Friday, January 29, 2010

Diversifying Income Flow

Sometimes there‘s just so much I can do. I mean I’m just one person, and when a bunch of clients need projects done within the same deadline period, I panic a little. Sure it means more money coming in, but it can also mean less sleep, less time with the family and possibly putting some clients on hold (if they are willing to wait); or passing them along to another freelance writer while I struggle to get caught back up.

Now all of this could also be a sign of not charging enough for your services, but that’s a post for another day…

So what happens if you get really sick, or get in an accident, and can’t work for a few days/weeks? That could really affect your income – especially if you’re the breadwinner. Unless you’re fortunate enough to have a significant savings stashed away to cushion you through life’s unexpected hurdles, you need a plan.

Is Creating Residual Income the Answer?

I’ve talked about my plans to create residual income here, which is just another way of saying “multiple streams of income.” I‘ve done a couple of small things that have brought in some additional income, but mostly this plan’s been placed on the back burner. Clients always come first. Right?

This economy has kicked the idea of security many of us have had for years to the curb. As I’ve said before, I feel much more secure freelancing for several clients as opposed to relying on one job right now, but I don’t think it’s enough. Even if I were lucky enough to get 20 clients a week seeking my services, the truth of the matter is there’s only so much of me to go around.


Which brings me back to the idea of creating other streams of income. I was reading a recent post over at Itty Biz where a guest post written by Dave Navarro discusses how many service providers find themselves stuck on a treadmill of sorts – unable to say no to the money coming in, and unable to find time to relax and enjoy life. Yeah, I’ve been there...

His answer is to create some sort of information product as another income stream. Ebooks, teleseminars, webinars, ecourses and membership sites are all examples of how you might productize an idea. I know of some freelance writers who are doing quite well pulling in an income from their writing services and info products.

It seems to me the key is filling a need within a specific niche. I’m seriously thinking about it. I wouldn’t create products to sell to new or aspiring freelance writers because (1) there are plenty of good writers out there who are already successfully offering products in this area. That means (2) it’s probably an oversaturated niche. I’m happy to go on sharing what I know and learn with you for free.:~) If I create a product, it would be something targeted to my clients that could for sure make their lives easier.

More Ways of Creating Income

Keep in mind info products are only one way to go about creating additional income. There’s also affiliate marketing, creating niche sites and probably a lot more ideas I haven’t mentioned.

Have you considered creating a product to sell? Does your business model involve residual income? If so, please share.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

So, What Do You Do?

This morning I was reading Melissa Ingold’s blog post at Internet Marketing Sweetie. She tackles a sometimes thorny issue many freelance writers and others of home businesses face – responding to the question, “What do you do?”

You know what I mean. You’re at some gathering having a wonderful time. You’re mixing, mingling, and inevitably someone asks, “What do you do?” Reactions to your answer may range from clueless to “That’s what I want to do! Can you help me get started?”

I have to tell you I haven’t had a very difficult time with this. Although in the beginning I think my parents and extended family thought I was crazy and may not have taken my endeavor seriously, they at least had the good manners to keep their opinions to themselves. The most I’ve had to deal with is drop in guests (during deadlines) and impromptu phone calls.

Sure, I’ve had strangers ask about my “job.” Some find it interesting and some think I’m making a little pocket change with a hobby while staying home with my kids. There are also times when I run into other entrepreneurs or business owners who are quite interested in what I do and request a business card (I recommend ALWAYS carrying business cards because you never know where you’ll meet a potential client).

My husband supports my entrepreneurial pursuits, and my family has come around. But some people don’t get that support, I’ve visited forums where posters were harassed by spouses, in-laws and others ridiculing them and accusing them of wasting time not working a “real job.” These forums were the only place they could get the support they needed. Building a business is such hard work. I can’t imagine how tough it must be when it seem like no one believes in or supports your vision and effort.

It really is amazing to me that in this day and age some people still cannot wrap their minds around the fact that people can, and do, make comfortable incomes from home. Why is that?

A good friend of mine has been telecommuting for her medical coding position with a prominent health care facility for about a year now. Even though she’s working for another company (she's worked with them for over 10 years), she encounters people who assume she's been demoted just because she now works from home instead of on site. So I wonder – is it the working from home part that people have a problem with?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Work at Home Weight Gain

I have to confess that while building my writing business over the past two and a half years I have not been taking very good care of myself. I sit at a computer for several hours a day and have not engaged in an exercise routine in months. And I’m paying for it with some extra, “baggage.” Besides being unable to fit into my favorite jeans, I’m taking my health for granted, and I don’t think I’m alone.

I’ve noticed other writers confessing their own lack of exercise or healthy diet on blogs and forums. Add to that the sad fact that many freelance writers are without health coverage and problem reach another level of urgency.

The truth is that freelancing can lead many into a very sedentary lifestyle. You’re sitting in front of a computer for hours, you may miss regular meals and find yourself mindlessly snacking around the clock. You might switch things up every now and then and spend some time working at the local coffee house among the bagels and cream cheese-filled pastries. Before you know it there’s more of you to love.

We all know regular exercise can protect us from conditions like heart disease and stroke, high blood pressure, non insulin-dependent diabetes, obesity, back pain and osteoporosis; what you may not know is that it can also help improve sleep, concentration and energy – three things most freelance writers could use a lot more of.

I’m not big on resolutions, but I am vowing to make more time for exercise this year. I want to start running again, so that’s the goal I’m working toward. I’m a vegetarian and already enjoy a diet filled with vegetables, fruit and whole grains, so tweeking it a bit to reduce my sugar intake and portion sizes should help me shed a few pounds by Spring.

Has anyone else found themselves battling work from home weight gain? How do you prioritize fitness in your life?

Monday, January 18, 2010

How Far Do You Go to Provide Good Customer Service?

Lately I’ve been talking a lot about setting boundaries with clients to protect yourself from being taken advantage of. It’s an important aspect of business, but it really is a two way street. I think that customer service is an important value you can add to your business. It’s what makes some clients return again and again to work with writers with average skills let alone writers who know how to get results.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t always work on improving your skills as a writer. If you don’t provide value and results you won’t have very many clients anyway. But being a pleasure to work with is important too. My mother always said having a good attitude can open a lot of doors.

Now don’t confuse providing your clients excellent customer service with being a rug to be walked on. I’m talking about common sense gestures - the same ones we appreciate when paying for a service:

1) Be reliable. When I’m paying good money for something I expect reliability. If something goes wrong, I expect some empathy and an offer to make things right when possible. Do what you say you will when you say you will.

2) Be positive. Even if you only communicate with clients by email, you can still present a positive persona. Nothing irks me more than having to deal with a negative attitude when I’ve been nothing but nice. If you’re dealing with a crabby client, being friendly might help turn things around. I know it sounds corny, but it’s true: a positive attitude is contagious.

3) Anticipate your client’s needs. Many times the clients seeking our services are confused. They may be unable to clearly communicate what they need, or you may be able to help them achieve better results by offering additional services. This is not only good customer service, it also make you indispensable.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Thanks, but No Thanks

This week I did something that completely went against what I felt compelled to do. Even though it was was difficult, I know I did the right thing. I turned down a potential client because they refused to pay my quoted rate.

Okay, let me back up a bit – I HAVE turned clients away before for trying to convince me to practically do projects for nothing. I do have SOME pride. But I'll admit - I’ve been known to lower my rates because I believed a bird in the hand is better than no bird at all. Not any more.

I have taken a lot of time to set fair rates based on my experience, my knowledge, ability and desire to provide clients with real value. My services and skills are evolving as I continue to learn as much as I can about online marketing strategies, direct response, SEO and improve my writing skills. I have researched industry rates, the rates for my niche and settled on a very fair pricing structure for my services. And it has worth.

It’s tempting to cut your rates when you need work, but you send a message to your client that they shouldn’t be expected to pay well for response driven content that produces the results that will help them make more money. That doesn't make much sense.

There’s nothing wrong with giving out a special discount now and then, but you shouldn’t feel pressured into lowering your rates. I wouldn’t ask my ophthalmologist, dentist or local dry cleaning service to lower their prices. If I don’t believe I’m worth what I charge, who will?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Should You Sign a Non Compete?

I acquired a new client this week and spent a good part of yesterday reading and filling out a variety of forms to scan and send back so that we could get started on the project. One of the forms I received was a non compete. If you don’t know, a non-compete can be a clause in an agreement or a full document (like what I received) designed to protect a business by stipulating certain limitations.

I once read a writer describe non competes as similar to a prenuptial agreement. That seems like a pretty fair comparison. These legal documents are meant to protect a client’s business interest (i.e. client relationships, trade secrets and other confidential information).

Restricted area

Non competes will typically involve one of three areas: defining the geographic scope of where you can and cannot conduct your freelance business while under an agreement with a client; the scope of the services you can provide others; or a duration clause (e.g. you must wait on year before doing business with a competitor, etc.).

Non competes can range from logical and uncomplicated to complex and full of ridiculous restrictions (believe me - I’ve passed on a few). I once had a small Internet marketing firm send me a non compete that would restrict me from working with any of their existing clients, or clients they were soliciting for business, for the next three years. That seems sort of extreme to me; especially considering I had no idea of knowing who they were marketing their services to. Usually clients requiring non competes are pretty hush-hush about that sort of thing.

Making the right choice

The non compete my new client asked me to sign was pretty harmless. I read it about four times just to be sure. Seriously, I cannot stress enough how important it is to read all documents before you sign on the line. I know that sounds like common sense, but it can be hard to think with a clear head when you’ve just skated through an extreme dry spell. Read the fine print. Think about how your business might be affected six months down the road based on the requested restrictions before signing a non compete. Sometimes the job’s just not worth it.

Have you ever been asked by a client to sign a non compete?

Friday, January 8, 2010

Does a College Degree Make it Easier to Get Work?

Yesterday I was listening to the radio while driving my kids to school. The show was discussing the rampant unemployment in the city of Atlanta – a big change from 10 yrs ago when you could quit a job and find a new one within only a day or so. He stated that Atlanta ranks number five for U.S. cities with the most jobs lost. Los Angeles is ranked number one.

The radio host asked the listening audience whether or not a college degree, or other advanced degree, gets applicants hired more quickly in this economy. Many called in to say that’s not the case.

This reminds me of a common discussion I’ve seen on freelance forums: do writers with college degrees (or other advanced degrees) get more work than writers without?

I have a bachelor’s degree in Communication Arts, but I know quite a few writers without degrees who are doing quite well for themselves. Sure, I’ve gotten a couple of gigs off job boards that specifically asked that college degreed writers bid, but I think that when it comes down to it, experience and skill are what matter most. That’s why most clients want to see samples of your writing or ask for references to determine whether or not you can actually deliver compelling content.

In my opinion the lack of an advanced degree has nothing to do with freelance writing success. The ability to write, a willingness to work hard and deliver value to clients matters much more. What’s your experience?

Monday, January 4, 2010

Clean Slate Monday

It’s the first Monday of the New Year and I feel as I have a clean slate. I know it shouldn’t matter that it’s January, but a fresh start feels good to me and gives me a motivational boost that can’t hurt.

One reason I’m so excited about this year is that I get to apply some solutions to hopefully fix some of the problems I encountered in 2009. I endured a few rough patches in 2009 that resulted in lower income than the previous year. A couple of my steady clients pulled way back on the business they were sending my way. Two just dried up completely.

Last summer I had big plans to send my three older kids to a camp program so that I could really focus on work, but an unexpected change of plans killed that dream. I had a difficult time establishing a consistent working schedule while they were home; and you can imagine how much marketing I was doing…

I also had more clients paying late than ever before – and when I say late I mean four to five months later. To top things off my daughter was unexpectedly hospitalized for one week in October (due to complications with her chronic condition) and one week during December as a result of a stomach virus gone wrong.

When I look back on this year, I realize that a big part of my problem was being caught unprepared. Because I’m self-employed, I rely heavily on writing projects to survive. If I’m not working consistently, or promoting my services to get more clients, eventually I’ll have an even bigger problem.

Life happens. There’s no way of knowing what’s coming around the corner, but if I’m prepared for unexpected obstacles, twists and turns, they’ll have less of an effect on my earned income. This year will be different. Here's to a new year, a fresh start and the chance to try a different approach.
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