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?

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