Recipe for Vegan Black Beans in a Clay Cooker

Recipe for Vegan Black Beans in a Clay Cooker

I wanted to make black beans from scratch – and not from cans, either. Canned black beans are soft and gooey off the shelf – I wanted to have firmer beans that got their glorious goo from things I did on purpose – something much more detailed and elaborate than simply opening a can.

I decided to make them vegan this time too, as I figured it would come in handy to know how to do that. I know a LOT of nice Vegans that I might share a good dinner with, occasionally – I needed another ace up my sleeve for them. So here you go, Vegans – go grab your clay cooker.

new clay cookerI was also using this outing to experiment with more things in my new clay cooker. I had a great little Romertopf forever, but then brought it to a dinner party a couple years ago and never got it back. Lucky for me, I found one at a junk store last month for $20, brand-spanking-new – it is a little larger than my last one, and has a glazed interior, which were both cool perks.

These vegan beans were one of the first couple things I cooked in it, after some delicious chicken and pork dinners were nailed righteously.

Note that this recipe is meant to spread-out over a couple days – it takes a long time to make dry beans into eatable beans. More time still, to make them delicious! It is totally worth it though, and it is not a lot of time prepping as much as simply a long time to cook. I tend to find this pretty therapeutic, but I am admittedly and unashamedly a weirdo.

Soak Your Beans – 12 Hours at Least – and Your Cooker

black beans to soakSo in typical black bean fashion, I started with a bag of generic  dry black beans – 32 oz.  I submerged them in a lidded pan full of warm water, about 4 quarts worth, and let them sit, covered, for a total of about 24 hours.

rinse black beans

Note that they will increase in size (about double) once they soak up that water – -so ensure you have enough fluid there to soak-up…I have often used too little, and the beans simply soak it up too quickly and won’t fully soften. Err on the side of having too much than otherwise – you can’t really have too much water, but you can certainly have too little.

I have also tried pre-soaking in broth for adding flavor a couple times, but didn’t notice enough impact to do it again – water works just fine.

soak lidAfter they have properly soaked (minimum time would be overnight), I rinse them well, and set them aside for a while to prep the veggies. Rinsing only helps get the gunk off them – look for stones too, which I actually see in there pretty often. The beans will be pretty uniformly the same when they are soaked well.

When you are ready to actually make the beans, as with any time you use the cooker, you want to soak the lid (at least – you can soak both sides of the cooker if you’d like)…this will create steam, and helps preserve the moisture of anything you cook.

I try to let it soak for about an hour while I am prepping other stuff, but not sure what the manufacturer would suggest. An hour has done fine for me for years.

Chop Your Veggies

veggies for vegan black beansWhen I make black beans, I make them the way I learned in the Jamaican restaurant I worked in during the late 80s/early 90s – because they did them so wonderfully. It is a kind of “kitchen sink” approach to it – you throw in anything you got, and know you are generally only going to make them better if you have more stuff in there and cook them down long enough.

An important break from my norm here, was doing this totally vegan. I typically would put some pork bits in there, like salt pork or bacon or fatback, to cook down a little fat and make the beans more succulent – but that would not make the Vegans smile, so not this time. Understand though, you can definitely add some pork bits in right here, and that would not hurt the beans at all if you aren’t preoccupied pleasing Vegans. It might add to the time you cook everything, but it is well worth it.

For these beans, I went with what I had on-hand – a couple bell peppers, a kind of sad and wrinkled jalapeño (with all seeds intact for some heat), onion, garlic, and carrots. Carrots were kind of a weird thing, but I figured if cut small enough they would simply add a little body and flavor to the base of it all. It is a trick I learned with marinara sauce – if you add carrots to a tomato sauce, it can be lovely. Same theory here.

veggies in clay cooker

Cutting these veggies really small was also something I did on purpose, because of the way the clay cooker works. I knew that if I cut them really small and put them under the beans, they would essentially melt down for me, and help create a luscious layer of flavor. They would be bathing in broth, and all would be right with the world.

I knew that I would never see these veggies again, and I was OK with that. If I wanted them to remain in the mix, I could have used a larger cut so it didn’t melt down in the heat and juice…it depends what you want your finished beans to be like.

So understand that while I used the vegetables that I used this time, you can use whatever you got hanging around. Onions, peppers and garlic would seem pretty necessary to me, and from there, you can wing it. Empty the fridge…I can’t think of anything that would hurt you here, while some choices (like corn, or artichokes) might just be a little weird. In the Jamaican place, we threw a ton of stuff in there while they cooked so go nuts if you like.

One cool thing about using the clay cooker for these, is knowing my veggies will cook off nicely under all the beans – I have tested this theory before, in layering the clay cooker different ways. If I were using a kettle on the stovetop, the vegetables would not render down the same way, and would tend to hold more of their original shape/texture unless I rendered them down…it takes much longer and a different cooking manner for the same effect to occur.

Once I put the small-chopped veggies in the cooker, I put the rinsed (and now air-dry) beans on top of them. And then the fun part could finally begin – the seasoning!

Spice It Up!!!

dry spices for vegan black beansIn much the same manner as emptying your fridge to build an interesting undertone, the spices you use for your beans are going to become the true stars of the show.

Beans by themselves, even with the help of some nice aromatic vegetables, are bland as can be. Dry spices and fresh herbs bring the right dimensions to your efforts. You will be rewarded handsomely for taking your time on this step of the process.

I don’t hesitate to go right in there, and get it all going when I am doing beans – there is not much that is off-limits. The staples, would be healthy doses of garlic and onion powder for added strength (we have them chopped, too, remember), cumin, allspice, crushed red pepper, chili powder, rosemary, basil and oregano. I personally like adding a combo of cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger root too, as they blend in this wonderfully Mediterranean kind of way.

spiced black beansI don’t stop there though, and will grab thyme, coriander, marjoram, bay leaves…anything and everything might get thrown in for good measure.

Salt and pepper too (white pepper is excellent in these), but I tend to go light with additional salt (blood pressure reasons)…people can always add that later, if they like, but it should be far from necessary to get salty in here if you properly go to town with this spice-it-up step. A lot of dry spices and fresh herbs will pop right through the beans, and layer them with all the flavors and complexities you are looking for.

What I did here, was to add all the spices to the beans, then I very carefully stirred them so as to not disturb the veggie layer underneath. In retrospect, I should have probably mixed the dry spices in a bowl, added the beans to properly coat them, then put the fully-seasoned beans on top of the veggies. oops – not this time.

stirred and seasoned black beansIt did not matter – in much the same way, it does not matter what you do for your spices as long as you understand to be happy and liberal with them. If you have a lot of fresh stuff on hand, even better – I didn’t, so went with the stuff I did have and knew they’d be wonderful.

sage and oreganoOnce I had the dry spices mixed in the beans, I went to the herb garden and pulled some oregano and sage – they were again, the ones that were there, so they were nominated. Rosemary, fresh, is perfect for beans – basil works well too, as will cilantro, tarragon and most things your herb garden might have.

chopped herbs for black beansFor these, I dry-spiced and mixed the beans, then I added 2 boxes of vegetable broth.  I chopped my fresh herbs and put them on top of the finished beans – they were intentionally last, much the same way the veggie layer was first. Why? To take full advantage of the way the clay cooker works.

The 2 boxes of veggie broth did not come up over the top of the beans (more about this later) but came up about a half-inch or maybe a bit more than that from the top.

seasoned vegan black beansWhen I put the chopped herbs on the beans I knew they would stay there – that the heat and steam in the cooker would activate them wonderfully, and behave differently than if I were to stir the fresh herbs into the beans. I wanted the fresh herbs to steam and dry out, but stay more or less intact – so a specific placement in the cooker, was key.

Once there was a healthy bit of dry spice on the beans and the broth was under there, as well as a nice layer of veggies on the bottom and aromatic fresh herbs on top, and the cooker top was soaking the whole time I was prepping this stuff, this was ready to go in the oven.

Crucial Cooking Times

soaked clay cookerI tend to find in clay cooking, there are two general ways to go – either low and slow, or hot and quick. Both methods have their benefits and limitations, depending on what you are cooking.  Beans like this, without any meat or grease in them, should probably be somewhere in the middle of that.

I put mine in the oven at 325 – and let it cook for four hours. I was thinking a low, slower heat would be the thing here, but I can admit freely, I was a little off in my calculation.

My first mistake, was not adding enough broth or liquid to them. I put in 2 boxes of broth, but I had a LOT of beans here, so I needed more. I could’ve easily added water – or beer, or more veggie broth. You want to bring the liquid level up to the beans – I don’t think you need to submerge them completely, but you do want them to be moist all the way up.

in the oven clay cookerWhat happened with mine, was in the time they cooked, the broth got sucked up into the beans – so there was not originally a lot of that “glorious goo” I mentioned at the beginning of this. Ooops. The flavor was still amazing, and the beans had a great consistency to them – but I wanted them still a little softer, which I could’ve had with more liquid, and maybe playing with the heat some and making it hotter in there.

One thing to do with the clay cooker sometimes, is start it out hot and then lower the temp. You might go after 450 to get things started, and after an hour or two, drop that down 50 or 100 degrees. What that does, is it creates the steam/boiling heat you want, then you mellow it out for a longer period of time…but the clay holds a ton of residual heat that cooks stuff really evenly.

It is very hard to make a mistake that you don’t want to eat anyway, when you are using the clay cooker. I didn’t think of these as a mistake by any means, but just thought I could have done one step better. I like the learning curve here – not hard to take. 

cooked beansWhen I took the beans out, the herbs on top were dried and fragrant – so I stirred them into the mix. I pulled up the veggies too, or whatever was left of them really…they behaved perfectly and were simply part of the beans now.

done black beansUnlike a can of beans, these had all retained their body – they smelled incredible too, with all those spices and herbs just dancing around the kitchen.

I ate a bowl of them immediately (over white, Basmati rice), and then I added some warm water and a room temperature beer, and threw them back in the oven for another two hours at 450 this time, to get them boiling.

When I pulled them out after the extra time, they were PERFECT – they had the right tenderness to them, and there was a delicious kind of sauce that was simply residual stuff from the long cooking time and extra fluid. 

vegan black beans from a clay cookerI broke my rules too, and had to top this off with sour cream and salsa – sour cream may not be vegan, but it is a great add to black beans. I might even go as far as mandatory, but like I said before, I am pretty weird. Vegans might substitute something else here, but I wanted the dairy and I did lay off the salt pork, so felt vindicated. I was alone anyway, so no harm, no foul.

And That’s That

So that was it here – I made a ton of these things, as you can see. I ate them every day for 4 days in a row, then I froze a big bag of them to have later.

Next time, I am gonna go back to adding some salt pork to it – I just prefer them to have some meatiness in there. But these were in no way lacking – they had flavor for miles, and a texture that is hard to get outside of a restaurant that does these for days at each cook, like we did at the Jamaican place. The beans there would cook for 2 full days before they were served – I cut it down to a few hours here. Know that if you add more time to them, they break down more (like refried beans) and get ever more soft and delicious.

As always, if you have questions fire away – and if you have any tips or tricks to share, please do so!

Bon appetit to you all!

Harness Lead – a Truly GREAT Product

Four Times Tested, Four Times a Champion!

I don’t tend to go public with thoughts about specific products, but this is an exception.  Not afraid to say it: I just LOVE the Harness Lead, and have had 4 dogs to test it with, and every test was aced!

I figured a good way to share my experiences is to tell the stories of the dogs who benefited.

Zoey

Zoey Lamers

My beloved old girl Zoey was almost 11 years old when we found her a Harness Lead. She was at least 70 pounds of almost solid chest muscle, so when Zoey decided she was going to go somewhere, she pretty much did as she pleased and you might easily get dragged along with her. While gentle as can be, she was also very headstrong, and powerful.

Over the years with Zoey, I had tried all kinds of collars, leads and restraints to make her behave – all with varying, but limited success rates. I hated to choke, shock or inflict any kind of pain on her to make her obey. It seemed cruel and unnecessary, but I didn’t know what else to do. Then we got her a Harness Lead.

Putting it on her was easy – she stood still while I quickly wrapped her with the Harness Lead. I immediately noticed the difference in the way it reacted to her movements, and she to it…she didn’t pull on it, as she would to a choke collar or other neck-based restraint. I liked the softness of the materials, and the gentle way it treated her. She heeled as soon as I took out the slack, and seemed happy to do so.

After our first few walks, the Harness Lead itself, became the call to going outside: “You wanna go out on your new lead?” I asked.  She knew what that meant, or what it meant when I simply picked it off the wall hook, and would stand still, eagerly wagging her tail as I wrapped her quickly. And as I finished, she would be at attention, happy and waiting to walk, but not jumping around or barking or being hyper like old leads would suggest to her. There was a new discipline that the Harness Lead itself produced when it was on, and I LOVED it.

I have since thought that it is the nature of the lead that makes the dog feel comforted – the slight pressure on the chest, wraps them like a security blanket or something. At least that is the way Zoey behaved on our walks using it. To say it was a game-changer, perhaps is even underselling it somewhat – it was just awesome, especially in comparison to others I had used.

HarnessLead on Zoey LamersMy one regret with Zoey’s Harness Lead, is that she only had it in the last few months of her life. She was older, but still quite a handful to take for a walk, until we used the HarnessLead. As soon as it was on her, she would heel calmly, and be ready to go wherever our walks would take us.  She did so until she couldn’t go on walks any longer.

I appreciated the fact that I wasn’t choking or pinching her anymore to make her behave – the lead seemed to encourage her to do it all on her own. She was always happy to go on a walk, but she seemed even happier once it meant that the Harness Lead was the choice of restraint.

I miss Zoey every day now, and though I buried her with many of her favorite things, I kept out the HarnessLead she loved so much so my next dog can enjoy it as well. I have it in a handy place now, ready to be brought back into action when the time is right. It may still be hard to think about having another dog just yet, but it is easy to think about what kind of lead my next dog will be using from day one.

Bumba and Ganja

harnessleads on huskies

These beautiful Husky-mutt-mixes were mother and son, visiting from Colorado for a few weeks. At home, they claimed more than 400 acres of territory to roam without a lead, but the rules and expectations were much different here in suburban Atlanta. It was going to be a challenge, particularly for Ganja, the male pup, who was just over a year old, and had never even been on a lead. “He’s essentially like a really sweet wild animal,” his owner confided in me.

We need to obey the  Georgia leash laws and wanted to take the dogs on hikes and into city settings, so a couple Harness Leads came in the mail, just as quick as they could get here.  The results, were very impressive, indeed.

Bumba, the mother of the pair, was a quick learner and was immediately able to go on long walks without pulling, straining or yanking on her lead. Though a lead (of any type) was clearly something she was not fond of in any sense, the Harness Lead was not a problem for her, and she behaved like a champ every time we used it for her. Yet the real eye opener, was how her boy Ganja reacted.

the Harness Leads ArriveOn his very first walk, it took Ganja only minutes to understand how the Harness Lead worked, and he was heeling, and behaving in a manner unexpected but totally appreciated by us humans walking him. Instead of tearing around full of puppy zip and being hard to manage, he was attentive, happy and perfectly content to do as we wanted.

Within a couple days, it was noticed by us both, that simply putting the lead on Ganja had this calming effect: though still a puppy in every sense of the word, he behaved much better instantly when he was on his lead.

While the dogs still much preferred to be loose and behaving like “wild animals,” the Harness Lead enabled us to bring them into new settings and into some better hiking opportunities. Best of all, was the rambunctious puppy calmed as soon as he was in the Harness Lead – which made every walk more fun for all.

When the visit was over, the dogs carried with them their new Harness Leads, so that they could encounter more opportunities wherever they happened to travel next. Leash laws were no match for these lovely mountain mutts!

Bella

Bella on the HarnessLeadMy son and his girlfriend have a fiesty little pit bull named Isabella, or Bella for short. A lovable runt who has always been a city dog, she struggled to get a lead that did not irritate her sensitive skin. She also seemed oblivious to some collars, and would choke herself silly on every walk. While some body-harnesses worked better to control her and prevent the constant pulling, the velcro straps would chafe, and the poor thing had body rashes and skin irritations all the time.

That is, until she got her Harness Lead from Grandpa.

When I was caring for her recently, I decided to try the reliable Harness Lead, to see if she behaved and reacted better to it than to a regular choke collar or even the preferred body harness we used on our daily walks. And as with all the dogs I had seen before her, Bella behaved like a champ on the Harness Lead.

Her tendency to pull and strain on the lead was not there – unlike when she was using a more traditional lead. Better still, the soft material and the way it is made, did not irritate her very sensitive skin: no more chafing from a walk. This was wonderful news for her continued recovery at my house, and when she moved home to Brooklyn soon after that, she brought her new lead with her to show-off to all the dogs in the city.

Go Get Your Own

In no way was this post a paid endorsement, or anything similar. I am sharing my personal experiences with a tremendous product – an innovative lead that I would not hesitate to recommend to any dog owner. They are gentle, strong, sensitive and effective leads which make some dogs respond in a calming way almost immediately when they get into them. I have seen it, more than once on very different dogs.

To get your own, simply visit the website: https://www.harnesslead.com/. There’s a shop option there to ship right to your door: https://www.harnesslead.com/store/c1/Featured_Products.html and if you have any questions, you can email them at harnesslead@aol.com. Your pup will be very pleased with you!

Same post, different day

I found a post on my other site I did, back in 2013 – seems pretty much on point, so I am re-sharing it.Enjoy, or send your distaste to me in a special package I can ignore in all kinds of fascinating ways.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Been too, too long…
But this lil’ ol’ blog is still here. Just like the ongoing work as an SEO copywriter, if you are looking for it. Clients are still there, but the effect of SEO copywriting is perhaps a little more strange than it was in the past – a bit more uncertain. I don’t think this has anything to do with the crafting of solid SEO copywriting, more that Google has shifted gears a ton in the past year, so what they are doing is kind of trumping what anyone does in a page.Hear that correctly now, ’cause I am not saying SEO copywriting is any less valuable to SEO than it ever was, or ever will be. Google hates SEOs though, so the extra descriptor on the act of writing something may see some editing. Who knows. Schlemeezle, schlemazzle.

Organic results are disappearing though, intentionally if you are paying attention, and sites are getting penalized more than they ever did before.The combination leaves fewer sites dominating the shrinking available organic space, and with these shifts come wider steps away from the minute, independent nature that drove the web’s information to where it is. Big business took over, so to see it in any lesser way is to be naiive and to launch yourself toward #epicfail.

I am proud to be an SEO, especially as it gets harder to do. Got more for me to consider with each effort? Good – bring it on…I’ll accept that challenge, as I always have.
But Google does not like SEOs and never has…despite the smiles and promises, no matter what they tell or told you. The very nature of SEO work is something beyond Google’s control, so Google allows less and less of it to matter.
Unfortunately, it is taking with it a lot of what made the web and Google a fun place to be for so many years: the promise of relevant depth and variety. Independent publishers are having a much harder time surviving as Google takes small measure after small measure to restrict any Google-is-not-in-the-middle-of-it activity or information from being available.
They are a business, and can do and display what they want – but we all suffer, because they have such a dominant blanket over sorting and displaying the world’s information, and they are scrubbing and tilting it toward their own agenda, not everyones. They have alternatives, we don’t – and yet their decisions will affect just about everyone, whether or not they are aware of it.
And that is really just a shame, because it could have been better.

I am not as despondent as this sounds – far from it, in fact. I still love the gig, still sliding down the dinosaur at night with a big smile…even bigger than it has been in years past for sure, too. I just can’t help but be rather trepidatious at the idea of things getting better in regards to how queries are answered with relevant, and diverse results in the world’s biggest search engine.

Google may hate SEOs, but I don’t hate them back…I simply don’t trust them at all because they have a very solid track record of serving themselves while saying it is otherwise. The past year has seen this in the most dramatic, and disappointing changes I have ever seen in the results displays -increasingly less space, filled with more and more Google properties every month. And more and more of a distance from what I used them for to begin with – they simply fail to grasp I am not shopping every time I am online, actually the opposite is very true for me. That disconnect has me moving away from a search engine whose results used to be on-point and fun to explore – now they have become a chore of endless ads and incorrect answers to be sorted and sidestepped. God forbid I accidentally click on the wrong thing in there.
In using a blanket and hammer when penalizing optimized sites, Google is now pretty dramatically suffocating its (our) information…because so many site histories had a skeleton or two in a closet that was actually already painted over.
Discounting these over-zealous efforts is the logical move, but penalizing them has made it a different world – and those who can’t figure it out fast enough are scrambling to Google to pay for traffic they used to get for free, and this is the point, isn’t it?

Like I said before, this has nothing much to do with any specific kind or direction of SEO copywriting, but more a little look at what may be in store as efforts continue to diminish the value of an SEO because the “o” means optimizing organic, and without organic, there may be dawning a brand new way to look at what we do…because as they go, so too goes a really huge and unforgiving part of the trade.

So I use this as a call to action: if there are going to be less spots that are harder to get, the true value of SEO copywriting is really just beginning to get reshaped and redefined by the market demands and rewards, again, as it has before. Always. I am not going to hang up my SEO roots, not now nor ever. I am very proud of what I do, and I don’t take it lightly. Google doesn’t have to like it – they never have.
As my fave basher Nick Lowe would say, “And So It Goes.” 🙂

Back to work…

Freelance Copywriting in 2017

Back when I started copywriting for a living, I had to use a phone book to find leads. Cold-calling, 101. I was convincing people that they wanted to bring their businesses to the web: and yes Virginia, it is a conversation that I had back then, daily. I used to have to explain what SEO was, and why it was important. I am Old Man River, like the tired old guy in the pic above.

Luckily for all you young writer pups out there, this is not the case any longer. Work is now simply a screenshot or an email away from you, always.It is pretty wonderful, comparatively.

And work, that was something I once had to explain to potential clients is now more prevalent than ever. Platforms are springing up that all require some form of communication and copywriting to effectively maintain. Blogs, feeds, Press Releases, features, interviews and more await the able scribe of today.

The role and importance of a copywriter in a successful corporate environment may have a slightly different assumption (online proficiency) swaddling it today, but the copywriter has not lost any footing as the years tumble by.

So the question then becomes, how do you find work as a copywriter in today’s climate?

Find The Source

One thing that is the same-same, always, is finding the true source of the work. You need to locate the people who actively hire writers and then try to understand a bit about why they are looking for strength in their ranks.

If you have companies you admire or want to be a part of, these are actually what I consider to be the best targets. A natural passion to be a part of things is easy to see, even from a distance, and can sometimes be the extra juice that carries you into the first client meeting.

But if not a personal target, there are often professional reasons to pursue one type of copywriting more than another. As an example, I personally have a specialty in alternative finance from years of doing it, so I tend to start there. However, I have passion (and experience) in education, SEO, music stuff, and dog-related writing too…so you can see in just a matter of a few minutes, I can narrow down the places where I am aiming. I should be increasing my chances of success as well, as I am going where I am stronger.

You might be surprised at how many larger/successful businesses use freelance copywriting to bolster their efforts. The diversity offered by “proper online application” feels almost limitless. Certainly they hire for specialized pages (like SEO stuff or expertise), but many businesses will also hire for more routine blogposts/site pages. Why? Because their own staff is often overwhelmed with conflicting agendas, so newer things get pushed back – or, maybe they need the spark of a new voice to warm up their cold, tired copy. Maybe they need a professional steering the effort to keep it moving.

There are many reasons why a business might look to outside help to strengthen their efforts. Your job, immediately, is to become an unconscious option for them to consider when it is time to get busy.

I am assuming too, that the area of expertise that you are after is one where you have both work samples and satisfied clients under your belt. These things certainly make it easier to have potential clients perk up on the value of your services – expertise in both a specific niche AND a foundation of better-than-general writing (seeing it as an art form), works together incredibly well.

Target the places/niches where you have shined before, and it is ALWAYS easier to suggest why this is a trend you can replicate. Cherish every connection made; be quick, available, and to the point – you never know when the person you are dealing with becomes the one who needs help or makes a decision on future project specifics.

Keep your communications VERY brief, and right to the point. Understand that the only things folks REALLY want to know, is 1.Are you capable of the work and being self-sufficient, and 2. When will the finished product/next milestone be ready? Not to say clarifying points are not welcomed (they almost always are greatly appreciated), just that the more you understand clients are seeing only the project and associated timeline, the more your communications stay focused on the point.

Who, Exactly Do You Try To Find?

So who actually hires copywriters? Usually, in medium to larger organizations it is the marketing team…but it is not limited there by any means. In one company I worked, we did direct mail, lots of website (company-focused) material, had a bustling Intranet, HR-fodder and a wide range of consumer-focused stuff…yet the marketing department was where most of the creative originated. I soon became the gatekeeper for all corporate messaging – a position I hold in a lot of places I work. Over the years, I have been thru intense legal reviews and have developed an eye for detail that makes me pretty valuable in language control.

If a business is smaller, they won’t have a whole department for marketing, but someone in there will surely be responsible for it. These types of situations are actually easier to find work – though it is usually harder to get long-running contracts out of smaller businesses. They simply don’t have the cash flow and budgeting options you’ll find in a larger place, but they are often more harried and stretched thin, so may be more eager to find writers to help ease the strain and drive the agenda. My personal focus has been more with web developers, so I look in forums and places where multi-site owners seek-out people like me. 

I have also seen a trend in the last few years where more businesses are bringing in lower level copywriters and “media kiddies” to handle ongoing efforts. Not unusual for me now to plot out a long range direction and get the first few pages written as a guide – then the business hires someone else to take it over, more cheaply, in-house.This should alert you to the opportunity here – it is real.

For example, in smaller businesses or for the webmasters/web lords I tend to work with, I have been that answer for them in ongoing relationships…remember above, when I suggested becoming the unconscious choice for copywriting needs as they arise? I am that guy for many business owners I know, and though their needs are not always as regular as a larger company, I can be the answer time after time, which all just adds to my own small, but constant stacks.

Once you have targeted a few businesses in the niche(s) where you are experienced, look at the corporate structure of the companies. Many sites have a “Meet the Team” page where you can get a feel for the hierarchy…maybe even get the name of the person you want to reach out to. Look for Creative Directors, Marketing Managers/Directors, and Online/Web Teams. If a company is smaller, you can target the owner – dictatorships in small business are the norm, so one guy will make more of the important decisions.

It’s your job to take the time to make your first impression a solid one…don’t use an email blanket and mass-send it. A template is fine, but modify it to be a specific pitch to the place you are reaching-out to. If you are polite, eager, talented, and experienced, it is pretty hard to go unnoticed. Remember too that people talk, so every relationship is gold, even when all you see is the shaft.

Bring Your Own Party

As media diversifies across many channels, sometimes copywriting gigs today have an additional promotional or audience-generating aspect to it. Meaning, it may not be enough to be able to create something noteworthy: you may also need the skillset, time, audience and/or resources to promote it after it is published.

Personally, I find this a blessing and a curse. I am a ghost writer, so my name has not often been attached to anything I have written. I simply can’t bring an audience with me as so many other writers are able to do.  However, I am well versed in promoting content through outreach and other means, so my lack of visibility can become a strength, as I am able to more nimbly and aggressively go after the prize.

If you are in the earlier stages of your career, whether to be a ghost writer or to consciously build your own following is something important to consider. Your ability to create and maintain an audience who listens to your writing can lead you to things where you do not rely as heavily on client work. You often develop a more powerful sway on your own. I have seen this work very well for people – but personally, I have never  regretted being a ghost either.I have questioned it occasionally for sure, but over time am remaining very happy where I am going.

It is more of a personal choice these days, whereas I felt it was definitely more strategic for me in the early aughts to be the ghost, the invisible support businesses were seeking. There is a different feeling today, and the web/internet often brings its own levels of celebrity.  I have seen shrewd copywriters turn their attained celebrity into personal earning power…it’s up to you. Building a following is not like falling off a log or anything, but passionate voices emerge every day, and a strong message can find followers more easily and quickly than ever before.

The main point being though, assuming you understand how things are shared/promoted online, if you can include that as a value-add or part of the gig itself, it is super attractive to potential clients. Know too, that clients today can see how well something works more clearly than they ever could. Writing projects with no decent measure of success are a thing of the past – analytics and tracking have become adept at seeing the true efficacy of each effort, often in realtime.

Nothing sells success like previous success, or the promise of an engaged audience for every post written. If you have the people or the skills to bring this outreach/connectivity to each project, your perceived value increases greatly over run-of-the-mill copywriters.

I will warn though, see promotion (at least in budget/billing) as a totally separate thing from the copywriting part – because it is. Though tightly related, they really involve 2 different skillsets, and each should be compensated justly. I have done promotional jobs that were tied to outreach success rates – however, I tend to go for jobs that are more black-and-white based on outputs, because it is hard to predict how people will react. Just saying, you don’t want to bundle the services of writing and promotion and not get paid decently for each – they are definitely separate areas of subject matter expertise.

Get Out There

The other main difference between when I started and today, is the ease in getting something self-published. You can start a blog or a website, contribute to someone else’s or offer opinions/catch attention in ways that make my old phone book and a cold call seem archaic, indeed. So maybe the best plan, like it always has been, is to get out there and work.

This blog post is a great example – I don’t write it for people to read it necessarily, I write it because it helps me in some manner to get to my next place. But who knows who sees it, and what they think or do with it – I did my part in getting it out here. And if there are some nuggets to glean, awesome.

More to the point, is I am writing because I like to write – it helps me work for others, to write whatever I want to first. It doesn’t always have to BE something, as much as it has to be.

I came up with an acronym to keep my writers focused: AICHOK. Ass In Chair, Hands On Keys. I consider it like a soup base in cooking – generally makes the rest come easier, and brilliance is perhaps in the offing. You can’t be brilliant if you aren’t typing, and you won’t typically find work either. However, being active and passionate about whatever it is that floats your cakehole, you will often be pleasantly surprised at the results.

 

 

 

Dreamhost, Finally

So I had a long run of some very problematic website issues…vicious infiltrations on client-owned things that I managed. They followed me from host to host, and took me months of work to finally eradicate (they are clean, and have been for weeks now). It was a pretty bad nightmare, though.

The Pain

It all stemmed from one of my clients loading in a shitty plugin, after he had set up a user account with the password of “password”(I am not kidding) – and this plugin with that even brief access created a gateway that quickly leaked out into other unrelated sites co-hosted on the server. The plugin concerned me from the get-go, but it was a crucial part of the guy’s build, and I was trying to be accommodating: big mistake on my part. Rules are not all meant to be broken.

The way the poison worked, was it would create a couple of files in a WP install – files that you would not ever see in normal WP dashboard management, but only thru FTP. Then, it would infect any site on the server it could exploit – in my case, it leaked out to maybe 5-6 of them in various ways…no consistency I could ever find.

The hidden files then start creating folders of “files” that are triggered to render from “normal” web operations. Self propagating keyword-based ugliness. So an otherwise standard header request, would instead get rerouted (in a millisecond) to a bad folder, with a spammy hateful page – inadvertently hosted by ME! I could find the folders and delete them, but they would regenerate at unbelievable speeds unless I found the root of it all.

It destroyed my account, and at Web Hosting Buzz, they shut down my account repeatedly, hurting all of the sites I had that were NOT compromised, only because it was a standard response they did. I then learned Web Hosting Buzz had changed my server, so I was working on an old one for over a week–and my live one, was even more compromised than the one I kept cleaning.

That was the final straw for me- Web Hosting Buzz was sliding for months, and now they were just infuriating me.

I dealt with their helpdesk a LOT, and they cleared me multiple times – -often to only shut me down again in a couple days for exactly the same thing they said I just completely fixed. I was losing my mind, and spending DAYS on this issue that became weeks; deleting files became half of every workday, and I was exhausted.

The Fix

The way I finally found it, was by rebuilding each site from scratch that I had in this account (about 45 of them)…it was long, arduous work, but it was the only true way I could make it stop. All new user accounts and passwords, universally. Deletion of all old files/accounts.

It was easy for me to clean out the infected sites and make them whole – it just needed new WP installs, free from the vulnerabilities and exploits in Web Hosting Buzz.

I ended up moving my hosting for this account to Dreamhost, based on prior experience and some suggestions/support from some friends with many more sites than I have. The cost was reasonable, the support looked fine, the interface was actually refreshingly clean, simple and easy to manage.

When I got to the truly bad site, I saw almost immediately, that the problem came directly from ONE plugin – which I removed, kicked into the yard and went postal on for a while (at least in my head I did). I told the client that he could NEVER use that thing again – and I built him a new framework with trustworthy plugins.

So far, it has been weeks, and not a single incident on the new stuff – my nightmare seems like it is finally over.

The Advice

So to avoid this kind of crap, the simplest thing, is to limit your plugins to only trusted ones (no duh, right?). It is something I got lax on, and I paid the price for sure…had to give away a lot of time to make it right with the poor folks who suffered thru no fault of their own.

Stick to frameworks that have MANY reviews, current updates, and transparency – there were red flags all over the bad plugin I fought with here, but being Mr. Nice Guy got in my way of killing it faster. It was also very insidious, and threw me in the wrong direction a lot…it did not create only one page, it varied its assault to keep trying to stay hidden…so no rules would prevent it enough. It was like a zombie.

Know what the files are for the latest WordPress install – compare it to the files in your installs…the bad guys are getting smarter at creeping in without you seeing them. Keep it updated and secure.

Use smart passwords, and even isolate sites if you need to (VPS, firewalls, hide the login page location) – there are some pretty simple ways to prevent them from getting in, since most of what they do is automated.

And above all, know that a cheap web hosting option rarely is worth it – I learned it the hard way, but am wiser for it now.