Wednesday, October 15, 2014

7 success lessons from a former escort (obviously, NSFW)

I read a fascinating story today called, "Sex is sex, but money is money" (again, don't click the link if you're at work!). It's told by 24-year-old film student Svetlana Z, who's also a former escort. That's prostitute to many of us, but prostitute isn't so nice to say. Escort is more polite.

Anyway, you have to have an open mind to read her story. While it offers a tantalizing peek into the world of high-class prostitutes (oops, that word again!), what was more eye-opening for me was the lessons she learned about her business, lessons she used to become a top escort. I say we can all use her lessons to succeed in our own professional lives! Here's what I got from Svetlana Z:

1. Invest in yourself.
Svetlana is quite the savvy businesswoman. She rattles off her expenses:
"I paid someone to write my ad copy. I paid professional photographers $1,500 to shoot my pictures... The best page for escorts,, costs $400 a month to place an ad. They charge the most, and they attract the most serious escorts and guys who are willing to submit to screening... I spent $50 a day on Eros so I could be listed in the 'What’s New' section, and I learned that to have an impact I had to be 'new' for at least 20 days a month. I spent $500 a week for a 'featured' spot. So that’s almost $4,000 a month right there. The girls who would only spend the basic $400 a month, they’d only get one email in two weeks."
To me, a writer and a blogger, that means I shouldn't scrimp when it comes to my trade. One would assume all a writer needs is pen and paper, or all a blogger needs is a computer and an Internet connection. Well, yes, but I also need a smart phone and a camera—the very best of those I can afford. I need a good Internet provider and WiFi, too, so I can write anywhere. Sign up for workshops. Buy books and magazines. Read blogs. I need to keep tabs on what's out there so I am always inspired to write. Promote posts and my Facebook page by buying ads. As a magazine editor, I need to look good. Clothes, shoes, accessories. Makeup. Hairstyle. Manicures and pedicures.

These things add up! But all the care I put into the tools of my trade and my appearance, on top of the writing itself, rewards me in the end: I always have writing projects!

2. Clients want to know who they're working with.
Svetlana says:
"In my first ads, I used very little copy. What was the point? What I know now is that guys want to know the women... It surprised me, but a lot of them — most of them — really need to feel a sort of connection. Reading about Angelina’s easy laugh, or how Anna loves luxury travel, made them more comfortable. And when they’re more comfortable, they call."
In other words, relationships—more than talent or reputation—matter. When I was starting out in print, I always wondered why people who can't write were given newspaper columns or magazine positions. I also wondered why some models who have drug problems keep getting booked. Well, I soon found out! Because they have connections!

I always thought I could succeed through sheer talent and hard work. To a degree, I did succeed because of the integrity of my work. But I also learned that people like working with their friends, people they know, people they relate to, people they can trust. Between a good writer who's a stranger and a not-so-good writer but their friend, they'll hire the not-so-good writer. So I became friendlier, nicer, more relaxed. The result? Most of my projects today are from people I was nice to in the past. I know they didn't get me because I'm the most talented writer in the world. They got me because they knew me and they liked me. And because they also know I'm a good writer!

3. Offer what your market wants.
People automatically dismiss escort jobs as just sex jobs, but Svetlana reveals it's not just sex she sells:
"If you want to make money as an escort, you better deliver something special. I did couples. I offered toys, role-playing, and BDSM... Mostly, I offered understanding. The truth is, even for guys who hire me for three or four hours, the sex usually only takes about 15 minutes. It’s the understanding they’re buying."
My blog readers tell me that while they're happy my blogs have become big enough to attract sponsorships, they miss the days when I just wrote about my thoughts on life. This always surprises me! After a while, I noticed that my site visits decreased. Clearly, if I want to keep and grow my readership, I must give in to their requests while balancing the requirements of my sponsors. It's harder work but I'm rewarded by happy readers... and happy advertisers, too, because more readers means more revenue! Win-win!

4. Take care of your product.
Okay, so Svetlana offers understanding and companionship, but she also knows that it's the packaging that attracts the customer!
"I’m a vegetarian and I have a personal trainer. I got manicures and pedicures at least twice a week, always red, and always showed up in expensive lingerie and thigh-high stockings. Every time I met a client it was a performance, so I prepared. My mascara cost $130. Hair color was $200; eye shadow was $50, as was foundation and lipstick. A nice lingerie set costs at least $100; I spent $600. Not to mention the shoes."
When I was a new editor-in-chief, I believed I should be out at events and meetings, introducing myself, and making those connections I was talking about earlier. But my mentor, Jo-Ann Maglipon of Yes! magazine, said, "If you're going out there to sell a product, you better make sure your product is worth selling." So she made me sit tight in the office and make my magazine amazing. She said that when I'm proud of my work, only then can I promote it. Plus, I won't need to work hard to make connections anyway because if my magazine was incredible, people will want to connect with me! And they did!

5. Spend your time wisely. If you can't, charge for it.
Svetlana makes sure every hour she's awake earns her money:
"Once a day I ordered vegetable fried rice from a place around the corner because it’s fast — five minutes to cook, five minutes to deliver, five minutes to eat — and if I spent two hours in a restaurant, that’s at least $1,600 I was not depositing into my bank account."
She also discovered that she can charge client for her efforts off duty—like the time she'll spend washing sheets if he's the reason those sheets got sticky.
"One guy demanded to pour honey all over me... I said no. He said he’d pay double and I said no. He said he’d pay triple and I said okay. The whole time, I was thinking about cleaning the sheets, and another two-and-a-half hours of hair and makeup. That’s when I decided that if he ever asked me for honey again, I’d charge quadruple. At least."
Many freelance writers and bloggers forget to charge for the time they spend in producing the story. Think of the time spent commuting (and here in Manila, that's already several hours stuck in traffic!). Think about parking costs. Phone and Internet plans. Printer ink. Time spent transcribing interviews or waiting for the subject of your story.

I once spent two hours waiting for Judy Ann Santos, for example. I also had to interview Anne Curtis thrice because she was too busy giggling with her friends to talk to me the first time and too sleepy the second time. That's three times I took a leave from work, three times I spent on cabs and in traffic, and all that work in exchange for just a P3,000 check. If you add up all these expenses, suddenly, piso-per-word just doesn't cut it. Spend your time wisely!

6. Quit while you're ahead. 
Svetlana says that while she enjoyed the money, she had to think about her future, and that future did not include paid sex.
"The best way to leave the business was to think about doing it the rest of my life... I don’t hang out with some of my old escort girlfriends. I miss them, but I have to weigh, okay, on one side friendships with whores, on the other side, a family, and my future. So I make a choice."
Many of us are scared to resign from jobs we hate. It pays the bills, we assure ourselves. We hang on because leaving means starting again. Quitting means leaving what's familiar and exploring the strange and scary world of Making Dreams Come True. I know how that feels like!

I left my cushy magazine job two years ago because I couldn't see myself talking about Angelina Jolie's grandkids when I'm 60. I also wanted to build my blogs, and being editor-in-chief of a magazine took a lot of my time and focus. But, boy, was I scared to quit! What if blogging was a mistake? What if my freelance career fails? I decided to finally leave because I respected my bosses and my company. It wasn't their fault I was no longer happy, that I was longing for other things, dreaming new dreams. So before I could start feeling resentful and before I could begin blaming them for my unhappiness and my unfulfilled dreams, I left. No burned bridges. Both parties happy.

7. Keep learning. Regret nothing.
Lastly, Svetlana says that we all make mistakes but there's nothing to be gained by regretting our past.
"I don’t regret what I’ve done with my body, or my life. I had some good times and some not-so-good times. I’ve met some interesting people and some idiots. I’ve learned a lot about what men and women want and need."
You learn from all experiences. Use what you've learned to move forward! My past jobs as an office receptionist, a preschool teacher, a Senator's assistant, a PR associate, and as magazine editor all contributed to my success. Being a receptionist taught me to be polite and accommodating. Teaching preschoolers helped me deal with the most demanding bosses in my future jobs. My job in the senate exposed me to a lot of evil and to high society. In PR, I learned how to do marketing, to form connections, to have fun. And in magazines, I learned about managing people, creating a brand and understanding the market. All of these helps me in blogging and in freelance writing!

I'm not afraid to work anymore. I accept a lot of work from different fields because I know they will all teach me something. At the very least, every job can contribute to my writing. Well, I'll take any job, as long as it's not evil. And no, I'll pass on escorting even though it seems to be a job that teaches a lot of good lessons on business!

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  1. I might actually read the entire book thanks to your post.

  2. I love love love this! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  3. Your candor is most refreshing amongst a slew of peppered blogs and posts! Thank you for sharing so much of yourself to us! Wishing you and your beautiful family only the best ^_^


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