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Thursday, September 03, 2015

Monthly Assessment: July and August 2015

SOLD OUT: Sorry, but the FREE Marketing Q&A webinar hosted by Jake Poinier and featuring yours truly has no room. However, you can get on the list for the next one! Get on the list here

What's on the iPod: The Loneliness and the Scream by Frightened Rabbit

This week's marathon is nearly complete. I have one deadline today, another new-client call, and revisions on a project from another new client. Plus I want to get an outline started for a project due at the end of the month for yet another new client. I'm hoping for a little breathing room next week, but I don't think it will happen.

It's all good, though. The work keeps me earning, and the clients are paying my rate without question. That makes for a happy writer.

Because the work never really let up since May, I completely missed reporting in on July's earnings. I'll keep this short:

July 2015 -- $329 off my target.

August 2015 -- $720 off my target. 

To be honest, July surprised me. It felt like I hadn't earned much, even though I was printing invoices every week. August is decidedly busier, but the projects will bill this month (and one will bill in October).

Because July is a blur, I'm going to break down August's activities.

One. That one got me two gigs, but one fell through as the interview subjects changed their minds. Can't profile people who decide they don't want to be profiled.

For the first time ever, I sent none. I hope that doesn't bite me later, but I know I couldn't take on one more thing this past month.

Social media
I was a bit absent on social media -- work again. I was on Twitter to promote the free webinar Jake Poinier and I have going on this month (and if you're interested in the next free one, sign up at the link above). Beyond that, just a few interactions with contacts on various LinkedIn forums.

Job postings
There was one that appealed, but I didn't apply as the requirements were way too long and my time was way too short. I don't typically look on job boards unless it's All Indie Writers or eByline. Even the latter has little to offer, but occasionally a good one will appear.

Existing clients
I picked up a new client three months ago. Since then he's kept me busy with fun, interesting projects. He's a great person to collaborate with, and he's friendly. Much of my work in July was for him, and he's filled August with plenty for me to do. Also, a failed project with another client two months ago (their client's fault) led to not one, but three replacement projects from them. I like these people -- their company owns a few of the magazines I work with. And one of those magazines has been funneling work to me quite a lot. Plus a favorite editorial team called and handed me some work based of a query of mine.

New clients
I just picked up a new client last week, and that project won't be billed for a while. But the good news is I'm already enjoying the work. Then the company mentioned above has connected me with three of their clients, so I'm counting them as "new" clients since the work is new and the personalities are new to me.

I made five submissions. One rejected within a week. The rest are still out there.

Just $720 off the target. Not bad, especially since summers are never this good for me. I'm more than a little nervous about how much work may come in this month and next. But if I price it right and organize my hours, I should be fine.

Bottom line
Despite being insanely busy, I'm about to kick up the marketing again. The short hiatus is over, and it's time to get more work in through the end of the year. When what was supposed to be a long-term, well-paid retainer dried up, it was quickly replaced with three projects, one of which goes through December. Having established good relationships with a few people in the company was a huge help to getting these jobs.

Writers, how has the summer been for you?
Are you seeing more work, less work, or the same?
When is your peak work cycle? Your slow period?

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

8 Traits of a Professional Freelance Writer

SOLD OUT: Sorry, but the FREE Marketing Q&A webinar hosted by Jake Poinier and featuring yours truly has no room. However, you can get on the list for the next one! Get on the list here

What I'm reading: Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie
What's on the iPod: I'm a Mess by Ed Sheeran

Another week of short deadlines and plenty of work. The calendar looks like a treasure map with all the appointments and deadline notices lighting up the weeks. Usually I have a monthly assessment for you at the end/beginning of a month. I promise I've not forgotten -- I'm just too busy to get to it. This will have to do.

I actually had time to read some blogs and forums over the weekend. I noticed plenty of writers -- typically at the beginning or early stages of a career -- who are taking baby steps or are waffling to the point of inaction. Negotiations? Some writers are taking whatever comes without question or push back. That's not smart. But you don't become a smart freelancer overnight.

Besides the usual list of smart habits -- having self-discipline, meeting deadlines, treating clients with professionalism, managing time and managing the business -- successful writers usually possess a few more qualities that make them the go-to writer for their clients.

Successful professional freelance writers are:

Focused on the client. Believe it or not, there are writers who miss this one. They're so busy focusing on how much they'll make, they forget to listen to the client. Make it about them, not their money.

Ask smart questions. Successful freelance writers go beyond "what's your budget" and "what's your timeline" - they ask specifics. Who's your audience? What message do you want them to walk away with? How have you reached them in the past? What works/what doesn't? Successful freelancers get to know their clients, maybe even crawling inside their heads a bit (figuratively, of course).

Hell-bent on delivering quality. Yes, money matters. But quality matters more. Clients who see the quality you deliver tend to hire you again. Give each job the best you have.

Communicate freely. The fastest way to lose a client's confidence is by keeping them in the dark. The easiest way to keep that from happening is to talk to them. If you take five minutes a week to send a quick update on your progress, your client is going to remember you. You're now the writer who's reliable. You make sure your client is part of the process even when they're not doing the work.

Always learning. Freelance writers who pretend to have all the answers are fooling one person -- themselves. If you're not investing in learning, or if you're not willing to admit you don't know something in order to learn, don't expect your career to blossom.

Know their limitations. I don't know the first thing about brain surgery, nor will I ever pretend I do just to get a job. If the experience isn't on your resume, be honest. Also, don't be averse to turning a job down if you're not the right person -- your lack of experience in that area will show.

Go beyond the job with clients. Networking, to me, means building relationships and keeping them going. Congratulate the PR contact whose wife just had a baby. Invite a magazine editor to lunch. Go to conferences, trade shows and local business events and mingle. Make friends without caring if that person can hire you. Be the person who helps without sending an invoice or the one who suggests that great restaurant.

Know their value. It's about more than believing you can do it -- it's about knowing what you bring that makes you better than the four other writers begging the client for work. Successful freelancers know more than if they're valuable -- they know why they're valuable.

Writers, what traits can you add to the list?
What one trait did you acquire that you had to learn over time?

Friday, August 28, 2015

Free Advice Friday: This Job, Not That Job

SOLD OUT: Sorry, but the FREE Marketing Q&A webinar hosted by Jake Poinier and featuring yours truly has no room. However, you can get on the list for the next one! Get on the list here

Remember that relaxing I wanted to do yesterday? Didn't happen. Just as I exhaled, a favorite editor sent over an assignment that's due in a week. It should be an easy one as it's one interview and the source is standing at the ready, but it's one more thing.

I'm loving being this busy, though. The holidays are coming.

However, if you're working for our latest entry in the Jobs from Hell category, Christmas might be something you'll have to pass on, as well as birthdays, eating out, eating at all....

As Jenn Mattern puts together her highly vetted job listings on All Indie Writers, she's good enough to pass the offenders on to me so we can enjoy the hilarity that comes from people who can't possibly be serious. And yet they are, which is why I started this little series so long ago. So much material, so little bandwidth...

This Job, Not That Job

Here's this month's nomination for the absolute worst job offer ever.


This job is little different. I am not looking for any expensive professional writer. But I am looking for talented writers (2-3 writers)

-who are passionate about writing web content/blog articles on volunteer abroad, travel abroad
-who are travelling/volunteer abroad and living in developing countries like Thailand, Peru, Costarica.. any where in the world
- who are looking for writing projects to enhance writing skills and also too make extra income (pocket money).

- and very good in meeting deadlines

This is full time job. so I expect 40 hours of writing per week. hours can be flexible. you can work in your own hours. but i expect to have chat with writers at least 5-10 minutes a day.

As this job is designed for writers who are travelling and wants to make money, max i can
pay is $500- $800 per month (depending up on your qualification and experience)

Again, this is not for any professional writers who are looking to make money.This is a job for travelers with strong writing skills and looking for this kind of flexible jobs to make money.

Oh, honey. Where do I start? Let's just ignore the many misspellings and grammatical issues -- they pale in comparison to the smell emanating from this one.

I am not looking for any expensive professional writer.

Good thing. You're not going to get one. In fact, you may not get a writer at all.

But I am looking for talented writers (2-3 writers)

So you want talent but not professional, because the difference is....??

- who are looking for writing projects to enhance writing skills and also too make extra income (pocket money).

This is your first clue -- this person is already devaluing your skills. Hell, he did so in the second sentence. Not only are you getting paid "pocket money" (way to further those talented-but-not-professional writers), but you're doing this to "enhance" your writing skills (because you talented ones need the practice).

This is full time job. so I expect 40 hours of writing per week.

Wait. This guy wants you to commit to a full-time job, 40 hours a week, for pocket money?? He can't be serious.

you can work in your own hours. but i expect to have chat with writers at least 5-10 minutes a day.

So in essence, you can't really work your own hours. You have to log in 40 hours each week and be available for phone calls ever day. Welcome to your meal ticket, writers. This guy has just required you to be on the clock, even calling it a "full-time job." By federal and most state laws (probably all), that requirement and his wording just made you his employee. Time to hit him up for benefits, vacation time, workers' compensation..... And yes, I'm serious.

As this job is designed for writers who are travelling and wants to make money, max i can
pay is $500- $800 per month

I. Can't. Breathe. Laughing. Too. Hard.

If you are traveling and want to make money, apparently the best you can do is $500-800 a month for what's already been described as a full-time, 40-hour-per-week job. Oh, and forget traveling -- you'll have no time. You'll be busy working and talking to your new employer.

Here's the nonsequitur of the day: As this job is designed for writers who are travelling and wants to make money, max i can pay is $500- $800 per month  How exactly do those two thoughts relate?

(depending up on your qualification and experience) 

You mean the experience you say you don't want but are offering for these people to bone up on?

Again, this is not for any professional writers who are looking to make money.

Damn right it's not. Apparently, it's not for anyone who is looking to make money.

This is a job for travelers with strong writing skills and looking for this kind of flexible jobs to make money.

So you have to be a traveler, not a writer. But you have to have strong writing skills, which usually make you a writer. Oh, and you have to be looking for the kind of "flexible jobs" that offers you the worst possible set of requirements for the ridiculously low price of $500 (because you can guarantee you're never seeing $800 unless it's your own money).

Instead of gluing yourself to an unworthy employer, try something better.

PR Agency Seeking Copywriters

Growing content, PR and social media marketing firm hoping to hire talented writers to meet the needs of our growing list of clients.

Our writers have a lot of flexibility and can often choose from different projects and decide how much work they can handle. In many ways, this job is what you make of it, but to give you an idea of what you're getting into, here are some of the most common responsibilities we give writers:

-Pitching article ideas for a wide variety of clients.
-Writing and posting blogs, articles, reports, press releases, product descriptions and other online content.
-All things SEO, at least as it pertains to copy.
-Incorporating feedback and making edits when needed.
-Attending conference calls with clients and other members of the team.

Depending on your skill and commitment, your responsibilities can grow to include:

-Managing social media accounts for large companies.
-Interacting with journalists and editors to get placement on reputable websites.
-Marketing your content online and compiling and sharing analytical data on your efforts with clients.
-Hosting webinars and training sessions.
Compensation: $500 - $1,000/week
Bonuses available
Could lead to full-time salaried position

So instead of selling your soul for $500 a month, you can take on projects of your choosing and make that much per week-- or more.

Writers, what's the worst you've seen lately?

Thursday, August 27, 2015

6 Ways to Prove Your Writing Chops to Prospects

SOLD OUT: Sorry, but the FREE Marketing Q&A webinar hosted by Jake Poinier and featuring yours truly has no room. However, you can get on the list for the next one! Get on the list here

Can I breathe yet? By the end of yesterday, I'd finally dug myself out from under a rather massive project pile. I have more coming next week, and two of them will be bigger. But for now, I'm going to relax a bit. That should last about four hours the way things are going. :)

I had time to talk with a local writer friend. We were discussing our various projects, and I was relating a conversation with a potential writing client a while back. I had gone over my background and explained the various areas I've covered over the last 15 years. The prospect asked for samples, which is not uncommon (every prospect but one this year has asked). I sent over my more current clips, taking care to send what was relevant.

The client called. "Your samples are good, but could you send some that pertain to human resources?"

As I was telling my friend this, I said, "Just goes to show -- no matter how long you've been at this, you're only as good as that one line item they want to see."

It's true with most freelance writers, isn't it? You can have the most impressive portfolio containing nearly every marketing piece or article topic imaginable....and they're going to want the one you don't have, or the one that's so old it's no longer online. Why?

Because clients don't always see how some topics relate.

I've had this issue in the past. I've had companies at trade shows look at my portfolio and ask if I cover this area or that. It's understandable. They want assurance that their money isn't wasted.

If you specialize, you're not escaping the issue. I specialize, and I field that question on occasion. So how do you convince the prospective client you're able to handle a job for which you have no direct sample?

Show the relationship. You write about cat care. Yet that new client doesn't see anything related to dogs. Show how the issues are intertwined. I write about risk, something that is present in every situation. Yet I still have to show clients in fields such as identity protection or staffing how the topic relates to what their audience needs. If you're meeting a prospect whose business isn't directly reflecting your background, do your homework. Find the ways in which their business and your background work.

Don't try too hard. I think one of the worst things we can do as writers facing prospects is try too hard to convince them we can do it. It feels desperate, and it could leave your prospect wondering if you're a little too hungry for a reason. Instead, state confidently your background and your case. "I do have experience in that area, though my clips are no longer available online." Don't make excuses for missing clips, and don't keep talking without really saying anything. And don't offer to scare up clips you may not be able to find. Instead....

Gather your testimonials. Remember that client you worked with 10 years ago whose project gave you the experience the prospect is asking to see? If you can't get the clip, either because of a NDA or because of a computer crash wiping out your hard drive (get on the cloud, people), you can instead ask former/existing clients for testimonials that state what type of project, what topic, and what the satisfaction level was. No need to reveal trade secrets, either.

Write tighter letters of introduction. One way I manage to get that prospect's attention is by including in my letters some language that builds the connection between what I do and what they need. "I noticed your auto blog covers these areas (listing them). For a number of clients, I've written on these topics, which can easily apply to your topic area."

Bulk up the portfolio. I'll admit I have a ton of hard copies of my work that are no longer available online. Most of those clips would have been useful in the conversation I had a month ago. I was lucky -- I had some electronic files that sufficed, but in reality, I could dedicate more time to making sure all areas of my background are amply represented. The same goes for you. And if you don't have a specific clip, create one.

Build a stronger brand. Ideally for experienced freelance writers, this shouldn't even be an issue. If your brand is strong and you have name recognition, there's a better chance you won't be asked for missing clips. You may still be asked by prospects who don't know you, but if you can point them to a solid website and marketing material that infuses prospects with confidence in your abilities, you'll have fewer requests for that one more piece of proof.

Writers, how do you win over prospects who see the missing clip over your experience?

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Writer's Guide to Negotiating Like a Pro

FREE Marketing Q&A: Join Jake Poinier and me September 14th at 1 pm ET for a FREE one-hour Marketing Q&A. Reserve your spot today

It's only Tuesday? Why do I feel like last week just blended into this week? I had a weekend -- a good one -- but I came to the desk yesterday with a list that seems to grow instead of shrink.

In a recent client negotiation, I realized just how far I've come. Once upon a time, I might have taken an offer that paid much less than I'm used to just to secure the job. These days, that's not happening.

Part of that is because better clients have come along and have proven my rate is fair by hiring me for multiple projects. That in itself gives you enough confidence to shoot down low offers.

But what if you haven't proven yourself yet, or what if the offer in front of you comes when you're two weeks without any clear sign of another gig? How do you hold firm to your rates? Should you?

Yes and no. You should hold yourself to your rates -- in other words, you shouldn't immediately take a huge cut in your hourly rate just because the client says so. You should own your rate in your head and in your resolve.

Only then can you negotiate. And yes, you should negotiate when you and a client aren't on the same page.

That doesn't mean you, charging $100 an hour, should waste your time trying to get a client to pay more when they're starting out at $20 an hour. Sometimes the gap is just too vast and someone is going to end up giving up too much (usually the writer). But if the client's price is within shouting distance of yours, just a little negotiating could net an agreement.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when negotiating:

Know your bottom line. It would be great if clients would all pay our rate without question. However, clients and companies have budgets, just like we do. So it helps if we keep a minimum rate in mind. Ask yourself how low you can go. Also, try to define what you would do for that price, and if there are other projects, such as blog posts, where you'd accept a low flat fee because the job is much easier. If you know it all in advance, it will be easier to come to an agreement later. And it helps you vet out the clients whose projects just will not fit your needs.

Own your BATNA. BATNA is your Best Alternative to Negotiating an Agreement. For writers, this could be simple. If you and the client can't come to terms, you simply don't work together. However, easier said than done, isn't it? But if you mentally prepare yourself prior to any client meeting or negotiation, you'll be in a better position to walk away from jobs that aren't for you.

Ask about budget. Instead of waiting for the client to bring up money, ask. I've found that asking a client "What kind of budget are you working with?" is an easy opening to the topic of price. Plus, instead of trying to guess what price to quote, you'll see just how much they can pay. They may quote lower, but that's part of the negotiating process.

Create a collaboration. Negotiations can be much more than just getting down to the money. It's a great time to build trust, which can help negotiations go smoothly. Use terms like "Let's" and "we" to create the idea of a collaborative effort. "How can we work best together?" or "Let's see what you need and how I can help." In fact, I find that the word "help" is a great trigger word. If your client comes to you with a rate that's far off your usual rate. "I want so much to work together on this, and I think we can find a happy middle area. I need your help. Let's put our heads together..." Anything that creates a bridge between you can make the difference.

Counter with kindness. Instead of saying "You're out of your mind" or "you're joking, right?" try injecting some cordiality into your response. "Oh, I see. Unfortunately, I charge a good deal more for that sort of thing." Or "Well, it's quite low compared to my usual fee, but let's see if there's something we can do to make it affordable to us both." Then come up with some alternatives, including handling a portion of the project instead of the whole thing.

When in doubt, give yourself time. It's okay to tell a client you'll get back to them with a rate once you've gone over the project parameters and done some math. Don't assume because you're on the phone with the client asking that you have to answer immediately.

Say no without emotion. I don't mean be cold, but certainly don't get flustered and upset. Even if you run into a client who's pushy and rude about your rate, your response should reflect the facts, not the nastiness. "I'm seeing we're probably not going to reach a common ground. But thank you for getting in touch, and good luck with the project."

Writers, where in the negotiating process do you have the most issue? Success?
Have you had a negotiation go really well? What did you do that worked especially well?
How have you handled the negotiations that didn't go so well?

Friday, August 21, 2015

Free Advice Friday: Excuses That Will Sink Your Writing Business

Doing anything September 14th at 1 pm ET? Join Jake Poinier (a.k.a. Dr. Freelance) and me for a FREE one-hour Marketing Q&A. Reserve your spot today

This week, I tried doing the impossible -- make more time show up between Monday and Friday. With several deadlines this week and early next week, I was looking at a disappearing weekend. Luckily, all but one project is completed. But there's no rest coming. I have two more projects ramping up next week and the week after.

When we writers are busy like this, it's easy to let the little details go untouched. Invoices that should have been paid lapse without notice, clients who wanted to get in touch "within the next few weeks" are temporarily forgotten, or marketing is shoved not just to the back burner but right off the stove. 

So when you get back on track, it's almost forgivable when a client comes off with an excuse for why the payment is late or where the delayed project went.

Almost. But not really.

While the majority of clients and companies are professional in both attitude and action, there are those few who make the job more challenging than it needs to be. If you're newer to the freelance writing world, you might be tempted to accept excuses or even the guilt trips handed to you. That is, if you don't know what to look for.

Any freelance writer who's been at this a while can tell you that the excuses given are common. I'm not sure if there's a manual out there on how to behave badly as a client, but it seems some of these people are reading from the same book.

Here are excuses you as a writer should not accept:

We didn't like the result. If this occurs before the invoice is sent, it's legitimate. If it occurs months and a few invoices after the final product is delivered, it's a piss-poor excuse for not paying you. If they had legitimate gripes, they had ample time to voice them. Don't get locked into a heated battle. Simply restate the obvious -- they owe you money due upon receipt of final bill. If it's not paid, you'll have no option but to take legal action.

I didn't receive your invoice. This one comes three months later after you've attached the final late fee to the total. Why it doesn't fly-- clearly, they received this one. I had a client once chastise me for sending the invoice via email, saying he wasn't paying the late fee because I didn't mail it. Funny thing, though, he managed to find the one threatening litigation....

Silence. Worse is when there's no response whatsoever to your attempts to get an answer or payment. My advice? Send a registered letter with your final invoice attached. If they don't pay, take legal action.

We decided to go in another direction, so we won't be using it. Just forget the invoice. Right. Forget that you just spent hours putting together the project for them, and just negate the hours you didn't spend with other clients. If the client changes direction, that's not on you, and it's certainly not a good reason to not pay you.

If we like it, we'll pay you. How about this -- if you ask me to write it, you'll pay me. I don't work for free, nor do I hand you targeted copy that you can then claim you don't like. Hiring a freelance writer can't be done in stages -- the writer either does the job and gets paid or doesn't do the job at all.

Writers, what are some of the excuses you've received from clients who won't pay?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Freelance Technique: Capturing Your Writing Client's Voice

Have marketing questions? Want to find out what works best for successful writers? Join Jake Poinier (a.k.a. Dr. Freelance) and me for a FREE one-hour Marketing Q&A. Reserve your spot today

What a week so far. I spent five days away, two of them on the weekend, yet I'm working like I've been away a month. Monday was two projects started, yesterday was three more projects started and two finished, today I have to finish at least one project and get yet another project going. Right now, there are seven projects, and most of them have short deadlines.

No time to spare.

It's when I'm most busy that mistakes can, and will, happen. Yesterday, I created an ad for a client only to find out I had him predicting the future -- 2015 became 2105. Luckily, it was the first draft and he caught it. Plus, he's a good client and we work well together, so mistakes aren't treated like third-degree burns. Despite efforts to avoid them, I'm going to make them. So are you.

One mistake we can all avoid is not capturing our client's voice. You can be the best writer on the planet, but if you can't deliver content that sounds like you crawled inside your client's head and plucked out ideas, you're going to be rewriting. Maybe a lot.

Still, it's easier to mimic that voice than you might think.

Here are some ways I use to write with my client's voice:

Recorded conversations. What better way to get the cadence, tone, and wording right? I've been successful at nailing first drafts because I used a recorder. They're not foolproof, but close. In only one case did the recorded conversation not translate, and that was because the client was trying to please someone higher up the food chain.

Targeted questions. I think recordings, coupled with great questions, are usually all you need to get it right. Sometimes you get those clients who have no idea what they want or how they want it. I've found that asking the right questions helps. Here are some I use frequently:

  • Who's your audience? Who will see this?
  • What's the primary message you hope to send? What impression do you want it to leave?
  • What makes your company/product/service different?
  • How will this benefit your customer?
  • What have you tried in the past?
  • What do you like? What don't you like?
You can come up with your own, but this will help you narrow down a little more of what the client is looking for.

The client website. If it's well written, your client's website could fill in the blanks for you. Look at white papers, case studies, and press releases. But do ask when they last updated the site -- it could be the voice you're thinking they use is outdated.

Thought pieces. Read their newsletters and company magazines. If your client has written articles for industry magazines, ask to see copies. Nothing tells you the client's voice better than the written pieces they're putting out.

Past marketing materials. Ask to see past advertisements and marketing pieces. Then go over them with your client and ask what worked, what didn't, which ones were favorites, etc.

A follow-up conversation. Sometimes you'll need a second conversation just to get a better sense of the direction your client wants, which also helps you hear once again the tone used, the one requested, and see where the disconnect, if any, could be. There are clients who ask for A and really want B. This second conversation can help you identify the confusion.

Feedback. I brace my clients for the first draft and invite the feedback and revisions as I deliver it. That feedback will contain gold -- they're going to tell you what they don't like, and that's always helpful. It opens the conversation to what they do want, and if they're unsure, you can ask leading questions to help them get beyond their own roadblocks.

Writers, what methods do you use to get your client's voice right?
Have you ever had an instance where you just couldn't get it? How did you handle it?
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