Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Are You a Freelance Writer or Home-based Business?

Last night I was reading a respected solo business coach’s report (courtesy of Twitter) about why working from home is the best thing EVAR (clearly I’m exaggerating, but the report did quite a nice job of pointing out the benefits) when I stumbled across a section that basically states home-based businesses have more potential than freelancing. What’s the difference you ask? I wondered the same thing. But as I continued reading she really broke it down.

Freelancing vs home-based business

In her view, freelancers operate completely on their own terms. TheY work when they want, and when they don’t want to they don’t. A home-based business on the other hand is considered an enterprise with a distinct identity. The main goal is to grow just like any other business does. The biggest difference between a home-based business and a brick and mortar business is that the majority of communication is conducted via phone, email or IM.

Accessing value from the client's point of view

She went on to say that the owners of home-based businesses have the very same advantages that freelancers enjoy, but provide better service because they don’t rely on just one person to get the job done. Clients will perceive a home-based business more as a company which makes them more willing to develop the relationship over time than with a freelancer.

What do you think?

Monday, December 28, 2009

Is Freelance Writing More Stable than a 9 to 5?

Yuwanda Black shared an interesting post about how aspiring writers can begin taking steps to make their dreams of freelancing come true in 2010. Aside from my obvious jealousy that she’ll be flying off on yet another steamy adventure for five weeks in Jamaica (just, kidding, Yuwanda – have MUCH fun and be safe!), what really caught my attention was a bold headline further down in her post that reads, “Freelancing Provides More Job Security.” I’m inclined to cautiously agree.

What “working for the man” used to mean

My father has worked for the same company for over 35 years. Over the years his job has presented its employees with an absolutely awesome benefits and retirement package, turkeys and hams for every major holiday, bonuses, lavish gifts celebrating 10, 15, 20 and 30 years with the company, company car, beeper (back in the day) which was eventually upgraded to a company cell. You get the picture.

This is what my parents also wanted for me. It's what I was groomed as a little girl to want and go after, and so I did. Two months after graduating from college I hit the corporate jackpot and relocated to Atlanta to accept an advertising sales assistant position at the local paper. Four months into the job, I knew it wasn’t for me.

Leaving a “good job”

Even though I didn't care for my job I stayed because it provided "security." Eight years later when I told my dad that I was quitting what he affectionately referred to as my “good job,” He thought I was crazy. I had a two year old, newborn twins, a mortgage and car payments.

I completely understood his point of view. He had a “good job” that had been there through my mother’s untimely illness and inability to work again, financed my college tuition and allowed him to pay off his mortgage and cars. He wanted the same security for his only child.

But I could see the writing on the corporate wall early on. Even if I was cut out for the cubicle lifestyle, corporate America was no longer what it used to be. Now it’s plain for everyone to see: massive layoffs, cuts or no provision for benefits and furlough days have become the new norm.

The job security myth revealed

Last year many of my dear old coworkers at the paper became victims of a huge department layoff, as did many other newspaper workers across the nation. The Internet has done a lot to fragment advertising media. My “good job” turned out to be anything but. Which brings me back to the point of Yuwanda’s post…

The idea of job security is to a large degree a myth. High unemployment has forced many of us to become much more resourceful and depend on skills we developed in the corporate jungle to survive via freelancing and contract gigs. It’s a win-win situation for us and the big companies who no longer have the funds to maintain creative departments yet still require our services.

I also agree with Yuwanda’s idea that being a freelancer forces you to learn more. Although I worked on a computer eight hours a day for eight years at my old job, I was woefully computer illiterate when I left. Why should they bother teaching me more than they needed me to know to get the job done?

It wasn’t until I began working for myself that I forced myself out of my comfort zone to learn new skills. When you work for yourself, staying on top of small business, technological and Internet trends is a necessity.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket

I think the success of working for yourself depends largely on not putting all of your eggs into one basket. This is certainly the case for freelance writers where you must constantly market your services to build up a roster of clients who will supply steady work.

Depending on just one client would be career suicide. When you have 10 or more clients sending you work, you won’t feel the sudden departure of one client as much. One might consider relying on a “good job” in this economy to be the same as putting your eggs in one basket. What will you do if suddenly that job is no longer there?

Start with a plan of action

Now I don't suggest that as an aspiring freelance writer you should just run out and quit your job. You have to have a plan for any business to work. Start freelancing for clients as a side gig, or work to set aside 12 months of savings before you make the leap. I recommend the information from these sites to help get you started:

Inkwell Editorial

All About Freelance Writing

Freelance Writing Jobs

About Freelance Writing

Friday, December 18, 2009

Friday Favs

I’m recuperating from a nasty stomach bug courtesy of my kids (the germy little buggers). Since I was completely bedridden yesterday, today will be spent catching up on a couple of projects. It’s a good day to share some of my favorite blog posts from this week. Enjoy your weekend.:~)

On Being the Freelancer Your Client Calls in an Emergency

Worthy Tip: Give Yourself 15 Minutes

6 Essentials for Every Work at Home Parent

Why James Chartrand Wears Women's Underpants

James Chartrand's Constructed Masculinity Goes Far Beyond the Pen Name

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

James Chartrand is a Woman? It's Complicated Alright

Yesterday the online freelance writing/blogging community learned on Copyblogger that Men with Pens James Chartrand is actually a woman. I have to tell you I never saw that one coming. In fact I was completely blindsided by the news. So much so that I spent the rest of the evening in a fog getting very little work done as I tried reconnecting the dots from the first time I discovered the Men with Pens blog; trying to figure out if I’d missed any signs.

This may sound crazy, but until James revealed the truth about herself, it simply never occurred to me that there was a glass ceiling for freelance writers. Crazy, huh?

Gender bias toward writers

Whether you’re an established freelance writer, just getting your writing career off the ground or somewhere in between, there is a reason why Jame’s story should matter to you.

In the beginning James was providing clients with high quality content and reliable service; yet she was unappreciated, put down and often subjected to clients questioning her ability. But as soon as she decided to start calling herself James, she found it easier to get gigs, client’s lapped up her advice and just basically found her more brilliant, capable and knowledgeable in general. Even though she was the exact same person. Now what’s wrong with this picture?

A new way of seeing things

I spent the evening reliving my own past client encounters. Those times when clients nickled and dimed me, resisted cooperating by providing the information needed to get the job done, trying to get more for less or putting me through revision hell – were those guys (and 90 percent of the time they were male clients) just jerks for the sake of being jerks or jerks because they were doing business with some random woman working from her home?

Like James I thought it better not to mention my kids or the fact that my office is set up in the corner of my dining room. Some clients could care less, but I couldn’t be too careful. I go to great pains not to be perceived as a hobby writer.

How far would you go?

James’ story resonated with so many writers as you can see from the many comments at the end of her guest post. We all came to choose freelancing for different reasons – a last resort effort to generate a much needed income, the need to escape a suffocating career or a flexible way to make money and care for a loved on with special needs. We expect for everything to be neat and professional and dare I say fair? But sometimes that’s not what we get. I guess I’m still a little shocked at the lengths some are forced to go to just to put food on the table and pay the bills. Personally, James’ story makes perfect sense to me. As she said in her post, she had some tough choices to make, so she made them. Such is life as a freelancer.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Communication Gaps with Clients Can Cost You

This weekend I was reminiscing about what I was doing this same time last year (I do that a lot toward the end of the year). Unfortunately the memory that came flooding back wasn’t all that great. Last year I was working on a huge project with a client. The project had turned into a nightmare because of rewrites.

As a commercial writer, I anticipate a few rewrites now and then; I’m certainly not perfect and you can’t win ‘em all. But this rewrite situation was just plain ridiculous. I’d been working with the client regularly for over a year with very few issues up until that point. We spent a lot of time on Skype and the phone discussing the issue; him trying to communicate what he wanted and me trying desperately to give it to him.

What went wrong?

In the end I realized that there were two major things wrong in this scenario: (1) I should have asked more questions about the project instead of assuming it was just like all the others; and (2) the client was quietly attempting to change the scope of the project – he really wanted one thing but had paid for something else hoping to save a few bucks. Better communication on my end early on could have avoided the whole situation.

Lost time and money

Although it was a big project that paid well, in the end it was costing me because of the extra time spent cleaning up copy and explaining to the client repeatedly that the type of copy he really wanted would cost more because of XYZ. I even ended up having to turn down other projects to complete one that I originally estimated would take much less time than I ended up spending on it. I also had to remind my client that per the agreement he’d signed he was only entitled to two complementary rewrites – not five, six or seven. More than two would be billed at my standard hourly rate.

Some clients don't know what it takes

I used to send out a project questionnaire to clients, or discuss the details of the questionnaire by phone if they preferred. It worked well with some, but unfortunately there are some clients who are not very forthcoming about the details of the projects they need completed. It’s as if they assume that there is no real work involved other than the writing. I even once had a client get frustrated when I explained that I couldn’t turn his project around in 24 hours because it required research. He impatiently responded, “Research? What research?!?” If I had accepted that project I’m sure I would have ended up knee deep in rewrites.

I’m curious to find out what methods other writers use to get the information they need from reluctant clients to complete a project. Do you find asking your clients specific questions cuts down on the number of rewrite requests you receive?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Setting Limits with Clients

Last week Jennifer Williamson over at Catalyst Blogger asked her readers a very important freelance writing question we should all think about: “What are your writerly limits?” One thing I quickly learned in this business is the importance of drawing boundaries with clients. Not doing so can result in negative consequences ranging from not receiving payment as promised to resentment toward a client who expects you to be at his beck and call or charging too low for a time intensive project.

Learning about limits the hard way

I didn’t understand this starting out. I na├»vely assumed that a client who was interested in my services would automatically understand professional limits, but I was oh so wrong. Here are just a few of the experiences that quickly brought me to reality:

> Clients requesting a lower rate when they seemingly accepted my original rates.

> Clients calling me/Skyping me at odd hours, or on weekends, assuming that I should be available to them 24/7.

> Clients who balk at the idea of signing an agreement (a couple of clients actually seemed offended).

> Clients who balk at paying a 50-percent down payment to start a project.

> Clients who act as if providing me with important information about their business/product/service and target market is a big waste of their time.

I’m not entirely unreasonable. I’m even willing to negotiate under certain circumstances, especially with returning clients; but I’ve learned that just as in my personal life, you just can’t please everyone. This is my livelihood so I take it seriously. I also take customer service very seriously too.

I am professional and expect the same

I constantly strive to produce excellent writing services, meet all deadlines with no excuses and provide rewrites in a timely manner, among other things. I make myself available to my clients in the way that is most comfortable and convenient for them - whether it’s by phone, email or Skype ( phone and Skype by scheduled appointment).

Because I go to such great lengths to deliver a professional service, I must also set limits that protect me from being taken advantage of. We all have our writerly limits. You may have a different list from mine, but make no mistake it’s up to us to put our cards on the table, establish reasonable boundaries and stick to them.

Friday, December 4, 2009

End of the Year Countdown

I may have bitten off a bit more than I can chew, but it’s too late to worry about it now. I have some big goals to meet before January 2010 and we’re already into the month of December. My goals include a planned intensive 30 day marketing campaign, in-depth research on a completely new target market, two ebooks, web content for a new website, and working with a graphic designer for a new site. I’m also seriously considering one on one coaching. Game on.

If not now, when?

I thought now is as good a time as any to get started. December is usually a slower month for clients who are celebrating the holidays with their families. I’m also a big believer in taking action right away when I make up my mind to do something. Like every other freelance writer, I have a million other things to do everyday. There will really never be a perfect time to get it all done, and I don’t need to start making excuses for not following through with my plans. I know myself pretty well.

Set goals throughout the year

Don't get me wrong - I don’t save up all my business goals for the New Year. I also make three month, six month and yearly goals (not to mention small weekly and monthly goals). These time lines help me evaluate my progress and make changes where necessary. What end of the year goals have you set for your business?

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Value of LinkedIn for Freelance Writers

Yesterday someone in my online writers group inquired about LinkedIn. She asked other writer members of the group, “What do you think? Is it worth it?”

A lot of freelance writers are wary about becoming too involved with social networking. We don’t need anything that takes away from time spent working on our precious projects. Many are learning about the promotional value of sites like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn – when used in moderation.

Most of us have no trouble finding our way around Twitter and Facebook, but consider LinkedIn a whole other animal. I knew Linkedin was worth it when I began receiving inquiries about my services by people who had come across my free profile. Freelance writer Yolander Prinzel reportedly received over $6000 worth of work within four months from LinkedIn, so you tell me if you think that it’s worth it.

If you’re new to LinkedIn, or have no idea what to do with the account you have, here are a few tips to get you started.

1. Present your best foot forward. Create a profile that will impress prospects. They should know exactly what you do and what you can do for them. Make sure to provide links to your website, blog or portfolio.

2. Optimize Your Profile. Optimizing certain keywords (e.g. your name/name of your business, writer, marketing, copywriting, etc.) can give you good search engine results making it easier for prospects to find you online. Even better if you are the top result on LinkedIn when your specialty is searched on the site.

3. Get Recommendations. A recommendation on LinkedIn is like having a testimonial. Anyone who finds your profile will see that you come highly recommended. Make sure they’re relevant and reflect the services you provide.

4. Use Applications to Your Advantage. If you have a Twitter account, you can allow your Tweets to show up on your LinkedIn profile. If you have a Wordpress blog, you can set up the application on your profile to show your most recent blog posts.

5. Contribute to Group Discussions. This is where you can really stand out and reveal your expertise. Linked in has hundreds of groups you can join. It’s a good idea to choose groups that reflect your specialty. For instance if your specialty is in the legal field you can join groups within that industry. Sometimes group members will post questions related to copywriting or marketing. Providing the right answers can get you new clients in no time.

Friday, November 20, 2009

What a Way to End the Week

This week ended on a very nice note; I picked up two new clients. One of my new clients is a testament to trying something new. The client’s assistant initially contacted me for the contact information for a magazine I used to freelance for. I clicked on their signature link at the end of the email message which took me to their website and was impressed with the business. But I sensed they might need some assistance. I sent a reply email providing the requested information and offered my web writing services if they were ever in need.

The client responded with interest requesting more information about the services I offered, rates, etc. What do you know; he just happened to have two projects that needed a writer.

Try something new

Now I don’t usually approach clients like that because I’d never considered doing it before. But this particular time I thought, “What have I got to lose? The worse that can happen is they will decline my offer or I never hear from them again.” Being a freelancer I’m already used to both of those things happening. I took a chance and sold my services and it paid off. I spent eight years in advertising sales. How odd that I have never really put much energy into selling my freelance writing services. Although I send out queries which is a soft sell, I've never really utilized my selling skills to net clients like I should.

Have you tried a new way of marketing or promoting your services or doing business that’s worked for you recently?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Unlimited Freelancer: On Sale NOW!!

I’m a little late with this information (sorry!!) but I wanted to let you guys know that The Unlimited Freelancer is 50% off the regular $29.00 for the next three days. If I didn’t like this book so much, I’d be royally pissed off about the fact that I paid full price for the hard copy (I like having a hard copy resource to refer back to). Honestly, this book is helping me go back and redo some things differently so that going forward my business is built on a solid foundation that can handle the growth that’s coming.

No one's paying me to say nice things

Now, I’m not an affiliate – yet. So if you buy this book I don’t get a dime. That said, I highly recommend it for two types of freelancers: 1) those just starting their business; and 2) those with a business that has grown so fast they are utterly overwhelmed with work and sometimes find themselves fantasizing about working a regular nine to five (believe me, it can happen!). This book focuses on the business side of freelance writing. You get 200 pages of information you can start putting to use right away. Besides, author’s James Chartrand (Men with Pens) and Mason Hip (Freelance Folder) offer a 100% money back guarantee, so what have you got to lose?

Book review coming soon

I like to provide you guys with an honest review before deciding to become an affiliate of a product. I plan to provide a full review before the end of this month, so please keep your eyes peeled.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Neglecting Your Freelance Writing Business

A good friend of mine is always irritated about the many unfinished projects in her home. She still needs a new kitchen counter top, the cracked tiles surrounding her fireplace need replacing and the home’s exterior needs to be pressure washed and panted. I think what irritates her most about these impending projects is the fact that her husband is a contractor by trade. He's extremely busy fixing up clients’ homes; especially as the holidays approach. His own house gets put on the back burner. I can relate.

Image is everything

Like many freelance writers, I spend my time perfecting my client’s marketing materials and neglect my own because my clients are paying me. My website content needs updating and that should be at the top of my list considering I send prospects there whenever I market or send out emails. I mean my website address is in my signature, on my business cards and all of my marketing materials for crying out loud.

Invest time in your own business

Yesterday I decided to just do it. Writing for pay is much more alluring, but investing time in sprucing up my own website and marketing materials is just as important. It’s a representation of what I do, what I’ve done for others (e.g. my portfolio page) and shows that I take what I do seriously.

I check for dead links, update information/rates, freshen up the content, add/switch samples and so forth. I’ve fallen behind on my blog posting there, but I’ll have that problem fixed by the end of the week. Honest.

Prepare for the new year

For many freelance writers, business may start slowing down a bit over the next month. This is the perfect time to perform maintenance on your website and other marketing materials so that you’re ready to go come 2010.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Should Rates be Posted on Your Website?

About a year ago, when I was first getting started, I set up a very simple website using a free online template. It was nothing fancy, but it allowed me to establish an online presence and post a portfolio so that prospects could review examples of my work.

Since at the time I only provided a couple of different writing services, I thought it might be a good idea to post my rates. Whenever I would send out queries to various online businesses, I included a link to my portfolio page which included rates.

Clients like knowing rates upfront

I liked doing this because if someone felt my rates were too high, they could simply move on instead of wasting time emailing back and forth about services they had no intention of paying my established rates for. If a prospect liked my portfolio and found my rates acceptable, things moved along rather quickly since they had already seen everything spelled out on my website.

Rates may vary depending on...

Fast forward a year later. I tweaked the name of my business, had a designer create a custom website template, and added a few new writing services to the mix. This time I decided not include rate information because as I explain in my FAQs, each project is unique and requires a different approach when it comes to research, development, etc. Mind you, I still offer a few flat rate services as well (e.g. press releases and blog posts); I just don't post the rates.

Some writers say they don’t include rates on their websites for reasons similar to mine. Still, I can’t help noticing that when I did post prices for everyone to see, I spent a lot less time dealing with prospects that thought I charged too much. Posting rates seemed to weed those guys out.

To post or not to post rates

I spent some time reviewing a few freelance writing websites over the weekend and of course found a mix of some writers who choose to post rates and some writers who prefer not to. What’s your position about posting hourly or flat rates on your website?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Want More Clients?

I’ll be brief because we have been dealing with power outages on and off since last night due to heavy storms. No beating around the bush: if you want clients you have to go out and get them. That means marketing.

If you’re new to freelancing that might sound like vague, intimidating advice. The following links can give you the specifics you need to get going. Start putting in the effort now and you may be a whole lot busier when 2010 rolls around.

How to Marketing Tips Revisited

How to Find Clients Part 1

How to Find Clients Part 2

How to Land More Gigs in a Difficult Economy

You Can Attract New Freelance Writing Clients (Even During a Recession)!!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Hard Times

This weekend I spent some time surfing the web reading some of my favorite blogs. I came across this post written about a year ago by a fed up, frustrated Naomi Dunford venting about how overwhelming life had become as her home life and work life had collided creating one big mess. I can relate.

An impressive beginning

When I first started freelancing, I was very fortunate to get clients quickly. They kept me busy and allowed me to support myself nicely without worrying about going back to the nine to five corporate grind. I carefully scheduled projects, send out contracts, invoices and collected money in a timely manner. I had all the energy in the world to work on my business, and life was good.

Things fall apart

But then the work started coming in too fast and I began having a really hard time balancing obligations to my business with obligations to my family. I dreaded checking my email each morning. I wondered what I’d gotten myself into. When you “fall” into something, there isn’t much time to plan for growth and day to day management.

I began wondering whether or not I was really cut out for this business. Thankfully I slept on it and realized a few days later that it was mostly the lack of sleep talking. Still, I was dealing with a serious situation and needed to figure out how to make it work. I decided to slow waaay down, take a few steps back and make a few important changes I wish I’d thought to make in the beginning. I’m working on creating systems that will help me become more organized, and receiving coaching to learn a new facet of commercial writing that will hopefully allow me to target my services more toward a certain specialty.

Starting over

Some might not think having a business grow quickly from zero to 60 in such a short time is a bad thing. I’m sure it works out just fine for some, but it can become a nightmare if you cannot manage the volume and fast changes.

There have been tons of responses to Naomi’s post dating all the way back from when it was first written to just a week ago. Those responses are proof that my experience is not unique, and not to give up. Even though I'm not actually starting all over again from scratch, I like knowing that I can start over if I need to. I love what I do and am determined not to go quietly.

Friday, November 6, 2009

And the Content Mill Debate Rages On…

For the past three weeks or so there’s been a lot of controversy stirred up in the freelance writing community about content mills. I’ve visited this topic before and prefer taking a “Switzerland” position on the whole thing.

I have no problem admitting that I started off writing as an online freelancer for a California content mill making $20 an article about two years ago. I kind of fell into writing for the web during a time when my husband (our family’s breadwinner for the previous four years) closed down his business and had no income. Believe me Georgia Power and Bell South could care less about any sob stories I had to tell. That content gig plus a couple of private clients helped me make mortgage and car payments, feed my family of six and essentially get us back on our

Is freelance writing a job or a business?

The thing is back then I didn’t think of the service I was providing as a business. I was working from home, which was great; but I was also limiting my income potential. I just didn’t know it. I did absolutely no marketing, and made my living strictly by applying for writing jobs on job boards and waiting around for existing clients to send me work. For most of us that wouldn’t work so well these days.

Online research

When someone goes online searching for information about how to get started as a freelance writer, what they’ll find is lots of information detailing which content mills and bidding sites are best. But if they dig a little deeper they will eventually come across an established freelancer’s blog providing valuable advice about why it’s essential to treat freelancing as a business (e.g. marketing, querying, establishing a portfolio, rates, etc.). The trouble is these blogs and other resources rarely provide the specific information many newbies are looking for to help them get started or improve their operation.

The real business of freelancing

Speaking for myself, it’s been a journey of trial and error to some degree. Early on I’d see lots of writers posting on a forum about how great Elance was so I joined only to discover that wasn’t the case for me. Thankfully I also came across blogs like Words on a Page, Inkwell Editorial, All Freelance Writing, Catalyst Blogger, Thursday Bram and Freelance Writerville. The writers of these and other blogs gave me a new perspective.

I began to realize marketing was important if I wanted clients, but had no idea where to begin or even what to put in an email query. I didn’t know who to target as a potential client or how to get their attention. I didn’t know that many of the best clients don’t advertise. All of this can be really overwhelming for a writer getting started who needed to pay the rent yesterday. So they turn to cranking out volume content for content mills instead where to their relief all expectations are on the table.

Here’s what I really think about content mills…

Personally I don’t think content mills are such a bad place for writers to cut their teeth and build confidence – as long as they aren’t those dreadful $5-an-article jobs. I know, some of you might clutch your pearls as you read that sentence. But I also think writers with a serious intention of building a business should prepare to move onward and upward to bigger and better opportunities as soon as they can. Writing for content mills day in day out quickly leads to burnout. Plus, you’re only getting a small portion of what you could get paid if you had approached a client to work with them directly. Don’t let the recession fool you; there are opportunities out there.

Monday, November 2, 2009

How Do You Become a Better Writer?

I’m try hard to keep myself as educated as possible about this industry to improve my writing or learn something new about the business side of copywriting, SEO and Internet marketing strategies. Mostly I depend on books, trade publications, select blogs and online research. Recently I completed an online course outlining Wordpress basics.

Learn a new skill and make more money

Last week I came across an offer for one-on-one web copywriting coaching that I just couldn’t pass up. Alice Seba, also known as the “Internet Marketing Sweetie,” recently opened up her copywriting coaching program for sales copywriting for the low - only $97. It’s normally priced at $397, so I’d say I got a deal. Clients are requesting sales letters and other persuasive copy more often from me these days, and I thought it wouldn’t hurt to brush up my skills in this area.

Having a copywriter and Internet marketing expert critique my writing could really help me continue improving the services I provide for my clients as well as the marketing materials I create for my own business.

Continuing education keeps you up to speed

I’m a firm believer in doing whatever is necessary to keep your skills sharp when running a business. Because I do consider my freelance writing service a business, continuing education in the form of books, online courses or classes at a local college are necessities. If you provide editing services, you might consider taking a grammar class every two years or so to stay on top of any changes.

Is continuing education a part of your business model?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Finding Motivation When You Need it

Building a commercial freelance writing business involves lots of dedication and hard work. Some days you’re on fire! You’re full of ideas and strategies that seem to pull in new clients effortlessly; but then there are those dry spells when you feel like no matter what you try nothing seems to work.

When motivation starts fading, you have a harder time staying focused. You may even start questioning your decision to freelance full-time. It isn’t until you’re your own boss that you realize motivation is not in unlimited supply. When you need it, you have to do something about it.

Network – in person!

Sometimes a change of scenery is all that’s needed. Working solo is easy for me – I prefer it to a typical office setting working along side coworkers. But even I feel the urgent need to step away from work and interact with others now and then.

Join your local chamber of commerce or an industry organization that has the potential to net you a few good clients. Attend meetings periodically for a change of scenery and networking opportunity. Making a few new contacts can get you back in the groove.

Set goals

Sometimes having something to work toward is all you need to get those motivation juices flowing again. You may have your sights set on taking an anniversary cruise n ext summer, building an extension to your home for a new, private office space or hiring a virtual assistant. Make your goal something attractive enough to make you work for it.

Remind yourself why you decided to become a freelance writer

You were probably never more motivated than when you first had the idea to strike out on your own and make a living as a freelance writer. Wouldn’t it have been great if you could have bottled that feeling?

Did you choose this path for the freedom? More time with your family? More money? Whatever your reason, take a time now and then to recall the reason(s) you chose to start freelancing to reignite your motivation.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Navigating Client Personalities

Today I wrapped up working on a project with a client whose personality is pretty much the polar opposite of mine. He’s one of two people in his company that I work with. Last year we ran into a few problems while developing content for a web portal. I was used to working with his partner who has a communication style compatible to mine.

Unfortunately we had a difficult time working together initially. He tends to provide what I like to call “over communication.” He would send very long, drawn out emails about project details that really could have been delivered in a just few short sentences. I could understand if he were outlining specific points in his messages, but mostly he would end up repeating the same information over and over in different ways, and spinning off on confusing tangents in a desperate attempt to provide examples of what he was trying to say. And the long phone conversations were even worse.

I was often so confused by his instructions that I would have to send him an email outlining what I understood and request an approval reply. Like I said it was tough on both of us.

We finally settled things by going back to the old way of doing things; I communicate with his business partner on all projects. It’s working out beautifully, just like in the beginning.

One thing I’ve learned while freelancing is that you must learn how to deal with various client personalities. I’m happy to report that for the most part I have an easy time of it; but every now and then I get thrown a curve ball and have to figure out how to make it work so that it’s a win-win situation for everyone. Here are just a few client personalities I’ve encountered:

The Big Wig

The Big Wig is either someone in an executive level of the company or the owner of the business. He’s the decision maker. He is confident (verging on cocky), wealthy and brimming with big plans and ideas for his company.

If you're lucky enough to land one of these clients with a secure business who understands the importance of marketing and content development, you’ll enjoy the fruits of your labor as long as you deliver as promised.

Unfortunately, there are also so called Big Wigs out there who don’t have a clue about the value of good writing and will try to nickel and dime you at every turn with the promise of bigger and better projects down the road. Quantity and a fast turn around are more important that quality and experience. Don’t fall for it.

The know-it-all

Keep your eyes peeled because this client can either come across as hostile or the friendliest person you’ve ever met. The friendly know-it-alls just want to share their knowledge with you and believe that without their input the project will not turn out as well. Hostile know-it-alls will test your patience as they search for errors and mistakes to point out, and seem to take perverse pleasure in making others feel incompetent. They really believe that they are just being truthful with their scathing criticism.

One distinguishing characteristic all know-it-alls share is their need for your undivided attention and for you to acknowledge their wisdom. They need to control every aspect of the project, and their demands can suck up your time making it difficult to manage any other projects on your plate.

The dissector

The dissector easily gets caught up in the details of what goes in to a project so much so that he has a difficult time remaining focused on the goal. He wants to pick apart how you approach the project so that he can understand how everything will fit together. Dissectors have a strong need to be in the know. They can wind up monopolizing your time worrying about trivial matters and make it harder to get your job done.

Again, these are only a few client personality types I’ve managed to navigate in this business. If you’ve had experiences with any I may have missed, feel free to share.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Your Writer Resume

While trolling the job boards looking for a few good leads, I’ve noticed quite a few ads requesting resumes from potential writers. This seems to throw some writers for a loop. You expect a prospect to want to see your online portfolio (you do have one, right?) as proof of your writing skills, so you may wonder why a resume is even necessary.

Corporate state of mind

One of my biggest first clients was very new to the concept of working with a freelancer. We got along well and he appreciated the work I did, but he operated his business the same as he always had in the corporate world. Some of the systems used to operate a traditional business with employees don’t work as smoothly when you’re operating a virtual business using contract writers.

He required that I send him a resume because in his mind it outlined my qualifications much better than sending a sample to my work would. He felt that by having one I automatically established myself as professional. He also paid attention to how long I had worked with clients and related jobs to determine whether I was employable and reliable. He also happened to require a college degree so that info was there to review as well.

Traditional resume versus writer’s resume

The thing that distinguishes a writer’s resume from the typical job seeker’s resume is that it is meant to highlight specific experience more than provide details of your work history.

If you don’t have a current resume and need some help, here is some helpful information to get you started. I’d love to hear how many other freelancers regularly submit resumes for gigs.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

September Earnings

I’ve been inspired by Lori Widmer (whom I just adore by the way) to share my business; something I hardly ever do. And by business I mean My September earnings.

I’m not sure why I’ve never done it before, but her post today made me want to. Part of the reason is that I’m trying to organize my business better and I am attempting to market my services on a much more regular basis. This is a great way of tracking my results.

Print Publications

Although I had a couple of great ideas and planned to query a trade magazine, I didn’t. I did, however, finally get paid for four magazine articles I wrote back in May of this year. Turns out the publication is really struggling. I really do want to start writing for magazines again, but I can’t afford to rely on them as regular income since checks can come anytime.

Job Boards

In the past I’ve gotten some pretty good gigs from job boards, but damn, the pickings are getting kind of slim. Still, from time to time you can find a gem or two so I try to drop in to search through a few on a semi-regular basis.

I've actually found a couple of good opportunities and got three really interested reponses until I sent them my rates. Hmmm, must have been something I said…

Existing clients

Most of my existing clients have reduced the amount of work they send my way. Only one client is still using my services as before. I have been following up with clients I haven’t worked with in the last six months or so via email and mailed post cards.


Let’s just say it’s a lot less than I expected. I started out with quite a few projects this month. Then three of my children came down with the flu, and then we had some unexpected flooding to take care of. I allowed those things to cut into my work time which meant less time for marketing and developing content for my own business.

Bottom Line

I need to get back to planning my work days and stick to the schedule. I must set aside time each day for marketing and reconnecting with previous clients. I need to establish some new systems to help me manage my time better.

I plan to attend a couple of conferences this month for more face-to-face networking. Like Lori, I will continue to fine tune my marketing efforts.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Common Pitfalls that Threaten Freelance Success

If you’re like most freelance writers, you choose this business for the flexibility and financial freedom. In order to be successful, you must be prepared for the challenges of operating your own business solo. Despite a busy schedule booked with clients, there are some who simply become overwhelmed with the responsibilities of operating a freelance writing business and escape back to the nine to five grind.

If you don’t take time to prepare for the challenges that lie ahead, freelancing could become just another job you dread getting up for and facing each day. Here are just a few of the most common obstacles that can get in the way of freelancing success:

No steady income

Some days are better than others. One day you’re fighting clients off with a stick, and the next it seems like they wouldn’t touch your services with a 10 foot pole. This is the nature of the business, especially early on. The cure seems obvious enough: work with a variety of clients instead of relying on just one or two.

A consistent marketing plan can help make that happen. Unfortunately, freelancing is a business where time is money. When you’re desperate for money to cover this month’s expenses, you may feel like you have to choose between spending time marketing your services for future work and working on a low-paying project that pays here and now.

Answer: Ideally you shouldn’t quit your job to start any business without a substantial savings, or you can moonlight as a freelance writer until you build up enough of a steady clientele; but that’s not always realistic.

If things really get tough, consider temping or a part-time job to help fill in the gaps. Remember, it’s only temporary.

Doing everything yourself

I didn’t coin the phrase “solopreneur,” but I sure do love it. I love it because it says exactly what many of us are; entrepreneurs who work alone. I’m a loner by nature, so I was prepared for what it would be like to work 12 hour days by myself. What I wasn’t so prepared for was the amount of work and time it takes to run a business alone.

Accounting, marketing, managing client projects and invoicing all take time. That’s often time away from paid projects, and in the end things still go undone.

Answer: Outsourcing is the ideal solution, but depending on where you are in your business you may not be able to afford certain services right now like hiring a virtual assistant or premium web designer. You may be able to find someone you can swap services with. For instance you offer to write articles for an accountant’s website in exchange for tax filing services. Freelancing forums and social networking sites like Twitter can be a good place to start looking.

Maintaining a work/life balance

This is a challenge for any freelancer. It’s so easy to get caught up on clients projects and the income you’re making and put everything else on the back burner. This is a recipe for burnout. Still, it can be hard to draw a line and separate work from the time spent with family, friends and hobbies.

Answer: Create a scheduled time for work and stick to it. Allow yourself to spend time each day with family, friends or a favorite activity.

Negativity from others

Some freelance writers are constantly defending their career choice to others. Family members may not understand and constantly chide you to “get a real job.” You may have problems with friends and family assuming that you always have free time to chat on the phone, entertain drop in guests or run errands in the middle of the day.

Some clients may not take you seriously because they don’t believe that a freelance writer could be as skilled or experienced. They may not offer you work, or they may offer projects at insultingly low rates.

Answer: Remind yourself every day why you chose to pursue freelancing, and that others are building successful businesses. Bookmark a couple of your favorite freelancers blogs to read each day reminding you of what will come to you if you stick to it.

Also, keep in mind that there are clients out there who know the value of good writing and are willing to pay well for it. You will need to figure out your target market (who needs your services) and start offering your services. Many experts recommend specializing in a certain niche (e.g. real estate, finance, green topics), but there are successful general writers making it work.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Are You Really Prepared?

As I write this post there is about three feet of water sitting in my basement. Here in metro Atlanta we have been subjected to obscene amounts of rainfall which have overflowed rivers and completely flooded entire communities resulting in destroyed homes, widespread power outages and much worse.

The inconvenience of it all

Because our water heater is conveniently located in the basement, the amount of water rose above the elevated platform it sits upon and extinguished the pilot light. That means heating water on the stove, old school, to heat bathwater and dish water until we can pump the water out and reignite the pilot.

As irritated as we feel about having to pump water from the basement for the second time in four days, we also realize how grateful we should be that it wasn’t much worse. A minor inconvenience I can live with. During the storms I worked, met pending deadlines and made money. And that got me thinking, what would I have done if my entire home was flooded? What if my computers and other electronics were destroyed? My laptop recently died, so what then?

What would you do?

I would have been screwed. To be honest, I have no real emergency plan in place should the unthinkable happen. Although I missed the real destruction of this disaster by a few hairs, it’s been a serious wake up call for my business. I’ve mentioned my desire to create residual income here before, however now I see the necessity of creating multiple layers of income.

If Mother Nature had decided to point her finger at our home, I would not be making money right now because I have created a business around a single stream of income.

Have you ever really looked at your own business model and considered the many different scenarios that could potentially affect your income?

Monday, September 14, 2009

How to Get Private Clients, Part 2

I know there have been a few interrupting post between “How to Get Private Clients, Part 1” and today’s “Part 2.” I got a bit side tracked, as I often do, posting other topics that seemed more important at the time. I’m back on track now and will do my best not to be so scattered in the future.

Contacting clients seems to be the most daunting task for those just getting started as freelance writers; it certainly was for me. Although jumping in and just getting started can be good advice for overcoming the initial fear, having a few marketing tools in place will make things go much more smoothly.

Get Business Cards

Even if you’re strictly a web-based freelance writer, you should have a few business cards printed to carry around with you. You never know if you will meet someone in need of your services at your local health food shop, vet, kid’s dentist, etc.

The fact is very few businesses, even local ones, operate without a website anymore. Don’t be reduced to scratching out your information on back of a ripped receipt you fished from the bottom of your purse. Commit to being the consummate professional when representing your freelance writing services.

Your cards don’t have to be fancy. They should contain the basics: your name, what you do, your business name (if applicable), email address and website URL. Including your phone, fax, Skype and/or IM information is optional.

Create a Query Template

Those who detest cold calling might be interested to know that I have obtained the majority of my clients via “cold querying.” When I first started I spent most of my day drafting original messages to each contact. I quickly learned that drafting a simple, persuasive query template was much more productive. I tweak the content to make it ideal for the prospect I’m contacting, and it really has shaved off a lot of the time spent meeting my weekly goal. Here’s what I suggest including in your template:

1. The contact’s name. Sometimes I don’t have a contact’s name although you could make a quick call to the company and request that information. To be honest I don’t always have time to do that. When that happens I write: “Dear Recruiter” or “Dear Team So-and-so.”

2. What you do. Very briefly explain your specialty if you have one. For instance, you might specialize in web content for real estate professionals and say something like: “I create descriptive real estate content that converts more website visitors into home owners.” Of course be prepared to back up a statement like this.

3. List your experience. Your writing experience is important, but if you’re a niche writer, your industry background is just as important if not more.

4. Samples of your work. I simply provide a link to my online portfolio.

5. Tell them why they should hire you. This is where you sell your services by explaining what makes you stand apart from other writers. Are you detail-oriented? Do you have a fast turn around on copy?

6. Avoid talking about yourself. What I mean is make the letter all about what you can do for your contact. It’s very easy to spread the word “I” throughout a query. Make sure you use the word ”you” instead.

Get your own marketing materials

Post cards or brochures are a great way to initiate contact with local prospects. Mailing post cards can also be a nice way of touching base with clients you haven’t heard from in a while.

Put your website to work

You do have a website, right? Sure you do. There’s no way you would miss out on this 24/7 marketing opportunity. It’s not so easy to stand out among the thousands and thousands of websites and blogs online these days, but there are a few things you can do.

Make sure a link to your website is in your email signature and the signature of any online forums you frequent. Add a blog, newsletter or free report readers can sign up for. This helps you collect information from prospective buyers.

These suggestions are only the tip of the iceberg, but hopefully it’s enough to get you started.

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