Thursday, January 29, 2009

Online Networking for Freelance Writers

I've been enjoying Words on the Page blogger Lori's recent discussions about Twitter, Face book and other social networking sites. Her posts have inspired split comments where some readers consider these sites time wasters refusing to get sucked in, and others swearing they're worth it. Time is a big issue for freelancers because the reality is that time is money. You definitely have to manage the time you spend n these sites, but I must admit that I'm starting to see and reap the benefits of being a virtual social butterfly.

I'm a bit of a late bloomer when it comes to social networking online. I've only been a full-time freelance writer for 17 months now. I started blogging for the first time last summer, and just joined Twitter, Face Book and Linked In around three months ago. For me it's been sort of like a science experiment to see for myself if they are all everyone says they're cracked up to be. Here are my findings so far:


I follow a lot of interesting people on Twitter. If you are using it primarily as a business networking tool (which is my mission), you need to make sure to get the basics down pat. I highly recommend reading Darren Rowse's (Problogger) blog

I'd say the majority of people I follow are other writers/bloggers, Internet marketers and small business experts. In the beginning I spent way too much time on there, and lately I've barely been able to post a tweet because of my overwhelming work volume. I hope to soon find some middle ground so that I'm not completely forgotten.

I have managed to get a couple of regular clients from Twitter without even trying. I also have constant access to tons of useful information for my business, so for me Twitter is a keeper.

Face Book

I'm not ashamed to say it – I still don't get how Face Book helps you in business. I hear about people getting kicked off for too much self-promotion so I think I may be missing something here. In the meantime, I've enjoyed reconnecting with friends and my old newspaper colleagues, so it's all good.

Linked In

It took me the longest time to post my profile, and I'm still not 100 percent happy with it so I'll probably be changing it soon. When I first set up my account I didn't know what to do with it, so I just let it be. Every now and then someone finds me and connects with me. I recently started using some of the cool new applications, and I also plan to request recommendations from a couple of past and present clients to give it more juice.

Tuesday a local company found me on Linked in and sent me an email asking if I would be interested in working on a few copywriting projects. Unfortunately it didn't pan out because they wanted me to meet with them in person to discuss the opportunity, but my current schedule was making that impossible. At least now I know having a Linked In account is not for nothing.

These are only my personal experiences so far. I plan to spend more time learning to use each of these networking tools more effectively. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Getting Paid What You're Worth

One of the biggest hurdles for new freelancing web writers is establishing rates. Where do you start? Should you charge clients a flat rate or charge hourly? Do you post your rates on your website, or avoid doing so to throw off the competition and give you more flexibility to charge projects on a case by case basis? Many web writers are settling for much lower rates than they deserve because they don't know what to what to do.

Posting a rate card on your site

See, to me the best part about freelancing is that you do what works for you; and if it stops working you can always switch things up. Except for a few constants that should remain consistent at all times: professionalism and meeting all deadlines with no excuses, proof reading/editing copy before submitting it to a client, marketing your services and having a website with portfolio are a given. Should you post your rates on your website? I post some rates on my site because it lets clients searching for $5 article writers know to keep searching somewhere else. It's a big waste of my time to send emails back and forth about a potential project with someone not prepared to pay my rates.

Reasons not to reveal your rates upfront

On the other hand, another well established and respected writer recently revealed that she never lists rates on her site because it allows her establish rates both she and individual clients can live with more easily. I can see how that works to her advantage. I guess this is one of those situations where you just have to pick your poison and do what works best for you. You can always change it if it doesn't seem to be working out.

Figuring out how much to charge

So what do you charge your clients? This had to be the single most annoying thing for me to figure out when I was first started freelancing. I underpriced myself on quite a few projects considering the work that was involved. Most freelancers won't willingly give up their rates, and you shouldn't blindly charge what someone else is charging. Consider the fact that exerience, where you live and the cost of living has a lot to do with setting rates. Here is a pricing guideline that might help both new and established freelance writers earn rates that make all of the effort put into this business worthwhile.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

How Freelance Writers can Benefit from Doing Less

I'm reading Leo Babauta's new book "The Power of Less: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential…In Business and Life." Leo Babauta authors the now famous blog Zen Habits. Lately I've been completely overwhelmed with work, stuff and clutter in general.

While I am ever grateful for the constant stream of work and my wonderful clients, overwhelmed is not a good place for me to be. Ask the people in my life who are forced to live with me. My number one goal for 2009 is to significantly simplify the way that I live and do business. Leo's book is very inspiring. Some of these lessons I suspect will help my business prosper and keep me from burning out:

Understand that less can be powerful

I guess I'm what you might call a "generalist" (if you like labels) when it comes to copywriting. I offer a very wide variety of writing services. What often ends up happening is I try to handle lots of things that get thrown at me all at once. I'm dealing with the repercussions of this right now actually.

I do it because I want to be sure that I have enough money to survive and pay my bills each month. Things were pretty desperate for my family when I first started freelancing, but I'm realizing that this method is no longer working for me. I feel like a machine that just cranks out projects. I'm in the process of redefining my goals, the writing services and some of the rates I provide for my clients.

Apply limitations in life and business

This is a hard one for me, but if I learn to do this I will work much more effectively. I need to limit the number of projects I take on each week, the number of times I check my email each day, and the number of side projects I have going on and the number of days that I work, just as I plan to limit the number of things I own and allow into my home (goodbye clutter!).

Focus on one thing at a time

I keep thinking about that saying: "How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time." I've got to stop trying to shove the whole thing down my throat. I'm the self-professed queen of multi-tasking, but it's making me crazy. Leo wisely says that switching gears to single-tasking allows you to focus on just one thing which preserves your energy, mental health and allows you to do a much better job. It's less complicated reducing the chance of errors and stress.

Life is what it is. We can't avoid the messes and complications that happen in our personal lives or in business. But you can simplify things considerably which could help you rediscover joy in what you do again.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Setting Boundaries with Clients

I have been writing web copy for a pretty big project for the past month or so, and I must admit that it has tested my patience. It's almost finished I'm glad to say. The biggest challenge of this project has been establishing boundaries.

What are your hours?

I started off letting the client know what hours I would be available. I explained that I begin working at 5:00a.m. each day and break late in the afternoon to pick u my kids and spend time handling homework, snacks, etc. I am available until 6:00p.m. This is not a strict schedule; I'm frequently working later on some days, but I allow "work hours" where I can be contacted by phone, email and Skype. I let clients know that I check my email once more in the late evening around 10:00 p.m. I am not available on weekends unless prior arrangements are made. I mean half the fun of freelancing is being able to set your own schedule, right?

Off to a rocky start

This client contacted me whenever he pleased: as soon as I needed to leave to pick up the kids, late in the evening when we were having dinner and on weekends. I had to politely remind him more than once that I was not sitting by the computer on the weekends waiting for his emails and Skype messages (Okay, I didn't say it like that). Eventually, he got it.

Time is money and so much more

If you don't set boundaries with your clients, you'll wind up feeling like you're on call 24/7. That's a recipe for burnout and major resentment. Establish reasonable hours and let your clients know when you are available – even if you freelance part-time. It's good business and puts clients at ease. But draw your line in the sand and don't waver. Take care of yourself and protect your non-working hours like gold.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Do You Have the Attitude to be a Successful Freelance Writer in 2009?

I think this is a question every freelance writer should ask himself or herself. Times are tough, but it's possible to come out of this mess with a more solid, successful freelance writing business than before. Your attitude will have a lot to do with it.

I regularly spend time on a certain freelance writing forums, and have noticed threads popping up where writers discuss the dismal outlook for freelance writers in this economy. Here are a list of the main complaints I've observed:

1. There's not enough work

2. Now everyone will start freelancing to supplement their income which means even more competition in this troubled industry

3. I could always rely on content site for my income and now they're cutting back on how much I can write.

Finding freelance writing work

There were more complaints, but these are the ones I typically see repeated. I don't buy it. Personally, I've never been busier. I had plans to start a few personal projects during December 2008 thinking that it would be pretty slow, but that didn't happen. Instead I worked non-stop, including weekends, for a month (this will be my first weekend off). I don't do bidding sites (and I don't knock those who do, so please don't take my words out of context), but I do apply for work on job boards and I do my own marketing. There is work out there, people. If you don't believe me, go here and here to see for yourself. They post plenty of freelance writing and blogging jobs regularly.

More competition

If you're worrying about all of the people losing their jobs that might become competing freelance writers, I say don't bother. If you continue providing your clients with excellent customer service and quality content, they will be satisfied. That's not to say that you shouldn't start seeking projects with companies that have more staying power in this economy. Download the FREE 2008 – 2009 Freelance Writing Jobs Report on the left side of this blog. In it Yuwanda Black has compiled some pretty useful research.

Many people who do try out freelance writing won't stick with it because it's not exactly a walk in the park. My philosophy is to worry more about perfecting my own game and less time worrying about the competition.

Diversify your income

Stop relying on one source of income for your financial security. This has never been good business for freelance writers and that goes double for now. Content sites can shut down without warning. A client could suddenly stop sending you work. Diversify your income with a mix of residual income and billable hours.

Now is the time to re-strategize your business operations. Don't waste time complaining and giving in to defeat. If you're dealing with confidence issues as a writer, admit it and commit to do something about it. Utilize your public library's fee classes and countless books, take a class online or at a local college. Find a writing buddy online and help each other by editing/proofing and offering feedback on your projects. Here is an inspirational post from someone refusing to participate in the recession. There are some businesses doing well despite the economic downturn. Your mindset has so much to do with your success.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Signature Marketing For Freelance Writers

As you know, I advocate marketing your services constantly to keep business flowing in. There are many different ways to promote your services. If you don't like doing cold calls, I honestly don't think you should bother. Find a strategy that works for you and do it consistently. You can start with something as simple as signature marketing, that is using the electronic signature in the emails you send. You may not have given it much thought, but the electronic signature you send with each email can be a powerful, free marketing tool. First, you want to make sure that your email signature has the basic must haves:

1. Your full name, company name and title (e.g. Freelance writer, copywriter, web writer, blogger, etc.)

2. Your snail mail address. This is optional, especially if you operate as a virtual business. I use a P.O. Box. Every so often a client needs my address because they prefer to mail a document or check.

3. A phone number. Please don't use your home phone number unless you absolutely have no choice. First, you don't want everyone having access to that information. Second, if you don't have a professional voicemail, it's just not a good idea. I know times are tough, so a second phone line may not be in the budget. Consider using your cell phone number as your business line. Just make sure that your outgoing message sounds professional.

4. Your email address

5. Your website and blog

The great thing about your electronic signature is you can also add links that automatically take clients to any special reports, ebooks or other products you have for sale or available for free download. Don't miss out on this smart marketing opportunity. Your email signature is your electronic business card. By sending it with all outgoing email messages you are constantly promoting both your business and your brand.
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