Thursday, February 26, 2009

Today I'll Be a Freelance Writer...I Think

I've had more than a couple of casual acquaintances telling me I have it made. They think being a freelance writer is all about sleeping in, lounging around, daily errands and lunches out and about with friends. As we say in the South, it ain't like that over here, folks.

I regularly work 12 hour days, half of which are actually spent writing because of marketing and other administrative tasks that must get done. So excuse me when I get a little miffed when someone finds out what I do for a living and casually says, "Huh, maybe I'll try freelancing too while I look for something else." Way to get under my skin!

Bad economy = more freelancers?

I recently read this article which states that the struggling economy will result in more people seeking "gigs" – a "bunch of free floating projects" to make ends meet. What folks don't realize is that the "gig life" isn't for everybody. It takes a lot of self-motivation, discipline and organization and hard work to become a successful freelance writer.

Oh, and of course it requires the ability to write – producing quality, content that is engaging, informative, persuasive or triggers an emotional response in the reader. Understanding the elementary principles of composition and organizing information onto a page, or web page, clearly to present a polished, final draft again and again.

And writing is only a part of what you'll do from day to day. You'll also need to drum up the repeat business necessary to pay the bills. That could be how you spend 80 percent of your time when you're first getting started. Once you build up your clientele, you'll need to maintain a consistent marketing campaign to avoid the dreaded dry spells. Some people can't handle that kind of financial uncertainty.

Can you handle it?

Health insurance, eating and having a roof over your head – it's all on you. That's too much pressure for some. They prefer more security, though I'd argue whether or not such a thing even exists anymore even in the corporate world.

I know that more people will consider freelance writing as a way to make a living during these hard times. I honestly have no problems with it. For some it will be the push they needed to do what they were meant to. Others will be mortified by the solitude and energy required to run a business. All I want is for people to recognize that freelance writing requires reliability, ethics, an entrepreneurial spirit and the ability to write. If you're committed to put in the work, you can do it. Just don't underestimate what it takes.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Monday Blahs

Today I just want to crawl back into bed, under that warm and toasty down comforter and get just two more hours of precious sleep. I don't feel like writing or searching for new prospects. I don't feel like responding to emails. I don't want to work on copy for my new website. I just want a day off.

Take five

Whenever I felt like this in the past, I'd call in to my job and take what I like to call a "mental day," but I work for myself now and have to admit that I miss that luxury. If I don't work, then we don't eat. I'd probably feel a lot worse if I had spent my weekend working on client projects. I did spend time working on my new website, but I consider it time well spent. But today I feel "blah."

When you work for yourself, you can do whatever you want when you want; but if you have bills to pay, it's not much of an option. You have to figure out how to motivate yourself to get up and get going – even when you don't want to. I love what I do, but honestly some days I just want to spend them doing nothing.

What does it take to get moving?

It's early in the day though, so I can still turn this situation around. Maybe I'll take a break to do some yoga, put on one of my favorite CDs and dance it out. Sometimes that's all it takes. How do you keep going on days when you just aren't feeling it?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Welcome to the Comfort Zone

The comfort zone can be a nice, cozy place to hang out for a while. It's safe, familiar and doesn't require you to do anything that might make you feel too - well, uncomfortable. The freelance writing business has a lot of these; they're situations where we writers accept less because we've gotten so comfortable and settled into a nice, routine groove. You've got work. You're making money. Why fix it if it ain't broke?

Getting too comfortable with complacency, or underachievement, can be deadly to any freelance writing business. You'll miss out all the opportunities functioning at full potential can bring.

Once you've made the leap into writing part-time or full-time, you may think all of the hard work is over. Think again. It's just the start of a growing process than can be painful, frustrating, exciting and exhilarating as you grow improving your knowledge, skills and the way you operate your business. Here are some common comfort zones we freelancers can so easily settle into:

Stuck writing for low pay content sites

When you're first starting out and you land a couple of paying gigs writing for content sites, you feel ecstatic. Imagine: someone's going to PAY you to write! So say you're being paid $5 or $10 per 500 word article. You may spend end up spending several hours seven days a week writing enough articles to pay the bills each week. Ideally, you'll take this experience and quickly move on to higher paying clients, but many writers continue the cycle of searching out more of these low paying content sites instead, never really meeting their income goals.

Some writers get very comfortable with having someone bring the work to them rather than going out and finding it. If you're okay with the hours you work and the money you bring in then it's all good; but even if you are okay with it, what happens if the content site folds? It happens all the time, and the danger is even more prevalent in this struggling economy.

Fear of marketing

This is really an extension of the previously mentioned comfort zone. I was once on a writer's forum brainstorming with others about how to get better rates. Most of us were echoing the same idea: market, market, market to more private clients. Again, you have a better chance of setting fair rates for your writing services this way. One writer honestly stated that she hated marketing, even though she was among the loudest complainers asking for someone to point her to the higher paying opportunities.

For some it's really a fear of rejection. No one likes to hear "no." I think if you make peace with the fact that you will get a few "no's" or no responses, it won't seem so devastating when it happens. Stick with it and you will turn up some interested candidates.

Not keeping up with industry and technological changes

Big mistake. Now I'm not usually one to worry so much about competing against other writers for gigs; but if you're not educating yourself about trends and changes in the industry, you're doing your business and your clients a huge disservice because you can't give them what they need. Meeting your client's need is pretty much the basis of any service based business.

When you get a new client and can effectively explain how search engine ranking is achieved, sales conversion techniques or how they might benefit from participating in social networking sites to better connect with their customers, you are further establishing yourself as an expert in their eyes. As far as technology is concerned, you ever come across something that's too technical for you to handle (web/blog set up and design, etc) hire someone to teach you or outsource it to someone who knows what they're doing.

Staying in the comfort zone is easy, but taking some calculated risks will net you far more rewards.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Working Smarter, Not Harder as a Freelance Writer

"I have to lower my rates to compete in today's market."

"I should bid low early on and raise my rates later when I have a bigger portfolio."

"I have to take low-paying gigs, because they're the only gigs I can find and I need money right now!"

Have you ever said any of these things to yourself in your freelance writing career? Has anyone else ever tried to convince you of these things? If they did, they'd be offering terrible advice.

I see many freelance writers (especially freelance Web writers) who live by the above "rules." I also watch as most of them continuously struggle to make ends meet. They have to take one low-paying writing job after another with a constantly full schedule just to earn enough to scrape by.

You don't have to live like that!

The real key to successful freelance writing is knowing how to work smarter, not harder. You've heard it before, but what exactly does it mean as a freelancer?

Here's an example:

A freelance writer (let's call her Sally) currently charges $10 per article writing Web content for clients. She can only work 40 hours per week, and to stay on top of things like marketing (get more clients), looking for gigs, and other administrative duties she can only bill out 30 hours per week.

Now let's say that Sally's a generally strong writer. She devotes plenty of time to research whether digging up statistics online or conducting interviews. On average, let's say it takes Sally one hour to write a fairly decent article. That means Sally is only able to earn $300 per week.

She can't get by on that. Even though Sally is in a two-income household, she really needs to be bringing in something closer to $900 per week (thinking about current times, let's say her spouse was laid off from work, and now she has to be the sole provider in the interim).

Uh oh. What's Sally to do?

She can do two things: work harder, or work smarter. Here's what each would look like:

Working Harder

Sally needs to triple her weekly income. Her instincts tell her that she'll therefore need to work harder--basically she'll have to triple her productivity.

She has to write three articles per hour, rather than one. Either that, or Sally has to find a way to increase her billable hours each week (working "overtime" or slacking on some administrative duties to squeeze in more billable time perhaps).

But wait. There's more. This also means Sally will have to attract three times as many clients (or three times as much work from existing clients). We therefore know she can't cut back on her marketing time. Let's also say she has other commitments she can't get out of, making overtime unrealistic.

Given the situation, the only way Sally can "work harder" is to keep working those 30 billable hours, but cram in more articles per hour.

Rather than writing 30 articles per week, she now has to write 90 articles per week. Because she can't devote as much time to research, she now writes her articles from fairly generic Web-based research alone.

Sally is able to eventually make her income goal, but her article quality has suffered and she's on the verge of completely burning out--not sustainable.

Working Smarter

Now let's assume Sally decides to "work smarter" to triple her income.

She knows what she needs to earn ($900 per week). She knows her writing quality exceeds that of most other writers in her current rate range. She has a solid portfolio built up. She refuses to burn herself out, and takes a smarter approach.

Sally re-calculates the rates she needs to charge. She knows she needs a bare minimum of $30 per article at the existing work load.

She's also smart enough to know she won't keep all of her current clients at that increase, and that she'll have to start marketing her services to a different, higher-paying market. She also knows it's very unlikely she'll have a full work schedule quickly. Therefore she decides to charge $50 per average article she writes.

At $50 per article, Sally has to write only 18 articles per week. Yes, she knows it will be harder to attract clients at her new rate, but the good news is that she doesn't have to attract as many to reach her income goal (18 articles versus the 90 she would have to secure and write at her previous rates). She'll also have nearly twice as much time to work on each article (allowing her to do more thorough research to even better justify the new rates, or she'll have several hours more per week to devote to marketing to attract those higher-paying clients.

Less time working, but earning more money--this is "working smarter."

The idea of working smart is to earn as much as you can doing as little as you can. Sounds simple, right?
That's not to say you can pull a higher rate out of thin air though. You must be able to justify those rates based on your education, experience, or other value you can offer to the specific market you want to target.

See what you can do to start working smarter in your own freelance writing career. If you currently work for $10 per article like Sally, find a publication advertising higher rates and pitch them. You may be surprised to find they do think you're worth more.

If you find yourself with free time, spend some of it writing a report, e-book, blog, or something else that can earn you money on the side. If a client isn't paying for your billable time, you should still consider it "billable." Just work for yourself on some money-making task, even if the income won't be immediate. It's better to do that than sit around waiting for more clients, and in time you may even find you can earn more that way.

We get into freelance writing because of its numerous perks. Don't end up hating what you love to do because you find yourself burning out to get by. Always look for ways to work smarter, not harder, and you'll find that you may even love your work more than before.

About the Author
Jennifer Mattern is a freelance business writer and blogger behind and She is also the author of the Web Writer’s Guide e-book, designed to help freelance writers launch a successful Web writing career.
Save $10 on the Web Writer’s Guide e-book by entering discount code “kimberly” (without the quotes) over the next 30 days!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Rejection: How Easily Do You Bounce Back?

This morning a freelance writer on Twitter that I follow mentioned she had just received a rejection email this morning. Sometimes I am surprised by how easily emotions can be detected through online communication. Usually it's so easy to misconstrue the meaning behind a digital message, but I could easily sense the heavy disappointment the writer was feeling through her 140 character tweet.

Why don't they like me?

I'm familiar with getting magazine query rejections – all too familiar. But I realize as a copywriter that rejection is just part of the business. You pitch a query to a prospect and they either jump on board or they don't. It's nothing personal if they decide I'm not the right person. They don't know me from Adam. It used to bother me a little, but once I internalized this fact, it stopped. Now I just move on to conquer the next opportunity.

I learned to do this in my corporate position a newspaper advertising sales rep. At first the rejections from prospects were practically immobilizing. Eventually, I realized it was mostly a numbers game. If I stopped to wallow in hurt feelings too long, I'd miss out an opportunity. The same logic can be applied to finding freelance writing clients and responding to writing job offers.

Can't stop, won't stop

I know it's a lot easier said than done, but you can't allow rejection to stump you. Sure, allow yourself to feel disappointed. There may be times when a good cry is in order. But get some perspective on the situation as soon as possible. Rejection is a part of the freelance writing business. How do you handle rejection as a freelance writer?

Monday, February 9, 2009

eBook Review: Launching a Successful Freelance Web Writing Career

I spent the weekend reading Jennifer Mattern's ebook, Launching a Successful Freelance Web Writing Career. She is also the author of two blogs: All Freelance Writing and Web Writer's Guide - Your Guide to Making REAL Money Writing for the Web. It's the first in a series of up and coming ebooks written to help newbies navigate the often confusing, and sometimes intimidating, world of freelance writing.

Get ready to take the leap...

I have been freelancing now for a little over a year and a half so I still consider myself a newbie. Taking that step to go full-time was for me one of the best decisions I've ever made. That's why I started this blog – to share my own mistakes and learning experiences with others who still haven't make that step or are just getting started building their own freelance writing careers. If I can do it, so can you.

Back in December, I promised you that I would be reviewing two ebooks that would give you the knowledge you need to start your own freelancing business, or rework your current strategy so that you work smarter, not harder. The first was Yuwanda Black's ebook.

Clear instructions for web writing success

I have people contact me by email from time to time asking for advice, and I share what I know without reservation. But if you are someone who needs to make a choice soon, but you're terrified and need someone to hold your hand, this ebook was written just for you. Jennifer spends 100 pages explaining in painstaking detail everything you need to know and do to get your web writing business off the ground and start getting clients.

There's always more to learn

I'll admit it; I was a little cocky when I purchased the book since it's aimed at those who are brand new to freelance writing. I automatically assumed that whatever basics she covered I already knew. It's true, I was familiar with a lot of what she writes, but after reading this book I realize that there is plenty I don't know. Now Jennifer has me rethinking a lot of my own business strategy and how to position myself for the long haul.

You don't just get an ebook...

Jennifer includes lots of very helpful worksheets included with the ebook. The section on setting rates even comes with a handy worksheet to help you establish real rates you can live with. She explains how a big problem many freelancers have with setting rates is they base everything on billable hours when we spend at least half of our working day on various administrative tasks. We also must take into account that we probably won't work 52 weeks straight for 40 hours a week, 365 days a year. Setting the right rates keeps you covered, and her worksheet shows you how.

She covers important issues like how to zero in on your target audience, find high-paying gigs that aren't advertised and my favorite – consistently marketing your services. The worksheets will help you learn to apply strategy to the way you operate your freelance writing business. She even includes a one page Freelance Business Plan worksheet to help you start setting and reaching your web writing goals.

I am not an affiliate of this ebook – in fact there is no longer an affiliate program set up for this product. But I am blown away by the detailed information she shares and how plainly she communicates to make sure her advice is perfectly clear. It's literally like taking a course on "How to Become a Freelance Writer."

Jennifer Mattern Blogs HERE on Thursday!

Be sure to stop by on Thursday, February 12 when Jennifer Mattern will be blogging here at Avid Writer to share valuable freelance web writing tips and provide readers with a special discount on her ebook. I can't wait!


Thursday, February 5, 2009

Make Easy Money as a Freelance Writer: NOT!

This morning I read a post written by Devon Ellington where she mentions her frustration about those who turn to freelance writing thinking that it's a way to stay home and make easy money. Any writer who manages to make a living – full-time or part-time- working as a freelance writer will bring you back to reality quickly on that one. Freelance writing is as hard as any other business. You can make a living, but you will need to put in lots of hard work. Here are a few details of launching a freelance writing career that many don't think about until they are knee deep in business:

You need legitimate clients that pay

I say legitimate because there are a ton of scams online promising you the good life where you only write about 10 to 20 hours a week and make enough to put four kids through college. When you are a freelancer, it's up to you to weed out the scams from legitimate writing opportunities. After a while you'll be able to smell a rat from a mile away.

It takes a lot of time to query clients and go back and forth about terms, rates, deadlines and project details before getting the go ahead to start working on a project. This is all part of the prospecting process. The number of hours you work each week may vary. Sure, you have a flexible schedule, but you still have work to get done. I work many 12 hour days and have even pulled an all-nighter or two to meet a deadline.

You need to keep writing projects coming in consistently

The only way to do this and get paid what you are worth is to market on a regular basis. Freelance writing is a feast or famine business by nature, but you can dramatically reduce your chances of struggling through periods of famine if you have a steady flow of clients and projects at all times.

Marketing consistently gets really tough when you are a solo business when trying to juggle it all. You are responsible for projects, invoicing, maintaining you own website, blog, etc., etc. Then there is the time spent networking online and in real life. I have prayed for one extra hour in the day many times to no avail.

It's up to you to manage accounting and other administrative tasks

I spend a lot of time keeping track of projects, deadlines, down payments, projects paid in full, client files, faxing and receiving signed agreements, invoicing, collections and so much more. These tasks take lots of time to do, but as a solo business owner I am the only one responsible.

When someone tells me that they've thought about starting a freelance writing business to make some quick money, I just smile, because it's pretty obvious that they don't know what's involved. It requires a more than simply a love of words and a good grasp of the English language and grammar skills. It also requires a level of creativity and commitment to helping your clients get the results they need. Can you handle working alone without direct supervision, staying on task when you'd rather take a nap and remain cool when faced with a nightmarish client? Can you deal with the ebb and flow of income? Believe me when I tell you this: The freelance writing life is not for everyone.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Rebounding from a Mistake

Recently my overwhelming writing schedule got the best of me and I ended up making a mistake while working on a regular client's project. It was an honest mistake, and the client was very understanding about it, but this is a pretty big project so it set everything back a couple of days. I immediately apologized for any inconvenience my error may have caused and spent the next two days going back to make the necessary corrections. When I think of the time I spent doing a job twice all because I didn't pay close attention to what my client needed, I could cry.

Did I mention before that I am working on a bunch of projects right now? Sure, I'm busy, but that's no excuse for not giving a client what they ask and pay for. My personality type is such that when an error is brought to my attention I must immediately make moves to fix it. I don't bother making excuses. My goal is to leave each of my clients with a positive impression of our working relationship.

Of course, I am only human. I make lots of mistakes and try not to get too bent out of shape when I do. I make every effort to provide the same quality customer service I would expect when paying someone for a service. If you ever find yourself dealing with a mistake in your freelance writing here are a few helpful tips:

Admit the mistake and correct it immediately

Don't make a lot of excuses because that makes it seem as though you are unwilling to accept responsibility. Simply apologize for the error and correct it as quickly as you can.

Offer to discount the project

Time is money for your client just as much as it is for you. If your error has created an inconvenience that has left your client fuming, offer a discount on the project. It shows empathy and makes your client feel that you have their best interest in mind. Strive to create a win-win solution to the problem. In the end, it's your call.

Make fixing the problem a priority

The best thing you can do is fix the problem as soon as possible to prevent more delay. It sucks if you have lots of other projects going on, but you should follow through on your commitment to your client.

Always provide good customer service

I'm seeing a decline in customer service these days. I don't know about you, but I can't afford to lose clients by not treating them well. I was fortunate enough in my old job as a, advertising sales representative for a newspaper to have had access to some of the best customer service training. They spared no expense in making sure we understood the psychology behind handling customers unhappy due to errors and any other unpleasantness that could potentially affect their bottom line. I put all that good training to use in my own business.

Even if you weren't formally trained, providing good customer service is largely a matter of aplying common sense. You treat others the way you want to be treated. Every situation may not end up the way you hope, but you'll find that many clients will stick with you when you treat them right.
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