Search the Archives

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Writers Worth: The Cost of Laziness


Writers Worth Month is a month thanks to one person -- Paula Hendrickson.

Paula has been a great supporter and superb cheerleader for the writers worth concept. She's done everything from push encourage me to expand Writers Worth to taking over when I landed in the hospital smack in the middle of the month of May (2013). When she first suggested a month of posts, I balked. At that point, I had been writing the majority of them, so the idea of 20 days' worth of posts on one topic didn't appeal. I didn't think I could bring a fresh perspective to it for that long.

Thankfully, Paula is not only tenacious, but willing to jump in and help. This year, she reminds us of why being like her is a hell of a lot better than sitting back and waiting for work to come to us.


The High Cost of Laziness
by Paula Hendrickson

About six months ago, someone I know asked if I’d like to contribute a few blog posts to her company’s consumer-facing website. She warned me the pay wouldn’t be great, but it was straightforward work. I thought it might be fun, and since no interviews were required it was light work I could easily fit into my schedule.

With an assignment letter in place, I wrote my first post and my friend sent the formal paperwork along with a note asking if I’d be open to joining Upwork to help streamline the process. Her bosses wanted to be able to pay by credit card, and Upwork would allow them to do so.

I hadn’t heard of Upwork, so I looked at the site. At the end of the FAQ, under “How Much Does Upwork Cost,” it says, “It’s free to join Upwork. Once you begin doing freelance work with a client on our platform, we deduct a 10% fee from each payment.”

Woah, Nelly!

This middleman website wants to take 10% of my hard-earned dollars? For what? It’s not as if they found the client for me, negotiated terms, or did anything an agent or manager would do to earn 10% of my fees.

Luckily it wasn’t a deal breaker, but I was told it would take longer to be paid by check. (It did.) Thankfully I wasn’t so hard up for cash to even consider forking over 10% of my earnings just to be paid faster — and frankly, if the company wanted to pay by credit card, they could do that via PayPal, which only charges the recipient 2.9% plus a 30¢ transaction fee.

But some writers are so desperate for quick cash or a clip that they’re easy prey for companies saying they’ll help connect them with potential clients, streamline the business side of things, or provide them with that fabled “exposure” — at a price.

Newsflash: exposure doesn’t pay the bills.

I don’t mean to pick on Upworks, which I later discovered is really just a shiny new brand name for what used to be called Elance and Odesk. Sure, technically speaking they provide a service, but is it a service you really need?

Not if you take charge of your career by putting forth a little effort to find your own clients.

Another lazy way people try to find clients? Contributor networks. Some writers swear by them, but I can’t see why—unless they’re so unsure of their talent and afraid of rejection that they’re terrified to directly approach editors.

Writers who are accepted into some of these networks get regular updates about topics editors are looking to cover, and without benefit of an actual assignment, each writer can spend hours writing an article, hoping it might be chosen for publication from countless other submissions. Some networks pay a flat fee, some pay per impression, and some offer a combination of the two.

Sorry, but that sounds more like a writing competition than a business model.

Worse yet, the editors probably have dozens of articles to choose from, which means your odds of getting paid are even lower than if you’d queried an editor with a story idea and were asked to write it on spec.

From what I’ve seen, most contributor networks are pretty vague about pay rates. Some won’t even divulge how much—or little—they pay.

A friend of mine freelances on the side for fun, not profit, because she has a full-time job that pays the bills. She writes a lot of articles for the online portal of a well-known publication, and it works for her. According to some online sources, just a couple years ago the print edition was paying well over $1/word. But for digital articles, the current stated pay rate is $1.50-$2 per every 1,000 ad impressions.

That means to get paid, the writers need to market and promote their posts, too. That may be a smart, cost-saving, content-generating business model for the publishers, but it’s not sustainable for writers. Not if they want to earn a living.

Instead of squandering time writing on spec—especially for major titles’ lower-paying online editions—why not pitch your original ideas to better-paying markets, or to a contributor network’s print edition?

Sure, maybe you can break into a market through a contributor’s network. But ask yourself: If the editor is used to paying a fraction of a penny per impression for my online articles, why would they pay me $1/ word to write for their actual magazine?

As usual, it all comes down to knowing your own worth.

Once you know your worth as a writer, you’ll see how costly the lazy approach to finding new markets and clients can be.

You don’t need a middleman, and you don’t need to devalue your talent by joining the feeding frenzy of a talent pool filled with people who think writing on spec is a productive use of time.

This blog’s archive is loaded of free, usable tips on finding good clients. Please take advantage of Lori’s sage advice. You’re worth it.

Paula Hendrickson is a freelance writer covering television, business, and the business of television for publications including Emmy, Variety, CableFax, and PromaxBDA Brief. She also provides copywriting, editing, and blogging services for a select group of clients. When her new puppy allows, Paula also enjoys writing about her cooking and crafty endeavors at CreateFromScratch.wordpress.com. Her Twitter handle is @P_Hendrickson

Writers, how have you seen laziness claim other writers' careers?
How do you overcome your own lack of motivation?

Monday, May 02, 2016

Writers Worth: Guest Posting 101

When I asked Jenn Mattern for a guest post, I knew it would be a good one. Jenn is one of my offline buddies, one must-have part of a small group of writer friends who share everything from frustration to fun stuff.

But that's not why I knew it would be good. I knew because Jenn is a dynamic, talented writer and business owner (heavy emphasis on the latter) who has one of the top blogs and businesses in the writing space. She has mad skillz and she shares them with fellow freelancers.

For the audio version of Jenn's post, click below. Otherwise, keep scrolling.





The Right Way to Use Guest Posts to Promote Your Freelance Writing Services

 by Jennifer Mattern

I know. I know. You hate it when people speak in absolutes like there being a "right" and "wrong" way to do something. So do I.

Now get over it.

Today we're talking about guest posting. And when it comes to using guest posts to promote your freelance writing services, there are "right" and "wrong" ways to go about it.

Unfortunately I see freelancers go about guest posting the "wrong" way far too often. I want to make sure you're not one of them.

What Are Guest Posts?
This is the fundamental problem with freelance writers and guest posts -- writers often don't understand what guest posts actually are.

If you're one of those writers, it's not your fault. Most self-proclaimed "experts" on the topic teach writers about bastardized versions of this tool, such as blog posts written largely as payment for backlinks to manipulate search engine rankings. Thank you internet marketers!

Let's clear things up. We'll start with some history.

Simply put, guest posts are an old school public relations tactic that made a leap to the blogging medium.

This PR tactic started out mostly in trade publications where executives and other industry leaders would submit free articles in order to be read by other industry insiders. This is still common practice.

These guest contributions, when handled correctly, are never directly self-promotional. But they do often include a short bio for the author at the end, or at least a mention of the author's title and the company they represent.

These articles are about exposure. They're about building and maintaining a reputation in one's industry. And they're about thought leadership, as much as I despise that buzzword.

These are experienced professionals (or ghostwriters working with them) with real insight to share with colleagues and sometimes potential clients. They aren't newbies. And they aren't people who directly make their money writing this kind of content.

That's an important point. These publications that accept guest submissions from industry insiders generally don't pay for them. Submissions are about PR for the contributor's company (or for them individually). It's about reaching a niche audience or securing other media coverage, clients, book sales, or interviews down the road.

These same publications generally do pay their freelance contributors -- a completely different animal. They know the difference between industry insiders looking to get their names and ideas out there as a PR tactic and professional writers who put time into researching a topic and interviewing experts in an unbiased way before writing articles as their job or business.

This is a distinction often lost when it comes to guest posting today with less-than-transparent marketers advertising freelance assignments as "paid guest posts." But we'll come back to the issue of "paid guest posts" later.

In the meantime, I know what some of you might be thinking. "Screw PR. Freelance writers shouldn't write for exposure." Or better: "People die from exposure," you might say on one of your snarkier days (been there!).

Donning the Right Hat
Here's the thing. Writers often have a difficult time separating guest posts from work that should be paid for. In the case of business owners and executives, visibility and thought leadership are very appropriate motivation. And publications generally give those contributors at least a little more freedom in what they write than a freelancer would have.

In the latter case, when you're freelancing (and the publication tends to exert more control over the assignment, sources, edit requests, and other article details), exposure is not an adequate substitute for payment.

Some writers think they should be paid for every word they commit to paper (or their screen). But that's utter bullsh*t.

You're a business owner. And just like any other business owner, you have to promote yourself and your services.

That includes using a variety of marketing and PR tactics, many of which involve writing. And you need to learn when to wear your freelancer hat (when you should be paid fairly for your writing) and when to don your business owner hat (where unpaid writing isn't just OK; it's normal).

For example, as a business owner, you don't (and shouldn't) get paid for writing the copy for your professional website. You don't (and shouldn't) get paid for writing email marketing copy or query letters targeting your prospects. And you don't (and shouldn't) get paid for writing guest posts that are designed to promote your services. The reward is in the paying clients you land as a result of that writing.

Can Guest Posting Really Help You Land Freelance Writing Gigs?
In theory, when you write guest posts for other blogs and websites, it's supposed to get your name out there and help you attract paying clients.

Members of your target market are supposed to see your awesome content on these third party sites. They're supposed to find your writing irresistible. Then they're supposed to click your link to your professional website (or use whatever contact information you provided in your guest post bio). Then they hire you.

In practice, writers often publish guest posts without seeing much return in freelance writing work. There are several reasons for this. Let's explore some of them and how you can get more out of your future guest post submissions.

Guest Post Mistakes (and How to Fix Them)
Here are some of the biggest mistakes I see writers make when trying to use guest posts to promote their freelance writing services. You'll also find tips on what you can do to land more gigs with your guest posts:

1. You're publishing guest posts on the wrong types of blogs.
This is hands-down the biggest guest posting mistake I see freelance writers make. They target the wrong blogs. Often, they target writing blogs.

Guess what. Most of your ideal freelance clients aren't reading blogs about writing. They're reading blogs about their own industries or types of businesses (if they read blogs at all; you should have a good grasp on their behavior before committing to any marketing or PR tactics).

The only time you should be guest posting on other writing blogs is if you have a non-freelance reason for targeting those readers, such as selling something to writers or networking with colleagues. But that's very different than guest posting to market your freelance work.

For example, what you're reading now is a guest post. It's on a writing blog. That's because I'm not looking to promote my writing services to you. I happen to run sites and a community for other writers, so it's in my interest to help newer writers. I'm also doing it from a PR perspective because I believe in the mission of Writers Worth Month. I'm not looking for freelance gigs out of it. If that's what I wanted, this would be the wrong place to target.

Instead, figure out what blogs your target clients read. That's where you should consider guest posting. Let's use Lori as an example.

If Lori wanted to land more freelance writing jobs in the insurance industry, she shouldn't submit a guest post to my blog for writers for example. She should look for blogs and other publications covering the insurance industry.

More specifically, she should target publications that reach people in the best position to make hiring decisions. That might mean independent insurance professionals, high-level executives, or marketers working within insurance companies. Big difference.

2. Your guest posts don't have an appropriate call-to-action.
If you're publishing guest posts with nothing but a bio at the end, you're screwing yourself out of freelance writing gigs. Don't just mention that you're a freelance writer. Tell readers what you want from them.

Invite them to contact you for a quote on their next project. Direct them to your newsletter sign-up page for clients and prospects. Encourage them to download a free white paper or report that tends to convert readers into paying clients.

Don't just link to your website. Make the ask!

3. You only target blogs with a huge number of readers.
Another common guest post mistake writers make is assuming more readers equals a better guest post opportunity. When you're looking to land new freelance writing clients, that often isn't the case.

The only thing that matters is targeting. You're better off reaching 1000 well-targeted readers than 100,000 poorly-targeted ones. Again, let's look at Lori as an example.

Lori writes about the insurance industry and risk management. There are plenty of high-traffic business blogs that would welcome a post on those topics. Lori could have her content in front of a massive number of readers. But most of those readers aren't going to be in a position to hire her.

If Lori's goal is to attract more freelance writing clients, she would be much better off targeting smaller, more narrowly-focused blogs that specifically target decision-makers within her industry. This would be like targeting a specialized trade magazine instead of a consumer magazine with much broader reach.

It's not about reaching the most people. It's about reaching the right people. Your billable hours are limited anyway. It doesn't take thousands upon thousands of prospects to fill your billable time at your target rate (or even more).

Also keep in mind that higher-traffic blogs often publish content more frequently. A guest post there might get buried in the archives in hours to a day. A guest post on a smaller, more focused blog might keep you in a featured position for several days, a week, or even more. Always consider publication frequency in addition to audience size.

Does that mean you should never target bigger blogs? Of course not. Just understand that they might not be the best fit when your goal is landing freelance assignments.

4. You only target blogs that offer "paid guest posts."
Earlier I brought up the issue of "paid guest posts" and how they run contrary to what guest posts actually are. That's for one simple reason: If you're being paid to write a blog post, it's not really a guest post. It's a freelance assignment. Period.

Why is this distinction important? I touched on it earlier when talking about this same PR tactic being used with trade publications. Those publications understand the difference between an industry expert submitting free content for exposure and a professional writer who should be paid for their work.

Let's touch on two of the most important differences: motivation and responsibility.

When you're paid to write a blog post (or an article in a trade magazine), that publication becomes your client. That means your responsibility is twofold: serving the interests of the readers you're writing for, and serving the interests of your client. It's not about you. Nor should it be. Your motivation is rooted in the money your client pays for that piece.

Think about any other paying client. You probably wouldn't go to them and say "How about letting me slip some blatant self-promotion into the content I write for you?" That would be tacky, and it would be unprofessional.

On the other hand, when you write content and freely distribute it to promote yourself or your business, your motivation and responsibility are a bit different. In that case, you still serve the interests of the readers you're writing for (at least if you're doing your job). But you also have self-serving interests. Even though you'll likely have guidelines you need to follow, that fundamental truth is understood going into the relationship with the blogger or editor.

If you're using guest posts effectively, that self-serving motivation (which isn't a bad thing; it just is what it is); it's going to affect the content you choose to write. But when you're being paid, your own self interests shouldn't be a key factor in deciding what content you'll write.

At the same time, when you're writing a guest post, the issue of pay also shouldn't influence which blogs you choose to contribute to. When you allow pay to become a deciding factor and choose to only target blogs that pay for "guest posts," what you're really saying is "I'm willing to put a quick buck ahead of my larger business interests." The only thing that should influence which blogs you guest post for is whether or not they're the best options for reaching your ideal clients.

In most cases, the blogs themselves will not be your ideal clients. And if they are, you shouldn't be thinking in terms of guest posting anyway. You're simply pitching them because they're freelance writing markets (and that's all these blogs really are). You want them as clients. Your primary interest is in serving their needs as a freelancer, not using them as a marketing or PR tool.

In this case, just understand that many of these blogs aren't looking for regular contributors when they offer to pay for guest posts. If it would better serve your business interests to find ongoing freelance blogging clients, then that's where your attention should be -- not focusing on one-off so-called "paid guest posts."

I see freelance writers go down this "paid guest posts only" path because they automatically assume a paid blog post is more valuable to them than one they've written for free. But when you know what you're doing and you target the right blogs with the right content and the right call-to-action, you can earn far more from a well-placed unpaid guest post than you do from those one-off freelance assignments.

There's nothing wrong with targeting blogs that claim to offer "paid guest posts" as long as those blogs are either members your ideal target market that pay your target rates or they're the best options for reaching those ideal clients. But do so with your eyes open. Don't get sucked in by smarmy marketing that's all about linkbait and making the host blogger appear to be something more than they really are (which is usually just another freelance market offering mediocre pay, but with a shiny new name).

In most cases, if you only target blogs that publicly state they pay for guest posts, you're not really doing your job as a business owner. That would be like saying you'll only work with clients who publicly advertise gigs because you don't want to effectively market yourself to the types of clients you really want to work for. It's lazy. And in the long run, it's probably not what's best for your business.

5. You're writing the wrong content.
Even if you're targeting the right blogs and you have an amazing call-to-action, you might find that your guest posts aren't attracting paying clients. In that case, look to your content itself.

Remember what I said when talking about "paid guest posts." When you write a guest post, you have a responsibility to readers, but ultimately you're representing your business. How is your post content doing that?

Writing general content of interest to your target clients isn't necessarily going to make them think about hiring you. You're not building them up to your call-to-action in your bio.

In an ideal situation, you'll want to think of your guest post almost as a mini white paper.

  • You highlight a general problem.
  • You prove this is a problem for the specific readers you're trying to reach (where statistics and outside sources come in handy).
  • You offer a basic solution and convince the reader this is the right option for them.
  • Your bio's call-to-action lets the reader know you are the more direct solution to their problem.
Let's use my early clients as an example. I used to primarily write press releases for online business owners. One of my key client groups was SEO firms. They would bring me in to write press releases for a wide variety of their own clients on a regular basis. In turn, the value I brought to the table was a genuine understanding of PR.

In other words, I made sure their clients weren't using press releases in the same spammy ways other SEO firms' clients were using them. That protected their clients' reputations in addition to landing them genuine media coverage (whereas many SEO firms only used press releases for the links from the distribution sites themselves).

If that was my primary service and target market right now, an effective guest post (submitted to an SEO industry blog) might go something like this:

  • Problem / Opportunity: The SEO firm's clients could be seeing far more exposure (and resulting links from that coverage), plus minimize any risk of Google penalties for link manipulation, if press releases are properly planned, written, and distributed.

  • Proof of Problem: Show statistics from press release sites that demonstrates the level of competition for attention. Also show quotes and data related to Google's stance on links from press release sites. (Are sites being penalized yet? Are there signs they're going to start being penalized in the future? etc.)

  • General Solution: Either hire a PR firm or professional to write your clients' press releases, or consult with one and have them teach your in-house staff to do this work properly.

  • Specific Solution (in the author bio) -- This would be a call-to-action mentioning my PR background and inviting SEO pros to contact me for a quote or consultation. The language might go something like this (with the contact line linked to a contact page, email address, consultation request form, or something similar):

    "Jenn Mattern is a public relations writer and consultant with 14 years experience writing press releases for SEO firms and their clients. Contact Jenn for a free consultation to find out how your company or clients can land better backlinks and more media coverage with professional press release writing."
The post itself has value for readers because it alerts the reader to a potential problem and gives them a solution. They can hire anyone they please, or they can learn the basics themselves. But it also serves your business interests by leading them towards hiring you as the ultimate, and immediate, solution to their problem.

Remember, it's not enough to write general content in your niche. A successful guest post drives action. When you're using guest posts to promote your freelance writing services, that action is to contact (and hire) you.

This doesn't work in every freelance writing scenario. For example, if you mostly target magazines, you don't have this same problem-solution dynamic to work with as you do when targeting businesses. So think carefully about your marketing and PR choices.

Are guest posts really your best option for that kind of market? Probably not. Spend your time writing query letters, sending letters of introduction, or networking with editors in other ways instead. In the end, you have to know your market.

Don't waste your time writing guest post after guest post to land a few good freelance writing clients. It shouldn't take many to line up the prospects you're looking for. Just remember these steps: go where your clients are, write helpful and relevant content, and make sure that content leads to a clear call-to-action.

That is the right way to use guest posts to promote your freelance writing services.

Jenn Mattern is no stranger to freelance writing and promoting independent businesses. She's worked as a business writer, blogger, and PR and marketing consultant for 17 years, self-employed full-time for 12. In addition to running the All Indie Writers community, Jenn is partnering with Lori Widmer on the upcoming launch of FreelanceWritingPros.com. This new site will offer advanced marketing and PR advice for freelance writers with five or more years of experience. Sign up today to get free advanced marketing tips in your inbox. 

Writers, how many guest posts have you written? Are they for blogs where you clients are looking?

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Writers Worth: Your Start-to-Earn-Now Freelance Writing Career Guide

It's here! Welcome one and all to the 9th annual Writers Worth Month celebration! Stick around -- there's a ton of great content heading your way thanks to some of the best freelancers in the business.

What you'll see here all month:

You'll see guest posts from successful freelancers, from beginning freelancers, and from freelancers in between. Everyone has something to teach, an experience to share, a moment that left an impression. It's all here, all month.

You'll also see, for the first time, freelance writer profiles. People like Jake Poinier, Princess Jones, Jenn Mattern and more are sharing their stories -- albeit in short form.

Plus, you'll get a front-row, free-admission seat to some of the best advice you'll read all year. Not to mention the comments from writers at all career levels.

So come back daily (yes, I said daily) for each new post. Read, lurk, comment, and above all, take away some excellent strategies for improving your business and understanding your value!

Today's offering comes from yours truly. One of the first questions new writers ask (and established writers hear from new writers) is the age-old "How do I get started?" While I can't give you all the answers -- you do have to do some of the research yourself -- I can give you a path to explore.

So here it is, from start to finish. Your Start-to-Earn-Now Freelance Writing Career Guide. The information is from this blog and others, and each link helps you build or grow your freelance writing business.

Building a Business
It is a business you're building, you know. Start with understanding each element of that business --- write out your business plan. It's not hard. It takes just a little time, but the impact on how you move forward is huge.

Business Planning Sessions:
  1. Part One: Pricing and goal-setting
  2. Part Two: Dealing with expenses
  3. Part Three: Creating a client list
  4. Part Four: Planning your marketing
  5. Part Five: Continuing education 
Why Are Freelance Niches So Important? Don't know? John Soares will tell you why.


Setting Rates
It's not rocket science. In fact, there's really no science to it at all if you don't want there to be. But here are a few ways you can set your rate.

A Dirty Little Secret About Pricing: Walt Kania's guest post from a few years ago still rings oh, so true.
Raising Your Professional Rates: Here's how.

Freelance Hourly Rate Calculator: Jenn Mattern was the first, and is still the best, at helping freelance writers set their rates.


Finding Clients
Now that you know what you're charging and what your goals are, let's get some clients.

Quick-Start Guide to Finding Clients: Here are some great ways to get up and running quickly.

7 Ways to Attract Your Ideal Client: How to increase your appeal and land more of the kind of client you want.

16 Places to Find Clients Today: Exhausted your options with your typical ways to find clients? Try one or more of these.


Queries and Contacting Clients

The Letter of Introduction: Paula Hendrickson changed my career with this insight. She'll change yours, too.

Query Letter Series:

  1. The Query Letter, Part One
  2. The Query Letter, Part Two
  3. The Query Letter, Following Up

Marketing Series:

  1. Marketing 101: Finding the Clients
  2. Marketing 101: The Approach
  3. Marketing 101: Ongoing Marketing
  4. Marketing 101: Miscellaneous Stuff About Marketing
  5. Plan the Work, Work the Plan

Landing Great Clients on the Phone: John Soares shows us how.

105 Ways to Make a Living Writing: Jenn Mattern gives us a comprehensive list. Is your next gig on it?


Conversations, Contracts, and More
You've had some interest from all that work. Yes! Now what? Now you learn what to say to them and how to negotiate.

The Writing Client Interview: The prep work you need to do before picking up the phone.

Changing the Client Conversation: How changing your perspective can create partnership faster.

Writing Contract Primer: A good place to start when learning the contract language. Pay attention to the comments, as well.

7 Necessary Freelance Boundaries: Commit these to memory.

Media Kits for Writers: Jenn Mattern walks us through what goes into a great media kit.


Ongoing Freelance Writing Business Advice

How the 80/20 Rule Affects Freelance Writers: Another great one from John Soares.

Fatal Flaws That Hurt Your Business: Via Sharon Hurley Hall, this Slideshare show you how to stay on track.

Free Business Resources: Seriously, if you're not following Jenn Mattern's All Indie Writers site, this is just one of the great things you're missing.

Answering the Introductory Pricing Request: Peter Bowerman has great advice for one copywriter who had this request. A great reminder that asserting your price needn't mean you take a combative stance.

How to Increase Your Writing Income: Easy things you can do right now that will improve your earnings potential. Seriously.

9 Ways to Reboot Your Freelance Writing Career: Laura Spencer gives us great strategies that you can apply today.

Is it time to diversify your freelance business? The good Dr. Freelance, Jake Poinier, gives us three ways to grow our freelance writing business.


Friday, April 29, 2016

Monthly Assessment: April 2016

What I'm listening to: Lola by The Kinks

Friday already? I feel like I was busy, but not much got accomplished. I did get an interview in yesterday and got a good bit of one article completed. But then I thought I'd try that Five-minute Wordpress Install.

Two hours later, I gave up before I became too frustrated. I'm a tad upset with my host as they have a quick install option that hasn't worked for the last month. Today's task -- get on the phone and find out what's going on.

Five minutes. Right.

Since next week starts Writers Worth Month, I wanted to get my assessment in today. Also, Writers Worth is EVERY day this month -- including weekends. Make sure you sign up over on the right of this post for the blog feed.

So on to what happened in April. I suppose I could say what didn't happen. After a mad month of March (and even February was more than a little nuts), I sat pretty idle this month. Not that I'm complaining -- the start to this year was a lucrative one, so I have plenty of financial cushion, even after paying taxes. However, the marketing has picked up again, and I'm looking to get work lined up to help me get through those July/August dry spells.

For now, let's see what went on this month:

Queries:
I didn't send any, but rather was contacted by a favorite magazine to complete a story. Okay, I had to complete it in four days, but that was fine. So was the assignment I got in email from another favorite magazine.

LOIs:
I'm back at it with the contacts and the LOIs. So far, I've sent out a dozen. No response yet, and follow-up notes go out next week.

Social media:
I connected with a few key people on both Twitter and LinkedIn -- a few of them came to me, which is nice. I keep the response short, and I don't try to sell.

Job postings:
Zero. There's one vetted site that sends job postings, but none have been near what I want to make, so no thanks.

New clients:
No new clients this month, though I am in contact with one who'd been in touch two months back. I'm hopeful that an assignment will result.

Existing clients:
I love my clients. They kept me earning this month. I had four clients I worked with this month, one in particular giving me a good bit of work. This is where the bulk of my earnings came from.

Poetry:
I sent out a few poems to select markets and I put together a manuscript and sent it off to another. Nothing published yet (it's early -- these pubs take months to respond).

Earnings:
Despite sitting with more time than usual, I did okay. I'm at half my earnings goal. Not my best month, but with the other months being so ridiculously good, I can afford it. This time.

Bottom line:
Marketing has been kicked up a notch and I'm going to be trying out new ways to reach clients. I'm also getting back in touch with past clients, past contacts, and a few maybes. Summer is way too close for me to take it easy, so if you need me, I'll be marketing.

Writers, how did you do in April?
Any surprises? What worked? What didn't?

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Handling the "Do You Write This?" Question

What I'm listening to: The Loneliness and the Scream by Frightened Rabbit

Just 5 more days until the start of Writers Worth Month! Bookmark this blog, subscribe to the updates, and don't miss a single post! Free advice from some of the most successful freelancers working today!

After a short lull in the workload, the projects are beginning to come in again. I have two in front of me and a third about to appear. It's a bit slower than it was in March and April, but that's okay. Those months more than made up for any slow periods.

I was going back over my marketing spreadsheet when I came across some hot prospects from last year's conference. One in particular was eager to talk with me, insistent that we speak on the first day, and wanted to talk about specific projects.

Until we met. Maybe it was the show itself and the insane atmosphere, but she had to postpone our chat (as I sat there waiting) for 15 minutes because of another meeting she couldn't get out of. Then she was rushed through our brief meeting (forget that 15 minutes she'd originally scheduled).

I went through my usual process -- I told her a little about me, and I asked about her needs, what problem she was looking for a writer to solve, what her timeline was.... Then she said it.

"Have you written about _____?"

As she sat leafing through my samples, which clearly showed that yes, I did.

I did the usual follow-up email, and I invited her to a phone conversation. The response: Thank you for your time. At this time, I don't believe we have any work for potential partnership..."

This from a prospect who'd named six things minimum she wanted to get accomplished.

I can't really say what had her pull away. Maybe she assumed a budget she didn't have. Maybe she didn't know what questions to ask and was unsure I could handle the job based on her questions/my answers. Maybe she didn't like what I was wearing. Maybe it was my answer to the "have you written this" question.

While I can't do much about the other reasons, the "do you write this" one I can. And I do.

We freelance writers, no matter how many years we've been working, will always get this question. You can be sitting there with a ten-inch-thick portfolio of samples and that client is still going to ask if you write X or Y. Why?

Because clients can't always see how freelance writing skills transfer.

So here are some ways I've handled the question:

Answer it before it's asked. I work this into my first client conversation. Not the initial email/LOI, but the first phone or face-to-face conversation. "My background in writing about workers' compensation and managed care topics has given me plenty of insight into the health care management area, particularly from an employer perspective." Find that one nugget that transfers, and work it into the conversation.

Show the correlation in your presentation materials. If you're approaching a client through a letter of introduction, why not show the crossover right then? "I've written numerous software reviews, which gives me a deep understanding of how technology can impact the bottom line." Or "The articles I've written about shoe manufacturing and distribution have given me insight into supply chain, logistics, and tracking technology."

Pump up your samples on your website. If you must, create a new section that holds samples pertaining to the clients you're about to approach. Really look at your samples and make sure to categorize your strongest examples of crossover talent first.

Offer a one-time project. For three of my current clients, I was able to secure the gig by doing one project for each of them. The "tryout" projects  were contracted work, but with no expectations of future work. They're taking a chance, but so are you. It's a great way for you both to see how good a fit it is (or not).

Offer on-spec work. Sometimes, you're just not going to have the background they need. In some cases, it's okay to say "Look, how about I handled one small 500-word piece? If you like it, you agree to pay my usual fee for that and we go from there." What if they don't like it? Well, they're not allowed to use it (and you've put that to them in writing), and you now have a sample in that area. Not an ideal way to handle the situation, and it should be used only as a last resort. Don't lead with this one. Always try to get the paid work before offering a "maybe paid" arrangement.

Writers, how do you handle the "Do you write this?" question?
How do you convince clients that your skills are transferable?
Has that ever backfired?

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

How Your Customer Service is Killing Your Career

What I'm reading: The Son by Jo Nesbø
What I'm listening to: The Woodpile by Frightened Rabbit


I had a great start to the week. A writer friend asked me to talk with his freelance writing class about what I do all day. The class was a great group of young adults who asked really smart questions. It was a pleasure sharing what I could with them. I invited them all here to the blog for Writers Worth Month, so hopefully we'll see them around.

There's nothing so exciting as a writer at the beginning of a career, is there? Well, maybe one in the middle of a career who has checks coming in regularly. That's pretty damned exciting.

One of the things I talked about with them is marketing. You know me -- I can't not talk about marketing. It's that one thing you do every day that keeps you working, keeps the clients coming in, and keeps that freelance writing career growing. Forget technique. Forget skill. Focus on marketing. Even a mediocre writer can make it with great marketing.

Another thing that keeps clients coming back -- great customer service. It's more than doing the job you're hired to do. It's being that writer who becomes a trusted source, a partner, an enthusiastic supporter of the company's goals.

Yes, you are hired to be cheerleader, too.

And it's not hard to give great customer service. You do it when you stop talking and start listening, or when you suggest something they hadn't thought of that they could really benefit from. You give great customer service when your every action suggests you're part of their team, not just the hired pen (or keyboard). You become the partner, the resource, the sounding board.

Clients remember that.

They remember too the times where freelance writers overstepped or didn't filter or pushed a little too hard. And while it's tough to know anyone's personal tolerance level, it's easy to avoid overdoing it.

One guy overdid it for my husband and me recently. We hired someone to do some light landscaping -- weed and mulch. He visited last weekend, gave us a price, and finished the job this weekend.

However, when he was here last weekend, he mentioned he also did house cleaning. Fine, I get it. You have two businesses, and being from another country, you're doing what you can to make your way.

It wasn't until he mentioned again -- three more times -- this past weekend that I felt oversold. He gave me a card. Unbeknownst to me, he'd given my husband one, too. Still not bad. A little pushy. However, it was how he mentioned it that turned me off entirely.

"Yes, I work hard. I'm tired (he should have been -- he'd worked 10 solid hours). And this isn't my job. House cleaning is my job, and it's hard to make money and...."

Right there.

Don't sell me on your sob story. Sell me on your service.

So what customer service sins are we committing?

Not listening. I had an experience with a company this week -- I signed up for their products to be shipped every three months. They sent a survey. I told them I liked the products but hated their website and lack of any info/interaction. Their response -- two calls I wasn't around to answer, then they canceled my future orders. I had to call to reinstate my order, and when I told the woman on the phone my feedback, she repeated "I'm sorry you didn't like the products." Huh? Listen to your customer.

Wait for clients to tell you what's wrong. Get in the habit right now of getting back in touch with your clients a week or two after you hand in your final draft. Were they happy? Did they need anything more? Don't let problems sit -- get them out in the open, discuss them, and resolve them. It's your job.

Assuming all clients know the process. It's easy to assume that any client hiring you understands the process. Take extra time explaining to first-time clients what they can expect, particularly when it comes to the first draft. I tell clients (twice) that it's a first draft. I explain what I did, why I did it, and what I expect from them. It helps your client understand you really do care about them being satisfied.

Pointing fingers. I had a few situations recently where mistakes were made and, in both cases, someone else had actually created the mistake. What I did -- I fixed them. What I didn't do -- point the finger or make excuses. Clients don't care, nor are they interested in shouldering blame. They want the job done their way. So do it.

Not communicating. Especially with new clients, you should have your communication plan in place. How often you'll give them updates, who you'll be reporting to, what you'll be providing... if you communicate often, you reduce significantly errors and missteps, and you improve your client's opinion of your work ethic.

Writers, what examples of lousy customer service have you seen?
How did you resolve an issue your client brought to your attention?
What are your most effective ways of keeping client satisfaction levels up?

Friday, April 22, 2016

Mid-Friday Marketing: Think Like Your Clients

What I'm listening to: Sometimes It Snows in April by Prince

On May 1st, we start Writers Worth Month 2016! For one month, this blog space will be dedicated to helping writers at all career stages realize their value and learn to charge what they're worth. Make sure to subscribe to the blog email list so you don't miss a single day of advice and stories from some of today's top freelancers!

Welcome to a new feature on the blog: Mid-Friday Marketing. This post, happening at noon ET instead of the usual 7 am, is brought to you by a woman who got to bed too late after a full day of work and non-work things. Between a musical genius dying and a presidential candidate in town, I was, quite literally, not sure whether to cry uncontrollably or leap for joy. I did a little of both.

That much emotion in one day was just too much. So this post is now coming to you at noon. If you like it, we'll continue the habit.

Today's mid-Friday marketing strategy is a simple one:

Think like your clients.

Today, try looking at your own services (or products, if you have any) as though you were in the market to buy. How are you presenting yourself? What is your marketing saying about what you offer? Is what you're selling and how you're selling it appealing to customers and not just to you?

Take your name out of each piece (literally -- open that document and take your name out right now). Pretend it's come from another company. Make up a name to put in there if it helps.

Now read it as though you've just received the message. Ask yourself these questions?

  • Is it eye-catching enough? 
  • Do the words used make me want to buy from this company?
  • Does it speak to a need I have? (and here you should pretend you're hiring a writer) 
  • What would make me buy?


Make note of your answers.

Now compare your marketing pieces to marketing pieces from other companies. These don't have to be other writers -- any company that's appealed to you through marketing will do. Ask yourself this about what you see:
  • How does my marketing look in comparison? 
  • What can I do to make my pieces sharper? 
  • How am I differentiating?
Writers, your turn. How often do you review what you're sending out from a buyer's perspective?
What other ways do you use to tap into your client's thought process?


Words on the Page