Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Nancy Meets Claire - Everyone Is Selling Ads

As I figured, I was able to get the printing costs down. We were going to be saving Nancy $3,000. That meant the job was ours.

As with all of Nancy’s other projects this one was way behind. The journals need to be on the street within three weeks. Here’s the first problem, she had only just started selling ads and they were to people who advertised every year.

During that first meeting Earl volunteered his new salesperson, Claire, to help sell ads. Nancy jumped at the opportunity to have someone out selling ads for her full time. A meeting was schedule for Nancy to meet Claire.

One more time I asked Earl to get everything in writing. He said no.

At the next meeting, I was finally able to meet Claire. My first opinion was the same as Ethel’s. She was over bearing and someone else who knew everything about everything. The funny thing, Claire and Nancy did not seem to be too thrilled with each other either.

Claire on the other hand, wasn’t sure why she was even at the meeting. That was until Earl announced she would now be selling ads for Nancy at the same time she was selling ads for the paper.

At this point, Nancy promptly gave Claire a list of people that she couldn’t contact. The good news for Claire, she could contact anybody else in town she wanted to. The meeting ended with a goal that the journal would be on the streets by the middle October. Again, I told Earl we needed to get a signed proposal and a 50% deposit from Nancy. Again, he said no.

Claire had barely gotten over the fact that she was no longer the editor of the paper, but rather the salesperson when Earl gave her the news that she would now be selling ads for this publication as well. All of this made no sense to her, and she wasn’t sure how she was going to do it. What? First approach someone regarding the newspaper and then this journal. Or better, approach them about the journal first and then if they did like the journal idea, sell them an ad in the newspaper. Never had she been asked to do anything like this. Much like me, Claire was in desperate need of a paycheck. Her run of luck with Florida companies hadn’t been good. Every one of them had gone out of business within the first six month of her being there. She needed this job to last at least a year.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Earl, Nancy and All of Her Problems

The company producing the fishing journal turned out to be a one person operation owed by Nancy Snow. Nancy was a large woman who knew everything and everybody in the marine industry. Earl had mention on numerous occasions that this company" could make or break you in the marine industry. He was always saying, "If we did this job for 'them,' and 'they' were happy, 'they' would make the paper a success." He just knew "they’d" do this for him.

Nancy started the meeting by explaining that she had had numerous problems with the printer she used the year before. He was just awful. The books were late, they weren’t dry, he didn’t coat them properly and to top it off he held them hostage until she paid him in full. The hairs on the back of my neck were now standing at attention. Earl then asked about her designer. Again, there was along list of problems. Nancy said that she had been using her for many years, but only because she was just too busy and always running way behind to look for anyone else. Again, just like the printer she demanded payment before she would release any of the files. No longer was this looking like an opportunity for me, but rather, an opportunity for someone who couldn’t find anyone else in town to work with her.

Even with my limited experience in this industry, I had come to realize, if someone had problems getting copies of their original files, or there were numerous problems with a printer, nine times out of ten that meant they hadn’t paid the designer and/or printer. My excitement had rapidly disappeared. To make matters worse, that nagging tapping on my shoulder had reappeared.

By the end of the meeting, it was agreed that if Earl and I could lower her costs from the prior year, the job was ours. The question now, did I really want the job?

After the meeting, Earl was almost skipping through the parking lot. As he thought, Ethel was wrong this was going to turn everything around. The first thing Earl wanted to know was, what the design fee would be. I had already decided on $3,000.

Since I was uncomfortable with Nancy’s stories, and further, had a difficult time believing them to be true I told Earl that whatever price we decided on, it had to be put it in writing and we had to have at least a 50% deposit.

No! Earl said. He was sick of everything always having to be in writing. Why couldn’t we just do this on a handshake? He just knew she could be trusted because we weren’t going to have the problems everyone else did. He also felt we’d lose the job if we asked for anything. The battle went on for days, but in the end I gave in on the contract, but we finally did agree on a deposit. Surprisingly, Edith also said it was a condition of doing the job.

Oh, and that annoying tapping on my shoulder reared it's ugly head again. Again, I push it away as this would be a fast project and the extra $1,500 was desperately needed. Besides, I had nothing to worry about, Earl is going to be responsible for the billing and I was billing Earl for the project. He agreed to pay me whether they got paid or not.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

New Work But Earl and Ethel's Money Problems First Show Up

Earl seemed to have very innovative ideas on how to build capital, which I found refreshing and exciting. One idea he had been working on for a while was to become a graphic design, advertising and printing company for the marine industry. With their previous designer he didn't see how this would be possible, but now that I was on board he felt he could now put his plan into action.

Feeling he had everything in place, he started talking to a local company that produced advertising journals for various fishing tournaments. Through a friend he had found out that they weren’t happy with their present designer or printer and were looking for someone new. After explaining his plan to me, he asked if I’d be interested in meeting with them. I saw no real reason not to and agreed to a meeting.

Earl and Ethel's relationship wasn't going well by this point, so Earl first decided not to tell Ethel about his new venture, but in the end decided to run it by her. She immediately hated the idea and said no. Not wanting to scare me away, Earl in what would become routine, left this little detail out. Rather when I asked him if she liked the idea, he said yes. Knowing she like the idea, I asked her if she was excited with the direction Earl was taking the company. Like a raging bull she started screaming NO over and over again. When she finally stopped screaming she told me I needed to forget about it because it was never going to happen.

I don’t know may be it was the surprised look on my face, but for some reason Ethel decided I needed a detail explanation for her answer and opened up. First and most importantly, they needed to get the paper profitable before they took on anything else. Over their years together Earl had had lots of big dreams and money schemes. Some worked, others were horrible nightmares. All she could see was that the paper was going to be one of those nightmares and she wanted out before everything was gone. After all, she was now very comfortable and not willing to give up that comfort. Their IPO and later sale of the company had made her rich beyond her dreams. But after two years of owning the newspaper she was no longer able to pay her bills. She was constantly calling her stockbroker with orders to sell this or sell that and even worse, taking out loans against her portfolio. Having been down this road before with Earl, she felt she was too old to do it again. For her own protection she had to say no. Sorry but that was the way things had to be.

With my head spinning from what I had just told, I went looking for Earl to get his side of the story. I was now six weeks into this business relationship with them and from what Ethel had just told me, the situation had gone from “we have plenty of money to we can’t pay our bills.” Earl was furious with Ethel for telling me this and told me not to worry; they had plenty of money. And then said, “what do you want for a drunk who doesn’t know whether she is coming or going, don’t pay any attention to her.” Wanting this to work I decided he was right. After all, on more than one occasions I saw her drunk to the point of passing out by 6:30. But one more time, there was that annoying tapping on my shoulder asking me if I knew what I was getting myself into. And again, I reminded myself that this was a steady paycheck and with the prospect of this new extra work coming in, everything would be okay.

Since Earl was unable to change Ethel’s mind, he decided to schedule the meeting behind her back. Nothing was going to get in his way on making money, especially her. I didn’t like going behind her back, after all she was the one signing my check; but I hoped once we showed her that this was a profitable proposition she’d change her mind. And if Earl was right that her drinking clouded what was really happening with their finances, did I really need to worry about what she had told me?

Before the meeting Earl asked how I thought we should work out the billing and duties on these projects. He openly admitted that he had no idea on how to bill for something like this. I suggested that the design fee should be set by me on a per project basis. Further, I felt it best for me to contact various printers for bids since I had more knowledge of who could handle each individual project. Earl agreed and we also decided that our proposals would be quoted as a “one price for everything.” Our one price deal would included the design fee, printing charge as well as the industry standard of 15% markup on the printer’s price. Earl’s one and only duty was to secure more jobs. He agreed, but now questioned how they would split the money.

Since Earl was going to be spending his time marketing the company, splitting everything 50/50 seemed fair to me. Earl agreed and also agreed to take care of all billing issues. Our verbal agreement was in place and we were off to the races.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A New Editor Who Becomes The Salesperson And Another New Editor

Earl decided he was not going to play Tyler’s game and started looking for a new editor. Actually as soon as he started having problems with George, he had placed an ad online for an editor and had received numerous resumes. Only one really sparked his attention; she had a degree in journalism and experience in the newspaper business. Without telling Ethel, Earl set up a meeting with Claire Moran one night for dinner, and of course, drinks.

Before he told Ethel he told me that he had finally found the editor he had been looking for. Just one problem he wasn’t sure how they were going to pay her. Since Earl had made an offer to Claire, he finally had to tell Ethel about her. True to the form, Ethel wasn’t happy and let him know that under no circumstances were they going to hire Claire.

For some unknown reason, Ethel felt the need to confided in me that she was sick of the paper and that they were going through money at a record pace and nothing was coming in. She told me not to worry because they had to make the paper work. She said they had invested way too much money and were finding ways to cut costs. She assured me things would get better.

Behind Ethel's back, Earl schedules another meeting with Claire. True to Earl's nature, he attempts to schedule again over drinks and dinner, but this time Claire insists that it be a breakfast meeting. Earl and Claire come to an agreement on her duties and a salary.

Earl was elated, he wanted more than anything more than to bring Claire on board so he decided to speak to the one person he knew who could talk Ethel into anything; Bill Simpsons.

I just happened to be at the Earl and Ethel’s house trying to figure out where the stuff was for the September paper and got to meet Bill. He was a bit much for me; very loud, he smelled, was dirty looking and to top it off, he seemed to be drunk. My immediate thought was no wonder Earl liked him so much.

Bill and Earl were huddled together working on a contract for Claire to be the salesperson. I looked up at Earl and said, I thought Claire was going to be the new editor. Earl explained there had been a change of plans and that Bill was now the editor and Claire would be the salesperson. Since I didn't like anything about Bill from the start, I asked if he had any editing experience. I was quickly told that he had more than me, and further, he was an expert in everything regarding the printing business. Bill very proudly told me that many years ago he used to cut and paste up articles for a small boating publication and had to be on press to make sure everything went okay. Well okay then. I didn't know what to think at this point, but I must have had a strange look on my face. For as soon as I turned to leave, I saw Sharon standing in the background shaking her head and laughing. Immediately, I realized I needed to get to know her better as she was probably the only one who could tell me what was really going on.

Claire did not receive the news that she was now the salesperson very well at all. I didn't blame her. Just 24 hours earlier, she had agreed to be the editor with a respectable salary and benefits. Suddenly, she was the salesperson working with a small salary and commission, and of course, no benefits.

The indecision of who was going to be the editor and who was going to be the salesperson continued for several days. During that time, Ethel kept asking for a copy of Claire's resume and salary request. Finally, she had both in her hands and after reading them replied; “great just what we need another egotistical maniac.” Ethel said she didn't trust Earl’s decisions anymore, and further, that she didn’t like this Claire person. I asked her if she had met Claire. She said no, but she just knew she didn’t like her. Ethel complained again, that she just didn’t know what to do. I asked her if she had confidence in Bill’ options. She said yes, so I told her to rely on his decision-making.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A New Editor

True to his word, George quit as the Editor and thought that he had taken all of his writer's with him. Unknown to George, Earl figured that he was going to quit and had already started talking with Tyler Gibson who was a writer for them about becoming the new editor. He had experience in publishing and had agreed to work with me.

Immediately a meeting was schedule at the home of Earl and Ethel to begin laying out the August paper. Actually, the meeting had originally been schedule at the bar downstairs, but Tyler said no to that. What a breath of fresh air; at least one other person in the group didn't run their lives around their next drink. During the meeting I also met Sharon McCleary who was Earl's file clerk/assistant.

After all of the introductions, Tyler, Earl and I sat down to layout the August paper. Like a freight train hitting a brick wall everything came to a screeching halt. Earl suddenly realized he only had a few articles for the paper. Tyler and I were dumbfounded. How could he just now realize he didn't have enough articles for the paper? The meeting ended, with orders from Earl that he and Tyler were to begin pulling stories off the wire services and rewriting them. Before we all left, Ethel handed me my August paycheck.

Over the course of the next two weeks Tyler and Earl wrote and found articles to put in the paper. I had now received the files from the previous designer and began reviewing them. I soon found out why most of the ads that were running every month weren't printing well and fixed those that I hadn't already.

While the articles were being written there were daily meetings with parts and/or all of the parties involved including me whose major task seemed to be finding everything Earl kept losing on his computer. Both Tyler and I noticed a total lack of organization, confusion and what seemed to be a very hostile environment between Earl and Ethel when we were in their home.

Finally the articles were finished and Tyler and I began putting the paper together in my office. Several times Tyler brought up the craziness that seemed to fly around Earl and Ethel, and how he was glad they could work together in the saner environment of my office. I agreed and was kept wondering what was really going.

Much to my amazement we finished the August paper during the third week of the month. What was even more amazing was that by the time it was printed and delivered it would have a shelf life of less than a week. While we were delivering our August edition, other publications were delivery their September editions. But what was even stranger, Earl and Ethel were happy a paper went out and they didn't care about the shelf life. I just kept telling myself that this was okay since a lot of changes had been made and maybe it is a blessing the paper got out at all.

With the circus of the August paper behind them, Tyler went back to Earl and Ethel and demanded more money for that edition. He also told them he wanted to renegotiate his contract before he did anymore work. As they did with George, they had also provided Tyler with a computer and just like with George, Tyler was refusing to return the computer until he received the money he was demanding. None of this made sense to me, but by now it was September 1st and Ethel was there with another paycheck.

I later learned that Tyler and George were working together with a plan to bring the paper down.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Second Sign Something Is Not Right

I fixed all of the ads with problems and Earl was able to collect on the outstanding invoices. We were off to a good start.

The newspaper contained three different sections and even though I wasn’t going to start designing the paper until August, Earl asked me to take a look at the different logos and come up with some new ideas for each of them. He wanted each section to have it’s own look but be tied into the company name. I jumped at the opportunity; logo design has always been my favorite part of the business. Further, this would make the newspaper truly my design.

Earl and Ethel weren’t happy with the quality of printing they were getting from their current printer. Earl had set up a meeting between the two of them and asked me to attend. Even though it was still July and I was not being paid for any of this, I agreed to go to show my dedication to the company.

The printer was down in Miami so Earl offered to drive and I happily accepted; I hated driving in Miami. The meeting went well and the printer was glad to hear that they had changed designers. During the meeting it was discovered that all of the printing problems were because of how the current designer was laying the paper out. With the changes that I was going to make the printing would be brought up to standard.

We got back up to Fort Lauderdale around 11:30 a.m. and Earl decided to stop for lunch at another of his favorite hangouts. Again, it was a restaurant since they did serve food, but it was really nothing more than a bar. Instead of sitting at one of the tables, we took a seat at the bar, which made me a little uncomfortable. Earl knew the bartender well and was happy to see her. He orders a Bloody Mary and I ordered a diet coke. Earl insists that I have something a little more exciting than a diet coke, so I ordered a beer. Earl downs his first Bloody Mary in a couple of minutes and then orders another. By the time our lunch came he had ordered another. I was still on my first and only beer. It was way too early for any more, and besides who drinks this much in the middle of the day. After we finished eating, Earl ordered and drank two beers to top it off. Now worried, nervous, anxious and scared, I started thinking about getting back in the car with him. Never had I seen anyone drink that much in the middle of the day and be able to stand up, let alone drive. I asked Earl if he wanted me to drive and he said no he was fine. He did seemed as though he was walking okay.

The ride back to my office went quickly, I held my breath and hoped for the best. Not only was I in a car with someone who had just consumed three Bloody Marys and two beers, he was driving 50 mph on the city streets weaving in and out of traffic. When we arrived at my office, I jumped out of the car and vowed to never to get into a car with Earl again.

That nagging feeling that I was making the wrong decision by getting involved with Earl and Ethel was here again. It was like someone was tapping me on my shoulder and asking me if I knew what I was getting myself into. Between the lack of control they had over their business plus the amount of alcohol they consumed and how that seemed to be the center of their lives it was all becoming very disturbing. Again, I reminded myself that this was a steady paycheck and that’s all that was important for now and tuned everything else out.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Editor Is In Control

Now that we had formalized our agreement, Earl said he would informed their editor, George Jones in the morning that the company now had a new graphic designer and would have him start sending what he had to me.

As they were walking out Earl made the comment that he probably wasn't going to be very happy with this decision. I questioned if he was the publisher and Ethel was the chief financial officer didn't they have the right to hire and fire whom they wanted. Neither gave an answer.

Earl called George in the morning. He went ballistic, screaming and yelling that they had no right to make such a decision without consulting him first. He continued screaming that under no circumstances would he fire the person they had been using with no notice. She was a good friend of his and besides she had a family to support. Earl went on to explain to George that they weren't happy with her work, but more importantly I had offered them a set month fee. George informed Earl that he had just agreed to give the designer a raise but by doing this she would guarantee the same price every month. Earl could hardly wait to hear what the new price would be, so he asked what the new deal was. George with great excitement said $5,000 per month. Earl calmly reminded George that they were trying to cut expenses, not increase them and insisted that I would be designing the paper from now on.

Earl asked George if he was interested in what my bid was. Begrudgingly he said yes. With the same great as excitement that George had, Earl stated $2,000 per month and she means every month. Well, this didn't make George any happier with their decision. He demanded to know where they had found me and asked if I had either a resume and/or portfolio he could review. Further stating that if I have any experience or knew what I was talking about I'd never give a bid so low. Earl told George he would provide him with my resume.

Ethel called me and told about the conversation that Earl and George had just had and asked me to please send my resume to George. I told Ethel not too worry as I was confident that his fears would be put to rest as soon as he saw my resume.

Within 24 hours I received a three page email from George stating that while I had a nice looking resume, I had no newspaper experience and would take the company broke with my lack of knowledge. In the email he continued to go on that if Earl and Ethel kept demanding that he use me, he would no longer be the editor of this publication, and further he would withhold all of the articles he had written for July, as well as the ones he collected from other writers. He just couldn't ruin his reputation by getting involved with someone like me.

At this point, I didn't know what to think. It was apparent that George and I would have a rough start from the beginning, but I wanted to believe that he would calm down and feel more comfortable with me once he saw my work and got to know me. Both Earl and Ethel called to apologize for the email. Again, I questioned both of them that if they were the owners of the paper, why were they putting up with this from him. Both stated that they had given him entirely too much freedom and he didn't like having it taken away from him. They also said that in the publication industry he was known to be very difficult to work with.

The screaming and yelling went on for several days when finally Earl decided to give into George. He felt they had no alternative since he had the articles for the July paper and was not going to release them, and further, they were going to have to pay the other writers for their stories whether they used them or not. George also informed him that he would make sure than none of the current writers would ever write for the paper again. Earl and Ethel were also leasing George a laptop and he informed Earl that he would never be returning that to them as this was his fee for all of the trouble he was being put through.

Earl told me that felt they had no other choice but to keep things as they were for the July issue. They were sorry, but it was agreed that this would be George and his graphic designer's last paper and I would start with the August paper.

Ethel called me the next day and asked if I would redo all of the ads that had problems. She stated that they would be happy to pay me normal fee for each ad. I immediately said yes and felt this was a good way to show everyone the quality of my work. Besides a little money was better than none and there's that old saying, "something good is something worth waiting for." But I also had a very uncomfortable feeling about the whole situation and kept asking myself the same question over and over; did I really want to get involved people who had so little control over their own business and had all of their meetings at a bar over cocktails. The answer was always yes. I had to, it was a steady paycheck and my financial problems would be over and everybody would be more comfortable with what I was doing and see that I had made the right decision.