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Friday, October 24, 2014

Free Advice Friday: Cutting Through the Writing Advice Noise

What's on the iPod: Misfits and Lovers by The Wallflowers

It's been a relatively slow week since Wednesday. I'm rather happy for that as I know next weekend I'll be putting in extra hours. Normally, I don't work weekends, but a favorite client has their back to the wall and needs help.

Excellent news on the home front -- my daughter has accepted an offer of employment. More money, closer to home, and hopefully, no more bullshit. The story of her decision to leave a job she loves is one I can't relate publicly, but I can say that when you're in the firing line of someone higher up trying to secure their own position by discrediting or eliminating yours, you'll never win.

Except when you leave -- that's when you win because the target is no longer on your back.

I had extra time this week to visit forums and blogs. In a few cases, I saw some pretty slipshod, bad advice being bandied about. In one case, the advice didn't fit with the question at all. Writer was asking about X -- other writer answered about Q.

Right.

Worse, the writer asking the question was all set to take the advice. Luckily, more than one person politely pointed out that in this case, Q doesn't fit.

Thanks to the Internet and the world of blogs and forums, way too many people believe they are experts in writing. Any writer, experienced or not, would have a tough time trying to cut through the BS and find advice that fits. Even experienced writers have to contend with "experts" who proclaim something as a "MUST DO" area. I remember a case not long ago where the expert was going on about the only way to track website analytics. It took one email from a writer friend who is an expert to dispel the advice. And the expert was attempting to "sell" a webinar on the topics. So why would you want to pay for that?

You don't. There are so many blogs that offer that advice for free every day. These Friday posts of mine are meant to help you get that info for nothing. So no reason to part with your money just yet.

So how do you cut through the noise and get down to the real advice? Here are some suggestions:

Stop listening to other people. Yes, I said it. Stop listening to other people giving you advice. Think. Not everything about this writing business isn't hard to figure out. Some of it is common sense, some of it is common business sense, and some of it is intuition. Before you search for answers, look within first.

Start listening to yourself. Weird advice, right? Well, if you want to build a freelance writing business, you have to start listening to that internal voice. That's where you'll learn what it is you want to do, how you think you want to go about it, and where you're going to point your business once you start (or start improving what you have).

Go into teaching mode. To paraphrase the saying, if you want to learn something, try teaching it to someone else. Show your spouse, friend, kid, or aunt how you're intending to build your business. It's amazing how much you'll uncover as you talk it out. Not only that, you're going to get questions. Questions from people outside your writing world can often be the best unbiased filter for your ideas.

Talk it out. Ask a friend to be your sounding board. Brainstorm your idea, let your friend interject questions or ideas, and make sure you're taking notes. Bouncing an idea off someone is a super way to see where your plan is weak, what your strengths are, and what you need to study in order to get up to speed.

Search credible sources first. Start with free courses (Coursera, OpenCulture, iTunes University, etc.) to learn basics or to get some serious inspiration. Then look for those freelance writers -- the successful ones -- who aren't afraid to give you free freelance writing advice. You'll be able to spot them -- they'll be the ones giving you unique, original content, not rehashed stuff with a price tag attached. Hint: if you can read through a blog post/forum post by scrolling quickly for that one nugget thrown in three quarters of the way down (past all those bold subheads), that would be a rehashed, unoriginal post.

Search credible blogs and forums next. Credibility may seem tough to spot, but if you pay attention to who's following the blogger, what career level they're at, and how many dissenting opinions are allowed to appear on the comments page (strangely, there are bloggers who filter out people who don't agree), you'll find the credible ones. Remember to look for original content, too. Oh, and another good test is to see how many links the blogger includes to other bloggers. Fewer links could mean someone less likely to share attribution or build a real

Establish your own support network. Sometimes the best place for advice is from people you trust and respect. You'll see them in blog comments, on writing forums, and around the writing blogosphere. Ask a question, share some insight, and make friends. Despite what too many writers think, we are not in competition with each other. You'll know which writers are worth befriending by the way they respond to you.

Writers, how do/did you cut through the BS?
What free resources can you point other writers to (at any career level) that can help them improve their businesses?



Wednesday, October 22, 2014

How to Be an Exceptional Writing Pro in 7 Steps

What's on the iPod: I've Been Waiting for This by Butch Walker



Good week so far. I had a lunch meeting with a potential client on Monday, a bit of work to do on a current project, and some out-of-town guests here last night for dinner. I spent a lovely weekend at my son's house in Northwestern Connecticut, and we couldn't have timed that trip any better. The leaves were peak and stunning. What a ride!

At my lunch meeting, I had the chance to catch up with my potential client, who knew me from my senior editor days. He told me about the changes in his company, the opportunities, and then we talked shop. That's the part I like best -- the professional persona relaxes just a little so you can connect on a more human level.

We talked about various clients and writers and situations. The underlying theme to all of it was how exceptional writing is valued, and how a professional demeanor is absolutely required.

And yet some of our stories were about those writers or clients who were anything but professional or exceptional -- proof positive that you don't want to be remembered for the wrong reasons, and proof of just how long those wrong reasons can stick with you -- some of our stories reached back decades.

It had me thinking about what makes up an exceptional writing professional. There are plenty of competent, good writers out there, and there are probably just as many good business people who aren't stellar writers. If you can combine both the skills and the business acumen, oh my. You're not going to be without work very often.

So what does it take to be an exceptional writing professional? Here are things I think are important:

Skills. The basics are fine, but you should always be stretching beyond yourself to learn more. But if basics are all you have right now, make sure they are perfect. Still, you should go where you're not comfortable -- learn how to write press releases, learn about those industries that support your main client focus, improve your grammar and spelling, learn how to shift from print to web (or vice versa).... there are countless skills you can learn or improve upon. Don't ever settle, and don't ever convince yourself that you're the best. Someone somewhere is just dying to prove you're wrong.

Discernment. A solid professional needs to know how to understand people and situations clearly and with a certain level of smarts. Is that job that pays $350 a month for 20 blog posts a good fit? Not if you can do math. What does your potential client do? You should know that before meeting with them or communicating with them. You don't have to learn everything there is to know about them, but you should understand their business model, their customer, and their products.

A champion attitude. When I work with a client, I'm their champion. I support them in their goals. I'm there to solve problems, to deliver beyond expectations, and to make sure they're saying what they want to say in the best possible way. The goal is to help them across the finish line.

Professional demeanor. How you conduct yourself is as important as the skills you bring to the job. If you were to meet a client in person, you wouldn't show up in sweatpants and a dirty t-shirt (tell me you wouldn't). Even if you're not meeting them in person, your clients deserve a professional attitude. Repeat back your project parameters. Use contracts to cement the terms. Meet deadlines. Make suggestions where you see fit. Become that client's partner for these projects.

Lack of ego. Freelance writing for businesses is not like writing for magazines or anywhere where you'll be bylined. Clients own their ideas and need you to help them realize it. The words you put on paper? They're not yours. Clients will change them and you need to be okay with that.

Detachment. Hiring you or not hiring you is a business decision. You can't take it personally. Likewise, feedback given to you from a client shouldn't be taken as a personal attack. It's not (well, most times it's not). Your job as an exceptional writing professional is to encourage feedback and make your client comfortable with the process. Discuss the feedback. Make suggestions where you see fit, and don't defend yourself or your work. Remember, no ego. If it means thinking of those words as your clients' words, do so.

Exceptional listening skills. Funny how this little trait comes up so often (Cathy Miller mentioned it in Monday's post comments). If you can listen, you will go far. Let clients talk - don't try so hard to impress them. Listen to what they're saying and what they're not saying. Hear what they need and deliver it.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Top Tips Writers Series #5: Jennifer Mattern

What's on the iPod: I'm A Mess by Ed Sheeran (acoustic version - and fabulous)

Know what it's like to rub shoulders with one of the most successful freelancers in the business?

You're about to find out.

I met Jenn Mattern through online conversations, and met her when Devon Ellington and I decided to meet for lunch. I invited Jenn along. The result: a fun, lively, decadent friendship. If we don't email every day, it's close. I have the added bonus of living within a short drive of Jenn. Her family live in my town. I've propped my feet up on her footstool a few times.

Besides being wicked fun, Jenn is a wicked-good business pro. Her background in PR and social media is evident -- hers is one of the most comprehensive, top-ranking sites for freelancers you'll find. What's more, you can trust her advice. She's done it herself. No borrowing from others, nor does she tell you what you want to hear. She tells you what you need to hear, and it's the wise freelancer who listens.

Here are Jenn's tips for improving your freelance writing business:

10 Tips for New Freelance Bloggers

by Jennifer Mattern

Something I frequently hear from new freelance writers is that they're afraid to pursue blogging gigs because they've heard there's no money in it. That usually when I let them in on a little secret -- what they've been told before is complete and utter BS.

Freelance blogging can be quite lucrative as long as you know what you're doing and you don't associate yourself with bottom-of-the-barrel providers like search engine spammers. These ten tips should point you in the right direction.

1. Specialize.

I can't say this enough: clients do not pay top dollar because you can string pretty sentences together. They pay top dollar when you bring specialized expertise to the table.

If you want to earn top rates as a freelance blogger (as in at least $500 for a 1000 word post, and often much more), you need to specialize. That might mean specializing in an industry or niche. Or it can mean specializing in a specific type of blog content such as tech tutorials or being a ghostblogger for CEOs.

2. Know your target clients (and their audience).

It's not enough to say "I want to be a freelance blogger." Who do you want to blog for? If you can't describe your target clients, you're unlikely to find them. And that's how you can find yourself surrounded by low-paying "prospects" who shouldn't be on your radar in the first place.

It's where many of the misconceptions around blogging pay rates come from. If you want to ghostwrite corporate blog posts for Fortune 500 clients, then make sure your marketing very carefully targets that group. Go beyond that though. Know who they are trying to reach, and make sure your samples show you understand your prospects' audiences and how to appeal to them.

3. Don't limit yourself to advertised blogging gigs.

One of the worst things you can do as a new freelance blogger is rely on bidding marketplaces and advertised jobs. You can occasionally find mid-level gigs advertised publicly (and yes, $100-200 per post would be a mid-level gig even though it's the highest you'll often find advertised). But most of the really high paying work is never advertised. These include many corporate blogging gigs, small business blogging gigs, and ghostblogging jobs.

These clients tend to find writers through referrals or through their own searches. If your search engine ranking rankings and lack of a network make you invisible, it's unlikely you'll land these gigs. This is why your writer platform is so important. Occasionally these kinds of clients will post jobs through their own internal job boards. So if you do a bit of digging, you can sometimes find decent public leads through those.

4. Pursue prospects who don't have a blog (yet).

Sometimes the best prospects are the ones who don't realize they need you yet. That includes potential clients who don't have their own blog. By approaching them and convincing them to give blogging a try, not only can you land ongoing blogging gigs, but you can also get paid to help them set their blogs up or consult with them on an initial content strategy.

5. Price by the post.

Like with most types of freelance writing, it's in your interest to price by the project (in this case by the post) rather than advertise hourly or per-word pricing. Everyone knows what they're getting. It eliminates some of the tension between freelancer and client (where your interest is in doing a good job and their interest is in having you rush to keep costs down). And as you get better at your job, you essentially get paid more per hour without always having to raise rates. It's like having a built-in bonus system where you earn more the more you get to know each client.

6. Make sure you're being paid for all of the "extras" involved.

Blogging isn't like many other kinds of freelance writing. Your work doesn't stop when the client's happy with your latest revision. They often expect you to answer comments on your posts (sometimes indefinitely). And they might expect you to find legal images they can use or even promote your posts via social networks.

You can account for these things by increasing your per-post rates. Or you can offer a base rate for writing only and charge more for extras. I take the latter approach because much of my freelance blogging work is ghostwritten (which almost always means the client will take care of comments addressed to them).

I also don't consider my social media profiles "for sale." Those networks are for my own audiences -- usually colleagues -- and not for promoting things for clients. A post would have to be incredibly relevant to my own audience for me to make an exception, in which case I'd likely promote it on my own without being asked to do so. I do, however, contract with some clients to manage social media promotion on their accounts.

7. Secure ongoing blogging contracts.

One of the biggest perks of freelance blogging over other freelance writing projects is the fact that clients usually need blog posts on an ongoing basis. That means you have the potential to turn a one-project client into a regular.

My suggestion is to let new clients order a single article from you if they want to "test" you. It makes sense that they'd want to see how their readers react to your writing. But if they're happy and they want to continue, I suggest requiring a certain minimum commitment (anything from at least $XXX per month to at least a three-month commitment).

This can be a good way to stabilize your blogging income early on, and you can always loosen the rules later when you want more flexibility to pursue new projects.

8. Market yourself every day.

You need to market yourself regularly -- as in every single day. (Well, every single work day at least.) This doesn't have to involve a huge time commitment. Email a new prospect. Post to your own blog. Write a guest post. Review and update the copy on your website. Update your social media accounts. Research your biggest competitors. These little things add up.

Need more ideas? Lori's e-book, Marketing 365, is full of them.

9. Don't be afraid to give up a byline.

Not all blogging gigs need to come with a byline. Many of the highest-paying freelance blogging jobs do not. And that's okay. Prospects who need a blog to give them a voice, but who have no time or inclination to write their own posts, are often happy to pay you handsomely to do that for them. Don't get so caught up in seeing your name plastered on everything you write that you miss out on the best gigs. If you can't stand the thought of not getting credit, remember that a testimonial from the client can be just as valuable as a byline -- sometimes more.

10. Have your own blog in your specialty area.

If you want to be a freelance blogger, there's no excuse for you not to have your own blog. Clients expect it. And they should. After all, they want to know you're familiar with blog platforms, comment management, and all of the basics of writing for the web. Your blog shows them that you can handle those things (plus social media promotion, strategic content planning, and search engine optimization). Just make sure your blog speaks to either your target clients or their target readers.


What else would you recommend to new freelance bloggers? If you are a new freelance blogger or you're considering becoming one, what other questions do you have?

Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger and freelance business writer. You can join her free community for freelance writers, bloggers and indie authors at AllIndieWriters.com where you'll find business advice, writing forums, free tools and templates, and much more. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Free Advice Friday: 4 Freelance Lessons You Should Learn Now

What I'm reading: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
What's on the iPod: Call Girl Blues by Diamond Rugs

Friday already? Where did the middle of the week go? I've been busy, not extremely so, but a focused sort of busy. Time flew by. As this project winds down, another one is about to ramp up. My TGIF celebration may have to wait.

In a conversation with a client not long ago, I learned I wasn't the first freelance writer they'd worked with. At first, he just mentioned it briefly as I explained how to work with a freelance writer (not condescendingly, but "here's the way I usually work"). Then as the conversation continued and became more relaxed, he said it again--the company had worked with a freelance writer in the past, but the writer was horrible.

Horrible? Yes, that's what he said. He qualified it further -- this freelancer gave them content loaded with spelling errors.

Really? Do we really have to be reminded to use Spell Check? Apparently.

I don't know if there were other issues with this writer, but to lose a client over something so...basic is just stupid. Honestly, if I'd handed a client something riddled with spelling errors, not only would I apologize for being so stupid, but I might rethink my career. Everyone makes a mistake now and then, but making them constantly is just sloppy, lazy writing.

It's just one of those lessons we freelancers need to learn when starting our business. These are things you're not going to learn in books (except for the spelling part). These are little lessons that slap you in the face when you least expect it.

For those of you who are professional freelance writers running a writing business, this advice may be moot. For the rest who are just starting or who are struggling and can't quite figure out why, consider these lessons:

Learn to spell. Can a person be called a writer if he or she can't spell? This is America -- you can call yourself whatever you damn well please. However, that doesn't make it true. Yes, we all make mistakes. However, Word makes it simple to avoid many of them by simply clicking that Spell Check icon. Beyond that, proofread your stuff before you send it out.

Learn to take criticism. It always surprises me when a client apologizes for revising something -- it's not my baby they're dressing, so to speak. It's their project, their image, their company, etc. You may hand them what you think is perfect prose (it may well be, too). However, if it doesn't fit with their tone, focus, audience or some other factor, they're going to want to change it. News flash -- nearly every client will change something. Resist the urge to pitch a fit -- do what they ask. And yes, there are times they make it worse (or unintelligible). Advise them in writing, make the changes, and let it go.

Learn to filter. That's good advice that you can apply to nearly any facet of your freelance writing career. Filter out the bad job offers, the lousy advice, the nasty comments from clients, or the piece of your mind you've been dying to give that client. Step back, remove the emotion completely, and filter your response or your reaction from a detached perspective. If you have to, pretend you're someone else -- like the Queen. Would the Queen work for a content mill? Would she tell off a client? She might say "We are not amused" but that would probably be the extent of it.

Learn to let go. Toughest part of the job sometimes, isn't it? As I said before, this is not your baby. Your words are your tools. You use them to build things for other people. If they don't like how you're building something, they have every right to say so. They may have the writing skills of a half-dead octopus. Doesn't matter. If they don't like how you've phrased something, it's up to you to please them, not please yourself. Do what you can to protect their image, but know when it's time to lose the battle or lose the client.

Writers, what have you learned that you won't find in a book?


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Writing Career Cross-over

What I'm reading: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
What's on the iPod: Only For You by Heartless Bastards

My busy Monday became a busy Tuesday became another busy one today. The projects I have aren't complicated, but the deadlines are short. Plus, there's some corralling of interviewees, so that takes some time. One project is roughed out and waiting for input. The others -- sales sheets -- are well on their way to being completed.

I had a conversation with a new client prospect last week. In it, the client asked me if I'd ever written anything specific to their business. I had, and I sent over clips. However, even if I hadn't, I had enough clips that touched on that specialty, albeit inadvertently, that I would have sent.

It's a conversation many of us have with writing clients: do you have any experience in this area? Can you show me writing credits/samples or written articles?

The client wants reassurance that we writers can handle their industry. You can't blame them. Still, how do you convince a client who's working in, say, the ergonomics field, that your work in medical case management or workers' compensation translates?

Here are methods I use to show clients that my skills and knowledge translate:

Make the connection in the intro. Whenever I get in touch with a new client prospect, I let them know that my skills lend themselves to their industry. So if you're trying to win over a client in the fashion industry, you could let them know that you've written for the retail shoe or intimates industry. "My experience, which has been in the retail shoe industry, could be an asset to you as I can write about both consumer and manufacturing aspects, as well as talk about trends."

Show them loosely connected threads. For one client, I'd never written about Medicare set-asides (and if you have, you know what I'm talking about). However, I'd written several articles on workers' compensation and how costly it can be to a company. Same thing with the ergonomics company -- I'd written enough on return-to-work programs that showed them I could understand this new-to-me focus area easily.

Use the buzz words. Industries do love their buzz words. While it may drive the freelance writer nuts trying to convince them not to use "value proposition" or "paradigm shift", it never hurts to know a few acronyms or key phrases that will show your client prospect your understanding of the industry. Every industry has them -- use them to gain the trust and the job.

Send high and low samples. Besides reassuring them that the topic isn't over my head, I'll send clients samples that are much more technical than what they need, and I'll show them samples that are more conversational/easier, as well. Then I explain that I can handle both ends of the spectrum as well as anything in between.

Write a short piece and send it as a sample. I don't do this often (last time was years ago), but it's a good way to show them you can do the job by choosing something about blog-post size and whipping up a short piece that demonstrates your knowledge of the topic.

Writers, what do you have in your published background that can cross over into another area?
How do you convince clients that you can do the job even without the exact experience?



Monday, October 13, 2014

Top Tips Series #4: Samar Owais

What's on the iPod: God Only Knows by The Beach Boys
I couldn't tell you where I first met Samar (pronounced "Summer") Owais. I remember her interviewing me for a podcast, and I remember interacting with her quite a bit on a blog or two. Then there were the personal emails, which are always fun. But which came first? Who knows?

All I know is Samar has made a name for herself in the freelancing world. Her wisdom and insight (and her BS meter, which can sniff out a rotten deal in an instant) are impeccable. I'm happy to call her a friend.

Today, Samar shares those tips that she says are essential to being a successful freelancer. I love her take, and I bet you will, too.

7 Things Every New Freelancer Needs to Know

Here’s the thing. Becoming a freelancer is easy - freelancing … not so much.

It’s like jumping in ice cold water. You either get the hell out of it after a few seconds or you go numb and accept the status quo. Unfortunately for you, both scenarios spell disaster.

Who wants to be the freelancer who gave up almost as soon as she jumped in? Or to stay in ice cold water indefinitely? Certainly not me.

Luckily, there’s a third option. Swimming.

You swim to keep yourself warm. You swim to make it to the other side. You swim to save your life.

And that’s really what freelancing is. A fight for your life.

So before I get all sentimental and start detailing the kind of life you’re fighting for, I’ll just get down to business. Below are the seven freelancing lessons I’ve learned in my six year freelancing career. They’re hard lessons but they’ve helped set my freelance business on the right track.

1.      Freelancing is a business – not a hobby
I believe in this truth so much, I have an entire blog dedicated it. 

Freelancing isn’t just this thing you do. It’s your hard work, talent, and experience. It’s your chosen career. 

You’re not doing your friends any favors. You’re running a business. A business where even a friend is a client who needs to pay 50% upfront payment like everyone else.

So do yourself a favor and start treating your freelancing like a business.

2. Freelancing is worse than a 9-5 job

You know how freelancing enthusiasts tell you how it’s all about being your own boss? That’s utter and complete hogwash.

Freelancing is worse than a 9-5 job. You don’t have any timings (especially when you’re starting out), you don’t get to hide behind a boss or HR when irate customers come calling, and you certainly don’t get medical insurance or paid vacations.

So before you buy into the “freelancing is awesome” school of thought, take a moment before you make a decision.

3. You’re your own cheerleader

When it comes to freelancing, nobody is going to sing your praises. Clients will but only when you’re working for them. Once the project wraps up, they’ll move on.

It’s your job to remember your awesomeness and remind people of it.

So don’t forget to ask clients for testimonials, referrals, and/or permission to use the praise they conveyed in your marketing materials.

4. If you think marketing is a dirty word, think again.

If you’re anything like me (a nice, unassuming freelancer who believes your work should speak for yourself), it’s probably safe to assume that the thought of marketing your freelance business makes you shudder.

Now here’s the shocker. You and I are wrong.

Marketing is not a dirty word. Nor is it the underhanded tactic of slimy salesmen. It’s the bread and butter of honest freelancers like us.

Think of marketing as helping your prospective clients. Instead of telling them how awesome you are and what your words can help them achieve – show them.

5. It’s okay to work for low pay when starting out.

When I was starting out, everywhere I’d look, I’d hear the “Don’t work for low pay!” advice. And yes, it was good advice but it wasn’t particularly helpful.

Because if I didn’t work for low pay then I didn’t get any pay. As a new freelancer with no experience or clients, low pay was all I could find.

And because everyone kept telling me not to work for low pay, I resented the low paying work I was doing. Which is not good when you’ve just started out.

So if you’re just starting out, consider this permission to work for low pay – as long as you don’t keep working for low pay.

6. It’s NOT okay to get stuck working for low pay.

If it feels like I’m repeating the previous point, it’s because I am.

As okay as it is to work for low pay when you’re starting out, it’s absolutely not okay to keep working for those rates indefinitely.

Give yourself a time frame after which you’ll charge more. Three months is enough time when you’re starting out. It’s long enough to get the experience, clients, and samples you need to charge more.

7. Other freelancers are not your target market.

This is a common mistake. New freelancers tend to hang out with other freelancers hoping to find work. They aren’t your target market – they’re your competition.

They comb through the same job postings, apply for the same jobs, and hound the same clients.

Don’t expect them to know where to look for client work. If they did, they’d have a roaster full of clients. They wouldn’t be in the same boat as you.

So instead of hanging out where hundreds of other freelancers are too, distance yourself a little and focus on the kind of client you want to write for. Do you want to write for online publications, small businesses, or Fortune 500 companies? What kind of writing do you want to do?

Answer these questions and you’ll have a sketch of your ideal client. Once you do, finding prospective clients will be a piece of cake.

As Cathy said in her post, freelancing lessons keep changing. These are my lessons of today. Make the most of them and get your freelance business on the right track. Good luck!

About the author: Samar (pronounced “summer”) is a freelance writer and blogger. She loves road trips, lava cakes, and convincing other writers to treat their freelancing as a business (and not a hobby) through her blog, Freelance Flyer.


Friday, October 10, 2014

Free Advice Friday: 10 Commandments of Writing Value

What's on the iPod: I Will Follow You by Rivrrs


What a week. A sizable client project, almost completed, has occupied seven of the eight or more hours I spend a day at this electronic box. I'm happy because the client is happy, the project is in a good place, and we're about to wrap it all up. I'm tired -- correction, exhausted -- from all the thinking and typing. But if I made them happy, I've done my job.

There's been a bit of drama here at home. The last few months, my youngest has gone from being laid off to being offered part-time status to suddenly being full time again. She hasn't changed jobs -- this is all from the same place she's been for two years. It's been two months of angst and doubt for her, and it's taken a toll on her confidence. Still, this whole debacle (let's call it what it is) has done something else for her:

It's made her realize her value.

I can't go into the details of why the decision has flipflopped so many times, but I will say it's taught a certain young woman that she's worth much more, both monetarily and personally. She went from tears to worry to anger to disgust and finally to "I'm worth more than this crap."

Amen.

For us freelance writers, sometimes it takes a similar pile of steaming crud, doesn't it? I don't care where you are in your freelance writing career -- if enough clients dump on you and treat you like a leper, your BS meter is going to peg and you're going to say "Enough!"

Let today be that day.

Easy to say, isn't it? For some writers, it's also easy to apply. However, there are plenty of writers out there who aren't exactly topping out earnings-wise, am I right? Fear, contentment, laziness, client-induced guilt...whatever the excuse, we writers are damn good at clinging to them.

So repeat after me:

1. Thou shalt not undercharge. It's like I told a contractor who'd done some work for us a few weeks ago -- you don't charge enough. If a client says that, that's a huge red flag. However, you shouldn't be waiting for clients to tell you -- most won't. Look at what other writers are charging for the services you're providing.

2. Honor thy skills and background. Don't wait for clients to say "Wow! I have to pay you more because you have eight years of experience writing sales letters!" More likely, you're going to hear pushback on the price --that's when you can haul out your background as proof you're worth it. I've had clients question my fee -- we all have. The solution is to know that what you bring to the job is worth more because you've proven yourself to be reliable and good at what you do.

3. Keep holy thy bottom line. You know what you need to earn. Don't negotiate a deal that's lower than you can accept just because you want to win new work. Instead, negotiate a one-time break in exchange for additional, contracted work. You deserve to be paid for what you do.

4. Thou shalt not compromise boundaries. We all have our limits of what's acceptable. If you have a client who's asking you to do something that doesn't fit within your business scope or moral code, refuse it. No amount of money is worth lowering yourself or taking on work that requires you to give up more than you care to.

5. Thou shalt say no. Just like my daughter did when she was offered a job that was there, gone, half there, then there again, say no when it doesn't fit. If your client isn't valuing your skills, your contributions to date, or your dedication to the craft, don't work for them.

6. Thou shalt not covet without seeking. Seriously. Don't sit there complaining about the freelancer who's always busy or whining because you want to work for that client (and you're doing nothing to make it happen). Go for it. Suck it up, give yourself a "what the hell" moment, and do the work needed to get you what you want.

7. Thou shalt not stop improving. Your value right now is probably more than you realize. Still, every writer -- repeat, every writer -- can improve on the skills or knowledge they have right now. That translates into more value.

8. Honor and feed thine creativity. Do something creative for yourself every day. Blog. Write fiction/nonfiction/poetry. Paint. Cook. Take a class. Find something that gives you a pleasurable outlet for your creativity and maybe even expands your abilities. A happy freelance writer is more likely a freelance writer who places proper value on his/her time.

9. Thou shalt run a successful business. Never forget your skills are your product and your time is your business. Remove the "freelancer" persona and put on the "business owner" persona. Business owners would never undercut their prices or take shit talk from a nasty client.

10. Thou shalt not allow any client to define thine success. No telling you what to charge, either. Client criticisms, if not constructive, need to be thrown out like the trash they are. If a client tells you you charge too much, you need to hear "Our budget is too low." If a client tells you your work is full of errors (and they can't prove it), you need to hear "We're trying to avoid payment." If a client says "You're a lousy writer" or "You should get a real job" you need to hear "I'm an arrogant ass who has no professional tact nor do I have a clue what you do all day."

Writers, what commandments are critical to defining your value?
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