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Friday, May 22, 2015

Writers Worth: Freelance Writing Career Do's and Don'ts

When I asked my writer friends for guest posts, Ashley Festa was not only the first one to volunteer, but also the first one to offer two posts. That's why I love her -- she's eager to give back to the profession and help beginning writers get a good start. What follows is a fantastic post that should be a freelance writer's mantra. She's learned a lot in her few years of freelancing, and it shows.

Ashley apologized for the length of this post, but there's no need. Every point is worth committing to memory. Thank you, Ashley. Your insights are great, and much appreciated.

Dos and Don’ts of a Successful Freelance Writing Career

By Ashley Festa

Everyone has to begin somewhere. Without taking the first step—whether it’s a success or a failure—you’ll never achieve any goal you set for yourself.

My first step was fearful and cautious, but unstoppable. There were also many missteps before I found a solid foothold. When I made a mistake, I backtracked a bit to catch my balance. Then I stepped out again, sometimes in a new direction, sometimes in the same direction but on a different route.

That path has led me here, to this blog, to Writers Worth Month, to being able to say that I’m more successful today than I ever thought would be possible working for myself.

That’s because I learned to value myself, value my business and value my work as a service to help clients achieve their goals. If I didn’t realize my worth, I would have quit after the first mistake I made. There have been lots of mistakes since then, but I still move forward, learning lessons as I go.

That’s what I want to share with you—things I’ve (mostly) learned not to do, and what to do instead. Hopefully you can benefit from my trials and errors.

So, let’s get started.

Making the Leap

Don't be afraid to ask questions
When I first started, I asked So. Many. Questions. I could string some sentences together well enough, but otherwise knew nothing. At all. Running a business, setting rates, finding clients, marketing—it was all new to me. I found a trustworthy group of writers right here at Words on the Page, who were kind enough to take me under their wings. (And I still ask lots of questions.)

Do research for yourself
Once, while working full-time in public relations, I received a phone call from someone who had just seen the business’s commercial on television. We were promoting an event and provided a number to call “for more information.” Would you believe that someone called me and said, “Can I have more information?” I had no idea what to say to her. Moral of the story: While it’s perfectly OK to ask questions, make sure you have something specific in mind that you want to know. A little background research will let the other person know you’re willing to work and don’t just expect everything to be handed to you.

Don’t automatically choose the easy route
Sure, go after the low-hanging fruit if you don’t have published clips or if you’re just learning the basics of writing. But make sure it’s still fruit, not compost. Content-mill-type work that’s handed to you, along with the $1 paycheck, is not fruit.

Do spend time and effort to find the best markets for you
Researching markets is harder than signing up for some bidding site or content mill, but you’ll benefit in the long run. And you can still pick the low-hanging fruit like nonprofits or charities in the beginning. They might not pay well, but they’ll provide professional clips you can use to break into bigger markets later.

Don’t spread yourself too thin
When I first started, I had WAY too many marketing ideas bouncing around in my head. I wanted to try this, then that, now this other thing. I didn’t devote enough resources to any one marketing tactic to see whether it would work.

Do make a plan and stick with it
Focus on one thing. Do that thing enthusiastically for a month to see whether it will work. If it doesn’t, move to your next idea. But choose one, and work it until you’re certain it doesn’t work for you. When I finally chose one tactic and stuck with it, I finally started seeing results.

Don’t twiddle your thumbs waiting for replies
So you shared your business card at a networking event and sent an email introduction to an editor. Great! Now do it again. And again. And again. You could be waiting a long time to hear back from that potential client. Don’t let your work schedule hang in the balance.

Do remember to market regularly
To keep your schedule full and avoid the feast-or-famine cycle, set aside time for marketing. Keep plugging away at your favorite marketing tactic every day to keep the projects rolling in.

Knowing Your Worth

Don’t underestimate yourself
We’re always our own worst critics. If you feel insecure, get an honest appraisal of your writing ability. Ask a client for feedback, or get a coach to evaluate your work. You’ll discover you aren’t as bad as you thought.

Do charge what you’re worth
Writing well takes practice and work. Make sure you’re compensated accordingly. Not sure what to charge? Try this handy dandy freelance project rate calculator to figure it out.

Don’t miss deadlines or turn in shoddy work
Not much to elaborate here. Just don’t do it. Even if it’s not a great paying client, you still accepted the assignment, so it’s your responsibility to do your best.

Do respect yourself and your clients
Submitting your best work not only reflects well on you and your business, it shows your clients that they’re important to you. That keeps them coming back.

Don’t take it personally
You won’t always see eye-to-eye with your clients. They might even disagree enough to fire you. Remember: It’s not you—it’s business. You aren’t a bad writer just because you weren’t a fit for that client.

Do learn from your mistakes
When (not if) you screw up, forgive yourself first, and then examine your error. Figure out what you did wrong, and resolve not to do it again. It’s not you, it’s business, so learn how to improve your business.

Learning and Growing

Don't stagnate
No matter how much you know, you can always learn more.

Do grow professionally
To flourish as a writer, you must keep cultivating your craft. Whether you branch out into new areas or plant deeper roots in your own field of expertise, you have countless avenues for growth. (For a popular and free option, try Massive Open Online Courses aka MOOCs.)

Don't believe everything you read
Bloggers and “gurus” have flooded the internet with advice about how to be a successful freelance writer. Some of it rocks—for every writer. Some of it works in particular situations. And some is flat-out bad advice. Learn to sort out what works in your situation.

Do follow the leaders
You can rely on some bloggers (including my Writers Worth Month host!) to provide excellent tips, lessons and guidance in every post. Find them, and follow them. And don’t just read these blogs—put the advice into action.

Don't think sole proprietor has to mean “solo”
Even if you enjoy working alone, everyone needs to bounce ideas off others from time to time.

Do find a community
Whether you head to your local coffee shop, join a forum or seek out a writers group, find a place that feels right to you.

Running a Business

Don't waste your entire day with time sucks
First word: Facebook. It’s a black hole that drags me in doing “Which Disney Character Are You?” quizzes and other nonsense. Second word: Wikipedia. Once when I started doing “research” for a story about space physicists, I resurfaced an hour later with a migraine somewhere on the hypothetical dark matter/string theory/dark energy bunny trail.

Do know where your time goes
Use a time tracker. I log interviews, email writing, brainstorming sessions, even invoice writing—every working minute—to the appropriate project, even if it’s not billable time. This method gives me a good sense of how I’m spending my working hours.

Don’t forget you’re an independent contractor
You aren’t an employee, so don’t act like one. As a contractor, you set your own hours, routines and working location. If you’re required to be available during business hours or work on-site, you lose the “independent” nature of being a contractor.

Do take advantage of your flexible work schedule as much as you’d like
You need to meet your deadlines with quality work. That’s your job. When and how you do it is up to you. If you like working within the buzz of a coffee shop, snag a seat by an electrical outlet. If you need inspiration from your cat, grab Fluffy and some kitty treats. If you work best in the wee hours of the morning, burn that midnight oil. 

Don’t be shortsighted
Sometimes we get caught up in the thrill of a new client. Don’t let a prospect make you forget about your future, and don’t take on a crummy gig for a quick buck.

Do plan for the future
Remember that question, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” from your corporate days? That still applies now. You need to know where you want to go so you can figure out a plan to get there. You also must consider insurance, self-employment taxes, investments, retirement and more. Think beyond your next invoice.

Moving Forward

Don’t be too hard on yourself
Everyone makes mistakes. Some people (like me) even occasionally make the same mistake many, many times before getting it right. But 99.99999 percent of the time, your mistake isn’t going to destroy your business. Acknowledge the mistake, figure out how you can do better next time, and then next time, do better.

Do congratulate yourself on a job well done
Writers, like many artists, often struggle with perfectionism. We focus on failures, not feats. We brush off our byline and move on to the next thing. Instead, soak up your achievements. Relish praise from your clients. Name yourself Employee of the Month. Whatever it takes, remember to celebrate your successes.

What have you learned from your trials, errors and missteps throughout your freelance writing career?

 Ashley Festa is a higher education freelance writer based in San Antonio, Texas. Visit her online  

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Writers Worth: The $100K Myth

I was cruising a LinkedIn forum the other day when I happened upon a link to an article that made me so upset I wanted to scream at the author. The subject?

How she made $100K in her fledgling years of writing without breaking a sweat.

Bully for her, right? Only as I read through the article and through the writer's website, I realized the claims didn't match the rates or the hours she said she works. I'm talking a top rate of $50 an hour working half days.

By my calculator, that's about $52K annually if she works every single day of the year. Not a bad haul, but not exactly $100K. So where's the rest of it coming from? One can only speculate.

The problem with that article and claims like it is the authors make it sound ridiculously simple to earn that kind of money. They also frame that magical six-figure number as your Valhalla, the summit at which you can define yourself as a real writing success.

Such hogwash.

Here's the truth about a six-figure income:

Making big money takes big work.

There is no magic bullet or easy path to your financial success no matter what number you're setting as your goal. It takes studying how to do it and actually applying what you've learned consistently. Anything less than that isn't going to net you much more than frustration and an empty bank account.

Why the claims the $100K authors make really bother me, though, is the self-promotion of it. They tell you "Look how much I've made!" and then give you something for free. Ah, but then they have your email, don't they? And pretty soon, the pitch comes in -- wouldn't you like to learn from me how to earn this much money, too? So tempting because they've made it sound so darned easy....

I'll save you the $200-500 it takes to get the answers -- they made that money by charging people like you for their "secret." Lots of people. Interestingly, the few $100K claims I've seen personally that have been tied to products or services have also been given with caveats -- we made the money, but not all of it in the course of freelance writing.

Here's the secret to making $100K -- a solid business plan, a consistent marketing plan, and an ongoing dedication to connecting with clients and delivering the best you can deliver at a price that is right for you.

I remember one guy in particular about six years back touting the $120K annual income he'd made... at a content mill. He went on and on about how much he made and how he had ample time off. And he'd claimed to write some ridiculous number of "articles" every month.

Only, his numbers didn't mesh. When I pressed him for an explanation, his math was suddenly a moving target. In order to "prove" his income, he replaced the $120K with a different number and suddenly his per-article rate had increased....further questioning resulted in more convoluted addition and multiplication from him and a giant headache for me.

That's proof that while there are a few people out there who are delivering serious value based on actual experience -- Peter Bowerman and Ed Gandia come to mind -- there are far too many people over-promising and under-delivering.

How do you know the difference? Here are some ways to weed out the bad offers:

Insert skepticism. Maybe I'm a cynic at heart, but when I read the article in question, the self-promotion of it was so blatantly obvious. Even if this writer did earn that much, the freebie attached is what I call "bait." You give up your email address for the freebie, and then the pitches start coming in. And these people are good at it -- how else would they have gotten your email address out of you? Examine these "articles" and freebies carefully. Does it sound easy? Do the numbers given add up? Is there any signs of "I struggled like hell" truth in it? If not, run the other way.

Whip out the calculator. I did. The second the claim sounds a little off is when you should start paying closer attention to what's being presented. First, is it even possible to earn that kind of money given the facts presented? Second, how much per hour would it take? Do the math. Sometimes, it's the simplest BS litmus test available.

Ask the person directly. I say call them on their claims. You may be pleasantly surprised if they give you the missing details and it then adds up. Or you may uncover something that doesn't sound right. How many hours did you work every day? What was the average price you charged per hour? Did you do other work on top of writing that may have contributed to your six-figure income?

Get feedback from other writers. Maybe someone knows this writer or has some other connection (they were coached by them or attended a class of theirs). Those are the people you want to ask questions of. Ask your fellow freelance writers if they know this person and what they make of the claims.

Be aware of paid testimonials. It's a pathetic practice (and illegal, too), but there are people out there who have tons of testimonials, and most of them are paid. Get in touch with a number of the people offering the testimonial. Ask them if they were giving it freely or if there was some incentive offered in exchange for their endorsement.

Know that $100K isn't everyone's benchmark. There is no reason why you have to kill yourself (or pay someone to give you information) just to reach this arbitrary benchmark. That dollar amount does not define your success. If you're making $20K, $40K, or any other amount and you're running a business and paying your bills, you're a successful writer. Stop worrying about what other people make and focus on your business. Do you ask your doctors how much they earn (and does that even matter if you trust them enough to care for you)? Do other professionals shout from the rooftops about their income levels? If they do, they're selling you something, right?

Writers, how do you respond to freelance writers who openly proclaim their income?
How often have you seen books or courses linked to these claims?
What advice can you give other writers on how to separate fact from fiction?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Writers Worth: Showing Confidence to Clients

When I started seeing this one particular writer around the Internet, it was because she was saying some pretty smart things. In fact, it was one of those smart things -- you're worth more than a few pennies -- compelled me to write to her.

Alicia Rades is making some great progress in her career, and she's doing it by making intelligent choices. She's the perfect person to tell us about building confidence -- she's confident.

Thank you, Alicia. Your voice is always welcome here.

Show Clients You’re Confident (Even When You’re Doubting Yourself)

by Alicia Rades

If you’re like every other writer on the planet, you’re plagued by doubt.

Am I quoting too low, or am I scaring off clients with too-high rates?

Are my skills really worth what I’m charging?

Is my blog doing anything for my business?

Will I ever see this client again?

Is the deadline I just agreed upon realistic?

Am I doing enough to push my business forward?

Are these the types of questions that go through your head? They’re the ones that I frequently ask myself, but until now that I’m admitting it, my clients and fellow writers would never know it.

Why? Because even when I’m doubting myself, I’m letting my confidence show through.

Why Does Showing Confidence Work?
New writers are always unsure of themselves. It’s just something we all have to face. (And let’s be honest, even some of us who have been at it for years are still unsure at times.)

While it’s true that you may doubt yourself, there’s no rule that says you have to let clients know that. Unfortunately, I’ve seen writers explicitly state on their website that they don’t know what they’re doing, that they’re total newbies, or that they’ve never had a writing client before.

Woah. Hold it right there.

How is that going to convince anyone to hire you? If you’re not confident in your own work, why would a potential client be confident hiring you?

Another area where confidence kills writers is in quoting rates. If you quote a rate of $100 per piece but mention that, “I can go lower if it doesn’t fit your budget,” then why wouldn’t a client take advantage of that? Right there you’re showing that 1) you’re willing to work for lower rates and 2) you’re not completely confident in the rate you’ve quoted.

I get it. You don’t want to lose a client by quoting too high, but how do you know if they’re willing to pay your ideal rates if you’re letting them choose lower ones?

Confidence Breeds Success
Showing your confidence, on the other hand, helps prospects put that same confidence in your service and rates.

Beth Monaghan, the co-founder of InkHouse Media and Marketing, points out in her Forbes article that confidence breeds success. And you know what? It can be taught by, as Monaghan puts it, “faking it ‘til you make it.”

This can work in a couple of different ways.
  1. If you show confidence, people are more likely to share that confidence.
  2. If you practice confidence, you’re going to start believing it. 
How to Bring Your Confidence to Life
Not sure how to show your confidence when you’re starting out? Here are just a few tips:

1. Stop focusing on your weaknesses.
A new writer recently asked me to look over her pitch. While her idea was solid and she had some writing samples on her personal blog, she added the phrase, “I do not currently have anything else published, though.” That right there tells me she’s insecure about her experience.

Instead of focusing how much writing experience she doesn’t have, she could be focusing on her strengths in the topic she’s pitching about. It doesn’t matter that she doesn’t have published samples because her non-writing experience makes her the perfect person to tell the story she was pitching.

2. Take a firm stance with your rates.
Admittedly, I had no idea what I was doing when I first starting quoting project rates to clients. Negotiating is a scary thing, but if you let clients know you’re unsure about your rates, why would they be confident in them?

You can spend hours contemplating over what rate to quote, but there’s no reason to tell clients you spent that long thinking about it. When you think you’ve got it, send the rate over, but avoid saying anything like, “I’m not sure this is fair…” or “If this is too much…” or “This is my first time sending a quote…” Yes, your client may come back with a different rate, but it’s less likely when you sound confident in your quote.

3. Avoid “I Think” Language
I’ll admit it: I still use the phrase “I think” from time to time, but it’s time for me to stop. It immediately shows that I’m not sure if my idea is a good one.

Instead of: I think $100 sounds fair, don’t you?

Say: This project will cost $100.

Instead of: I think topic X would work well on the blog next week.

Say: For next week’s blog post, I’d like to write about topic X.

Any “I’m unsure of myself” language should be avoided. The cool thing about writing—especially if you communicate with clients via email—is that you have time to refine your message. So don’t just look at the words you’re writing; really consider what type of message you’re sending about your confidence.

The One Problem With Your Confidence
Before you leave here thinking you have to portray yourself as confident in every situation that comes your way, let me leave you with a word of warning.

Don’t let your confidence keep you from asking questions.

You might feel like asking questions is a sign of weakness. It shows you don’t know what you’re doing. But the reality is that if you don’t ask questions, you’ll never get the answers. Questions are valuable tools that can push your business forward. Whether it’s asking a fellow writer how to make a tweak on your website or it’s asking a client for clarification on an assignment, you’re likely to come out ahead by posing the question.

Remember: Even when you’re doubting yourself, there’s still a glimmer of confidence there. After all, you wouldn’t be doing this if you didn’t think you could. Use that confidence to your advantage. Do you ever doubt yourself as a writer? How will you make your confidence show through the next time?

Alicia Rades is a freelance writer, blogger, editor, and author. When she isn’t writing for clients, you can find her helping new writers at the Be a Freelance Blogger forums. Learn more about Alicia at

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Writers Worth: Building Trust

I've been watching a number of conversations on LinkedIn forums and elsewhere, and it's interesting how many people have unwarranted trust issues. Not that they don't trust their clients -- for the most part, they do (and they don't when the client hasn't earned it).

I'm talking about writers trusting themselves.

Too many freelance writers at the beginning or even midway into their writing careers simply don't trust themselves to do the job. These aren't slackers, either. These are talented, skilled writing professionals who just can't get out of their own heads.

Sadly, there are plenty of snake-oil salespeople out there willing to capitalize on that self-doubt. Too many unworthy clients not paying enough, too many job posters posing as real clients, too many courses promising too much and delivering too little to keep people coming back to learn more -- it's feeding off their fears, and I detest it.

But that's not the real issue. There will always be people willing to sell you something you can get for free, or string you along until you're a thousand dollars in and realize you're getting nowhere. No, the real issue isn't that these kinds of people exist -- it's that you, writer, don't trust your ability to do the job you were born to do.

It's a shame, really. The fear of failing is so palpable that it stops many a good writer from trying. You're trying. So you're already moving in the right direction. But where's the thought that "Yes, I can do this" or "If she can do it, I can do it"? It doesn't take a mentor or a paid coach or even a paid instructor to tell you that --

It takes you to convince yourself that you can do this.

So here are a few ways I worked beyond my own fears (for I had the same ones, dear writer) to a place where I know my worth:

Fake it. I painted on a confident smile and attitude despite my insides feeling like quicksand.I didn't fake experience -- that would be wrong -- but I faked the confidence that most veteran writers project without thinking. I told myself it was just until I hung up the phone with the client or got that email/letter written. I wouldn't let my shakiness into my voice or that putty in my knees to cause me to collapse until I'd completed the task in front of me. Then I could succumb to the fear. But oddly, you won't. Try it.

Study on your own. When I started my freelance writing career, there were no online courses or coaches (there wasn't really an "online" anything). There were books. There were magazines. So I studied what was available. If I wanted to write for XYZ Magazine, I went to the library and read three or four copies. You have it much easier -- if you want to know how to create a white paper, you just type it into a search engine and start reading. Arm yourself with more knowledge about your craft. How could you not trust yourself if you're sure of the answers?

Get feedback from colleagues. I didn't have much of a support system pre-Internet, but once I got online, it wasn't long before I found myself in the company of working writers. So I sat back and listened to what they were saying. I asked a question only if I didn't see it asked already (meaning, I did some homework). I asked if there were any tips for whatever project I was about to do. Then I applied what sounded right. I was mimicking the best writers I knew -- that's a big confidence booster. You can do the same -- if you see a freelancer who's doing what you'd like to do, establish a relationship, then ask for some advice.

Practice. I practiced both my writing and my elevator speech (to answer the "Tell me about yourself and what you do"question). I practiced my grammar and sentence structure. I practiced approaching clients for work. If you're unsure, try it before you do it. You learn to trust your own voice. Plus it's a reminder of just what you have to offer.

Enlist more than one "what the hell" moments. If I hadn't done this on numerous occasions, I'd never be here right now earning money. In a way, I allowed myself to think of my projects as practice. I thought "What the hell-- if it doesn't work, I start again." What this does is prepare you psychologically to move forward. Fear cements you in inertia -- allowing yourself to let go of the fear creates this sense of a gimme, a mulligan, or a do-over for whatever you're about to try. It allows you to try and fail. But you won't fail. You'll learn something.

Refer to my kudos file. I still have one -- a little folder on my email program that contains all the emailed praise I've received from happy clients. When you're facing down a total bastard of a human being (some "clients" are clients in name only), that file will restore your confidence. In fact, the thanks and praise of others can really help underscore your value. Don't forget to remind yourself whenever you're feeling like crap.

Writers, how did you learn to trust yourself?

Monday, May 18, 2015

Writers Worth: Hanging on and Letting Go

I love freelance writers. I love how they work, how they collaborate, and how they, the good ones at least, will help someone they barely know. 

So when Paula Hendrickson sent me a note saying her friend Rick wanted to post for Writers Worth, I knew instantly Rick was one of the good ones. His first note to me, in fact, was the post you're about to read.

How could you not love a person who's that damn giving?

Rick, I'm honored to have you here, and I'm looking forward to getting to know you better. You, sir, are welcome here any time.

Writers Worth: Hanging on and Letting Go

by Rick Schindler

I never set out to be a freelancer; I did it to fend the wolf from my door. In recent years I’ve been fortunate enough to have a steady day job, but in the days following 9/11, it was catch as catch can for quite a while.

I worked my contacts in publishing and took what I could get. I copy-edited textbooks and wrote some pedagogy. That was often fun, and I learned some interesting stuff.

I also took on technical proofreading, rife with inscrutable numbers and details. It was like proofing Linear B. I struggled through it stubbornly until my wife begged me to let go of it.

Eventually I landed a weekly magazine gig, on a topic where I was on firmer ground. Even so, one week early on I made a careless fact error and got called on it by a reader, angering the editor.

I never let that happen again. I hung on tight to that column through 10 years and a motley procession of day jobs, making every deadline and accommodating the caprices of three very different editors. When the magazine finally reassigned the column to an inside staffer, they made it clear it was for cost reasons and that they were sorry to let me go.

I liked the discipline of a weekly column, its familiar rhythmic heft. Even though it was a pain sometimes, I still miss it.

Around the time I started that column I also landed a contributing editor gig on the same subject at another magazine. I liked that work too, but it entailed a lot of time-consuming interviews and research for a finicky editor, and it paid pennies. I had to let it go.

By now I’m sure you’ve caught my drift. When you work in an office, there are people, often entire hierarchies, allocating resources and prioritizing tasks, deciding what is and isn’t worth doing. But when you’re freelance, there’s no one to make those choices except you.

And it isn’t as simple as just picking whatever pays most. There are gigs you take to make contacts and establish a reputation; gigs you take because you hope they might lead to a full-time gig; gigs you take to protect your turf, or expand it; gigs you take to make deposits or withdrawals in the favor bank; maybe even, every now and then, a gig you take just for the hell of it, to put some energy into the ether and see what happens.

I never set out to be a freelancer, but writing this piece, I looked back and was surprised to see just how much freelance I’ve done, how many paths I’ve crossed, how much I’ve learned about many different things.

But perhaps the most important things I learned were about how to weigh the value of my own work. And of myself.

Rick Schindler is an editor/producer for NBC News Digital and author of Fandemonium, a comic novel about the comics business. You can follow him on Twitter.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Writers Worth: Why Real Writers Cost Money (and Why They are Worth It)

Here's what I love about Sharon Hurley Hall -- everything.

Sharon is the brains behind Get Paid to Write Online, a terrific blog devoted to online writing advice. She's also a warm, vibrant soul who shares openly her experiences and helps others improve what they're doing. She shares good advice no matter who offers it, as evidenced by her link love in this post.

Today, Sharon tells us why bloggers and online writers need to accept with confidence their skills, and create rates that reflect their value.

Why Real Writers Cost Money (and Why They are Worth It)

by Sharon Hurley Hall

"She's just a blogger."

There's nothing that annoys me more than people trying to make out that if you're writing for a blog or online publication, your writing is less worthy, less valuable or less real than if  you're writing for a newspaper, print magazine or major publication.

I think that's plain wrong.

Like other writers, bloggers and online writers can't imagine not writing. Like other writers, we have thousands of readers. Like other writers, we get paid to write - and we're good at what we do.

Maybe I feel this way because of my own background in journalism writing for a variety of trade magazines. Now that I write mostly for blogs, I use exactly the same skills that I used for writing news and feature articles when I write blog posts. In fact, writing for blogs often means you have to be even more disciplined.

When I wrote for newspapers and magazines, we often worked a couple of months ahead for content. That gave me at least a month, sometimes two, to interview people and put an article together. I had lots of time to tweak the content too.

These days, there's less time. When you write for blogs, you often have to produce content very quickly and revise it even quicker, while still producing quality.

It's the same with research. Sure, most of your research sources might be online, but good writers have to know:
      where to find information
      which sources are the right ones to use for a given topic
      how to use that information to create something that is readable and has an original spin
      how to add the personal touch that makes readers feel you are talking directly to them
      how to avoid spelling mistakes and grammatical errors.

No matter who they are writing for, good writers are voracious readers, keeping up to date with news in their niche so they know what's going on, can keep their clients informed and can write about it when necessary.

The more topics you write about, the more important it is for you to do this. I use social media sites like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook as well as aggregators like Feedly, Nuzzel and to keep up with the trends that may affect the way my clients carry out their content strategy and the pieces and direction of the content I have to write for them.

My point is that, no matter who you are writing for, if you're a good writer, you have the same skill and discipline as any other writer.  And you have other skills too. Many writers help their clients with:
      being present on social media sites
      web content optimization
      authority building
      choosing blogging platforms
      creating content plans
      writing e-books
      social automation
      creating infographics
      and much much more.

A professional writer can find information on anything quickly, speed read research, extract the best information, and add personal flair.

And then there's the writing itself. A professional writer can play the written word like a finely tuned instrument, eliciting the exact response that writing clients need from their customers.

My point is: don't let anyone tell you you're not good enough because you're writing for a blog or online publication. People can make a very nice living writing for blogs AND have their professional writing skills appreciated.  I do.

And don't let anyone use the fact that you are writing a blog post as an excuse to pay you less than you're worth. If you are writing an in-depth, well-researched article, you deserve to be paid for your skill, no matter where it's finally being published.

Remind your clients that when they hire you, they don't just get writing skills, but a wealth of knowledge that helps you position them perfectly in their industry.

That comes at a price. But as a writer, you have to be prepared to ask for it and educate your clients about the value of good writing.

Some of them have been spoiled by going to marketplaces where people provide low quality writing for a low quality price.

You don't have to pander to them.

Many of us do at the start, but we learn. In the past, I have written for ridiculously low amounts and I have undercharged for jobs that proved to take longer than I anticipated.

That doesn't happen anymore. My approach is much more "in your face" now. My guide prices are on my site so I know that when I get a message from potential clients, they have already seen them. Even if I end up charging less, the decision is mine.

The bottom line is: no-one can undervalue you if you value yourself correctly.  Use the points in this article to show potential clients why you are a real writer and why it's worth it to them to pay you well.

Sharon Hurley Hall is a professional writer and blogger. Her career has spanned more than 20 years, including stints as a journalist, academic writer, university lecturer and ghost writer. Connect with Sharon on her website.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Writers Worth: Ending the Waiting Game

About seven months ago, I had a conversation with a potential client. At the time, he and I were talking not just price but also project length, time frame, and duration. It's a long-term, ongoing arrangement, so I was about to see my workload double, possibly triple. That takes some serious rearranging of the work schedule.

However, I did nothing. I continued to market and bring in new projects and clients. Everything was, for me, status quo -- work at bringing in more work and new clients. How dumb, right?

Wrong. That client has yet to come back with a contract.

It's a trap we often place ourselves in -- we see that carrot dangling and we think "Payday!" Then reality hits. We've just waited weeks, maybe months for work that isn't contracted and hasn't materialized.

My potential client does check in on occasion with an update on where things are, so it's not completely off the table. What is off the table? My time frame. As a business owner, I can't wait for a maybe. Luckily, my potential client is also a business owner. He knows that. It's why he gives me updates. That shows respect for my time, and I appreciate that.

However, we writers have seen clients who aren't so considerate. We've been expected to wait, to drop what we're doing immediately, or work whenever we're ordered to.

That's not happening.

I was talking with a writer at the beginning of her career. She's going through something similar. She's been promised information to start a project that has a ridiculously short deadline and has yet to see it a week after it was promised. Her client doesn't answer emails. She's stressed because this project -- a big one -- is one of her first.

And she's waiting.

Welcome to one of the easiest mistakes writers make. We take on faith what we're told. We believe people when they say they'll contact us by this date or that. We wait by the email or phone, and we're disappointed.

Sort of like a bad date, isn't it?

So here's how to break the cycle and take charge of your writing career:

Give parameters on your time. No one gets to tell you, a business owner, when you'll be waiting for this project or that. All any client can reasonably expect is an estimate of when you're available. I like to tell clients that I have XX hours available within the next two weeks. Anything beyond that is unreasonable to expect without a contract. If they want to make it formal, a contract will get them a more suitable parameter. If they need me for two months, there has to be an agreement in place or I'm booking other projects. I have to. Maybes don't pay the bills.

Push back on unrealistic expectations. It's so hard when you're starting out to say "Sorry, that's not enough time" or "I think you're underestimating the time needed." But the minute you do, you establish yourself as someone with some experience and authority. Plus you draw an invisible boundary that clients (the good ones) will respect. I once had a client who'd expected 40,000 words in two months (researched from scratch with no help from them, thank you very much). When I was a month in, I realized this wasn't happening. I was killing myself trying to meet this arbitrary deadline. So I told them it was going to take much longer. They were fine with it. "Just let us know how it's going." Take charge of your business and don't accept every term verbatim.

Commit only after a contract is signed. Yes, they promise the moon sometimes, but clients don't follow through on those promises every time. In the past two years, I've had clients who have said 1) I'll get right back to you -- we have a lot of work for you!; 2) I'll call you in a few weeks to chat about projects; 3) Sign this disclosure and we'll talk next week; 4) Let me call you when I get back in the office.... So far, none of these projects have moved forward. Without a contract, there is no commitment on either side.

Continue to run your business your way. In no profession is it ever expected that you'll work for one client at a time for weeks or months on end. Imagine a hairdresser who has one client every six to eight weeks. Or a lawn service that devotes every Tuesday to my lawn and no one else's. You are a business and no one can say "You'll work exclusively for me" unless they're your employer and paying you benefits. Even then you can moonlight, right? Continue to work for other clients as you wait, and even after you secure the job. It's about time management -- if you learn how to budget your time between projects, you can take on as much work as you want so long as the time holds out.

Writers, how have you dealt with the waiting game?
How long do you wait, if at all?

Words on the Page