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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Finding February Freelance Work

What's on the iPod: Everything by Michael Bublé

Today's the day! Visit the All Indie Writers Freelance Theater (episode 7) page today to hear Jenn's interview with yours truly. Topic: easy marketing strategies. You won't want to miss it!

The morning is starting out well. I sit here enjoying a little Bublé (yes, I actually listen to a song every morning), a song that reminds me of my daughter's wedding. They danced to that song, and it brings back lovely memories. 

Today, marketing. I'm going into today's marketing push with an amended plan. LOIs are netting some interest, but not enough. Time to mix things up.

When January starts out as well as mine has, one can easily get lulled into a false sense of success. It's false because it's temporary. The work is there, but once it's completed? Right. Square One yet again.

If your year starts slowly, as mine did last year, it's easy to get discouraged or desperate. So let's plan ways to find work for February.

Let's look at a few ways of staying solvent now, in the near future, and long term:

Magazine article queries.
Payoff - now and potentially long term.
If you're looking to boost your income total for the month, get some queries out. Magazines are working with shiny, new freelance budgets right now. And as the month is coming to a close, the resolution makers (writers who send out a ton of queries the first week of the year, then forget to keep up the momentum) are waning and you can get your idea in there. Plus, if you manage to impress editors with your ideas or you locate an editor in need of a good writer (trades are just waiting for good writers), you could establish a great ongoing relationship.

Resume or blog work.
Payoff - now and potentially long term.
Either sign up with a resume-writing company that pays you well (none of this $25-45 per resume junk with tons of free revisions) or hang out your shingle and advertise on social media. If you write resumes on your own, you can charge anywhere upwards of $200 per resume. If you're writing for a company, most will want to pay around $65 per. Why you might want to consider that -- they find the clients for you. Just make sure it's an amount you can live with and that they don't expect you to call clients and revise for months on end with no additional compensation.

With blogs, you can answer ads for gigs paying $100 or more per post (anything less is too little), or you can convince new or existing clients to let you handle their blog posts for a negotiated fee. The more specialized your writing, the more you can charge.

Reminding current clients you exist.
Payoff -- now, near future, and long term.
Your best source of work comes from people who already know and trust you. Remind your clients you're still there, and don't forget to update them on what other skills you have that may benefit them. A quick note or phone call can net you some immediate work, or get you on their calendar for a follow-up conversation later on.

Payoff - now, near future, and long term.
Meeting face-to-face is one of the best ways to gain new clients. People want to work with people they know. So go to those networking events, the trade shows, the Chamber of Commerce events. If you can't get to any face-to-face meetings, set up Twitter events, LinkedIn Groups, Google+ hangout meetings, or simply become a regular, active member of forums where potential clients are. 

Letters of introduction.
Payoff - long term.
Even though my success rate with these is waning, they're still my best method of finding regular clients. To make these as successful for you, personalize them to each client. Study their company, then send more than just a template introduction -- send something that speaks to their needs and their focus.

Send direct mail with a call-to-action message.
Payoff - near future and long term.
Everyone loves to save money. Put together a mailer (snail mail is great for this) and include a discount rate if they book their project by the stated date. This can work in two ways -- it can help you locate and secure new client work, and it can help you plan out your workload months in advance.

Writers, how do you find work for the short term and long term?
What's been your best method of securing new client business? Existing client projects?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Writers Worth: This Job, Not That Job

What's on the iPod: Lay Back Down by Eric Lindell

Don't forget -- visit the All Indie Writers Freelance Theater page this Friday to hear Jenn's interview with yours truly. We'll discuss easy ways to market your services.

Interesting week so far. I spent Monday finishing up edits, marketing, and updating blogs. Yesterday was more of the same. Today, you guessed it.

One thing I had time for was what I call job listing trolling. It's an intentional search for the worst jobs being offered. I found a few winners, but this one in particular stood out for a few reasons.

Here's the worst of it:

Part-time writers needed (Telecommute)

compensation: Commission (about $120 per month for a few hours per week)
Seeking part-time weekend writer to produce web-cased content on commission basis (we expect that you should be able to put in four hours of work per week and make in the general area of $100-120 per month). Writer must be comfortable composing quick, clean copy on a variety of subjects. Ideal for recent college grads.

If interested, send a cover letter and resume.


Doesn't sound bad on the surface, does it? Oh, but it is. Let's look at reasons why this one stinks:

The title. Why does that send up red flags? Because it's trying to draw you in with the "telecommute" and "Part-time writers needed" wording. Aren't all freelancers working part-time for someone? And why the need to define it? Typically, this is being framed to attract someone who has a full-time job or needs quick cash.

"Web-cased content." Huh? You mean web-based? They can't proofread their own stuff. How serious are they about hiring good writers? 

(we expect that you should be able to put in four hours of work... Stop it. First, get rid of "that" in the sentence and my eyes may stop bleeding. Second, you've just set the bar for the writers. What you "expect" and what is reality is usually worlds apart. 

" make in the general area of $100-120 per month... Can I laugh now? Writers should be making that per hour. Not only have you qualified the pay with how many hours you think it should take (and what you think is probably unrealistic), you've now stated how little you're actually paying.

Writers must be comfortable composing quick, clean copy... Translation - Instant turnaround and no payment if they have to edit. 

Ideal for recent college graduates. There it is. You're not a writer unless you're competing with college graduates? At least they didn't say "stay-at-home moms" again. 

The amount of work you'll do... Wait. They didn't say, did they? Hell no, because it's probably a ridiculous amount of immediate work for that lousy monthly insult.

Instead of working under these veiled conditions and unrealistic parameters, try a job like this:

Marketing Blogger (found on All Indie Writers)
Bloggers are needed to write high quality blog posts about marketing-related topics such as SEO, conversion rate optimization, social networks, blogging, and display advertising. Content is expected to be at least 1000 words per post. Pay starts at $100 per post.
Better, isn't it? What this client is willing to pay is competitive with what you should be charging.
Writers, what are some of the worst gigs you've come across lately?
What makes these gigs so lousy?

Monday, January 19, 2015

7 Signs a Writing Client Isn't for You

What I'm reading: The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
What's on the iPod: Keep It Simple by Martin Sexton

A quick note -- visit the All Indie Writers Freelance Theater page this Friday to hear Jenn's interview with yours truly. We'll discuss easy ways to market your services.

I'm staring at a pretty busy week ahead. I spent last week finishing one client's projects and getting another client's projects well under way. This week will be spent finishing that batch and moving on to a third client's wish list. And marketing. Always marketing.

Sending out introductions often leads to deeper conversations. As I connect with new client prospects, I realize there are some pretty telling behaviors that indicate we're not a match. Not that every behavior is an automatic rejection, but I consider them warning shots and I proceed cautiously.

Here are some of the things that could indicate the client isn't for you:

Balking at the thought of limiting revisions. That tells me three things -- the client doesn't know what he/she wants, may be a micro-manager, and could be viewing freelancers as extensions of their typing pool. If three rounds of revisions (I usually give just two) aren't enough, maybe it's an indication there will be headaches later.

Lots of talk at you. In one long-ago client encounter, the client said on first meeting "You need to be writing this down." And yet I still took the project. And it was a disastrous relationship. Clients need to tell you about their projects and company goals, but they need also to listen. Your advice should matter to them, particularly if they're not used to writing anything themselves.

Wanting all your free time. No client should require freelancers to be available 24/7, yet invariably someone will come to you with a project at 4 pm the Friday before a holiday weekend. It's up to you if you take it, but know that the client who can't understand or respect your professional and personal boundaries is going to be the problem child who haunts your every weekend.

Consistently short deadlines. Right up there with expecting you to work when the rest of the world is having fun, handing you a project to have done in 24 hours -- and doing so more than once  -- isn't fair. Also, it's not up to you to put out the fires they start via bad planning.

Expecting you to check in/check out. Every client deserves an update on progress. What they don't deserve is the right to tell you when you should be working and expecting you to alert them to when you're not going to be near the phone or computer. I remember working with one resume group that wanted this very privilege. That relationship lasted about a minute -- I didn't become a freelancer to be told how to act like an employee. And for them, it's a dangerous practice to treat non-employees like employees.

Asking the price up front. To me, that's the biggest red flag there is. If they're basing their entire decision on price and not so much on quality and skill, that could be trouble later on. When potential clients ask me up front about price, I give it to them without any thought of following up. Rare is the client who has decided, even after hearing the price, to hire me because I'm worth it. It could also mean you're aiming too low on the food chain.

Expecting a price break on the first project. There's only one time I consider a price break for new clients -- when it's coupled with an ongoing, written commitment for more projects. Otherwise, the price stands. Not every client can afford you, but the assumption shouldn't be that you'll bend on your rate. Instead, the client who asks if they can get some of the work done for that price is the real gem.

Writers, what red flags keep you from taking on clients?

Friday, January 16, 2015

Free Advice Friday: Attracting Magazine Editors

What's on the iPod: I See Fire by Ed Sheeran

Busy, busy week thanks to three clients getting in touch with projects.

A friend and I were talking about querying magazines. She's a pro at it, and we were comparing notes. Turns out we do pretty much the same thing. We were also talking about how we know the magazine is a fit for what we do. I was relating a frustrating situation in which every idea but one was turned down by the editor. I was giving him my best ideas, but they weren't quite right.

Getting published in any magazine not guesswork, as you well know. Your idea, no matter how fantastic, has to fit with the magazine. But how do you know what fits and what won't?

You study the publication. And you study more than one issue.

Yes, everyone says that. But if you don't know how to do that, what good is it? Exactly why I'm writing this post -- to show you what to look for when you're going through that magazine.

Advertisements. Advertisements are more than just ways for the magazine to make money. They can tell you a lot about the people who read the magazine. Are they wealthy? Middle class? Blue collar? White collar? Male? Female? What age are they? The advertisements alone can give you the answers. For example, you won't see an advertisement for Jaguar in a magazine like Parenting or Humpty Dumpty. Nor will you see ads for cereal or floor cleaner in The Atlantic.

Cover stories. How the editors frame the articles featured - and even the articles they choose to feature - are all clues to how you can win over the editors. How sensationalized are the titles? Look at the language they're using. Is it more scholarly, more of a warning, or more how-to in nature? Also, what are they featuring?

Titles. Different magazines will frame the same topic in different ways. The best clue to a magazine's particular slant is through the titles. For example, Home and Garden may want an article on Building a Perennial Garden, whereas Organic Gardening may need an article on how to reduce soil integrity damage caused by perennials (totally made-up ideas and needs). Read each title with an eye toward how they're handling the topic.

Front-of-the-book articles. Even the small stuff counts. Those short articles in front of the magazine hold strong clues to what the magazine's tone is. Pithy? Intelligent? Accusatory? Investigative? It's all there.

Images. Your article on Five Ways to Tell if Your Neighbor is a Stalker may not fly if the magazine images are more friendly, such as smiling families on outings or what I call rainbow-and-sunshine shots of people in cars, on beaches, etc. If the magazine's images have a lighter feel, keep the tone of your query light to match it.

Past articles.  There's no better clue to what they'll publish than by understanding what they've already published. In fact, there are plenty of ideas in those published pieces -- find the questions that haven't been answered and formulate your query to keep the theme going or to bring new information to the topic (just don't expect them to leap on the idea if the article you're referencing is just a few months old).

Writers, how do you determine if the magazine you're querying is a good match for your article?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Free Guide to Your Writing Career

What's on the iPod: Flashed Junk Mind by Milky Chance

Did I mention I was busy? Last week I had three clients have come to me with projects. I'm in the middle of getting two of those clients sorted, and the third client is waiting for budget approval and a client statement of work. It's going to be a nice first quarter.

I was noticing the onslaught of courses and workshops and seminars that plague January and target struggling writers. So many things to learn -- so little time and money. Some of the offerings may actually be worth the money, but how can you be sure? So I like to approach things a little differently -- when you're trying to kick start your career or hit the reset button, try getting advice for free.

There's little wrong with paying for advice when you need it. Well, there's little wrong with it if your source is credible and the instructor/coach has the background proving the advice works. There are a few people I would trust. There are infinitely more people I don't know and probably shouldn't trust.

So why not look for free advice first?

Here are some great resources you can use right now that can help you improve your writing career and gain a little bit more knowledge on how to run a successful writing business:

Quick guides. 

This one from Jenn Mattern is her personal experience in boosting her income by thousands of dollars through just one weekend of work. It's a great read with some excellent examples.

Also, Freelancers Union, headed by Sara Horowitz, has a slew of great guides for freelancers.

There isn't anything Peter Bowerman puts out for writers that I don't love. His newsletters are filled with great info and personal accounts.

Two freelancers, in my opinion, are the king and queen of podcasts. Ed Gandia at International Freelancers Academy and Jenn Mattern at All Indie Writers. Both offer free podcasts and excellent advice. (Full disclosure - I'm Jenn's guest on her next podcast.)

Plus, check out Mignon Fogarty's quick-and-dirty podcasts over on Grammar Girl.

I'm a huge fan of Lexi Rodrigo. Her newsletters are terrific, but her blog is even better.

Another great blog is Freelancers Union.

Some of the best blogs on how to run a successful business include:

Planners, Checklists, and Templates.
If you need more in-depth help and ideas, chances are you'll find it on the All Indie Writers resource page.

Another good resource comes from Sharon Hurley Hall, the brain behind Get Paid to Write Online. Sharon's free ebooks and guides are golden, as are her other resources.

Search engines.
It's the Internet -- there's nothing that hasn't been covered. You can locate nearly any topic and get free advice just by searching for it.

Writers, where and how do you locate help for your writing career?

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Six Habits You Should Banish from Your Writing Life

What's on the iPod: Just as Well by Jackie Greene

It's been a great start to the new year -- a favorite client contacted me with three projects. I started one, intend to finish another next week, and should have a strong start to a third next week, as well.

As I was writing out my business and marketing plans (yes, I do), I was thinking about how much my career has morphed. Each year I've been a writing professional, I've gained that much more experience and that much more confidence. My projects have gone from hit-and-miss jobs that didn't pay enough to proactively generated relationships with clients who value what I do for them.

Each time I went back to the business and marketing plan, I changed something else.

It's so easy to take whatever job comes along, to surf through job lists and advertisements, or to accept any price just to get the gig (and the clips). What isn't easy is changing that mindset forever and working like you mean it, not like you're piecing it together. Well, physically, it's easy. Mentally, not so much.

If you're looking for ways to improve your writing career and make a better living writing, start by banishing some of the bad habits that plague your writing life.

Turn your back on content mills. Yes, it's easy work. Yes, it's quick money. No, it's not any work you can show to a smart client to prove you're a smart writer. Yes, you may have talent. No, this is not the place to use that talent. You'll never be paid enough for the work you do.

Stop the negative messaging. I'm talking about that voice in your head. Whether you vocalize your doubts or not, stop it. The freelance writing world is not devoid of work. The pay is not going down (unless you're working below what you deserve already). The clients aren't all crazy. If you don't like what you see or you don't like what you're expected to do for less than you deserve, change how you're finding work.

Give up on expecting this to be easy. Some days this is the best, most lucrative job on the planet. Other days, you can't find two nickels to rub together. If you think you're set the minute the projects roll in, you're going to find out otherwise the minute those projects are completed and you're once again without work. A freelance writing career takes ongoing, continuous effort to find work, keep in touch with clients, build relationships, and earn money.

Lose that high-and-mighty attitude. Yes, clients can be disappointed and say so. Yes, it can sometimes be that they weren't clear in what they wanted. But they're paying you to get it right. If your client says he wants you to revise that report because it's not in the right voice, you damn well better do just that. It's not a suggestion from an unschooled writer -- it's what your client is paying you for. Yes, sometimes clients are full of it and completely clueless. It's your job to advise them when their changes aren't going to work for them. Your ego has nothing to do with their finished product.

Drop the notion that contracts aren't necessary. Please don't tell me you still work without a formal contract. Even if you go no further than getting everything confirmed in email, it's better than simply saying "Sure! I'll get started right away" without parameters, including when that check is to arrive in your hands and when the late fees will apply. Your contract protects both you and your client. Any client worth working for will sign an agreement (and may even require one).

Eliminate the waiting for free time. Oh, the excuses we make -- "I can't write that novel/market for new business/take that course because I don't have time." Correction -- you're not making the time. Schedule your marketing, your business planning, your coursework, your personal writing. Don't wait for time to appear. It won't.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Boosting Your Professional Writer Persona

What's on the iPod: Glory Bound by Martin Sexton

Wow, that was a long break. From December 6th until today, I was somewhere else. I stopped in here occasionally and I worked a little, but from the road. December is notoriously slow, so I was free to take off. It seems like forever since we arrived back from our drive south, but it was only two weeks ago.

Today, back to work.

I was noticing a few conversations on social media about finding work. I love when people share advice and links, but I wonder about how those are translating to clients. Private notes are better, and I did get one or two over the last month from helpful, nice freelancers. But there are so many more freelance writers putting links up on social media sites -- in full view of potential clients -- pointing their fellow freelancers to lower-paying work opportunities.

What's that doing to one's reputation?

Yes, we all take work that pays a little less than our ideal rate (and sometimes a lot less if the other terms are right). Advertising that, I believe, makes a dent in our professional appearance. Let's look at it from the prospective client's perspective. If you're looking to hire a writer for specialized work and you see them on Twitter sharing links to bidding sites, does that make you think this is someone who's in demand for his/her skills?

Probably not.

There are some pretty simple things we can do that help boost our professional writer persona and give clients the impression that yes, we are worth what we charge. Here are some things to try:

Filter your social media conversations. Not just posting links, but posting what you charge can give you a bad reputation. I've seen a few writers -- ones I thought were at the top of their game -- revealing they charge 50 cents a word or rant on about how freelancing is dead (which it isn't -- their approach may be dead). Pretend every post or comment you leave is going in front of that client who would pay you top dollar -- in essence, it is.

Don't argue with difficult clients. It's so tempting to tell off someone who's calling you names or who is being a total jerk. Don't. They know people. Even if they'd never give you a reference, they'd sure bad-mouth you if you give them reason. Don't give them ammunition to help bring down your career. When they act like jerks, don't defend and don't argue back. Silence is often the best solution.

Be seen in the industry. Go to conferences if you can. If you can't, share links to industry news and trends. Share them one-on-one with clients or in groups where potential clients hang out. Make good use of hash tags to show them you're watching the industry and know what's important.

Announce your successes. The ones that matter, at least. If you just wrote 20 articles for a content mill and earned pennies for it, that's not going to impress anyone (and it might give you the reputation of being cheap or out-of-tune with your own career). If you just finished a website project or you're currently working on a case study, mention it. "Finishing an industry case study this morning. What's on your desk?" is a good one because it draws people into conversation if you use the right hash tags.

Offer something of value for free. Newsletters, tip sheets, or even discounts for your services are good things to send to clients either by email or snail mail. Give them news they want to read -- not a laundry list of how fabulous you are (unless you're showing how that fabulousness helped your customer increase revenue).

Writers, how do you build and maintain your professional writing persona?
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