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Monday, November 30, 2009

Monthly Assessment - November

I'm back! Miss me? We spent just enough time and donated more than enough money to the Las Vegas tourism cause. It was a wonderful trip, but I'm glad to be home.

Time once more for a monthly assessment. November flew by. I was so busy with one particular client that all marketing went to the dogs - I broke my own rule and now I shall pay for it. Checks in January will be sparse as a result. Ho freakin' ho. Also, NaNo is partially to blame, though I won't regret any time spent on writing this novel. I'm nearly finished with the first draft, which was the entire goal. So on that front, things were terrific.

Let's get to how it all went (or didn't go, as the case may be):

One. Yep. One. This was to an untried magazine. The good news? I scored the job.

Job postings:
None. Nada. Zip. Again, there has to be something worth applying for before I'll waste the time. There wasn't. And I didn't look too hard as I was overwhelmed with an existing client job.

Existing clients:
I had one come back. This was one that I couldn't work with due to price. They met my price after realizing what I have to offer isn't available at their rates. Amen. I love when they realize it on their own and don't need convincing. I'm doing a project for them now, but my guard is up. It's rare I take back clients who argue price when the original price is more than fair. But we all deserve a second chance. Not a third one, though, if you get my meaning.

I have a client project waiting for paperwork to be signed, so hopefully that one will proceed for December, though given the payment issues I've had with this one in the past, I may not see the cash until February or March. That too shall change or there will be little salvation for our relationship.

There's an ongoing client gig that simply took up more time than it was worth this month. What normally takes me a few short hours took nearly eight. Unacceptable. It takes just a few of those kinds of days to realize the value received does not equal the time expended. Come January, I'm intent on dropping this one and finding more lucrative, less mind-numbing work.

It was an interrupted month thanks to my vacation and the holiday. And it's the slow season. I earned exactly half of my targeted goal and no, I'm not happy with myself over it. Time to do better.

So how was your November?

Friday, November 27, 2009

Conflicts of Interests and Clients Who Request Them

Hope you had a terrific turkey day (or non-turkey day, as we prefer)! Don't cause or get into any accidents at the malls today, okay?

Talking with a writer chum last week, the topic of conflicts of interest came up. His client, a PR firm, wanted placement of an article in a publication (and they didn't seem to be too picky). They wanted him to write it and sell it to a magazine. They were fine with him getting paid by them to farm it out and paid by the magazine for writing it. He wasn't. See, in journalistic terms, it's called a conflict of interest and it's unethical. Not even hinting at unethical - it's blatantly so.

Writers cannot and should not EVER collect two checks for one piece of work, especially when one party has no idea it's happening. It's like selling your car to two different people and hoping the second person to show up doesn't mind. Any self-respecting magazine would turn down such a piece and ban the writer from ever contacting them again. Magazines expect their content to be balanced representations of situations, issues, trends, and conflicts. If you were to work for Acme Company and write articles that claimed Acme's products were the best ever, without telling anyone, you'd be cheating readers out of a fair representation and you'd be damaging the reputation of the publication that expected an unbiased story.

You cannot serve two masters. If loyalty can be bought and two opposing sides are buying it, imagine what magazines would look like - full of advertorials and content framed to make one company look like gods in their industry.

But people are expecting it. PR people who are either too young or too foolish to understand often think this is okay. Some pseudo-magazines try to pass off their "editorial" as real articles when in fact the articles are biased. I wrote for one once. The editor wouldn't let me use any sources beyond their advertisers and wanted no "negative" representation. So in other words, they wanted me to lie. Their new editor tried like hell to get them to run balanced pieces, but they ran him out of town just as quickly as they did their writers.

Have you come across this? What's your take on it?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Stupid Jokes that Slay Me

Still on my trip....

I love stupid jokes. The ones that make me laugh loudest are the ones that make other people groan and question my parentage. I heard one the other day that had me rolling:

What do you call a deer with no eyes?
No eye deer (say it out loud)

A few other favorites:

What did the Buddhist say to the hot dog vendor?
Make me one with everything.

Where do you find a dog with no legs?
Right where you left him.

The difference between a porcupine and a Porsche?
The porcupine comes with the pricks on the outside.

And my personal favorite:

How do you catch a unique rabbit?
Unique up on it.

Tell me a joke. :)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Things That Should Make You Barf

How to spot a lousy job offer:

- It comes addressed to "Writer", your email address, or no one at all.
- It promised you exposure to employers, other writers, or "industry leaders."
- It tries urgency to get you to move - "We're hiring 30 writers in the next few weeks..."
- The ad is loaded with exclamation points.
- The sender has a cutesy name - "Viqi Hollister" or "Max Ducane."
- It says something like "We need 25/50/250 articles a month..."

What makes you sick these days?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Your Writerly Limits

Just a reminder I'm AWOL this week, but I've left some breadcrumbs.

Questions for discussion:

If you take on advertisers on your site, where is the line drawn between the advertising and your advocating for the company? Do you see any conflict of interest, ethical or otherwise, with such a practice? Why would a writer or editor take on such affiliations? At what point does said affiliation or deal become seedy? What do you stand to gain? What do you stand to lose?

Let's discuss....

Friday, November 20, 2009

What NaNo Has Taught Me

Late to the dance here today - I met with a girlfriend and talked a little shop and a whole lot of Project Runway this morning. I needed it. I've had a stressed week trying to get things wrapped up before I run off this weekend and next week. And let's not forget the time sink NaNo (the National Novel Writing Month contest for those of you new to it) has become. But that, for me, is a delicious requirement and one that's taught me plenty.

Before I took NaNo seriously, I plodded along, editing in my head as I went. It's an occupational hazard. I was once on staff and had to churn out front-page features, usually last minute thanks to sources who arrived late on the scene. That meant I had to get it out fast and good. It's not a terrible dilemma, believe me. But it doesn't translate well to book manuscripts, where forward motion can be thwarted by too much editing.

But somewhere around the 24K-word mark this year, it all clicked. Words started coming out and underlying stories evolved almost without my knowledge. The practice of sitting down intent on going ahead rather than back loosed the bond the editing monster had on me. Now I'm up to 36K words and there are plenty of notes in the margin. Reaching 50K is no longer in question. The question is whether it will happen November 30th or December 1st. Either way is fine with me.

NaNo has also taught me to add more depth. I'm near the end of the story, but I'm seeing areas that need to be expanded in order to make a richer, more lively experience for the reader. Questions I might not answer before in the quest to get to the end I'm now finding myself seeking answers for. What's this guy's motivation? Why is she acting this way? How do these people live and breathe and what made them that way? I don't know how or why a 30-day deadline made me fill in the blanks (could it be the word-count goal?), but there I am doing just that.

It's also taught me to let the story tell itself. Editing can come later. For now, these people need to speak through me.

So what has NaNo taught you?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Milestones and High Mileage

Yippee! This blog now has 100 followers! Yay! Thank you to everyone who visits, links, or comments. I appreciate every one of you, and I hope you take the time to comment. I'd love to get to know you.

If someone were to ask me what my sign was this week, it would be Out of Order. NaNo has sucked me dry of any potential free time I might have when I'm not pushing back deadlines. I'm up to a respectable 34K words, but I'm about to spend a holiday week without time to write. Egad. And I'm tired. Too many writing miles traveled this week.

A client got in touch last night and what he had to say confirmed that I am indeed following the right line of thinking. He said his company had had some unpleasant interactions with writers in the last month and he said it prompted his company to come up with extra funding for a "professional" writer. I mentioned that people were coming back after leaving due to price, and he said he could understand why. It would seem that the client world is tiring quickly of substandard, cheap writing. Amen.

I'll spend today and tomorrow finishing up work before my trip. I'm outta here next week, so don't look for me. I wanted to get some guest posts lined up, but work got in the way. How would it be if I left some writing prompts or discussion questions?

How are you spending the holiday week? How's your NaNo writing going?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Worthy Tip: The Follow-up

I'm riding the wave of some query success - I sent an idea over to a new publication and within 16 minutes I had a new assignment and an opening to be a regular contributor. Yes! That makes up for all those publications I contacted last month that never responded. In fact, only two did - the two writing publications, thankfully. Shows that they practice what they preach.

But to be honest, I didn't follow up with all of them, so my success rate could have been higher. Right now, think of how many queries you sent out and didn't follow up on. Yep. That's about where I am, too.

So here's the assignment for this week (and I'm taking part, as well): Follow up on all those queries from last month. All of them. I usually hit Forward, send the note back to them, but remove the "FW:" in the subject line - for some reason, spam folders love to eat these messages. Just type them a little note asking them if they received the query you sent XX weeks ago. If not, you're resending it for their consideration. Thank them. Repeat with the next one.

How often do you follow up with client projects or article queries? Do you send thank-you notes regularly to job posters who have sent you "thanks but no thanks" notes? Try it. You'll be amazed at how much of an impression that leaves.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

And Now a Word for the Slow Pokes

Oh, you've been at that career of yours for a while now, haven't you? And you're making money, but not what you want, right? Here's a word you may not have thought you'd hear from me - patience. Patience, my friend, for the foundation you lay today is the place where that career of your dreams will sit.

Look, I get that you feel desperate sometimes. Really. I've been there. Remember, I had to start from zero, too. I know you've taken a job or three that haven't exactly put you on the Fortune 500 list. Me too. Yes, I've taken stuff that's paid some pretty crappy wages along the way. Sometimes the stuff that seems like garbage is actually more valuable on a resume than not, though. I took a job a while back writing for a nursing magazine. Lousy wages, but darned if those clips didn't give me clout when I proposed something to a physican magazine. No one need know how much you make, you see. They only need to see you've done the work and it's presentable, respectable work.

We all progress at our own paces. The key, though is forward progression. If you've been stuck in the same jobs for six months, time to branch out and away from that sure thing or two. Take that experience you've built up and farm it out to a higher bidder. Seriously. You can do it. It's how we get from zero to something fabulous.

Don't feel badly if your career is going slower than expected. Instead, get active. Read others' experiences, try things out, and by all means, extend beyond your current comfort zone. Soon you'll be looking back at your progress and patting yourself on the back. As you should.

What's your current sticking point? Maybe we can help you figure out an alternative, so post it here. And established writers, when did you make a move to expand the income potential? How'd it go?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Burn, Baby, Burn

Pop quiz for you: If you're in the middle of a client negotiations and the client counters your price with a request to put something together quickly for them while ignoring all mention of your price, what do you do?

Answer: Nothing.

The hard fact is that until you have a contract, you have no obligation to do anything for any client, emergency or not. Thus was the situation that came to me last week. The aforementioned "we want you back" client followed that plea with "we need you back" and "what's your price" notes. Fine, but my response back to the client with my price clearly stated, was at first ignored for days, then answered with a "we really need your help - can you put something together for us now?"

Nothing doing. The price topic first needs to be addressed and it hasn't been. A contract has to be in place, and no amount of begging, niceties, or SOS talk is going to suffice. I type not one keystroke until agreements are signed. No trusting the "email word of honor" either. It's signed or it's a no-go. And the deflection of that discussion had me more than a little distrustful of their intentions.

I dislike attempts to instill frenetic negotiations on me, or on any freelancer. Some people are under the mistaken assumption that if they start a fire, the rest of the world will rush to extinguish it. In reality, their fires are exactly that - their fires. Not mine. Not yours. Not anyone else's who doesn't have a vested interest or a contractual interest in said fire. So without the contract, burn, baby. Burn.

I think what most unhinged me about this was the sense that once again, this client doesn't get that I'm a professional. The assumption that I'm waiting impatiently to hear from them or that I'm going to take the lack of any solid offer because they're such swell folk had me seeing red. It also convinced me that this client is running a business on little forethought and a whole lot of cheekiness.

No thanks.

What was the weirdest negotiation or contract talks you've ever had?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Triskaidekaphobia and Other Big Ideas

This is a mish-mash sort of post. Just consider it my random brain dump - perfect for a Friday!

Happy Friday the 13th. If you're like me and oddly fascinated by all things superstitious, this is your day. I'm more of the morbid-curiosity type. I'm not superstitious, but I find it interesting to see where these ideas were started. I am into the idea that the cosmos sends us messages and guidance to some degree, so any notion that a ladder or a cat could spell doom is intriguing. Weird, but intriguing nonetheless.

What a difference a haircut makes! I was feeling all disheveled thanks to too much work and too little hairstyle (the latter being the real issue). But after yesterday's cut and "enhancement" I feel like a new woman. In fact, my hair is now the color it was when my better half met me, which thrills him no end. I say hair fades over time (and gets whiter). He thought I'd gone lighter on purpose. Hell no! Why would anyone implant grays on purpose?

It's been about four days since I gave my price to the boomerang client. Silence. They may eventually respond, but I believe their budget just isn't up to snuff with their wish list. I hope when they do get in touch they don't try countering. Not cool considering the "we want you back at your price" condition. I don't think they would, but I've been burned too often to dismiss the thought.

I was reading a neat blog post on how to get big marketing bang out of minimum dollar input. How many of you use social networking sites to market? I found one ongoing job on Twitter and have reconnected with two clients on LinkedIn. Have you had success with marketing via such places? If so, how'd you do it and how much success are we talking?

What's on your mind today?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Worthy Tip - Ask for More

So how did you do on last week's worth-enhancing exercises? I know some of you complained (too bad, Paula!), but if you took the time to do one of those things, I'd love to hear about it.

This week, let's mix it up a bit. Some of you may find it hard to say no to a paying job, even if it's paying well below what you're worth. Understandable. Mind boggling, but understandable. The sure thing draws you, doesn't it? Some of you may reason that any check is better than no check. Not so, but you're not going to be convinced that easily.

So here's what I suggest to those of you unable to walk away from paying work - ask for more. That's right - stick your neck right out there and ask for more than the job is paying. If you find a client who wants to pay say 20 bucks when your rate should be more like 50, ask for 50. You should be able to face rejection (they're not rejecting you, just the notion of paying you more) and stand up for your rates.

If it's a magazine you've been working with for years, now's the time. Thank them for the assignments, express appreciation for your working relationship, bring up the fact that you've been a "couple" for a while now, and ask for a raise. Go on. Ask. The worst they could do is fire you.

Oh wait - that's a problem, right? Well, that depends. Is this a gig that's paying you a decent enough wage? If you're making somewhere around ten cents a word and you're not a newbie, that's not a decent wage. You have to be willing to risk losing something in order to gain a better fee.

So tell me, what has gotten in the way of your asking for more? Be honest. I'll start. I'm sitting here typing this contemplating why I still work for a client when I've long ago exhausted my interest, my income potential, and myself. I'm sitting here, like you're sitting there, a little nervous about cutting the ties. I'll be working toward a slow separation, but in the meantime, the doubts are out.

So spill. Tell me why you haven't asked for more.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Eventually, They Get It

Today's not a how-to advice-y kind of day. It's a chat day. I've been burning it at both ends this week (thank you, NanoWriMo for sucking up my time). I have nothing left in me. This is what you get. If you don't like it, move along. I'll be back to normal soon.

Got an interesting note from a client with whom I'd parted ways recently. The problem was the pay, and because I had tons of work in the in box, I had to say goodbye. There were a few other somewhat disturbing things that happened that made me leave, but in general the pay did the trick.

I got the note we all want to get - how much do you want and what do we need to do to get you back? I write specialty stuff. The original pay wasn't specialty rates. I endured it because of other higher-paying stuff from the client, but when that price came into question, buh-bye. I don't kill myself for anyone if they don't value what I do. But here was the proof that they get what they pay for - they were asking me back at my price. Amen. And if the price is high enough, I won't harbor any ill will for their original oversight. It must've been one hell of a search for a replacement. The words "bad experiences" makes me wonder just what they ended up with. But that's one more client who gets it. Time will tell if my price will be accepted. If not, I've got lots of other things keeping me busy.

Sat in on a client conference call/demo yesterday. It was neat to see a long-planned project coming to fruition. This is one smart client and I hope the impending launch goes well. I'm happy to be part of it and glad my work is valued. I've been struggling along with this particular client for two years now, doing occasional work as the funds become available. Patience has paid off - the funding has arrived. Lots of work in the pipeline.

I've put some serious time into NanoWriMo this year. I had a manuscript with 15K words and I'm determined to finish it. What better way than to use it as my headstart in the Nano contest? I know, not fair to start with that much but hey, there are no prizes beyond knowing you finished something, so no harm done. I need to finish this book. I promised coach Lisa Gates. I don't break promises.

An ongoing job is piling on the work lately, but it's also sucking the very life out of me. The work is fairly easy, but I've been doing it for three years. I'm feeling burned out. When a freelancer dreads opening the in box, it's a sign the job is no longer fitting. I got some good advice to drop the job to make room for another, better job. January is my goal. I will phase out the work and phase in new stuff. It's not a bad gig, but it's been keeping me too busy and stressing me out. If I wanted stress I'd take a full-time job.

So what's new with you?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

How-to Marketing Tips Revisited

Partly because Avid Writer Kimberly Ben mentioned on her blog that established writers are long on advice on what not to do and short on how to get a respectable career going, I decided to reach into the archives here and remind new visitors that there's a better way to build a credible writing rep. It's also partly because I'm swamped with work this week. Revisiting old posts seems like a good idea.

Thanks for the reminder, Kimberly! Below you'll find links to previous posts on how to build a marketing plan. I will caution that what works for me may not work for you (thank you to CatalystBlogger Jennifer Williamson for a timely reminder in that regard!).

If you have questions, comments, or additional tips, feel free to share them here.

Marketing 101: Finding the Clients

Marketing 101: The Approach

Marketing 101: Ongoing Marketing

What were your first jobs? How did you find those clients?

Monday, November 09, 2009

Why I Blog (and why you should, too)

An interesting tweet appeared on Twitter last week. It was a Technorati survey that indicated a full 75 percent of us self-employed folks believe that we have greater visibility in our industries because of our blogs. Mind you, that's the perception. Reality? Seems to hold true. The survey revealed that bloggers have seen 68 percent of prospective clients visiting their blogs actually buy something from them. Music to my ears.

But what you talk about is the important factor, in my opinion. I talk here about writing. This blog started as a tool to show prospective clients my level of expertise and understanding of writing and editing. It's evolved into a great community of thinkers and doers and friends. And it's now serving as a means to another end - it's trying like mad to show writers they're worth more than they think. What purpose it serves depends largely on what's going on in our profession (and frankly, my mood that day). I know I'm not getting tons of traffic from clients here, but that's okay. I have a purpose or three that I think goes beyond just marketing. Being true to those goals means being true to myself.

I was talking with a colleague last week when the topic of blogging came up. She said she'd never write for free, even for her own blog. That's great if you have a well-established career and reputation, as she has. But for a writer wanting to develop a strong foothold in an industry, a free blog is easiest way to start.

Mind you, that's writing for free for yourself. I would never advocate, nor recommend, any writer supplying articles to a blog that writer did not own. (The exception is guest blogging occasionally, which is a great way to extend your audience.) But writing that targets your intended specialty can open up a new channel of prospective clients who have been waiting for a specialty writer.

The thing about blogging, though, is you have to devote time not just to the writing, but to building a blog network/community among others who write about similar things. So many of you came here through other folks' blogs, just as I found others in the same way. You have to extend yourself to others and invite them in. Otherwise, yours is simply a blog with no audience and nowhere to go.

How many of you have specialized blogs? And whether you specialize or not, have you seen an increase in clients due to your blog?

Friday, November 06, 2009

Taking Time Off

October was a wildly busy month and November is shaping up into the same. The exhaustion I'm used to on Friday afternoon is occurring on Tuesday now. Time for a break.

While I'm off today putting a chunk of copy down on my National Novel Writing Month entry, I thought I'd share a new favorite video. Having worked in a corporate setting a few times, I related to this all too well. In fact, I'd bet a few of us have faced this with some clients.

How do you unwind? DO you unwind? When was the last time you took a day for yourself, huh?

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Building Worth One Day at a Time

Those of you who have been with me for a while know that I'm passionate about writers valuing their talents appropriately - hence Writers Worth Day, my mid-May mini-fest to remind the writing world that we too deserve decent wages. But talk on several forums I frequent have turned to education of our peers. For two years now I've been cajoling you guys into spreading the word, heeding the message, and making positive career changes.

But as I read through one forum's discussion, I wondered why we shouldn't keep this message going year-round. Why reserve it for one day or even one week? Writers need help now. The answer? There is no reason why we shouldn't promote this regularly. So I've decided to devote one post each week (more or less) to sharing something that's worked for me, giving you a pep talk, and generally showing you the way to better pay.

Here's this week's assignment:

Start thinking of your writing as a business. It is. Changing your mindset to business mode makes it easier for you to stand firm in your rates and conduct business as a professional. Take control of your business. You're no longer apologizing for wanting to charge for doing something you love. Baseball players charge for doing what they love - why shouldn't you?

Okay, that was a pretty cake assignment, so you're getting two this week. Second one:

Just for today, turn down one offer that doesn't meet with your income goals. Drop a low-paying client or renegotiate your current pay rate. Do something that says, "Thank you, but I'm worth more."

Second part of the assignment: this week, identify at least three more potential clients who will pay your rate without question.

Do you think of your writing as a business? When was the last time you sought out higher-paying work?

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

When to Walk Away

I had a nice email conversation with a blog regular the other day. She was relaying her frustration with bidding a large job. In giving all the details, it sounded like a pickle until she typed this line: "Any per-page rate I try to quote blows their budget away because of volume." Up to that point, I was thinking maybe a per-hour rate, a per project rate for one-fourth of the project, etc. But that line was the clincher. The problem wasn't that she was charging too much. The problem was that the client was paying too little for too much.

I've done it, too. I get wrapped up in the details to the point where it's a forest-versus-trees outcome - I lose sight of the complete picture because the details are so daunting. But I told the writer - and I'll tell you - if the problem is that you can't manipulate the numbers in order to meet your client's budget, your client's budget is the problem.

In this writer's case, the project was over 50 pages of specialized content. The writer tried like mad to bring her rates to within this client's budget limits. But in the end, she wisely let go of it. Why kill herself to get to a point where the client's satisfied and she's resentful?

It took me a while, but eventually I learned that a client's budgetary issues are not my problem any more than my budgetary issues are their problem. I can't help it if the client didn't factor in a decent wage for the writer. Why should I change my pricing structure to suit his bad planning? If the tables were turned, I guarantee you we writers wouldn't get away with that.

This writer knew it was time to walk away. She also knew that not doing so would result in her resentment of the project and the client, and yes, probably even herself for accepting less than she's worth. While it may seem crazy on the surface to walk away from a sure thing, sometimes it's walking away from a lousy situation.

What have you walked away from? Any regrets?

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Why Content Mills Have That Reputation

Not to open Pandora's box again, but my better half came across an interesting post that speaks directly to why content mills have a less-than-stellar reputation. He frequents a Scottish forum, and one of the forum members was livid recently. It seems her published book was plagiarized. The alleged thief posted a good portion of the book's "text adapted from the book and a list of tips and materials that come almost directly from the book." (Those were the original author's words) She was even more upset when the man posted 26 illustrations he took straight from her book, in her words. Where was all this posted?

In my opinion, that's what writers feel forced into doing when they accept payment that requires them to write tons of articles in order to earn enough money to make it worthwhile. It's a line that many may cross in an attempt to deliver more copy.

I'm not saying content mill writers have no morals. In fact, we can point to at least half a dozen instances where staffers on newspapers and magazines have either concocted their own news or have lifted stuff from other writers and made it theirs. My argument is that the mindset of "rewrite and revise" someone else's content is all too prevalent, and that mindset has been exacerbated by the pressures of providing a lot of copy - the content mill copy. Where are the failsafes? Does anyone behind the scenes check to see if these articles contain all original copy or if the copy's been lifted? And I'm not talking about CopyScape. That's a decent program, but it's not perfect. Compare it to Microsoft Word's grammar check function. Somewhat useful, but mostly not.

I'm going to ask something odd - I want to ask the content mill writers out there whether they've ever used one source and done revisions and rewording instead of originating the entire piece. Please, post anonymously if you want. I'm more interested in whether this is a common trend or if it's simply a handful of instances. How do you compile original copy - especially those of you who said they write five or more articles an hour?

Writers who don't work for content mills - same question. Have you ever used just one source and rewritten it? Why?

Monday, November 02, 2009

How Low Should You Go?

Beginning writers (and those still not up to their earning potential), this is for you.

The eternal dilemma: how little is too little payment for any job? When you're starting out especially, the problem becomes how to build a credible list of accomplishments and make decent money. That's how some get locked into writing for content mills (Let's clear this up one more time - writing Web content is NOT the same as writing for content mills - your clips do indeed end up on the Web, but the difference is the content mills pay low prices for high volumes. Web content writing - articles, website copy, online brochures, advertisements, etc. - for any other client pays quite a bit more. Big difference.)

So how low is too low? That depends. I'm not saying you go into business today and start charging $100/hr. I'm saying start smart. Locate credible sources that will pay you a good starting wage. The easy way to figure this - does the amount of time you'll put into that copy amount to a per-hour rate above minimum wage? Yes? And does that source hold weight with future clients - meaning are they going to see work that's landed somewhere familiar or at least respectable? If yes, then go for it.

The more accurate way to gauge this is to do some math (stop groaning - that's why calculators were invented). Get some paper, a calculator, and set aside a little time for you to consider your goals. How much money do you need to make this year in order to be profitable? Start with what you need in order to avoid driving to an office every day. Let's say $30K.

Take that hypothetical $30K and factor in the things an employer is no longer offering you. Remember, you're paying your own taxes and 401(k) now, and you could be paying for your own healthcare. How much per month for each of those? The IRS is ultra-helpful in helping you determine tax on your estimated amount, as are any number of tax applications.

Okay, now what about your office supplies? That ink costs you close to $100 every few months, doesn't it? Business expense. Paper, tape recorders, phone lines, fax lines - count it all. Don't forget any travel expenses if you expect to attend conferences or visit clients.

So how much of that $30K is left? That little, huh? Sounds like a real job, doesn't it? But you're not finished. Let's put aside the expenses for a minute and go back to the original $30K.

How much per month do you need to make in order to reach that $30K? There's your monthly goal - $2,500. Keep that number in mind. It's how you're going to measure each month your progress toward your own $30K annual benchmark.

Okay, now how much per hour? There's your number. If you take less, you'll be chasing your own tail in an attempt to reach that monthly goal. By my calculations, a $30K annual goal requires an hourly rate of no less than $15.625.

If you're working for a content mill and cranking out four or more articles an hour, you're probably feeling pretty smart right now because some of you may be making a bit more. However, that's $15 and change per HOUR based on a 40-hour work week. Can you keep up that pace? Yea, no. You can't. Try instead looking for magazines that pay you 10-50 cents a word. If you conduct two interviews per article and you can crank out that article in the same amount of time as four content mill articles, you'll have quadrupled the rate-per-article of the higher-paying mills. And you'll have a clip from a respected source that's been vetted and edited.

Also, remember that your per-hour rate is going to be of the hit-and-miss variety. Precious few of us actually work a week in which we bill all 40 hours. So consider how many hours of work you'll actually have in that week - if you're starting out, figure about 10-15 as a high estimate. Now what's your per-hour rate? If you work a 10-hour week, that's about $62.50 per hour. The less you work, the more you need to charge.

But remember - you have to pay your taxes and benefits, too. Ugh.

While knowing what you need to charge is great, here's another consideration; if you work for a client who needs website copy, etc., there's an industry-accepted price that writers charge. If you come in somewhere around that price, you'll have increased your income significantly. Example - I wrote website copy for a new website (the home page copy, landing pages, etc.). The client expected to pay around $2,500 for the project. I bid $2,200 and got the job. If I had bid based on the $30K expected hourly rate of $15.625, I'd have lost the bid by bidding just over $345. That would have branded me an amateur. Bid the value of the job, not the value in your head. The latter will keep you in your rut. The former will advance you beyond your target and help you set higher goals next year.

How low would you go? How far along in your career are you? And if you can share, what's your ballpark annual goal?
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