Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Freelance Writers: Fine Tune Your 2009 Marketing Strategy

If you aren't consistently marketing your freelance writing services – even during the busiest times, you should be. It's what can ensure that you have enough new business coming in at all times. I can't stress this enough. Set aside a certain goal each day or week for marketing. Period.

I know that marketing is time consuming and can take away from time spent working on paying projects. That's usually when freelance writers slow down their marketing efforts in favor of projects that are paying NOW. You need time saving strategies to help streamline your marketing tasks. Here are a few simple ones I recommend:

Create a contact list

Create an ongoing list of businesses you send information to. You can rotate this list to contact prospects on a monthly basis. For example, if you find 10 businesses to send emails to, add the contact emails to your list along with the date you contacted them to stay on track. Focus primarily on businesses in your niche (e.g. PR companies, Internet marketing or SEO businesses, etc.).

Create a basic marketing template

I have a basic marketing letter that I send prospects. In it I briefly introduce myself, my writing experience and services, explain how outsourcing can be beneficial to their business, add a link to my portfolio and rate card information and end it with my contact information. This basic letter can easily be tweaked so that it's more personalized. Always personally address each contact letter you send.

Cross market services with another freelancer

Find a complementary business willing to refer clients to you, and you can do the same in return. I have a graphic designer who refers her clients needing web content or other copywriting services to me, and I do the same for her. It's a win-win situation.

Use social networking sites wisely

There are literally hundreds of social networking sites on the web. You can't devote time to all of them, so the best thing to do is choose a few that can really help you promote your freelance writing services. They are great for socializing, but make sure to leverage their potential to help promote your business. I belong to Face Book, Linked In and Twitter. So far I have gotten a new client from Twitter, and Twitter has also helped me developed a stronger relationship with two ongoing clients resulting in more work.

Considering outsourcing your marketing tasks

If time management becomes a constant struggle, consider outsourcing the task of searching for company contacts and/or emailing contacts to a virtual assistant. The constant flow of business marketing can bring you makes this a worthwhile investment to consider. Entry level VAs charge clients anywhere from $10/hour on up to $20/hour.

Commit to bumping up your freelance writing business revenue in 2009 by marketing your services smarter, not harder.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Your Freelance Writing Web Presence

I'm still amazed at how many freelance writers are operating without a website. I understand how this can be a business you can fall into unintentionally. Maybe you lost your job, or get laid off, and happily started freelancing to make ends meet. Before you know it, you have a rotation of regular clients. Still, at some point, you've got to make the transition from "accidental freelancer" to a business if you plan to make any real money as a freelance writer.

I know there are a gazillion freelance writers websites out there. So why am I making such a big deal about having a web presence? You could just continue applying for freelance writing jobs and emailing your resume and samples. You still get jobs, so is it really that big of a deal. Yes it is, and here's why:

Your website or blog can be a valuable promotional tool

It tells your clients about you and the services you provide. It shows them that you are a professional business and that you take freelancing seriously. Learn a few optimization tricks and you can increase your ranking with the search engines.

Your website helps others find you

There may be thousands of websites on the Internet, but never underestimate the fact that you might stand out among them to a potential client. I was recently contacted out of the blue by a client for a publishing project we are in the process of negotiating. I might have completely missed out on this opportunity otherwise.

Your website is an easy way to share information

When I market my services, or respond to job offers that require samples, I can easily provide the link to my portfolio and rate card information. It's a lot easier than cutting and pasting information into the emails.

Your website doesn't need to be fancy. You can choose a free template online or create a Blogger or Wordpress hosted site and add pages accordingly. Start taking your business seriously so that you can start making some serious revenue in 2009.

Friday, December 19, 2008

A Freelancer's Quest for Self-Improvement

I recently received three sessions with a life coach courtesy of our "meeting" on Twitter. She offered the first five people who went to her blog and signed up three free sessions, and I jumped at the chance. I have been hearing a lot abut how coaches help people become more organized, productive and balance work life with family life. I needed help with all of the above. Badly. I wasn't sure how she could cure me in just three sessions, but I was willing to give it a shot.

Visualize your success

One of the first things she explained to me was how her methods are largely based on the Law of Attraction. She instructed me to create a "visualization board." I could do it on my computer if I were technically savvy (which I'm not), so I chose to do it the old fashioned way. I listed my personal and professional goals and spent quality time with my kids cutting pictures out of magazines that illustrated those things for me ("O Magazine" is great for this kind of project, BTW!).

Declutter your surroundings

I think it's true that a cluttered space can clutter up everything else in your life. I am a minimalist married to a closet hoarder. I am slowly decluttering our space, secretly taking things to Goodwill while he's at work (not his sentimental things though).

Welcome to the 21st century

My coach spent a lot of time coaxing me to join her in the 21st century. Now that's funny considering I make my living with a virtual business. But I still rely on old-school ways of doing things – I write everything down in a day planner instead of using Google Calendar's awesome features as she suggested. has a post revealing 50 useful applications for writers you'll find interesting.

For many of us, the end of the year is a wonderful time to reflect and prepare to have a better new year. I'm getting ready – how about you?

Monday, December 15, 2008

A Freelance Writing Mom's Panic: Thanks a lot, Winter Break!

I don't know about you, but I'm completely snowed under with freelance writing projects right now. Yes, I consider it a good thing, but after trying to wrap up the biggest ones by this coming Friday, I finally realize it's not going to happen. I'm faced with another week of working furiously on a plate full of projects, only this time there will be four kids ranging in age from two to seven testing the little bit of mental balance I have left right now.

Next time, plan ahead

Now I knew this was coming, and I know what it's like to work while my kids are home all day – begging for never ending snacks, arguing about who did/said/took what from whom, whining about being bored, disagreeing over what to watch on TV – fun, fun, fun.

What to do, what to do...

Clearly I can't neglect my freelance writing clients, but I can't neglect my kids for two whole weeks either. The only solution I've come up with is to wake up at least two hours earlier than everyone else so that I can get a good head start on work. That should allow me to set aside some time to spend hanging out with the kids, and then get back to work later in the evening for a couple of hours.

A wahm's challenge

Working from home is not as easy as it sounds. You have to keep yourself motivated, on task, and there are so many distractions that pop up unexpectedly. To find out more about how to make working from home work better for you, check out Deb Ng's recent post.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Ebook Review: "How to Make $250+/Day Writing Simple 500-Word Articles"

I promised to share helpful tips for building a lucrative freelance writing business, and today I want to share one of the very valuable resources I've come across. When I first became interested in making a living as a freelance writer during the summer of 2006, I was on a social forum lurking around when someone posted a link to Yuwanda Black's Associated Content page. From there I linked to her freelance writing blog, Inkwell Editorial, and I was hooked. She offers very practical advice about creating a freelance writing business. She has authored several ebooks about the business of freelancing, but if you are determined to start freelancing in 2009 I highly recommend "How to Make $250+/Day Writing Simple 500-Word Articles."

SEO content writing

SEO article writing is a great way to get started as a freelance writer. You'll find lots of freelancers who look down on SEO content writing. Maybe they think all writers are writing $1, $2, or even $5 articles. But there are companies and individual clients out there who know the value of quality content, and they're willing to pay you for it. Yuwanda's book shows you how to get started. She advises starting off charging $25 per article. Nice.

An ebook that delivers

I experienced a slump over the summer and wanted to find more clients. I kept coming back to this ebook, debating over whether or not I really wanted to shell out $39.95 (can you believe I missed out on getting it when it first came out at $9.95?). I was tired of buying ebooks filled with vague information that glossed over how to actually do whatever they were promising. Since writing the ebook, Yuwanda has collected several testimonials and actual case studies of people sharing their experiences from putting the advice outlined in the book to use. I figured if I got one client it was worth it. She doesn't promise $250/day without putting in some work. Consistent marketing is a big part of the plan she lays out, and she shows you exactly how to do everything from drafting a marketing letter to creating your contact list.

Market, market and then market some more

Honestly, I should be more consistent with my own marketing, but whenever I do follow her marketing plan I always receive an interested reply. I currently have five new, steady clients from following the clear advice outlined in this book. What started off as simple SEO content writing for me has evolved into more lucrative writing opportunities including website copy, blog posts, press releases, ebooks, reports and whitepapers.

Make your 2009 dreams of becoming a freelance writer a reality

If you want to take the leap and become a freelance writer, there's nothing to do but jump. Even if you work a full-time job, you can start freelancing part-time. Making the choice to do it is completely up to you, as Yuwanda plainly expressed in yesterday's blog post. Having a plan is essential, and Yuwanda's ebook can help you create your own path to freelance writing success.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Use Testimonials to Increase Your Business

Whenever I read testimonials on a website or sales page, I'm instantly hooked in. It's reassuring to know that the product or service I'm considering has worked successfully for someone else. I immediately feel like I can't go wrong making the purchase.

Testimonials are those quotes of praise from customers. They're popular in a number of weight loss products and DVDs featured on infomercials where ordinary folks like you and me transform themselves thanks to the new ABC exercise program on DVD. Testimonials aren't just for infomercials – they can work for your freelance writing business too.

When you have testimonials on your business website, prospects get to see proof of what your writing services have done for your clients. Testimonials add real selling power if you know how to use them.

Use Real Testimonials

Don't make them up. Fake testimonials just won't come across as sincere – no matter how well you think they sound. If you do a good job, your client's won't mind sending a little praise your way. And that's what you want – testimonials that honestly complement your writing skills.

Use Testimonials that are Specific

Make sure your testimonials clearly show how your writing services were beneficial. This adds value to your business.

Include as Much Information as Possible in Your Testimonials

Include the client's name, title, company, city and state when you can. Using anonymous testimonials can lack believability.

Ask Your Clients for Permission First

It may seem okay to use that flattering email your client sent regarding the latest project you completed. It's always better to extend common courtesy and ask first. You can send off a simple email with the quote you're interested in using. Ask to use it for your website, any ads and other promotional material.

Prospects will be impressed to see that your clients are so happy with your writing services and can lead to more business for you.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Charging Freelance Clients Late Fees

My freelance writing business operation is never quite as tight as I think it is. For instance, last week I waited much longer than I should have to get paid for projects I worked very hard to turn in on deadline. Now to be fair, these clients have never been late paying before, so I'm sure the holiday had a lot to do with it. But my bills could care less about Thanksgiving.

Are Late Fees Really Necessary?

On the one hand I want to be understanding. These clients have never had a problem paying on time before, and they did pay me immediately on yesterday. But on the other hand my business pays the majority of our living expenses right now. I don't expect my money the same day or the next day after completing a project. I provide a generous grace period of 14 business days to receive a balance due. I am open to negotiating that time period based on individual circumstances (e.g. a corporate client who invoices monthly, etc.). However, until I build up a surplus of income, I cannot afford to be left hanging when the bill is due.

Late Paying Clients Can Cost You

I'm fortunate that I haven't had many problems with deadbeat clients who never pay. I once had a client who only managed to pay me once on time. The rest of my time working with him was spent trying to get the balance due before we could start on a new project, or getting the down payment in time to start a project and meet his projected deadline. Needless to say we soon parted ways. But that experience helped me tighten up my client contract. I just didn't realize there was still more work to be done, so I have once again updated my contract.

Protect Yourself from the Unexpected

Most of my clients pay by Pay Pal, which aside from those pesky fees I pay to receive my money is very convenient. I do have one or two clients who prefer to send checks. Can you believe that I had never included a returned check fee on my contracts? Thankfully I've been primarily dealing with professionals. As of this past weekend, I have now added a late fee. Now all I need to do is add this information to my rate card and I'm all set.

I had never considered including a late fee before because it had never been an issue. But why wait for something to become a problem before addressing it? If you charge late fees, how has it affected your client relationships? How often have you had to charge clients for making late payments?

Friday, November 28, 2008

Freelance Writing Inspiration

You may have noticed that I have only been posting every other day – if that. Well, my workload coupled with my responsibilities at home is the primary reason. Plus I think most people are distracted as they transition into holiday mode. My plans are to post at least three times a week until the end of the year. I just don't want to pass up the opportunity to share helpful information or advice to anyone else out there trying to make this freelance writing thing happen. I have also promised to share some helpful resources, which is coming soon – I haven't forgotten. In the meantime, I want to share some the blog posts I've found most inspiring this week. Enjoy!

Vision Your Writing Business

The Great Big Internet Popularity Contest

What to Do When You Decide to Stop Settling for Less in Your Life

How to Increase Your Rates for the New Year

Fun With Firing Clients

3 Time-Tested Ways to Kick it Up a Notch

Monday, November 24, 2008

Still Not Freelancing? What are You Waiting For?

We're rounding the corner of November heading full speed into December. 2009 will be here in a matter of weeks, folks. That means there's still time to make good on some of the 2008 resolutions you may have neglected. If starting a freelance writing business has been your goal, there's no better time to get started than the present.

Don't Quit Your Day Job – If You Don't Want To

You can start off slow to see if freelance writing is something you'd really like doing. In this economy one of the best things you can do is diversify your income sources, and a good way to do that is by starting a side gig. Try freelance writing out as a part-time business. You can always make the decision later to remain part-time or go full-time. Get a couple of loyal clients under your belt and you could command a nice part-time income.

Consider web writing to get started

Writing copy/content for the web is a pretty easy way to get started as a freelance writer. There are many businesses that need a continuous supply of fresh content in the form of website copy, articles and press releases on a regular basis. Even if your goal is writing for magazine publications or writing a book, web writing can provide a regular income while you focus on other writing goals.

You Can't Fire Yourself

That's got to be the best part of working for yourself - no sudden layoffs. Of course therein lies a challenge as well. No one will tell you to get a move on to finish up client deadlines, you will have to accept responsibility when clients are unhappy and you must be organized and motivated in order for your business to function properly. There's a lot of responsibility and hard work involved, but if you love what you do the payoff is definitely worth it.

Start Networking for Business

Visit various freelance writer forums, blogs and social networking sites to meet and learn from other freelance writers. It's also a great way to stay "in the know" about what jobs and other paid writing opportunities are available. Allot a certain amount of time each day for networking so that you can stay on task the rest of the time.

Get started on that marketing campaign

Yeah, I know I talk about this a lot. But that's because it's so important. You can easily get started working for existing content sites that ay a set dollar amount per article, but why not just market your own freelance writing services and get paid even more?

2009 is just around the corner. If you've been thinking about starting a freelance writing business, don't delay. Now is as good a time as any to start making plans for your new business.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Art of Pulling an All-Nighter

Let me just start off by saying that I don't recommend missing sleep to meet a deadline. You should plan your schedule accordingly to avoid all-nighters at all costs. That said, I stayed up all night to finish a client's project recently. It's been several months since I've had to do this, but I've been positively slammed with work and sick children. In the end there was no other choice. I could have avoided it had I correctly estimated the time it would take me to complete a client's project. But since I abhor missing deadlines (which I translate to mean breaking my word), I made a choice and sacrificed my precious sleep instead. I'm always fearful of screwing with my sleep patterns because I can easily trip the old insomnia switch.

If you happen to be a new freelance writer learning to estimate the time it takes to finish projects, you could find yourself pulling an all-nighter to meet a deadline at some point. I hope I'm wrong, but if you are ever in that situation, here are a few tips to help get you through the night:

Prepare yourself mentally

That's half the battle won. If you prepare your mind for the fact that you will not be sleeping anytime soon it's a lot easier to manage.

Have a plan

If you don't have a plan, exhaustion could tempt you to just give up and go to bed. Execute a plan for how much writing you will do, when you'll take breaks to stand up and move around and make fresh pots of coffee. Which brings me to my next tip…

Drink lots of coffee

Enough said.

Take frequent bathroom breaks

Enough said.

Give your brain and body a break

Stand up periodically, stretch and move around. I worked all night in a desk chair that is the complete opposite of ergonomic comfort. I need a deep tissue massage in the worst way. But I digress…

Don't crank up the heat

You might wake up on deadline day with keyboard prints across your forehead and an incomplete project.

Vow never to pull another all-nighter again

Repeat it like a mantra throughout the night. By convincing yourself that you'll never have to do it again, you'll be even more determined to finish the work.

If you have ever had the displeasure of pulling an all-nighter to meet a deadline, or have somehow managed to avoid them, please share your tips and advice.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Finding Success as a Web Writer

I was once again visiting a favorite freelance writer's forum yesterday. I noticed a thread where the discussion involved a few writers saying they preferred not to deal with clients directly. These writers explained that they would much rather work with a middle man because it's a much less stressful situation than finding your own clients. I assumed from the discussion they were taking about writing for content providers. Right now there is so much demand for quality content I can't wrap my mind around why anyone would willingly choose to receive less money working through someone else when the opportunity exists to make more.

I've Been There Too
Before I get blasted, I just want to say that I started off my freelancing career writing part-time for a couple of small niche newspapers and magazines. I started writing copy for the web after finding out how much of a demand there was and how quickly writers could get paid. In the beginning, I wrote for a couple of popular content providers serving as the middle man for their clients. These companies supplied a steady stream of work, and the rate was fair. But as my freelance writing wings began spreading, and I started developing my own marketing campaign, I realized that I was paying a price for the leisure of just sitting back waiting for the work to roll in.

I was clearly receiving less money in my pocket. The company was taking a generous cut for finding me all of that work I'm sure – They are running a business after all. I was working one-on-one with a couple of copywriting clients during that time as well. I actually preferred having direct contact with the client. I started wondering, "Why aren't I marketing my services directly and earning more money for my hard work?"

Not Looking for a Fight
I suppose this topic could very easily turn into a debate much like the ongoing discussion among web writers about whether $3 and $5 articles are acceptable; or the debate over whether or not bidding sites are the devil incarnate. But that's not my intent. Honest.

Personally, I don't find marketing my own services directly to clients to be any more stressful than searching for the next content company to work for. I've done both, and the biggest difference to me is that I have more control over negotiating my rate and the terms of service to be provided.

I understand that if you are in a desperate financial situation some money is better than none. And there are some writers who find the idea of marketing intimidating. But if I can do it, so can you. Believe me, it works!

Help is on the Way…
Sometime in the next few weeks I will be sharing some very valuable resources for new and existing web writers looking to get more out of their web writing business. These resources can help you create a step by step plan. I'm currently reviewing one just to be absolutely sure about it before I suggest it to you. The other resource helped me redirect my own web writing efforts. In the mean time, I highly recommend Jennifer Mattern's blog for web writers to find lots of valuable advice. Stay tuned for more details!

Monday, November 10, 2008

What is Google Saying About You?

Have you ever Googled yourself? I suspect everyone has done it at one time or another. Doing it doesn't necessarily make you self-centered – especially if you make your living as a freelance writer.

During the summer I mentioned how important it is to watch what you say on the Internet. Take my word for it - you never know who is watching. It's so easy to get carried away posting on forums and blogs. Once those posts are on the web, there is no taking it back – it's out there for everyone to see. No take backs. Here are a few reasons why you should Google yourself regularly.

1) You get to see what others see. When you contact a prospective client for work there's a good chance they'll Google your name to find out more about you. Not every client may bother to Google you, but if they do, you don't want your name attached to anything too crazy.

2) Some social networking sites will expose you to the world. Did you know that if you make regular posts on Twitter, the search engines will begin indexing them (because of the constantly updated content) and you will start seeing them in your search results whenever your name is Googled? This may be no big deal to you if you use it strictly as a business marketing/promotional tool, but if you are prone to posting the kind of comments you wouldn't want an important client to discover online, consider yourself warned.

3) Manage your online reputation. Performing regular quick searches allows you to find out who is linking to you, what others are saying about you and how you are seen in your industry (all good things, right?).

You can used Google Alerts can be used to keep you updated on the search results in your name. You can set it to perform a search every day or every other day automatically.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The True Cost of Doing Business

James Chartrand, half of the dynamic duo at Men With Pens and The Freelance Parent team, Lorna and Tamara, have recently been engaging in a friendly debate about the true start up costs of a freelance writing business. When I started freelancing full-time, I was pretty desperate financially, but I already had most of my business essentials: phone service, computer, Internet connection, virus protection, printer/fax, desk, chair and even a growing collection of writer's books to reference. This made it so much easier for me to just jump in and swim.

The Financial Reality of Your Business Start-up
As you run your business, you soon realize that you must continuously spend money to accomplish certain goals. Money is necessary to:

Purchase domain names for your website/blogs

Pay for website hosting monthly or yearly

Pay for graphic design services for a new or improved website/blog or logo/banner

Add another phone line for your business phone or fax

Pay membership dues for any associations and groups you may belong to

Take any writing, computer or business courses you may need to keep your skills on point.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it all keeps adding up, doesn't it? But the beauty of an online business is that you can start small and grow slowly as time and funds allow. Start with the necessities, build a client base and work from there. Don't worry so much about what the next writer is doing, but do reach out to the community for help and advice when you need it. I'm happy to say there are a lot of really knowledgeable, helpful veteran writers out there willing to answer newbie questions. Don't be shy.

Business on a Budget
If you have the basics like I did, you can get by on a shoestring budget to start:

I used my cell phone for business. Business calls are the only calls I receive, and I make sure the voice mail is professional.

I own an all in one printer/fax machine, but I also use an online fax service called for $10 a month. It even gives me a local fax number and there is no extra cost for long distance faxes.

Quickbooks has a
free accounting software freelance writers can download from their site to use until they are able to "trade up" to the more comprehensive Quickbooks products.

I recently used
Ewisoft Website Builder free template to build a very simple website. It's super-easy to use.

There are also lots of toll free services available online that can give your business a "big business" feel. Perform a
Google search and see what's out there.

Don't go broke trying to make a living as a freelance writer, but understand that you will need to make investments from time to time. Get your basics into place and then upgrade slowly as your business grows.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Enough is Enough: Taking Control of Your Business

Yesterday I was lurking about on a writer's forum and came across a very active thread started by a new freelance writer pleading for advice about dealing with a difficult client. She had been working on a project that appeared to have no end in sight. A client hired her to write blog posts about health supplements and has been driving her crazy changing his mind again and again about the keywords to be used. He has even asked her to research keywords to come up with a few suggestions on her own, but never used them.

She explained that whenever she submits the posts for review, he berates her with disparaging remarks – telling her to never, ever use a certain sentence again when writing for him, saying it's the worst thing she could ever write and even resorting to profanity in his responses. If that wasn't enough, he keeps sending her back to the drawing board to make revisions based on his unclear instructions and changing information.

What's worse, more writers joined the thread – not to offer advice, but to share their own client/project nightmares. Another writer posted that she has been writing an ebook for going on four months now (should have been finished three months ago) and is plagued with so many revision requests she has no idea of when it will finally be good enough for the client. These projects have taken up so much of the writers' time, they each admitted to passing up other writing opportunities. Now that's just plain wrong.

These situations happen, and when they do it's a miserable experience. But nothing will change until you, the writer, take control of the situation. The reality of working for yourself is that you will not absolutely love every client, but you don't have to tolerate disrespect or abuse from anyone.

This is where you need to find your backbone, pop it back into place and stand up for yourself. Before communicating with a difficult client, make sure that you are calm. If you are still fighting mad, you are not in control, and you will need to make sure you remain professional and in control no matter how a client chooses to behave.

Slow your roll…
If you are dealing with a client who habitually rants and raves, and lashes out at you with profanity, let him/her know that you will not tolerate unprofessional behavior of any kind. You can offer to continue working on the project if your client agrees to continue treating you with respect, or kindly end the project and move on.

Establish a contract and use it
Anticipate your worse case scenario and include it in your agreement. Neither of the previously mentioned writers had an agreement in place that included details like requiring a non-refundable deposit before starting the project or a cap on the number of free revisions allowed . There are people who prey on the inexperienced. Take this experience and create an airtight service agreement.

Always get everything in writing – email is fine. Do not rely on phone conversations to relay the details of a project. If your client likes to discuss things over the phone, follow up with a detailed scope of the project as you understand it and get it signed or a rely email stating that the client agrees.

Don't be afraid to let go
The reality of being self-employed is that every project will not go smoothly. You find that repeat work with a difficult client is just not worth it in the long run. Can you continuously put up with cursing, non-stop revision requests or constant changes right and left? If not, pass it up and look out for the next freelance writing opportunity instead. Believe me, it will come.

Should you suck it up and complete the project?
Should you just suck it up and finish a project you're working on for a difficult client, or end it as soon as it starts to get ugly? Some writers believe that a professional sees all projects through to completion and then ends the client relationship. Others say that it's best to end the project as soon as the situation becomes unbearable since by that point all professionalism is out the window. I want to know what you think. And oh yeah – Make sure you get out and VOTE today!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Before You Put Up Your Business Sign, Read This

During the day I like to listen to this local talk radio program that shares financial and business start-up advice. On today's show, the host was discussing the pros and cons of being an entrepreneur. Being your own boss sounds great in theory, but there are some very real issues that should be considered before taking that big step.

No guarantee of steady pay
I guess you could say that's the good news and bad news of being an entrepreneur. Getting paid is completely up to you. That's likely to be bad news if you're a slacker, or great news if you're a go getter. The reality of being your own boss is that some months will be better than others – especially in the beginning as you establish your business.

You will work hard
And that's an understatement. Count on putting in long days and maybe even pulling a few all nighters. If you are a solo business owner, you will wear all of the company hats. That's why your business should be something you love doing. The radio program host said it best: "It should be something you would get out of bed at three AM in the morning to do for free."

Build Trust
Whether you're dealing with clients or vendors, people do business with people they trust. The talk show host talked about how he has been trying to get a large order of t-shirts printed. He's talked to three different companies, and in two months not one has delivered on their promise to provide a sample product. Just think, all it would have taken is for one company to come through as promised and they would have gotten the business by default.

If you say you will do something, be professional and deliver as promised. If something comes up, don't just hide your head in the sand and pretend you don't have an obligation to meet. Deal with things head on.

Being an entrepreneur isn't for everyone. Think carefully about what you can and cannot deal with before taking the plunge.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Freelance Writing Trends: What Can We Expect?

Now, more than ever before, it's important to pay attention to industry changes, and the business of freelance writing is no exception. If you want to get steady work it helps to know which specialties show the most potential for growth. That means more opportunities for you.

Get the Inside Scoop

Luckily for us Yuwanda Black, from the freelance writing portal Inkwell Editorial, has done all of the legwork. Her detailed 2008-2009 Freelance Writing Jobs Report reveals the hottest niches for freelancer writers for the next two years based on extensive research. It's an invaluable resource that could really help you determine where to focus your marketing efforts, and it's absolutely free! Download your copy today.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Productivity Pitfalls: Remaining Focused on Freelance Writing Goals

Staying productive when working from home as a freelance writer can be a real challenge for some of us. I fall into that category. I can admit it. There are so many distractions all around me – even when I eliminate the obvious ones like having the television on or answering my home phone whenever it rings. Still, dirty dishes in the sink, my two-year old's impromptu demands for snuggle time, and Internet surfing all threaten to disrupt my productivity on a daily basis (although I willingly submit to snuggle time).

I have some pretty intense freelance writing goals I'm hoping to reach before the end of the year, so I really have to become more disciplined in some areas. Staying motivated is a big part of productivity for me. Here are a few tips:

Set goals

Daily, weekly and monthly freelance writing goals are important. You need to have a clear understanding of what you are working for. Whenever you achieve a goal, cross it off your list. Seeing your progress in action is a big motivator.

Make a daily work schedule

Set a regular start and stop time for your day to keep focused. Remember to schedule in a small part of each day to participate in online forums, read/comment on blogs and other social networking activities.

Add some variety to your day

Avoid focusing on one single task for large blocks of time if you're having trouble staying focused on your freelance writing projects. Break up your tasks throughout the day to give yourself a break from doing the exact same thing every day. Mix it up!

Reward yourself

Being self-employed is hard work. It requires lots of long hours and complete dedication. Having something special to look forward at the end of each day or week can give you a big motivational boost.

Take care of yourself

Invest time in yourself by eating right, exercising daily and getting enough sleep. It's too easy to neglect your health when working for yourself. Making good health a part of your regular routine contributes to the total well-being of you and your business.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Conflict Management: When Your Back is Up Against the Wall

This weekend I had client contact me by email very annoyed that I had sent him a contract for an upcoming freelance writing project. He basically stated that he felt insulted that I would continue sending them after we'd had such a successful business transaction with the last project. Let me just state for the record that he is a new client, and I have only completed one freelance writing project for him so far. I'm working on the second one. I don't know about you, but I don't consider that a whole lot of history in our relationship.

His email continued to state emphatically that he would not sign another contract. Imagine my surprise after spending a lovely day out with my daughter to come home to such a snarky email? I immediately felt that familiar heat come over me.

I've mentioned my previous job as an advertising sales representative for a local newspaper here before. Even though it really wasn't my cup of tea, I received some very valuable training. That training has turned out to be a real asset as I build my freelance writing career. Anyone who's ever worked for someone else has very likely cultivated some very necessary survival skills that can easily carry over into running your own business.

Customer service was a big part of my job. But that's something that I do naturally. I like helping people solve their problems, and my personality is pretty upbeat. But I could kiss the feet of my old job for the conflict management skills they gave me. I am a hot-headed girl by nature, so I don't need much prodding to get me worked up. The conflict management training, handling unhappy advertising clients and just dealing with silly office politics has taught me a lot.

I have had a few conversations over the phone with this particular client. He has a forceful personality. The first thing I had to do was calm down and put myself in his shoes. It would be a mistake to just jump to conclusions. Once I knew I was calm I responded to his email explaining that I do not do business without a contract for my own protection and my clients' protection as well. I went on to explain that I respected his position and his business, but I would not compromise that policy of my business.

It felt good to know that I didn't have to just go along with something I didn't agree with. I have done that for so many years working in a corporate setting that sending that email felt completely liberating – even at the expense of possibly losing the client. I mean you can't just go along with everything in the name of a dollar. You have to stand up for your business, but you should always be professional no matter what.

In the end, the client responded to my firm emailed answer with a response asking me to create an annual agreement for him instead. He just wanted to sign it once and continue sending in his freelance writing projects. Thankfully things worked out well for both of us. Conflict resolution is an important skill that teaches you how to diffuse a situation before it gets out of hand. It doesn't mean that everyone will always be happy in the end, but nine times out of 10, the situation will be a lot less volatile if you take control and remain calm. Have you ever been forced to diffuse a difficult situation as a freelance writer/blogger?

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Importance of Self-Care

We're all stressed out about a number of things: Was I crazy to start freelancing instead of getting a "real" job? Can I cut it as a freelance writer and still pay my bills? How can I handle all of the projects on my plate? Where can I find good paying clients that will send steady assignments? And that's only the work related stuff.

Deal with What You Can and Leave the Rest

My grandmother was fond of saying, "There's no reason worrying about the things you can't change." She was right. Over time constant stress can have some pretty negative effects on your body and your mind. The fact that many of us seem wired to worry doesn't help. There's so much going on around us that we are powerless over. It takes a real effort to reprogram yourself to focus on the things you can change to make your life better.

Since I've been freelancing full-time, I have neglected myself so much choosing instead to focus on building my business, and taking care of everyone else. Isn't that always the way? But it's starting to take its toll and only I can do something about it.

If you are a freelance writer, or any other entrepreneur, self-care is an important part of leading a balanced, healthy life and reducing stress. We can easily spend long days parked in front of the computer barely moving, even to eat. Not good. This is a recipe for burnout, isolation and possible health problems down the road.

Where Do You Start with Self-Care?

Why is it so hard for us to take care of ourselves? I ask myself this question all the time. Aren't I important enough or worthy of some good old-fashioned pampering now and then? I'll share with you the areas of my life that desperately need tending to:

1) Establishing a regular workout routine and refining diet. Sitting at this desk all day, day in and day out as a freelance writer has left me with some excess baggage. I'm often sluggish and low on energy, and my clothes fit too tight as a result. I've started working out every morning after dropping the kids off at school. Honestly, if I don't do it in the morning, I'll wind up pushing it back behind my work priorities and blowing it off altogether.

My diet is suffering too. I snack a lot when I'm stressed and what's better to snack on than cookies? I am living proof that you can be an unhealthy vegetarian. Bye bye junk food treats.

2) Taking time out. Because I'm a mother of four and wife of one, I often feel guilty about needing time away from my family, but I've always been a person who needs lots of alone time. Not allowing myself to do something as simple as go to Rite Aid unaccompanied for months on end makes me quite crabby. I now do myself and those I love a favor by taking at least an hour a week to leave the house and lose myself in solitude for at least two hours.

3) Take time off from freelance writing. I have been trying to make the transition to not working on weekends unless it's on my own stuff. Some weekends have been more successful than others, but I'm getting there. Three clients emailed me over the weekend about work. I rejected the urge to become involved and let them know I'd contact them first thing Monday morning. From here on out I will only make myself available to clients on weekends when we have made previous arrangements. My time with my family is precious.

4) Spending time with friends. Because I have a tendency to be a loner (dare I say maverick?), I don't realize how much I miss my friends until we talk on the phone or finally get to spend some time hanging out. Working as a freelance writer for the past year has increased the distance between us. Laughing with them feels like I'm a deflating balloon releasing built up stress. I can't continue to neglect these relationships.

There's much more that I need to change, but I've got to start somewhere, right? I plan to be a freelance writer for a very long time, so I've got to begin taking care of myself and create a more balanced life. Do you take care of yourself like you should?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Is the Economy Changing the Way You Operate as a Freelance Writer?

I don't mean for you start taking $2 and $3 per keyword article writing jobs to make extra money. Please don't do that. I want to know if the recent economic changes have caused you to rethink your freelance writing business strategy.

Don't be a One Trick Pony

Whether or not you choose to specialize in a certain niche or work primarily as a generalist is a personal decision. There are benefits to both. As a specialized expert in developing winning press releases, you can position yourself to become known as the go to person for awesome releases that get results. Likewise, a generalists may be able to target more clients across the board. But if you freelance for a living, you still need to think about diversifying your income streams. Now more than ever.

Amy Derby discusses her decision to start offering blogging consultation services, Sharon Hurley Hall has initiated a valuable writer mentoring service to help new freelance writers start their own freelance writing careers. These are some very savvy business moves that prove freelance writers can take their valuable skills and increase their earning power significantly. Go ahead, give yourself a raise.

Just in Time for the Holidays

Jennifer Mattern discussed the impending holidays in a recent post. She talked about preparing your holiday marketing strategy NOW – something I've never bothered to do because I don't celebrate the holidays. But that's silly because most of my clients do.

She shared some great ideas for passing some savings along to your clients: Offering special rates for a certain length of time, sending a free special report and more. Check it out. I'm planning my own "end of the year closeout" special right now.

Should You Lower Your Rates to Give Clients a Break?

This is a sensitive topic for most freelance writers. Only James Chartrand at Men With Pens would be brave enough to bring it up as he discusses why "Recessions are the Best Time to Start a Business." I don't know about you, but it's taken a lot of research and silly mistakes for me to arrive at the rates I now charge. When I first read James' thought provoking post on yesterday advocating that freelancers consider lowering their rates, I wasn't quite sure where he was going. I suppose it's a personal decision for each individual writer – but it's one that deserves a certain amount of consideration.

Consider first whether you are charging enough in the first place before you even think about lowering your rates. As a business owner (which you are), it's entirely up to you to make sure you have enough clients and charge enough to live on. I realize the reason most freelance writers don't discuss rates, or display them on their websites. It's because so many different factors can wind up affecting the cost of a project; research, organizing information and the difficulty of a topic just to name a few.

Once you carefully analyze your situation, you might find that you can still benefit from slightly lowering your rates. It could make it easier for a client to send you more projects, or make it easier for a prospective client to afford you. But please don't go changing your rates without crunching the numbers first.

A lot of people consider freelance writing to be a very carefree business. But any business benefits from a well thought out business strategy. Take the time to figure out what you want from your freelance writing business and think of what you can do to continue making a comfortable living – despite the current economic gloom and doom. Have you made any recent changes as freelance writer or blogger?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Client Issues are a Freelance Writing Reality

I want to thank Lori Widmer for calling attention to a very puzzling issue I've been having with a recent client. You can read here to get the full story. Lori is a writer I respect very much. She offers very valuable freelance writing advice and insight for new and existing freelance writers that can help them to build a thriving business.

Well, Lori gave me some very straightforward advice, and I needed it. In taking her advice, I prepared to go on as usual with the business of consistently marketing and handling other projects. Then yesterday, the client in question called me up to discuss a brand new project.

I couldn't resist. I just flat out asked him what was going on with the "big" project he'd made a deposit payment on last month. He explained that his company had placed the project temporarily on hold while they worked on streamlining some internal operations. His business has recently experienced some growing pains lately, and they really needed to take care of some crucial issues before giving the "big" project the time and attention it requires. He assured me the "big" project is still a go.

So Lori, I told him that I was still committed to working on the project, but I couldn't guarantee that when he gives the thumbs up to get started I'll be available to jump on it right away. Thankfully the client said he completely understood.

So the mystery of the prepaid project that never arrived has officially been solved. The moral of this story is: Communicate with your clients right away when issues come up. Physician heal thyself…;-)

Monday, October 13, 2008

Twitter and Other Social Networking Distractions

I have managed to resist Twitter for over a year. If you knew how easy it is for me to get distracted from a project at hand and start goofing off you would know how much I really should have just stayed away.

Freelance writers have been singing it's heavenly praises for a long time. I'll admit, my interest was peaked when I found out a couple of writers I admire announced they had joined. But when I saw writers on forums and blogs discussing actual projects they had gotten as a result of tweeting, I found it too hard to resist any longer.

I also just recently signed up for FaceBook and Linked In accounts. Potentially more distraction. I'm not the most social creature, so social networking could be a necessary evil in order for me to begin making some valuable contacts. Since I'm still new on Twitter, I'm still a bit shy right now, but I don't expect that to last very long. Follow me if you tweet too.

Some say it's important for freelance writers – especially bloggers and web writers – to join these networking sites. Of course I've also heard others say they are a complete waste of time. It's still too soon for me to know which way to lean. So how do you guys feel about all of these social networking tools? Have you made any contacts that have led to more work?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Find Job Security as a Freelance Writer

Right now there is a lot of financial turmoil taking place around us, but still I say, DO NOT PANIC. Because if you haven't noticed yet, businesses are still looking for freelance writers. Oh yeah, there are a lot of business out there searching for us. In the past month I've had two prospects contact me because both businesses had longtime freelance writers they heavily relied upon to recently freak out and leave them for a "steady," full-time job. These companies did not advertise their positions. I just happened to contact them directly while marketing my services.

I even think that it's possible that more freelance writing work could become available because of the massive layoffs. Heck, somebody has to write the copy, right? One good thing about being a freelance writer amid this financial crisis is that we are survivors by nature. We know how to handle the ebb and flow of income. We create our own job security.

When you need to keep the projects coming, you have to put in some work. It's that simple. Consider the following as you work to create financial stability:

1) Diversify your client base. If you are relying on one or two clients for your income, think seriously about what would happen if those clients suddenly fell to the wayside. If you can't afford it, schedule time each day to search for new clients. You need enough of a variety so that if business stops coming from one source, you're still covered.

2) Market consistently. I was recently on a writer's forum where a couple of writers were complaining about not having enough clients and how much they hated marketing. But this is the easiest way to keep projects coming and increase your bottom line. Don't stop marketing altogether just because you're busy. And create a marketing plan that helps you reach the right clients that are positioned to send more work your way. Consistent marketing pays off in a big way.

3) Increase the value you bring to your clients. Treat them right every time. I'm surprised at how many freelance writers skip these basics: return emails or phone calls in a timely manner, keep clients updated on projects, stick to deadlines, and let clients know about any additional services you offer that could help their business. Keep clients informed by say for instance offering a free report to educate them about the role quality web content plays in sales conversion. And stay educated and up to the minute on any trends and changes affecting your specific niche and your clients' businesses.

4) Keep your eyes open. The Internet and technology in general are always changing, so make sure your business keeps up.

5) Don't be afraid of change. Your business may already be in pretty good shape. But if you are struggling to meet your goals, then it may be time to make adjustments to your business plan. Business is always evolving, so don't get stuck in only doing things one way. The beauty of an online business is that it's easily adaptable.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Do You Need to Incorporate Your Freelance Writing Business?

When I first started freelance writing full-time, I scheduled a visit with our accountant for some advice. One thing I wanted to know was whether or not I should incorporate my business. He said no at the time, but added that the situation might change as my business evolved.

But now, as we grow closer to the end of the year, I'm revisiting the idea as a real possibility for 2009. Right now I operate as a sole proprietor. One reason I'm considering incorporating is that the taxes I'd be required to pay for money earned by my company would be less than what I pay when I claim it as personal income. And I've also been thinking about it could protect my personal assets. If someone decided to sue a company I wrote web content or some other material for, I wouldn't be part of the lawsuit (I'm no lawyer, so I could be wrong about that part). But I already include a protection clause in my service agreement that states my clients own the material once it's paid for and release me from any responsibility. But is it enough?

Freelance writers in the United States have three options available if they want to incorporate a business:

C Corporation

S Corporation

Limited Liability

I'm leaning toward an LLC because I wouldn't need to create a board, elect officers and so forth. It seems to be the least complicated of the three. Is it necessary to incorporate? It may not be necessary, but as your business evolves, you should at least weight the pros and cons for yourself. Bonny Albo at Suite101 has done a god job of explaining things from small business perspective. Be sure to check it out for more detailed information.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Freelance Writing Quandary: Print or Online?

When I first began freelance writing part-time, I was a regular contributor to a couple of small niche magazines. Since I've gone full-time, I mainly write material for online clients (website content, blog posts, keyword articles, email marketing campaigns, etc.). Today I sent off the first print publication query I've written in about nine months. I miss writing for magazines.

Don't get me wrong, I have no intention of abandoning my online clients. They are the reason I was able to make such a quick transition from part-time freelance writer to full-time. But I miss the assignments, research and the writing process that goes into developing a magazine article. I even miss the anticipation of waiting to find out whether my story idea will be accepted or not. And I miss getting those fat, juicy checks in the mail.

What I like about writing for the web is the challenge of writing snappy content that will engage readers to stay and hear more about what I have to say. With blogging especially, I like the way you can just start a conversation and share feedback. No, I love it! And I also love how quickly you can get paid. Instant gratification.

But sometimes my online deadlines are so tight they literally overlap one another. Print magazines in contrast will sometimes give a lead time of several months to create a piece. As long as you don't try to write it all at the last minute, it's not as stressful. But waiting for the payment can be. It can take months following publication to get that check.

As freelance writers we should never get bored. We have so many different avenues available to make a living. If you are interested in freelance writing for publications, why not go for it? You can get a copy of the current Writer's Market, or just go online and check out the submission guidelines of a publication that interests you. Jenna Glatzer's book Make a Real Living as a Freelance Writer is an incredible guide. She walks writers step-by-step through the process of crafting a query, creating article ideas, tackling the assignment, marketing reprints and so much more.

So I'm putting the finishing touches on my query letter right now and am preparing to hit send. Wish me luck. :)

Monday, October 6, 2008

A Scheduling Challenge - Waiting for the Work

I have a client who has been getting a big project ready for me. I know that clients often make big promises of work and fail to deliver, but I am confident about this project because I have already received the down payment for the work, and a signed agreement – a month ago.

My client began preparing me for this big project around July. He said that I should even consider finding some other writers to help out. I reluctantly put a couple of feelers out to see who might be interested in helping out. My reluctance was because I didn't know when the work would come exactly, so I didn't want anyone to pass up paying work until I knew for certain.

A couple of good freelance writers have let me know that they are willing to help out when the work arrives. But since I will be responsible for the bulk of the project, I have been wondering whether I should keep my own schedule slightly open just in case it arrives – because he has made an initial payment and there will be a lot on my plate during that time. But in the meantime, I've got to eat, and the mortgage must be paid.

I hate trying to juggle the projects I'm currently working on with those that "are coming soon." I haven't stopped working, but honestly I could have taken on more projects while waiting. In the future, I will have to handle things differently. Have you ever dealt with a project that's been perpetually placed on hold?

Friday, October 3, 2008

Selling Your Own Products

As you may know I have been punctuating a lot of my billable hours working on some projects of my own. One project I'm working on is developing a free report with web writing information to help prospects who visit one of my websites

I came across a recent post at where Deb Ng gives readers a heads up about an eBook she's working on. She asks whether or not anyone has ever considered writing and selling an eBook before.

I do think about productizing my own services from time to time, but even though I am happy with the success I am having growing my freelance writing business, I am not sure that I would consider myself an authority when there are so many other writers I regularly look to for inspiration, advice and information.

What makes someone an authority? What makes them credible enough that others would buy their report, eBook, book, eCourse, teleseminar, webinar? I am a regular financial supporter of these types of products. It would be nice to make an income leveraging my skills and help someone else succeed at the same time.

But for now, I feel like I should first establish myself as an expert in my eyes and to those around me. My local library has an entrepreneurial start up series that is ongoing. I am seriously thinking of offering to teach a web writing class. Hey, it's a start. I can also refer attendees to my website and give out materials with my company name a business card.

Have you considered selling your own products, or had success creating and selling your own products? If so, how did you come to recognize yourself as an authority in your industry? I'd love to hear your story. :)

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Meeting Clients Face to Face

Earlier this afternoon I had my first face to face meeting with a client I've been working with for almost 12 months. They are probably my biggest client (and my favorite because they ALWAYS pay on time and keep me happy, brimming with projects to work on) and currently the only one who's local.

My main contact kindly invited me to lunch discuss the new direction of the company and how business is increasing as a result. You could say he had me at "hello." We briefly discussed the fact that I am a vegetarian when deciding where to meet and settled on a quaint, trendy neighborhood bistro in town. Then I started getting nervous.

You should have seen me last night throwing outfits, purses and shoes all around. He said it was a casual lunch meeting, but I was obsessed with making sure I made the best face-to-face impression.

I used to consider my freelance writing business as completely virtual. Why do I need to meet clients? I love the anonymity of operating an online business. But lately I've had more requests from local prospects to meet face to face. Perhaps it's a final step in making sure I'm the writer they're looking for. In the case of my current client, I think they wanted to make sure I was willing and able to handle their expanding business. I say since they're the ones paying, there's nothing wrong with that.

The meeting was successful, I'm happy to say. These guys are brilliant at what they do for other businesses, and I'm glad to be a part of their future plans. I know that getting out and meeting clients can be a challenge for some writers, but if you can, I highly suggest it. It could take your business relationship to the next level. Take advantage of your next client meeting with the following tips:

1) Talk less and listen more. I talk a lot, and think I did today at my meeting… But it's best to let your clients do the bulk of the talking.

2) If you plan to take notes, ask the client if they mind first. Some people may feel that you are distracted by writing as they speak.

3) Clarify what you've heard. Repeat what you client says back so they know you understand them.

4) Up sell your services. If you're currently working on web content, suggest something like submitting articles to directories for back linking, etc.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Freelance Writing During a Gas Shortage

Today was the first day in about three weeks that I didn't see long lines trailing up the road and into the local gas station when I took the kids to school. The gas shortage here in Atlanta had really gotten ugly as people drove around town searching for stations with gas. Some people were traveling 30 miles away from their homes going to 10 different stations before finding any! It was standard to see police monitoring the stations to keep heads cool under such volatile conditions.

I drive a gas guzzling minivan (hush your mouth – I need room for three booster seats and one baby seat), so as you can imagine I have never been more grateful to work from home. I have all of the necessities within a 5 mile radius of my house: grocery store and gas station (two blocks away), health food market, post station, print shop, park (for when kids are going crazy and running around the yard just won't do), kid's school and library. I'm also on the bus line if things were to really get hairy.

Even with the current economic panic and gas shortage taking place around me, I am grateful to have plenty of projects to keep me busy and pay the bills. If I hadn't left my job at the paper five years ago, today I could either be a victim of their most recent round of layoffs, or still stuck with a daily 60 minute commute – no, make that a two to three hour commute because I'd need time to search for gas. I shudder to think…

Monday, September 29, 2008

Extreme Blog Makeover

Notice anything different? Well, thanks to Lena Towes of Simply Fabulous Blogger Templates, an extremely talented Blogger custom template designer, Avid Writer has a fresh, new look! I know that it is a common consensus among many bloggers that Blogger is "out," and Wordpress is "where it's at." Well, if I weren't so technologically challenged, I probably would have gone the Wordpress route in the first place; but Blogger is what I can handle right now. It allows me to say what I need to say, and that's why I blog here. And now Lena has created a custom template to give me a professional looking writer's blog. Thanks, Lena! :)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Do Unto Other Bloggers as You Would Have Them Do Onto You?

Amy Derby at Write at Home's Monday post, "Stupid Blogger Netiquette #407 (The Great Platitudists of Blogland Strike Again)", started with a question someone recently asked her: "Would you read my blog even if I didn't read yours?" Hmmm, I'd never really thought about it much until she brought up the subject. Two rules of netiquette Amy mentions:
1) It's rude not to respond to every single comment
2) If a blogger comments on your blog it's only polite to return the favor.

I'm no blogging expert (I'm sure you're not shocked by that), but I have noticed that most guides to blogging suggest that you should always make a point of posting on another's blog as a courtesy when they take the time to post on yours. I try to do that when I can, but can be hard considering I can only allow so much time in my day for online socializing. I LOVE reading blogs – not just writing blogs – but I usually post only when I have something meaningful to contribute. Now that's not to say I'm not guilty of leaving a "great post!" response because I'll admit that I have. But I meant it. Really!

I never want anyone to feel obligated to post a comment on my blog any more than I'd wish to pay someone to do so. I understand why experts recommend commenting on blogs as a way of driving traffic to your own. I have found some pretty cool blogs that I now frequent because some really nice people stopped by to leave comments. I'm an introvert, but I do have a social side so I love taking part in discussions both online and off. I do try like the dickens to respond to comments left by those who stop by.

I'll comment on a blog it's because I find a particular topic interesting, and I continue to visit (often lurking about…) because I am fascinated by the way a blogger thinks and I want to know more about what they have to say. It's genuine, whether they decide to comment here or not. If you don't read my blog, even though I read yours, that's okay. It's all good. :)

Monday, September 22, 2008

Finding Time to Work on Your Own Stuff: a Freelancing Necessity

I have turned over a new leaf. I will no longer spend my weekends slaving away on freelance writing projects – except if there are unusual circumstances (must be flexible because unusual circumstances have a habit of showing up in my life completely unexpected).

I was keeping a schedule over the last three months that was nearly running me into the ground. Burnout was just around the corner. And to be completely honest, it was my own fault because I wouldn't establish a writing schedule each day. Since I stopped turning my nose up at creating a more structured work day, I have gotten much more accomplished. Besides, I need a life.

I have made a commitment to start working on my own stuff more regularly. Prioritizing my day is the only way to find the time. I need to do all sorts of things: design a new website, write the content, re-purpose some articles, develop a special report, promote my business…you get the idea.

I have been squeezing in time every evening and on the weekends to brainstorm and work on my stuff. When you are everything to your business – the business manager, administrator, accountant, creative/designer, etc. – It can become overwhelming. When I start to feel that way, I think of the answer to the question: 'How do you eat an elephant?' You do it one bite at a time.

Working on your own projects is an important part of growing your business. Taking classes, creating products of your own to sell, writing advance blog posts, writing a book and other projects could ultimately affect your bottom line – profitability and income. It's an investment in your business and your future. After all, you spend hours working on writing projects for your clients everyday. Shouldn't you make time for your own business?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Want to Start a Freelance Writing Business? There's No Time Like the Present

Wow what a week it's been. Between the Lehman Brothers and AIG fiasco, stock market shenanigans and talk of bailing out even more troubled banks, it's enough to make a full-time freelance writer or any other solopreneur start getting all sweaty and panicky. But not so fast…

Call me crazy, but I actually feel more secure knowing that I'm steering my own ship. If I were still working for the newspaper, I'd be shivering in my shoes right about now (newspapers haven't been doing so well for a while now anyway). As a freelance writer, you really do have the power to command your own income. Yeah, it takes a lot of hard work – anything worth while usually does. But there are lots of writers with a steady stream of projects. I'm finding that as some businesses cut back on specialized departments like marketing, they still need writers. So to save money on overhead, these companies are seeking contract writers. Two huge companies in my hometown advertised high paying, ongoing contract positions on Keep your eyes open…

I want to share some encouragement from some of my favorite blogs with you this Friday. To quote one of my favorite musical artists of all time, Bob Marley: "Don't give up the fight!"

Naomi Dunford's post over at really gives entrepreneurs food for thought.

Also, check out Paty Slim's eye opening post at Escape from Cubical Nation .

And enjoy reading Yuwanda Black's post at Inkwell Editorial to put to rest any doubts you have about the freelance road you're traveling.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Freelance Writing Basics: Are You Covered?

Lately I have been hearing a lot from clients about their nightmarish experiences working with previous freelance writers. I'm hearing about language barriers and issues with receiving quality content from one client who tried cutting financial corners by hiring writers overseas, problems with writers being unable to meet deadlines consistently and issues with receiving content riddled with careless errors due to lack of proofreading and editing.

In my humble opinion, these are the basics any freelance writer hoping to make a living should have down pat. Laziness in these key areas could prevent you from getting certain projects, and cause you to loose clients.

I know exactly what they are talking about; I had a huge project back in February that I needed help with, so I hired a couple of freelance workers to help out so I could still meet my deadline. I got a firsthand peek at what many of these clients are dealing with regularly. I posted the job at a certain forum requesting samples and work experience and was overwhelmed with responses.

One writer in particular practically begged me for the job. After a day or so of emailing back and forth, I send her the project. I never heard from her again. After spending time looking over countless online portfolios, I found three writers. One was great – she delivered exactly what I expected before deadline. The second writer was also pretty good. The third writer sent the completed work back by the deadline, but it appeared she had rushed through the project. She didn't even bother to run a spell and grammar check. I had to practically rewrite everything.

When I market for freelance writing or blogging clients, my goal is to build ongoing relationships. This will keep me busy, and lessen my marketing efforts – one time projects are okay here and there, but I need more. It's important to give your clients exactly what they expect when they expect it. This gives them confidence in your ability and a real sense of well being. If you can make your clients believe that they are lucky to have you on their team, that's half the battle won. This is why I believe that as freelance writers we shouldn't worry too much about competition over jobs. You would be surprised how many writers out there are not consistently covering the basics. These include but aren't limited to:

Always do what you say

This is largely an issue of integrity. When you give your word in business, it's considered a verbal contract. Don't promise clients the sun and moon. Be realistic about what you can deliver so that you always keep your word. This is such an easy way to gain a client's trust and respect.

Meet your established deadlines – no excuses

Hey, sometimes life happens. I know; I've got four kids, and kids have an uncanny way of getting sick or having other issues when you need to meet an important deadline. Clients know that things can come up. The problem is that many have dealt with flaky freelancers in the past that always have some kind of drama going on preventing them from completing work on time. I was surprised to hear this – this is a basic basic in freelance writing! Again, be realistic about the time you need to complete a project and just do it.

Still, things cannot be avoided. When this happens let your client know as soon as possible that you are having trouble meeting your deadline because XYZ. They may not like it, but you may be able to renegotiate the deadline. Having another writer you can turn to in an emergency is a big help as well.

Proofread your copy carefully before submitting

Now I'll admit this was a shortcoming I had to overcome. As writers, we should strive for perfection when presenting a final product. It should be grammatically correct; spell checked and proofed for errors a couple of times. This goes for emails and any other written correspondence as well. Your words represent who you are.

It's a really good idea to have a second set of eyes to look things over before submitting. But if you can't, Lori Widmer recently reminded me of something I learned to do back in the day – read your copy out loud. You'd be surprised at many pesky mistakes you can catch that way.

These are by no means all there is to becoming a successful freelance writer, but it's a start. Master the basics, and your clients will love you for it.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Gigs for New (and Not So New) Freelance Writers

If you are a freelance writer, or any other independent contractor, you've no doubt heard the advice: Never have just one egg in your basket." By eggs I mean clients. I've said it before, diversification is a good thing.

I have recently received a few emails from newbie writers asking how to get started. To be honest, that's one of the hardest aspects of freelance writing – getting that first gig that not only increases your income, but gives you the experience and writing samples you'll need as you move forward in your business.

I've noticed that one of the first places new writers are told to get started is Associated Content. There is nothing wrong with AC at all – but if you are strapped for cash like I was when I first started, AC alone won't cut it – although it is a nice way to create some residual income. If your article is accepted for payment, you'll make money, plus you can set up a system of adding more articles to receive a residual income each month according to the number of page views the articles receive. It's a good way of establishing yourself as an expert in a certain niche like gardening, fitness or whatever. Not bad for a little something on the side.

For new writers searching for paid experience, SEO writing can be the easiest way to get started. SEO stands for search engine optimization. Specific keywords are used to increase search engine ranking. You may come across ads on various job boards, forums and bidding sites where clients are seeking SEO writers to write "high quality" content at 500 words or more for $2, $3 and $5. Pass it up – that's my humble opinion. There are plenty of clients willing to pay a decent wage for quality SEO content. Seriously.

If you are looking for a way to break in to freelance writing and get some pretty steady work, here are two legitimate companies to check out: Writer's Research Group and Demand Studios. Both have one or more clients writers can write for, and they always pay their writers on time. Even if you are not a new freelance writer, these companies can round out your income, adding stability during those inevitable slower months. If you want to learn more about either of these companies, visit the writer's forum where you can read what others who work for them have to say, or post your own questions to be answered. Happy writing everyone.;)

Monday, September 15, 2008

Can Your Marketing Efforts Work Too Well?

I know I am always preaching about the virtues of consistent marketing, but this weekend off has really got me thinking. I came across The Irreverent Freelancer's Friday post entitled "The Freelance Market is Temporarily Closed." Kathy Kehrli discusses something I think every solopreneur ends up struggling with a some point or another – balancing a schedule crammed with existing clients and projects while continuing to market for new clients. I can relate to this post so much right now that it's not even funny.

You have enough work to keep you busy for months. In fact, you can't fit in any more clients right now since you are already working 10-15 hour days seven days a week to handle everything on your plate as it is. Your marketing fear is a legitimate one: suppose you continue the same pace of marketing, and a prospect responds with a new project while you are completely swamped with projects. Do you accept and do a mediocre job, or place them on a waiting list for up to one month?

And then there is another scenario to worry about: Suppose you stop marketing altogether while you are busy, then November and December roll around and you don't have enough projects scheduled. What then?

I actually experienced this situation a couple of weeks ago while working on several projects at once – one of which was quite challenging. I suddenly had a new client, which was a testament to my vigilant marketing efforts, but the timing couldn't have been worse. Working with a new client takes extra time to make sure you understand the project scope and understand their business needs. Unfortunately, I just didn't have a lot of time to spare. Somehow I pulled it off, but what about the next time?

I've seen writers post messages like "Not Accepting New Clients until …" on their websites. Believe me, I have certainly felt like doing that, but don't think I can. In times like these you could loose a client in the blink of an eye. How badly it would effect you depends on a lot of things like whether you have another income to depend on, how much money you have saved to fall back on or whether you have other clients in place.

This is becoming a real challenge for my freelancing business. Still, until I find a better solution, my gut is telling me to keep on marketing (maybe contacting fewer prospects) no matter what.

Friday, September 12, 2008

TGIF: A Freelancer's Sigh of Relief

I have officially worked non-stop on projects seven days a week for the past three months. I am exhausted, nearing the dreaded freelancer burnout. So I have worked my hiney off this week in order to take this weekend off to rest, rejuvenate and gear up for a couple of new writing projects starting next week.

Dave Navarro has a great post on Freelance Switch discussing freelance burnout, "How to Keep the Freelancing Spark (Without Burning Out). I highly recommend it. As for me, I'm going to spend my weekend reading a book, working in my little vegetable garden and start knitting this ultra-cool fall afghan I don't think I can live without (it's been a while since I've picked up my needles so I hope I still remember how). Enjoy your weekend!:)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Freelance Writing Research 101

Last week I wrestled around with a writing project that just about had me pulling my hair out. I was creating web content for an industrial manufacturer of thermostats. And silly me – I gave the client my normal deadline without really thinking about how much research was involved (the client supplied NO resource material, by the way).

I have worked as a journalist before, so I'm pretty good at researching topics. But finding in-depth information about industrial thermal measuring devices proved to be a big fat challenge. Most of the information I found online was product information. Even my local library failed me miserably on this one. After doing some online research I found High Beam Research, an online library reference site for just under $200 a year. I was pleased with what I found, but I didn't quite want to part with $200. They're offering a one week free trial for anyone wanting to try out their service.

Thank goodness for freelance writing forums. I desperately reached out for help on a writer's forum and help did arrive. I was asking other writers to share their experiences with High Beam Research so that I could make a decision. Another writer suggested a FREE online library resource site called Galileo. Boy do I love free stuff – especially when it does the exact same thing as a service you could pay for. The link I've provided is for the state of Georgia, but I'm told that most library systems include a link on their website for visitors as a courtesy. The many magazine, newspaper and journal articles I accessed provided exactly what I needed to complete my project with my sanity intact. Yaay!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Do Your Clients Really Know About Your Freelance Writing Skills?

A client and I were discussing a few of the projects I am currently working on for his company. During our conversation, I asked him a question about something related to a new blogging gig I've recently picked up. He is a very kind person – always generous with helpful information. After answering my question he said, "I didn't know that you offered business blogging services. We are really going to be needing help with that on some upcoming projects."

We went on to discuss rates and so forth. But it really got me thinking about how many of my other clients are totally oblivious about what I can do for them?

I have a website outlining my services (and it is in desperate need of a makeover), and even though many of my clients have visited it, I'm sure they don't remember anything listed on the site other than the specific service they contacted me to help with initially. So maybe these clients think I only do A instead of also being able to help out with B, C, and D.

So now I have a couple of new projects scheduled for the previously mentioned client all because of that conversation which allowed me to refresh his memory about the writing services I provide. Apparently I've been missing something here all along. How do you keep your regular clients in the loop about the various freelance writing skills you offer?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Freelance Writers: Don't Sweat the "Competition"

No, I have not abandoned my beloved blog even though it appears that way. But you would not believe how incredibly busy I was last week! Clients seemed to step out of the woodwork, and I am glad that I have gotten control over things this week. I'm telling you, marketing works!

I did want to share an interesting incident with you – this happened about a week or so ago. An interested prospect called me up after receiving an email I'd sent her offering my freelance writing services. She asked me to visit a couple of her websites first, and then get back in touch with her if I thought I could deliver quality copywriting like the portfolio of samples on those sites.

I looked at the sites and felt confident I could indeed deliver. So I responded by email as she instructed. For some odd reason the emails kept bouncing back, so I just decided to give her a call. She seemed genuinely interested to hear from me. We started the conversation discussing my website, my portfolio and writing experience. Then suddenly out of nowhere she completely flipped the script (I like saying that) and asked me if I was planning to start my own business.

Confused, I explained to her that I was already in a sense running a business as a freelance writer. That wasn't the answer she was looking for. She asked if I had plans to start a business like hers where I would find large corporate clients and outsource the work to other freelance writers like myself. By now I was starting to get that funny feeling that something wasn't quite right. She continued saying, "I'm not sure what I can do for you honestly. Usually I work with writers who don't really feel like looking for work; they want someone who will supply projects for them so they don't have to go out and find clients themselves."

But wait – it gets better. Then she said, "I don't want to teach you everything I know and then in a couple of years have you turn around and become my competition." I was left speechless for a second. Then I suddenly realized that I should be thanking this lady for showing me upfront what I was about to get involved with.

I politely thanked her for her time, wished her much success with her business, hung up the phone and sighed one of the biggest sighs of relief I'd ever sighed! I'd say I dodged a bullet right there. I know that as writers we are all trying to find work, and that to some degree there is a spirit of competition. Still, I firmly believe there is more than enough well paying work for all of us out there. But you do have get up off of your bum (I like saying that too) and go get it!

Before I forget, I want to wish all of my fellow Muslim writers out there Ramadan Mubarak. Happy writing everyone!
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