Monday, May 31, 2010

Knowing When to Walk Away

In my four years of relying on freelancing to earn a living, I’ve learned a lesson that ranks right up there with the importance of consistent marketing – you have to know when to walk away.

One of the biggest surprises of my freelancing career was learning that every client that comes your way is not necessarily a good fit. I so wanted to believe otherwise, and as a result I’ve been burned. Badly. I’ve posted entries detailing warning signs that you’re entering into a bad client situation, and I hope the information helps. But in my personal experience, time has been the best teacher. By now I’ve gotten myself caught up in enough nerve wracking situations that now when I get a certain feeling, I know it’s better to cut my losses and just walk away. The money is rarely ever worth the trouble.

I had an experience just this past weekend. I’d been communicating with a prospective client for a couple of weeks. The client contacted me last week to say that she was interested in having me write a 50+ page report for her company, but they were still deliberating between me and another writer. No biggie. I thanked them for their consideration and offered to provide additional information if necessary.

On Saturday morning I woke to find an email from the prospect. She had decided to go with me, even though the other writer had more experience and provided them with more examples of his work (I sent over one ebook sample I’d written and distributed to several of my clients a year ago). I responded by thanking her for offering me the project, and explained that I would be contacting her on Tuesday to discuss the details.

Thirty minutes later I received another message. This one explained how frustrated the company was because the other writer refused to answer one of the questions they posed, and although he provided more samples than I did (again this was mentioned), including one written on the topic they needed, this worried them a great deal.

An hour later I received two more messages; the first message continued on about the other writer avoiding their questions, and last one stated that if I lived up to their expectations I could expect more work in the pipeline. Just so you know I had already laced up my running shoes by the time I’d received that second email.

Clearly this client was still unsure about the choice she was making, and her constant need for reassurance indicated that I would be completely and utterly at her beck and call at all hours if I took this job. I don’t work well that way, I’m more of a “works well with minimal supervision” kind of girl. The money was good, but I can only imagine what I would have endured if I’d accepted.

I sent a brief message sincerely thanking her for the offer and declined the project. I explained that I’m unable to send her copies of ebooks and reports I’ve ghostwritten for other clients because of disclosure agreements – that’s why I only sent copies of documents I’d published on my own for distribution, after all she only needed a sample of my writing style.

There are several reasons you may find yourself having to walk away – money issues, a disrespectful client, a client who really doesn’t know what he wants, a controlling client. We all come face to face with these situations eventually. Trust me, walking away with your sanity intact is the best decision.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Summer Vacation: T Minus Three Days and Counting...

I am riding out the final stretch before summer vacation kicks in. I’ve got plenty to do to prepare for the big change in my working schedule for the next two weeks until summer camp (day camp) rolls around to save the day. The Boy Scouts (and quite possibly the Girl Scouts) are known for their saying “always be prepared.” Well, last year I was anything but and my writing income dropped considerably as a result. Writing, marketing and keeping four kids under the age of nine entertained was a struggle. Big lesson learned.

This summer presents its own unique challenges which include traveling hither and thither periodically, but I’m feeling more confident this year since I'm armed with a plan. How are you planning to balance business and kids this summer?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Avoiding Deadbeat Clients

I’ve been fortunate that I’ve only had one client to not pay after hiring me for a project. I was just starting out (this was my second online client), and I found the gig on a very well respected job board (I don’t blame the job board – there’s only so much screening they can do so they expect us writers to use our own common sense too). The pay was pretty good and I found the topics interesting enough.

I did everything right, I Googled the company and the websites they were seeking content for. Still, something was smelling a bit fishy for some reason so I only opted to write two short articles for their weddings ezine rather than be greedy (like I wanted to) and take on more. I submitted my articles to the client by the established deadline and followed her invoicing directions. A week later I’d heard nothing. A few more days passed. Still nothing. Finally, I just chalked it up to the game and moved on to better, more respectable clients.

About a month later the job board that listed the dud gig posted an apology to its readers saying several writers had gotten burned by the same non-paying client. Unfortunately some writers were out hundreds of dollars and desperate for answers. We never did recoup our money, and that was my first lesson revealing the dark side of freelancing.

Since then I’ve been doing a much better job of prequalifying clients before working with them. The majority of my clients are very professional and have also been good enough not to create circumstances that cause me to have to chase down my money. Since not all clients are created equal, here are a few tips to heed for BEFORE getting mixed up with a deadbeat client:

Always get an agreement – or use your own. I just won’t do business without a written agreement. That means different things to different people. Some are okay with email correspondence; while others prefer a formal document that clearly spells out the terms of service (you could do this through email too).

Investigate first. Check them out. Google the company or individual (use quotation marks) to find out more information and to see what’s being said about them. Do they have a prominent web presence? Visit their website/blog (although be warned - anyone can throw up and website or blog and declare themselves in business).

Make sure you understand what’s required to complete the project. I once experienced a big time headache with a client all because I thought I understood what they wanted, but didn’t. We were just not on the same page, and in the end the time I spent on the project was not worth the rate charged.

I’ve since learned my lesson and now send a questionnaire to clients that have trouble communicating their ideas (or I collect the information by phone if they’re really pressed for time).

Make sure you’re fairly compensated. If you’re dealing with a client offering impossible rates or turn around expectations, speak up and be sure to explain why you need more time or money, to produce a high-quality final product (e.g. need more time to research the market and target audience). You may just end up with much better terms.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Friday Mentionables

This has been a rough week for me (my own doing, I know). I’m looking forward to completing my client’s project and getting back to my normal work flow next week. Heck, I’m even thinking of taking a day off (I sure need it!).

In the meantime, I enjoyed sneaking away from my work pile to read some really great posts last week. I’ll share them with you now. Enjoy – and have a fabulous weekend!

Blogging for Business, Part 1: Finding Clients and Setting Rates

Valuing My Freelance Worth

10 Things I’ve Learned While Freelancing

Writerly Tip: Know the Signs

Writing and My Way

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Here’s What Happens When You Don’t Time Projects Correctly

Last week after much negotiation, I landed a new client needing help with an extensive ebook project that really interests me. I’ve been doing the preliminary research in preparation for all of the writing required, which is a lot. The problem is I didn’t give myself a large enough window of time to comfortably complete it.

Figuring out how long it will take to complete a project was a big problem when I first started freelancing. I pulled quite a few all nighters as a result. It doesn’t happen nearly as often as it used to, but on the rare occasion that I do take on a project and misjudge the amount of time it will take me to complete it without yanking every last strand of hair from my scalp, I find myself feeling overwhelmed and anxious. I know that I CAN complete this client’s project within the amount of time I’ve allotted, but I so hate that rushed feeling.

As you may have heard me mention before, I have an accountability partner, another writer who lives/works in Santa Barbara, California I speak with each morning to discuss our daily objectives. She once mentioned to me that she is not a fast turnaround writer. She tells all clients that their projects will typically be completed within 2-3 weeks (sometimes longer depending on the project) which gives her enough cushion to work at her own pace. Anything requiring immediate attention gets charged an appropriate rush fee (she considers anything due within one week a rush job).

Whenever clients contact her with crazy turn around expectations, she quickly lets them know she doesn’t work that way and thinks nothing of turning down the work because it’s not worth the stress. And yet she always has projects in the pipeline because she continuously networks and markets her business.

I’ve noticed that many web writing clients expect a quick turn around. Maybe it’s directly related to the nature of the web – instant gratification? I’m not sure.

In the meantime, I’ve carefully mapped out the time I’ll spend researching, writing, proofreading and editing this project so that I meet the established deadline. Personal projects will have to be placed on the backburner (which really makes me want to kick myself), because I have other client projects that will also require my attention during this time. Has anyone out there figured out a full-proof method of determining out how long a project will take to complete?

Friday, May 7, 2010

I'm Still Here!

This past week had to be of my most challenging since I started freelancing. My plate has been overflowing with writing projects (that’s the good part) thanks to putting my nose to the grindstone and marketing my you-know-what off. I’m also trying to stay on top of my personal writing projects, make arrangements for my four kids to stay busy and productive this summer (school will be out in just 3 weeks! UGH!). Add to that an unexpected illness and suddenly having to shuffle my work schedule completely around to attend the funeral of a very dear loved one, help host traveling family members and meet client deadlines - I wound up completely exhausted, frazzled and wishing I could get three days of bereavement time off to pull it all back together.

But the show must go on. In hindsight I’m sure I could have delayed a couple of deadlines without much trouble. Thankfully it all worked out and everything’s returned to “normal.”

This summer I’ll be traveling periodically, so I’m in the market for a new laptop that will allow me to keep working without missing a beat. I’ll be looking to expert traveling writers like Yuwanda Black and Jennifer Williamson for much needed survival tips. When I tell friends and family that I’ll be spending some of my travel time working, they think I’m crazy. I have to gently remind them that this is how I pay the bills. Besides, I actually LOVE what I do so if it’s wrong I don’t wanna be right! :)
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