Friday, December 21, 2007

See You Next Year!

It's been a hectic week for me--my Christmas shopping always winds up being last minute, so this week I was scrambling to shop on top of finishing two weeks' worth of client work in five days. I had a few last-minute orders, which I probably could have postponed--but I know I'll be glad I got them done when I get a look at my credit card bill next month.

So, I just finished up my remaining work and I'm about to close up shop. I'll be returning on Wednesday, January 2. May you have a great holiday, a memorable New Year, and plenty of client work waiting for you in January. Hope that 2008 turns out to be our best year yet.

Happy holidays from Catalyst Writing Services.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

My Business Resolutions for 2008

It's almost the end of the year, and just about everyone is posting their New Years' Resolutions in cyberspace. I think this is a good idea--a whole bunch of people will see my resolutions, and they'll know if I don't follow through. Hopefully this means I'll be more driven to accomplish them--public shame is a great motivator.

What works better for me, however, is setting goals I can achieve. I'm a dreamer by nature. I love setting elaborate, fantastic, reach-for-the-stars goals. When I was in school, this worked pretty well--I was surrounded by a network of teachers and parents who would help me out. However, I'm finding that the key to adult success isn't necessarily dreaming big--anyone can do that. The key is to keep trudging along--a bunch of little achievements can add up to some big-time success.

Anyway, enough motivational blather. Here are my (eminently achievable) business goals for 2008:

Move this blog to Wordpress. I would really like to move this blog from its current Blogger location to my own URL: There are a few reasons, but the biggest is that I think the continual updating on that URL will help my business site's Google rankings, plus make my blog look a bit more professional. I'd love to do a whole-site-in-Wordpress thing like Matt's site at Copywriter's Crucible, but I'm sticking to one thing at a time here.

Monetize this blog. I can't say this blog hasn't been a blast, but I'd have even more fun if I was generating some income from it. I think I'll give myself a few months to see if my current traffic levels will sustain--I got a big boost from the Top Ten Blogs for Writers awards. Then I'm going to start looking into ways to monetize that won't be too intrusive to readers. Expect a few surveys on which types of blog advertising you mind the least and the most while I figure this out.

Streamline my marketing routine. I have to admit, I haven't been experiencing the same slowdown I've seen Lori writing about at Words on the Page. I think part of the reason is that I'm lucky: right now I have two very regular clients who put in large orders each month, as well as a circulating stream of repeat clients who drop in every few months or so with new orders. Most of these folks I met through Elance--either by bidding or by keeping my profile up--which is why I stuck with the site all this time, in case anyone's wondering why I've bothered. But a few of them came to me through other marketing tactics--and some even found me through Search.

All this is great, but I'm very aware that my two regulars could take off at any time and my circulating regulars often do fade out--and they need to be reminded or replaced with new clients. My marketing habits are haphazard at best--I start thinking about it only during the slow months. Instead, I'd like to develop a streamlined process that I can apply continuously, so that there will always be more work waiting.

Look into some passive income streams. PLR has caught my attention lately, and I've been thinking about writing an E-book for ages. This year, I'd like to make a commitment to start developing some passive-income products I can sell on my site.

Continue with my article marketing campaign. It's been working well for me already, but I've been slacking off lately on article marketing. I've still got a long list of titles for articles I haven't written, and I think it's definitely doable to work through it this year and raise my site's Google rank even further.

This year has been great for my freelance writing business--I've accomplished a great deal. Here's hoping I can continue my progress in 2008.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

When Your Client Hates Your Work

I first started freelancing several years ago, moonlighting while holding down a full-time job. During my first few months, I got a call from a local ad agency that was in a bind. Their in-house writer just quit, and they needed brochure copy written pronto. I was absolutely thrilled to land work with a real ad agency.

Anyway, I talked with the creative director, who had a little trouble telling me what they wanted. "We want this one to be edgy, really edgy," he said. "But not, like, obnoxiously edgy. More like smoothly edgy. Like Tina Turner meets Frank Sinatra, and they have a love child, and that love child is...this brochure. That kind of edgy." I was having a hard time picturing that, so I tried to pin him down with a bunch of questions about their audience and their product. After a while, I felt I knew enough to knock out a first draft.

It turned out I didn't. I sent the first draft over, and within a few hours they called me back. "This is totally not what we wanted," the creative director said. "I hate it. I showed it to my boss and he hates it too. We're cancelling the project. Just send us the bill for what you've done so far."

This affected my confidence for a long time. For a while, I actually questioned whether or not I was a capable writer. But other projects started coming in, other clients loved my work, and slowly I began to put things in perspective. Still, even now I still get a little nervous sometimes when I send in a first draft. Here's what this experience taught me:

This happens to everyone. Even pro copywriters. Writing, like visual arts, theatre, and a host of other careers, is a creative job. And when it comes to creative work, there's always an element of subjectivity. Some people will love your work. If you're good, a lot of people will. But there will always be a few who won't. And when you work with a lot of clients, you're likely to run into those people every so often. Don't let it make you think you're not suited to the job.

It doesn't mean you stink. Okay, if this happened every single time you handed in a first draft, it might mean you stink. But there are any number of reasons your client might not like your draft that have little to do with your actual skill as a writer. The more of a creative risk you took, the more likely it is that you'll get a negative response. The client may not have communicated with you clearly enough, or you may not have asked the right questions.

Keep questioning until you're sure. Looking back, I realize now that one of the reasons I didn't get this one right was because the client didn't know how to tell me what he wanted--and I didn't know how to ask. His description of the tone he wanted was always vague, and I couldn't get him to paint me a sharper picture. Tone is always subjective; one person's "edgy and fun" can be another person's "obnoxious." Now I know I could have asked him to send me examples of other writing in the tone they're looking for, or to show me his previous copy and tell me exactly what he liked and didn't like about it.

Use it as a learning experience. Sometimes a single crash and burn can teach you more than you'd learn from twenty perfect projects. This one taught me to refine my questioning process, and not to hesitate to ask for more material if the client is vague about what he's looking for. The experience was unpleasant, but it taught me to be better at what I do.

Get back on the horse. If negative feedback affects your confidence, don't let it hold you back from looking for more work. Nothing will make you feel better like praise from a few new clients. The sooner you get back in the game, the easier it will be to move forward and put things in perspective.

Don't completely write the client off. The first draft may not have gone over as planned. But that doesn't mean you can't become this client's favorite writer, if they're willing to keep working with you. As long as they've treated you fairly--they paid you for your time and they didn't expect you to change the scope entirely without extra payment--you could still salvage your working relationship. You both might face a steeper learning curve than usual: them with learning to communicate more clearly, and you with getting used to their tastes and expectations. But do your best with revisions and stay in front of them, and they could become an easy client once you understand each other better.

Negative feedback is part of doing business as a writer. It's important to learn from the experience, and then move forward with what you've learned. Negative feedback is not much fun, but it can help you become better at what you do.

Friday, December 14, 2007

My Other Blogs

I've mentioned before that I'm starting a few other blogs. These are outside of business writing, but two of them are relevant to other writing topics--so some of my Catalyst audience might be interested. Without further ado, they are:

Minion and Maverick. Like nearly every freelance writer I know, I work on novels in my spare time. I use this blog to talk about genre fiction writing--generally romance and fantasy. I run this blog with a friend of mine in publishing who writes on her genre interests too--which tend more toward children's and chick lit--as well as an insider's perspective on the publishing industry. She's blogging anonymously so she can write without worrying what her employer will think, but when Catalyst started getting a readership, we decided I should go public to get the blog a little more exposure.

Anyone who wants to get published nowadays should know that publishers expect authors to have their own marketing plans. My hope is that I can use this blog as a marketing platform when (someday) I start shopping my first novel around.

Living Literary. This blog is brand-new--excuse the bubble wrap. I'm using it to talk about literary writing; generally poetry and short stories. While this usually takes a back seat to my business and genre writing, it's my hope that the blog will inspire me to do more of this type of writing when I have time. I've been featured at several venues in and around Philadelphia as a poet, and I've started sending a chapbook to publishers. I want to be able to publicize my appearances, publications, and chapbooks here, plus talk about language, symbolism, publishing your work, and local markets in Philadelphia.

Philly Actress Blog. I love acting, and I've come across a lot of things in the Philadelphia acting industry that I've been itching to write about. I'm planning to write theatre reviews, talk about plays I'm in and the rehearsal process, landing an agent, doing film and commercial work, acting for film vs. acting for theatre--anything that might be interesting to an audience of actors. This blog is less career-oriented than my others are; it's mainly for fun.

I might be spreading myself too thin here--there are only so many hours in the day, after all. But I'm planning to give it a try. Even so, I'm keeping Catalyst as my principal blog; no slacking off here.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Elance: The Morning After

It's been a little over a week now since Elance instituted its changes. Right now I'm not doing much work on Elance, aside from a project that was initiated before the changes were set in motion. However, I've been monitoring the Water Cooler and keeping an eye out for other updates on the status of the work environment on Elance, and here's what I've noticed so far.

A select group of providers don't have to pay for verified credentials for "premier" status--yet. Elance's new "Premier" status has ticked off a lot of providers. Elance claims this little gold star next to your name is awarded based on merit--you can't earn one unless you maintain a high feedback rating. However, Elance has been doing everything it can to make this a service it can earn money on--after March, it will charge providers with a "premier" status $20 per month. It also requires providers to have two or more "verified credentials" to be eligible, and Elance charges for those, too.

According to a recent Water Cooler discussion, Elance has noticed providers invited to join the Premier program aren't taking advantage of it. They believed the "verified credentials" requirement was a roadblock for these providers, so they waived the requirement only for this select group. If you weren't invited, you still have to buy verified credentials. If you were, you don't have to--until March. Then, Elance will take away your gold star unless you fork over the cash to verify your credentials, on top of that $20-a-month fee.

Despite reports of complacent acceptance, many writers are still upset. I saw this article in Business Daily Journal recently, reporting on the possibility that Elance members would strike. There have been some rumblings about that on Elance, but I don't really think it will happen. If a large group strikes, the rest will undoubtedly take that as an opportunity to get more work in those months. In a thread where one provider suggested everyone drop their Elance membership for two months, another responded with something like "That's a great idea--more work for the rest of us!"

However, writers and other service providers on Elance are not pleased, and the comments I've seen so far have led me to believe that business here is drying up. The changes have made it more difficult for providers to put out the amount of bids they need to get worthwhile returns on Elance. As one provider put it, "I am sitting quietly because I am afraid to lose any more connects. Gone are the days when I used to bid aggressively and compete aggressively on Elance."

I don't think the writers on Elance are going to take a cue from the writers in Hollywood and start marching in the streets. They're just not unified enough. Also, a lot of writers (myself included) had just paid for another yearlong subscription when these changes went into effect. I think most disgruntled writers on Elance are taking a "wait and see" approach while they use up the money they've already paid there, and they'll start to leave the marketplace once that money is gone. I predict that Elance will see a gradual stream of their best providers leaving over time--not a big, dramatic strike.

Some things change, some remain the same. Elance has made a few meagre concessions for writers. But they have also refused to budge on several things that really put writers in a bind. Despite pleas to reconsider, Elance has no plans to refund connects bidders have spent on a project that goes unrewarded--and according to anecdotal reports from writers and my own experience, over half of projects posted on Elance do. You'll still have to pay cash for the Premier Provider program, either now or later. And Elance still does not seem to be exerting any effort to reduce lowball bids; providers are still seeing their competition offering lower rates in their bids than Elance's bid minimums allow.

Some buyers are leaving Elance, too. I came across a thread recently that highlights the problem from the buyer perspective. This provider had to turn down work from a long-time buyer who has proved reliable in the past. The buyer posted his project on Elance to find a new writer. Because the buyer had a less-than-stellar award rate--three unawarded and one awarded project--nobody bid on his posting. The buyer then took his business to Guru, where he received plenty of bids and found a new writer.

Not all buyers think a lack of bids is a good thing. Elance is now charging buyers a $10 non-refundable deposit to post a project. If nobody bids--or only a few people do, and the buyer doesn't see anyone he likes--that's a waste of money for the buyer. He's more likely not to award the project, mess up his Elance record further, and do less business in the marketplace.

Other providers have observed that even "featured" projects are barely attracting any bids. This may be because it costs more connects to place a bid on these projects.

There's a new discussion board in town. I found this tip on JCME Enterprises' blog about a new Yahoo! group started by service providers who want to discuss Elance changes freely and without censorship. Actually, it looks like this group has been around for some time--but it's still a place to discuss Elance issues freely. Personally, I advocate discussing these issues on blogs--it makes the problem public and might put some pressure on Elance to pay more attention to its providers.

These new developments are really a shame, in my opinion. Elance was never perfect, but I started there and for a while it really was a good place to build a portfolio, make connections and pick up a few long-time, lucrative clients. Now, it's just not the same place it was. If you're interested in getting a start on Elance at this point, I'd advise against it. You have to compete pretty aggressively to get any work on Elance, particularly if you're a brand new provider with no feedback. The new changes are making cautious bidding more and more of a requirement.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Top Ten Blogs for Writers: The Results Are In!

I've been checking Michael Stelzner's Writing White Papers blog incessantly since I found out this blog made the short list for the top ten. The results just went up this morning--and we made it!

This was a pretty big surprise to me, I have to admit. This blog hasn't been around long, and to be honest I'm always surprised (and pleased) to see any traffic and comments. To win an award alongside people like Brian Clark and Deb Ng was much more than I ever expected.

I'm very grateful to the people who nominated this blog, and to all my readers. And thanks to Michael for taking the time to read and review. There are many different types of blogs for writers out there, and it looks like he really did a great job of choosing a wide range of high-quality writing in all categories.

Here's a list of the winners:

Copyblogger by Brian Clark: Holding the number-one spot for the second year running, this site excels at teaching the art of writing.
Freelance Writing Jobs by Deborah Ng: For writers seeking new work, this site is your sole destination and maintains a top spot in our contest from last year.
The Renegade Writer by Linda Formichelli and Dianna Burell: Are you a freelance journalist looking for inspiration? Look no further.
Web Content Writing Tips by James Chartrand and Harrison McLeod: With a focus on making more money as a writer, this blog is full of helpful how-to articles.
Web Writing Info by Courtney Ramirez: This excellent blog looks at social networking and emerging web-based opportunities for writers.
The Golden Pencil by Anne Wayman: Wayman, a second-year winner, examines how to go for the gold as a freelance writer.
CatalystBlogger by Jennifer Williamson: Williamson writes about the pains and trials writers face.
Freelance Parent by Lorna Doone Brewer and Tamara Berry: Two moms provide excellent perspective on writing with a dash of parenting.
Write From Home by Amy Derby: Derby provides fresh commentary and advice on writing.
Copywriter Underground by Tom Chandler: This site, a second-year winner, provides regular doses of inspiration for copywriters.

Congratulations to those who won, and thanks again for this recognition. I will do my absolute best to live up to it.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

One Writer, Many Blogs

I've noticed that there are quite a few writing bloggers out there with more than one blog. And while some are clearly related to their writing business, others are on completely different topics.

Why have so many blogs? Despite the fact that it's time consuming, there are plenty of good reasons to have multiple blogs.

Reaching multiple business audiences. If you start to specialize in writing for a certain niche market, you might want to consider creating a blog targeted to it. It positions you as a writer of authority and experience in that market and it helps you reach potential clients.

The Article Writer's Matt Keegan provides a great example. In addition to a general blog about freelance writing, he blogs on a wide variety of business-related themes including the airline industry, the auto industry, cruise ship employment, and financial topics.

Inkthinker's Kristen King does this too; she also blogs on women's issues and pet-related themes.

A place to write about your passions. Most of us have interests outside of our businesses. But the audience for your freelance writing blog may not share your passion for musical theatre. That's probably why Susan at The Urban Muse writes about musical theatre on a separate blog; Matt Keegan from The Article Writer writes about religion outside of his business blogging, and Irreverent Freelancer's Kathy Kehrli writes about her love of books on a separate site.

Professional vs. personal. It's part of business-blogging orthodoxy that our business-related blogs should include only minimal personal info. But writers who want to get personal--either in public or to a private audience of friends and family--often open up private blogs that include their personal views, activities and opinions--and they're usually not aimed at a specific niche audience.

You're getting paid. There are plenty of ways you can get paid for blogging; sometimes you're doing it anonymously under a client's name and sometimes you get a byline. But I'm sure at least a few multiple-blog writers are handling some of their blogs as paid projects.

I'm in the process of launching a few new blogs that cater to my interests outside of business writing. While I get ready to announce their existence on this blog, I would love to hear from other writers who have multiple blogs. Why did you choose the topics you write on? How do you manage marketing and writing for more than one? And do you feel like you get out of blogging on multiple topics enough to make up for the energy and time you put into it?

Friday, December 7, 2007

Productive Procrastination

I'm a compulsive procrastinator. Right now I'm writing a blog post instead of writing some articles for my article marketing campaign, revising a resume I haven't used in years so I can send it to a potential client, doing some job searching, getting a head start on next week's big client project, and going to the gym.

There are many different types of procrastination. Some of us procrastinate in big ways--putting things off for days or weeks, only to scramble at the last minute to make deadline. Others procrastinate in small ways throughout the day. Everything gets done--but it gets done much more slowly than it could. It may be impossible to break the habit completely, but here are a few ideas for making procrastination productive.

Checking email. I'm an obsessive email-checker. If a project isn't coming easily, I take a break every third paragraph or so just to see if I have any email. It's sad, really--especially when it's the ninth time I've checked in the past thirty minutes and I still don't have any mail. Somebody write me something, already!

Checking email incessantly can be productive, though. I came across this tip at Freelance Switch, and it's worth sharing: focus on action when you check your mail. Most emails require you to do something--schedule a meeting, call someone, send a sample or resume, or write an email back. Instead of putting it off, do it right then. Your clients will love how responsive you are, and you'll get something useful done.

Surfing the net. The Internet is one big portal to procrastination. And it's right there at our fingertips. It's frightening how easy it is to get sucked in--and how much time you can lose there. When I do creative writing projects, I often go to a local coffee shop that doesn't have online access--just so I can't procrastinate this way. But when I'm doing client work, I usually need online access.

When I procrastinate online, I go to the job boards. Or I head over to some forums to leave some comments and put some links out there. Or I try to find an easy tutorial for a technical problem that's holding me up. Yes, this can cause me to lose a lot of time. But at least it's useful and productive in its own right.

Reading blogs. Blogs are another huge time drain. But you can waste your time at it--or you can make it a productive activity. I try to stay on industry-specific blogs so I pick up useful tips that will help my writing business. I also make a point to leave comments with links where it's appropriate. This can bring you a boost in traffic and notice from more established blogging communities.

Cleaning. I hardly ever clean to put anything else off. Cleaning is something I'll put off by doing actual work. But some people are obsessive cleaners, especially when there's something else to be done. If you clean to procrastinate, focus your efforts on your office. Clean off your desk, take care of all the paperwork you've been piling up and forgetting about, or update your calendar. You'll have to get these things done eventually--and when else will you want to do them except when you have something more important to do instead?

Put off doing something important by doing something only slightly less important. Instead of doing something completely useless to procrastinate, choose something else you've been planning to do and that you just never find the time for. A lot of things aren't immediately pressing, but they're useful--and when you want to do anything but that one important task you need to get done, they can start to look more attractive.

When I'm putting off working on my novel--NaNoWriMo has come and gone, and I still don't have something I can shop around to agents--I work on article marketing. When I'm supposed to work on article marketing and just don't feel like it, I brainstorm topics for an e-book or a set of PLR articles. And when I'm supposed to be doing those things, I get to work on my novel. Procrastination really can help you get things done--you just have to trick yourself into it.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Finding My Blogging Voice

I remember reading Frank McCourt's biography, Teacher Man, a few years ago. Somewhere in there, McCourt said something about teaching that's stuck with me: it takes about five years to really get a handle on your job as a teacher. Some of it's figuring out how to manage grades and paperwork; some has to do with designing lessons and teaching effectively. But most of it is because it takes that long to find your voice. Once you're established in your teaching persona, you start to feel at home in front of a classroom.

It's the same with blogging. When I started this blog, I knew that there were plenty of other great sites out there that offered similar information--and that the "voice" I chose would set me apart. While I think I still have a lot to learn about settling into a voice that works, here's what I've picked up so far.

You need to choose something authentic. The thing about blogging is that it's an endurance activity. You have to keep coming up with post after post without getting stale or bored or blocked for ideas. If the voice you choose isn't something that comes naturally, it's going to be very difficult to maintain. I tried a couple different personas on when I started blogging--from mildly acerbic to authoritative and businesslike. After a few posts in each of these styles, I realized that a more casual and positive voice was easier for me to return to day after day.

Choose a persona you wouldn't mind clients seeing. No matter why you're blogging, you should be aware that potential buyers and even current clients may wander onto your blog from time to time. How well does your blogging persona mesh with the face you wear when you talk to them? And what would clients think when they get a look at your blog?

Writing blogs such as Irreverent Freelancer and The Frump take problem clients and unreasonable employers to task as part of their persona. Clearly neither of them is aimed at buyers, but there's always a possibility that clients and potential clients will find those blogs. Each writer has to deal with the client perception issue.

Know why you're blogging in the first place. Are you trying to position yourself as an expert? Appeal to buyers? Share your knowledge with others? These are all very different reasons to blog, and each calls for a slightly different voice. Looking around at other writing blogs, I'd say Problogger and Copyblogger do a good job of setting themselves up as experts-among-experts in the field of blogging and copywriting; The Copywriter's Crucible is a great example of a blog that aims to educate and attract buyers; and The Article Writer seems more casual to me--and focused on sharing knowledge with other freelancers.

Respect your readers. What do your readers want to read? This probably has more to do with what you write about than how you write about it, but it's still a big part of your blogging personality. I've learned to think "what will readers get out of this?" every time I sit down to write a blog post. I've even posted something, let it sit for a few hours, come back and completely re-written it later. Whatever persona you choose, quality should be a part of it.

Check out what else is out there. What other voices are already out there? It can help to find bloggers whose voices appeal to you, just to get a sense of what you could be doing. Reading other blogs can also tell you where the vacuum is in your blogging industry. Are you seeing a lot of professional, formal blogs--and could you be the one to add a slightly edgier voice to the community? Are you seeing a lot of bloggers trying to be funny--and could you add a bit of levity and authority? If your voice is different from the norm, you may generate more traffic.

Some people are very deliberate in choosing a blogging persona; others seem to just write what comes naturally. Over time, I'm sure I'll become more aware of my voice and how to make adjustments to deliver the results I'm looking for. Hopefully, it won't take five years.

Monday, December 3, 2007

My First Full Year: What I've Learned

We're now in the last month of 2007--the first full year I've spent as a full-time freelancer. I went full-time in June of 2006, and have been working pretty much nonstop since then. I started with almost none of the advantages most people will tell you are essential before quitting your full-time job. I moonlighted for several years part-time, but I was hardly making anything approaching a wage I could live on. I had savings, but not enough to support me for a year. And I had a few contacts, but they were mostly within small-scale nonprofits that preferred to enlist volunteers or overworked internal staff to handle communications. They were great for getting samples through offering free work--but not potentially-lucrative clients.

Needless to say, I was a little nervous about leaving the safety of a full-time job and stepping out into the self-employment void. But I was impatient and sick of waiting for the "ideal" time--and I really believed in my writing ability. I thought if anyone on the planet can make a career out of this, I can. People in full-time jobs have to wait for their companies to decide to give them a chance--at a better wage, a promotion, a better lifestyle. I was ready to give myself a chance.

Anyway, I wish I could go back in time to the day I quit my job--and tell the "me" of the past the following things. It would have made me feel so much better.

Just because someone else does things a certain way doesn't mean I have to do it the same way. I remember reading Peter Bowerman's The Well-Fed Writer in my first few weeks of unemployment and feeling completely horrified and discouraged at the idea of cold-calling businesses. It was something I had absolutely no training in or affinity for. After giving it a shot for a few months, I realized that I absolutely had to find a way of marketing myself that wasn't torture. I might be able to learn to cold-call effectively, but I would never be comfortable doing it.

Throughout this past year I've been learning many different ways to market myself--some of which are tolerable, some of which are actually fun, and none of which were described in The Well-Fed Writer--sorry, Peter! Anyway, the lesson I learned is that there is no "good" or "bad" way to market yourself--there's only what works and what doesn't. In the end, you'll find methods that work for you--or you won't stay in business long.

Technology is my friend. I'm a serious techno-phobe. Somehow, I managed to stay in business for about a year (as a web writer, no less) with my clunky old brochure of a website and a handful of general samples. This summer, I finally decided to get out of my comfort zone and learn what I could about the technologies that could help me take my business to the next level. I've surprised myself in picking up enough Dreamweaver to redo my site; enough SEO to improve my rankings; and enough HTML to do basic programming tasks. Very basic. But still, I"m quite a bit farther along now than I was before. I've learned that while technology can seem intimidating, I can't afford to let my hatred of all things technical hold me back from better earnings. And anyway, there's always some kind soul out there who's written an easy step-by-step guide I can follow.

Keep records. Very careful records. I'm a disorganized person, but I've learned to be a neat freak about my business. Nobody else but me is keeping track of my earnings and expenses, who owes me money and who's late with a check, and when all those pesky deadlines fall. I've developed a system that works for keeping track of bills, and I've learned to be meticulous about keeping my calendar up-to-date. I've also learned that if I don't track how long jobs are taking me and how much I'm making per hour on each job, I won't truly be able to price a project without guessing.

Choose pricing I can justify. Pricing is probably one of the biggest sources of confusion for new writers, and I was no different. I can't say I'm perfect at it now, but I have learned that I need to know exactly why I need to make a certain amount on each project--the amount I need to keep afloat financially--and why my writing is worth the price I charge. I no longer back down on prices, because I know I'm quoting what I need to charge--and if the client can't pay it, we're not the right match. I'm also more aware of the value I bring to a business than I was when I started. When you have this knowledge, it's easier to defend your pricing structure--and to know how low you can go.

Don't freak out so much about money. This summer I went on a long vacation against my better judgment. I was staying with family and doing everything as cheaply as possible, but I was still spending more than I wanted to--and I wound up spending twice my (unrealistically low) budget for the trip. When I got home, I had monthly bills waiting for me. Luckily, I also had an email from an old client who needed a big project done. More projects came in over the next few weeks, and before I knew it I had made back twice the amount I'd spent--I'd even managed to save quite a bit.

The moral of the story isn't that it's OK to be careless with money, because more will always come along. The moral is more like this: don't freak out so much. Relax and have fun. I work hard, I have some great regular clients, I'm no marketing slouch, and it will come back eventually. And if not, there's always Ramen noodles.

I'm the boss. I used to think I had to take everything that came along and accede to every client demand because that's what professionalism is. I've since learned that not only is that not professional, it can do serious harm. I've learned that it's fine to choose my clients based on the project, the pay, and the fit--that's one of the perks of this job. It's also okay to listen to my instincts and turn down requests I can't fulfill, including those that infringe too much on my time--requests like hours of unpaid time on IM or over the phone. I'm not a full-time employee, after all; I choose the time and place to work, and as long as I meet my deadlines and answer emails quickly, I'm being perfectly professional.

Starting any business takes a lot of work, dedication, and flat-out failure before you start to see success. My business has been reasonably successful in its first year--far more so than I thought it would be. I have every reason to believe things will continue to improve in the next year--and that my failures will only teach me how to be better at what I do.