Thursday, June 26, 2008

Does Your Business Work When You Don't?

Crystal Clayton blogs at Big Bright Bulb, a blog with some of the juiciest tidbits of advice for very small businesses with even smaller budgets. She really got me thinking after reading yesterday's post when she asked, "How long can your business last without you?" What would happen to your income?

It's something I've been thinking about on and off lately. What happens if you can't work? Do you have a system set up to generate some sort of income? If you're lucky enough to have a significant other or someone else kick in funds when the going gets tough, that's great. Really. But the thought of something happening to me before I get some residual income coming in through other sources is pretty scary.

I am a writer. I write a lot. Right now my business is set up so that if I don't write I don't get paid which means the family doesn't eat. And ladies and gentlemen, that's not good business. I need to make a change.

After I had my twins, I decided to quit my advertising sales position. My husband was running his own business and it was doing well enough that we could do it. About a month later he was involved in a serious car accident while returning home from a business trip. He was hospitalized with a neck fracture, broken back and two of his fingers were severed and had to be reattached. Needless to say we weren't prepared. It took him over six months to recover, and during that time we lived off my 401k.

The moral of this story: Start thinking of ways you can create multiple streams of income for your business. You're a freelance writer, and you love it, but if you depend on it for your livelihood you have to treat it like a business, not a hobby. That means be on the look out for opportunities to grow and expand it. For some that might mean creating products like ecourses, ebooks and ongoing subscriptions for continuing services – possibilities are everywhere. It might take some research (yeah, I know. There are only 24 hours in the day. Tell me about it), but it will not only increase your profits, it will increase your security too.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Generalist or Specialist? What Kind of Writer are You?

When I look back on some of the mistakes I have made as a freelance writer, I'd say one of the biggest could be marketing my services as a generalist. In the beginning when people found out I was a freelance writer, they'd ask me to write all kinds of stuff: business plans, resumes, grant proposals, school charters, constitutions for non-profit organizations – you name it.

Now I don't mean to toot my own horn, but I'm a decent writer, so I was able to do a pretty good job for some of these clients. For other projects I was completely out of my league. I jumped into my business so quickly that I didn't have a well formulated plan for figuring out which writing services I would offer. I'm in the process of correcting that now.

A lot of writers talk about niche writing and having a specialty. I thumbed my nose at it at first thinking I'd make much more money doing it all. But now I think they were on to something all along, and I've arrived a little late to the party.

Becoming a specialist in one or two areas of writing can position you as an expert in that area. Whether it's press releases, sales letters, SEO copywriting or direct mail material, there are clients looking to give expert writers a lot of business – and they pay well too.

As I said, I'm still figuring it all out, but I am finding some success in targeting certain niches. I'll keep you updated on how things turn out…

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

SEO Copywriters: Real Freelance Writers or Not?

A few months ago, I was reading a great post by one of my favorite bloggers on the subject of keyword article writing, also known as SEO writing (for those who may not know). This particular blog is known for initiating some very thoughtful conversations among other freelance writers who visit. At the time I was just getting started freelancing full-time, but I quickly learned how many writers out there perceive SEO writing.

Insults about "lowly SEO writers" were being hurled left and right. The discussion started out innocently where writers discussed the type of writing they did on a regular basis to support themselves. Things quickly went haywire and continued spiraling out of control.

I followed the comments throughout the day. I was afraid to post in defense of SEO writing because (1) I had just started doing it a week before and (2) I saw how my fellow SEO writers were being eaten alive. It was a hot mess. By the last time I checked in that day there were 45 comments. The number grew overnight. The first thing I did when I turned on my computer the next day was check the comments of that blog to see what I had missed. There was a new post where the blogger expressed her disappointment about the discussion. She had to resort to deleting posts because things had gotten so ugly that writers had resorted to name calling. Wow.

I got my start writing for newspapers and a couple of niche magazines. But I quickly found that SEO gigs were plentiful and paid well and often over time – something I needed as the primary bread winner in my family. SEO writing is what made it possible for me to go full-time almost immediately, and I didn't start out with those $1, $3 or $5 an article jobs either.

Today, I do a decent mix of copywriting and SEO along with my print publication gigs. One thing I found interesting about that blog blood bath is not one commenter that put down SEO writing bothered to qualify what DOES make a "real freelance writer." Well shoot, I guess we'll never know now.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Life of a Freelance Writer: Setting Boundaries When You Work From Home

One of the biggest complaints among freelance writers and other freelance businesses is getting others in your life to respect your work hours during the day. I have a friend and a relative that used to think nothing of showing up unannounced at my door. I would tell them I was working, and even try to work while they were visiting to get the message across, but apparently I needed a flashing billboard sign.

I have seen many freelance writers discussing this very issue at writer's forums and on their blogs all over the web. Many of us are frustrated with explaining what we do for a living. What does it take to get those close to us to realize that we are running a business, not just kicking it each afternoon? I don't know about you, but my perpetrators always show up when there is a deadline pending.

It used to bother me that my family thought I was sitting around doing nothing all day. But I realized that in order to maintain the love between us, I needed to stop seeking their approval. So I stopped trying to force them to understand my business, and just firmly let them know when they drop by unexpectedly that I am unavailable since I am in the middle of my work day. The frequency of those visits is dwindling fast. Learning to say "no" to the things that take you off course during your work day is an important right of passage for many writers.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Adventures in Cold Calling

When I worked in advertising sales for the local newspaper fresh out of college, I was introduced to cold calling. And I hated it with a passion. Part of my job was to solicit new advertisers. In the beginning, no one trained me how to do this. I was expected to make at least 25 calls a day, and show some sort of results for my efforts when I sat down each month to discuss my goals and performance with my supervisor.

After stalling for a couple of hours each morning to avoid the task at hand, I would get started. I was pitiful, and the rejection cut me like a knife. I would listen to my cubicle neighbors making their calls. Some reps were more successful than others. I tried copying some of their techniques. Eventually I learned a few important things:

  • Cold calling is a numbers game, so consistency is the key.
  • You'll get a lot more people saying "no" than yes.
  • It's important to get to the decision maker, so it helps to do some research beforehand.
  • Even if the person you call says "no" today, it's important to follow up at a later date.
  • Don't take it personal when someone says "no." They don't hate you.
  • In order to sell your service, you have to believe in it implicitly.

    Long story short
    , I got better at it, even though I never really learned to like it. So imagine my surprise when I finally decide to take the leap and start my own freelance writing business, only to learn that cold calling is one of the top marketing techniques recommended. "Ugh, not again!" was my first reaction. Naturally I avoided doing it for as long as I could. But then as I began to realize the importance of establishing a strong marketing plan.

    Freelance copywriters commanding much higher rates than I did were cold calling with abandon – and getting positive results! Everywhere I turned, successful freelancers would mention cold calling as an important marketing strategy. No one said they loved it, but it did seem to get results.

    I bit the bullet. I drafted a script to help me out, and made a couple of calls. And it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. I know my service like the back of my hand. I research each company before calling, so I know what I have to offer. Bingo! I was hired to write some direct response material after my fifth call – not too shabby!

    I still don't enjoy cold calling. Deep down I tend to think of it as a distant cousin to telemarketing (they always call during the dinner hour…) and I feel like I'm being a pest. But these companies are in business just like me. And I have something important to offer that can help their business. Why, I'm doing them a disservice by NOT calling! See, this what you need to believe about your business EVERY time you make that call.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Saying Goodbye: Losing a Client

It was good while it lasted, but I have lost a client or two. It's true. One was an unfortunate victim of the increasing popular company cutbacks resulting from the current state of our economy (I'll keep my political views to myself…). Another never contacted me again after I completed a couple of projects she really seemed to like. And then there was the client who needed me to politely explain the reason why things weren't working out between us. What can I say? It happens.

So you'd better be prepared. Now I'm not saying that you won't have faithful clients for one, two or more years, but if you're like me and you have mouths to feed, it's not a good idea to have just one or two "eggs in your basket." When you have several clients to work with it softens the blow when one of your eggs unexpectedly falls to the wayside.

Diversity is a good thing in business. It provides more security. This week two of your clients need work done, and next week three more need you to send over contracts to begin new projects. Freelance writing is a business prone to feast or famine periods. Dealing with multiple clients just makes sense.

It takes a bit of juggling. You don't want to screw up and miss an important deadline or you might end up kissing another client goodbye. It's important to be organized when you are dealing with multiple projects. You also need to be realistic with yourself about what you can handle.

When a client moves on, don't take it personally - unless you know for a fact they moved on because of something you did. And even if that is the case, treat it as a learning experience. Be honest about what happened, learn the lesson and move on. We all make mistakes, especially in the beginning.

Nine times out of ten a client is moving on for reasons that may have nothing to do with you or the copy you write. They may need to cut back financially and can no longer afford you. They may have found another writer who charges less than you and they don't know how to tell you. They may be taking a copywriting break. I can come up with excuses all day, but you get what I'm saying. Who knows why it happens, but it does.

All you can do is continue to learn and improve your craft and hone your business skills. Market, market, market your services consistently to bring in new business so that if a client suddenly up and leaves, you'll barely notice.

Monday, June 16, 2008

All Work and No Play -- When You Need Time Off

I don't do this. I know should, and I will someday soon, but right now I don't plan vacations and trips for more than two days straight. My business needs me too much right now. I 'm not alone in this thinking – a lot of other freelancers are doing the exact same thing. When you love what you do it can be hard to tear yourself away. Some of the smarter freelance writers out there have figured out how to take a little bit of time off here and there for vacations, holidays and so on. I'll be among them someday…

A little time off is essential. It can prevent burnout and give you the time you need to establish balance in your life. You get to focus on nurturing those important relationships with family and friends. You will return to your work refreshed with brilliant ideas ready to go!

It takes some planning to do this. It really depends on who you are and how you run your business. Some writers put the "gone on vacation" sign out for their customers and refer them to another writer in their absence. Other writers may choose not to disclose their get away plans, and instead will check their email during their vacation and outsource any work that comes up to one or two reliable writers. Then of course some writers pack up their laptops and work on projects while they are away.

But what if an unexpected emergency catches you off guard? Emergencies will happen and will catch you off guard. If you are a soloprenuer, this can be tricky. My daughter had to go to the hospital unexpectedly this past January while I was in the middle of a pretty big project. She was only six and very ill, so I wasn't going to leave my baby all alone in a hospital. At the same time, my client needed his project completed. I packed up my laptop and notes and spent five days working on projects at her bedside. There was even a career center equipped with computers and printers available for working parents. I would go down to the center during her naps and after hours when she slept to print whenever I needed too. I did what was necessary to take care of my child and keep my client happy.

When you are attempting to maintain a business, you can't just jump up and leave whenever the mood strikes. Well, you can, but you might not be in business for too long. People are counting on you, just as your employers were when you worked your nine-to-five job. Thankfully, you have much more flexibility and say so to get things done. If you work as hard as most freelance writers I know, you deserve a little time off. Discipline, organization and determination can help you accomplish a lot without missing a beat.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Observing Online Etiquette

The past weekend was full of juicy drama on some of the online communities I frequent. At one writer's forum in particular it got downright nasty when one writer accused another of not paying him for outsourced work he had completed and turned in. He explained that he had tried contacting the accused with no success, so he was looking to the members of the forum for help in resolving the issue. Things escalated quickly when the accused writer turned around and accused the writer of turning in sub par work that needed to be rewritten. Let's just say it got uglier from there…

This incident took me back to Jodee's post over at where she writes about the need to be careful of how you present yourself online. Basically if you work online you've got to behave just as professionally as you would in the brick and mortar world. Remember that old saying about six degrees of separation? Well, you never know who is watching you online. The online community of freelance writers and online clients who hire is a lot smaller than you might think. If you're susceptible to going on tirades over the most innocent comments or posting confidential email posts containing client information on online forums to support your arguments, people will shy away from working with you.

Now I have been to different online forums socializing and discussing sensitive topics that have gotten me all fired up. But since I have been working professionally as a freelance writer, I have learned to slow down and remember that others are quietly watching the conversations taking place. The forum I mentioned earlier is known for having newbie freelance writers and prospective clients hanging out. You have to really represent because when that potential client finally comes out of the shadows to post that he or she needs writers, you could be overlooked because of all those shenanigans.

Even when people aren't fighting, I have witnessed some veteran freelance writers being rude to others who are just looking for guidance. What's that all about? We were all new once and I am a big believer in paying it forward. The result has been writers posting their disappointment at the lack of support and leaving the forum for good.

Now I admit I have a temper. I know my triggers online and off, so I avoid them. I am trying to run a business here, so I need to present myself at my best to others. After all, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Facing Your Freelancing Fears

This week I have read more than a few posts discussing the challenges and fears of taking the leap to start freelance writing full-time. My first post explains how I went from wishing I was working full-time as a freelance writer to actually doing it. I am still scared all of the time that I don't have enough clients, time to write as much as I need to in order to pay my bills each month or the talent and guts it takes to stick it out.

Naomi Dunford's post at came at the right time. She unabashedly talks about the fears you may feel when you start a new business, which is humbling considering how fearless and confident she comes off. She's a lot like having that bluntly honest friend you need to take you by the shoulders and just shake you until you come to your senses. What are we so afraid of? If I go back to a nine-to-five corporate gig I'll just start worrying about getting laid off and wondering how to be accessible to my kids.

These are scary times and there are no guarantees. There was no better time for me to start my business than when I did. It wasn't the perfect time, but I saw no point in waiting around for something that wasn't going to be – waiting around for that illusive "perfect timing." Besides, I'm at a point in my life where I don't want to have to say "what if" about the things that matter to me. I'm often scared to death, and that's okay. But if I want to be a successful freelance writer, I can't avoid taking risks because of fear. I'm okay with that.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Networking: Pushing Beyond Your Comfort Zone

I had a client once who was a self-professed millionaire. It was important that he make this distinction about himself because his business was teaching others a wealth building system that involved real estate investing. He hired me to write a keynote speech for him about networking for success, and he said something to me that really stood out. He said that a lot of people who want to be successful in life don't know how to network properly. Most of the people we interact with are at our same level when it comes to financial and business success. If you want to move beyond where you are, you need to make an effort to surround yourself with those who already do what you want to do, or have accomplished what you hope to accomplish.

Now I find a lot of truth to this. It's a puzzle I am still trying to figure out. I have steady work, but I am beginning to realize that I could find more success working with corporations instead of focusing solely on other small businesses. After all, aren't those guys struggling to make it just like me?

We are comfortable being around people that are like ourselves. But to be successful in freelance writing or any other business, you need to push beyond that comfort zone. You have to figure out how to begin networking with those willing to pay you generously for your services. I do a lot of copywriting. A new marketing strategy I've been using has revealed to me that many corporations work with freelance writers like myself, and pay quite well. Peter Bowerman author of The Well Fed Writer has mentioned this in his books. Now I am determined to break in.

When you attend networking events, there are a few simple rules you should follow:

  • Rehearse how you will introduce yourself to others. Make sure you include all of the important information including your name, company name and what you do. You will spend less time obsessing over what to say, and free up some of the brain cells needed to remember the names of the people you meet and feel them out.
  • Listen more than you speak. Enough said.
  • Always, always, always follow up when you meet someone at an event and exchange information. If you don't do this, you could be passing up some amazing opportunities.

I network a lot online, but I need to spread my wings and join my city's chamber of commerce and take advantage of some other local opportunities to network my way toward even more opportunities.

Monday, June 9, 2008

The Power of Social Networking for Freelance Writers

Web 2.0 is big right now. REALLY big. There is a lot of pressure to join sites like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Seems like everyone who's anyone among freelancers are setting up professional profiles. I recently caved in and got myself a Facebook account after attending a small business teleseminar singing its praises. The woman hosting the seminar stated Facebook is the number one social networking site (I thought it was MySpace). I can see how it might work out really well for some businesses, but I must admit that I still don't quite get how it could be a good networking tool for freelance writers. She also insisted that she has successfully used it to find her current virtual assistant and other contractors for her coaching business.

My fear is getting all caught up on these sites and pushing off the work, administrative tasks and marketing that need to be done on a continuous basis. I already had to force myself to scale back on visiting some of the writer's forums I frequent. I hear about writers who love Twitter so, but have a hard time staying away when they need to get to work. I could very easily fall into that trap myself.

I have had my Facebook account for two weeks now, and there is nothing on it. I guess I will work on it a little at a time during the week to make it presentable. We'll see how it goes.

Friday, June 6, 2008

A Freelance Writing Challenge - Time to Bump it Up a Notch

I always enjoy reading Chris' blog Freelance Writing at the end of each month where he tallies up his monthly income. Talk about giving you something to aspire to – Chris' income for May 2008 is quite impressive! As a writer, I'm doing okay. I am able to pay my bills each month, and some months are more generous than others; but I have to wonder what is keeping me from setting the kind of goals Chris sets? Why am I not aiming that high with my own income goals? I love to write, but this is a business and I want to be able to earn a comfortable living with my business.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, part of my trouble is an inconsistent marketing strategy. So this week I came up with a plan and am taking steps to change that faux pas. I also need to set a structured writing schedule and stick to it each day. This is my biggest weak spot. I am impulsive and easily distracted. I also have four small children between the ages of eight and two, and a husband who works nights so during the day he likes to talk. A lot. Yes, I have a few challenges, but I should have no problem managing them if I learn to manage my time better and become more disciplined. This week I kept close tabs on the time I spent each day on my writing projects and was amazed at what I don't actually get done!

So now things are going to change. I am preparing a writing schedule for next week. I will designate a set time each day to spend reading and responding to my favorite blogs. I will write my own blog posts this weekend to give myself a head start. I will organize and strategize! I have set a mighty high income goal for myself this June, and I will work like a dog to meet it. Watch out, Chris.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Does Your Freelance Writing Business Really Deliver?

Recently a local client contacted me about my freelance writing services. He had a laundry list of projects he wanted help with – some writing related, some not so much. I started to get sucked in because I had no real focus about the writing services I provided. The money sounded good and I was ready to cash in!

But in the end I was so distracted by the money I couldn't see that I was not a good fit for this client, and vice versa. There were red flags all over the place and I wasted a lot of everyone's time looking the other way. Even though I happily accept the general label "freelance writer," I am committed to focusing more on what skills I bring to the table when determining my deliverables. Christine O'Kelly of wrote about the importance of establishing clear deliverables for freelance writing businesses in her ebook This will make it easier to market my services, and offer my clients top notch writing services in the areas of my expertise. I can say "yes" more confidently when asked to do a project, and I'll know when it's appropriate to turn work down. Trying to be all things to all clients will only end up making my business mediocre at best, and that's just not good enough.
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