All writers need a workflow process to manage contacts, proposals, projects, and billing. You can do this any way you want, but some methods will be more chaotic than others.

  1. Leads: you need a way to capture and market to leads
  2. Proposals: you need an easy way to create professional-looking approvals which include an approval mechanism
  3. Invoicing: you need good invoicing software with online payments and low merchant fees
  4. Accounting: you need to maintain your books
  5. Project Management/Creative Review: you need a way to organize project tasks and other to-do's, plus a way to present and discuss your work online if you work with clients remotely

Automating a freelance workflow is not easy

You would think finding software to automate this administrative workflow would be easy. Nope. I spent months testing software and integrations for my freelance writing business. Here's what I found out:

  1. A lot of apps don't integrate together
  2. A lot of apps are super expensive
  3. Zapier will connect apps, but not always the way you need it to

Start with your must-have app

Your must-have app is the one piece of software is most critical to your business.

I've put my most essential apps in red.

(Although the others are great, too)

I invoice clients online and need full-featured accounting, so Quickbooks Online is my must-have app. I use it because it is the gold standard for accounting programs, tax categories are provided so I can easily do my taxes, integrations are decent, and no contract is required.

To invoice and get paid online, you will need a merchant account to handle payment processing. Quickbooks has built-in payment processing for credit cards (including AmEx), ApplePay and bank transfers. The cost is 2.9% + 25 cents per online credit card payment if you bill less than $7.500 per month. Bank transfers are free.

Quickbooks doesn't handle foreign currencies. For that, I use Stripe because it is easy to set up and can integrate with Quickbooks. It costs 2.9% + 30 cents per transaction,

Quickbooks Simple Start: $20 mo. + 2.9% and 25 cents per e-invoice.

Project estimates

Quickbooks offers a built-in estimating feature, but it isn't very powerful. It has native integration with Quotient, which can produce basic quotes that would be appropriate for a caterer or lawn service (but not complex projects like branding).

Proposify integrates with Quickbooks online. It has reduced its pricing, making it more competitive with alternatives. However, if you want custom fields and variables, standard integrations, real-time chat, and a custom domain, the cost is $49 per user (payable per quarter). Proposify integrates with Stripe, so a prospect can approve the proposal and make a payment within the app.

PandaDocs also costs $49 per user per month. It does not offer more than Proposify (IMO) and the interface is less attractive because it does not separate content sections.

I have used NiftyQuoter for several years. It has many of the same features as Proposify but costs $19 mo. ($29 mo. with a custom domain). Prospects can leave comments (none do) and say why they rejected a proposal (none do), but the content library is chaotic compared to Proposify and the lack of real-time chat is a disadvantage. It integrates well with Quickbooks Online.

I prefer to invoice from Quickbooks, not the proposal software. This allows me to track accounts receivable within my accounting program.

NiftyQuoter: $19 per mo.

Project management

There are many choices for project management software, including many free ones. Some of the most popular free options include Trello, Freedcamp (a knockoff of Basecamp), and Asana.

If you are a sole proprietor, project management software may not be worth the effort. I decided I was better off just using my calendars and reminder list to manage myself.... until I came across Airtable. Airtable is not just about managing teams who in turn produce work. It is about managing project elements. It's free, so yeah, I'll give it a go.

Airtable Essential: $0

Collaboration platforms

Organizations with remote workers often use Slack as a collaborative tool. It offers a single platform that can organize messages and files for various communication threads. For a sole proprietor like myself, it is overkill. But I need to know how to use it because many of my clients do.

File sharing is another necessity. Documents files can usually be sent by email, but image files often require a file sharing service. For this, I turn to the free version of Dropbox, Google Drive or Apple iCloud.

My favorite is WeTransfer, which is free.

Slack: $0

WeTransfer: $0

Dropbox: $0

Google Drive: $0

Apple iCloud: $0

Remote meetings

I use a variety of meeting tools. Skype (available from Microsoft) is the simplest and its free. I also buy a Skype phone number to use on my website so my real mobile number is not spammed to death. If you travel for work, a local Skype number can enable you to avoid roaming charges. Grasshopper is another good service for phone numbers.

I'm also a fan of Zoom.  A basic meeting space is free and is ideal for one-to-one remote meetings.

Grasshopper: $29 + $10 taxes per year

Skype phone numberL $53 year

Zoom: $0

Writing tools

Microsoft Office is a necessity simply because everyone uses it. The suite comes with two other important tools, PowerPoint and Excel.

LivePlan is invaluable for creating readable, engaging business plans. Unlike a Word document, sections can be edited and moved around easily. Projections automatically update when numbers are changed. Comments can be added quickly. And LivePlan acts as a living document because it can be integrated with Quickbooks, so you can see whether you are meeting your benchmarks.

I also have Grammarly installed on Chrome. It's free and it just might catch a spelling error . So it can't hurt.

Balsamiq isn't really a writing tool. It is a content planning tool for websites. It allows you to map out the wireframes and content using simple, intuitive software. I am including it under writing tools because it is the best place to start when writing web content from scratch. I bought the standalone app last year for $89.

Acrobat Pro DC is useful for editing PDFs and creating forms. I use it to compile portfolio samples and e-books. It is $24.99 mo. without a contract.

Microsoft 365 Home and Office: $100 year

Grammarly: $0

LivePlan: $20 mo. or $140 year

Balsamiq: $49 mo. o4 $89 for downloaded app

Acrobat Pro DC: $24.99 mo.

Research tools

Airstory is a browser-based tool that allows you to clip and store research sources. It integrates with Office 365, WordPress, Medium, MailChimp, Proposify and a bunch of social media platforms. It started out as a writing platform, but Google Docs could do what it did. So now it is just a convenient way to source and store citations.

Research studies generally cost $2500 and up. I can't afford that for most projects. So I rely on Statista instead. It summarizes research from a broad range of studies. It is a strong general research database.

Data Hero creates beautiful tables and charts from raw data such as Excel sheets.

Airstory: $0

Statista: $49 mo. billed annually ($588)

Data Hero: $49 mo. billed annually ($588)

Digital Assets

I need stock photos and illustrations for my website and occasionally for client sites. I subscribe to BigstockPhoto and sometimes buy individual photos from Shutterstock. I also use free sources like Pixabay, Unsplash, and Picjumbo for images.

I'm not a graphic designer so I don't know how to create mockups. That's okay, because I've discovered Placeit Mockups.

The Internet Archive is a repository of free books, movies, and music. I use it when I need a music loop for an animation. I also buy music from MelodyLoops. If I need a voiceover, I go to Voices.

For animations, I use Vyond, formerly GoAnimate. It is animation software designed for business people, not artists. The unbranded version (so you can use your own logo) is great but costly; I go the cheap route.

BigstockPhoto: $79 mo.

Unsplash: $0

PicJumbo: $0

Placeit Mockups: $29 mo.

Vyond Personal (branded) is $49 mo and Premium (unbranded) is $89 mo.


I switched from Flywheel to WPEngine. It runs a little faster and the customer service is slightly better. The downside is that the interface is more complicated. I have one site with them, which costs around $45 mo..

I used WordPress and Oxygen builder. Oxygen builder is a great way to build sites without using a template. It cost $99 "on sale" and I can use it forever on as many sites as I like.

I host my domains at Hover. They run about $30 a year. Plus I buy email through them for one site. I use Google Apps for another email. I may switch and use Google Apps for both because the calendar integration is better and I like having access to the apps. Plus, it's easier to manage my Analytics account under a Google sign-in account.

Like most sites, BrandStampede uses a lot of images. Images can really slow down a site, which is deadly for SEO and the user experience. I size them in Pixelmator and I compress them using a paid version of Imagify.

I use Typeform to create lead capture forms. Because I use logic jumps and integrate with MailChimp, I have upgraded from the free version to the Pro version.

MailChimp is used to send out emails. I have not set up my email marketing but at some point I will. I will use their free plan which allows up to 2000 contacts.

WPEngine: $45 mo.

Hover Domains and Email: $30 year and $16 year

Google Apps Email: $12 mo.

Typeform Pro: $35 mo.

MailChimp: $0


You gotta have the basics, namely WiFi and a smartphone. Plus a computer. I also use the free version of Dropbox to share large files. I use Apple iCloud to store documents; I also back them up using Time Machine.

Spectrum Internet: $60 mo.

TMobile: $70 mo.

iCloud Drive: $120 year

State Filing as LLC: $155 year

Essentials Total: $437.50 mo. /$5250 year

Grammar isn't style. Bad style is what you witnessed on the now-defunct reality show Duck Dynasty.

I'm talking about improper noun-verb agreements, fragmented sentences, wrong word usage, dangling modifiers, ad nauseam. Bad grammar is absolutely everywhere.

Honey Boo Boo. The Kardashians. Even Anderson Cooper, for Chrissakes. There are many examples of celebrities and politicians with bad grammar in the media.

So, why the heck does it matter?

Really bad grammar is a problem. People with good grammar get promoted more and are even more likely to find true love.

Businesses want to hire writers who can write grammatically because they think being grammatically correct is good.

But, sometimes, being ungrammatical is perfect.

Examples of  great (ungrammatical) writing

James Joyce is considered one of the "most influential writers of the 20th century." (Source: Wikipedia). I ran a random paragraph from his masterpiece, Ulysses, through the online grammar checker Grammarly. There were 23 grammar and punctuation errors within one page.

Ernest Hemingway's "perfect paragraph" from A Farewell to Arms has 18 errors plus two punctuation mistakes.

Then there is the short article, Fear & Loathing in America, by the father of Gonzo Journalism, Hunter S. Thompson. Dr. Gonzo had 11 errors in Grammarly.

How about John Caples, possibly the greatest direct response writer of all time? His legendary "They Laughed When I Sat Down at the Piano" had 30 Grammarly errors, including one misspelling.

One of the most famous headlines ever written by adman David Ogilvy (“At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock.”) is missing a comma after "hour."

"Think Small" (Julian Koenig's landmark 1958 campaign for Volkswagen) and "Think Different" (Craig Tanimoto of  TBWA Chiat Day's 1997 slogan for Apple) are both ungrammatical – and both became marketing beacons.

All of the following are ungrammatical or nonsensical, and all of them are great slogans:

Sometimes, mistakes are just mistakes.

I am really bad at proofreading my own work. I suspect this is the case for many writers.

You’d be surprised how far you can go without catching every typo. I’m come to accept the fact that there’s always a few that go out when I publish. Even with spellcheck and plenty of editing, I always miss a couple. One time, I even had a super obvious typo within a CTA for an email that went out to 100k+ people. How (sic) people mentioned it? Two. And how did it impact conversions? Not one bit. – Lars Lofgren

Sometimes, I hate it when I don't catch typos and regret it even more so when a client doesn't hire me because my proposal has a few random mistakes. C'est la vie, if I have to, I'll build in the cost of a proofreader.

What This Means To You

Copywriters all are about brand voices and selling. They are also the most highly paid tier among writers.

If you do not need a brand voice or sales power, you'll save money by hiring a grammatically correct writer who knows how to communicate clearly.

If you need to sell a brand, product, or service, you will be better off with a solid (but sometimes ungrammatical) copywriter.

Yep, that's a clickbait headline. But lists are all about being clickbait. People love them. Here's why I loathe lists, in a list of my own:

1. Lists are incomplete

Are there really only 7 deadly sins? Or 12 wonders of the world? Or any other finite way to measure what life offers us? Even the elemental table can't be considered final, for all we know.

2. Lists are arbitrary

Consider again the 12 wonders of the world. Yes, the Pyramids are an impressive mystery. No one knows how multi-ton blocks of stone were dragged through the desert and hoisted into place. But a sugar ant, who can carry 50 times his own weight, is just as wondrous.

3. Lists are lazy

Well, let me clarify this. Some lists are useful ways to summarize knowledge. These include checklists, such as "24 SEO Tips." Maybe "10 Celebrity Marriages That Didn't Last A Year" falls in this category. But most blogger lists are just silly compendiums (like the one you're reading).

4. Lists are security blankets

Lists suggest that the world can be sliced and diced and ordered. Things are not that certain. Reality is completely unpredictable and ultimately unfathomable. We can't allow ourselves to forget that.

5. Lists are odd

Lists, like tabletop decor, work best in arrangements of odd numbers. That means you should have 5, 7, 9 things in a list under 10. Above 10, you can begin at 12 and continue with ordinal numbers. But if a list is short, winnowing it down to an odd number of things to include may not come easy.

Do you love lists? Please refrain from commenting.

Back in the 1990s, it was relatively easy for good writers to thrive. They rose through structured funnels, such as ad agencies and newspapers, which taught them their craft and separated the wheat from the chaff.

Freelance copywriters obtained referrals from printers and pinch-hit at agencies. It was a small, hyper-local world where 250 words of sales copy sold for $300-$500. Freelance journalists could pitch their stories to hundreds of publications nationwide that paid a living wage; it was common to make $2 a word, but an important feature in a publication such as Vanity Fair or The Atlantic Monthly might pay $25,000 up to $50,000.

Of course, now the Best Decade Ever is solidly behind us. Anyone who writes for a living knows that.

Tip #1: Redefine the playing field

Freelance journalist Scott Carney gave a 2015 interview to Pacific Standard Magazine in which he spoke about the commoditization of writing.  On the one hand, you have "subsistence writers" who miserably and unprofitably pound out underpaid content. On the other end, you have writers like Scott who parlay a few articles into a nice lifestyle.

It's a perspective problem that writers see their work as a commodity. It's been my experience that if you go out there and sell your work as a piece of art, you actually are able to sell it for more money. –Scott Carney

In others words, it's up to writers to set their own worth. Part of that involves educating clients (without boring them to death) that writing is a bespoke product, much like fine carpentry. Buyers who want cheap, throwaway furniture can turn to Ikea. But buyers who want to nurture a brand need finely crafted copywriting. That will be more costly simply because it takes more time and expertise.

Tip #2: Be transparent about pricing

There's no need to shroud your pricing in secrecy. If you are unwilling to sell yourself short, a price list will pre-qualify prospects. You will spend less time putting together proposals for people who cannot or do not want to pay your rates. There is no shame in making a good living as a writer. The best of us perform a valuable service and help businesses to be more profitable. We are an investment, not an expense. Experienced writers know how much time and effort will go into most projects. While a final estimate tailored to the client's needs is a good thing (and it should include a contract), there is no reason not to be open about ballpark pricing.

Tip #3: Provide business value

Clients quickly catch on to whether you are worth their money. They gain insight into how you think by the questions you ask and the suggestions you make. If you dig deep into how the client's business operates and make worthwhile marketing recommendations, the client will come to view you as an important ally. As long as you help the client make dramatic improvements to his bottom line, you won't have to worry about your fees.

There are two broad types of writers: storytellers and spinners. Storytellers believe in their own stories and want you to share their conviction. Spinners care less about the story and more about the craft of shaping perception. At heart, storytellers are truth sayers and spinners are liars.

George Orwell's 1946 essay, "Why I Write," states four basic motives for writing, which exist in different degrees in every writer: "sheer egoism, aesthetic enthusiasm, historical impulse, and political purpose." But, based on research, what's the truth?

Why fiction writers write

Over 100 published authors said why they write, and the reasons were all over the map, from self-expression to fulfilling a creative urge.

If you ask published writers at the tippy top of success what they like about writing besides the money, you are likely to get more examples of their creative abilities, like Truman Capote's statement, "To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it's about, but the inner music that words make."

William Somerset Maugham (a personal favorite) said, "Writing is the supreme solace." Solace for what? And why not chocolate ice cream?

Why journalists write

Half of journalism students can't find work when they graduate, so why do they choose to major in it?

Most say they like to write, according to a former journalism instructor at San Francisco State University and the London School of Journalism, Gary Moskowitz.

But what do they mean by writing? Self-expression has nothing to do with journalism? Having the power to influence, which certainly is at the root of breakthrough stories, has nothing to do with writing. Writing skill per se is relatively unimportant in journalism.

Nicholas Tomalin, the late English journalist and writer, famously said, "The only qualities essential for real success in journalism are ratlike cunning, a plausible manner and a little literary ability."

Add another requirement: the ability to write content that benefits advertisers. Sports Illustrated laid off four writers and editors in 2014 for this reason, ignoring their competence as reporters.

Ask journalists what they enjoy about their profession, and it comes down to meeting people and exposing their secrets.

Why copywriters write

Copywriting is the only writing genre that pays a living wage to a large pool of writers.

BBDO adman Philip Dusenberry said, "I have always believed that writing advertisements is the second most profitable form of writing. The first, of course, is ransom notes."

But is money really the supreme motivation? For some, money is the only real validation. Copywriters rub shoulders with business clients all day long, helping them to be more profitable. Some copywriters get the message and recognize money as validation.

Copywriters who work in ad agencies are more likely to work for applause. We love awards. We love kudos for our superior intellects and creative genius. We will work ourselves to the bone to win awards. It isn't just ego. Awards fuel careers and reassure agency clients. So they are worth their weight in gold. Many agencies do pro bono work just to win awards.

And, copywriting is fun. It is the only profession where you are encouraged to drink on the job. It is the only industry where a foosball table is considered office equipment. It's a little misogynistic of them, but many ad agencies deliberately create a frat house environment to stimulate creativity. If you want to fill someone's office with ping-pong balls or post naked photos on Facebook and be praised for it, you should be a copywriter.

Why I write

Why do I like copywriting? Copywriting is puzzle-solving. It's a game, like million-dollar poker, where the stakes are high and your biggest competitor is yourself. When it goes well... when you are playing a winning game... it's pure euphoria. When it's going badly, it's pure hell. In fact, Arthur Reber, a Fulbright scholar who is an authority on poker, sums it up in one word: dopamine.

There are two broad types of writers: storytellers and spinners.

How storytellers think

Creative writers observe the world closely but rarely take part in it. Writing is a craft that demands hours of actual writing and even more hours of brooding, reading other writers, and seemingly useless fantasy. Some creative writers are dyed-in-the-wool storytellers who wind up on the best sellers list or clutching fat checks for movie rights. Most creative writers simply want to get their words out on paper to be read by someone, anyone, somewhere. If you want to know how a creative writer thinks, read his work. He will be there, self-dissected, if you read carefully.

Researchers at the University of Greifswald used MRI scanners to track the brains of fiction writers as they worked. The brains of experienced writers worked differently from inexperienced writers.

In experienced writers, a section deep inside the brain, the caudate nucleus, became active, but it did not activate in inexperienced writers. This section of the brain is active for skilled activities that require practice - for example, chess playing, music composition, and even basketball. Experienced and inexperienced writers also used different strategies. Experienced writers seemed to narrate stories with an inner voice, while novices visualized them.

How copywriters think

Copywriters are not in the business of imagining narratives. They are creative problem solvers who use words. Storytelling is a more personal process and relies more on intuition. Copywriters are more objective and view words and ideas as objects to be manipulated.

Cognitive research has shown a strong link between creativity and problem solving. Problem solvers break apart problems in novel ways and have unique insights into the problem. They solve problems differently because they see problems differently to begin with.

While originality is difficult to define as a cognitive process, it has something to do with self-involvement. Copywriters feel satisfaction not only because a problem has been solved and the projection has been completed, but because something of himself is given to the project and recognized by others.

Copywriters are notoriously touchy about criticism because it is a direct attack on their own egos. Experienced copywriters are better able to distance themselves from their work once it has been completed, so that criticism is experienced less personally. But self-involvement is essential to the creative process, so complete detachment is impossible.

The link between writing and insanity

Since Aristotle, creativity has been linked to madness. Shakespeare wrote, "The lunatic, the lover and the poet are of imagination all compact." This view has held up under scientific scrutiny.

Psychiatric studies suggest there are three characteristics common to extreme creativity and madness. These are:

Mood disturbances due to bipolar disorder (manic-depression) are prevalent among writers and artists. The manic phase is associated with tremendous creative output, while depression may slow and order this output.

Translogical thinking is common among both creative and psychotic individuals. Translogical thinking is the ability to combine paradoxical or antagonist objects into a single entity. It is, for example, the ability to look at a black wall and a white wall and see a gray wall.

Creative people and psychiatric patients view irrational thinking as a valid means of dealing with problems. Whereas most people approach life based on facts and visible evidence, creative people give equal weight to ideas and fantasy. In other words, anything they imagine is real.

Are copywriters less crazy than storytellers?

Good question. As a copywriter myself, I don't think so. However, there is reason to argue that craziness is a little less prominent among copywriters.

Fiction writers lack the external boundaries that might govern and channel their madness. The thinking of a storyteller has nothing to ground it or weight it down. A copywriter's creativity, on the other hand, is tied to specific problems outside himself. Presumably, the greater objectivity of a copywriter's work would keep him saner.

Along the same lines, I can think of numerous storytellers who committed suicide, but few copywriters.

This argument breaks down when one considers that marine engineers, physicians, dentists, and woodworkers have extremely high suicide rates. All work closely with the "objective" world. And while suicide may not be common in the advertising industry, substance addiction is very high (12.4%) compared to "normal" people (8%).

Okey doke, assume your copywriter is mad as a hatter, and take it from there.

Lianna Patch is clearly an informed writer who can contribute value to a client. She uses a snarky voice to get her point across, under the assumption that comedy can increase engagement and win conversions. She focuses on landing pages and emails, two channels that are all about conversions.

Her website, Punchline Conversions, says...

Knock knock.
Who's there?
A shitload of money!

If that tickles your funny bone, hey, you're in. She does a lot of work with SaS clients, like Airstory (for one).

Okay, some brands can't handle her cuzzwords and in-your-face style.

But Tania Dakka has a definite spot in the marketing budgets of folks who sell edgy products or who want to be hardcore personal brands. I'm thinking gyms, energy drinks, Harleys, certain fashion brands, and success coaches.

She says, "Copywriting isn't selling. It's bleeding." I'm not sure what that means, honestly. Copywriting isn't her only gig. Like a lot of writers, she sells courses. No comment on that. If you like tough talk, then maybe she's the writer for you.

Sean McCaughan was very busy writing for Miami Curbed, so I am happy to see he now has a website up offering his services. I loved his work. It was smart AND well-written. Which is a true rarity.

Real estate blogging is a full-time job. It requires being in the field every day and most nights, keeping one hand on the pulse of a fast-changing real estate market, and the other hand on one's cell phone, lining up interviews with developers and other insiders.

Outsourcing a local real estate blog is difficult, if not impossible. It requires full-time market knowledge.

Most Miami real estate agents have some sort of blog. And most of them view writing blog articles as less productive than being in the field selling properties. So they start to blog on a new website and slowly lose traction.

A few Miami real estate agents are the exception to the rule, however. They deserve praise for consistency. And they deserve gratitude for providing useful information instead of turning their blog into a homage to their own listings and sales.

Looking purely at their blogs and not their ethics or abilities as salespeople, two Miami real estate agents stand out:

The Real Estate Coconut (Riley Smith)

Miamism (Ines Hegesus-Garcia)

Non-local bloggers write content that is more general than someone who is immersed in the local scene. That makes it less valuable if you want to engage local readers and keep their interest. It also makes it less valuable for search engine optimization, which is the whole point of having a blog in the first place.

Any writer with knowledge about the real estate industry and the ability to research can write general real estate content. If you need content about general home buying tips or staging your home for a sale or any other topic that is not dependent on in-depth market information, I can take care of it.

Otherwise, the best person to write expert content on the local real estate market is a real estate expert, not a writer.

I read a great post by Laura Serino about writing product descriptions. It was so lovely, it made me weep with joy. She is someone who cares about every thread in her story, even if she is writing about something as mundane as socks.

Laura works at eCommerce Fuel, an online community for e-commerce merchants. I have no idea if she takes on freelance projects. But I would heartily recommend her if you have an online store and you need gorgeous descriptions for your wares... particularly clothing and lifestyle items. I suspect she has a sincere interest in vintage or retro items, animals, cooking, home crafts, and outdoor sports. Her writing is charming, personable and alive.

Bert Botta loves everything about aviation, including writing for aviation business owners. He spent a career flying aircraft before becoming a copywriter.

And oddly enough, both Bert and I read the backs of cereal boxes as little kids and eventually turned that into a writing career. Bert has a trait I love: sincerity. Plus, he has an innate talent for writing, which he has honed through research and practical study.

My friend's wife is freaking. Her husband's mugshot is absolutely everywhere. Google his name and you see him looking bleary eyed and stupid.

Okay, now what? Well, removing those mugshots – and salvaging your personal brand – ain't easy.

There are three strategies:

  1. Request removal from mugshot sites (if you record has been expunged or sealed)
  2. Opt out of data mining sites (if your record has been expunged or sealed)
  3. Use suppression to hide search engine results.

I'm going to tell you (in detail) how to do all of them. But first, let's understand the challenge.

The problem: mugshots are public record

Many newspapers, including the Orlando Sentinel, publish arrest photos in an online photo blotter. Dozens of mugshot companies also publish arrest photos.

Both get their photos from the same source: they scrape county jail and sheriff's websites.

Mugshots are a matter of public record. There is no law preventing the publication of public information. There is also no law requiring newspapers and mugshot companies to remove mugshots, even if asked.

Further, even though legitimate publishers often claim mugshots stay online only 30 to 90 days, the truth is nothing ever really disappears from the Internet. Pages are cached forever in Google's Internet Archive (Wayback Machine).

Mugshot companies make a business out of extorting individuals to pay for the removal of mugshots. Generally, the same companies that charge for "reputation management" or "online privacy services" are the ones who post the photos in the first place. Even if you pay their steep fees, there is no guarantee they won't post your photos somewhere else.

Mugshot companies profit from your embarrassment.

This pay-for-removal scheme attempts to profit off someone else's humiliation. Those who can't afford to pay into this scheme to have their information removed pay the price when they look for a job, housing, or try to build relationships with others. This is exploitation, plain and simple.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra

Mugshot laws are unenforceable

Eighteen states – including Florida – have laws against requiring a fee to remove a mugshot.

Florida's law took effect on July 1, 2018. It allows individuals to sue companies that fail to take down mugshots within 10 days of a request. The companies face a daily $1000 fine plus attorney fees and court costs. The problem is that the law is unenforceable.

Orlando criminal lawyer Mark NeJame said he constantly receives calls about removing mugshots.

The civil aspect I don't think has enough teeth in it. It's going to take the fear of criminal prosecution to strike the fear in these predators. Because most of these companies are offshore, finding them and being successful in actually talking to a human can be challenging. It’s expensive for people because there’s a lot of time involved [for lawyers] trying to locate them. None of these sites have phone numbers, so you’re trying to deal with emails to an offshore company that has less than ideal motives." -

Orlando Attorney Mark NeJame

In Florida, attorney Shon Douctre specializes in mugshot removal cases, but admits his fees can be steep. Because it is so difficult to contact mugshot companies and so many are located outside the state or country, bringing legal action against them is often next to impossible.

Step one: get your arrest record expunged

As long as your arrest record is public information, you have no right to request its removal from online sites.

Some states limit access to arrest records. Sometimes, arrest records related to ongoing investigations may be exempted from federal and state Freedom of Information statutes. Sexual predator listings are impossible to hide from public view.

You may, under some circumstances, be able to have your arrest record expunged. This can occur if:

Having your record expunged or sealed does not automatically remove your mugshot from online sites. This is a separate process.

Step two: locate your personal information

There are two parts to this.

First, you have to locate all your mugshot photos. You do this using a Google (and maybe Bing and Yahoo too) image search. This search is likely to bring up all the mugshot company websites. Remember, this list can grow as your mugshot is scraped and added to new sites.

Second, you need to identify all the sites that might have your arrest record. These sites are called "data brokers" and include 1) the top free and paid sites for background checks, such as Truthfinder, Instantcheckmate, and Peoplefinder, 2) personal search sites, such as Spokeo, Whitepages.

There is overlap between these sites. For example, Truthfinder is both a person search site and a background check site. Finding these sites is a matter of doing Google searches for "data brokers," "background checks" and "public record search" until you are blue in the face. Create an Excel spreadsheet with the sites and their contact information.

Step three: contact mugshot companies

As noted above, contacting mugshot companies is extremely difficult. Further, many mugshot companies will not be cooperative, even if your record has been expunged. Mugshot companies may state that expungements and pardons only apply to government databases, not records in the public domain.

Nonetheless, it may be worthwhile to have an attorney draft a letter to these sites. Discuss with your attorney whether doing some of the footwork can help you save on legal costs.

Step four: contact data broker companies

While multiple online 'services' bill themselves as agents with power of attorney capable of acting on your behalf, requests sent from these services will not be honored by data mining companies.

Go down your Excel sheet (yes, be this obsessive) and contact all the companies one by one, sending a request to delete your listing. This will delete all your personal information, not just an arrest record.

To help you get started, here is a list of major data mining companies. A more complete list of data brokers can be found here.

You will want to opt out of the data company completely. This is the best path to follow because you do not want to go to the trouble and expense of drilling down to see if they actually have your arrest record.

Again, you are more likely to obtain their cooperation if you send a form letter drafted and signed by an attorney.

Will an expunged record show up in a background check?

Arrest information is available simply by doing a public records search at the courthouse. This information can also be viewed online using private records databases. Even if charges are dropped or an individual is acquitted (found innocent), arrest records can remain on file.

An expunged arrest will automatically be removed from court records but may remain in other government agency and private databases. It is up to you to contact each agency and request that the records be updated. Generally, this is done by sending a copy of the expungement order to the agency.

Federal agencies and state or local courts have different jurisdictions. A federal agency like the FBI is not bound by state court orders. You may need an attorney to contact the appropriate agencies and ensure the expungement order is followed.

About using online reputation companies

Privacy companies, or "online reputation companies" such as DeleteMe and MyReputation, promise to take care of removing online listings for a fee. These would include some background check sites and social media.

You still have to opt out of many sites, including Whitepages and , on your own. Most reputation companies will tell you how to do this.

Some reputation companies, like Reputation Management, focus on content strategies like suppression (see below) as a more sustainable way to hide negative information from view.

How to hide information on Google

Removing unwanted content from Google can mean several things. But it is important to remember that Google does not own the web. It is only a tool that helps you find web pages (results). Google can't force an owner to remove a page; Google can only remove the page from Google search results, so it is very difficult to find.

In the preceding paragraphs, I've discussed trying to get companies to remove unwanted content from the Internet, meaning the entire web. You can also take another approach, and ask search engines like Google and Bing to stop displaying certain search results.

Removing cached pages

Let's say by some miracle you are successful in getting to remove your arrest photo. Well, even though the page no longer exists, old versions of it are still cached (stored) online. You can use Google's Remove Outdated Content tool to remove these cached entries. To use the tool, you need to know the page's URL.

Removing unlawful content

In some cases, Google will block access to unlawful content. This is done by submitting a legal removal request. Remember, it is not unlawful to display public records, including mugshots, online. Google's policies generally limit it to removing unlawful images such as child porn, medical records, Social Security and financial records, and sexually explicit material uploaded without your consent.

Nonetheless, removing content from Google (really, not display search results), may be a worthwhile avenue to pursue if your record has been expunged and you can prove that mugshot companies are trying to exploit you in violation of Florida law.

Use suppression to hide mugshot images

The only surefire way to control your online reputation is through a technique called "suppression." Suppression is simply a matter of adding so much new content the unwanted content fails to show up in the first few pages of search results.

Google is well aware of the unfairness of mugshot companies. It introduced an algorithm update in 2013 that attempts to penalize mugshot companies with lower rankings. This means it will be easier for your new "good" content to appear first, ahead of any negative content.

How to use suppression

To use suppression, you need to set up a personal website using your name. You should also have matching social media profiles for your name, including Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, and LinkedIn. Finally, identify photo-sharing sites that have strong prestige. For example, Google Photos, Flickr, and SmugMug are all popular sites.

Make sure you include plenty of information about yourself in the bio sections of your website and social media.

Then add as many images as possible to all of these online properties, including your name in the filename for each image. The point is to optimize the images so they show up in a search for your name.

You will do better on Google if you use different photos with different filenames, such as "jane-smith-at-school.jpg," "jane-smith-gardening.jpg."
You can get tricky and use misleading filenames like "jane-smith-mugshot.jpg" with a benign picture of yourself in a beautiful setting.

You should add an "alt tag" to images wherever possible; your website will have this feature.

You should also avoid posting photos to sites that do not have "long shelf lives." You want content that lasts, not that disappears within a matter of minutes. So, while you would have a Twitter profile photo and bio under your name, you would not post photos of yourself on Twitter. Why? A Twitter post only lasts 18 minutes. In contrast, a blog post lasts two years.

Is all this work worth it?

Unfortunately, a mugshot and/or arrest record can easily prevent you from getting ahead in life. Students have been rejected by colleges and internship programs. Adults have been denied jobs, housing, car loans, and more.

In my interviews with over 60 individuals across the U.S. who have had their mug shots posted online by third party websites, I have found that the large majority has been devastated—personally, socially, fiscally—by this information being posted. In the short term, they are mortified by what they perceive as a major privacy violation, they are angry that individuals are capitalizing on their mistakes, and they live in fear that their loved ones or employers will happen upon the information. In the long term, many of the individuals I interviewed were effectively removed from the labor market or marginalized from their jobs and careers, given the sheer number of employers who routinely scour the Internet when hiring." -

Society Pages

Women are especially vulnerable. Mugshots labeled "hot" by viewers easily go viral, spilling into social media and spinning out of control. Mirella Ponce's mugshot was shared 3,500 times in just 48 hours and wound up on major media outlets. The speed with which mugshots can go viral means individuals should start damage control as soon as possible.

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