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Thursday, January 28, 2016

Freelance Writing in 2016: How to Make Your Money

Ahhhhh.... that's the sound of a busy writer finally taking a holiday. Today, I was outside and walking and taking in sights while on vacay. Tomorrow, more of the same.

I was talking with my daughter recently (a moment ago, actually) and I asked her "If you were a freelance writer, what question would you ask?"

Her response: "How do I make my money?"

Her answer is today's post. In fact, that's the whole reason I asked her. I'm on vacation. The well is dry because hey, I'm on vacation.

So how do you make your money? Through clients, of course. But there's more to it than that. In order to make money, clients have to know a few things, starting with knowing you exist.

Here's a quick-and-dirty method of getting your name out there right now:
  • Hit social media. Start following people who are in the position to hire you. Use hash tags. Start Twitter chats. Join LinkedIn groups where clients are hanging out. Listen, respond, post interesting things.
  • Offer a free report. Give them something valuable in exchange for their email address. Blast out on social media the availability of your report. Put up a landing page on which they can get their own copy. 
  • Send an occasional newsletter/email. Please, make it occasional. I stopped following a respected colleague because the emails were every day. And while many of them were for free things, it just felt oppressive.
  • Send snail mail. How about a letter of introduction with your brochure? Right now, it gets much more attention than one more email.
So now you have their attention. How do you get them to hire you?
  • Start with a conversation. Follow up your snail mail with a phone call. Create a script that gets a conversation going, not pitches about how fabulous you are. Make sure to ask what kinds of communication projects are they hoping to accomplish this year. Don't sell on the first date unless they lead you directly into that conversation.
  • Offer valuable skills. It's not enough to tell them you have skills they need. Show them how those skills will help them.
  • Stay in touch. Part of having a network (that's what you're building here) is nurturing it. That means the occasional note or email asking how they are, sharing something that might interest them, or asking how that project/milestone went. Too many times we forget to treat our network contacts like people. Stop selling and start being friendly.
So a client has hired you. How are you going to make your money?
  • Charge fairly. And that means fairly from both sides of the equation. Never undercut your price just to get the business.
  • Work professionally. That means with a contract/statement of work and by meeting deadlines and promised outcomes. Bill immediately and track invoices. Have an invoicing system to avoid the late payer/nonpayer.
  • Continue making connections. Connect with someone every day. Market, network, chat or tweet with someone who's in a position to hire you, even if they may never do so. You never really know that, do you? Today's dead end could well be tomorrow's highest paying client.
  • Ask for referrals and testimonials. You've pleased them. Show would-be clients why you're a safe gamble by getting that happy client's kudos in writing.
Writers, how do you make your money?

Monday, January 25, 2016

6 Hacks to Increase Your Freelance Writing Productivity

What I'm reading: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami
What I'm listening to: Blackstar by David Bowie

Snow.

That was the focus of my weekend, at least until yesterday when the sun came out. Well no, even then. It all had to be moved. And there is a lot -- about 31 inches of it. I got halfway through the driveway when I gave up. We have a long driveway and two snow shovels.

I spent the weekend checking the blog, too. Some of you may have noticed the site wasn't working Friday morning. A hacker managed to get in (I thought my password was strong, too) and bring things down. Jenn Mattern to the rescue -- not only did she fix it quickly, but Jenn reported it to Google and sent over the source code just in case anything can be gleaned from it. Hopefully she got more response from Google than I did. No acknowledgement whatsoever.

Time to move the blog to Wordpress.

Because I spent Friday morning trying to sort out malware scans and help Jenn (which means do the fretting and thank God Jenn knows what she's doing), I had to spend the afternoon catching up on work. Luckily, I have my system, which keeps me on track.

And we freelance writers need our systems, don't we? Routines are, for me at least, the way we keep up with the work. Anyone who's ever juggled three or more projects at a time knows the value of time. So how do we build our routines around capturing more productivity?

With a few simple hacks.

1. Revert to the outline. As much as I hate outlining (really hate it), I've created my own sort of pseudo-outline that helps me get the job done faster. As you think of your questions for whatever project you're doing, think of them as subheads. For example, an article I did on pandemics asked the following questions: What is a pandemic? How is it affecting insurance companies (the audience)? What should insurance companies be doing? Those translated into these subheads: Pandemic Defined, How Insurers Respond, Best Practices.
How this saves time: you spend less time going back to your sources for that missing piece of info.

2. Put research first on the list. And limit it to an hour or two. Beyond that, you're spinning your wheels (and that's your cue to find an expert who can answer that particular point).Try digging up statistics and learning about the topic long before you even get the questions written. There could be plenty of information out there already that negates one question and brings up another. (Plus, you can find any number of experts for your articles in already-published articles.)
How this saves time: you avoid digging for facts that may not be relevant later, and you avoid being sucked into surfing when you should be working.

3. Break the work into segments. When I had seven projects in one month (and then when the eighth one came in), I had to be on top of my scheduling. When this happens to you, segment off the work in hour increments. Schedule it on your calendar, complete with pop-up reminders. Make sure you schedule 10-15 minute breaks, too.
How this saves time: your brain stops trying to do those seven projects at once, and you give yourself permission to forget the others and concentrate on what's in front of you.

4. Ignore the phone. And while you're at it, turn off your email program and avoid your social media accounts. Disconnect long enough to get some serious work done. Use your breaks to get your Twitter fix.
How this saves time: you avoid interruptions in your train of thought and your momentum.

5. Use a timer. You'd be surprised how little of your time is spent on product work. Get a simple timer. You're more apt to stick with your project if you look up and realize you've spent just 25 minutes on your project.
How this saves time: it's like a little reminder that you're wasting time each time you have to pause the timer.

6. Adjust your work space. The minute I turned my desk away from the wall facing into the room, my productivity shot through the roof. Whose wouldn't? I was staring at a beige wall before, and now I'm looking at bookshelves and artwork.
How this saves time: you want to sit in an atmosphere you enjoy, and the view you create can also increase your creativity.

7. Schedule your admin work. That pile of papers sitting on your desk (or worse, on the floor beside it) is a distraction. It's saying "You haven't dealt with this yet." Schedule five minutes in your day to sort invoices, papers, and notes.
How this saves time: you're not going to keep digging for notes, tripping over papers, or feeling like you just don't have the time to get it all done.

8.  End your day with planning. Don't skip this step. It's the easiest way to keep yourself on track and make the most of your time going forward.
How this saves time: when you sit down the next day, you spend no time wondering what to work on first.

Writers, how do you improve your productivity?
What one thing have you changed that's made the most impact?

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Freelance Writing Biz Fix: Creating a Virtual Workspace

What I'm listening to: Lola by The Kinks

What a week.

I started with two projects and a new client call. So far, I'm up to two more projects and two more new client calls -- none of which are happening until after I return from vacation.

I did get a bit of work done, and thanks to pushing back on client requests, I may finally take a vacation that doesn't involve my working on a project up until the time I need to leave for the airport.

My husband is still on his long vacation, though he worked through it nearly every day. Yesterday he sat down to do an hour of work. However, his work-issued laptop disagreed.

As I watched my husband try yet again to reboot a laptop that clearly didn't want to reboot, I thanked my maker. I'd gone virtual a few years ago, and this incident was a reminder why it's a smart idea.

So what goes into a freelance writer's virtual work space? Here's what I've done to keep files off fickle hard drives:

Online storage. It's a must. If you use Microsoft Office and you've upgraded to their 365 package, the default save setting is already set on the OneDrive storage option. (Disclosure: I do not get anything for promoting Microsoft products. Wish I did -- I'd have made a fortune by now.) Otherwise, you have any number of options, including JustCloud ("free" for a short time, but then a paid service), Carbonite, SugarSync, iDrive and Google. Shop around -- prices vary widely.

Email. Gmail is most frequently the email of choice. However, don't forget about Outlook.com, formerly Hotmail, which is another good alternative. The benefits of having your email program housed online -- you  never have to panic when you're working remotely and need to see that email from a month ago. Other options include AOL Mail, Mail.com, and Yahoo! mail. Also, look for email options that come with or can be purchased through Wordpress or your web host.

Calendar. This is my goal this year -- to move everything from a desktop calendar to a virtual one. I had that functionality until Google stopped supporting the Outlook sync (it's why Google is not my favorite choice here -- won't sync on my phone with my Outlook calendar). Besides Google, you have plenty of choices, including Microsoft Calendar, Zoho, 30Boxes, Keep&Share, and Yahoo!

Collaboration/project management tools. Clearly, Google Drive rules this space. However, I'm a fan of Trello, Evernote, OneNote, and Slack (Evernote being the jewel in the crown, in my opinion).

Phone. And why not? VoIP is often a clearer reception than land lines or cell phones, and you can avoid being found by telemarketers. Google Voice even lets you choose your own phone number. Other options include Skype, Google Hangouts (why not?), and MagicApp (for your cell phone). A relative told me about Ooma, but don't forget MagicJack, Globphone, Nextiva, Vonage or RingCentral.

Online work spaces. I'm a Microsoft Office Live convert, but there are other options, such as Google Drive, Zoho Writer, OnlyOffice, Live Writer, and Writer to name a few.

Other online tools exist, such as accounting and marketing tools as well as customer management programs. It all depends on how virtual you'd like your freelance writing business to become.

Writers, how virtual is your freelance writing business?
Do you intend to increase or decrease your level of online business this year?
What other functions of your freelance writing business are virtual?

Monday, January 18, 2016

3 Freelance Writing Trends to Avoid in 2016

What I'm listening to: Sweet Jane by Lou Reed

Maybe it's the new calendar that brings out the crazy freelance writing advice I've seen lately. I'm not talking about the usual weird advice, such as how you must do this or you never should do that, or my all-time biggest pet peeve: "Freelance writing is dead" or some equally ridiculous pronouncement. (The latest one I saw said "Investigative journalism is dead" -- tell that to The Atlantic.)

I'm talking about bloggers, forum posters, you name it, who attempt to push us in one direction because "They say the old way is dead." Who "they" are remains a mystery. That vague reference to a mythical "they" is reason enough for me to dismiss anyone's advice. Give me facts or stop bothering me.

I won't say the trends aren't real -- most of them are, and they have some basis in fact. That to me is the dangerous part. People tend to believe because it seems logical or it can be proven to be some sort of trend.

That doesn't mean it fits with our writing or with our freelance clients' needs. Trends don't apply to everyone or every situation. I'm not going to stop writing the way my clients want me to write because of someone's untested observation made on a blog or forum.

And they're not going to stop spewing blanket advice, either.

So here are three I've seen lately that stand out as trends that, if adopted verbatim, could cause a sizable hit to the freelance writer's bottom line:

Long-form blog posts. It's funny how quickly minds change. Just a few years ago, freelance writers everywhere were touting the short-form blog post. Guess what? These same proponents are now going on about how long-form is the only way to drive real traffic (and you know me -- I think absolutes are a clear sign of bandwagon jumpers). Blog posts should be as long as they need to be. If freelance writers start cramming content in just to meet some arbitrary length requirement (set by whom, exactly?), the message suffers.

Avoiding ghostwriting work. Oh, yes they said it. Freelance writers who think we'll write ourselves into an empty corner believe ghostwriting doesn't pay well and can't be used as a clip. Wrong on both counts -- ghostwriting has been some of my most lucrative work. Also, as long as you redact the client's name/identifying, show a small part of the piece, and ask for permission to use it as a clip only, you're able to claim the experience. It's okay also to let the prospective writing client know you're unable to share due to NDA concerns. I've done it, and it's been fine.

Allowing yourself to be pushed into a niche. Do niche writers make more money? That depends on the writer, doesn't it? I know plenty of generalists who absolute rock the freelance writing career. I know also a number of niche writers who simply can't get their shit together. Ignore the "You must have a niche" or worse, the "You must have a micro-niche" pushers. Have one if you want one. You won't succeed if you don't like it.

Writers, what trends have you seen that have left you shaking your head?
What examples can you give of trends that are worth looking into?

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Freelance Marketing in 2016: Following Up

What I'm listening to: Space Oddity by David Bowie

Know what I love best about this freelance writing career? The ability to make any day the day to plan out the next twelve months. So if you're a little late to the planning phase of your freelance writing business, today is your day. Well, every day is, but I digress.

Today in our Freelance Marketing in 2016 series, we're talking about following up.

I know, you're fully aware that you have to follow up on your marketing messages. But do you? If not, here's a bit of info that might help change your approach: an Association of Sales Executives study shows that 81% of all sales occur on or after the fifth contact.

That one note you sent to your ideal client isn't going to cut it.

Following up on your own marketing isn't hard. It takes much less time than it takes to reach out in the first place. It's no more complicated than this simple exercise:

  1. When you're marketing, open Excel or Word.
  2. When you send out a note/make a call/send a brochure, write down to whom it went, what day you contacted them, and how you contacted them. Number your list or designate somehow the people you contacted on a particular day. For example, you contacted four people on 1/4/16, you could designate that in blue highlight.
  3. Open Outlook. Count out two weeks from that date. Open an appointment at any time that day. "Invite" yourself to follow up with the "blue" group on that day.
  4. When the day comes, do it. Between now and that day, make note on your spreadsheet or document any responses and what they were. 
  5. Open Outlook again. Count out four more weeks. Repeat step 4.
  6. Repeat entire process each day.
Not hard at all.

So what to say on your follow-up? Some version of this could work:

Hi Sandra,

I hope you're well. Just following up on my note/call/email from a few weeks ago. Do you have any questions? Would you have time for a ten-minute call? I'd like to hear more about what you're working on, what your company's immediate needs are, and what I can do to bring the most value to you.

May I give you a call this week?

For the subsequent follow-up correspondence, try mixing it up. One time you can send an interesting article. The next time you might want to invite them to take a survey. Another time, ask them if they're interested in getting your e-newsletter or report. Keep the communication brief, relevant, and useful.

Writers, how often do you remember to follow up?
What's the biggest stumbling block for you? How have you worked around that?

Monday, January 11, 2016

Freelance Marketing in 2016: Short-term and Long-term Goal Setting

What I'm listening to: Don't Stop Believin' by Journey

Here we are -- the second full week of January. By now, plenty of New Year's resolutions have been forgotten, and you're looking at more of the same kind of business-as-usual as you had last year. As you wait for that one client who will make your earnings dreams come true, hope replaces planning.

Not anymore. Not on this blog, at least.

Continuing our Freelance Marketing in 2016 series, let's look at one of the real reasons your resolutions get you nowhere. It's a simple reason, and one that's just as simple to remedy.

Planning, or rather lack of planning.

No big surprise, right? Sure, you wanted to earn $100,000 this year, but January isn't the right time, you say. And February, well, clients are busy catching up on other work. March, they're probably starting to attend conferences, and April....

There's an excuse for every month, isn't there? It's that kind of excuse-making that keeps struggling writers struggling.

Stop it right now.

Here's the five-minute, easy-to-tackle method for setting goals. As you're writing, jot down every idea that comes to mind. We're brainstorming. You can self-edit later.

  1. Get a piece of paper or open a fresh Word document.
  2. Write down what you want your business to achieve over the next year (don't let the calendar stymie you -- today is your New Year's day). Dream big. You want to push beyond the status quo, not simply repeat it.
  3. Next, write down a list of things you need to do in order to do that. What's most important right now? Is it creating brand awareness? Reaching a new customer segment? Positioning yourself as a go-to source in your chosen specialty? 
  4. Now write down what you need to do monthly in order to achieve your annual goal. How much marketing? How much client research? How many client prospects do you need to touch base with each month? How many existing clients will you reach out to, and how often?
  5. Now take those monthly action items and create a goal around them. "I need to talk with six new clients and sell to one existing client every month." Okay, so that means you need to contact new people every week by email, phone, letter, social media... you choose. Decide how many times per week you'll do this.
  6. Open your calendar. Schedule these things. In fact, most calendar apps should have the ability to set recurring appointments. Use it. Make sure to set the reminder so you won't forget.
  7. Don't forget to review your rates. How much are you charging? Is it enough to help you reach your annual goal? Do some math -- if your goal is to get that $100K in one year, you're not going to do it charging $50 an hour. Also, is your rate in line with your target client? Are they going to take you seriously or are you trying to sell to bargain hunters who can't possibly pay what you're charging? Maybe your client isn't the one you think it is. Go back and define your target client again.

Also, do revisit this process whenever you feel your business going stale. Maybe your goals were too ambitious, or maybe you've put a plan in place that leaves no time for actual writing. If something isn't working, try again.

Writers, do you set annual goals?
How does your process differ?
What would you say is the most important aspect of reaching long-term goals? Short-term goals?

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Freelance Marketing in 2016: Know Your Market

What I'm reading: The Harvest Gypsies by John Steinbeck
What I'm listening to: Rigoletto: Questa O Quella by Luciano Pavarotti


It's been a good first week back. I'm working on three projects from two clients, and I delivered a first draft yesterday. Today, more of the same. Plus it's time for me to pick up the marketing -- there's a conference in April, and I want to get some meetings scheduled.

Because it's the beginning of the month (well, it was a few days ago), I'm once again looking at the marketing plan. It's something I try to do every month. I don't always succeed, but making it part of the monthly assessment routine helps (it's why I include the "Bottom Line" section each month).

But I need more than that, as does every freelance writer. Action begins with planning.

I thought it would be useful to dedicate the next few posts to ways of improving the marketing plan, especially since the new year is so squeaky clean yet and we're still basking in the glow of possibility. Putting together a marketing plan can be an involved examination of your freelance writing business, or it can be a look at one or more aspects of how you're operating, just to look for missed opportunities.

Most writers opt for the latter approach. That's fine, but only if you've done a more in-depth analysis in the past. Otherwise, you could be tweaking a plan that's going out to the wrong people or the wrong market.

So let's start with knowing who your market is.

Targeted clients are those people who are most willing or likely to buy your services. If you're targeting consumers, you're going to want to know their age, gender, interests, and maybe geographic location. If you're targeting other businesses, the info you need would be different. Since most of us freelance for businesses, let's concentrate on that segment.

Here's what you need to know about your target market:

  • How big is the company? What's their product or service? Company size doesn't always indicate a good client, but it helps you narrow down those who may have the funds to hire you. Again, not written in stone -- some of my best clients are sole proprietors.
  • What's their problem? What need do they have? Every company has a particular pain point -- maybe they can't crack into a particular demographic or they are always looking like they're chasing the leader in the industry. Knowing what keeps them up at night helps with understanding where you can benefit their business. 
  • Who is their customer or audience? Look at current marketing info to determine the demographic. Are they selling to consumers or other businesses? Small entities or global ones? Are their consumers young professionals or retired women? It's all there in their marketing info. If it isn't, they need you much more than they realize.
  • How are they reaching their customers? Also, how are those efforts working? You can figure that out by the look/feel of their marketing pieces, website, and conference presence, if it applies.
  • What are they saying on social media? What information do they put out regularly? If they're putting out newsletters, releases, or showing up regularly on social media, they've just made your research that much easier. Listen to what they're saying and where they're saying it. That's the key to how to approach them.
If you need a quick tutorial on defining your target market, try existing clients. Ask the same questions and study the answers. Your ideal client is one who will buy from you. Current clients provide a wealth of information on what needs you can market to, what made them buy, and what keeps them coming back.

Writers, what process do you use to define your target market?
How often do you revisit your analysis? How has your client changed over the years?

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