Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Surviving a Freelance Slump

Yesterday was not a good day. Nothing seemed to go right – I was behind schedule on all of my projects (meaning behind on the schedule that I set for myself to finish everything, NOT according to the client's schedule), I was dealing with a couple of payment delays and so on, and so forth. Staying motivated took everything I had. And that's when it happened; those nagging whispers of self doubt started in on me. I started thinking to myself, "This is going nowhere"; "I'm so late paying this bill"; "It's sooo slow right now"; "Maybe I should stop kidding myself and just go out and get a (GASP) job".

Like I said, things were looking pretty bleak. I don't know why I slipped into such a slump. But reading this post by Yuwanda Black, "11 Reasons You'll Never Succeed As a Freelance Writer" at Inkwell Editorial's blog really helped snap me out of it. Yuwanda Black has one of the best freelance writing blogs in the blogosphere - in my humble opinion. She's been blogging forever, so you could easily spend a nice long evening learning everything you ever wanted to know about freelance writing from reading through the archives of her blog. She is very candid – not vague or generic – and quite generous with the advice she gives about what it takes to make it as a freelance writer. This is not an easy business, but success is attainable if you are willing to work very hard.

Yuwanda's post helped me put my crabby day into perspective. I am working. As a matter of fact, I'm quite busy with clients right now. I 've been working full-time as a freelance writer for almost a year (in August) and I still have my house, my car, food in the fridge and all of my other essentials. Things could be better – and it's entirely up to me to make it that way.

Her list was a wake up call for me. I am guilty of doing at least five of the writing sins on the list, and I promise to take immediate steps to correct that…

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Getting it All Done: How Do You Manage Each Day?

I think I have made this confession on this blog once before: I am NOT a very organized person. It's in my nature to grab every last bit of sleep I can; which means I may not wake up in the morning until 9:00am (even my kids sleep like this) – a very late start according to many freelancers. I tend to be a night owl – the residual effects of years of late night studying while in college maybe.

I also have a tendency to be a big procrastinator. I used to wait until the last minute to get things done. I'd meet my project deadlines, but I certainly could have paced myself much better.

As I began acquiring more freelance projects, these personality quirks started causing a lot of problems. It's not easy to juggle multiple projects without a plan, and my lack of planning was a disaster waiting to happen. I wanted a successful freelance writing business that would allow me to stay home with my children while I paid the bills. But my priorities were out of order. Being a solopreneur, I wear all of the hats in my business: administrative, billing, bookkeeping, marketing and so forth. I wondered why I never seemed to have time to market my freelance writing services and get my projects completed early. I was not as productive as I knew I could be. Meanwhile my house was in shambles.

The solution was pretty obvious – I needed to prioritize my work day. I do this by making lists. I love lists! The night before each workday, I list everything that needs to be done – writing projects, time for marketing, invoicing and filing. When making my list, I think about how my energy tends to ebb and flow during the day. I tackle writing projects and marketing during the time of day when my energy is highest. I also keep track of new projects, projects in progress and those I've completed on a spreadsheet. When a task on my list is complete, I cross it off. My favorite part! This has helped tremendously.

I also get up much earlier in the morning. I need quiet time for myself each morning to prepare for my day, and I can just as easily get in a few hours of uninterrupted writing time in the early morning hours as I can at 2:00am (there are still a few nights when I find myself working at 2:00am, but not nearly as often).

As a freelancer, you know that juggling projects with other tasks is just part of the game. Prioritization is the key to getting it all done.

Monday, July 21, 2008

How Often Do You Set Freelance Writing Goals?

We are a little more than half way through 2008. One thing I do is make several freelance writing goals for myself throughout the year and continuously check my progress. I have a very special notebook just for this purpose where I write down very specific goals. I write about how I plan to achieve them and assign a deadline for getting it done. I find that even if I don't meet said deadline, I am at least taking the action needed to get there.

Valerie Bertinelli said that the reason she decided to go on Jenny Craig and lose weight in front of the whole world is because she knew she wouldn't be able to just blow it off. That public proclamation forced her to be accountable and follow through. So today I'm going to follow her brave lead and share my freelance writing goals with you (if you knew what I private person I am, you'd know this is a really big deal!):

1. Break into corporate copywriting. I am interested in learning more about niches like writing white papers and case studies.

2. Get a paid blogging gig. One with a byline would be great, but I'm not averse to ghostwriting for a client.

3. Create some residual streams of income through my writing. I have a couple of ideas for a niche blog and possible ebook, but it's still taking form.

4. Contact more clients by cold calling and other marketing efforts. My goal is to reach a certain number of prospects every day – no matter how busy I am.

5. Start querying print magazine markets again, including some trade publications.

These are my goals starting right now. This August I will have officially worked as a full-time freelance writer for one year. Sometimes I find myself comparing my progress with other freelance writers, but I try to slap myself on the hand when I do this. I am forging my own path in this business, and worrying about everyone else causes me to lose focus. Setting freelance writing goals keeps me on a slow and steady path toward success. Do you set writing goals?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Freelance Writing Projects We Don't Like

I'm working feverishly on one now, and it's getting harder to stay focused. Last night at around 1:00am I was asking myself, "Do I really want to do this? I hate this project!" I knew then that it was time to just go to bed and sleep on it.

What Makes It So Bad?
The reality of being a freelance writer is that you may find yourself working on some writing projects that just don't excite you. This morning I was able to get a grip and really look at the reality of my situation. I should explain that it's rare that I find myself working on something I just don't like. When I was working my corporate gig, it was rare that ever I enjoyed what I did at all. Really, I shouldn't complain.

I also have to look at what purpose this particular project is serving. It's a long term freelance writing gig (a contract for a few months) so it's helping me pay bills and I get a byline. It has also helped me gain a brand new client. I can write for this project on my own time, as long as I adhere to the deadlines. Hmm, the pluses are starting to outweigh the minuses…

What's In It For Me?
I guess it all comes down to how those freelance writing projects we don't like affect the bottom line. Sometimes we dislike freelance projects that we have little experience with like sales letters or direct response materials. Other projects, like writing business plans may be tedious and boring, but could lead to more of the freelance writing stuff you enjoy – like developing brochure copy or website content.

For me, if a freelance writing project I don't much care for can help me promote myself as a freelance writer and land me new business while I also get paid, that's nothing to sneeze at. Eventually this project will come to an end. But in the meantime, I'll just keep reminding myself of all the rewards I stand to reap.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Your Service Agreement: Don't Start Writing Without It!

When I decided to pursue freelance writing full-time as a business, I started realizing there was so much I didn't know. Much of the advice I read recommended setting up a website so my clients would take me seriously, so I spent hours online browsing through many freelance writing sites searching for ideas. Thankfully I happened to land on a writer's website that had a copy of her service agreement.

Until then I used a very simple agreement only when I felt like it. This writer's agreement helped me realize just how blissfully unaware I was walking into this business. I had no idea of what to expect. Many writers have had unfortunate experiences with unsavory clients. Here are a few items to consider when drafting your contract:

Establish Payment Terms Upfront

Get at a percentage of your payment upfront. I request a 50 percent, non-refundable down payment from all new clients. I don't start working on the project until the down payment has been received. Requesting a down payment insures that I maintain a steady flow of income. It also provides my clients with reassurance that I won't just take their money and run since the remaining 50 percent balance is to be paid upon completing the project.

If a client decides not to pay me when I finish a project I'll be mad, but not as mad as I would be if I hadn't at least gotten half my money upfront. I sometimes wave the 50 percent down payment requirement for returning clients who consistently pay on time, or if the project falls under a certain dollar amount.

Cap the Number of Revisions You Allow

I once had a client who requested so many revisions, that it began interfering with progress on my other projects. Another client requested several revisions, and then decided not go forward with her project so I got hit with a double whammy: I didn't get paid, and I wasted lots of valuable time performing endless changes (the 50 percent non-refundable deposit could have at least softened the blow!).

My service agreement provides clients with at least three complementary revisions, and an offer to perform more at my standard hourly rate. You should also set a limit for how long a client can wait to come back to you requesting a revision - so they don't show up a year later asking for a revision.

Always, Always Use a Service Agreement

This is one of those things that sets you apart as a professional writer. Even a $25 project should require a contract. Your client will respect you and the work you provide.

Other Incidentals

I also include information explaining my client's ownership rights and intellectual rights. There is also a clause explaining that I may use the finished product as a sample for my portfolio. Since this is a contract they can choose to agree or not, although I haven't had any problems with this. I also have legal information and would encourage writers to consult with an attorney regarding the laws of their respective states. And of course a service agreement really comes in handy if you are ever forced to call upon the law to settle things.

There are some great templates available out there to get you started. Check out: http://www.findlegalforms.com/product/work-for-hire-agreement-writer/. You can have a nice service agreement ready to email or fax your next client in no time!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Setting Rates You Can Live With

It's a classic struggle – how should you set the rates for your freelance writing services? If you are just getting started as a freelance writer, trying to figure out what to charge can become a real pain. You worry about overcharging and having prospects pass you over for writers charging more modest prices. But at the same time, you're counting on freelance writing to pay the bills. This is no time to throw caution to the wind and start pulling rates out of a hat.

Research, research, research
If you start networking with other writers on forums, egroups and other social networking groups, you will begin to see a wide range of what writers are charging for their services. Many writers don't feel all that comfortable discussing their rates. In my case, some of the services I provide clients depend on a variety of factors. Will I need to develop the project from scratch, or is the research involved minimal? I charge a flat rate for some services, but for others it's just not that easy to determine without discussing the project indepth first.

Bidding sites versus getting clients on your own
I'm not going to get into a huge discussion about whether or not freelance writers should utilize bidding sites or not. Some writers swear these sites provide them with a steady income, while other writers seem to have more luck seeking out clients on their own. Personally I fall into the second category, but regardless of which method you prefer to build your business, you have to insist on getting fair rates for your services.

How do you know what to charge?
When I first started working as a freelance writer, I had a lot of trouble figuring out what to charge for projects. Most of the time I priced my services too low considering the work involved. I quickly realized I needed some help in this area. Two things helped me: I joined a freelance writer's Yahoo egroup, and I used the rate sheet that comes in each issue of Writer's Market as a pricing guide. The thing I like about the rate sheet is it gives you a clear point of reference for setting low, average and high rates for specific writing projects. If I come across a project not listed in Writer's Market, I consult with my egroup for feedback. We are dedicated to keeping one another from winding up as "starving artists."

Should you raise your rates?
I participated in a teleseminar a month ago that discussed setting rates as a small business. The speaker advised that businesses initiate regular rate increases to keep up with economic changes. A lot of freelance writers hesitate to raise their rates, fearing that they might price themselves out of work. This is an issue every small business must deal with at some point. But first you have to know what you need in terms of monthly (and yearly) income to survive.

This requires you to list your expenses and start crunching some numbers. List your expenses. The totaled amount is what you need to make to get there. This is an important part of establishing rates that will help you reach your monthly financial goal. Target the right market that is willing pay for your skills, and keep marketing your services. The more you work as a writer, the easier it will get to set rates both you and your clients can live with.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Why I work on Holidays

It's the 4th of July, and all is quiet on the freelancing front. Since most of my clients are here in the US, they are taking it easy today – only one is working right now (I can see him – he's on Skype right now), but I'm sure he'll take off early though. Even some of my favorite blogs seem to be taking the day off – well deserved I say!

But I am a glutton for punishment
– a workaholic if you will. I find holidays are great times for me to catch up on doing work for my own business. It's quiet, and I don't have to keep checking my email or stick close to my computer in case an important Skype message pops up. I can prepare marketing materials and blog posts for next week to give me a nice head start. I'll even work on a couple of client projects just to maintain my momentum. I can take my time and work at my own pace. I don't want sit on all of my projects and play all day today just to feel overwhelmed come Monday.

Time off is important – especially spending time with family. Most of my family has plans for a big poolside cookout tomorrow and I'm looking forward it! I'm realizing how hard it can be to know when to stop working when you run your own business – especially if you don't keep predictable hours and have little people clamoring around you all day. But you have to know when to relax and enjoy life too – balance. Hope everyone is having a great day!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

When You Need a Little Help

This week I have been pretty swamped with work – a good thing, no doubt. I am also working on a new website and some new marketing strategies, so my sleep has suffered a bit. One of my clients has been discussing a possible big project that I am REALLY looking forward to finalizing. I'll have to juggle it along with all of my other projects and my responsibilities at home (mantra: school starts in eight weeks, school starts in eight weeks…) and I have been toying with the idea of outsourcing.

When I decided to start freelancing full time, I wasn't prepared for how quickly things would take off. I was very quickly overwhelmed with writing assignments and deadlines – I didn't know anything about establishing a work schedule, and I didn't know how to estimate how long it would take to complete each project. Experience is the best teacher, so I figured it out.

I also started thinking about finding a couple of other writers to help me out. I am so fortunate to have one very professional writer whom I have outsourced projects to in the past. She is great about meeting deadlines and all that good stuff. But I have also had some bad outsourcing experiences with writers who would send me some very professional samples of their work, but then turn in garbage when it came time to submit the assignment. And then of course there was that one writer who never even turned in the assignment… Experiences like that are more stressful than just doing it all yourself.

Some writers are successfully working
with teams of five to 20 different writers! Honestly, the idea of managing that many different people makes me nauseous. If things get too wild around here, I know I can count on at least one good writer. But who knows how long that will last?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Non-Freelance Writing Project that Never was…

Don't you just hate it when a client leaves a project hanging? I have a client I have been working with on a project with for the past two years (!!!!!!!) and it's really a very simple project. The problem is my client has been too busy to do what needed to be done on his end so we could finish things up. He admits that this is so. Still, I do share some of the blame in this situation, so I'll share with you the lessons I have learned so far:

1. Define your services clearly. I am a freelance writer. Yet here I am helping out my local masjid with a rezoning project. What can I say? I felt obligated to help.
2. Avoid giving others the "hook up" if you work to pay bills. I discounted this project soooo much that I should have just offered to do it for free. I didn't have my business thinking cap on when I offered to do this.
3. Take control of the project. I failed miserably here. The Imam is such a sweet man. He told me what he needed, but I failed to realize how busy this man really is, and that I would spend lots of my time chasing him down to get the paperwork he was required to complete and sign. Not to mention he began relying on me to find people to survey the property, an architect to draw building plans that needed to accompany the rezoning application and so on, and so on. Yes, I realized a long time ago that this is NOT a freelance writing project.
4. Don't take on a project you know nothing about just to get paid. Take my word for it.

The worst part of this scenario is that I was paid upfront for my services. I am thinking of giving him the money back and politely explaining that because of my business, I no longer have time to complete this project. After all, it is two years past the projected due date….
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