Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day Link Love

I’m finally back in town (again...) and since most of my clients alerted me that they would but not be working today, that means a much needed day of rest for me. I plan to spend the day outside with the kids while hubby fires up the grill. Despite what many of our friends think, vegetarians can put together quite an impressive barbeque spread!

One thing I noticed while I was away – I stayed very busy and even had a couple of old clients suddenly contact me to start work on new projects. I really expected things to be slower than usual with the upcoming holiday. Instead I ended up with three new projects. I need to put forth a more consistent effort to keep in contact with past clients.

As usual, I enjoyed several great posts while I was out of town last week. Hope you enjoy them too.

How to Kill Writer’s Block and Become a Master Copywriter in Only 3 Hours a Day

30 Days of Writing Tips – Day 21 – Use the Phone Book to Find Clients

Cold Calling Tips

Where’s Your Sizzle?

Tools Every Freelance Medical Writer Needs

Parenting and Writing: Five Tips to Help Get More Writing In

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Servicing Online Clients vs. Working with Clients in Person

My accountability partner and I are in the midst of a (friendly) debate. She has been running a very successful freelance writing operation in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, CA for more than 11 years. Her business has flourished over the years. She belongs to a number of small business groups around town which also happens to be where she acquires most of her clients.

Now I’ve been freelancing full-time since 2007. When I first started I was servicing clients almost almost entirely online(my first two clients were from a craigs list ad). These days I may occasionally deal with clients locally who seem to be more comfortable meeting face-to-face once or twice. It’s not something I encourage as a mother with four kids under 11 because quite frankly time is not always on my side.

My writer friend has recently expressed an interest in working with clients on an exclusively virtual basis reducing the number of times she has to schedule in person meetings. Because she’s such a likable person and really knows her stuff, face-to-face meetings tend to work in her favor. She’s built an impressive business by taking time out for meetings in person, but they can be so time consuming – especially when she has to drive for over an hour into Los Angeles fighting insane traffic to meet with a client only to fight bumper-to-bumper traffic back home to Santa Barbara as well.

The problem as she sees it is the town she lives in is a very close knit community of people who value knowing one another. Entrepreneurs and other businesses prefer doing business with one another face, but they are also good about passing along referrals. She’s not sure of how to transition her business to operating as (mostly) a virtual operation. She recently partnered with a couple of website development firms who send clients to her that are in need of copywriting services from time to time which is a start. I’ve been trying to brainstorm with her to come up with a strategy to make it happen.

I haven’t had a problem with this because it’s how I’ve always operated. I think part of what could be holding her back is apprehension. Sometimes the first steps to doing something different are hardest.

Do you work mainly with local clients in person, exclusively online or have a mix of virtual and local clients?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Keep Your Freelancing Skills Sharp

I’ve been thinking of learning a new specialized skill that could appeal to the market I serve. It has the potential to bring in more customers and revenue. I know there’s a demand because I’ve already had a few clients ask about it. The challenge for me: committing the time to learning everything I need to know. Notice I didn’t say “finding” time. I believe that no matter how busy you are, if you want to do something bad enough, you’ll MAKE time to do it.

Honestly, I don’t think the learning curve is too steep. It’s more a matter of me setting aside the time to do what I need to do. The services I provide are different from when I first started freelancing. As my business evolved I learned which projects I like to do, which ones I don’t, which services increase my bottom line best, etc. I’ve also learned that industries change, emerging technology changes the way things are done sometimes and that longevity as a freelancer means staying abreast of these types of changes.

Learning this new writing skill involves me investing in a home-study course. I’m investing financially in my business much more than I did when I first got started. Since this is the career path I’ve chosen to make my living, it’s worth every penny. I think freelancers should automatically set aside a percentage of their earnings to invest in their business, and that includes continuing education (thank goodness it’s tax deductible!). I make a habit of sharpening my skills by reading books, attending webinars, investing in ecourses, and I’m even seriously thinking of working with a coach this year.

If you’re just starting out, you probably aren’t able to spend much. I recommend researching the web, spending time on writer forums, freelance writing blogs, attending free teleseminars/webinars and checking out books in your library to get you going. As your business grows, you can make a point of setting aside a percentage of your earnings for the sake of continued learning and other business expenses.

What are some things you do to stay on top of your game? Do you make a habit of investing financially to improve your freelance writing skills?

Friday, May 20, 2011

Happy Friday Everyone

Although I plan to spend the majority of my lovely weekend packing (and convincing my hoarding husband to throw away items we don’t need because he forgot over time that they even existed) and working on personal writing projects, I’m oh so glad Friday is here.

I spent more time this week working on personal writing projects, which is great that I’ve got a fire raging in my belly to see them through, but a girl’s got to eat, so I’ll need to do A LOT more marketing for client projects next week. Gotta work on balancing the work that pays the bills NOW versus work that has the potential to pay off in the long run.

My cyber visits to Devon Ellington’s blog this week have me yearning to get out in the yard to do some planting. Might not be a bad idea to plant a few pretty flowers for curb appeal since we plan on renting our house out after the move. I enjoyed reading several other great posts this week as well. Happy reading, and enjoy your weekend. :~)

Two Problems – One Cause – Eleven Solutions

Now That I’ve Incorporated: What’s Next? The Most Frequently Asked Questions After Incorporation

5 Ways to Write High Quality Content Fast

The Ultimate Money Guide for Freelance Writers

Why I moved Back to the Print Version of the Writers Market

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Re-examining Your Vision for Your Freelance Writing Business

Devon Ellington responded to Lori Widmer’s guest post with a comment that really has me thinking about where my freelance writing business is headed. Devon left this comment:

“I'm in the process of gently disentangling myself from several clients I've grown to resent. For me, it's not just about money, but about where I want my career to go. They don't fit my vision any more.”

It’s taken me a long time, but I’d like to think I’m progressing to that point as well. There was a time early in my freelance writing business when rarely (if ever) said “no” to a client or turned away a project. Five years later I understand the importance of identifying which projects are right for me and the vision I have for my business. I also recognize that my vision has evolved over the years.

When I was first starting out, I just wanted to get paid for writing, by any means necessary. My early days were an experimental time as I learned how to run a business and learned about different types of writing and marketing methods clients were willing to pay for.

Last year I questioned briefly whether or not I still wanted to write for a living. I was trying to balance my responsibilities to my ill father, my immediate family and my freelance writing clients. While I appreciated the freedom of being able to earn a living in spite of a sometimes grueling travel schedule, I was feeling uninspired and unmotivated. At first I couldn’t understand why I felt that way. Very slowly I realized that I no longer enjoyed working on certain writing projects. I felt stuck and resentment was festering.

I had an idea that involved a different genre of writing I wanted to pursue. He idea of this personal project excited me, but I had created a situation that made it hard for me to even get started. Naturally being unable to work on the writing projects I wanted to caused resentment to grow. What was my problem? Making a living as a freelance writer is what I wanted, so why was I feeling so unmotivated? I‘ll tell you why: my vision for my business had changed but I was still operating the same as always.

I wanted to put more time into my personal writing projects. I also needed to start choosing projects better. One of the first things I did was end a working relationship with a long time client. This client supplied me with steady work, but was unable to pay my current rates and her projects were demanding more of my time. Saying “no” was both frightening and liberating. It was very necessary though; if I want to keep doing this and enjoying it, I have to recognize my new vision and take actionable steps to make it happen.

Few things in life are static. We are constantly evolving. My accountability partner in Santa Barbara, California has been freelancing for well over 10 years and assures me evolution is a big part of ensuring longevity as a freelance writer.

When is the last time you revisited our vision for your freelance writing business? Are you on the right path to realizing your objectives, or do you need to make changes?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Fallout from Google’s New Content Quality Standards

While traveling back from my latest trip out of town, I came across an interesting article in Website Magazine discussing the now infamous Google Panda Update, and how content farms, such as Demand Studios, WiseGeek and Associated Content are currently ranking in the search engines following Google’s highly publicized new algorithm which is intended to improve the quality of content published on the web.

Content mills have long been accused of favoring quantity over quality when it comes to the typical, keyword dense, mass content they instruct their writers to generate. Now I’m not injecting my own opinions here about whether or not writing for content mills is worth a writer’s time. I think that dead horse has been kicked around enough. Besides, I assume that the readers of this blog are mature enough to decide for themselves what works in terms of freelancing and overall earning potential. The purpose of this post is to share facts about how these new changes are playing out.

For a long time content mills have enjoyed top ranking spots in Google’s search engine results, however Googles’ Farmer Update for February revealed that the mills serps have been “severely penalized.” In fact, Website Magazine reports that “Mahalo, another member of the content-farming community, was hit so hard that it had to eliminate 10-percent of its workforce shortly after the change” (Website Magazine, May, 2011).

These findings, based of the Organic Performance Index, are further evidence that the days of poorly written, shallow, useless content achieving premium search engine results appears to be coming to an end.

This is good news for freelance writers. If you’re a writer capable of delivering high-quality, valuable, original content for your clients, these changes could certainly reveal the true value of your freelance writing services.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Writer's Worth Week Guest Post:

What Are You Worth?

By Lori Widmer

The news a few weeks back about the writers who worked for free suing Huffington Post’s Arianna Huffington for $105 million of the $350 million she received when AOL bought HuffPo was shocking. Yet it wasn’t because the writers were suing – I think anyone could have predicted that given the amount of money involved. It was shocking because these writers were demanding fairness after the fact.

It’s issues like this that inspired me to start Writers Worth Week, my annual awareness campaign where hopefully another writer will be motivated to understand their market value. If one more writer makes one more smart business decision, then the movement is worth it.

But it’s not easy changing our business behavior. We get entrenched in doing things the same way because we’re getting by. But wouldn’t you like to do more than that?

You can, you know. You can shift your thinking right now and start seeing the results almost immediately. I did. It was the best thing I’ve ever done.

So writers, make today the day you change one thing about your business. If you need me to require it, let’s call it your homework.

Your homework: Start thinking of your writing as a business. It is. Changing your mindset to business mode makes it easier for you to stand firm in your rates and conduct business as a professional. Take control of your business. You're no longer apologizing for wanting to charge for doing something you love. Baseball players charge for doing what they love – why shouldn't you?

Okay, that was a pretty cake assignment, so you're getting two.

Second one:

Just for today, turn down one offer that doesn't meet with your income goals. Drop a low-paying client or renegotiate your current pay rate. Do something that says, "Thank you, but I'm worth more."

Second part of the assignment: this week, identify at least three more potential clients who will pay your rate without question.

Do you think of your writing as a business?

When was the last time you sought out higher-paying work?

Lori Widmer is a veteran writer and editor who is worth every penny her clients pay. She blogs about all things writing-related at Words on the Page.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Challenge of Taking Time Off From Work to Unplug

If you’ve read any of my past posts, you may already know that I’m facing a big count down to move my family to another state in just four weeks. And I’m literally sweating bullets over it.
I haven’t moved in 12 years. Before that, however, moving was a sort of beloved past time for me. I'm sure my loyal male friends hated seeing my name flash across their caller ID every six months. Eventually I grew up, married a man who insisted on stability as far as residences go, so we settled down and bought a house putting my wandering ways to rest.

Now we must move due to necessity and I’m not so sure I’m up for the task. I mean I’m a little out of practice. One thing I do remember from my nomadic days is that it helps to give yourself a couple of days to get the necessities unpacked so you can quickly establish some semblance of normalcy even though the reality of digging stuff out of boxes over the next year is just part of the relocation package. That means I will need to take a few days off from work and unplug.
Staying away from my computer and resisting the desire to constantly check my phone for emails, Tweets, updates and what not won’t be easy. I spend so much time scrolling through my phone and responding to emails while talking to my husband that he jokingly refers to me as a teenager.

So, back to unplugging… You may be thinking about this too if you’re planning to take some time off this summer. I work on completing projects currently in the pipeline and letting clients know that I’ll be unavailable for however long I need to be away.

How do you prepare to unplug and take time off from work?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Anchor Clients: Know Who's a Keeper and Who to Toss Overboard

Last week one of the blogs I frequent stirred up an interesting conversation among the comments. One commenter coined a clever phrased to describe repeat clients – those clients you can expect to receive work from on a daily/weekly/monthly basis. She called them “anchor clients”, which is a clever moniker in my opinion, because sometimes these clients end up doing just as the name implies – They either provide your business with a consistent income, or anchor you in such a way that you can’t operate YOUR freelance writing business as you see fit.

Not all anchor client relationships are negative. When I first started freelancing I was fortunate to acquire three anchor clients that supplied me with enough work for the first year which resulted in my business pulling in more of an income than my previous corporate job. These clients easily accepted my terms of service and allowed me the freedom to complete their projects as long as I adhered to the established deadlines.

Unfortunately I’ve also worked with anchor clients that made me feel as if I’d been tossed overboard in the middle of the ocean with an anchor wrapped around my neck. One client operated under the assumption that his business was my only client. He hired me to interview and write monthly newsletters for his clients. He thought nothing of calling me up to conduct a client interview with sometimes only a couple hours notice – never considering the fact that I might also be working on another client project.

First of all, I’m a freelancer. I make it clear to my clients when scheduling their projects that I typically work on other client projects simultaneously. Like most freelancers taking on multiple projects is pretty much my thing. Second, I used to work as a journalist. Although I became pretty adept at conducting in-depth interviews quickly and efficiently in keeping with the deadline driven environment, in most cases interviewing requires a good bit of preparation to get the information you need. The final straw was when he set up a last minute interview to take place the next day (actually, he had me set it up-with a very busy doctor who was in the middle of seeing patients). I woke up the very next morning only to discover I’d lost my voice (it’s how my body sometimes responds to hay fever) without warning. Expect the unexpected.

Hopefully this client now realizes that two hours, or even one day’s notice to prepare for and conduct interviews, when we’ve been discussing this project for the past month and a half (not to mention the assurance that he would be the one to schedule the interviews ahead of time), might not work for most freelancers. The longer I do this, the more I appreciate the need to know when to just say “no.”

Thankfully I quickly recognized that type of anchor client relationship is lose-lose for each of us, so it was best to quickly, and professionally end things on an amicable note.

Right now I only have one anchor client I’ve been working with for a little over a year now. The relationship is great, and I do like knowing I can expect work from her on a pretty consistent basis. I’m currently negotiating terms with another potential client who needs a reliable web writer to handle several new projects in the pipeline throughout the rest of the year (fingers crossed that this turns out to be a good thing). Ideally I’d like to have three good anchor clients to produce a steady stream of income while I put more time into a couple of personal writing projects – that doesn’t mean I’ll stop marketing my services. We freelancers can’t afford to get THAT comfortable, you know.

Do you embrace anchor clients in your freelance writing business or avoid them? What’s your experience?

Monday, May 2, 2011

Freelance Writing Ebook Review: The Worthy Writer's Guide

A couple of weeks ago I purchased Lori Widmer’s ebook, the “The Worthy Writer’s Guide." You should probably know that I’ve been on a self-imposed restriction from purchasing “how to” ebooks and other information products related to freelance writing for the past two years because the last product I purchased did not live up to its hype. At all. Since then I’ve chosen to focus on learning by doing, and conducting my own online research to learn what I need to about earning a living freelancing. So far so good.

Buying Lori’s book was a no brainer for me. First of all, I trust her advice. I’ve been following her blog for a while now and her advice is more often than not spot on. I’ve gotten so much good advice for free from her blog over the past three years, that I trust her. And at $11.95 it wasn’t exactly breaking the bank (believe me when I say I’d spent MUCH more than that on completely useless info products in the past).

Lori is a “tell you like it is” person (one of the reasons I so love her style). Her ebook is loosely based on advice you’ll find on her blog, but she does seem to dig deeper into topics like the importance and process of planning your freelance writing business, setting rates, defining your target clients, creating a marketing strategy and developing a simple script for cold calling and following up with potential clients. There’s a lot more good stuff in there newbies and experienced writers who need to step back and make changes in their operation. Her marketing tips have inspired me to design and order new brochures – something I haven’t done in over two years.

If you need a little guidance, but are ready to roll up your sleeves and do the work, you won’t be disappointed.
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