Friday, February 26, 2010

A Marketing Nudge If You Need It

Because I sure could use one right now. I’ve been so busy this month that my marketing efforts kind of fell to the wayside. I promised myself this year that as soon as I saw that happening I would immediately acknowledge it and execute a plan to correct it.

Marketing is the cornerstone of any successful business and freelancing is no exception. Without it you will experience dry spells in business more often. Making marketing a priority means you increase your chances of having a steady flow of clients throughout the year.

Take a good look at your business and your marketing efforts, and ask yourself a few important questions:

Do you have a marketing plan?

I’ll be honest and let you know that I didn’t for my first year as a freelancer. I was busy, busy, busy from August 2007 through April 2008. Then came the lull. I was not expecting the number of projects I’d been receiving to slow down like that. Had I done my research I would have known that the summer months and holidays are typically slower times for freelancers. I could have planned for it by ramping up my marketing efforts during specific times.

Some freelancers get by okay without writing things down. I say go with what you know if it works. I work well by creating lists and writing things down. I write out a marketing plan to help me reach my short-term and long-term goals. I review it often to stay on track.

Mix it up

I used to rely on one or two marketing methods to get the word out about my services. My marketing plan this year includes a couple of new ideas. The main thing is to make sure that the method you choose will be interesting and assessable to your target audience. You can try blogging, article marketing, guest posting on popular blogs, posting at forums, social media, brochures, post cards, public speaking, etc.

The thing I love about working virtually is that you can market your services on a shoestring budget and still get incredible results.

Track your results

This is important. You need to figure out a way to track the results of each method to determine what works and which ones are a complete waste of time. Time is money when you’re a freelance writer.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Is Freelancing for You?

To me this title is asking a basic question I’d imagine anyone would consider before just up and deciding that freelancing will become their primary source of income. From time to time I receive emails and inquiries from people in my “real life” asking me for more detailed advice about how to get started. I find that in most cases the inquirer is serious and ready to get in there – they just need to know what to expect or how to handle a specific situation. I’m more than happy to help. But sometimes people looking for an easy money solution approach me wanting to know how to become a freelance writer.

Two weeks ago I met a young lady who, after finding out what I do for a living, expressed an interest and asked if I could help her get started. I agreed and asked her to call me. When we finally spoke, she asked if I could meet with her in person a few times during the week to help her make this writing for a living thing happen.

Like most freelancers my time is very limited. I’m constantly balancing client projects, personal projects, my four kids and husband. I suggested instead that we set aside specified times during the week in the evening hours to talk instead. She agreed. The first night I called she was busy. The second night I called she was busy. After that I left it to her to make contact.

A week went by and suddenly during the weekend I get a frantic phone call from the inquirer. She needs help responding to a job board post that asks applicants to submit a resume. She doesn’t have a resume. What should she do?

You should know that I get really impatient with people who seemingly put forth no effort to handle simple tasks. I tell her to create a very simple resume highlighting her experience and send her to a couple of resume sample links via email (I mean there are tons of these available).

She starts questioning whether or not the resume is really all that important. I explain that a writer’s ability to follow a job poster’s application instructions is a tell-tell sign as to whether or not the writer will follow instructions when given an assignment. She continues to make excuses and finally decides to send the poster a note explaining why she doesn’t have a resume. By now, as you can imagine, I’m done advising.

I like helping people reach their freelancing goals. I feel committed because others helped me when I was just getting started. The difference is that serious freelancers will spend time searching for answers on their own. They’ll ask pertinent questions, take action instead of debating every issue and take sincere advice to heart. If they ask another writer for help, they respect their time by putting forth a sincere effort.

Being a freelance writer isn’t some simple financial solution for when you’re between jobs. You’ve got to be prepared and put in work. Lot’s of it in the beginning. Sometimes you make more than enough to pay the bills, and then there are times when you’re just scraping by. You figure out how to take vacations, holidays and save for retirement. You handle your own health insurance. Some people prefer not to deal with all this, and that’s okay. Freelancing isn't for everyone.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Accountability Works for Me

This weekend I actually MADE time to work on my own projects. That’s all it takes you know; making the decision to take the time to do so. I say that more for my own benefit. When I have a lot of goals I want accomplished I sometimes freeze up like a deer caught in headlights and do nothing. Those tasks seem so overwhelming that I opt to do nothing instead. Not good.

I do know that when I’m accountable to someone, I break my neck to do what’s expected. I hate letting people down when they’re counting on me. I remember signing up to work out with a good friend who also happens to be a fitness trainer. She had organized a six week boot camp session and asked for my support. Every morning for the next six weeks I dreaded going to that class, but I hated the thought of letting her down even more. The end result was I completed the class more fit and toned than when I’d started.

I’m a natural as a service provider because I’ll do what it takes to get a client’s project complete. But I don’t always work like that when it comes to my own projects, even though I know I’ll benefit tremendously from the effort.

I’ve decided to partner with another freelancer with goals similar to mine so that we can encourage one another to stay on track and meet our goals – an accountability partner if you will. I’m so envious of writers who can focus on their personal goals without these crutches. I’m working on it. For now I’ll utilize the resources I need to follow through.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Testing Out a New Specialty

I’m working on breaking into a new industry niche I’ve been researching for the past four months or so. A lot of experienced writers and other professionals say that specializing in a specific niche like legal, medical or financial content/copywriting makes it easier to earn a larger income. It makes it easier to become a big fish in a small pond.

Sometimes choosing a specialty is simple. Amy Derby once worked as a paralegal making her transition to a blogging expert for lawyers a natural one. Yolander Prinzel’s financial background seems to have paid off since establishing herself as a go-to financial writer. But there are times when you find a niche that interests you but you lack instant credibility and industry experience. So what then?

Breaking In

Some niches are much easier to break into than others. The real estate market is one example. Sure, you get instant credibility if you were an agent or broker, but if you've never worked in real estate yet understand the ins and outs of the industry (especially on a local level) and make the right connections, you can still make a name for yourself.

You can also specialize in certain “mediums.” Specialize in writing white papers like Michael Stelzner. You could do the same with ebooks, sales letters and squeeze pages.

Testing the Waters

One way to see if a specialty will work for you is to set up a blog aimed at your target audience and just go for it. If you’re targeting real estate agents, you could write about the latest web marketing strategies and how they can be used to reach more prospective home buyers.

If you’re specializing in writing ebooks, you could discuss the benefits of viral marketing with free ebooks, repurposing web content to create ebooks or how to develop a profitable how-to series. You can even ad a bi-weekly newsletter to help you create a list of leads.

You still need to do your research to find out if there’s a viable market for the specialty you plan to service. Setting up a blog with valuable information your audience can really use allows you to test drive the idea first.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Monday, February 1, 2010

Some Businesses Just Don’t Get It

On Saturday I met with my new accountant to begin making heads or tails of all the stuffed envelopes filled with receipts, copies of checks, banks statements and other miscellaneous 2009 tax paraphernalia.

**A word to the wise, new and aspiring freelancers: ALWAYS keep detailed records and keep everything organized. That way tax time will not become the paper strewn nightmare for you that it is for me…

As he and I discussed details of my business, he became curious and asked more questions about the services I provide. Out of nowhere he suggested that I consider outsourcing work to other writers and graphic/web designers in foreign countries. He specifically recommended going with India. He proudly stood behind this advice 100 % since that’s what he was doing.

He’s an older gentleman who’s been in the business for many years. I’ve been receiving newsletters and other direct mail from his establishment since we moved into this neighborhood 11 years ago. My old accountant is no longer offering her services, so I decided to begin working with this new accountant based on his years of experience, community reputation and familiarity working with solo professionals like myself.

When he suggested that I utilize the much cheaper services of foreign entrepreneurs, I immediately launched into an explanation of how language variances could compromise the quality of his marketing materials. He simply waved his hand at me as if to say, “Oh, you’re exaggerating,” and moved right along to his next tax question. ***Sigh***

I know that there are plenty of businesses out there that appreciate the services of a quality writer and aren’t looking to pay pennies for these services. The sad thing is here is a business in my own community choosing foreign writers for cheap rates over the many qualified copywriters in his community. Honestly, I have no problem with his choosing to work with foreign writers – his marketing materials are actually well-written and quite professional. It’s the fact that he devalues what it takes to create these materials and will do whatever it takes to avoid paying standard industry rates.

Ironically, here I am choosing to pay a qualified CPA more money to do my taxes instead of running to the nearest H and R Block. My husband passed him one of my business cards anyway, but I hope he loses it. I’m too busy marketing to businesses that can see the value in what I provide.
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