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Monday, October 31, 2011

Freakishness and Weekends

That was weird.

I could smell it on Friday. Any of you who are used to impending snow storms coming know what I'm talking about. The air becomes heavy, static, and the sun has troubles cutting through...haze? What is that? It's a storm coming, and if you're paying attention, you'll know about it a full day before it gets here.

It started on Saturday as light rain that changed over quickly. By 9 am, it was snowing. Hard. We had our first Nor'easter of the season. On a weekend we'd normally use rakes (if the leaves were down yet, which they're not), we were using them for a different reason - to knock snow off the trees so the branches wouldn't break. We lost two branches in total, and it was precisely because the leaves were still on the trees and the snow clung to them.

It snowed all day and into the night, but luckily by morning all was clear. It was too warm before the storm for the snow to stick to the driveway beyond a thick layer of sludge. But the road crews were out and the layers of salt were again thicker than the snow. Coming from a land of constant snow and dwindling salt piles, I view that action with a mixture of disdain and envy.

Sunday was a lovely day with sun, chillier temps (low 40s) and dry roads. Yes, they were pretty much dry. That doesn't mean my car isn't covered in salt. It is. Like I said, thick layers of salt.

Today I'll be getting a medical test in the morning, then putting together a portfolio for a client meeting later in the week. I finished a book I was working on, so I'll be editing. Just in time for the start of NanoWriMo. I got a large contract out on Friday, so I hope to hear from the client today with the project. And I have to get in touch with my insurance agency to give them my working life history via reams of paper.

How was your weekend? Did you fare better with the weather?

Friday, October 28, 2011

Friday Link Love

Thanks to everyone who participated in the LinkedIn Secrets & Success Webinar yesterday. It was a fantastic presentation - Susan Johnston walked us through both her presentation slide show and LinkedIn's pages, giving us strategies all the way.

Yesterday was also a great day in terms of marketing. I had sent out plenty of LOIs all week. One client got in touch yesterday and I'm meeting with them in their local office next week. Another is putting together plans for next year and said the timing of my note was perfect.

When I got up yesterday I was fighting off a horrible headache. I wasn't sure it wasn't a migraine because it came with the same symptoms except for the eye glare/movement. A few Advil and several cups of tea later I was feeling okay. By Webinar time I was in good shape.

Today is my man's birthday (and not a day older is he in my eyes), so I'll be off wrapping gifts and making a cake. For that reason, I'm going to let you browse through some great blog posts I've taken notice of this past week. Plus I'll toss in one of my own.

Have a great weekend!

The Marketing Myth - Yes Virginia, marketing is that simple.

Top 3 Symptoms Your Business Blog Reeks - Oh, Cathy Miller. This is why I adore you.

Moving Beyond Content Mills: Steve Sloane - Jenn Mattern gives a real-life example of how writers can have a life after the mills.

How to Get Your Writer Marketing Done In an Hour a Week - Sharon Hurley Hall proves again that marketing isn't such a big chore.

My Freelance Writing Job Balance and How To - A nice snapshot from Allena Tapia.

Share your favorites (and your own posts) here!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Event-ful Opportunities

Today's the day! If you've not signed up yet, please join us for the LinkedIn Secrets and Success Webinar with Susan Johnston today at 11 am PT/ 2 pm ET. If you join both the Webinar and the Five Buck Forum, you get the entire enchilada for $15 - ten bucks for the Webinar, five bucks for the forum. For the price of three Starbucks lattes, you could be learning how to create a better presence on LinkedIn. Best deal you're going to get all week! Click here to join us.

Yesterday was nuts. I sent out a few well-targeted LOIs, one targeted query, and followed up on a number of other queries. The good news is a contact with one client resulted in not one, but three upcoming assignments. Plus I talked with a potential client again, and I hope things are moving along for approval of my working with them.

At the same time, Anne, Susan and I were trying to run through our Webinar presentation to work out any last-minute bugs. And the clients were asking questions. And I was carrying on an IM conversation about the husband's upcoming birthday. There were a few moments there when I wasn't sure what I was answering to.

Wade said yesterday that knowing how to approach an event in terms of marketing would be something he'd like to know more about. So guess what I'm going to talk about today? I have my own pieced-together system of doing it. You may find something valuable in it, and you may be able to find better ways of doing what I do, in which case I'd be happy if you'd share.

Find the conference. Here's the hardest part. If you don't specialize, this can leave you feeling like you're twisting in the wind. Which one to attend Where to look? First, decide if you want to remain local or if you're willing to travel a bit. Conferences are often listed per-city, such as this list. You can also go to this site and browse the conferences for one that appeals.

Plan ahead. Choose one that's at least six months out. It makes it easier to approach clients and catch them before they start planning their communications materials.

Find the lists. Getting lists of conference attendees is like finding the Lost City of Atlantis. It's impossible without a lot of capital. Those lists are gold mines for the conference organizers, so you'll pay through the nose for them. Instead, go to the exhibitor section. Most conferences will have lists of companies that are exhibiting. That gives you, depending on the size of the show, from hundreds to thousands of possibilities. The list I'm working on now has over 2,400 exhibitors on it.

Do the legwork. These lists show you company names and if you're lucky, a website address. Use it. Go find that communications manager or company owner's email or phone number. Open an Excel spreadsheet and start making your list of contacts.

Write your letter of introduction/phone speech. Introduce yourself. Tell them why you're writing. Tell them a little bit about yourself (keep it to about three sentences). Tell them what you've learned about their company -Something like "I've read a few of your company's online newsletters, and I'm wondering if you've ever considered a blog?" Make it relevant to your upcoming conference. I add something about the conference, how I'll be there and would like to meet, and then I ask if they need someone to help with projects prior to the show.

Follow up. I can't tell you how many projects came after I contacted them twice, even three times. The point isn't to sell - it's to get to know them and learn about their business. Selling is fine, but it may take you a while to get to that point. Be patient. Keep in touch, ask briefly if you can help, then ask about the business.

Do yourself a huge favor - in your initial note, ask to set up a meeting when the conference time comes nearer, say a week or so out. That way they know who's going, what their schedule is like, and when it's convenient for you to come by and hear about their business (from those who are in a position to hire you). Go armed with your portfolio, but let them do the talking. Listen, take notes, repeat back what they've told you for clarification (and to show you're listening), then tell them what you do when they ask.

Shows are a great way to get your foot in the door, make personal contact with potential clients, and develop a presence in a particular industry or niche. Even if you're non-nichey, the show can help you expand your business in new areas.

Have you gone to a conference or trade show with the intent of networking for potential clients? If so, what works for you?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Clause for Trouble?

Tomorrow's the day! Please consider joining Anne Wayman and me along with our guest Susan Johnston, Urban Muse and author of LinkedIn and Lovin' It, for our LinkedIn Secrets & Success Webinar. The price: $49. However, if you join the Five Buck Forum, you can get entry into the Webinar for $10, plus you get exclusive access to the forum, one free Webinar a month, the resources, and the ongoing discounts all members get. Click here for more info.

Busy marketing day yesterday. I reached out to a few new-to-me publications, sent out some LOIs, and followed up with some queries from a month ago. Nothing solid yet, but it's foundation-building time. I finished client blog work and today I have to get some invoices out.

I was alerted to a clause in the LinkedIn user agreement that's a bit disturbing:

"You own the information you provide LinkedIn under this Agreement, and may request its deletion at any time, unless you have shared information or content with others and they have not deleted it, or it was copied or stored by other users. Additionally, you grant LinkedIn a nonexclusive, irrevocable, worldwide, perpetual, unlimited, assignable, sublicenseable, fully paid up and royalty-free right to us to copy, prepare derivative works of, improve, distribute, publish, remove, retain, add, process, analyze, use and commercialize, in any way now known or in the future discovered, any information you provide, directly or indirectly to LinkedIn, including, but not limited to, any user generated content, ideas, concepts, techniques or data to the services, you submit to LinkedIn, without any further consent, notice and/or compensation to you or to any third parties. Any information you submit to us is at your own risk of loss as noted in Sections 2 and 3 of this Agreement."

Not exactly the most innocuous representation of copyright infringement. But is it infringement? Or is it a clause that allows LinkedIn to promote its site freely without worrying about who might sue if their forum post ends up in a teaser email for LinkedIn?

Here's my take, and please feel free to disagree: you shouldn't be posting your work on LinkedIn or any other free website. At all. If they want to circulate something, let them circulate your resume, your credentials, your expertise. If you use LinkedIn in the manner it was intended, I don't see how the clause could be harmful to you. If you're one who likes to post your poetry or essays all over the place, you could see stuff redistributed and you're loathe to do a thing about it.

How do you see it? Is it disturbing to you as a writer or creative? Does it make you think twice about using LinkedIn? Where could it be detrimental to you?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Why Marketing Isn't All That

Three more days until the LinkedIn Secrets & Success Webinar with Urban Muse Susan Johnston! Susan, author of LinkedIn and Lovin' It, will answer questions on LinkedIn, social media, and e-publishing. If you join the Five Buck Forum, you can get the webinar for a mere $10. That's $39 off the price for non-members. Plus you get access to scads of resources and forums where you can share with your peers.
Click here to join the fun!


Good day yesterday. I finished a client newsletter, scored another project with them, and got feelers out to seven new client prospects. There's a big show coming up - in six months. Now is the time to plan the communications pieces, people. Well, I said it a little differently, but that's the idea.

That was my marketing. For those who aren't used to marketing - perhaps you've been working in a farm situation - just know that marketing isn't all that.

It's contacting people. You do that now, don't you? No? Then you bought an iPhone for no reason. Communicating with someone who may buy something from you = marketing. Not that hard.

It doesn't have to be complicated. I spent yesterday sending out letters of introduction along with links to online samples. Today I'll be sending magazine query letters. Tomorrow I intend to cruise the LinkedIn forums and connect with potential clients (not sell to them - connect to them). When you look at it for what it is - getting in touch and staying in touch - it's pretty simple.

It doesn't have to take a ton of time. I spent maybe an hour on those seven LOIs. That's because these were brand-new client contacts and I wanted to look on their websites, find the right contact, make the note personal, and get the samples just so. It was a little easier because they were all in the same industry, so I didn't have to tailor my "experience" section all that much. The magazine queries are easier - I have the ideas, know which experts will fit, and know which magazine would usually print each story. Fifteen minutes per. At first, it is a little harder because you're new to it all, but once you build up contacts and sales, you'll know how to please your editors.

It doesn't have to lead to a sale every time. In fact, most of it won't. What the goal really should be, in my opinion, is to create a contact, a connection, and yes, even a professional friendship with someone new. You're meeting a new person. If you see it in that perspective, you'll lose the fear of saying hello.

What did your first attempts at marketing look like? How have your marketing methods changed since then?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Monday, Monday, Sniff, Sniff

Just a reminder that the LinkedIn Secrets & Success webinar is this Thursday at 2 pm ET. Save $39 off the price by joining the Five Buck Forum - for $15, you get forum access and discounts, plus a place at the webinar and a chance to win Susan Johnston's book, LinkedIn and Lovin' It. Click here for more info.

How was the weekend? I spent mine catching up on much-needed sleep. Two days off, two naps. Is there anything more decadent than a nap on a Saturday afternoon? I can't say the one yesterday was decadent - I was feeling awful. Whatever this is I'm fighting off had kicked me hard. I suspected correctly it was a bout of allergies.

Nevertheless, we had a lovely weekend. The sun was out, the leaves are somewhere between a warm yellow and vibrant orange, the air was crisp, and the world seemed ready to enjoy it. Saturday we spent at the farmer's market, then the whole foods store, then back home where I made my first miso soup. He hadn't been feeling well, I certainly wasn't, and we were craving the miso we'd had at a local restaurant the day before. I'd found kombu (seaweed) at the whole foods store, along with the rice wine. It turned out great.

Yesterday we decided to get in the car and drive. He was finishing a liquid fast, so he was feeling worlds better. Me, not so much. But getting out was terrific. We ended up at the Daniel Boone homestead and a neighboring state park, where we enjoyed more sunshine, chillier temps, and nearly got caught in the middle of a six-car accident. In the park.

Younger boys in a car behind us weren't content with the 25 mph he was driving through the park. Posted speed limit and when there are people everywhere walking, you damn well obey them or someone gets hurt. Sure enough, they swerved to our left unexpectedly, at the top of a small hill, just as three other cars were headed in our direction. Everyone locked brakes, and two people ended up sideways. In a park. You'd think they'd take that as a lesson in patience. Right. They didn't get off our rear bumper until he came to a stop sign and waved them past us. And they were laughing as they did pass.

I had plenty of reading time and resting time both days, and I decided that the sore throat and headache may not be a cold. I was right. Allergy spray proved it almost immediately, amen.

Today I intend to press forward on one article due - have to contact the source for the last time - then get the invoice out. I have a few client contacts to get back in touch with, then more marketing and the preparation for Anne's and my Webinar with Susan Johnston. I'm eager to hear more from Susan. Her book was pretty revealing on how to use LinkedIn to its best advantage. I can't wait to hear her insights on e-book publishing, too.

How was your weekend? What's in front of you this week?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Link Love Friday

It's been quite a week. It started slowly, with little going on, but as the week progressed, the workload intensified, as did the contact with clients. I'm still trying to get to an agreement with one client, but in the meantime another contact from my magazine editor days got in touch. Seems I'll be working with him and his group regularly. I'm excited about it. He's a great person and one of those business people you enjoy watching build and grow business. He's succeeded because he knows what he's doing. I want to be around that kind of person. And I just plain like the guy.

Today I'm recovering from a very busy yesterday and trying to finish up some loose ends while nursing away what I suspect is a cold. So instead of my usual drivel, I wanted to share what I think are some of the best posts I've seen this week. To be honest, these are some of the best posts ever, starting first with our own Jenn Mattern (notice how I "possess" her in a non-creepy way - she's just great).

Enjoy your Friday and your weekend, everyone!

Free Business Resources for Freelance Writers: Bookmark this post - seriously. Jenn is practically handing you a better career.

Building New Income Streams When Client Work is Slow: This applies to every writer, not just beginners.

Be Yourself When You're Writing - Who Else Can You Be?: Told as only Anne Wayman can tell it.

Give a Little, Get a Lot: Michelle Rafter shows us when working for free can actually benefit.

Referral bonuses: What do you think? Let Susan Johnston know.

Freelance Follies Jake Poinier gives us a good laugh. Thanks, Jake.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

More Bang-bang in Your Shoot-em-up

Yesterday was a lesson in wheel-spinning. I got one article completed, then set out to get my new website put together. The one I have I really don't like, so I'm revamping everything. Websites should show personality, not what you think clients want to read. So they're getting me this time around.

The copy is going well, but the design, well....

I finally heard back from a client who's trying to get me on board as a freelancer. The trouble is there's a ton of paperwork and some questions regarding the contract terms, so once we iron those out we can get down to work.

Going on our theme this week - to help those DM writers who are interested in doing better for themselves - let's get busy on marketing. Nothing is more frustrating than crafting targeted queries or emails that fall short of any assignments. It could be that you’re doing everything right, but you’re missing one or two things that could push your efforts over to the win column.

FYI, don't forget - if you're a former content farmer, head over to Jenn Mattern's All Freelance Writing blog. She's spelled it out for you as succinctly as you're going to get. Learn from her and you'll have a stronger career.

Whether you market once a day or once in a while, you can improve your marketing results by applying some simple fixes to your current marketing plan. Here are ways you can better reach your client prospects and improve your chances of getting the gig:

Follow Up. If you want to increase exponentially your ability to close the sale, you have to follow up on your initial contact. It’s the easiest, yet most overlooked step in the marketing process. Follow up on emailed queries in three weeks, letters of introduction in two months, and client-generated calls or emails within a few days to a week.

Increase Points of Contact. I attended a conference in May, and I made sure to have at least four interactions with potential clients – 1) an introductory note prior to the show, 2) a meeting at the show, 3) a follow-up note and mailed marketing materials after the show, and 4) a note a week after the mailings went out to invite questions or projects. Also, I’m now following potential clients on Twitter and LinkedIn, plus I’ve joined several industry forums in order to communicate with them in an informal setting.

Schedule It. I make time in every day to market. That includes following up at least once a week. Find a time of day that works best for you, and make sure to spend at least 30 minutes each day contacting new or existing clients.
Ask for Referrals. Every time I finish a project in which the clients and I have worked well together, I thank them for their business and ask them if they know of others who need my services. Last year, the bulk of my work was referral work.

Reintroduce Yourself. You know that PR rep because she helped you locate article sources. But does she know you do more than just article writing? Take time to reacquaint your current contacts with your full background. I’ve secured some lucrative contracts recently by sending my resume to marketing folks I worked with ten years ago. One guy said he had no idea I “did more than just journalism.” Now he does.

Do you track your marketing strategies? What method seems to work best for you?

How do you increase the success of your current marketing efforts?

What’s your biggest marketing sin – forgetting to follow up, not marketing regularly, etc?

How often do you get referral work?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Committed

Wow, yesterday was a struggle just to sit myself down in front of this computer screen. I remembered I wanted to get a hair appointment, called, and was in her chair instead of this one until lunchtime. In the afternoon I worked on an article, then on more marketing. I tutor my Vietnamese student Tuesdays, so I had to put aside time to create some quizzes and exercises for her. She's studying for her citizenship test, so at least we have a set goal to aim toward.

Today, much of the same. I'm working with a client currently in putting together a newsletter, so I have one call to make today, one tomorrow, and copy to hand in by Friday. I love deadlines. Keeps me from feeling stagnant.

Yesterday we talked about diversification. We also discussed former Demand Media writers and how they can build a solid career. However, as Devon wisely pointed out, there are plenty of DM writers who aren't going to put the time or effort into a legitimate career. That begs the question: what's considered legitimate? Try clips from reputable, edited sources that don't allow for reworking of someone else's copy. Try clients who hire you at your stated rate, not theirs. Try clients you've convinced to hire you, not ones you found on a job listings site (while there may be some golden clients there, most are fool's gold, so to speak).

For plenty of former content farmers, there won't be a second, more solid career. There will be more of the same - hunting down the next aggregator to pay a paltry fee for what they call writing. But the smart ones, the ones tired of mucking it out in the trenches, will decide to climb out and into more fruitful areas. It takes commitment in a few different ways:

Commitment to self. You have to want to do better. If you don't, you'll be the one on the sidelines bitching and moaning because 1) writers are looking down on you (in your head or in reality), 2) writers aren't gift-wrapping your career for you and handing all their clients to you, 3) writers are saying you're not motivated enough to build a good foundation, and 4) clients don't want to hire you because of those lousy farm-made clips. Be the former, not the latter.

Commitment to quality. You have to desire quality writing over whatever pays the bills. We can all knock out low-paid articles based on nothing in particular. But we don't. Why? Because we've decided what we present to clients will be our best work. As a result, we decide to choose better jobs.

Commitment to career. I'm not going to lie - a successful writing career takes work. You're in charge of promoting yourself, inspiring yourself, challenging yourself, and teaching yourself. If you want to be successful, you'll grab hold of the challenge.

Commitment to business. You're more than an independent contractor; you're a business owner. You'll need to market, keep accounts, chase invoices, build work processes, network, partner, do the admin work, and handle all janitorial stuff (I'm not cleaning your desk for you).

Commitment to growth. You can stay at the $25-30K earnings level as long as you like, but you'll find those clients will probably tend toward wanting bargains, expecting discounts, or watching the time clock so as not to overpay you. Instead, why not expect your business to grow and take steps to make it grow? Aim up the client food chain, raise your rates, negotiate with your own earnings needs in mind, and say no when it doesn't fit or feel right.

Are you ready to make the commitment?

Writers, what was the toughest commitment you had to make? How did you do it?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Diversifying

There was an article posted last week about Demand Media's move to shed itself of writers. What I find interesting wasn't in the body of the story, but in the comments. There are a lot of angry people out there, but seeing a few of them virtually lynching other writers for offering help is, well, childish at best. I won't share the link because frankly I'm not into promoting people who post vitriol anonymously. To the one who asked for my 1040 as proof of my income, which they assumed was low - right. Give me your name and we'll talk.

One comment stuck out. A writer posted this:

"...I also find it ridiculous that these freelance writing “advice sites” keep claiming that they have an answer. These people are coming in as the second round of vampires, offering their own magic bullet for success."

If you're visiting the right places, you get that there is no "magic bullet" for success. There's advice, sure, and there's free advice here and tons of other places. Yes, some of them charge for advice (I do, but that's called "coaching","webinars", and "ebooks"), but you can find virtually any answer to your questions for free if you just search. I agree with her that there are sites out there that do claim to have an answer. As long as they're not claiming to have "the answer" I don't think it's a problem. Take what you can use, leave the rest.

This poster also said:

Long-time writers know that the days of $500 a pop stories for trade publications and others — or even $75 freelance news stories — are all but gone.

What I don't like about this assumption - and it's just that, an assumption - is that one person's experience is the way it is everywhere. Not so. Every article I've written this year (and last, for that matter) has been over that $500. That's my reality. I'd love to talk to this writer and see if there's something she's missing.

The part that made me shake my head was where she said:

"If the money was truly out there, these people would be actually writing. Instead they are trying to make money off of their own “How To” articles and ebooks on freelance writing. It’s really similar to Ehow; it’s just packaged differently."

There's where she couldn't be more wrong.

A good writer understands that writing magazine articles or news stories isn't your only option. If you want to do more with your writing, you diversify. We've talked about it a lot here. But for the latecomers, let's go over it again. In order to grow a business, you need to expand your client base. While some writers do offer advice and how-to processes, that's usually not the entire range of their business reach. And there are plenty of successful writers who write in one area only who and are doing beautifully. It may come down to a difference in marketing.

Still, if you're looking to diversify, here are some options for you:

Articles. Because my experience is different than the poster's, I still believe there's a ton of work in magazine and online publication articles. Last month I wrote six for one publication (smaller profile pieces) plus a larger feature. The work is there at the price that's acceptable to you. If you're not where you want to be earnings wise, look higher up the food chain.

Ebooks. If you have a specialty area of writing or you have a topic you're especially interested in, try either writing a book on it or teaming up with an expert in that field and co-authoring a book. Or you could....

Ghostwrite. Maybe you don't have enough material or interest in writing it yourself. You could present yourself to potential clients as someone who ghostwrites articles and books. I ghostwrite quite a few articles for corporations. It's somewhat of an untapped market. They want to get published, but have no time to write it. That's where you come in.

Seminars. Teach that corporation's employees how to put together grammatically correct communications, or talk to a group of locals on how to structure a resume. Host a seminar for other writers on how to network or market.

Speech writing. If you've sat through one speech that everyone applauded because it was finally over, you know the need is there. Hook up with your local Chamber of Commerce or try locating Toastmasters groups in your area. Don't overlook politicians - they may be in the market for someone who can clean up their grammar.

Tutoring. Parents are only too happy to pay you to get their children's English grades up.

Resumes. I wrote resumes for four years and they served as a steady income base. Don't go with just any company - look for one that pays you a fair rate and doesn't allow clients to have endless revisions (they don't pay you for revisions).

Blogs. Another good steady source of income. I write for three blogs at the moment. The work is solid and the topics are interesting.

The list is as limited as your own imagination. Think within your own skills and get creative on how you can apply them. That may be writing some how-to articles that help your peers in some way. That's called business. So be it.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Weekend Warrior

Don't forget to check out Anne's and my Webinar with The Urban Muse Susan Johnston. Susan will be giving us advice from her new book LinkedIn Secrets & Success. I've read it - it's a terrific resource. If you sign up, you're also entered to win your own copy. Please join us.


Some weekends just fly by, don't they? This weekend did, and I got precious little lazy time in. We spent Saturday at the coffee shop, the farmer's market, and the grocery store. The rest of the day was spent fretting about carpet beetles. One of the bairns brought them home from college two years ago and we've been battling them ever since. Exterminators aren't eager to try because they're persistent - apparently more so than our exterminator.

So I went on a search for borax, which I found after a few hours of searching (well, I did sneak a pedicure in). Supposedly, it kills them at their source, which is the baseboards. I managed to get the family room sorted. My method of application - a nasal aspirator loaded with borax. However, we have around 2600 square feet of house to cover. It's going to be a long week.

Yesterday we met at a friend's house in southern NJ for some meditation. She held it outdoors, which was superb - except it was dark before we finished and the wind was kicking up. Everyone was wrapped to their teeth with clothing and scarves and there I sat with two thin shirts, feeling like the only weirdo not freezing to death.

Today I have two client projects to get finished, then a personal project to complete, hopefully. I've been working on this one for quite a while, so it will be great to get it done, edit and revise, and put it out there. Also, I sent out some queries last week and the week before that I want to follow up on.

How was your weekend? Do anything fun?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Worthy Advice: Demand More

Looking to make the most of LinkedIn? Join Anne and me and special guest Susan Johnston, author of LinkedIn and Lovin' It for a one-hour Webinar on how to propel your profile and get more gigs. Register here and you have a chance to win a copy of Susan's book.

Good day yesterday. I finished a client article and gave her a bonus sidebar (love when I can do that), plus handled about four newsletter articles for a client, including edits. I then spent the afternoon working on personal projects and marketing (always that, right?).

My website is still not up and running. I'm a little fried on the technology to be honest, so I'm going to spend tomorrow getting both the site back up and the blog moved. As you know, I've been trying to put aside Blogger for some time now. Getting a little tired of the problems it creates.

The Demand Media news has finally sunken in for its roster of writers, and I suspect the next question they'll ask is "Now what?" Here's what - go over to Jenn Mattern's All Freelance Writing blog and get comprehensive information on what your next moves should be.

Freelance Writing Jobs You Can Pursue Today

Market Research and Planning

Moving Beyond the Job Boards

Keep checking back with Jenn - she has two more posts coming on the topic. Her advice above all others would be the advice I'd follow.

We all knew this was coming. Demand had built a model based on high volume, low pay scales, and convincing marketing that kept writers coming back. The "easy" job may have been easy, but writers were severely underpaid. Now it's going away. I'd say amen, but I wonder how much worse the next model will be.

I can't help but shake my head and want to slap something when I read the statistics and words from their own letter:

Demand Media boasts 3 million articles in its database. That's 3 million articles that were gotten on the cheap. If you wrote even 10 of those, compare what you've earned (about $150 maximum for all) to what the average magazine pays (about $1,000 for one). Right. They were great to you, weren't they?

"Only executable, valid and unique titles make it to your Work Desk." You know what that means - that how-to-bathe-a-yak article you've been working on no longer has a home. And forget one more article on poodle clipping.

Every article will now be written and edited by "a qualified professional with background, knowledge or experience in the topic." Let's not even go into what's wrong with that sentence (do they really mean one qualified professional doing both writing and editing?). The underlying point is previous articles were apparently not given this stringent oversight. And no more copying off someone else's paper. You'll be expected to know something about the topic.

"Every article has the appropriate format and word count for the topic to be comprehensively covered." So now if you're "lucky" enough to score an assignment, you're going to do more work than you did before.

"We will also be putting additional focus on helping you grow within your fields. This means offering ways for you to gain exposure on our sites and new tools for you to promote yourself and your work." Oh, I don't like the sound of that one bit. There's that word - "exposure." For those new to being screwed over, that means you're cleared to write for free. You'll still be slogging away for an unappreciative boss, but now you're minus the fifteen bucks you've grown accustomed to. They've taken a page from the HuffPo playbook - why pay when they can convince wanna-bes to write for nothing?

This post isn't to chastise you for former choices - you've made them, lived with them, and now have to move on from them. Instead, look carefully at the words of the very people who expected your loyalty and promised the same. This is not a healthy client/writer relationship. Rather, it's a lesson in how much some businesses will take if writers let them.

Move on from it. Make today the day you start expecting more for your hard work.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

More Competition or Better Odds?

There's plenty that ticks me off when it comes to retailer behavior these days. Customer service is nonexistent (in my area, anyway), companies make excuses, choose to ignore customers or worse, blame them for not doing something correctly. Instead of fixing an issue and retaining customer loyalty, they operate on the "gee, that's just too bad" model. My recent order from Target is no exception.

I waited impatiently for the day when they sold Missoni - a specific day. September 13th. I was up at 7 am, order placed by 7:15 am. Four days passed when I got my first notice - the order was delayed. No problem. I expected they'd have too many orders to contend with. Last week, I got another "order delayed" email. Whatever.

Then yesterday, notice that my entire order had been canceled. To that I say WTF? Actually, I said it more than once, and I tweeted my discontent. I get that there are limited supplies sometimes, but a month's delay to tell me I'm out those cute shoes and dress? I can't type what I'm thinking right now. See above.

The Demand Media debacle-du-jour has the Internet and Twitter abuzz with musings on just how much competition the soon-to-be-unleashed writers will pose for the rest of the writing community. Some are concerned that competition for those one-off gigs will now be fierce, and that work that used to come to us readily will now be harder to locate.

Either way, I say there's plenty of room. And I wish the former DM writers all the best as they find their footing. This blog and plenty others have the resources you'll need to build a better business. Stick your neck out - say hello here, ask for help, show us what it was like. We're here for you if you're serious about doing it right this time around.

But I suspect many DM writers won't survive the transition or be competition for veteran writers. Here's why:

They're brand new at it. First, many of the DM writers are new to marketing - as in wet-behind-the-ears squeaky new. That they'll suddenly be vying for gigs at the veteran level seems unlikely. The smaller gigs are ripe for the picking, though.

Marketing is foreign. Here's where I think we'll see many DM writers give up. The DM model eliminated the need to market, to vie for the job. A good number of DM writers haven't marketed before and don't know where to start.

It's now harder. Not all DM writers are interested in working harder in order to build a career. I'd bet a good portion were happy to be handed work without having to think about it. Add marketing, handling clients, and billing to the mix and you've now just increased the stress factor significantly.

The clips aren't there. We've talked before about DM writers being turned away by editors and the like because their clips from DM were not welcome proof of ability. That will still hold true, and many DM writers will have to start from scratch or hope to find a sympathetic soul willing to take them on anyway.

Former DM writers, what was it like jumping into the career headfirst post-DM? Writers, are you concerned about the influx of writers into the community?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Client's Client's Client

Ooo, this is a good one:

Join Anne Wayman and me, along with our special guest, The Urban Muse Susan Johnston, for LinkedIn Secrets and Success, a one-hour Webinar revealing how you can capitalize on LinkedIn's untapped potential! For information and registration, click here.

Yesterday was slightly more productive than Monday. I managed to get my article outlined, get some calls in to clients, and get more marketing done. I'm in touch with at least one client who's mentioned projects (plural), so I'm hoping to get something solidified this week or next.

Worked with Anne on our latest Webinar, and I made a new website. Despite my tech issues getting WordPress and my host to communicate like good little techies, I've gotten an entirely new site ready to go. It took minutes. Because FrontPage has disappeared, I was forced to look elsewhere for a site design program. Found one that works well - KompoZer. Everything seems to work well except trying to put a navigation bar on the site. Their help guide tells me that "navigation bar" is that tool on their software, not how to put it on my site. Not too bright, but hey, it's a freebie. And it was still tons easier than FrontPage ever was on its best day.

Had time to talk with a writer friend yesterday whose current project has him a little disenchanted with a particular client. The client was less-than-present during their interviews, so when he objected to the final product, he of course blamed the writer. This is a client of my friend's client, so he's at the mercy of a client who wants to please in order to keep the account. Under the bus he goes, and the client's client gets to avoid the embarrassment caused by his own lack of cooperation.

The project isn't dead yet, but he's sure he's not wanting to work with that particular person again. If he could, he'd fire him directly. But since he's the sub-contractor, he's left to do the job and please his client ultimately. That means taking flak from someone who said to get his quotes from their website.

It underscores a point - sometimes difficult people and situations are part of the job and we're loathe to change it. If we work directly with the client, we can do something, like communicate better, ask for more details, reiterate everything in writing, and be frank with them on what we're not getting that could stall their projects. You may still find yourself under the bus (you are a contractor/scapegoat, after all), but you'll know you did your best. But if you're working for a client's client, what then? Try this:

Be your own liaison. If your client is okay with your working directly with the clients, ask to also work with them directly when it comes to edits and revisions. You deserve the chance to satisfy and make it right.

Work it into your contract. For those times when the client's client is unaware of your involvement, make sure you have your client's word on handling all revisions.

Ask for stealth editing. He complained that you misquoted him or that you missed the point entirely. Ask your client to send over specifically what he objected to in order to see if it matches with your notes and recordings. The client's client needn't know, but your client should respect your professionalism enough to give you a cursory look.

Call the client's client directly. If you're working with them already, it's well within your right to talk directly to them in order to clean up what's bugging them. It also helps them feel you're hearing them, which may be all they need to get them to simmer down.

Have you had the client of a client raise a fuss? If so, how did you handle it?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Return of the Demand(ing) Jobs

I have no idea why, but I spent the first part of yesterday absolutely exhausted. It was as though I woke up five minutes after going to sleep. Luckily by noon I was able to function better. Didn't get much done beyond coordinating Anne's and my next Webinar, but maybe it was smart to avoid too much thinking.

I was checking on my ads on Craig's List and decided to scope out what offers are being bandied about on the Help Wanted side. This one had me rolling:
Install Me A Toilet

You can use a photo of the installed toilet in your portfolio or what ever you may need.

I Need A Toilet Installed For Free.. I Will Tell You Details If You Respond.

I Need A Fast One Made Please Respond Serious Inquires Only.

So Hurry Over 'Cause I Have To Dump Another Shitty Post.

To Ask A Professional Artist To Work For Free Too!

I Need It Free And I Need It Fast, Is That So Wrong?

it's NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests
Compensation: I'll let you have a photo of the installation! Hooray! Yay!


Thank you, Craig's List poster. It's good to know that there are people out there who still get it - we're professionals. We're not a bunch of hacks.

When I heard the news about Demand Media cutting back on assignments for its "writers" I practically shouted "Ah HA!" Every smart writer I know has said it endlessly - this work that these writers claim is so fabulous isn't going to last forever. A few of you actually put up posts a year or so ago urging DM writers to start looking elsewhere lest they find themselves without that $5 gig.

Jenn Mattern has a terrific series of posts going up this week about Demand Media's pending changes and her subsequent post proving you have no reason whatsoever to work for content farms. They're must-read material.

Economies being what they are, there are too many people jumping into writing without thinking or planning. This isn't a get-me-by-for-the-moment hobby. It's a career, a business. If you start out without direction, you'll have no end of trouble trying to find the right one.

Why you don't need to work for content farms or any article or SEO aggregator:

You can make money on your own. Why let someone take a cut of your earnings? They may not say they're doing it, but they're damn well earning ad revenue off your hard work and the work of others. You don't need that.

You can set your own rates, thank you. Don't work for people who tell you what you're earning. Would you tell your plumber or mechanic his/her rates? Then don't let someone else say "We pay $5 an article." First, that's crap wages. Second, that's not their job. The exception - magazines do state their per-word rate, but you're free to walk away from those that don't fit your needs.

There's plenty of work available. Jenn's series of posts just scratched the surface of what's out there. The reason you've not found work before - you got lazy. You camped out at these farms. You didn't look and you sure didn't put energy into finding better work.

Writers, have you ever worked for a content farm? What was the experience like? When did you jump ship? Why? What advice can you offer writers wanting to get off the content farm, er, wagon?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Loose Ends, Weekends

It was quite the weekend. Baseball (ugh), then football (yay!), and in the middle of it a disjointed plan to escape for a few days that turned out less than successful. Saturday we drove north to the Poconos with a list of B&Bs and an overnight bag. We located the state park, visited the park office, and drove just a little into the park before deciding we needed to get a place to stay before hiking.

That was about 4 pm. By 8, we had been turned down by nearly two dozen B&Bs and two major hotels, the last of which said nothing within a 35-mile radius was available. By 9, we were finishing dinner in a great restaurant in Jim Thorpe, and by 10:30 I was relaxing in my own bathtub. So much for spontaneity.

Only once before did we get burned and not find a place. We were in Munich coming home from our trip to Italy. We were going to drop off the rental car at the airport and just stay at the hotel there. Good thing we held on to those keys - that car was our bed that night. Some huge convention had hotels full from Munich to the Czech border. We parked in a neighborhood in a place called Friesing and he slept while I shivered.

So beautiful views on the ride through the mountains, but no extended visit. Didn't matter. We saw a coyote, a gorgeous sky at sunset, towns we'd never been to, pretty water views, you name it. We just didn't see the inside of any place to stay. Nice except for that part.

I decided to give my website and blog conversion a try on Friday. It's still not working. I'm not concerned because I can just put the blog back up, though it seems my host had a simple blog attachment tool (VERY hidden - found it only when I went to the help section and read two articles). So now I have to put my site back up manually. But I'm used to technology hating on me. I have a dummy site sitting on a different URL. I'll just cut and paste. Let's hope that works. I have a tendency to think technology will cooperate because in my head, it's easy.

I have an article to pull together today, plus I'm working on a client newsletter and have to gather reports from a number of people, so that will keep me busy. Then more marketing and some book work.

How was your weekend? What are you working on?

Friday, October 07, 2011

Keeping Track

What we're talking about on the Five Buck Forum: Where to send the query

Another slow day yesterday. I'm thankful for them at the moment because I'm able to catch up on my bookkeeping, desk cleaning, personal writing, and marketing planning. I had one interview yesterday, then I unraveled a few online accounts that locked me out (the downside of different passwords for everything is I can't remember any of them). Once I got my Visa Rewards account back up, I ordered four Christmas gifts. There's something to be said for a debit card with Visa logo attached - free gifts.

I had a chance to go back through some queries I'd sent two, three, even five years ago. What surprised me was that a good portion of them (six) were still relevant. So why hadn't I sent them out again when they didn't sell the first time? Because I failed to track them.

I thought - wrongly - that having saved the queries, I'd revisit them sooner rather than later and resend them. Funny how time and experience has actually taught me something about my memory for such things. So I dug those queries out and found new potential homes for them. It was a damn sight easier than coming up with six new queries.

Here's why I now track every submission, even if it's just a bullet point with a date attached. I can:

Extend the shelf life. Like I mentioned already, I was able to send out those six ideas again. I double-checked the facts and tweaked each one to fit the intended audience. Voila! The ideas live again.

Follow up on submissions. I realized with some regret that I'd sent ideas and not followed up on them. Who knows how much income I left sitting? Not anymore. Now I'm bouncing back to them in six weeks (three weeks if it's an emailed query).

Decrease my query work. Not every idea flies with the first pitch. Why put out 24 unique ideas when maybe three of them will get a home? Reworking and resubmitting those ideas that didn't sell free up my time considerably.

Revise the topic. Maybe the idea didn't sell because it was developed correctly or the focus was off. Going back to it allows me to rework it, put in new facts if needed, and check the focus.

Get used to doing business professionally. The more I get used to tracking and following up on queries, the more likely I am to extend the practice to marketing, client contact, etc. It's just good business sense.

Do you track your submissions? Why or why not?

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Bookending

How was yesterday for you? I spent it learning how to move this blog, plus trying to get my domain out of the hands of the GoDaddy people. I had plenty of time to do so - a current project is sitting idle until I can get some interviews lined up.

Anne and I were talking about bookending during our About Writing Squared call the other day. Bookending - accountability - call it what you like, but it's probably the strongest weapon in your battle to stay on task and on track. Anne's post on it is here.

Bookending is this - reporting to someone what it is you're about to take on or do, then following up later with that someone to check your progress. Accountability in any business is a powerful tool. In freelancing, it's a game changer.

We do it here every month. Actually, I do it here and you follow if you're feeling like it. Not exactly the same, but if you commit to reporting your progress to someone - anyone - once a week, once a project, once a month, you'll see a difference in your work outcome and in your own attitude. When I started reporting openly my activities, I started tracking what I was doing. With that visual reminder always on my monitor screen (literally - I have virtual sticky notes), I saw my own commitment to marketing increase.

What you can use bookending for:

Tracking marketing. That comes to mind because it's how I use it every month. That visual, public reminder of my progress not only gets me to own up to my own shortcomings, but may also inspire you to do the same.

Learning new skills. If you want to learn HTML, SEO, or any other acronym or skill, use bookending to push you in the right direction. Set the goal in your mind. Figure out how much time you can devote to it each week, then tell a friend.

Finishing a project. I remember being on a call with coach Lisa Gates when I mentioned one goal I'd not completed - finishing my book manuscript. She said, "So when are you going to do that?" Without hesitation, I said "By November 30th." Wow. Did I really say that?

Funny thing about verbalizing the commitment - I now had to make it happen. So I did. I'd said November 30th because I knew NanoWriMo was coming up. I had no more excuses. Time to get it done. And I did - last damn day at 9:30 pm, I finished. Oy and Amen.

Organizing your workspace. I know you sit there among piles of papers and files and dust bunnies. I know because I do, too. Plan your day to clean and organize. I know you think you'll do it when you have down time between projects, but I know my own propensity toward Bejeweled Blitz, genealogy, or blog and Facebook surfing. Schedule it. Trust me.

Do you use any accountability practices in your own work process? If so, how has that helped you? Where might you apply bookending?

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Friends in New Places

I felt like I was slogging through mud yesterday. Way too many things getting in the way and not enough work. I did get one more assignment from a regular client, but nothing concrete on the three others who were asking about upcoming projects. Soon. Patience. If I say that often enough, I may convince myself.

I kept reaching out to clients with suggested projects, and I added another contact group - PR folks. I have had great success working with and for PR folks in the past. They need writers almost as often as corporates do, and often they're part of a corporation. Why not reach out?

Here are a few ideas for finding some new friends of your own:

Communication managers. You work with them on getting story sources. Why not ask them if they have need for a writer who understands their business? Some of my best contacts - and recommendations - have come from company communications managers.

PR firms. Just introduce yourself. Tell them the types of articles you write. Ask them to put you on their lists to receive releases. Use their clients once in a while. You'll be surprised how much work comes from befriending these folks. They appreciate someone who helps them do their jobs, and you'll appreciate the good PR folks who get it right.

Managing editors. These folks are the true gatekeepers at most magazines. They're the ones who hand out assignments, manage freelancers, and get the issues out. Mind you, that does vary per magazine, but in most of my own dealings with magazines, I've worked directly with managing editors.

Where do you have potential for new clients? Who haven't you approached that could be a great source of leads? How would you approach them?

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Giving Them Reason

Yesterday was a bit of a fractured day. I had a doctor visit in the morning, then an interview in the afternoon with a bit of research scattered about. I managed to get out a few proposals to potential clients, and then off to get groceries.

The proposals were something I was pondering all weekend. I wanted a new way to approach these contacts I'd made at the conference - I'd sent them all follow-up correspondence and a few more serious ones got full portfolios. However, only two clients are talking about projects with me. The rest are still on the fence.

I decided it was time to get a little more concrete. Here's my new plan:

Give them a reason to say yes. In each case, I did a little homework and, remembering each client's business focus, I proposed a project. For example, one client was sent a link to an article that related to their business, and I proposed to write something similar for them as a thought piece.

Get specific. I want to show them what they're wanting to see, so in a few cases, I asked the clients to let me know what types of projects they're hoping to accomplish so that I can send them specific examples from my portfolio. Not everyone wants to see a white paper when all they want is website work.

Speak to their needs. I know one client has a terrific service, but can't quite find the buyers. So I proposed something that would get word out and do so by using his name as the expert. Plus there are other ideas I'm waiting to pitch to him. We're talking today.

Lead. In every case, I've pitched not my expertise, but their needs in relation to that expertise. I gave them the lead on projects and on ways we can make it happen. I know these projects will work for them. I've given them examples. It may be what's required to get them to say yes.

How do you give clients a reason to say yes?

Monday, October 03, 2011

Monthly Assessment: September 2011

Happy birthday to my youngest bairn! Today she is 23 and a lovely young woman she is. Both she and her brother make their mom proud.

I'm glad last week is over. Every bit of technology I touched went wonky. I'm hoping the weekend "reset" my abilities. If it were only that easy.

Hard to believe, but it's that time again. This month, I'm not anxious about the assessment. It was beyond expectations. I had a ton of work come in the first week and into the second week, which kept me busy through last week. Last week, I did a lot of sitting idle, but that gave me time to hit the marketing hard and get some writing done on a personal project. Plus I had time to wrangle with technology. It won. For now.

So here's this month in a nutshell:

Queries:
I sent out eleven new queries and resent about six older ones. Also, I tweaked a few and sent them to other markets. One query came back already in assignment form. The others were sent not that long ago, so it's too soon to tell. One magazine I've sold to has now received three queries from me. Each time I have to beg an answer, and each time it's a short "no thanks." Wondering what went wrong there. On to the next...

Job postings:
I may have responded to one (honestly can't remember), but I did more ad posting than ad responding. Instead of trolling past $5-an-article gigs, I created my own ads and placed them locally.

Existing clients:
Amen for the clients who love me. I had not one, but seven articles to finish for one magazine. Other client gigs included a website rewrite, a catalog project, a press release, plus the ongoing blog post gig. I saw a beloved client's work drop off considerably, which is upsetting. I really enjoy working with her. Still, she's relaunched a new brand and there's hope.

New clients:
The conference attendance is about to pay off. I was contacted Friday by one of the folks I'd met with, and a project is headed my way. Also, I'm still courting another client whose schedule must be insane, for she's wanting to talk but not answering emails. The call will go out this week to her.

I was playing email roulette with a potential client, but he was being too dodgy on the facts (like what his name was and where he was located). I grew tired of playing, so I gave him my price. He vanished from my in box, but reappeared on a forum I frequent - soliciting for writers. Whatever. Not my client. My client doesn't mind paying a fair rate for excellent work.

Earnings:Here's why Lori is smiling this month. I billed 68 percent more than what my monthly target is. I came very close to billing more than double, but an expected project was pulled.

Bottom line:
It's true what they say about 80 percent of your sales coming from 20 percent of your clients. Every ounce of work I got in came from existing clients. I managed to reach out to a few new clients (nearly all of the queries went to new-to-me publications), and I'm checking back with conference folks hoping that they're in their post-summer work mode.

I'm continuing the daily marketing. It's working. Plus I'm continuing the networking. Many of September's assignments came from folks who contacted me - not the other way around.

How did you do in September? What seems to be working for you?
Words on the Page