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Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Monthly Assessment: August 2014

What I'm reading: Strip Jack by Ian Rankin
What I'm listening to: Happy by Pharrell Williams

September -- she's here. Time to get serious, right? Time also to see how August went for us writers.

Whew. Much more like it.

With June being ridiculously slow thanks to so much time off and with July picking up quite a bit, I was relieved to see August getting busier yet. Where much of my spring marketing was met with "We've hired someone to do that" (and amen for the economic recovery), summer has turned into quite the opposite. This is the Dry Season (my own term for the cycle) -- yet here was work coming in.

Most of it is still in talking/contracting stages, but that just means September will be fantastic for earnings. I did have a vacation in the middle of this month, so the earnings will reflect the time away.

Here's what happened this month:

I sent a few. So far, no one has bitten on the one idea, which I've tried with three different editors. No more sent.

I restructured my approach and sent out fewer, more targeted notes. That resulted in getting actual responses (people like a conversation much more than a sales pitch). I'm in talks with one of those companies as we speak.

Social Media:
It never hurts to send out a blast about your availability, so I did just that. I sent out two this month (don't want to be annoying about it). Nothing yet, but a few more people now know I'm there. Also, I contacted someone I'd met at a trade show a few times. He'd been promoted - I congratulated him via LinkedIn. That resulted in ongoing talks about projects.

Job postings:
Despite my allergy to the job posting, I found a few high-level gigs to apply for. One resulted in my phone conversation/hiring this past week.

Existing clients:
A favorite client was in my email this month, and the project made up the bulk of my earnings. I can count on them to call every few months, and I always enjoy the projects. Last week, I contacted 4 existing clients who'd dropped off the radar. The result: 3 sizable projects headed my way.

New clients:
Two so far, but there may be a third (and possibly a fourth) on the way. In one case, it reinforces my belief that people you meet today may buy in years to come -- stay in touch.

It's great seeing checks in the mail, isn't it? This month was still a bit short of my target, but the work that's lining up promises to exceed my September goal. Let's hope so.

Bottom line:
Slow and steady does win the race, but so does mixing it up. I looked for clients who would provide ongoing work at a good rate, and luckily what I wanted was right there in the job listings on Craig's List. Also, when I saw the LOI wasn't netting me anything, I knew it was time to make it much more personal. While I've changed just one paragraph in that letter, I've made sure to make a direct connection. It's paying off so far. This month, the snail mail letters go out, as well. I'm looking to bolster the income for the holidays.

Your turn.

Writers, how did you do this past month?
What worked? What didn't?
What will you change going forward?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Writers Worth: This Job, Not That Job

What I'm listening to: Home by Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros

There's something about the waning days of summer -- the school buses come back, clients ramp up stalled projects....and cheapskates come out of the woodwork to prey on desperate writers.

Thanks to Jenn Mattern for sending over this week's nominee for sh*ttiest job you could possibly have.

Looking for SERIOUS short article writers! Start Immediately!

compensation: $2.25 to $5.50 PER ARTICLE WRITTEN
My company is looking for short article writers, 400-1100 word articles covering various topics from law, to make up, to video games, to clothing, etc etc. You will need to have a passion for writing, and take this job seriously so you must have plenty of time to sit down and study about your topic, and then write a detailed article on the topic you have studied. Each article you write and that gets accepted pays anywhere from $2.25 to $5.50 PER article , so how much you make is SOLELY dependent on how much you work/write.

If you are looking for a wonderful writing job, where you can have the freedom of working at home PLUS opportunities to become a FULL time writer with certain companies and websites. If you write an article for a client and they like your work, they will request you to write for them EVERY article!! Also, once you have been a writer for some time, you will then receive a writing coach! Room for advancement!

**********TO APPLY*************
Please apply now as spots might be limited.. go to and when asked for the invitation code type in YYYY to get an IMMEDIATE spot. Once you have applied and received your confirmation email you are ready to start writing!

Can I just throw up right now? It would be easier than deciphering just how lousy this job is. Alas, we learn nothing from the visceral reaction, so let's dig a bit into the dung heap that is this offer:

Looking for SERIOUS short article writers! Normally, this wouldn't stand out, but there are two things wrong with this six-word sentence. First, SERIOUS --seriously? Sounds like someone may have had a fair amount of hate mail the last time this was posted. Or am I just hopeful? Second, exclamation points. I have a particular rule of thumb that's proven useful -- the more exclamation points (especially coupled with all caps), the worse the offer is. In the headline alone we're looking at caps and exclamations.

You will need to have a passion for writing, and take this job seriously so you must have plenty of time to sit down and study about your topic, and then write a detailed article on the topic you have studied. Yes, because for $2.25 an article, you're taking your writers seriously. Not only do you have to have a passion for writing (aren't we tired of that phrase yet?), but also you have to "sit down" -- stay. Don't you feel better having been taught to sit? Never mind the fact that they've used too much description -- they've just talked to you like you're in kindergarten, or worse, obedience school.

If you are looking for a wonderful writing job, where you can have the freedom of working at home PLUS opportunities to become a FULL time writer with certain companies and websites. So, so much wrong with this sentence, beginning with the fact that it's not even a complete sentence. Wonderful? Job? Are you kidding me? And PLUS...FULL? What's with the caps? Dangling the carrot with "certain companies and websites" meaning their website, which we already know pays crap. 

If you write an article for a client and they like your work, they will request you to write for them EVERY article!! Also, once you have been a writer for some time, you will then receive a writing coach! Room for advancement!  Wow! Could we be that lucky to have someone wanting us to write our asses off for $2.25 an article?? Woo! Sign me up! And a writing coach after I've been writing for some time -- you know, exactly when you probably don't need it. Yippee! Lucky day! Room for advancement -- I would take that to mean you might actually get bumped up to head stooge, earning a whopping $5.50 per article. Be still my heart -- wait. Let's say it in this person's vernacular -- Be STILL my HEART!!!

See? Wasn't it easier to simply throw up?

Via Jenn Mattern's Freelance Writing Jobs page, here's a better way to spend your talent:

Ghostwriter / Ghostblogger Needed

Date Added: 08/12/2014
Job Category: Ghostwriting
Hiring Company: Unknown
Location: San Diego
Local candidates only? No

Budget (per post / page / document): $50 - 100 (SEMI-PRO)

An individual is looking for a ghostwriter to help them get their name out there on the Web through blogging, guest posting, and other types of ghostwritten articles to be published under the client's name. Pay is $20-100 per post depending on where you can have them published (including blogs you own).

Note: These posts are not meant to be directly promotional in nature, will not serve as endorsements, and will done be done for backlink building / SEO (no links are required in any of the articles).

I wouldn't do the gig for $20, but I would consider it for $100. The point is to look more deeply into the offer in front of you. Apply the BS Litmus Test, and trust your gut a little.

Writers, what lousy offers have you seen? What's the worst you've ever been offered?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

4 Questions to Help You Find Freelance Purpose

What I'm listening to: Your Long Journey by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss

It's been a good start to the week. After a busy, enjoyable weekend, I sat down on Monday with just one project in front of me, but with a few client calls to prepare for. It was nice to have the luxury to really delve into the companies and do some research.

Recently, I changed my letter of introduction (LOI) to get a little more personal. One of the changes I made was to accentuate my background in relation to their needs. It's Marketing 101 - what I learned in college - but it's the biggest mistake people make. They talk at their customers, not with them.

But part of that change included showcasing my purpose. Not my purpose for writing, but my business purpose. I'm there to help companies in the insurance and risk management industries find new clients, impart information, and improve the message. That's my purpose. I may not state it verbatim, but I make sure that message is in every note I send to new clients.

So what's your purpose? Don't know? Don't sweat it -- I didn't know for years myself. It took my sitting down and asking myself what I wanted before I could say with certainty the purpose that found me is the one I want.

You may get lucky like that, too. Maybe your purpose landed in your lap. Or maybe you're lucky because you're doing what the rest of the writing world is doing and actually scoring gigs/making money. Or not. If not, try answering these questions:

1. What kind of writing do you gravitate toward? Stop thinking in terms of what you think you should be doing. What do you read? What are you talking about after you read it? Is literary fiction your passion or are you more of a mechanic wanna-be? Do you enjoy writing marketing copy? You don't have to be expert -- just interested enough to want to pursue it further.

2. How would you define your career to this point? Pretend you're writing a summary for your resume. What things would you want to list first? Chances are, that's an area you're inclined to enjoy. Follow it.

3. What one thing you've written has made you most proud? There's always something that stands out as a moment you'd like to repeat, be it that time you were published in Elle or when you knocked that client brochure out of the park. Take cues from the things you are proud of. Those are things you've done well and apparently love doing.

4. What would you enjoy learning more about? For me, this was a pivotal question. I fell into this specialty, but once I was in, I really enjoyed it. I wanted to know more. It intrigued me. What one thing have you done or dreamed of doing that you'd enjoy knowing even more about?

Your purpose today isn't necessarily the purpose you'll have next year or even next decade. Times change, as do people, and you may find an area that excites you even more.

Writers, if you were to sum up your purpose in one sentence, what would it read?

Friday, August 22, 2014

Free Advice Friday: Using Writing Contracts to Nail Down Projects

What I'm reading: Strip Jack by Ian Rankin
What's on the iPod: Just Another by Pete Yorn

Yesterday was a bit of a blur. I sat down to accomplish something. Well, I managed my marketing and a little editing on my poetry. Nothing more. There's a fatigue running through me that can only be thyroid-related. Good thing I have an appointment in two weeks. I just hope I'm awake for it.

There's a discussion on a LinkedIn forum I help moderate about managing client expectations. The original poster was lamenting what she thought were mistakes made. I'm not so sure. See, while we writers do make mistakes sometimes, most of us are pretty good at dotting our I's and crossing our T's. I suspect in her case, as in quite a few cases, the problem was unequal expectations -- she expected one thing, the client expected the other.

Ineffective communication is the death of many good client relationships.

Sometimes there's nothing you can do. Not every client is understandable, and not every writer can interpret "We want something different" into a winning project (well, probably no writer can do anything with that without further direction or information). For those times, give yourself a pass. Chalk it up to you can't please every writing client every time.

For those other times when it's more a matter of not asking enough questions (or the right questions), we writers do have options. For me, I like to use both the formal project proposal and the writing contract for spelling out projects and getting on paper exactly what's expected. Here are some areas in the contract where you can both get it in writing and cover your arse should they decide suddenly that a new direction is in order:

The Scope of Work: It's at the beginning of my contract, right under the intro to who's who. My phrasing looks like this:
  1. In the Client’s estimation, the project requires that the Contractor …. PROJECT DETAILS HERE.  The Contractor will provide the following services: PROJECT DETAILS HERE. Research will be provided at the Contractor’s discretion.
Right there where it says "project details here" you fill in everything you expect to be working on. Don't skip any details. For example, suppose you're writing a course for a client. You might want to use this type of language: 
  1. In the Client’s estimation, the project requires that the Contractor write an online course. The Contractor will provide the following services: writing of a telecommunications certification training course. Client will ensure compliance with accreditation requirements. Research will be provided by the Contractor.
That section shows who is responsible for what. The client can't say he didn't know you weren't ensuring compliance for him because it's right there in the contract.

Project Objectives and Deliverables: Much like the Scope of Work, this section spells out exactly what you're going to be doing. In some cases, I like to include mention of project details twice in contracts (not always, but with complicated projects, it's essential). I spell out the client objectives as I've interpreted them, and I include exactly what I'll be doing. For example, our telecommunications course might look like this:

Create six chapters, including summaries and 10-question chapter exercises, on the following topics:
  1. X
    1. point one
    2. point two
    3. point three
  2. Y
    1. point one
    2. point two
    3. point three
  3. Z
    1. point one
    2. point two
    3. point three

Payment and Fees: This is as important as the Scope of Work and Project Details sections. Communicate very clearly to your clients what your payment process is, when you expect payment, and what you're charging. If they sign it, they're bound to it. So are you, so make sure you estimate wisely.

Note: for times when you're giving an estimate and don't know, you may want to use a disclaimer. I use one that says something like "The Contractor’s fee for writing is $XXXX.  It is estimated that the writing process will take XX hours of the Contractor’s efforts.  If the writing process takes longer than the initial estimate the Client and Contractor may agree to extend this Agreement with a simple addendum to this Agreement. The Contractor’s hourly rate for additional work is $XXX." It's then clear exactly what's going to happen should you exceed that estimate. This gives both you and your client assurance that neither projects nor fees will spiral out of control.

Writers, how do you use your contracts or proposals to make sure you and your clients are on the same page?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Worthy Advice: This Job, Not That Job

What's on the iPod: The Road to Home by Amy MacDonald (including Caledonia)

I don't need a calendar to tell me September is almost here. The clients are starting to call, email, and send projects. It's going to be a busy fall, and I'm happy for it.

I was looking for something else when the Craig's List URL was auto-filled into my browser. What the heck -- let's look, I thought. The result: this week's This Job, Not That Job contender.

Receive 6 letters in the mail, Make $100
Is your home or office address located near the center of Philadelphia?

Make $100 by receiving 6 letters in the mail.

Basically you receive 6 letters in the mail and then you get paid by just telling (or texting) me the information on them by phone.

Thank you for your time!

--- $100, you say? Great! Easy work, too. It's not even writing. And right there is the problem. Why is this posted in the Writing Gigs section? Because someone is looking for a desperate soul. Yes, we've been painted as desperate. You can thank every desperate freelancer, new or otherwise, for that distinction.

Let's get to why this sucks so badly:

What's contained in these letters exactly? Are they going to be from a jilted lover? An attorney? A tax entity? You don't know. THAT is what's wrong with this offer. There's no indication that while this person has their privacy guarded that your privacy will be afforded the same consideration. 

It smells of something sleazy. Really sleazy. Possibly illegal, but you won't know until you contact the person, at which point it may be too late for your own identity to be saved.

Instead, please try something like this:

Freelance Writers to Write Listicles

Freelance writers needed to create “listicles” about cities in Buzzfeed style.

We’re looking for writers who:
-can write at least four articles a week
-can write about places they have never been from an insider/local perspective
-have experience sourcing Creative Commons images
-have been working as freelancers for at least one year
-have experience writing listicles and similar online content

Pay: $100 per article

It's a bit of work and not exactly the best rate ever, but it's a better way to earn $100.

Writers, what are your limits when it comes to the jobs you'll take?

Monday, August 18, 2014

When to Follow Writer Advice (and When to Go Your Own Way)

What I'm reading: Strip Jack by Ian Rankin
What's on the iPod: Conductor by We Were Promised Jetpacks

It was nice to get away. It wasn't a long break -- 4 days -- but it was welcome. Saturday afternoon, we started the 7 1/2 hour ride. It's always made longer because we stop at our favorite place -- Strong Hearts Cafe -- in Syracuse. But so worth the added time.

I enjoyed spending time with my parents in one of my favorite places on the planet. I fished, but it wasn't the focus of the trip. The focus was spending time, unwinding, feeding the resident chipmunk, and just enjoying the outdoors. We slept in the one-room cottage with the windows wide open, and luckily only one night was too cold for that. In the main cottage, Dad got the wood stove going on Wednesday night and we played card games and laughed into the night. A perfect way to detach from electronics.

I was back on Thursday night, but I left the Away message up until today. I needed the time to wake up (that's one long drive) and catch up on emails. Wisely, I'd unsubscribed from quite a few emails over the last few weeks, so I had less to weed through.

I love the discussion that cropped up while I was away on last Wednesday's post. I knew when I posted my rant about long sales pages that it would get some dissenting opinion, especially from Jenn and Eileen, who were seeing reasons for the success of the long sales page technique. As I said then, I don't like it. Despite the arguments for it (and Eileen made a strong case for it because of the tests that have proven it effective), it's not something I feel comfortable using.

Either way, the post wasn't about the validity of the methods or people who use them, but rather about people who are out there giving bad advice or just mimicking the advice of others (and charging you for it). The message of this post is when you should follow writer advice and when you should go your own direction. And guess what? It's going to be totally up to you to try what works and forget what you don't want to follow. No one here can say what's going to work for you. You say what will. That's as it should be.

Here are some guidelines for vetting advice:

Does it come with products attached? Even if it does, that's not cause for automatically dismissing it. Look closely at the advice. Do you like what you hear already? If so, maybe sample the product, if possible, before committing your money to learning more.

Does it sound sensible to you? While people may use various methods of winning clients or negotiating or whatever the topic at hand, you may not find it sensible. That's where the next new method gets its start, if you ask me. For example, since we're talking about it, the long sales page may be the method that nets the most return today. But what about tomorrow? True, it's effective today, but what's the shelf life of something being used/abused too much? When it comes to advice, ask yourself: is the advice something you can apply to your own personality and business that won't come across stilted or forced?

Does it fit with what you do? Are you really trying to attract book publishers, or is your market more for the technology realm? Specific advice isn't one-size-fits-all. Look for unique differences and how they would translate to your business before accepting the advice verbatim.

Is the person giving advice trustworthy? I don't think I need to tell you there are people out there whose main objective is to earn money from you. There are people who slap together webinars, e-books, and other products with little thought toward the content and more thought to how to repackage and resell. Do you trust that the person advising you has your interests ahead of their own? What background does the person have? How involved are they in the very thing they're attempting to advise you on?

Is it something you can see yourself doing? If you can imagine that advice fitting into your life and you being able to replicate it with success, then it's for you. If you see any reason why it may not work -- you'd have to put too much money or effort into it, for example -- look for ways to amend the advice, or forget it.

Writers, how do you vet writing advice?

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

7 Lousy Marketing Tactics

What I'm hearing: Rain on a tin roof, a loon in the bay....

Today I'll be waking up to the sounds of birds, frogs, and maybe some rain. The cottage I sleep in (there are two on my parents' property) is a one-room place with a tin roof. There are no amenities beyond the four windows and a screen door. And that's all I need.

Before I left, I was having an email conversation about false prophets. On one forum, there was a lot of vitriol aimed at one self-professed expert. Some of the reasons weren't really reasons -- this particular prophet had poo-pooed content mill work, which frankly I have to agree with because of what those clips do to your reputation. However, there was plenty of distaste for some of the expert's tactics -- most of which had to do with marketing.

See, it's a fine line to walk between professing your stance on a particular business practice and tying it in with your shiny new webinar or course designed to teach "the right way." In most cases, it's a horrible, transparently bad sales tactic.

And yet, those aren't the only marketing sins some writing gurus are committing. Here are a few that get under my skin:

Long sales pages. I don't know where anyone got the idea that a sales page that goes on forever is A) something anyone wants to read, B) a good idea at all, or C) effective at anything other than boring the hell out of everyone who attempts to read it. No. No. And NO. We're writers: our job is to be concise and clear. Present it and wrap it up, people. Please.

Thinly veiled sales pitches. The biggest complaint in that forum thread I'd read was the helpful advice directly coupled with a course or webinar costing hundreds. In one case, a poster commented that she'd seen an offer just under $1K. It's not hard for intelligent people to draw a straight line from your helpfulness to Bullshitville. From what I'd read, these writers were not only not buying, but not thinking too highly of the person making the offer.

Not practicing what you preach. It's not too difficult to see when your "instructor" hasn't done the work they're teaching in ages or, even worse, at all. Why would I take a course in magazine writing from someone who writes for blogs? Likewise taking a fiction writing course from someone who's written only corporate stuff.

Dangling the fake carrot. It's a fairly useless, and transparent, sales tactic to send out notices that your course is nearly sold out or that you have no seats left (or just two, which seems to be a common claim). Phony waiting lists or threats that you're about to miss the boat may work once, but when you see it from the same people all the time....yea, it's not true.

Always selling in every single interaction. Come on, give it a rest already. Don't be that person no one can have an intelligent conversation with because you're too busy trying to find the "angle" that will pull money from their pockets. I've seen it in comments left by some of the worst offenders. "Over on MY site, you'll see I've written about this extensively" or "I was just saying this to someone in MY course, which still has some openings...." Most of us with brains have stopped listening.

Incessantly patting yourself on the back. When was the last time the self-titled expert gave a shout-out to someone who isn't an affiliate or isn't going to further the expert's career? If you pay attention to the way in which people talk or write, including linking to their own content instead of sharing the love, you'll figure out who's in it for themselves.

Promising wealth -- at a price. It's the old snake oil sales tactic: it's so easy to do it, but you have to buy this in order to find out how easy it is. Look, there are gurus out there who really do know what they're doing, and they're working at it every day. Those are the people you want to buy from. Those who are constantly selling and promising? Look closely. What have they done lately?

Writers, what can you add to the list?
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