wear us out until we don’t have the energy to do anything but flop over on the couch and binge watch Netflix.
There is nothing wrong with taking on gigs or projects outside your usual field, but if you need to cut down on your workload, the projects to turn down or put on hold might be those the farthest from your heart.
The work would make your schedule overwhelming.
This is not to suggest you should turn down everything that does not provide the perfect balance in your life, or sit around and wait for “ideal” opportunities. Most of us would never do anything if we waited for those times. But it is important to avoid overloading yourself with so many of the same type of project, you cease to do your best work on any of them.
Working on four novels at once, or insisting upon making an album and helping three friends with theirs, or focusing on your comedy routine while giving workshops for other comics may be too much all at once. It’s better to have one or two projects done well than four projects that fail because you wore yourself too thin.
The project is something you do not feel called to do right now.
This does not mean “Give up anything that isn’t fun.” It means turn down a project if you feel called to complete another one now. When faced with several projects you might work on, choose the one you believe to be the most beneficial to those who might see, hear, or read it. Choose the one that focuses on themes that keep weighing on your mind or coming up. Everything else may need to be pushed aside, or at least postponed.
The monetary costs outweigh the benefits.
Most artists don’t do what we do for the money, but there is often a point where something can simply be too expensive to fit into your life right now. Collaborations that require travel you won’t be reimbursed for, steady jobs that mean you will have to purchase a new wardrobe, and parts that require alterations to your appearance you cannot really afford may not be the right projects for you during financially lean times, even if they are something you would love to do.
The person or organization offering the work has a shaky reputation.
It would be naïve to think that what you hear “around town” about somebody is always true. Baseless and unfair rumors do get started, and everybody with an opinion is not knowledgeable about a situation. But if you consistently hear that this club does not pay musicians without a fight, or that art collective has a pattern of cancelling events or exhibits on a whim, and the information is coming from people who have worked with them in the past, it may mean the project isn’t worth your time.
Taking on the project would require deeper involvement in the group than you want or need right now.
No matter how many vlogs, blogs, podcasts, radio shows, and newspaper feature articles are produced to explain that an independent artist is not an employee, we all know that some projects require us to become part of a team. And if you need to be independent right now, or you need to have plenty of energy to focus on other projects, joining a club or collective, agreeing to a collaboration, or taking on a client known for regular gatherings and a “team” or “family” attitude is only going to cause stress and conflict down the road.
You are worn out, run down, or exhausted much of the time.
As much as artists love our work, we all get burned out sometimes. Everyone gets tired. We all need to rest. If you are coping with health issues, including stress and fatigue brought on by the current public health crisis, it is especially important to know when you may need to turn down the offer to collaborate on that album, join that online concert, write that article, or schedule that lecture.
Family and friends who are usually supportive seem hesitant or upset when you bring up the project.
This may be politically incorrect to say, but everybody who doesn’t jump up and down over every gig or project that comes your way is not a “hater,” or trying to discourage you from doing your best. Sometimes, people close to you can see things you may not be able to see, or think of things you may not be thinking of in your excitement over the offer. At the very least, ask the person why they think this is a bad idea before brushing them off.
Turning down a project or gig may feel scary at first. It’s common to wonder if nothing else might ever come along the first time you do it. But learning to focus our time, money, energy, and attention where it needs to go is a skill we all have to practice, in all fields, including the arts.
Artists who perform or present their work, or provide lessons or tutoring in private homes expect to be thoroughly screened. We know the client is going to carefully examine our portfolio and social media activity, make sure they know our government name and not just our band or stage name, and even reach out to past clients and other professional contacts for references if we are a stranger to them. Even if the event is held in public, or in today’s environment, online, we would not be insulted if a potential client spent some time reading our social media posts and asking around to make sure we’re not likely to take payment for the music lesson and then never log into the Zoom call, or agree to headline their company’ first post-pandemic party later this year, and then not show up.
But in our excitement to find a paying gig, we often forget that we need to screen clients too.
Take some time to make sure the potential client understands your work and what you offer.
Misunderstandings do happen. Someone might play a single video clip of you doing a ballad and not realize that most of your music is metal. Or they might see “writer” on your LinkedIn page and contact you before reading on and realizing that you do not offer homework help or resume writing services. You don’t need to send everyone a quiz, but don’t be afraid to ask them if they’ve read your website or seen several clips of your band playing.
Keep a paragraph, FAQ list, or even a page on your artist’s website that makes it clear you’re an independent artist and not looking to be someone’s employee. Check and make sure everyone who hires you has read it.
In simplest terms, employees fill out a W-4 tax form and get a W-2 at the end of the year. Independent artists get form 1099. If you get “W” forms, taxes get taken out of your paycheck. If you get a 1099, you are responsible for deducting taxes from anything you make above a certain amount, currently $400. Beyond taxes, clarity on this can prevent a lot of misunderstandings. If you’re an independent artist, you’re there to provide the service you agreed to provide. If you’re an employee, the person who hired you can change your work and ask you to do additional tasks.
Avoid people who seem to think the current public health crisis is a joke or a hoax and refuse to follow precautions.
Crowds should not be forming in person at this time. Audience members should ideally be at the event via Zoom, or if that’s not possible, kept at least six feet apart. Masks should be required. Items should not be passed around among strangers. We all want to pack in to a cozy local cafe or bar, hear our favorite local bands, and cheer and laugh and talk as much as we want, with nothing across our face. But doing that right now is dangerous. It’s better to move the concert or the exhibit or reading to Zoom for now so we can all do what we want later, when the virus is under control, than to go ahead and do what we want right now and create a super spreader event. Anyone who cannot see that does not deserve your work.
Be cautious with potential clients who resist putting things in writing.
Clients who insist they “call you so we can talk about it,” or want you to “come in and discuss this in person” are probably not trying to be your friend, or behave warmly toward you. They’re trying to avoid getting anything written down, so you can’t hold them to what they say. If they insist on talking on the phone, via video call, or in person instead of using the written word, insist they confirm things in writing anyway.
Even the most technically inept person can open an email or DM from you that says, “My band is to join your Zoom meeting at 7 p.m. on Friday night and perfrom three songs of our choosing for your virtual open house event,” or “You have asked me to write a 900 word article about internet safety for your company blog, using your safety director as an expert source,” hit reply, and type “Yes.” If the person refuses to do this, or ignores written confirmation of a project they described over the phone or in person, do not begin the project.
Collect professional opinions on the potential client.
Everyone has people who think they’re the greatest and people who do not care for them, for reasons that have nothing to do with the way they would behave as a client. Contacting the person they play golf with every weekend, or invite over for dinner once a month is of course going to result in a glowing testimonial. And if they just broke up with someone following a series of public fights over social media, that person is going to describe all their flaws for you. But if you keep hearing the same thing from people who have worked with them in the past, you can expect that same thing to happen to you. If their cousin just loves them, but every band who ever played in this person’s bar before the pandemic never got paid, you probably won’t get paid for participating in the online event they organized either. You don’t need to conduct a full background check. Just reach out to a few people who have worked with this person in the past.
Remember that online business reviews are not always genuine.
One way to collect opinions on a potential client is to read reviews of their business. This can be helpful, especially if you are seriously pressed for time, and need to go down this list in half an hour, not two or three days. They certainly can be a good place to start, and provide a glimpse into the business, but online reviews are not always real reviews.
Before I narrowed my independent/freelance writing focus to writing for and about Utica artists, I attempted to build a career as a general freelance writer. I was a freelance news reporter/feature writer, and I was a freelance busines writer, working with a content mill based in Texas to write marketing materials for businesses across the state. Most of the work was what you would expect to be offered; email marketing campaigns designed for people who had visited a company’s website, evergreen content on the dangers posed by electrical problems for an electrician. But one assignment stood out. I was given a first name, the number of stars they wanted, and the key words they wanted in a glowing review for their webage. So “Lauren” and “Annie” from Dallas and Houston, who loved the business and couldn’t believe how “efficient” and “friendly” the service was did not exist. Those words were written by “Jess” from the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area, living three hours from Reno, Nevada, at the time, and earning $30.00 for her efforts. This was many years ago. I would turn down dishonest work like this today. But it is still out there.
Trust your own judgment and instincts.
Every safety article seems to end with this guideline, but most talk about a “gut feeling” or “inner voice” that should never be ignored. If you have deep feelings of forboding about a client, of course you shouldn’t ignore that, but trusting your judgment and instincts means more than just heeding your bad feelings. Think the situation through. Is the person asking you to go someplace it might be dangerous for you to go? Are they asking you to meet strangers alone? Was there something about the project or gig, or about the way they behaved on the phone or during the Facetime chat that bothered you? Sit back and ask yourself what it was and what that might mean. If you’re afraid you might be overreacting or misreading the situation, talk it out with someone whose judgment you trust.
We all cringe when someone hears a song or a poem, sees a play or film, or reads a short story or novel that we wrote and asks who every character is “supposed to be.” Even worse is when someone gets upset or angry with us because our character did something or said something, and the person just assumes we think the same way, or did the same thing.
In the past, I have gotten this reaction so often, I make an effort to ensure that any parents I mention are the exact opposite of my parents in every way, down to the smallest detail. Most of the mothers do not enjoy cooking or baking and are not skilled at it. My mother can make those cake sculptures you see on baking competition shows and singlehandedly cater dinners. The fathers tend to be frail, preppy or nerdy types. My own father is a tough retired police officer and outdoorsman. The mother in my first novel, “Lifting the Shadows,” was inspired by someone’s mother, but it was not my own.
All my fellow artists already know the rest of this, but it might be useful to share for the next time you get “Am I in your novel?” Or “Is the woman in your song supposed to be your sister?” from someone in your life.
Sometimes, real people are inserted directly into novels, songs, poems, or fictional screenplays. This may or may not mean anything else about the piece is true or actually happened.
I am a real person in a song. Lou Santacroce’s “The One Who Holds My Heart” was written for and about me, from his perspective. It was the best gift anyone could ever give me, an honor, and of course, it is now my absolute favorite song. Pieces written for and about someone in this way can be assumed to be completely genuine expressions of the way the actual artist sees a real subject.
The fiction genre known as “historical fiction” is another example of real people being inserted directly into creative works. Novelist T.C. Boyle is known for taking historical figures, turning them into characters, and then inventing people he imagines associating with them. While the characters may be loosely based on the historical figures, writers have absolute license to fictionalize anything they want to fictionalize. Research anything you wonder about, because there is absolutely no guarantee that it is historically accurate.
Real people might also be inserted directly into a work of art as part of the setting or as a minor character. This does not in any way suggest that the other characters are real, or that anything that happened to them actually occurred. If someone writes a novel about a crowd of Deadheads following the Grateful Dead on tour, and a character talks about something Jerry Garcia did, this in no way suggests that Jerry Garcia actually did anything like that. Again, be sure to research these types of details. The novelist could have taken nothing more from reality than Garcia’s name and the fact that he was the front man for The Grateful Dead.
Most artists use details from all over the place when we create. A character may have a few traits of someone real without “being” that person.
My novels feature thick women. Both Brenda and Heather have red or reddish hair. This of course can also describe me, but the characters are not me. The characters are similar because they are all part of the arts scene in and around Utica, and most of the people I’ve observed in the modern day arts scene in and around Utica either favor 60’s and 70s retro, 90’s retro, or geek chic style. I’ve got a dark haired rockabilly woman too, and a blonde woman who changes her style a few times before arriving at “geek chic.”
For the rest of the details, some of what happened was taken from things I experienced, and other details were based on everything from case studies and research to gossip I overheard while sitting in a diner drinking coffee or walking around a mall. Most artists write this way. Using one detail of a person in a character does not mean the entire character is based on that person.
Much of what you see in any type of creative writing is completely made up.
Jen Cross is the founder, as well as a writer and workshop facilitator at “Writing Ourselves Whole,” an organization offering writing groups and individual writing sessions and coaching for survivors of sexual trauma. Services are offered in the Bay area and online.
Jen offered workshops of varying themes to her classmates while in graduate school at Goddard College. I learned a lot from taking a few of them. Although the participants in both current and past workshops draw on real experiences, the method she uses demands that all work produced be assumed to be fiction. If the exercise focuses on writing about your reaction to a picture, other participants are still asked to refer to the work with words like “Your narrator” or “your characters,” rather than “you,” or “your friends.”
This is a good rule to follow when reading, watching or listening to anything presented as fiction. Even if you know the artist and the situation well, and are completely sure a character or plotline is taken directly from reality, you still have no way of knowing if thoughts and feelings were real, or were just the artist’s imaginings of what someone else might be thinking or feeling in that situation.
Those who are adamant that a character is them, or a song is about your first boss, or a play is about your cousin, are not likely to be swayed, but hopefully this helps soothe friends and family members worried that your novel, play, or song is "about them."
This is not a sponsored post. All thoughts, observations, and recommendations are my own. Nobody mentioned in this article necessarily supports or endorses the content.
We all skipped the crowded offline parties last night, or at least we should have. Those of us who had to head back to work in the morning likely skipped the alcohol as well. This year, I’ve decided to continue this new tradition of skipping useless New Year’s Eve/Day traditions and forgo the typical resolutions too. Instead, I am setting goals.
The difference between a resolution and a goal is practicality, focus, and perspective. Resolutions are often unreachable. The whole “new year, new me” thing we all get tired of after the millionth corporation uses it in their advertising is a good example. Unless you’re going to fake your own death, flee to a place you’ve never been before, and create a new identity, you are not likely to be a completely different person at the end of the year than you are today. Resolutions are focused on self praise. They’re all about “Look at me! Hey everybody! Look what great I’m going to do! Be sure to cheer me on!” Goals are typically focused on parts of your life’s mission. Resolutions set us up to beat ourselves up. When we look back, we either “kept our resolution” or we “failed.” Goals allow for progress and changes as we’re led to different things.
If you would like to join me in setting goals instead of making resolutions this year, here is a pattern for creating strong goals.
Set specific goals.
Goals that are too vague become nothing more than a way to sidestep accountability for doing little to nothing. If I say I want “more clients” for my arts writing business, I get to congratulate myself and slack off as soon as one person sponsors a single post for $20 and then disappears. A more specific, stronger goal would be, “I want my freelance writing business to serve at least three clients each month.”
A strong goal requires a result you can measure in some way.
Setting goals you can’t measure is another way of letting yourself off much too easy. Deciding to “learn Italian and Greek” was my goal last year. I cannot speak either of those languages today, because I did not set a specific goal. Technically, I did meet the stated goal, because I did learn a few words in Italian, and I learned a little bit about how to study Greek. But that was not what I meant when I set that goal, and we all know it. A firmer goal is, “Be able to watch an episode of a tv show in Italian and understand most of it by the end of the year and record a video or audio file of myself speaking Italian for ten minutes.” or “Be able to order my food in Greek by the end of the year.” I can measure those. I either understand the tv show, or I have to turn on the English subtitles. I will make it through a ten minute talk or I won’t. I’ll either have a nice chat with the people at the Greek restaurant and get my food, or they’ll have to ask me to switch to English.
Goals that are not attainable set you up for failure.
While the first two measures are designed to prevent us being too easy on ourselves, this one stops us from being too hard on ourselves. It would be perfectly reasonable for me to set a goal of singing in front of an audience again by the end of 2021. I started singing country and pop songs when I was three years old. I wanted to be a professional singer for my entire childhood, and have loved singing ever since. Most people who hear me sing tell me I have a good voice. But my voice is not great, and I haven’t really sung unless it was in a deliberately silly voice for a joke in about five years. Setting a goal of making my own album, having someone hire me to sing for two hours at my own concert, or singing an opera aria when I have a Blues, Country, and Pop voice and no training would only set me up for guaranteed failure.
Make sure you actually want or need to reach the goal.
Setting goals to do things you neither need nor want to do is another way to set yourself up for failure. It may sound good on social media to announce you’re going to gain or lose weight this year, but if you’re healthy and perfectly content with your body the way that it is, you’ll lose focus the minute all the encouraging comments fade away. In years past, I’ve been pressured to learn how to drive. It is something I can’t do that most adults can, but I would have no use for the knowledge of how to drive a car. Eye doctors tell me I have no depth perception, and both eye doctors and a retired police officer have told me this would make driving unsafe for me. There would be no need to learn to do something only to be reminded I’m medically restricted from it when I go to take the driving test. I would wind up with a learner’s permit, driving someone else around empty parking lots.
There should be some sort of time limit.
Putting time limits on goals helps maintain focus and motivation to work toward the goal. “By the end of 2021, I want to be able to record myself speaking Italian and Greek for five minutes,” is a goal with a time limit. I am likely to work toward those goals, knowing I don’t have forever to meet them. “I’d like to be able to speak Italian and Greek for ten minutes,” is a strong goal in terms of being measurable, but adding a time limit prevents me from putting off the work needed to achieve it.
Goals that can be broken down into smaller goals, or steps, are much more likely to be reached.
My goal, “I would like to have three clients per month in 2021,” is specific, measurable, attainable, something I want to do, and limited by time. Business blogs use the acronym SMART for “specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely” to describe these guidelines. But I still run a strong risk of sitting around waiting for those clients to appear each month. My chances of success are much better if I break that down into, “Contact five potential clients each week,” or “complete a side hustle to raise the money to buy advertising by the end of the first week of each month.”
Remember Proverbs 16:3
The verse reads, “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and He will establish your plans.” (NIV). This does not mean all of your goals have to be directly related to church, and it certainly doesn’t mean you need to make a list of goals that sound like they came out of a bad, preachy movie. It means to pray as you are setting your goals, and to pray throughout the year, to make sure you are setting and going after goals in keeping with God’s plan for you. We all have a different mission here on earth. We are all made unique. A great goal for your friend, or your daughter, or your spouse, or the guy you sit next to on the bus to work may not be a relevant goal for your life. And even those of us who start out with righteous, relevant goals need to remain reminded that no matter what your goal, it is never okay to reach it through cheating, stealing, lying, or causing deliberate harm to other people.
Whether we realize it or not, independent artists are freelance workers. We offer our music, novels, arts articles, poems, paintings, or other works to people for a fee or a price. Some of us also teach on a freelance basis, giving lessons or tutorials out of our home. Many also operate side gigs on a freelance basis, such as tutoring in a non-arts subject, working as a driver for Uber, Lyft, or Instacart, or doing maintenance or cleaning independently. As people increasingly work from home, we may even find our salaried work feels like freelancing, as we are responsible for setting up work spaces and scheduling work tasks from our dens and kitchens.
As most of us continue to spend large chunks of time at home, we are often looking for projects to keep us occupied. Devoting some of that time and energy to organizing the work of your career or side gig will not only provide something productive to do now, it will make things run much smoother when everything does normalize again.
Write out a short but detailed business or career description and plan.
Many people balk at the idea of writing out a career or business plan for their art work. At first, I was one of them.The thought of doing this makes me feel like a fool. What business? It’s me.I’m an artist. I teach writing skills to adults. I write fiction. I can sing well enough to join in an open mic, but not well enough to get paid. I can write for and about artists and the arts. Go ahead and feel foolish. Writing about exactly what you’re about, what services you plan to offer, and why will help bring everything else into focus. Consider the following statements:
“I write modern, place based, realistic novels, and blog articles for and about Utica artists, in addition to teaching writing skills to adults online in a salaried position. I am available to write sponsored posts about your business or service, features about music or musicians for your magazine or newspaper, and press releases for your music or other art career. My hobbies are singing and languages.”
“I’m a writer who likes singing and languages and I’m looking for work. I used to be a reporter and feature writer for the newspaper. I have also worked in an office.”
Both of those are me, but the first one is clear about what type of work I’m able and available to do, and offers insight into my skill level. The second one focuses too much on past work I want to leave behind, and is vague about my skill level. “I like singing and languages” could mean I’ve been compared to Diana Krall and am fluent in five languages (I wish), or it could mean I’m that annoying person who belts out off key phrases from songs every time someone says a word that reminds me of one, and spends five hours in front of the tv watching foreign films every night. Mentioning that I used to be a reporter and have worked in an office would only be relevant if I were looking to do that type of work again.
Set up a dedicated online presence
Using Weebly to set up this webpage was easy. I never learned to code, and have no depth perception, meaning I can’t line things up on a screen. I can still used Weebly to run this page. Wordpress is another popular hosting site that most people find easy to use. Other options for an online home for your art practice and/or freelance business include bandcamp, Facebook, and Instagram.
At minimum, your online space should have a business or career description, clear photos, links, or descriptions of the items or services you offer, and a price list.
Here is Lou Santacroce’s bandcamp page: https://lousantacroce.bandcamp.com/releases
Looking at that page, we learn that he’s a Utica based singer-songwriter, arts writer, and novelist, and get a glimpse of the type of music he writes and performs. The prices are clear, and there are samples available. This is a strong online presence for a professional musician.
Gather all of the supplies you need to run your business.
Use free software to create a professional looking invoice. Even if you are in a situation where you speak or perform for cash, your client might want something for their records, or you might want to make one to keep track of what you’ve done. Order business cards. Vista Print, www.vistaprint.com offers professional cards for as low as fifteen dollars for a box of 500. Hit Dollar Tree to stock up on pens, notepads, and other basic office supplies you might need.
This step will vary depending on what you plan to do for work. Writing for and about artists in Utica takes my laptop, notepads, and pens and pencils. People whose second career is teaching children may want to look for work teaching English as a Second Language online for companies like VIPKid. These companies typically won’t work with you unless you have a mini virtual classroom set up in your home. You will need an entire corner you can devote to items such as maps, color charts, alphabet charts, and other traditional school room educational decor.
Publicize your business or career.
We all know about posting things on social media, but consider paper fliers (posted with respect for the owner of the place you post them and others who have fliers up of course) and buying advertising in the local news media. For print ads, visit https://www.uticaphoenix.net/contact-us/ and speak to someone about buying ad space in The Utica Phoenix. You might also want to purchase local radio advertising on Phoenix Radio, 95.5 The Heat. Listen in at www.955theheat.com then get in touch at https://www.955theheat.com/advertise-with-us.html to buy some advertising for your business.
This article is not sponsored. All endorsements and recommendations are my own.
We may most commonly associate bullying with children and teens, but it can happen at any age. If you are experiencing any of the following situations at your day job, during rehearsals or practices, or as you work for someone else in your side gig, you are experiencing workplace bullying.
Criticizing, yelling, scolding, or correcting to the point that your job is made more difficult.
The only people who don’t get criticized or corrected by their boss at some point are those in business for themselves, and even self-employed people and business owners have to listen to clients, customers, staff, and vendors if they want to stay around. Unless you’re wealthy enough that you can hire people whose jobs depend on never telling you “no,” work is not going to be an unending series of perfect days. That said, supervisors, coworkers, and clients should speak to you with respect as a fellow human being, and any correcting or criticism should leave you better at your job, not fearful, nervous, confused, embarrassed or demoralized about being there.
Mocking, teasing, or baiting to the point that your job is made more difficult.
Normal teasing and joking around, banter, even discussions of controversial issues can be part of the culture at some workplaces. It isn’t bullying if they give everyone a nickname based on their department, so they’ve started calling you “Kitchen Sue” or “Waiter John,” or if you came in wearing a jacket covered in Obama buttons on your first day, so they tease you in a friendly way about being the company’s only liberal. It is bullying if the nickname is intended to embarrass or belittle you, and makes it more difficult to concentrate on your work in the kitchen or interact with the customers on the floor, or if the teasing is done in a way that lets you know you’re not wanted or being held to a different set of standards than the others.
Deliberately sabotaging your work or professional reputation
The classic example of this is the co-worker who wants your job, and decides to get it by erasing data from your computer to make it seem like you did not do your work. Hollywood likes to portray workplace bullies as people who leave embarrassing or disgusting things in a co-worker’s locker or desk drawer, both to upset them and to force them to spend time cleaning the items out instead of doing their work. Hiding materials, files, contact information, or other necessary tools from you is also bullying behavior.
Nobody is obligated to tell others how wonderful you are if you are in fact awful to them or terrible at your job. But the coworker who makes unnecessary or unwarranted complaints about you to the supervisor or other coworkers is also guilty of workplace bullying. Creating an environment where you cannot work effectively, such as insisting you sit in a cramped, cold space or in the office nearest a major construction project, is also a form of sabotage.
Changing instructions or expectations, or creating confusion that makes the job more difficult.
Asking an employee or a consultant to adapt something to changing circumstances is not workplace bullying. If you’re working on a display of products that have been recalled, being asked to take it down is not unreasonable. If you’re creating a sales presentation, and the client has sent in more details of what they’re looking for from your company, of course you need to add them in. But you should go in to work every day knowing what is expected of you at your job. If this seems to change at random, with projects assigned to you, then re-assigned, then given back to you, the supervisor is more intent on creating chaos for you than getting the work done.
Treating you differently than other employees, consultants, or vendors are treated, in a way that makes working for them more difficult, or has a detrimental impact on your career or reputation.
Any business is going to treat their office manager or longtime receptionist differently than the person who fills the soda machine in the break room once a week. And you should not expect to be consulted on projects that are not yours, or are from departments you are not in. The behavior becomes bullying when you are treated differently than others in a similar position, and the treatment impacts your ability to do your job or pursue your career.
Being left out of the employee baseball team because you’re a consultant is not bullying. Being left out of a meeting where future projects are planned is bullying. You were not bullied if you had to stand there and watch everyone in sales receive a gift basket and you did not because you’re in customer service. You are being bullied if you had to sit there and watch another customer service employee receive excessive praise the minute before you were yelled at until you couldn’t concentrate enough to do your job.
Workplace bullying is not a bad job, just a difficult boss, or a stressful situation. It is a deliberate attempt by one person or group to control another through unfair manipulation of his or her work life. The goal of a bad boss may vary, from maintaining an image to a mistaken belief that they’re being tough or authoratative. The goal of a workplace bully is to tear down the target of the bullying behavior.
Art in all forms reflects the culture in which it is created and/or set.. Characters may eat foods, shop in stores, or reference celebrities or places unique to their region or country. Commonly held beliefs are often reflected. Below are five things Americans commonly believe…that just aren’t true. Have you ever created a character who held any of these beliefs?
Tearing or cutting the tags off your mattresses and pillows is against the law.
The “do not remove under penalty of law” tag is often interpreted to mean that you can be fined or jailed if you’re caught removing them, no matter how ratty they get or how much they stick out and poke you when you try to sleep. But if you read the rest of the sentence it says, “except by consumer.” This means that the person who buys the mattress or pillow is completely within his or her legal rights to remove the tag.
The “do not remove” tag is there for the people who make and sell the pillows and mattresses. It is there as a form of consumer protection. In the past, mattresses and pillows could be stuffed with all sorts of dangerous materials, including rotting straw or old rags. The tags on your pillows and mattresses are there to let you know that your item is stuffed with nice, fresh, safe fill, not to threaten you that a cop will show up at your door if you snip it off when it gets dirty or pops out of your pillowcase and annoys you.
The Bible says that God helps those who help themselves.
It doesn’t. That was a quote from Benjamin Franklin. The message of the Bible is actually the exact opposite of that. It’s full of verses about loving your neighbor, not judging other people, doing unto others what you would do unto the Lord, honoring those in your household, sharing what you have, and putting others first.
The entire Christian faith is based on the knowledge that salvation is a free gift given by Jesus Christ to anyone who accepts it by accepting Him as their Lord and Savior. Salvation cannot be both a free gift from a loving God and something you have to coax Him into granting you by doing things for yourself.
“Separation of church and state” means it’s illegal to say a prayer in a public school.
Saying a prayer in a public school is not only legal, it’s protected under the same amendment people mistakenly believe bans it. The school, as an agent of the state, is not allowed to make prayer a part of the official curriculum. It is also not allowed to tell students and faculty that they can’t pray as individuals. Suppose I get a job as a tutor or teacher’s aide in a public school. I cannot hold a study group in which I require all students to pray before we begin. I can’t stand up and announce that when I work with a teacher, we’re going to launch his or her class with a prayer. That would make the prayer part of the official school curriculum, and therefore, in violation of the law against separation of church and state.
I would, however, have every right to sit in the cafeteria and pray before I eat my lunch. I would have every right to pause in the doorway and say a private prayer before entering the classroom. I could sit there and pray as a private citizen all day if I chose to. Anyone who tried to stop me would be violating my first amendment rights to freedom of religion. And if other staff members and students chose to sit with me and pray during lunch, that would be within their first amendment rights as well.
Cutting your hair causes it to grow faster.
Hair growth depends on a variety of factors, including genetics, overall health of the person, and the health of the hair. Healthy hair grows faster, and cutting off split ends and portions of hair damaged by coloring, perming, or using a lot of styling tools and products can be a part of making hair healthy again. But the act of cutting the hair does not make it grow faster.
We think our hair grows faster when we cut it because we notice it more. Even if you’re one to just get a trim to look neat for work and pay no real mind to your appearance, getting a haircut takes time out of your day, and usually costs money. It stands out, so you are aware of the difference in your hair on that day, and the difference in it as it starts to grow. If cutting your hair truly sped up its rate of growth, your hair would grow faster and faster with each cut throughout your life.
The first amendment gives you the right to say whatever you want without unwanted consequences or reactions.
We’ve all seen a real-life example of this one. Somebody walks around the building talking about what a dump their workplace is, gets fired, and then challenges it on the grounds of “free speech.” Or you tell off someone trolling on your social media, and they reply that telling them to get lost is a violation of their right to free speech.
Both of these individuals are wrong. The first amendment protects you from punishment or persecution by the government for what you say or write, not from other people having a problem with it, or from any consequences the things you say or write may bring.
As artists, we have to put ourselves out there in some form. We get up on stage to perform or read our work. Most of us at least have a social media page for our band or an Amazon page for our novels, even if we aren’t into online chatting or posting photos of our lives. Obviously, I think this is great. I wouldn’t own and run a website if I did not enjoy being online. But there are dangers to an increased public presence, including an increased risk of identity theft.
“Traditional” Identity Theft
When we think of identity theft, we picture somebody stealing our credit card number and running up bills we could never pay for things we would never want, and never see. The person who dresses exclusively from thrift stores opens their credit card bill to find a charge from Prada or Gucci. You don’t drive, but somebody paid for a car to be detailed with your credit card. This can certainly happen, but it is not normally the first sign. Credit card thieves typically make a few test purchases before going on their sprees. These purchases can be as small as a drugstore lipstick or chapstick or single soda or candy bar. The goal is to see if the thief has stolen a card with some available cash or credit on it, and determine if they will get away with using it. Once that first small purchase goes through, they’ll move on to bigger hauls.
One of the first signs of this type of identity theft is the appearance of those small charges on your credit card or bank statement. Check the dates on cash withdrawals. You might be in the habit of withdrawing forty dollars for spending money from time to time, but look those charges over anyway to make sure one was not done while you were at work or out of town.
Should you notice anything unusual, no matter how small, take the time to look into it, and if you are sure you did not make the charge, report it to your bank immediately.
In some cases, the identity thief does not steal your name or financial information, they just use some of your contact information to avoid dealing with their own issues. I always think of this as scapegoating, because it puts the blame for their poor choices on to you.
When I got my first job after college, I was able to afford the first phone in my own name. That was the only good thing about this job. I spent most of my time off passing out my resume anywhere that might hire me for something better. And the calls came pouring in. If only they had been calls from people with job offers.
The calls were from credit card companies demanding payments. They came from dentist offices chiding me for missing my child’s appointment. The graduate school I attended online wanted me to get in touch with my adviser about my academic performance. Student billing also needed to reach me about my charges. These were all legitimate requests. You should do your school work, pay your bills, and care for your children. But I wasn’t in graduate school at the time. I didn’t have a credit card that had a balance on it, never mind a late fee. And I have never been the parent or guardian of any child. Callers kept referring to me as “Tamara” and when I could manage to convince them I was not Tamara Clark (not her real last name), they behaved as though I were screening calls for her. For several months, my phone rang anywhere from two to eight times per day with calls for Tamara, and I was scolded for shielding her at least three times a week. It quickly became clear that whoever “Tamara” was, she continued to use her old phone number, now my phone number, for things she didn’t care to deal with.
While changing your number is the surest way to end the calls, that may not be possible for everyone. I had too many resumes out with that number on them, and needed to answer my phone in case a potential employer called. Others may have family members or friends who would have difficulty contacting them with a new number, or have that number on file with too many important accounts or places to make changing it practical.
If you suspect that someone has been using your number to avoid calls, the only thing that will stop their creditors and other contacts from calling you is to speak up. If you get a credit card company employee who keeps insisting you’re screening, ask to speak to their supervisor. Keep asking until someone allows you to explain the situation and believes you. I was fortunate to finally get a call from someone who took my word, apologized, and made a notation on Tamara’s file. The calls slowly subsided after that.
Using your materials to catfish (romance scam) others
“Catfishing” is a scam that occurs when one or more people pretend to be someone else, or a fictionalized version of themselves, in order to trick others into a relationship with them online. This is usually a romantic relationship, but there are catfish who pretend to be employers or friends as well.
The signs you might be talking to a scammer are well documented, but the direct target is not usually the catfish’s only victim. These scams rely largely on stolen photos, poems, and life stories. If you have a public profile for your music, acting, or writing career, that page is open for scammers to steal from.
There is little you can do about this, and you will likely never know it has even happened. You may come across pages for yourself that you never set up. You might get an odd message from some stranger who thinks they’ve been talking to you. Maybe someone will insist they saw you on a website you never joined. Or your pictures, stories, or name might be used for years without a single detail making its way back to you.
If you do find fake pages, or catch someone stealing your poetry or lyrics, you can report the page to the site owners and ask that it be taken down. If your material is copyrighted or registered under your name in any way, you may be able to take legal action. But if a scammer has just modeled a character they play after you, all you can do is add a note on your own page explaining the situation.
For each type of identity theft, act as quickly as possible. Do all you can to protect yourself. You may have to cancel or put a hold on a card, shut down a website you worked hard to build and maintain, or go through the trouble of writing and posting several disclaimers, but it is worth it to protect your professional and personal reputation and your finances.
For artists, or anyone working as an independent contractor, the worst case scenario is having the client or customer take off with the work without paying you. Here are some warning signs you are about to be ripped off.
The client suddenly finds fault with everything you do.
Workplace bullies use this as a power tactic. You feel helpless and discouraged when you have to sit there and listen to everyone else hear how great they are, while all you ever hear is how much you darken the place’s doorstep, and they enjoy the power they get when they make you feel helpless. Clients who are about to rip you off may or may not have been bullies previously, but they often pull the same stunt in order to have an excuse when they don’t pay you. It’s the workplace equivalent of inventing something to complain about over every restaurant meal in order to scam free evenings out.
The client “disappears”
If you show up for a planning meeting or paycheck pickup and the place is gone, it’s pretty clear they’re not going to pay you, but look out for milder forms of vanishing as well. If the client used to email you every Monday and Wednesday to work on the project, or you used to get a daily text to check in, and you suddenly aren’t hearing from them anymore, they are probably not going to give you any money they still owe you.
You find someone else doing your work
Early in my professional writing career, I was ripped off by the owner of a small bakery. Previously, I had only freelanced for a single small newspaper. I didn’t know about making written contracts before I started. The bakery owner liked the feature I wrote about her business for the paper, and was interested when I said I was planning to branch out into promotional work. We verbally agreed that I would handle the publicity for her new shop.
Everything seemed to be going well, until the day I messaged her business’ Facebook page to ask what she wanted done next. I received a reply from someone who informed me that he was the publicity person for the business. When I confronted the owner about it, she told me that he was the one she “originally” wanted to do her publicity. When I asked her why she told me I had the work when she’d already hired someone else, she behaved as though she were doing me a favor just by speaking to me, and disappeared without paying me for the work I had done.
Representatives for the client, or the client themselves, pretend to be confused when you approach them about your pay
Watch out for lines such as, “Oh, did we agree to a hundred dollars per article?” Or “Did you say that session was three hundred dollars on your web site? Because I thought I signed up for the fifty dollar portrait session.”
If you made sure to have a written agreement, policy, or price list in place before you began work, you can come right back at them and quickly clear up the “confusion.” But most people do not hire independent contractors for projects and then forget what they needed them to do. They are likely not at all confused, and are just trying to get a reduced rate in a dishonest way.
They try to pile on more work
In situations like this, you will still get your money. You just won’t get paid for all the work you do. Suppose Artist Cafe Utica took off to the point that I needed to hire staff. If I hire someone with the understanding that he will answer the phone and email for $12.00 per hour at five hours per day, then I hand him a mop and broom and tell him he also needs to clean the office throughout the day, I’m paying him for one job but giving him the work of two. He will wind up squeezing the office work he thought he was going to be doing in between cleaning tasks, essentially giving me the office work for free or very low cost.
A graceful exit is typically the best way to respond to any of these warning signs. Find another project as quickly as you can, do whatever you reasonably and safely can do to get as much money as possible from the current one, and move on to the next round of work.
Prevent this from happening in the future by putting time limits and payment rules in place. Make it a policy that clients must respond to you with edits within five days, or pay a “kill fee” of half the price of the article, or ask for half the money upfront and half upon completion of the project. If someone refuses to abide by your policies, you refuse to write for them.