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.
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