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Friday, December 30, 2011

Monthly Assessment: December 2011

I'm still out of the office, but I wanted to leave behind the monthly assessment. Just because the rest of the country is on vacation doesn't mean we can avoid accountability.

Here's how it went for me in December:

Queries:
Knowing time was limited, I didn't send any queries out this month. Well, almost. I put a few in the editors' in boxes the day before I went on vacation. I'd love to have something waiting for me when I come back to this chair.

Job listings:
Right. I didn't waste my time looking. It's too hard wading through the garbage and for what? More garbage. Instead, I made my own work.

Existing clients:
Not a ton of work from existing clients, but I did get some. I invoiced for two articles and for three client projects.

New clients:
I added one more client to the three I'd picked up last month, which has made for a sweet working situation. Lots of work in the mix, and plenty coming in steadily.

Earnings:
Some months I just love writing this part. Among those four new clients, I surpassed slightly my earnings goal in just two weeks. Mind you, November was light because I was still signing on with them, so it's not reflective of the true picture to just count the invoice totals.

Bottom line:
The marketing strategy I adopted two months ago is really paying off. Actually, some of it can be attributed to the work I did at the conference. One client was from there and a few more are probably going to reach out in January when their budgets are full. I'm expecting to be quite busy, so I'll be in the happy position of offering my services at higher rates to any newcomers.

How was December? Did assessing your earnings each month help you all year?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

My Favorite Things

Leaving a few more vapor trails for you:

Plenty of blogs exist with information that's either done to death or done poorly. However, there are a few blogs that stand out as favorites. From each I've culled one favorite, each a reason why I love visiting these people.

Moving Beyond Content Mills: Steve Sloane - Jenn Mattern shows us through real-life example just how easy it is to do better than the content farms.

There is No Typical Pay for Writers - It takes a lot to make Anne Wayman lose her cool, but this question is the one that had her typing "Arghhhhh!!!"

How to Get Your Writer Marketing Done in an Hour a Week - Marketing is simple. Sharon Hurley Hall shows you just how simple. Brilliant post.

Anticipate Lulls in Your Business and Plan Accordingly - Kimberly Ben gives some great tips on where to look for more clients.

Freelance Follies: A Second Opinion - Dr. Freelance Jake Poinier illustrates what can happen to writers who allow third-party review of projects.

The Well-Fed Writer blog: Peter Bowerman explores heuristic writing versus algorithmic writing, and the comments are as interesting as the premise.

The Freelance Writer's Ultimate Guide to Queries - This post is just one of many that made me a Susan Johnston fan.

3 Business Communication Mistakes That Cost You Big-Time - Cathy Miller is one to follow, and this post is a small sample of her brilliance.

Share a favorite link.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Your Favorite Things

I'm not here, but I'm leaving a trail....



Over the past year, there have been some posts that made you talk. Here are some of those posts, in random order:

Seven Deadly Freelance Sins - How many are you committing?

If Freelancers Worked Like This - My review of UPS versus USPS. It wasn't pretty.

First the Cart, Then the Horse - Lots of you had something to say about the HuffPo writers suing for payment after the sale.

Thievery, Deceit, and Copyright Stomping - When your stuff gets stolen, what do you do?

Freelance Essentials - Plenty of people weighed in on the essential tech products. We even discussed religion - technology religion. Windows versus Mac is always a lively discussion.

Freelance Budgeting Tricks - Some serious, and not so serious, plans for saving some cash.

The Career-killing Blame Game - You know you've said some of these things. I have. Question is have you stopped?

Share a link, leave a comment, tell us what got under your skin (good or bad) this year.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Early Holidays and Androids

Wildly busy weekend! Since we're going different directions this year, we celebrated Christmas together on Saturday, complete with gifts. I was still shopping at 2 on Saturday, so it was a bit stressful. But we had a few flakes of snow, which put me right in the mood.

I spent yesterday putting together the Christmas cards and putting together a holiday dinner. Turkey tettrazini for them, squash soup for us (he cooked that). Nice celebration. It felt right somehow to be doing the holidays with a lot less stress. We'll do it again over the next few weeks, but it was nice to have family time with the kids who are here.

I'm on my vacation starting tomorrow, so I won't be posting, won't be peering in here, won't be doing anything other than avoiding technology. Almost. I broke down and bought myself a smart phone. I did my research and found the highest rated one on the market - Motorola Atrix 2. It comes with high recommendations from tech editors and users alike.

From what these iPhone users here in the house tell me, it's amazing enough to give even the kid who's a hard-core Apple user phone envy. He told me my browser is faster than his and we're both 4G. I let them tell me how great it is - I don't know from anything. It's my first smart phone. I just wanted something reliable, easy to use, and one with the most customer satisfaction. I don't know how I lived without this thing. And let's just say I'm having a blast syncing everything from my computer. Easy as heck and nothing extra to buy to do it. Now if I could only find that ghost hunting app....

Two client calls today before I head out on vaca. I'm about to pick up more client work, which is always a blessing. Then I'm invoicing two more clients and calling it a day.

Have a wonderful holiday, everyone! I'll leave some posts behind, but not with the same frequency. No one is around to read them anyway, so just enjoy your family and friends and leave the technology behind. :-)

How was your weekend? What's on your agenda the rest of the month?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Link Love Friday

Nice day yesterday. I was able to slow down and get a few things done I've been meaning to do, like mail Christmas presents and print the Christmas cards. Mailing the cards is another matter, but I'm one step closer...

Thanks to a fox that insisted on barking outside the window last night, I'm running on fumes. Luckily, I got the first draft of two projects done yesterday. I don't know how it would look with my head typing out Zs on the keyboard.

Because it's Friday, I thought I'd share some of my favorite blog posts with you. So here they are in no particular order:

Are Your Nice-ing Yourself Out of Freelance Writing Profits? - Anne Wayman shows you areas where you may need to toughen up.

Are Your Business Communications Vehicles Driving You? - Cathy Miller continues her terrific, ten-part series on building a business communications plan.

5 Sources for Free Online Writing Training - Great list from Susan Johnston.

How to Compile a Cold Call List - Chris Bibey gives us a good start on where to find client prospects.

Landing Copywriting Gigs in Unusual Ways - Peter Bowerman proves that clients are indeed everywhere: even playing online Scrabble.

5 Ways to Thrive During Tough Times - Nice guest post on Dana Prince's blog. Check out her entire blog. Great stuff!

Share a link, share a story, share a song. What's inspiring you this week?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

What Doesn't Wash

Had a slower-paced day yesterday, which was a welcome break. I was able to design a cover for my marketing e-book and get in two client calls. My first resulted in a retainer and a possible second retainer. I'm going to love working with these folks because they're just so strongly team focused. The second call was with another client and we discussed the third (and fourth) project for the month. I'm planning to spend today getting it started.

I was talking with a newer freelancer whose client - a friend of a friend - is becoming a bit hard to handle. First he'd introduced edits from his friends. However, she was smart and had put a "no third parties" clause in the contract, so he now owes her for the entire project. He understood that, but then went on to incorporate the friends' edits into the document (and had the nerve to tell her he was doing it). What seemed odd was his ignoring of the fact that the existing contract had already been breached. My friend reminded him, told him she's still drawing up the new contract, and included the original contract language to punctuate her point. He relented. Then the fun began.

He went silent, then decided to create his own reality. He said they'd just agree that he won't show the project to anyone else and then he criticized her work very generally, and now wanted more comprehensive edits, again ignoring the voided contract. She once again reminded him that the contract was void and he'd not yet agreed to the new contract. His response - he had to show it to others because he wasn't getting the "proper" feedback from her. Then he told her he needed her to look over his messaging, which was not part of the original, now voided contract.

Time to open a can of whup-ass, I say.

So when a client gets pushy, writers need to assert their rights. In this case, the writer is owed money. She is no longer obligated to complete the project, and any work she does for him now needs to be under a new contract.

There are any number of ways to handle a situation like this, and depending on the client and the writer's level of patience, not all methods will work.

Stop working until the first invoice is paid. The best solution for belligerent clients. If the client is piling more work on and ignoring the obvious, as this one was doing, you stop. You wait until the check clears before starting again, and you do so under a new contract.

Drop the client entirely. It's what I would do at the first hint of someone not following contract terms. Actually, at second hint. Everyone messes up once, but the client who goes on to push for what is no longer required needs to go away. I know my friend intends to drop this client. She should. Anyone who refuses to abide by the contract and then argues the point, creates work-arounds, or flat-out ignores the terms deserves to be on his own. And he still owes you.

Ignore the criticism. Criticism that comes as things are unraveling is a sign of someone who isn't planning to pay. It's a guilt tactic meant to shame the writer into backing off the billing. It's also a sign that the client has no respect for your services or skills. Send the invoice and be diligent about collection.

Stop scope creep. Notice how the writer's client kept adding to the project? The minute a client adds something not expressly described in the contract, push back. Don't think "It's just one modification" because when you're up to four modifications and you're now handling six times the work for the same fee, you'll have a harder time stopping it.

Don't let them hold the check hostage. This client may think his additional project needs coupled with his criticisms will get him free work. He's in essence dangling her check over her head and implying non-payment. If they breach the contract, they owe you. Period. If they want more work done, that's a new contract. If they don't pay, you don't work. It's that simple.

Give a peace offering. Mind you, I'm one who thinks anyone pulling any of the stunts listed above should be dropped and made to pay immediately. However, there are some clients who get genuinely confused and who are decent people you may want to work with again. For them, offer to handle one courtesy revision or edit. One. Not seven. Get it in writing, too. Note that I did this once. It worked okay, but then the client expected it every time. I fired them. Use with caution and only if you're sure the client isn't trying to avoid payment or get something for free.

How often have you seen this happen with any of your projects, past or present? How did you handle it? Did you ever face a client who had voided the contract and still insisted on more work? How did you resolve it?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Your Online Business Planning Session: Part Five

A good deal of work to do yesterday, part of which included preparing invoices. Love that part of the job! Today is a bit of invoicing as well, along with lining up more work for January. I suspect I'll be really busy anyway, but just in case. Never stop marketing. Where have you heard that before?

Back to our plan. We're on the home stretch now. You've put together a good plan to keep your business in good shape, and you've factored in growth. Now let's add some continuing education to your plan.

Why? Because you want to grow as a writer and begin to offer more services, which lets you raise your rates to match those skills. So what skills would you like to add? Do you want to learn how to write press releases? White papers? Marketing plans? Novels? Whatever you choose, there will be plenty of educational options.

Choosing requires some thought. You can get the wrong course without realizing it. Most courses or webinars do not offer refunds, so choose carefully. Once, I signed up for a writing course in which the instructor was a hands-off type. She was also in love with her own brilliance. Our daily readings/lectures were 115 pages minimum each day. Then she required four lengthy assignments per day. I couldn't keep up. It was quite obvious the course was intended for people who weren't working all day. Had I known, I'd have never signed up.

Where you learn is as important as what you learn. So when considering courses and workshops, consider these factors:

Are you earning skills or accreditation? If you're trying to add press releases to your skill set, you probably won't need to pay for accredited courses. However, if you're looking to add say technical writing or medical proofreading, look for learning opportunities that offer designations you can then use to promote yourself. Find out if there's any leverage to be had or any client requirements by gaining accreditation.

What are the options? You can pay for a six-week webinar series or a three-month college course. There are one-day workshops, one-hour workshops, etc. Also, you can choose from phone, self-paced, in-person, or any other conceivable learning environment. Look for a time frame and learning environment that fits your needs best.

Who is teaching? Probably the most critical point to consider is who will be instructing you. Is this someone with enough background for that particular subject? What are his or her credentials? Does the instructor's outline make sense or align with what you're hoping to learn? Does the instructor market the courses sensibly, giving you detailed information on the courses and what you can expect to learn? Do you trust this person? Can you get feedback from past students? Pay attention to how the instructor is communicating the offer - that will give you an idea of how that course will be presented. Does that style appeal to you?

What does the material look like? You don't need a ton of material to make a great course. You need concise, sensibly presented materials that give you enough information to do the job correctly. Is your instructor organizing the materials in a way that creates a good flow of information? Will you be able to go from course to projects once you've finished the course, or will you be required to take more courses? What are the course requirements? If the instructor hasn't spelled that out, ask.

How many new skills you add to your current experience is up to you. But building at least one educational training session into your business plan is a smart idea for writers who want to expand their capabilities.

Have you attended any webinars, seminars, workshops, or courses over the last year?
If so, did you think you received good value for your money?
Were you able to apply the skills you learned and gain new clients? Why or why not?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Your Online Business Planning Session: Part Four

So you've come a long way in putting together your plan. Feels good, doesn't it? It will feel better once you secure some business. That brings us to our

Marketing Approach

Honestly, this post could be a book. In fact, it is. Once I'm done editing it, anyway. So this isn't going to be a comprehensive guide to building a marketing plan. This is more of a quick-and-dirty list of ways to reach clients.

For this exercise, your goal is to identify ways in which you will contact clients. Not could contact - will. We're into action.

Email. It's the easiest way to pop a note off to a client. It's also the easiest way to be ignored. Unless you've done your homework and have crafted a killer letter of introduction that shows you know this client, you'll need at least one more way to reach clients. Try

Mailed brochures. You're running a business. Businesses need brochures. They're easy to create, easy to print (hire a professional for the printing - don't chance runny ink), and easy to mail. Plus they make you look like a professional and not a dabbler.

Phone calls. Some clients simply will not answer an email. I've come across lots of clients who would rather pick up the phone and hear a live person. Phone calls give you an advantage over emails - they put a voice and personality to your name. I use phone calls as a second contact option. They've contacted me about a project, so now I can take it to the phone and convince them with my personality that I'm their writer.

Newsletters. What a great way to invite clients to get to know you before hiring you! Sending out a newsletter via email or snail mail is a super way to share valuable information and show your expertise on various topics.

Social media. How easy is this? Meet your clients on Twitter, follow them on LinkedIn, and share ideas via forums and tweetups. Plan your social media promotions just like you would any other promotion. Know that social media should needs a more informal approach, and the goal is to befriend and get to know clients, not browbeat them into hiring you.

In person. Remember actually meeting people? It still remains a super way to personalize your client communications. People want to know with whom they're doing business. They want a tangible being sometimes, and if you're able to meet them - even if it's meeting them at a coffee shop or at a business event - you increase your name recognition with them. Try mixing a few in-person meetings in with your usual marketing approach.

Your website. If you don't have one, you're missing a ton of opportunity to connect with clients instantly. It doesn't have to be fancy, just professional looking. If you don't trust your design skills, get a professional designer to handle it.

What other ways can you reach out to clients?

Tomorrow: New Skills

Monday, December 12, 2011

Your Online Business Planning Session: Part Three

I have a new URL! After much stress thanks to Wordpress, I customized this URL - you'll now find this blog at http://www.wordsonpageblog.com/ Update your bookmarks!

Great weekend. I managed to act as much like a slug as possible yesterday. I earned it. We had the meditation group over on Saturday, and we spent the day cleaning and preparing. Then we shuttled most of them off to the Firebird Festival, which is apparently getting great press. Parking was impossible. We managed a spot five or six blocks up from the main street, but it was a fluke. And this year we weren't able to get very close, though as the bird burned, we could feel the heat. Everyone could.

This morning I'm off to a client meeting in New Jersey, then back for a call with another client on some projects. Busy day.

Back to our business planning. Now that you've planned your income and expenses, let's figure out where you're getting all that money you intend to make. For this, we need to make a

Client List

This is not a post on where to find clients. Those have been written to death, and frankly, clients are everywhere. You just have to reach out to them and convince them you're their writer.

So, with whom would you like to work? Yes, it's that simple. Locate clients whose business models you admire, whose products appeal, or whose personalities draw you in. You can specialize if you want - or not. Who your client will be is your decision. So let's start by looking at what's already worked.

Current best clients. Know those clients who have become favorites, who pay your rate on time and without hassle? You want to dissect every element of that client's business practice. Those elements that make that client great are going to have to be part of your new clients' reperatoire.

Past clients. List them all, including the ones you wouldn't work with again. List beside each one the traits that made each one easy (or tough) to work with. Figure out if there are other projects you can sell to the good ones. Forget you know the bad ones, but do understand what your motivation was in choosing to work with them, and what you can do to change the bad outcome in the future (which may include not working with those types of clients).

The attraction. What made these clients hire you? What did you have that they wanted? What did you say that convinced them? How can you apply that to new clients?

Future clients. Look at those current relationships from another perspective - what industry are they in? Also, consider what projects you do with these clients - how can you sell those same skills to a different group of clients? Do you like working with corporate clients, small businesses, or individuals? Are you more of a magazine writer or a fiction writer? Build a picture of your ideal client by answering those questions and incorporating that info into your current favorites.

Your mad skilz. Here's where you're going to get the most bang for your freelance buck. List your current skills. Now look at what you can offer other clients and start thinking of who needs one or more of these skills. If you write press releases, for example, you can "sell" those skills to any number of new clients. What industries need the most releases? Where are you going to find them? I could give you a list of places to look, but depending on what industry or area you're targeting, that answer will vary.


Finding the right client can be chance, or it can be planned so that you're targeting people who are willing to pay your rates and treat you with respect.

What does your ideal client look like?

Tomorrow: Marketing Approach

Friday, December 09, 2011

Your Online Business Planning Session: Part Two

Yesterday was frustration from stem to stern. I had some unexpected free time, so I spent it trying to move this blog. That set off my usual tech headaches as, one more time, I prove I have no aptitude for anything labeled "easy" or "simple."

My husband surprised me with a date to a hockey game. That's love, because the man is not a fan. However, my team lost by one point, though those final minutes were nail-biters. I learned also that I can control my smart-assed tendencies when required. As we left, someone behind us was taunting a Penguins fan (I was incognito - my jersey is still in transit). He said, "Did we just move into first place? Wow, that must suck for Penguins fans."

My knee-jerk reaction, which I managed to choke down, was "Oh, that's okay. We have our cups to keep us warm."

One ass-kicking avoided!

So let's get back to our business plan. Now that you've spent yesterday planning out what it is you want to earn, let's inject some more reality -

Expenses

There' s nothing worse than planning a killer income only to realize you've forgotten to include what you have to pay out every month. So let's dig in and get your expenses out in the open.

Taxes. The most necessary evil there is. The government expects at least 15 percent of your income each quarter to go toward your taxes. There's a simplified formula that states 15 percent of 93 percent of your income. Make it simple - just put aside 15 percent right off the top of your total income. Be smart - put it aside for each check you receive. Better to pay yourself first than be surprised with a huge bill every three months.

Retirement. If you've worked in the corporate world, you're used to someone contributing your money to retirement for you, maybe even matching it. Now you're on your own. Find a percentage you'll contribute to your own IRA fund and take that off the top of each check that comes in. I set mine at 5 percent, and I make transfers straight from my business checking account into my IRA.

Savings. How much do you want to have in your savings account? Find a percentage you can live with - maybe 5 percent again - and make that an automatic deduction from every check.

So far, you have about 25 percent or more of your total income going to paying the essentials (and yes, your savings is essential).

Bills. Here comes the fun part. Add up your utilities, credit cards, loans, etc. How much are you paying per month for these? That's coming from your earnings. If you're married or sharing bills with a partner, lucky you. Figure your portion into your expense column.

Business expenses. Here's where you need to think farther ahead. Do you need a new computer? Printer? Website? Business cards? Are you looking to attend conferences or take business trips? List those things you have to have, those you need, and those you want. Find out what each will cost and tally it up.

Now that you know your expenses, you may want to revisit your earnings goal to make sure you're going to earn enough to cover the expenses and to afford those things you want, like new shoes or a new car. Seeing it on paper can help motivate you toward planning for new business and maybe even convince you to raise that rate.

Are you planning to buy new equipment? Do you need to? How often have you considered your expenses as part of your income planning? What else do you include in your expense column?

Monday: Client Lists

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Your Online Business Planning Session: Part One

Good day yesterday. I finished the second article and sidebar and was able to invoice something. Finally! I have to get in touch with the other clients today to see where we stand on revisions and invoicing. Time Lori gets paid, I think.

I heard you yesterday - you were saying "I have to get the plan together." It's a start to acknowledge it, but it's not the same as doing it. So let's make it our exercise for the next few days. Right here, we're going to put our business plan together.

Let's start with this:

Income Goals

It's first on the list because it should be. You can't form anything around an unknown number. So let's decide what you're going to make this coming year.

Pick a number - any number. Right now, think of a number that in your head represents a successful freelance career. Is it $50,000 annually? $100,000? Write it down.

Break it down. How much does that figure into per month? Let's go with a hypothetical number - $50,000. That equals $4,166 and change each month that you need to make. How many hours do you want to work in order to reach that goal? If you work 40 hours a week, how many of those are you actually billing? Be conservative here. Assume in one month, you'll be billing about 40 hours of work. That will get you to your goal. Considering that's one-fourth of a typical month of 9-to-5, it's a good number to start with.

Introduce reality. While $50,000 isn't a bad number, that's not what you'll end up with. You have to pay taxes, bills, retirement, savings, and office supplies, among a slew of things. Even if you worked in an office for someone else, you wouldn't be handed that $50K without something being deducted. Just know that your amount earned still has to head toward the essentials.

Modify as needed. If $50K isn't going to cut it, modify. Shoot for $60K or even $75K. Just know that the amount you set is going to increase either your fee, your hours needed to earn that, or both.

Set monthly goals. It works for me to look at my earnings each month. I do it right here on this blog. It's my way of checking my progress against my plan. So if you want to earn $50K, set a monthly goal of $4,166 and make sure to check at the end of each month to see if you've reached it. If not, you'll be working harder the next month.

Be accountable. My earnings benefited greatly from my decision to share my earnings and actions here on this blog. Being accountable to someone else is a powerful motivator. Find an accountability partner - a friend, another writer, a partner, or post your results here each month on the Monthly Assessment post. Just answer to others and, more importantly, to yourself for your actions.

Now let's apply what you've learned. What is your earnings target for next year? You can give me numbers, percentages over what you earn now, whatever you're comfortable sharing.

Tomorrow: Expenses

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

It's Nearly 2012: Do You Know Where Your Business Plan Is?

Good day yesterday. I had an unexpected lull in a pile of work (waiting for interview sources and feedback), so I was able to devote a large chunk of my day to my manuscript. I like where it's going, and I like that I had time to get the story elements aligned. I had inadvertently introduced a character and then changed her name unexpectedly two chapters later. That's what I get for not writing it down.

Most of us are in the thick of finishing up work for clients, finishing shopping, wrapping, planning, and decorating. So why would I choose now to bring up the fact that you need to be working on your business plan for next year?

Because next year is exactly 24 days away.

Actually, you should have planned something already. You did, right? Right? Never fear - it's never too late to get a plan in place and start acting on it. If you're doing it the way I do it, you revisit your plan every month anyway, so you're amending as you go.

If you're not, fear not. Just start somewhere. Try here:

Income goals. Didn't make enough money last year? Want to make more this year? Then figure out what it will take before taxes to earn what you want to have in hand after taxes. Get a calculator. Get an accountant if you must. Just get that figure in your head.

Expenses. Planning the earnings should automatically come with your expense planning. Everyone needs equipment at some point, or supplies, or trips to various trade shows, etc. Jot down your list of must-haves, would-like-to-haves, and wish-to-haves. Work that into what you need to make to get some, if not all, of those things.

Rates. What will your hourly rate be next year? If you're giving yourself a long-overdue rate increase, it's up to you how you want to handle that with current clients. For me, I've added the rate increase as I've added new clients. It's less of an issue if they agree to my new rate coming on board. Or you could send them a notice attached to a "get this rate before it expires" offer.

Client list. Give yourself an hour or so to consider who your clients will be. It's easy to fit that time in - while you're driving, shopping, running, folding laundry, etc. What clients have you worked with and which ones would you like to keep? How can you attract clients just like them? If you don't have clients you'd like to hang onto (it happens - you could be between clients at the moment), consider whom it is you'd like to work with.

Marketing approach. Don't write down one way to get clients. Write down all ways to get clients. Give yourself plenty of options and make sure to plan how often you'll market (every day, right) and when/how you'll follow up. Open your calendar program and schedule it. Go on. You'll be glad you did.

New skills. Now is the time to plan out when you'll learn how to write those press releases or put together those case studies. If you've been wanting to, put it on your agenda and schedule time to research how and when you'll study.

What goes into your business plan?

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

My Very Own, Highly Subjective List of Top Blogs I Like and Maybe Even So Will You

Had a good workday yesterday - for a Monday. I managed a few smallish proofing projects, a revision on another project, and some transcribing and writing on an article. Today, probably more of the same. I'm trying to get a few of these November projects done so I can invoice. In all but one case, that should have happened already. However, I'm in a holding pattern awaiting final approval in a few cases.

This week I'm expecting a client call to discuss a new project, and I'm also thinking I might hear from a client that is checking up on my references right now. In the meantime, the article awaits, as does the marketing and the novel writing.

My recent nomination for a top blog list (thank you again, Wade!) has the Five Buck Forum buzzing with commentary. Are these things for real? How much value do they hold for the blogger? Just how are they chosen, anyway?

It made me realize just how much I rely not on those lists, but on the blog rolls of others, for my daily reading habits. What a top blog award does is drives traffic to the site hosting the contest and turns otherwise lovely people into frantic, frenzied souls begging for recognition. What it means to being top of anything, well, I haven't quite figured that out yet.

Instead of hosting a blog contest, I'm going to do what forum members have already discussed doing - I'm going to give you my list of top blogs, chosen by me, and chosen because I love reading them and each one gives me a great experience.

Here's my list:

About Freelance Writing I've been reading Anne Wayman's blog since she was the first moderator of About.com's Freelance Writing site. She's a community builder, a giver, and a darned nice person. She doles out advice freely and willingly.

All Freelance Writing Jenn Mattern has assembled a great cast of writers whose advice is always terrific and timely. The girl knows her stuff.

Simply Stated Business. You simply have to follow Cathy Miller. Her breadth of experience shines through in every single post.

The Well-Fed Writer What a blog. What a guy - Peter Bowerman is a great personality who has intriguing topics up for discussion.

The Urban Muse I don't know a time when Susan Johnston hasn't posted something useful. Always thought-provoking and educational.

Get Paid to Write Online Sharon Hurley Hall has a wonderful way of getting to the point, and her perspectives are fresh and inspiring.

Goals, Dreams, and Resolutions Devon Ellington did the first assessment of monthly business, and takes it further with a to-do list. It inspired me to start the monthly income assessments here.

Productive Writers John Soares presents some neat topics in fun, imaginative ways. Plus he's just nice as hell.

Just a partial list and by no means complete, but these are my daily (or weekly) haunts.

Who's on your list? Leave a link or two.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Tire Kickers

Lovely weekend. We managed to get outside and enjoy the unusually warm weather. I was tempted to open the roof on the convertible yesterday! We weren't able to fit in all the relaxing we wanted to, but I was able to be lazy for a few hours. That's more refreshing than a nap sometimes.

In a few conversations last week with writer chums, and the consensus seemed to be that clients who question your rate will continue to do so after the contract is signed. One writer senses that his talents will be scrutinized at microscopic levels because the client kept asking at contract time why he thought he could charge so much. Another writer has a client currently who is busy trying to get around paying extra for bringing his friends' opinions into the final editing stages. She said he told her no problem, he'll just incorporate those changes himself, to which she wisely handed him a final invoice.

Even on the Five Buck Forum, we're discussing the clients who question rates and their overall commitment to cost rather than to a trust relationship. It does seem endemic to difficult clients that they tend toward endless obsessing thinking about price and value. I'm all for value, but not if it compromises the project and ties my hands.

If the client is kicking the tires or dragging out the discussions on payment too long, it's time to drop that client. Here's why:

There's no trust. Really. If you were trusted to do the job effectively, this client would not be looking for reasons why you're not living up to your fee.

There will be limits placed on you. Try revising an article in two hours, including three new interviews, and pleasing that client. I couldn't because guess what? It takes longer than two hours to write questions, conduct interviews, and pull together a great story. So don't try. Say no and walk away.

There will be invoicing issues. As long as I've been freelancing I've been coming across tire kickers who expect the moon and ignore, avoid, or simply won't pay the invoice without being threatened with litigation. In every case where the client has argued price, I've had to force payment from them.

There will be reductions in your workload. They wanted the entire press kit and marketing package. However, they can afford just the press release, but they'll still expect you to work with the committee to revise it six times.

There will be increased expectations. When I raised my rates with one client, he began revising and talking to death each article. In one case, he got a bit fussy about a fact he swore wasn't true. I'd gotten it from him, so.... The point is the minute they're obligated to pay your rate, there will be a lot of oversight and don't be surprised when they go looking for reasons not to pay you. Hint - if they've signed a contract, they're obligated to pay. Period. No amount of grousing changes that.

What has been your experience with tire kickers? Have you been able to work with such clients successfully? Why or why not?

Friday, December 02, 2011

Things That Make My Head Explode, Part Six

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Didn't get a ton done yesterday. I worked until about 1:30, then took off to try catching a bird. Yes, a bird. Seems there's this pink-footed goose in town - all the way from Norway - and he wanted to see it. We didn't, but we did see some nice country. This is why I enjoy freelancing - just hop in the car and go look for birds.

Because it's Friday and because I've had a busy, somewhat stressful week, I'm resurrecting my occasional rant on all things odd and frustrating. This week's contenders for top pains:

Outsourcing production, then what? I see what they're saying - it's cheaper to handle magazine production elsewhere, but is it? Really? And how long before these geniuses try outsourcing the writing to another country?

Top blog lists. I appreciate very much that I was nominated (and seconded) on a list contest recently. It means you guys are getting something useful out of me, and that means I'm doing what I'd intended. You're the reason I'm doing this, after all. What I don't like is the nature of these "contests" - the feeding frenzy as writers beg to be put on the lists and the blog owners probably choose arbitrarily and not based on any criteria other than the nomination and what they'd rather list. There. I've said it. I probably won't win because of it, but you sign up for honesty when you come to this blog.

Client posses. A writer friend sent me a note yesterday about a current client who's decided to run her work past a few friends. Only he didn't read his contract, for she had taken my advice and had put a no-third-party clause in the very contract he'd signed. She's about to spring on him the fact that Joe's and Fred's input will cost him. Hourly. Just trust your writer to do the job correctly or state at the outset who has editorial input. We're fine with either. Otherwise, you're paying extra.

Article spinning. Like I said two days ago, it's just another form of theft. It's wrong, and writers who think it isn't shouldn't be writing.

Article skimming. Here's what I hate about this. If you take an excerpt of my blog and put it on your conglomerate "newsletter" or website with a direct link back to my entire article, fine. If you take the entire page - or more - and wrap your URL around it along with all those ads you get ad revenue from, well, now you're making a profit from my work. I don't care how you paint it or try browbeating or condescending to me about how it's not copyright infringement, that doesn't change the fact that it's not your work and you're earning money by taking it without permission.

The 24/7 client. I dropped a client a while ago who thought it was my duty to be available at all hours. Her words: "I need to reach you at a moment's notice, so be on IM from 7 am to 9 pm." I had some words for her, too. They remain unprintable. But the story emphasizes the point that clients who push the boundaries do exist, and we need to understand it's okay to enforce those boundaries. That's one client you shouldn't be afraid to lose.

What has you going kaboom this week?

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Monthly Assessment: November 2011

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Thank heaven I'm organized. Yesterday was yet another full day of work, and I was able to keep on top of the deadlines, plus handle a few requests from another company needing still more paperwork from me. By 2:30 I was wiped out, but happy to have tackled so much and to have done a good first pass on everything. More of the same today as I scare up two more interview sources. That's somewhat surprising given that I usually have to beat them off when I put out a query.

Plus as I was finishing up a bigger project, another client got in touch. We'll be talking next week about a good deal of upcoming work.

All this is coming a little late to count toward my November earnings totals. Remember how I'd rocked September, then had smaller earnings in October? November didn't start strong. I did sit idle for about eight work days, so I spent the time marketing like crazy. While on paper I'm in the black, November doesn't reflect that. Still, I'm happy as a clam.

Let's get to it:

Queries:
When in doubt, shout. Knowing that most publications are often drained of budgets by now, I turned my attention to companies. Seven letters of introduction later, I'm now working with two new companies and am communicating with a third.

Job listings:
I answered one ad, and only because I had the experience the job desperately needed. Apparently though, per usual, experience is trumped by pauper-like budgets. Never got a call. Didn't wait for it, either.

Existing clients:
One query, four articles assigned. Go figure. But the magazine editor is holding my first two ideas for a future issue, and she gave me two more articles for the current issue.

New clients:
As of yesterday, I now have five new clients. One came from my LOIs, one from the conference, and another from the fact that he was my interview source on a number of occasions. The fourth and fifth ones were referrals. Which brings me to that category.

Referrals:
I scored a new client through a referral by a long-time, wonderful client. The work is ongoing, not exactly what I'd hoped to do, but I was willing because I was sitting idle when I said yes. Now I'm not. The first project is about to hit my in box. That will be the deciding factor.

Another referral client was sent to me by her sister, a fellow freelancer. The project I thought was one-and-done may turn into other projects since I managed to please the client. Amen.

Earnings:
I was well under my monthly earnings, but I'm nowhere near worried. All this late-November work will be billed this week, which means December is going to look amazing. That rarely happens. My Decembers are usually my dry spells. Plus with the newest client getting in touch next week, I'm about to add to that total. Way to end 2011!

Bottom line:
Taking my own advice, I continued marketing every day. Since I was sitting rather idle, I did a lot of marketing to both new and existing clients. I was smarter about to whom I'd market. I knew from history that magazines are rarely able to buy freelance articles in the last quarter (though my one client proves this theory weak). Hence my shifting to companies wanting to get their communications pieces ready for prime time. It worked in spades.

I didn't earn my targeted goal, but if I tallied what I would have billed for work scored this month, it would be well over my earnings goal.

How did you do last month? What has changed for you? What needs to change? What are you doing that seems to be working?
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