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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Writers & Promotion at the Hands of Strangers

What's on the iPod: Hallelujah by Rufus Wainwright
freelance writing, freelancing

Great news: new low pricing on my ebook, Marketing 365! Loaded with daily strategies that will kick-start your marketing program--just $4.95. Click on the link to the right to get started right now.

We're nearly finished with February -- is that possible? Before we wave goodbye to our shortest month, we still have some unfinished business when it comes to promotion and client generation.

Client generation tip: I spent this week finishing up an article project and pitching a few more ideas to other publications. Now is when magazines are flush with budgets. The work that's here now will dissipate by October. Get busy while you can.

I sent out a few letters of introduction and got back in touch with some prospects who'd responded with enthusiasm when I'd gotten in touch. We'll see.

Thanks to Susan Johnston of The Urban Muse blog (and author of LinkedIn and Lovin' It) for sending me this link to a Huffington Post wonk describing why his organization doesn't pay its writers. Sorry I can't embed it: that function has been disabled for this video. But do follow the link and share in host Allison Hope Weiner's outrage. Hers was more controlled than I could have been, but she did a fine job handling such a load of BS with finesse:

You Tube Video

Note when she asks "Don't you feel any obligation to pay those writers?" regarding those articles HuffPo lifts and reprints without pay, the HuffPo Managing Editor Jimmy Soni says "We direct substantial sums of traffic to other news organizations because we're willing to give credit where credit is due. A lot of authors have written to us and said the opposite of what you're saying, which is 'Thank you for linking to my work...'"

She hammers back at him, but he starts his answer with what's become my least favorite word in the English language: "So we have paid reporters on staff..." To me, "So..." is not an argument -- it's a brush off and it shows someone who's ignoring what's in front of them. But I digress.

What I love is when Soni describes how a high school student submitted a letter that got the attention of the First Lady, Weiner replies"I find it disturbing that now you have high school students writing for free."

But throughout this entire video, what stands out to me? The bullshit, which is not new. It's just that it's so practiced.

The responses by Soni are exactly what one would expect because it's repeated by other groups with similar business platforms. Pay as little as possible for as much as possible. And never apologize. Instead, expect gratitude.

Here are the underlying messages, plus where these platforms fail the freelance writing and journalism professions:

Writers should be honored to have us lift their stuff. They'll pick up your articles from news agencies and link back. That's it. That's the part you're expected to feel "honored" about. It's not unlike that pushy girl in high school who stole your boyfriend while sidling up to you in mock friendship. She gets the boy. You get "credit" for introducing them.

We're giving writers free exposure! Oh, super. Another person wanting to increase my popularity by expecting me to work for free. Get in line. Better yet, get lost.

Payment will come later (and by other people) once you gain notoriety. If I had a nickel for every time I was promised payment via increased notoriety, hell, I'd be rich. And I sure as hell wouldn't be working for someone who doesn't pay.

Writers should be thanking us. I will never quite understand why I should thank someone for stealing my work and giving me one lousy link back to my stolen work while they keep the ad revenue and site traffic. I've had that happen, and the dude doing the stealing had the audacity to chew me out for being "too stupid" to see the big picture. He didn't see the even-bigger picture -- the one where my attorney was standing in the wings ready to pounce on that plagiarism and copyright infringement stuff.

We're assuming all writers want to be associated with us. This is a big problem. What if you are opposed to the practices of the people thinking they're "promoting" you? What if you loathe their business model or cannot abide by their actions or attitudes? Tough noogies. They've decided to "honor" you by linking you directly to them. If they end up in a huge scandal, they've just made you guilty by association. Like that guy who stole my content -- he assumed I wanted to be associated with him. He couldn't have been more wrong.

It's why we go down the Writers Worth road every May, and why this blog and others like it exists: you are worth so much more than nothing, and no amount of linking or promising payment or giving $10 stipends and calling it a paycheck will suffice. Promoting yourself is your business in all meanings of the phrase. Don't allow someone to steal your work and smooth-talk you into submission. Defend your right to run your business your way.

How has your work been "promoted" without your permission? 
How do you think that differs from blogs sharing links? 

Monday, February 25, 2013

5 Easy Tips to Help You Gain Clients

What's on the iPod: Life by The Avett Brothers

Some happy news in the writing community: Ashley Festa and her husband are now parents! Little Delia Jane was born February 8th and is a beauty to behold. Congratulations, Ashley and family! Send her some Twitter love today. (@ashley_festa)

Thanks to everyone who contributed to (and continue to contribute to) the 101 Resources list I posted on Friday. I'll see what I can do about bringing it to a central location here to make it easier to find in the future.

Rounding out this month's promotion and client generation focus is this post on how freelance writers can gain clients. You responded to the recent poll I had up, and I've heard you. The problem with writers promoting themselves is often twofold, as you've indicated by your answers. How do you get started and how do you continue?

For us freelancers, the toughest part, especially when you're starting your freelance career, is getting the clients. Here are five ways that can help you:

Plot a course. Right now, say to yourself "I want to meet five new potential clients this week." Obviously, "meet" is a figurative term, for unless you live in the center of a large city or you run a cafeteria at an office complex, clients won't necessarily walk in front of you. So plan right now to introduce yourself to these new clients. How many you want to meet is up to you, but write it down. Now post it on your monitor or somewhere where you'll see it every day.

Set a goal for those business cards. Here's a way to circulate your card while contacting new clients: Put a stack of 10 cards on your desk Monday morning. The goal is to deplete them by Friday. How you do it is up to you, but you can give them to people you meet on your errands or at parties, or mail them to prospective clients. Set aside ten minutes per day to decide where (and how) they'll find new homes.

Ask a potential client a question on social media. Just don't make that question "Do you want to hire me?" Instead, ask them something about themselves or their business. Gain their attention not by talking about yourself, but by showing an interest in who they are or what they do. What business challenges are they facing in this economy? Where is their business growing that's exciting for them? How do they see their personalities reflected in what they offer their customers? Get curious and keep the conversation flowing.

Choose one specific person each month to meet. You know you want to write for that new editor at your favorite magazine, or for that theater management company. Research a little about the person/publication/company you've targeted. Now get in touch. Send them a note on LinkedIn or an email. Say hello. Introduce yourself.

Follow one new person on social media each day. Make it count; choose someone in an area you've written in or are interested in. Follow them and then follow up immediately with an introductory note. The goal isn't to sell, but to grow your network. You're just saying hello and getting acquainted.

The goal of your client interactions should always be on building a relationship. While there's a good chance your letter of introduction or your business card distribution may net you some business, remember to keep the focus on creating something more long term. If you focus on sales, you'll have to work harder -- clients know when it's not about them.

How do you gain clients?

Friday, February 22, 2013

101 Resources to Rock Your Freelance Writing World

What's on the iPod: Peaceful, Easy Feeling by The Eagles

Welcome to Friday! Today I have what I believe to be eight hours in which write an article. Hopefully. You never know when a client will call with a new project.

Since it's Friday, I thought it would be fun to share some of the things that can rock a freelance writing business. Well, 101 things, to be exact. Here's my list. What's yours look like?

1.      Microsoft SkyDrive. You're not on the cloud yet? Oh, the synchronicity you're missing. Come on. It's free. Plus now there's a desktop app for easier uploads.
2.      Dropbox. Sometimes you need to send a big file to someone, and quickly. My love for Dropbox is unending. It's quick, painless, and easy to use.
3.      Project Timer. Sometimes the simplest applications are the best. I've been using this one for years. I love it. Period.
4.      MorgueFile. You need a photo. Now. Free. Here's where you get it.
5.      WebHost4Life. Great web host with a super lineup of tools and a smart interface.
6.      OWL. Writing question? Get the answer here.
7.      StumbleUpon. Not only is it a great place to get more traffic and interest for your work, it's a terrific idea generator.
8.      Gorkana. Business writers can stay connected to industry decision makers, plus check out the jobs every Friday.
9.      Kompozer. Were you sad when Microsoft dumped FrontPage? If so, Mozilla has a freebie for you that is a good substitute.
10.     MailChimp. Let's just say I'm ape over this direct mail site. Templates, easy interface, cool vibe.
11.     Grammar Girl. This site has solved many a grammar debate.
12.     Open Office. You don't know until you need it how useful it is to have an Office-compatible software app that you can use even on your cell phone. Great for those times when you aren't near your computer.
13.     ProfNet. In my opinion, nothing is better for receiving news or finding experts. Not even HARO.
14.     HARO. Sometimes, Help A Reporter Out is exactly what you need. Good resource for experts.
15.     Smashwords. I use it to publish my ebooks because it's simple and it distributes to all the big guns, including Amazon.
16.     Google Calendar. It's not perfect, but it syncs my Outlook. I can also use it to sync with my cell phone.
17.     Coursera. Thanks to a local writer friend, I started taking courses online last year. From top universities. For free. Check out their offerings.
18.     Zoominfo. Get listed. Get found.
19.     LinkedIn. The best professional networking site, bar none.
20.     Twitter. The best way to get conversational with your client base.
21.     Copyscape. Stop plagiarism in its tracks. Use this to test your content and keep it safe.
22. I've been a Mozy user for a number of years now. I love the automatic backup of files I specify. Just one more layer between me and a computer crash.
23.     Survey Monkey. A great way to draw in customers and learn what they want. Free surveys up to ten questions.
24.     PayPal invoices. Easy to use and a good way to organize your invoices. Plus you get paid faster when you offer automated payment options, and who doesn't love that?
25.     Google Drive. Probably the simplest way to share documents and edit simultaneously. Could use a refresh on how to track changes, but otherwise a decent program.
26.     Skype. I hear it's easy to use. I've not had much success getting myself set up, but don't let my experience drown the enthusiasm for this phone app.
27.     Microsoft Office 2013. They had me at how you can now open -- and edit -- PDFs in Word.
28.     Blogger. Yes, I still use it. Yes, I still like it. It could be more like Wordpress in what it offers (plugins and more functionality), but I think it's pretty darned good the way it is.
29. Anyone who's ever had their content lifted (most everyone) needs to keep this resource handy.
30.     Contract templates. By all means do NOT take these verbatim, but use them as templates to build your own contracts.
31.      Designmoo. Design not your thing? Find some free resources here.
32.      Creative Copy Challenge. Give your writing the kick in the pants it needs with these prompts.
33.      WritersOneStop. Great place to find links to statistics, laws, and other top information sources.
34.      The Well-Fed Writer. If you don't already own this, get it. And follow Peter's blog. Great advice from a great guy.
35.     RightSignature. I've heard about this, but not used it myself. Electronically capture your clients' signatures on contracts, etc.
36.     Hourly Rate Calculator. Super tool by Jenn Mattern that helps you find your rate.
37.     Keyword Density Analyzer. Just follow Jenn Mattern in everything she does. She gives us this great little freebie to help us increase our traffic.
38.     Get Paid to Write Online. Thank you, Sharon Hurley Hall, for making our jobs that much easier. Great blog.
39.     Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Still the best.
40. Quotes, synonyms, definitions, and more. Go on. Look it up.
41.     Wikipedia. A great starting point for your research. While I wouldn't trust information implicitly, it's a good basis for starting your search.
42. A super place to look up that odd fact or find that one gem of information.
43.     Library of Congress. You'll use this site at least once.
44. The Library's bill look-up tool. I use this quite frequently.
45.     Google Analytics. Oh yes you do need to know how your website is performing.
46.     5 Buck Forum. Full disclosure: Anne Wayman and I run this together. Great place to rub shoulders with successful freelancers and gain some insight and advice for your own business. And it's only five bucks a month. You pay more than that for coffee.
47. Guidelines Database. It turns up in most every search I've conducted for writers' guidelines, and with good reason. There are a lot of guidelines and links here.
48.     American English to British English translator. Oh yes you will need this. One job for a client in the UK will make this little site invaluable.
49.    Acronym finder. Another source for finding just the right word.
50.    BabelFish Translator. Is there anyone who hasn't used this?
51. Word of the Day. Learn a new language one word at a time.
52.    Federal Statistics. Statistics galore. Searchable by state, region, federal agency....
53.    Research and Documentation. Find it, then learn how to document it.
54.    Choose Your Own Salary. A good primer on how to get to your perfect rate.
55.    Writer Beware. Warnings and alerts to steer you clear of trouble.
56.    Publishers Weekly. Insider information on the publishing industry.
57.    Sunoasis. A decent source of writing jobs.
58.    Clients From Hell. Hilarious way to relieve some stress.
59. Good source of quality gigs.
60.    Morning Coffee. Nice list of potential gigs.
61.    TweetDeck. Really, the only way to use Twitter.
62.    Proofreading Symbols. Please tell me you're familiar with them. If not, here's a handy cheat sheet.
63. Look up nearly any book, poem, author, or quote here.
64.    Word Detective. The origins of nearly any word, right here.
65.    APA Style. A classic.
66. User-generated book reviews and discussion.
67.    Grammar Handbook. Avoid mistakes: look it up.
68. Build a better website on this blogging platform.
69.    Writers Help Desk. Good place to find info on self-publishing or writing.
70.    Evernote. Addictive little program designed to capture any idea, anywhere.
71.    Imagination Prompt Generator. Churns out ideas for you to make hay with.
72.    Pinterest. Cool place to find inspiration and to market your work.
73.    Vistaprint. Business cards. Stationery. Labels. Stuff to make you look professional.
74.    FedEx desktop App. Integrates with Word and Publisher so you can send your print job to them in one click. Brilliant.
75. Another good PDF creator.
76. Love this for presentations and webinars.
77. Totally free. I use it a lot.
78. All-in-one primer for starting your business.
79.    Freelancers Union. Good source of industry information and support.
80. Great for capturing screen images.
81.    Windows Speech Recognition. If you operate on Windows, you already have it. No need to buy expensive speech-to-text software.
82.    Smartphone. I'm a recent convert (one year and counting!). I don't know how I ever lived without this thing. It really does make your work a little easier.
83.    750 Words. Get writing right now.
84.    MIT Open Courseware. Improve your writing today.
85.    A USB docking port. For those of us short of USB ports, this offers plenty more room.
86.    FileZilla. Free FTP. What's not to love?
87.    Seesmic. Track every darned bit of your Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook traffic in one place. Too cool.
88.    Mozilla Thunderbird. If Outlook isn't your thing, this will be.
89.    Google+. I've resisted, but it's becoming as popular as Facebook.
90.    Chicago Manual of Style. Yes, you need this.
91.    AP Stylebook. This, too.
92.    Portable office. Be it a laptop or this little beauty, your world isn't complete without portability.
93.    All-in-one printer. No excuses. The prices are just too ridiculously affordable. Get one with wireless access.
94.   Cloud storage. When Microsoft announce Office 365, I knew hard drives were destined for dinosaur status.
95. Get free analysis of your writing.
96. Word just isn't always good enough.
97. Word processing, turbo charged.
98.    Storybook. Plotting software. Free.
99.    Wordnik.Cool little dictionary that returns multiple meanings and uses.
100.  Storify. Great place to find story information collected from the Internet and social media sites.
101.  Wired Journalists. Fantastic place to collaborate and rub shoulders with top journalists.

What's on your list?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

3 Easy Ways to Make the Sale

What's on the iPod: Holland Road by Mumford & Sons

client work
It's been an interesting week. I've seen projects come up instantly, and I've seen promised projects still lagging somewhere in limbo. I'm a little afraid that some of the projects I'd bid on or had been hired to do will all come in at the same time -- with rush deadlines, of course.

Since I had some time after finishing some projects and starting others, I picked up my marketing for the upcoming conference, which is two months away. I send out letters of introduction, and I follow up. That's it. Not rocket science.

Neither is how to get your writing promotions going. Thank you to everyone who has answered the poll so far. Overwhelmingly, you're asking how to start promotions, which I answered briefly in my last post. Part of the answer also includes getting the sale. It's not enough to just promote your writing skills -- you have to get some buyers, right?

That's not tough, either. If it were, there would be fewer writers out there than there are. Think about it -- every single freelance writer doing business today has found a way to sell. I'm here to tell you your next sale is right in front of you. You don't have to be an expert marketer to get it, either. But you may have to do one or two of these things:

Ask for it. When you write a query to a magazine or a letter to a prospective client, do you ask for the job? Or are you thinking "Gee, I don't want to be that forward"? If you're shying away from asking, don't. Success at freelance writing includes knowing your value. There are clients out there who both want and need your skills. I've had clients I've contacted out of the blue come back to me and thank me for getting in touch. In fact, a client a few weeks ago said "Your timing couldn't be better -- we're desperate for a little help around here." And how did I ask? Like this: "Do you need any help creating or revising current content or starting new projects?"

Show them why they should hire you. That may mean samples, if you have them. If you don't and you're new to writing, create samples. Write a few press releases or articles and post them on your website (Please do not publish through a content mill -- that's actually a detriment). On top of that, show them your background, especially those elements that coincide with their areas of concentration or projects they're used to doing. Or you could explain in general terms how their website could shine better or their brochures could show benefits instead of features.

Ask the right question. I've gotten a lot of mileage out of asking one question: "How can I help you?" The usual response is "You tell me" but the question itself creates an informal partnership. You're offering help. You're asking for input. You're open to suggestions. All good things for a client to be thinking, and all things that make you look like someone who's on the team. It's a subtle, subconscious shift in perspective and one that makes your client feel like there's a platform for collaboration.

What's your current approach to getting the gig? What has worked? What hasn't? How can I help you?

Monday, February 18, 2013

4 Ways to Start Promoting This Week

What I'm reading: Home by Toni Morrison
What's on the iPod: Me, Me, Me by Middle Brother
writing, client

Take a look at the poll just to the right of this post. Where does your promotion hang up? Let me know and I'll try to help.

One thing I've noticed so far is that starting a promotional plan is the hardest part. Where do you go when you have nothing in place? So let's look at that today.

It does take a little work to get to the promotions stage, but not much really. Ideally you'd know your target client, market, and your income goals. Ideally. However, the world isn't ideal. Sometimes you don't know that stuff until you've dipped a toe in and started.

So let's start, shall we?

There are any number of ways to get up and running and get yourself in front of client prospects. If you've been toying with ideas beyond this list, go for it. The idea is to start, and to do it in a way that interests you. That way, you'll stick with it.

Here are four ways to get promoting. It goes without saying that you have to be consistent and remember to follow up:

Letter of introduction. I love these. You find some prospects, do a little looking on their websites to see what they're about, then you send them a letter introducing yourself. Yes, it's that simple. I usually use the "Letter of introduction" subject line, but if you want to try something more catchy, give it a shot. Just don't get too pushy or you'll land in the Spam folder. In your letter, state why you're getting in touch, what your background is (if it's not extensive, just include what is there and add your interests and background that coincides with their business), and how you propose to help them (blogs, releases, newsletters, whatever).

LinkedIn/Twitter/social media. I can't say enough good things about connecting with potential clients within social media areas. Put up a page on Facebook promoting your business, connect with targeted clients on Twitter, and join groups at LinkedIn. This month I did work for a client who found me on LinkedIn. Another inquiry came from LinkedIn.Why now? Because someone had a thread up in a LinkedIn Group that asked for a summary of what you do and a link to your website. Boom! Instant promotion without being a pest about it. That's key, too -- don't be that person who has to remind everyone how fabulous you are, your business is, or how they need to join something or spend money with you in order to survive. It won't wash with clients.

Mailed press packet. It's going to mean printing out some business cards and maybe creating a sales letter, but it's a super way to appeal to an audience that's used to electronic communications. Business cards can be had at Vistaprint for under $20 (I pay to avoid having their logo on the back). At the same time, consider getting complementary stationery to put forth your best impression.

Blog about it. Suppose you want to work with clients in the digital electronics industry. You have great ideas, but they're not big enough for articles. Get in touch with blog owners and offer a guest post. Choose wisely and do your homework -- you want blogs that get a good deal of traffic, and you want to deliver a topic that will align with what they already provide their readers. Also, you should be a regular visitor and sometimes commenter. No one enjoys someone breezing into town and asking for space without being part of the community.

So which promotion can you start today? What will your message be?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Anticipating Need

What's on the iPod: Super Bass by Nicki Minaj

client writing
It's been a busy week. I've completed two projects and started a third, plus talked with prospective clients on how I might be able to help them. I've even had some time for personal projects, though I had to schedule time to get to them. And I marketed for more work. But that's every day, right?

In that marketing time, I was cruising websites and getting to know the people I was reaching out to. I was looking for what was there in terms of writing projects, but more importantly what wasn't there. Seems people leave some pretty basic stuff off their websites. Like corporate location, About Us, even their awards and specialized products. One site had a game-changer product hidden in text. Had I not bothered to read the copy (and I nearly didn't -- it was kind of bland), I'd not have seen it.

So when I wrote to the client prospects, I told them (nicely, of course) what I felt was missing and how I could help them get those things onto their site.

It can be risky to get in touch on first try with suggestions for improvement, but if you handle it right, it could be the thing that gets you the gig. But if you show you're anticipating a need they have and they agree, it could position you for a long-term working relationship. Here are some suggestions for selling it upstream:

Start with the positives. We love hearing how we're doing it right. Tell your client prospect what you like about their efforts so far. If you can't find anything to like, tell them you're excited to see them in the industry and you're eager to hear their story. It's positive without stretching the truth.

Mind your manners. Before you go ripping apart what you hate about their efforts, remember that the people you're contacting may well be the proud authors of that work. Suggest that you can help them with better, more impactful wording. Don't say something like "Your page really sucks" even if it does. That won't win you any friends.

Suggest changes in general terms. One thing you don't want to do is give away your ideas, which too many prospects are happy to swipe and implement themselves. When I'm giving suggestions, I keep it general. "Your wording is good, but I think it can be more impactful."

Create a partnership on first contact. "I'd love to talk more about how we can team up and create a more dynamic presence for you." Bring them to your side. Show them you're a trusted source of help and information, not just a contractor looking for work.

Show them what they hadn't considered. "Your news releases work well, but have you considered expanding them into client-facing newsletters or fact sheets?" Help them create more impact with what they're already doing. Then you'll have an easier time convincing them to add new writing projects.

How do you show clients you've anticipated their needs?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

How to Screw Up Self-Promotion Without Breaking a Sweat

What's on the iPod: The Woodpile by Frightened Rabbit

writing, freelance writing

Yesterday felt more like weekend recovery than a work day, but I did get some projects started and a few completed. It felt good to work through a stomach upset and headache and still be productive (and actually useful). Today is more of the same -- a bit of work and a bit of marketing. I have three projects going right now and each has a different deadline (amen). It feels almost civilized!

I've been noticing some trends in promotion lately that are, well, really dumb. There. I've said it. I've heard it said that any promotion is better than no promotion. Not so. There are ways you can screw it up really, really badly. I've seen for myself a few instances of Promotions Gone Wild that make me wonder how these people get anyone to listen to them let alone buy from them. So here are some ways to screw up your promotional efforts without even trying (do NOT try this at home. Please):

Give bad advice that serves one person -- you. You've seen the "advice" too -- the people saying "You HAVE to do it this way or join this group in order to be successful." Yet what they're not telling you (and what you should deem for yourself) is how much money they're making off leading you by the nose directly to their products and services. If you want to lose all credibility, by all means, tell people they must buy what you're selling or they're wasting their time.

Fail to disclose. While the above is bad, worse is the promotion where you lead someone right into a money-making opportunity for you. I know one person who haunts forums telling people the same thing -- join this association because they're so great. What isn't being said -- she makes a ton of money by selling courses and books through that very association, of which she's an officer. What's astounding is that in two years, she's forgotten to bring it up every time.

Emulate your peers -- identically. I saw evidence recently that one highly popular writer was being emulated right out of traffic and credibility. A follower copied this writer's website nearly verbatim -- doing that much-loathed "rewriting" of content, but using the same design, color scheme, and hey, even the same pages and page length. If you want to see yourself on the receiving end of a lawsuit, just ignore property and copyright laws and steal, steal, steal....

Sell out. Jenn Mattern has a great post up about selling out and when you should draw your boundaries. But if you've spent time and energy railing against the very thing you're now doing a 180 on, bam! You've just shot your credibility squarely between the running lights. So if you want to lose followers, friends, and any hope of career success, just take the most convenient side at the moment and push away those pesky little convictions of yours.

Scare the snot out of people. Tell me, where did it become cool to be the bearer of the Doomsday Report Du Jour? I know scare tactics work in marketing, but they should be used in moderation, not as your entire plan. And if you're using them as your sole means of selling yourself, guess what? I'm afraid to be anywhere near you (wouldn't want all that terror rubbing off). If the "You Can't Do This Without Me" messaging is done to death, it becomes so much less credible than if you illustrate what's going wrong and how you can fix it. But hey, you think you know more, so go ahead. Chase away those paying customers.

What examples are you seeing of self-promotion gone wrong?

Friday, February 08, 2013

Ten Commandments of the Overworked Freelancer

What's on the iPod: Last Time by Taylor Swift

writing, freelance writing
Ever have one of those days where everything goes nuts, usually after a number of days where not much at all is going on? Welcome to my Thursday. If you looked up nuts in the dictionary, I'd swear there would be a picture of my schedule from yesterday.

I've been sending out LOIs to conference attendees in hopes of scheduling some work or picking up some projects. Twenty letters in, I had to cool my jets. The phone and email is full of inquiries, and I have been asked by a few regular clients to give a call for some project discussions. February is going to be busier than expected.

As always, I started sweating the timing of it all. I don't want to disappoint anyone, but I have projects in my hands now that have immediate deadlines. Time-wise, I just can't do one more fast turnaround. It's physically impossible.

So I took a deep breath. Relaxed my shoulders. Then I opened a Word document and prioritized. Okay, this one had to be first -- without a doubt. This other one has a deadline of Monday, but I can get it done by today. That leaves next week for the regular client and for the new stuff coming in. I have one new client call scheduled for next week. The other has been one of those hit-and-miss voice mail dances.

If you're brand new or still squeaky clean to freelancing, you'll be hard pressed to turn down or even postpone work as it comes in. Sometimes no matter how far along in your career you are, you just can't postpone it due to client scheduling issues. Still, sometimes you have to preserve your own sanity and give yourself ample time to get the project done correctly. Trust me. I had an instance of screwing a project up because I had six others going at the same time. You won't get a second chance if you muck it up big time. Give yourself ample breathing room and space to work.

Here are my commandments for keeping the workflow running smoothly:

Honor thy client's deadline. Even if that means you have to turn down the work or refer it to someone else, understand that clients have deadlines, too. However, if you get the sense that the deadline is arbitrary, it's okay to give a little resistance - "I don't have time right now, but I have Tuesday open. Can I get it to you by then?"

Thou shalt not overbook. I really did schedule seven projects at once. How dumb was that? One was a long (and getting longer) course I was creating from scratch. It overlapped with three articles, two client projects, and then that now infamous seventh project that came in without warning and with an insanely tight deadline. Instead of pushing back on any deadline, I worked 12-hour days. The result - one client (now former) who was unhappy with the results and didn't mention it until I asked for feedback a month later (when the dust had finally settled). What could have been a lucrative partnership went up in flame thanks to my need to please. Don't do it. Know your limits and respect them. Better to lose the gig than to screw it up.

Thou shalt not skip steps. One of the reasons I got into trouble with this project was I'd assumed it was an easy one. It was, but I skipped over the research a little and settled on one of the first statistics I found. Turned out that's what ignited the fire - the client's client was upset that the statistic was from a local group and not a national one. A small thing, but it was a deal breaker. If you take on the project, budget the time to include every step needed to do the job right.

Thou shalt say no thank you. Yes, you can turn down a project, especially if you have no time for it. It may not be the death knell of your client relationship, either. They may learn to come to you sooner, and your busy schedule may make them realize what a commodity you are.

Thou shalt not compromise thine own standards. You know when you have more work than you can do, yet you took on that new project, too. Why? Because you're a codependent do-gooder who wants the check and the client approval. I know because that was me a few years ago. If the projects you're turning out are not to your personal standards, don't turn it over to the client. Request more time to get it right. Don't expect them to be okay with you fixing it in revisions. You may not be given the chance to get to that point.

Honor thy need to charge for rush jobs. True, they need it now now NOW. That doesn't mean you shouldn't be compensated for their lack of planning. When they call Friday afternoon saying they HAVE to have it Monday morning, your response should be something like "Sure thing. My fee for rush weekend work is double my usual fee. Do you want to pay the deposit via Paypal?" In other words, get compensated for pushing other projects aside or giving up your free time.

Thou shalt refer. I used a writer friend as a subcontractor this past fall when my workload exceeded my time. I acted as project manager. The result - he was able to score some much-needed work (and cash) and I was able to get the job done without killing myself. Figure out now who among your writer friends would be good subcontractors should you find yourself with too much work to handle.

Thou shalt adjust the client's view of what's possible. It was a long project that would not end. They expected 400 pages of a brand-new course (plus a 100-question test) in four months. When I fretted to the husband, he said, "Then tell them it's not happening." He nailed it. I was sweating an arbitrary deadline that had too many unrealistic expectations. I told the client I couldn't meet the deadline. They were fine with it, too. If it's not possible and you know it, speak up.

Keep sacred the weekend. Or whatever day you normally take off. While it's super to have a ton of work (aka money) coming in, it's not good to overwork yourself. You need the down time. Unless there's no other choice, don't work seven days solid. You can't be your best if you're not rested and balanced in other areas of your life.

Thou shalt charge more. My husband has this way of stating the obvious -- often those things that should be obvious, but aren't. When I fussed once about being too busy, he said, "You need to be charging more." Wow. How brilliant is that? If you're too busy, you need to raise the rates a bit. That does two things -- it weeds out some of the work, plus it justifies your popularity with clients. And that popularity is your gauge for when the rates should be going up.

How do you handle an abundance of work and a shortage of time?

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Five Ways to Promote Like a Pro

What's on the iPod: Holy by Frightened Rabbit

client, writing, freelance, work
Despite having three phone calls yesterday and an article to frame in, I felt like I had plenty of time. I wasn't rushed, so I was able to squeeze in some conference marketing and work on a course project I'm developing. A good, productive day.

As I sent out those LOIs, I thought about the ways in which we promote ourselves and our businesses. Sure, the LOI is one way, but the new client I spoke with yesterday found me - not the other way around. I had posted my link on a LinkedIn forum that asked everyone to do so. He'd seen it. He sent a note. The result was yesterday's conversation.

So obviously I was handed that golden opportunity by the forum owner. And that's the thing -- if they're not asking for your link on a forum posting, I'd not be promoting heavily. That's a great way to get banned from the group.

Not every opportunity is so neatly wrapped and presented. So how do you promote your freelance writing business in a way that gets you noticed and hired? Try these:

Sensible use of social media. Note the word "sensible." It's less about using all the forms of social media to create an all-out blitz of "Look at me" messages and more about choosing social media outlets that make sense to you and using them to interact as well as promote. If you read here regularly, you know I'm against using social media to send out constant self-promotion with no interaction. Tone it down. Think about what you'd like to read and present your information that way.

Deliver quality. I've scored gigs based on my reputation and my articles. Those who work with me regularly know me to be reliable, but they also know they're going to get articles and work that reflect the best I can bring. I may not hit the mark every time, but I try my damnedest to. That shows. Focus not on getting the job done, but getting the job done right.

Start a conversation. Try a Twitter Tweetup or a LinkedIn group discussion. Ask a question and engage your potential clients in that discussion. It doesn't hurt to include current clients -- they're more inclined to stick with you if they get a sense that you're committed to the industry.

Be seen where readers are. That means learn how to use Reddit, Digg, Delicious, StumbleUpon, and more. Don't overdo it, and please, read their policies to make sure you're not stepping on toes. By putting your blog posts and articles up for others to find, you increase your awareness and bring in a few more followers.

Be part of the gang. I love LinkedIn Groups because I can rub elbows with any number of potential clients in an informal, conversational setting. I can ask questions, pose problems, and add to someone else's discussion. The same goes for Twitter hash tag conversations -- you're one little # symbol away from attracting the attention of your ideal client base. I suspect the same goes for Google+, though to be honest, I don't use that one so much.

What methods do you use to promote your work and your skills? 
What has worked best for you?

Monday, February 04, 2013

The Upsell

What's on the iPod: Portland by Middle Brother

freelance, writing, marketing
How was the weekend? Mine was lovely. The stepdaughter was home, and it was her birthday, so we were able to spend time with her and spoil her to some extent. She has to drive back to Maine today, which isn't pleasant (it's roughly 10 hours thanks to traffic -- 6 and a half according to the map programs that don't realize what a pain in the ass traffic is from Manhattan on north).

We got a little snow Saturday into Sunday -- not much at all, but enough to give us a pretty coating. And since Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow, I suspect spring will be here sooner rather than later (or within six weeks, which hey, is rather normal anyway).

February is more than just Super Bowl and Super Groundhog. It's also the month this blog is dedicated to promotion and client project generation. And what better way to generate projects than to sell to already-satisfied customers?

In the retail world, it's called upselling. It means to sell customers more product. You have encountered upselling already -- "Do you want fries with that?" or "Here on our dessert tray is...."

That's upselling.

So how can freelancers upsell? Our products aren't right out there to be purchased, like a fuel filter change with our oil change. What can we possibly add to our repertoire? Here are a few things:

Social media work. You're already writing the client's newsletter. Why not help promote it? It's a great add-on feature that some clients who may not be as social-media savvy would welcome.

Blogs. If you're doing their communications writing, why not offer to do their blog posts, too?

Ghostwritten articles. I remember writing just press releases for one client until I mentioned that I had just finished a ghostwritten article for another. The client was intrigued, so I explained what that entailed. I was hired. Again.

Bios. Does your client have a bio on their website? How about in any press kits? Do they have a press kit? You could suggest the bio that can appear in any number of places, including LinkedIn.

Press kits. Why not? Some clients  may not have them because they don't understand how to put one together.

Editing and proofreading. That book client of yours may need an editor. Why not offer to provide that service at a slightly reduced rate if you're helping with the writing and organization process?

Advertising pieces. How is an email blast different from a newsletter? Length and urgency. If you can convey to your clients that you can handle the emails, press releases, or sales letters, you could score some additional work.

How do you upsell?
Words on the Page