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 Craigslist.org. 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 IttyBiz.com 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 WAHM.com 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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