Monday, March 30, 2009

Freelance Writing Ethics: What Will or Won't You Write?

I still consider myself somewhat new to freelance writing (although I'm fast approaching two years full-time!) One thing I found out early on is that I would have to establish some ethics about what I would and would not write.

Believe me, if you're struggling to make ends meet, you might be tempted to lay your ethics to the side temporarily, but in my himble opinion it's not worth it – especially if you're trying to build a professional reputation. A few of the ethical dilemmas I've faced include:

1) Being asked to write "college research material"
2) Write articles about how well a questionable product performs
3) Write erotic material (although using a pen name might work)

I'm sure I've encountered more situations than this, but these are the ones I've been faced with more than once. These may be okay for some, but here's where I draw the line.

Term paper writing is NOT copywriting

I had a very interesting weekend that began with a 6:55am phone call from a client Saturday morning. I didn't find out who the call was from until later that morning after checking my email and finding that they had also bombarded me with emails about several new projects they had waiting. The emails were sent at 5:30am.

My second surprise came when I opened the emails one by one to learn that the client was now asking me to write college term papers, critiques, book reviews and other "copywriting projects." Um, that's NOT copywriting, and I've already been to college and struggled with writing my own papers after waiting until the last minute to get started, thank you very much.

I was genuinely surprised because this client had once been a steady resource of projects like web copy, whitepapers, press releases and so forth. They explained in the email that their decision to provide writers with college research projects was because they wanted to make sure there was plenty of work available for their freelnacers during this economically challenging time. Yeah, right – I'm so sure that you're looking out for my best interest (insert eye roll here). Need I mention that the turn around time on these projects is often ridiculous - 10 pages or more of in-depth research due within 24 hours?

Term paper writing mills are big business

I hear from Terreece Clarke over at Freelance Writing Jobs that these paper mills are a fast growing "freelance writing" industry. I don't doubt it since I've seen students boldly pop up on writer forums seeking rate quotes to write their papers.

The sad thing is new writers really do have the potential to make a lot of money writing for these sites; but at what price? Terreece makes a strong point explaining how this type of writing only hurts the poor kid paying for the service. They'll get a harsh wake up call the day they find out every situation in life can't be fixed by throwing money at it.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Website Fiasco - Lessons Learned

Yesterday I spent a good part of my day on the phone with hysterically trying to find out what happened to my brand new website. One minute it was there and the next it was gone – as if nothing had ever even been there before.

The designer I hired has been incredible – she created a unique, professional looking site that I was falling in love with. I also feel like it represents my growth as a professional freelance writer much better than the previous sites I struggled to create on my own. Being taken seriously as an expert is now more important than ever – especially as I begin narrowing my marketing focus on specific industries.

I don't speak web hosting...

Anyway, I was panicking. They were asking me all sorts of weird questions about what type of file/database was used to upload the site – and the technical jargon they were speaking was all Greek to me. I finally contacted my designer and she took over communicating with them for me and of course managed to get to the root of the problem much better than I ever could have.

Things happen

As devastated as I felt, I couldn't help but laugh at the timing. I was just preparing to send out emails to current and past clients letting them know about my new site and email.

Things like this happen all the time and my freaking out wasn't really helping, so I took a few deep breaths and suddenly remembered that I'm paying a professional designer to handle issues like these. While it's not want I want to be dealing with right now, the fact that she can and will take care of this frees me to continue operating my business.

Releasing the reins and letting the experts take over

I can't control everything. As my business grows I see the necessity of outsourcing certain tasks as an important part of business operations. Having competent, professional people you can depend on makes all the difference. So tell me: how do you feel about outsourcing for your business? Are you a control freak like me?;-)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Let's Keep in Touch: What to Do About Past Clients

I don't know if you've noticed or not, but I've removed the websites that used to be on the top left side of this blog. The big reason is that I've FINALLY decided to invest money in having a professional design one for me. I'm excited about the new site so far and have been busy developing copy for it in my not-so-spare time.

One thing working on the new website has me doing is developing new marketing campaigns aimed at a couple of specific markets. I also realized that once I launch the new site, I will need to share that information with both present and past clients; and that's when it hit me – I've been failing miserably at following up with past clients.

How to reconnect

I'm the type who hates to think I might be pestering someone. Ideally, I'd like to think that once I've done work for a client they'll automatically think of me when they need something new. That's not how it works, and I get that.

Constantly sending out messages to offer services they may not need is not really my style (although it might work for some). I prefer more of a "soft sell" approach. For instance, I'll send links to something I think they might find interesting. You could also initiate contact to make sure the information you have on a client is up to date.

Become unforgettable

There have been times when I've checked in with past clients and they've been so glad I contacted them because they were just thinking about calling me to discuss a new project. Out of sight out of mind, and I don't want that to happen. Do you make a habit of keeping in contact with past clients?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Spreading the Wealth

I've talked about finding ways to create a residual income here before, but now I'm actually taking steps to do it. There are lots of writers out there making money from more than their client projects. Some writers write books and receive royalties; others write ebooks and reports, create and monetize niche websites and blogs.

Building "passive" income

This income is anything but passive considering the time and energy that needs to go into creating the final product. The fact that it can continue to make money long after you've created it is the lovely thing about it. This combines well with everyday client projects.

Write for yourself

Some writers say their "passive" income has grown so much that they have the luxury of scaling back on client projects. They can spend the majority of their time writing for themselves. Beautiful.

Have you made any effort to create a passive income with your own projects, or is it something you've ever considered?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Why I Don't Use Bidding Sites

I promised myself that I wouldn't discuss this topic here because I've seen how ugly an innocent question or opinion about whether or not bidding sites are worth joining can turn into an all out war. Let me start by stating that I am only stating my personal opinion on the topic based on my own personal experiences. I have no problem with anyone disagreeing with me – Actually I think it makes for a much more interesting well-rounded discussion which allows everyone to see both sides of the coin.

I belong to a Yahoo writers group and have noticed more and more members looking to supplement their shrinking incomes wondering if bidding sites are a possible answer. Who knows - it could work out for them. My intention is not to be a wet blanket. I just feel the need to share my personal experience seeking work from a bidding site.

My foray into freelancing full-time

I started freelancing full-time in September of 2007. At the time I was the only breadwinner for my family and I was already freelancing part-time while homeschooling my kids. I didn't have time to panic over whether or not I could really do it, or obsess over whether or not to design a logo or build a website. The mortgage was late, the kids needed to eat and something had to be done, so I responded to a couple of ads seeking writers on Craigslist with a resume and writing samples and thankfully secured my first two clients who sent me enough work right away that we were able to stay afloat while I scrambled around looking for a few more clients.

Taking a chance on Elance

Because I was very new to living off earnings as a freelancer, I didn't know that work typically slows during the holiday season. I'd been educating myself via a couple of writer forums and blogs. I noticed that a couple of writers often talked about how busy sites like Elance and Guru were keeping them. A few stressed that paying for a site's membership fee was usually the best way to get the optimum jobs.

I hesitated because I was in the business to make money not spend it, but the decreasing number of projects was sending me into a fit of anxiety, so I paid for the top membership with Elance. I spent time developing a professional profile and portfolio. I took the time to learn all about how the site worked. But I was shocked at the low rates buyers were seeking for projects. Whenever I placed a bid, it was several days later before I would even learn that once again I didn't win. Buyers would contact me with interest asking if I'd be willing to lower my rates, but I just couldn't see doing that.

What am I doing wrong?

One thing about bidding sites – it's important to get feedback from clients. Other buyers are looking for service providers that have good feedback, which makes perfect sense. But I began feeling like I would have to bid ridiculously low rates to get that feedback.

I tried giving it a chance and even bought this ebook to help me with no success. Meanwhile, I was also still responding to advertised writing jobs and snagged a couple of new gigs. I realized I was doing much better responding to the ads versus spending hours a day searching for jobs on Elance, writing a bid, and losing out on money. After two and a half months, I cancelled my membership. Once I learned to market my business, things got even better financially.

Was it me?

Maybe I didn't give it enough time to work, but honestly in my situation I didn't have a moment left to spare. I know some writers are very successful using these sites. Three that come to mind are Allena Tapia and Lorna Doone Brewer and Tamara Berry. I've also come across writers echoing experiences similar to mine.

I'm not saying don't do it, but I'd advise that if increasing your income is your primary incentive, be cautious of paying membership sites. If it works for you, you could easily recoup the investment, but if it doesn't then you've lost your hard earned money.
I'd love to hear about any experiences other writers may have had with bidding sites.

Monday, March 16, 2009

New Project Negotiations

Last week ended on a very promising note for me. I have one prospective client contacted me via my Linked In profile (it needs a SERIOUS rehaul), and another client I actually found on Anne Wayman's job list could also turn out to be a very good thing…

Still, I wonder because this prospect and I have been locked in a back and forth dance of sorts every since Wednesday when I first responded to his job offer. He promptly responded with interest outlining several more projects his business needed right away. So I sent him a detailed scope of the three he highlighted as the most important.

The waiting game begins

By Friday I had told him everything I could without sending him the completed project. I forwarded email an agreement and payment information to receive the down payment so that I could get to work and meet the proposed deadlines. But we would dance around getting started bit longer…

I received an unexpected call from him on Saturday morning as I was wrangling my brood into submission (it was raining outside for the second full day if that gives you any indication of what I was dealing with). He apologized for calling me on a Saturday, but really wanted to discuss the project more. He asked if I could set aside some time during the day.

I broke my own golden rule

I don't know why I even answered the call – I try not to work on client projects over the weekend unless discussed in advance. I also prefer not to set a precedent where clients think they can contact me whenever they like outside of my normal working hours (which are anything but, but he doesn't need to know that, right?). I felt like this was a project I should make an exception for, so I asked him to call me back in an hour.

I think his call was more about verifying that he was actually dealing with a professional before he forked over his money. I can't be mad at him for that. When he called back, he indicated that he would be sending back the signed agreement and down payment soon.

Still waiting…

Now it's Monday. No agreement and no down payment to get started on a project that needs to be completed before the end of this month. Don't get me wrong, I know that some projects take longer to get started – especially when you're dealing with a brand new client. I guess I'm guilty of impatience, especially when I'm ready to get started.

I also know that prospects say they need projects done and fail to follow through quite often. That's just the nature of the freelancing beast. I'll just keep my fingers crossed on this one, but keep pushing forward.

I'm curious to know how other writers handle projects that get stuck in the discussion phase. Do you just move on until the client makes up their mind?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Knowing When to Say "When"

I really enjoyed Catalyst Blogger's Friday post because it was truly something I could have written word for word. It might not have come out as nicely phrased as she managed to put it, but I am dealing with an eerily similar situation that also has me wondering whether or not the economy has me willing to put up with a lot more than I normally would. For me the honest answer is 'yes.'

Is it ever really worth it?

I read another writers blog a few weeks ago (sorry, I can't recall which blog right now) and something they wrote stuck in my head: "It's a lot easier to keep a client right now than it is to find a new one." Right then and there I internalized it and accepted it as true. No questions.

I won't bore you with talk of the recession, I'm quite sure you're getting an earful from much more reliable sources. Things are bad all over, the sky is falling, yada, yada, yada – all that. But I've been pretty busy and so have many of my other freelancing colleagues. So why would I blindly accept that blogger's statement as true? It all started with the client in question and the "big project" he'd been promising since last summer…

We've worked together successfully with no real issues for over a year now. So when the anticipated "big project" came, I was quite surprised to find it included a lot of big headaches.

There was a big lack of communication about what was required early on, and a few other culminating issues that resulted in numerous rewrites.

Where do you draw the line?

That's something to think about because a freelance writer's time is extremely valuable. I have gone back and forth with myself over whether or not to let the client go, raise their rates (because the work involved has changed) or just be happy and leave things as they are; but I'm NOT happy. I resent the fact that it is March and the project is still not complete. Reading Jennifer's post made me feel sad that another writer is experiencing anything similar to this.

A glutton for punishment

I have been suffering the circumstances of my own doing. Some writers are very confident in the services they provide, and refuse to lower their rates or their standards. I'm looking to them as examples.

This down period is an excellent time to break into a niche or increase rates because there ARE people out there searching for good writers. I've been doing a lot more marketing and am getting response. I'm also taking every opportunity to keep myself educated and have began to investigate a niche I'd never considered before.

What about you? Does the recession have you dealing with situations that you normally wouldn't?

Friday, March 6, 2009

TGIF Freelance Writer Link Love

It's Friday and I'm closing out the week by putting the finishing touches on a few projects due today and scheduling a couple more for next week. This weekend it's back to working on my own projects - and enjoying the sunny 75+ degree weeekend weather (only in Atlanta could it snow Sunday, then be in the 70's by the end of the week!).

I read some really great writer blogs this week that I'd like to share. I hope you enjoy reading them and have a great weekend!

Mommy, Where Do Clients Come From?

Freelance Income Report for February 2009

Six Months Full-Time, the Things I've Learned

Reality Check and the Toilet Paper Entreprener: The DIY Marketer's 1-2 Punch Survival Guides in this Economy

i have a company dammit!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Fun With Naomi & Havi

Yesterday afternoon I had the pleasure of "attending" Naomi Dunford and Havi Brooks' "This Whole Recession Thing and What You're Going to Do About It" teleseminar. I have to be honest and tell you I wasn't going to attend because I'm not really freaking out about the recession. Do I wish things were better? Yes, but I'm doing okay and feel pretty confident. Naomi and Havi were offering their business expertise at such a low rate (under 20 bucks!) that I just couldn't say no.
I found it encouraging and uplifting. Naomi's straight forward way of explaining things goes so well with Havi's "get-in-touch-with-your-inner-self" style. A lot of what they shared was really common sense, but I don't think anyone would argue that common sense goes right out the window in the midst of a panic; and let's face it – a lot of people are panicking. I did walk away with some really good advice that I hope to put into practice.

Don't be like everyone else

During this down time, now as people tighten their purses it's more important than ever to stand out and be different from the crowd. Don't set up the same old bland writer's website like everyone else (ehem, I am guilty of this…) and do what you can to stand out when marketing your services too.

Stop being afraid of marketing

I've said it here before, when you're first getting started, or don't have enough clients, you'll spend about 80 percent of your time marketing. Naomi confirmed this number last night. Yes, that's a lot, but it also shows just how important consistently marketing your services really is.
Don't be afraid of marketing – it's not the same as hard sales. When you're on Twitter, on forums, sending out emails or tweaking your website make sure people out there know what you do.

When it comes to existing clients who haven't been advertising as much these days, consider contacting them with a personal message to touch base and say hello. Depending on your relationship, you might even consider reaching out to them and asking if everything is okay. If they are having problems affording your services right now, you might even consider renegotiating your rate for a limited time letting them know that although you don't normally do it, you really want to maintain your working relationship and help them reach their business goals.

This solution isn't for everyone. The most important thing when marketing is to find something you like doing and stick with it.

Include an FAQ on your website

I was going back and forth with this one and had just decided against doing it until attending the seminar last night. Gah! Now guess what I'll be working on this weekend? Naomi suggested doing a bit of research to find out what the top questions are that people online have about your business. Then make sure to answer it in your FAQ's.

There were lots more precious gems tossed around of course, but I'm staying mum hoping that if Naomi and Havi offer another opportunity like this one, you'll jump on it.:-)

As Naomi said in closing, recessions always end. The important thing right now is to use this downtime to plan and position yourself NOW to reap the benefits fully when things turn around.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Writing from Home on a Snow Day

I wish my digital camera was working so that you could see the miracle of white that showed up in Atlanta, Georgia on Sunday. We thought we'd escape that wintery whiteness this year (after all it was practically 70 degrees on Friday), but SURPRISE! My kids are over the moon with excitement. Atlanta rarely ever sees snow.

So there was no real surprise that we woke this morning to the announcement that all City of Atlanta schools are closed for the day. These are the situations that make me so happy that I work for myself from home. Being able to make an income and be available when my family needs me is so awesome and I'm grateful everyday.
Designed by Lena