Monday, April 27, 2009

To Outsource or Not: What's Best?

I've been following an interesting debate between Men with Pens James Chartrand and All Freelance Writing's Jennifer Mattern. I'll briefly recap: James has a new ebook he co-created to help writers fine tune their freelancing business model so that they are more productive and making more money without stress and burnout. Jennifer on the other hand considers freelancing more of a lifestyle than a typical small business.

The controversy

Outsourcing is a topic I notice lots of writers going back and forth about. I had lunch with a client last summer who is expanding his business which means more projects for me (let's hope it continues…). He even suggested that I consider outsourcing some projects out to other writers.

Why outsourcing makes sense

According to James, outsourcing makes sense as a way to maximize a writer's billable hours. He goes on to list reasons when you should consider outsourcing which include not having the skills to accomplish a certain project (that would be web design and anything dealing with html for me) and of course when outsourcing projects allows you time to work on something else. Let me just say for the record that I have not yet read his ebook. I also have to say when it comes to outsourcing I hesitate…

When Outsourcing goes wrong

I've mentioned it here before that I've had some bad experiences outsourcing. In the end I ended up doing as much or more work than I would have done had I just done the project myself. I imagined something along the lines of the scenario James' argument paints: that I would be free to work on my own writing projects or those that were more lucrative while still making a little off the top. However, I'm not someone who wants to manage others. I have enough of a time keeping up with my own daily tasks, and to be quite honest I don't want anyone to start thinking of me as "the man." No sir. But, outsourcing is a tempting thought sometimes, especially when I'm beside-myself-busy.

The argument for residual income

Jenn on the other hand encourages writers to boost their earning potential by working on their own projects creating residual incomes by creating ebooks or informative websites. Of course this takes time to accomplish, and if you don't already have a built-in audience, you'll need to market your little hiney off. She duly acknowledges this fact.

Jenn also explains that one reason she doesn't agree with the business model way of doing this that James suggests is because many writers just don't have enough disposable income to consistently hire out help. Good point.

Which way is best for you?

Personally I believe that either of these methods can work. Am I punking out by agreeing with them both? I know it looks that way, but I'm really not – this time. I actually know a couple of writers who have no problems outsourcing and think it's the best idea since sliced bread. I also know writers who are successfully making good money creating their own products, blogs, websites, etc.

Here's the best part about freelancing: you get to do whatever works for your own bottom line. Whether it's outsourcing, creating your own streams of residual income or a combination of the two; you can make adjustments to get what you need professionally and financially. What's your opinion about outsourcing and developing residual income?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Is Meeting with Clients Really Necessary?

I am one freelance writer who tries to avoid scheduling client meetings as much as possible. I don't mind the occasional lunch or meeting with an existing client I know is going to make that time I've set aside worth while. What I hate are those meaningless meetings where I practically rearrange my day (and life) to drive to clear across town and meet with a prospect who doesn't even know if they want to hire me to handle their project. These meetings remind me of the weekly staff meetings at my old job. You had tons of work that needed to be done, yet were literally being held captive to discuss issues that that could have been addressed in a simple email.

Do face-to-face meetings make a difference?

In the course of my somewhat short freelance writing career, I have meet with maybe about seven different prospects to discuss possible projects, and not one of those meetings ever panned out. At the time I was new to freelancing, so I may not have done a great job of prequalifying them before agreeing to a meeting. However, I must say I'm getting much better at figuring out when someone is serious about hiring my services from when someone is just wasting my time.

Charging for your time

One solution a fellow freelance writer suggested was to charge a fee for these meetings. It can be hourly or a flat rate consultation fee, but the fee ensures that you are paid accordingly for your time regardless of what happens in the end. It sounds like a pretty good idea to me, but I wonder if in this economy writers will consider it a risky move. You could always quote a rate and offer to absorb it into the quoted project rate once hired. Still, shouldn't you be compensated for time spent away from work, gas and travel expenses when you meet with prospects and/or clients face-to-face? What do you think?

Friday, April 17, 2009

Want More (and Better) Clients?

I'll never get tired of saying it: market, market, market! Honestly, I cannot stress the importance of continuously marketing your freelance writing services enough. It's the best way to keep a constant flow of business coming in, and it gets you better paying clients. Last summer I was caught totally unprepared for the summer slowdown months; but this year I'm creating a plan, a few marketing materials and am marketing my arse off because I plan to stay VERY busy.

Here's why it's such a big deal

I think in order to stick with marketing and be successful, you have to do what feels right to you. If the thought of cold calling makes you break out into a cold sweat, skip it – it's not for you. And that's perfectly fine because there are literally hundreds of other ways to promote your business. Do you have to be official and create some formal marketing plan on paper? Nope, you just need to start doing something now and keep doing it on a regular basis.

Link love Friday

This week I've been reading lots of great marketing advice on some of my favorite blogs. I want to share their invaluable knowledge with you and spread some link love all at the same time. Happy reading, and have a great weekend!

3 Ways to Market Your Writing Services to Your Current Clients

Writing Opportunities: How to Find Them Online

115 Marketing Strategies for Small Businesses

Creating and Communicating Your Personal Brand

Get Off Your Ass

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

In Case of an Emergecy

Monday morning a series of really powerful storms rolled into Atlanta leaving many residents, including yours truly, without power for a good part of the day. By the time the power company restored my services, I was already behind on my tasks for the day. I ended up working late that night to catch up.

The next day, I had to go to the hospital due to a family emergency. Thankfully I was not on deadline, but I now expect to be scrambling from now until Friday to remain on course with everything I'm working on.

Dealing with the unexpected

The thing is, when you run a business and others are counting on you to deliver the goods, having no power or a sick relative is not the client's problem. They still want the completed project as promised – especially if money has exchanged hands. I was able to get quite a bit of work done on both days thanks to my trusty Neo Alpha Smart Dana (a steal of a deal on ebay) and three AAA batteries. I worked offline Monday using research material I had printed the night before, and I also worked in the waiting room at the hospital on Tuesday. Later each evening all I had to do was upload the documents to my computer.

Create a back up plan

Still, I realize that as a solo-entrepreneur, I need to create an even better back up plan in anticipation of the unexpected which is bound to occur at some time or other. I've been fortunate up to this point to meet all of my deadlines with no real problems. But why leave things to chance? How do you handle unexpected situations that could affect your ability to come through for your clients?

Monday, April 13, 2009

To Specialize or Not: The Freelancer's Conundrum

Deciding whether or not to specialize as a writer for a particular industry is an issue many writers go back and forth about. Some of us are big advocates for writers finding a specialty. There are so many areas where writers can find a niche that it's just impossible to name them all. Travel, agriculture, education, pets, parenting and so forth. There are some specialties that allow you to learn-as-you-go, but others like medical writing or writing copy for attorneys require a familiarity with the industry lingo.

Becoming an expert

Although many freelance writers advocate specializing as a way to command higher pay, the decision requires a lot more consideration. Some things to think about include:
· Do you depend on your income as a freelance writer to survive?
· Is there a market for the type of specialized writing services you will provide?
· Will you need in-depth experience, or will a good grasp of knowledge coupled with expert researching skills be enough?

If enough business exists, you could wind up doing very well for your self, and even become known as the "go-to" person in that field. Being considered an expert can be very advantageous. It's often a lot easier to write for a market you have a concentrated amount of experience with since you may not need to spend as much time on research.

Variety is the spice of life

On the other hand, writing for general markets is a very attractive option for many writers, especially those who are just starting out. Generalizing allows you to work on many different projects within many different industries. Some writers end up finding a niche this way while others continue to enjoy the variety.

Lot's of people underestimate what it takes to be a good generalist. It requires good writing skills and excellent researching skills. You probably won't be an expert in your client's field, so the ability to locate the right resources that give you the voice of an authority is key.

The choice is yours

The great thing about being a freelance writer is that you can always try something out first to see if it works. You can try specializing for a specific market for a while to see how things go. If things go well – great! If not, you can always go back to being a generalist and vice versa. In the end you do what's best for you as a writer and your business.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Freelancing Phone Etiquette

As a service provider, I provide prospects and clients with a phone number so that they can access me during normal business hours to discuss any questions or concerns they may have about a project. Most writers quickly learn that the phone can take up large chunks of time. Since I'm a one woman show, I've established a simple system for managing calls throughout my day.

Virtual communication rocks

I'm fortunate that the majority of my clients prefer using email to communicate. Most prospects who call will do so during the initial "getting to know you" stage and then quickly phase the communication process on to sending email messages.

When emailing just won't do

However, I have a couple of long-term clients who prefer to speak on the phone quite often about things we could just as easily discuss via email. Excessive incoming business calls can interrupt your work flow and become very time consuming.

I know that phone calls are a preferred method of communication for some of my clients so in an attempt to keep them happy, I compromise. Whenever someone calls unexpectedly, I set a 15 minute limit on that call (I'm now trained to watch the time on my computer screen). If all questions or issues have not been addressed in that amount of time, I then offer to schedule a later day or time to continue the conversation. This allows me to work it into my schedule.

When I'm staring down the throat of a deadline, I will usually screen all calls and return them within 24 hours. Managing client phone calls requires you to immediately take control of the conversation, which can sometimes be easier said than done.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Raising Freelance Writing Rates in a Recession

After lots of careful consideration over the past month, I decided to raise the rates of my older clients. See, I'd technically raised my rates quite some time ago after burning out on a couple of projects and being enlightened by Jennifer Mattern's guest post.

What was I thinking?

At first I thought it would be wrong to make those older clients start paying more; but then my husband looked at me like I was crazy and asked, "Aren't you running a business?" Oh yeah, that's right. I am!

Giving them a "head's up"

I sent the email out last week letting them know about the changes that would occur. Some responded in support for my decision, some didn't. You can't win 'em all, and that's why you should always be marketing your writing services anyway.

I believe the new rates are very reasonable – I've still managed to get new clients who don't bat an eye at the "new" rate quotes. So why was I so hesitant to get everyone on board all at once?

Okay, so here's the truth…

Honestly, I think deep down I was afraid of loosing them, even though I was trying to convince myself that I deserved better. It's kind of like being reluctant to let go of a bad relationship where you give much more than you get. I wouldn't stand for that, so why put up with it when it comes to my livelihood?

I prepared myself to loose all of those clients, so it was a pleasant surprise to see that a few have decided to stick with me. The best part of this story is that I know my worth as a writer and service based business. I know what I deliver, and I'm worth every penny.
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