Monday, June 28, 2010

Proposal Writing Basics

Recently I’ve been talking with a potential client from a local mid-size business about providing some writing services. I’m learning that the process can be a long one. There are so many layers of approval required in order to get a contract signed and get started.

Early on this prospect requested that I send a proposal for the intended project. I’d drafted proposals before, but I wanted to make sure that I covered everything they would be looking for. A proposal for a corporation has to contain enough information to meet the requirements of each decision maker. After a little over two weeks of deliberation, the client contacted me to inform me that they wanted me to handle the on going project. Here is the very simple step-by-step process I followed:

Ask lots of questions
. This is so important because you want to show in your proposal that you understand what the client needs. If there is anything you are unsure about, it’s best to ask as many questions as possible before drafting and submitting the proposal.

Summarize the project. This is important because it is basically revealing exactly what you are charging for. Take all of the information you have received from the prospect and write a summary detailing the project expectations. When you create the summary, it will help you clarify whether or not you have a clear understanding of what’s expected. Your client can review the summary and contact you if there is any information missing.

I’ve found that not having all of the necessary information for a project is what typically leads to frustration on both sides.

Provide a break down of how you plan to handle the project. Make a list of everything the client has requested as well as your standard work procedure. Be as thorough as possible. This information shows the prospect that you know what you’re doing and that you’re thorough.

Depending on the size or length of the project, you may need to divide the project into several phases, or milestones. You can request payment for each phase completed.

Establish a timeline. If you need to divide the project into phases, assign delivery and payment dates accordingly. If the client is looking to speed the process along, be as realistically as possible about what is expected. You should also be completely clear about what will be expected from the client in order to honor their rush request.

Estimating the time needed to complete a project can be difficult when you are first starting out a s a freelancer. Eventually estimating the time needed to complete projects becomes much easier, especially if you become a specialist.

Establish the rate. Keep in mind that all of the details provided in your proposal support the rate you charge. I calculate the time that will be spent working on the project with my hourly rate to provide a flat rate. Depending on the conversations you’ve had with the prospect about pricing, you can offer alternative rates. For instance, if the client is dealing with a limited budget, you can offer a more basic service (e.g. editing and proofreading website content instead of writing all new content) as a lower rate option. This can be a good strategy because it shows flexibility and a willingness to negotiate without actually having to lower your rates.

End with a call to action. Wrap up the project by letting the client know what will happen next if they decide to go forward. Let them know what they will need to do to get started including any upfront payments and how the payment and contract agreements should be sent.

Proofread and edit before you send. Your proposal should be proofread thoroughly so that it has no misspelled words or grammatical errors. Think of it as a representation of the service you plan to provide.

Friday, June 25, 2010

More TGIF Link Love

I love reading blogs and can easily spend hours pouring over my favorites. Lately I’ve been so busy with work that I’ve had to restrict the amount of time I spend online – for me the pull to visit these sites throughout my work day is just too irresistible.

Last night I wrapped up a month long project and spent the early am hours greedily trying to catch up on all of the blog posts I’d been missing. As usual there’s a lot of great stuff to share:

Why Is It So Hard to Walk Away from Content Mills?
How to Stop Freelancing on the Weekends
There’s More to Freelancing Than Working for Home
Are You Being Unfair Charging One Client More Than Another?
5 Tips for Creating Passive Income for Writers

Monday, June 21, 2010

How's Your Freelance Writing Business Going?

Recently someone in an email writer’s group I belong to posted a survey inquiring about how business was going for everyone these days. A couple of writers responded that they were busier than ever, while the majority of respondents reported that business was at an all time low.

These survey results could have easily scared an aspiring freelancer away from the prospect of going it alone; however, the survey asked some very specific questions to get to the heart of the matter of why some writer businesses are thriving while others are barely breathing. I have to say that those who responded where very honest.

Here are some of the questions that were asked:

How is your writing business going this year?
2. If you have set goals, how are you doing on them at this point in your business?
3. How do you feel about the future?

4. Will you stick with working freelance for the long haul? Will you stick with writing for the long haul?
5. What kind of supportive people or groups do you have around you?
6.What do you think you need to do next? (charge more, market more, sell more, network more, soul-search more)

Big surprise: most of the people who responded saying their business was essentially in the toilet admitted that they were (1) Not setting goals, (2) Not willing to stick with freelancing as a long-term choice (or preferred to use it as a side income “taking work as it comes”) and (3) were taking NO active steps to generate more business (marketing, networking, etc.).

Clearly the responses to this survey revealed that the problem is not a lack of available work, it’s more a lack of planning and putting action into finding those opportunities that are out there. Your ability to stick it out through the highs and lows, create a plan, follow it closely and put forth effort to network and promote your business is necessary. Otherwise how will clients know who you are and what you do?

I’m having the busiest summer I’ve had since I began freelancing full-time during the summer of 2007. Much of this is because I’ve been networking and marketing my services. I can always be doing better on the marketing end of things because I tend to slack off when things get too hectic. Although there is no magic freelance writing blueprint (everyone’s journey is different), but the previous bulleted list is a good place to start evaluating the way you run your business.

So I’m curious – how is your freelance writing business going so far this year?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Freelance Writing, Security & Freedom

My husband and I have been seriously tossing around the idea of relocating our family from Georgia to Alabama this week. My father has not been well so I will be traveling to and fro all summer. A big relocating pro is the fact that I can easily do so without missing a beat since most of my business is conducted remotely. The cost of living is significantly cheaper, so living off my income for a while wouldn’t be a problem. It’s still just an idea being tossed around, but the idea is certainly growing on us all.

Funny, I noticed that the moment I stopped equating security with working full-time for someone else is when I found true security. When one of my children or a relative is sick and needs my help, I can be there for however long I need to and still take care of my family. Sometimes it requires a lot of schedule shifting, but it’s MY time.

I remember nine years ago when my 15 month old daughter had to be rushed to the hospital. As with most unexpected illnesses, there was no real way of telling when everything would get back to normal. I was so offended at the many hoops of office protocol I had to jump through just to be there for her. I couldn’t fully concentrate on being there for her because I had to remain mindful of checking in with my office manager every day in order to make sure I still had a job to return to when everything was over. I can’t imagine jumping through any those hoops now as I prepare to do what I can to help my parents and be there for my own immediate family. Thankfully it’s not necessary.

Someone sent me an email message today with an appropriate quote by Robert Kiyosaki, author of Rich Dad, Poor Dad: “If you choose security, you’ll never have freedom, but if you choose freedom, you’ll always have security.”

Thursday, June 10, 2010

A Small Change Brings Unexpected Results

On Monday I talked about my plans to port the content from this blog over to a self-hosted Wordpress site. I’ve been spending a lot of time getting to know Wordpress better because most (if not all) of my blogging clients use it. Although I hadn’t really expected it, I’ve found that it’s really growing on me.

This past weekend I decided to test out my very limited skills and redo my website (probably not the best idea since to use your website to experiment, but I’m known for making very spur of the moment decisions).

About a year ago, I hired a graphic designer to build a website for me using Wordpress. It was a very basic static site with a blog attached. I never got anyone commenting on the blog (to be fair, I didn’t really do much to promote it either). I was growing tired of the site's appearance, but after paying for summer school for four I couldn’t really afford to pay someone to do it over again right now, so I took a deep breath and just changed the whole thing myself.

Then a funny thing happened. I started getting comments on the blog posts even though I only had two (now three) posts up. Then yesterday, seemingly out of no where, a local mid-size company called me up saying they had found my blog doing a Google search and then set up an over-phone-meeting for today to discuss a possible three month trial project to start.

Considering my very rudimentary experience, I was surprised. I’ve been working on a couple of large ebook projects lately so I haven’t been marketing as much as I should (I know, bad girl!). Was it the change in my new site’s appearance or content? I don’t know. But it hammers home the importance of monitoring your marketing efforts so that you know what works and what doesn’t so that you can spend more time on methods that work.

Have you ever changed something about your business, or the way you promoted it, that resulted in an unexpected positive result?

Monday, June 7, 2010

A Change is Coming: Plans to Switch Over to Wordpress Soon

I’ve been avoiding this decision for a very long time because just thinking about it makes me want to run and hide under the covers (and catch a quick nap), but I’ve finally decided to port the contents of this blog into a self-hosted Wordpress blogging platform. I imagine that it’s going to be a very tedious, and messy process.

The first time I dealt with this delima was when I first decided to blog a couple of years ago. I kept going back and forth between Blogger and Wordpress, and I’m not ashamed to say that the technophobe in me was intimidated by Wordpress, so I chose Blogger instead. I didn’t need yet another excuse to put off blogging, and I found the Blogger platform very easy to learn. I’d heard many expert bloggers refer to Wordpress as "the more professional option", but that’s not the reason for my decision.

I spent 10 weeks blogging over at Those 10 weeks really forced me to get to know Wordpress better and I became much more comfortable using it, and you know what? I really do like it. The platform really is user friendly, and honestly, there's a plugin for just about everything. I won't bore you by discussing the SEO benefits. and a couple of other interesting posts have been discussing the problem of Google deleting legitimate blogs as a result of an enthusiastic search to find and eliminate spam blogs. I’m honestly not too fearful that my blog will suddenly be deleted by the Google spam seeking bots. I don't want anyone else using Blogger to be uncessarily fearful of that either. That's not the point of this post. As usual I'm just passing along information that may be of interest.

I’ll continue blogging here, taking my time and aim to have this process completed by Fall. In the meanwhile, here are a couple of other posts on the topic you may find interesting:

The Blogger Status
WARNING: Reports of Legitimate Blogger/Blogspot Accounts Being Deleted Without Cause

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

A Message for Those in Search of a Blueprint to Freelance Writing Success

There is no such thing. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it’s important that you realize that right away. Carson Brackney’s post goes into much more (and much better) detail than I’ll attempt to here because I’m not one to reinvent the wheel. If someone out there is doing it or saying it already, I’ll always point you in that direction. The intention of this blog, after all is to provide information that’s helpful as you build your writing business. I’m like you, working hard, building a business and sharing my personal experiences as I go.

One reason Carson’s post resonated so deeply is because I spent my first year as a freelance writer searching for that elusive blueprint – I hoped to find step-by-step instruction about how to put this thing together and make it work. I felt as if I kind of fell into it after getting my first couple of clients so quickly, and I worried my dumb luck could run out at any time.

Have you ever bought anything like oh, say a bunk bed from Ikea, and attempted to put it together with their sorry excuse for instructions? Well, that’s kind of how building a writing business was for me in the beginning. I had all the right parts and tools, but as far as instructions go I eventually came to realizeI'd have to put forth the effort to figure out how everything fit and operated.

I bought a lot of information products that were sold with big promises of unlocking the secrets of successful freelancing. Let me tell you, the Internet is completely saturated with “How to Earn a Living Freelance Writing” books and courses. Most of the information I got was very general information that’s constantly regurgitated on the Internet (although there were a couple of ebooks that I did actually find helpful when I was first starting out). I don't recommend that you go that route.

It's okay to keep right on listening to advice from the best writers out there – I recommend that you continue doing so because they do drop valuable nuggets of information. Apply the good stuff. Just keep in mind that they are not providing you with a blueprint that guarantees success.

Carson’s absolutely right when he says that at some point you have to shut out the virtual noise and figure out: 1) who YOU are as a writer; and I’ll add: 2) Know your customer. Know exactly who needs what you do and learn everything about that customer and the industry from the inside out. Find out what some of the issues are that they encounter and figure out how you can provide solutions. Make sure your message is intensely focused and speaks one-on-one with that customer – don’t try to be all things to everyone. (this is what I think Carson means when he talks about successful writers who “know the terrain”).

By all means, DON'T GIVE UP. Stick with it and when something fails to turn up the results you want, move on to another strategy. Build the business that works for YOU. You’ll find that doing things your way is much more satisfying.

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