Monday, March 31, 2008

Five Worst Things About Being a Freelancer

I love my job--and I wouldn't trade it for any others on the planet (well, okay, if someone were to offer me Natalie Portman's job or Jodi Picoult's job, I wouldn't turn it down). But freelance writing isn't all skittles and rainbows, either. Over at Bob Bly's blog there's a discussion going on about the downside of freelancing, and some of them are biggies. Here are the biggest problems with being a freelancer--things that may make some people think twice about leaving their regular day jobs.

The benefit situation. This is probably one of the worst parts of going it alone--you're responsible for your own health care, retirement account, life insurance, and all those other perks you get with a regular job. The biggest problem (at least for me) is health insurance. It's painfully expensive for everybody, and if you have kids or a medical condition, forget about it.

Taxes. This is also a downside of freelancing: nobody is withholding your taxes. You have to have the willpower to withhold a portion of each check (and that's really tough when you need all of it one month). It's also on you to find the right tax professional and figure out the right structure for your business. I've been wrestling with this topic since February, and let me tell you: no English major should be forced to withstand such torture.

The many hats of freelance writing. If I had my way, all I would ever worry about would be sentence structure and appropriate word choice. I would never, ever think about marketing, bill collection, building a new website, or why my printer keeps jamming up. As a freelancer, some of the hats you have to wear aren't so bad--I like coming up with ideas for new ways to make money, for example. But the actual marketing....not so fun, especially if I have to use the phone to do it. I also can't stand chasing down late-paying clients or dealing with technical problems of any kind. If I could, I would hire flunkies to do all of that--but right now I fly solo, so I'm stuck with it.

Cash flow issues. It's a feast-or-famine game. One minute you've got so much work you're turning it away; the next minute your bank account is running low and no jobs are on the horizon. The unpredictability is something I love--you never know when your next windfall will be--but it can be nerve-wracking, too. It can take nerves of steel to stick with this business, especially when you're just starting out and don't have a long list of contacts.

Setting boundaries. I love talking about my job to others--but it can be a peeve when people hear "work from home" and think "oh, so that means you can pick up my brother from the airport next week!" Being a freelancer requires being firm about setting boundaries--and not only with clients, but also with loved ones. I have several freelancer friends who had to put their foot down when spouses and partners expected the house to be spotless and dinner to be on the table, since they were "home all day."

I love my job, but nothing's perfect--and these peeves are enough to make anyone want to tear some hair out. What are your biggest freelancing peeves?

Friday, March 28, 2008

When You Shouldn't Use Your Blog as a Writing Sample

I found a mention on Words on the Page the other day pointing to a post on's freelancing site about whether or not blogs are "legit" writing. Should you call yourself a writer if you blog? Can you be respected as a writer? And can you legitimately show your blog to clients as a published writing sample?

I believe blogs, like any other writing form, show off your writing skill--and that yes, they should be used as a writing sample. They can show clients how you write, how you think, how you organize your work, and how experienced you are with positioning yourself as a market leader. But they're not appropriate for all jobs, and not all blogs are created equally, either. Here are a few examples of when you should avoid using your blog as a writing sample.

When the client is a bit old-school. Some clients are not blog-friendly. I'd suggest that if you're going after an account with a direct mail company or a print publication, they may look down on your blog just because it's a blog. I'm not saying all of these potential clients will--but I am saying that older, more established companies and publications may not be as cutting-edge as you. Give them writing samples that show them work you've done in an area that won't cause them to think twice.

When your blog doesn't do your writing justice. When your client goes to your blog, what will he see--simple, 100-word blog posts that don't say much, or more thoughtful posts that demonstrate your writing skill? Some blogs are run just for Adsense revenue or SEO purposes, and many of these don't have the best content. If you spend only a few minutes writing each blog post, it may not be the best sample of your work.

When the client is looking for a different type of writing. I wouldn't send a client looking for a sales letter to my blog. It's mostly informational and educational, and I have other samples that show my selling skills more clearly. If your client is looking for an educational brochure or website content, by all means send them to your blog--even if it's not the same format, you're demonstrating the same type of writing. But most blogs aren't salesy, so I'd avoid using them as a sample for that type of work.

Your blog can be a great sample of your work for the right client. But not every client is looking for the same thing, and the more you can customize the samples you send, the better chances you have of landing the job. Before you send a link to your blog as a sample, take a second look at what the client's looking for and what type of writing you're showing them.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Tax Myths and Misconceptions for Freelancers

Last year was my first full year in business--and my first year making money entirely as a freelancer. Like a lot of first-year contract workers, I thought I was prepared for my tax bill--but it was much more painful than I expected. Part of the reason for the pain is that I'm a pretty frugal person by nature; I don't spend a lot on electronics or equipment unless I really feel I need them. My laptop is a few years old, but it still runs just fine--and I haven't replaced my printer in years. Still, I thought I'd be okay when it came to taxes--partly because of a few misinformed assumptions. Here are my big ones--and if you're operating under any of these, be warned.

Note: I'm not a tax professional or attorney, and this post shouldn't be construed as professional tax advice to you personally. Consult with an accountant or a tax attorney for more information on your situation.

All those deductions will cancel out your tax bill. I have a few family members and friends who own stores, build boats, run car mechanics' shops, and so on. In my first year of business, these sage businesspeople advised me not to worry too much about taxes--"the deductions will take care of it," they said.

Here's the thing about freelance writing, though: it's a low overhead business. Our big-ticket items tend to be things like printers, computers, and faxes--things you don't buy every year (although you can deduct the depreciation) and things that don't cost much more than a few thousand dollars. Sure, you can deduct a fraction of your housing expenses (if you have a single room dedicated to an office); your Elance fees (yeah, we're all earning a lot of money on Elance these days); your PayPal fees; your office supplies; and even some car expenses if you use your car for business. But that still adds up to pretty small potatoes--or at least it did for me. If you don't have any major equipment expenditures or employee salaries; or if you didn't buy some big-ticket website overhaul or spend a lot of money on classes and conventions, you may find yourself hurting at tax time.

You won't make enough your first year to pay much in taxes. I do pretty well--but I'm not ridiculously wealthy. I assumed that this year wouldn't be a big-ticket year for me in terms of taxes. I made about as much last year as I did in my nonprofit job the year before, and if any of you have worked in nonprofits before, you know they don't exactly pay top-tier wages. I figured I"d be under the tax radar.

But here's the thing: when you're an independent worker, you get smacked upside the head with the self-employment tax. That's 15% of your total earnings, just for social security and medicare. You've also got federal taxes, state taxes, and city taxes to deal with--and some cities levy extra taxes on businesses, too. I still wound up paying about 30% of my net income, total--even though I managed to scrape together enough deductions to make myself look just-this-side of poverty level.

A sole proprietorship is the best organization for you. I always assumed that a sole proprietorship was the appropriate business organization for me. I'm a sole proprietor, after all. No employees; no shareholders; just me and my computer. I thought it was better because it was easier to deal with, too--less paperwork needed. But that's not necessarily so. There are distinct tax advantages to incorporating--and nobody told me beforehand that I should think about this when I formed my business.

You don't need to save; you can finance your tax bill. Except if you do that, it comes with heavy fees and a high interest rate. If you have the money in the bank, you may be better off paying the bill--even if it'll wipe out your savings. The bottom line? Save a percentage of each client payment you recieve. It's tough to do--it takes tremendous willpower on my part--but if you don't, you'll be in trouble later. And pay your quarterlies, so you don't get hit all at once at the end of the year.

Don't assume everything will work itself out when it comes to taxes. Be proactive. Meet with an attorney or a tax accountant in the beginning stages of your business to determine the best organization--and save religiously for the day Uncle Sam comes knocking.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Five Clients Who Will Buy Your Articles for a Decent Price

Sometimes I hear from people who are selling articles for $5 or less, wanting to know how on earth to sell their articles for a better price. The type of articles we're talking about here are usually simple online how-tos or overviews of a topic. They can take as little as a half hour or as much as two hours to write. Because they're easy and quick to do, they can be lucrative--but not if you're selling them for $5 apiece. There is a large section of the online marketplace that thinks $5 or so is a reasonable price for this kind of work, but there are also other markets that will pay quality prices for quality work. If you're looking to make good money writing articles, here are five potential clients who will buy.

SEO's. Article marketing is just one among many weapons in a search engine marketer's arsenal. Many SEO's sell articles to their own clients in addition to other services intended to raise their clients' search engine rankings. They charge high prices for these articles--sometimes as much as $100 each--and they can get away with it by selling their own SEO credentials and claiming these articles are ultra-optimized for the best placement possible.

However, a lot of SEO's don't have time to actually write these articles, so they farm them out. A lot of my SEO clients start off by using college interns, friends and family, and others who can write on a part-time basis--many of them don't use the $5 article writers because they're looking for high quality to justify their high prices. But as their workload increases, they find they can't rely on part-time help. That's where you come in. Offer reliable service and high-quality articles your SEO client can sell to his own clients for a marked-up price, and you'll have a client who keeps coming back with large orders.

Online marketing agencies. Even if they're not specifically focused on SEO, many online marketing agencies will use simple how-to articles for a variety of purposes. I've worked with agencies that package my articles into e-books and e-courses, set them up in e-newsletters and educational autoresponder series, and build article libraries. If your work is good, you can charge higher prices because these agencies will turn around and sell the writing to their own clients for an additional markup--so your price isn't a tough sell, as long as the marketer thinks his own clients will accept the price.

E-business owners. You can also sell your articles directly to e-business owners without going through SEO's, online marketing agencies, and other middlemen. They use the articles for the same reasons and purposes the middlemen do. They may be a tougher sell, because they're not making the money they pay for your writing back quickly by turning around and selling them to a new client; instead, they're making it back more gradually through increased exposure, rankings, and sales. But a web- and marketing-savvy e-business owner can also be a great buyer for articles.

Online publications. I know a lot of websites depend on users to write content for free--think Wikipedia, EzineArticles, and even Blogger. But some websites want to position themselves as authorities in their niches, and some of these are willing to pay for your articles. They're likely to operate more like print publications than your typical online client--most of these sites expect to set their own price and pay on publication, and you should check their guidelines or contract for usage rights and kill fees. But some can pay decent prices for articles.

Offline markets. Every so often I get an email from someone who found one of my articles online and wants to use it for a print newsletter, magazine, presentation, brochure, speech--the list goes on and on. This shows that there are people looking for well-researched, well-organized and approachable writing that serves their market both online and off.

These markets expect quality; your grammar and spelling must be perfect, your research must hold up under scrutiny, and you'll be expected to come up with unusual angles, know how to write with web readers in mind, and know the basics of effective keyword usage. It goes without saying that these clients also expect original work--no cutting and pasting. But if you can deliver a quality product and you've been selling your articles for $5 apiece, you owe it to yourself to look into markets that will pay more.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

"So, Which of Your Books Have I Read?"--Five Writing Myths Revealed

I never thought I'd say it this soon...or say it before I had a novel published--but I'm a professional writer. It makes me extremely proud to say it; part of me feels like even if I never write the Great American Novel, I've still already accomplished a very important goal I set for myself. Sometimes I mutter it to myself as I walk down the street, just 'cause I like the way it sounds. People stop and stare at me strangely--unless they hear what it is I'm muttering. Then they'll stop me and say, "oh, what books have you written?"

There are a lot of myths out there about the writing profession. Now that I can officially call myself "professional," I feel qualified to debunk a few. Here are some of the most prevalent ones that annoy me:

You're not a real writer unless you've written a book. Most people hear "writer" and think "novels." But novelists are only a very small fraction of the professional writing community. You've got ad copywriters, scriptwriters, speechwriters, journalists, professional bloggers....the list goes on and on. All of these people write something for a living. Don't think that just because someone says they're a writer, they've written a book--or that you're showing polite interest by asking them what books they've written. To a writer, that's a loaded question; it's like asking an out-of-work actor what blockbuster movies he's been in. Instead, show polite interest by asking them what kind of writing they do.

Writers' block. I saw a post over at Words on the Page today about writers' block, and it got me thinking about how incredibly over it I am. There's this idea that writers are terrified of the blank page; that we sometimes sit down and have existential struggles with ourselves over every phrase we write. And okay, when I was trying to write my first novel in sixth grade--it was about a unicorn--I occasionally indulged in writers' block. But my belief now is that it's a disease of writers who aren't working. I never experience writers' block when working on client projects; sometimes an idea is slow in coming, but that doesn't mean I bang my head against the keyboard and weep to the muses. Instead I brainstorm, go over my interview notes, check out what competitors are doing, and try to learn more about the product--and something always comes. And I've found that now I'm treating my novel-writing like a job, I never get writers' block there either.

You have to be a tortured soul to be a writer. To some, Byron and Poe are quintessential writers; they're dark, tortured souls whose messy personal lives inspired their writing. And maybe some writers can't do their work without some sort of angst to fuel them. But many writers are perfectly normal, well-adjusted people who just happen to have a way with words and a facile imagination. Occasionally when I talk to people about my artistic interests, they get all surprised that I'm not some kind of alcoholic or something--after all, I'm an artiste. But in my opinion you don't have to live conflict to write about it--and if you do, maybe your imagination is lacking.

Anyone can write. It's no sweat. I think this problem stems from the fact that we all learn to write in school--and many people don't read enough good writing to realize their own isn't that great. But anyone can jog down the street, too--and not everyone is a marathon runner. Just because you, in particular, know the alphabet and can construct a sentence, that doesn't mean you can write like a professional can. It takes skill to build believable characters and pace a story correctly, craft a sales letter that inspires people to buy, or even write an educational article that breaks a complicated idea down in a way anyone can understand.

You're not a real writer unless you... get up at four in the morning to write; experience a burning desire to write every day of your life; write esoteric short stories that nobody really wants to read; sacrifice a chicken to the Writing Gods at the full moon....the list goes on. There are all kinds of elitist messages out there about the hoops you have to jump through to be a "real" writer. As opposed to a fake writer. I think it's all nonsense. My definition of a "real" writer is someone who writes well--and I realize that some might consider "writing well" to be a pretty subjective judgment call, but believe me, you know good writing when you see it. I might also add that I believe you're a "real" writer when you're getting paid to write--even if it's not your full-time job. Other than that, all bets are off.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Landing the Gig Despite Your Youth

When I was first starting out as a freelance writer, I remember talking to a friend I knew who owned his own business. I asked him what he'd look for if he wanted to hire a freelancer, and he told me one thing: experience. It made sense--why would you hire an outside contractor who had no demonstrable experience?--but it also made me worry. Not because I was just starting out and didn't have decades of experience in the field, but because of something more personal--and less easy to fake.

The thing is, even if you're just starting out as a freelancer, you can fake experience. You can write up your own portfolio of samples, and you can even put them into a graphic design program and make them look like real advertising pieces. You can leverage your experience in a different career as the specialist qualification that separates you from other writers. In the vast majority of my client cases, I don't get asked for a list of my prior clients or even for a resume. If your samples are strong, experience is assumed.

However, I had something working against me that I didn't think I could help: I look young. Depending on what I'm wearing, I can look like I'm in my early-to-mid twenties (I'm actually a little older than that) or I can look like a high school student. The way I looked gave me an instant disadvantage: it was hard for people who met me personally to assume experience, the way they might if they were looking at someone who looks the part. They'd look at me and think, "how could this kid know more than me about how to reach my audience? She's barely out of college."

You can get around this and land the job--but you may have to work a little harder to prove yourself first. Here are a few things I've learned about how to get around it.

There's a positive side to being perceived as young. Not all youth prejudices and preconceptions are bad--some can work in your favor. For example, because I'm young it's usually assumed that I'm pretty technically capable. I'm not a programmer or web designer, but I'm familiar with basic SEO, social marketing, blogging, and other things that are very valuable skills to the right clients--and because I'm young-looking, my facility with these things is often assumed. It's part of the reason I drifted into writing web copy--it's an area where my youth won't hurt me as much, and may actually help. Be aware of the positive preconceptions that exist about young people--for example, we're technically savvy and familiar with cutting-edge marketing techniques--and try to capitalize on that.

Good camouflage is key. Dressing the part is more important than you'd think. If you're meeting a client in person, you want to look like their perception of a professional. That means a nice suit, nice shoes, professional-looking hair and makeup and jewelry for women, and ties for guys. Even if you're young, try to look like them and they'll be more likely to assume you're one of them.

Give concrete examples of your skills. When clients ask you about why they should work for you, do the best you can to emphasize your past experience. Tell them about the effects your writing has had in other projects--did your landing page increase someone's click-through rate? Did your article library put someone at the top of the SERPs for relevant keywords? Emphasize the effects your writing has had in the past, and you'll get your clients to see you as someone who gets results--regardless of age.

Get your former clients to plug for you. Building credibility is crucial for any writer, but it's especially important if you look younger--because credibility isn't always assumed on first meeting. If you can, get some former clients to write you testimonials. Don't have a former client? Then volunteer to write for your current employer, a nonprofit you're interested in or an organization you belong to. Ask whoever supervised the project to write you a testimonial giving specific results--for example, I wrote a donation letter for a choir I joined that increased donations over the previous year's, and I used that testimonial for ages.

The most important part about getting around your age--or your percieved age--is to keep the emphasis on your skills, not your age. With strong writing samples and plenty of confidence, it shouldn't be too difficult to prove you can do the job.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Overused Terms and Phrases: My Four Peeves

After spending the morning working on some client copy, I began thinking about words and phrases that are overused in ads, web copy, and business communication. I'm an easygoing person generally, but I get irrationally annoyed by certain words and phrases. Here are a few of my top annoyances.

"...that's right for you." As in, "ask your insurance agent about the coverage that's right for you." Another variation is to ask whether something is "right for you," as in "ask your doctor whether Prozac is right for you." It always strikes me as a little smarmy, and it's probably because it's such obvious ad-speak--nobody really talks like that. What really gets me, though, is when you're watching those pharmaceutical ads when the two friends are talking casually about their hemorrhoids and the one friend says to the other, "you should ask your doctor if Preparation H is right for you." Nobody says that!

Solution. Is it just me, or is the word "solution" overused? Nothing is a gadget, a piece of software, a toupee, or any specific product anymore. They're all solutions. Look, I understand that the word "solution" is popular in business because solutions solve problems, and you want to show customers that your product solves their problem. But what's wrong with calling it what it is...and then telling them how it solves their problems?

"...and more!" Okay, sometimes I confess I use this one. You know, you're writing copy for a website or something and you're listing all the fantastic services the business provides, including "stump removal, nose hair trimming, life coaching...and more!" That "and more" at the end is there to give the impression that so many services are involved that we can't possibly list them all here; what you see here is only a very small fraction of the benefits you receive by signing on with this company. But it's overused--and as with "...that's right for you," nobody really talks like that. It just sounds contrived.

Utilize. I seriously hate this word. What's wrong with the word "use"? It's short, direct, to the point, and it sounds natural. "Utilize" doesn't add any extra meaning; it's just empty syllables. It's only one example of other corporate-speak words out there that have perfectly serviceable everyday counterparts and seem to be, used...just to show off the speaker's SAT vocabulary.

In business, there seems to be a trend towards words that obscure meaning, rather than define it. The problem is that these phrases give the impression that something's a bit off. There's the thought that if you don't tell customers to ask an expert whether something is "right for you" before buying, they could discover your product is seriously NOT "right for you" and sue your pants off. If you don't beat your readers over the head with the idea that your product is actually a solution, they might realize it doesn't actually solve problems at all. If you don't use empty-syllable words like "utilize" all the time, people might realize what it is you're actually saying--and that might turn out to be not much.

I think most of these phrases bother me because they're not specific. Specificity in copy is important--it removes the distance between yourself and your reader, and it makes you seem more honest and forthright. The more you can do that, the more people will understand your message--and trust you enough to buy.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Five Ways to Build Blogging Goodwill

Nobody blogs in a void. Blogging is a community activity, and how you treat your readers and fellow bloggers can affect your success. Be good to your readers, and you'll build a loyal audience. Be good to your fellow bloggers, and they're sure to help you out with links and positive mentions. This is great advice for those just starting out, but it can benefit anyone, no matter the size of their blog. Here are five ways to generate the type of good blogging karma that brings more than spiritual rewards.

Respond to your comments. I'm not always vigilant about this, but it's a good idea to show up for the conversation that takes place after you post something. Readers want to interact with you--that's why they comment in the first place. If you show you're listening, you'll attract a loyal readership more quickly.

Be liberal with the link love. Every blogger values links on other blogs, and if you're generous about linking out, you'll definitely make friends. If you get inspired to write something based on a post on someone else's blog, always link back to that post. If someone sends you an email letting you know about their new blog, link to them in your blogroll--they're sure to appreciate it. If you link to other bloggers, they're more likely to link to you as well.

Be accessible. I get emails from readers asking me about how to hire writers, start a freelancing business, handle client issues, and other questions all the time--and I try to respond to these in as much detail as possible. This can bring you more than goodwill--a few of these folks have become clients.

Give referrals. A while ago, a client of mine asked me whether or not I had experience doing a type of writing project I usually don't handle. I told them I could do it, but I knew someone who could probably do it better--and I sent them the email of a fellow blogger who specializes in that area. Referrals can be risky--if the relationship doesn't pan out, it could reflect badly on you--but they can also pay off greatly.

Take advice. Every so often, a reader will email me directly with a suggestion for something they'd like to see changed on my blog. If I can't make the change, I'll explain why--and when I can, I do it. Being willing to make changes for your readers is a great way to show them you care about their experience, not just your traffic.

Being a font of blogging goodwill isn't just a feel-good activity. It's also a great way to build your blog. Even if you're new to the community, other bloggers will return to your blog if they know you like them and talk about them--and if you're responsive to your readers, they'll stick around.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Special Deal at Inkwell Editorial for CatalystBlogger Readers

Just got a special offer from Yuwanda Black over at Inkwell Editorial for CatalystBlogger readers, and I thought I'd announce it here. Yuwanda is offering her article marketing ebook free to my readers; just send her an email requesting it and mention you saw the offer on CatalystBlogger. See the comments in the previous post for more info on the ebook.

Happy article marketing!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Inside An Article Marketing Campaign: Progress Report

Way back when I started this blog, I also started an article marketing campaign. I promised to chronicle the results in a post that outlined my plan. A few months and a few dozen articles later--I've been doing this thing pretty slowly--I'm finally ready to talk about my experiences working with each of the article marketing sites I targeted originally.

In my initial plan, I decided to send ten articles to seven article directories. I wound up sending about fifty to four article marketing directories. Here are the three I used, and my thoughts about them. I have to admit I like EzineArticles. They're easy to use and I like the clear statistics they give you. You can track which articles are generating clicks, which URLs in your Resource Box are attracting more clicks, and which articles are popular with publishers. They syndicate your articles automatically, so you don't have to do anything special to attract attention from publishers. I also like the way my articles show up on the search results for my targeted keywords.

EzineArticles has editors who check your articles before publishing them, so there can be some lag time before you see your articles online. When I started with them, it took about a week--but now I've been seeing my articles up on the site the same day I submitted them. I wouldn't say my exposure through them has been "massive" like the website promises--but I have received a decent amount of traffic through them and it's helped my SEO rankings considerably.

IdeaMarketers. Like EzineArticles, IdeaMarketers lets you look at statistics for your articles. They're not as in-depth, though; you only get to see the amount of views each article has attracted and the number of "syndicated hits" (presumably, the number of people who have seen your articles on their RSS feed). I haven't attracted as many clicks for my articles on IdeaMarketers as I have for EzineArticles, and according to my Google Analytics, I've received next to no traffic from them. That might be because they aren't showing up in search engine results. When I do a quick search for articles on similar topics, the articles I have on this site aren't as easy to find.

Another thing I'm not too crazy about with IdeaMarketers is that they ask you to bid for prime placement on their home page. There's also a funny sort of bidding process to get your articles widely promoted via syndication by bidding for placement there, too--here's the explanation. To be honest, I'm not seeing great results with this service when it's free--so I'm not persuaded it will be better when I pay. Maybe it's just me, but I found Article Onramp to be a waste of time. I signed up for an account and submitted two articles. For a while, I couldn't log in when I visitd the site--it timed out whenever I clicked on "Author Login." Now, I can log in--but they seem to have lost my username and account. As for the articles I submitted, I can only assume they've been lost in the ether. Oh well.

GoArticles. GoArticles has statistics, but they give you different information. Instead of tracking the amount of traffic and clicks on your URL links, they tell you how many "requests" and "plugs" your articles have received.

Somewhat confusingly, the site tells you that "requests" means the amount of times your email has been either viewed online or requested via email. I can't figure out if an "email request" means that someone requested to publish your article on their site or something else; and GoArticles doesn't distinguish between website views and email requests.

People can vote for your article by clicking a "plug" button that appears next to it on the screen. The website says that the more "plugs" an article has, the higher its "reader rating"; I'm not sure if that means it shows up in a more favorable position when people do on-site searches for your topics, or what. Overall, I haven't received any traffic from GoArticles; and I feel their method of stat reporting is pretty useless.

So far, my favorite has been EzineArticles--hands down. It tells me things I want to know in its statistics--how many people have viewed the articles, published the articles, clicked on the links, and which links they've clicked. I can tell not only which articles are attracting more traffic and appealing to readers, but also which author resource boxes have been the most effective.

When looking at stats, I really don't care how many people put in a "vote" for my article or how high the "reader rating" is; dozens could have liked the article but forgotten to click on the "plug" button, so I don't really think that's an accurate reflection of how well an article is doing. I do care about how much traffic it's drawing, how many people have published it; and how many clicks it's attracting. I also care that it shows up in search engine results, and so far only my EzineArticles pieces have. I'm not sure how much use it is to have articles in different directories only to collect links from different sites--which I'm sure is better than having a bunch of links from only one site. Still, I've focused my efforts on EzineArticles for now--only because I'm getting the best results from it.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Monetizing My Blog: A Closer Look At the Options

I've gotten a lot of feedback from readers lately to the effect that they want to see me posting here more frequently--every day, preferably. I'd love to do that--I think it could have all sorts of benefits for my blog--but I have to give my paying clients first priority on my time. So for right now, this blog has to be a part-time deal.

Of course, if this blog became a paying client itself, that could all change.

As part of my 2008 Big Blog Overhaul initiative, I'm looking into ways to monetize. Some of these monetizing techniques could have an effect on the design I choose. I'm also aware that some are more annoying than others, and I don't want to drive readers away. Personally, I feel that great content more than makes up for ads--but I'm not the only view out there. So here's an overview of the monetization techniques I'm considering--and their pros and cons, as I percieve them.

Using your blog as a platform to sell information products. This is my favorite so far. I love the idea of selling e-books on my writing blog, and I've already got some outlines hammered out. The pluses include the fact that an e-book can promote your business as well as making you money in sales; and I can see all sorts of nifty ways to market one. It's also not horribly intrusive or cheesy like some other methods can be; and they help people. The drawback, of course, is that it takes time to write an e-book--and it's not something I can have finished by the time my new site is launched.

Google Adsense. I've already got Google Adsense up on this blog; it's in the top right-hand corner. So far I've made a grand total of $0 from it (come on, people, help me out! Let's see some clicks!). Anyway, I realize I should play around with it a little more--experiment with putting it in different places; mess with the font size or headline color--and I've been woefully neglectful of that. But I've spoken to several bloggers who've told me they don't get much more than a trickle from Adsense anyway. I'll probably put it in my new design somewhere, but I'm not counting on it being a major revenue source.

The donation button. I've seen a few blogs--Inkthinker and Freelance Writing Gigs come to mind--that have donation request links. I'm not sure about how much money this brings in, although I heard on ProBlogger that this guy actually got to quit his job and blog full-time through his donation revenue. On the one hand, I like the idea of readers contributing to keep a blog going. On the other, I'm a little squeamish about asking for money, and I've heard some readers say it's tacky. Still, I'm willing to try it.

Selling advertising space. Some blogs--Men With Pens, ProBlogger, and quite a few others--sell advertising space on their blogs for a monthly fee. I like the idea of this--it seems like more dependable income than something like Adsense, which pays per click. But I'm a little nervous about too many graphics cluttering up my blog and making things run more slowly.

Selling my blog posts. I've already started making some money from my blog by selling my posts to other publications (thanks to Susan from The Urban Muse for the tip!). The upside is that it's not too hard once you find buyers--you've already written the articles, after all. The downside is that you still have to put some time into finding publications, crafting queries, and all that. It's not passive.

I realize I'm only scratching the surface here--I could do other things such as become an affiliate for Amazon or for another product I really like (Peter Bowerman has an affiliate program for his Well-Fed Writer series, I've noticed). There's also text link ads and other advertising programs. It's so much to sort through--and I only have a certain amount of space on my blog.

So now I'm throwing the question over to you. If you're a blogger, how do you make money from your blog? What's worked for you on this list--and what hasn't? Is there anything I'm missing here? And for all readers: what methods of monetization do you like the least--or the most?

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Growing My Business: What's In Store for 2008

I love my job, and I love the fact that I can support myself purely through writing for the web. In the past year and a half or so, I've made a decent living--enough to pay for my bills with some left over to have fun. But...there's always room for more. I'd love to grow my business to the point where I can save a significant amount, travel around the world while I work, or even buy a house in the next few years.

Here are some things I've started doing to grow my business in 2008--things that hopefully will improve my position in the market and bring in more income.

Get a little more serious about blogging. When I started this blog, I never expected it to take off like it has. I'd love to take my blogging efforts to the next level. I love what James and Harry have done over at Men With Pens, and I like Matt's polished look at the Copywriter's Crucible as well. Here are some things I'm considering for this blog:

-A new address at my freelance writing website's URL.
-A new wordpress template with my logo. I'd like to combine the blog and my business website on one template.
-Possibly increasing my posting frequency to once a day.
-Some possibility for revenue on the blog: maybe selling space for paid advertising or a "donations" link.
-A stronger social marketing campaign to drive traffic. So far I've made a halfhearted foray into Stumbleupon.

Develop an e-book or two. I'd love to develop an e-book to sell, and I have a few ideas in the works already. If I can make my blog more polished, I think it will be a great platform for me to sell e-books.

Attract a few more regular customers. I have a couple of regulars who come to me every month with sizable orders. They don't take up all my time, though; and I'd love to fill a few more billable hours with paid projects. My schedule has room for a few more regulars--people who are used to working with me, get in touch every month with steady work, and pay well. I'm currently giving some thought to my "ideal" customer--and working on a section for my website that pitches directly to them.

Improve where I'm lacking. There are a few skills I don't have--and I know they hold me back from growing my business. I'd love to increase my technical and design skills and become more comfortable with phone sales and face-to-face networking (I don't even have business cards!). I'm considering taking classes in technical topics and business leadership classes.

Those are my plans for 2008--and hopefully they'll lead to a prosperous year to come. What are your plans for growing your business this year?

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Welcome, Brazen Careerist Readers!

CatalystBlogger has joined the Brazen Careerist network of blogs, which caters to Gen-Y in the workplace. For those of you coming here from Brazen Careerist, let me tell you a little about myself and this blog.

I always wanted to be a novelist. When I was in college, I didn't worry too much about making money; I thought I'd just work at whatever job came along and write on the side. When I graduated, I realized that working full-time and pursuing a dream full-time are not easily compatible. I worked for businesses and nonprofits for about six years--and I couldn't see myself settling anywhere. The lack of control I had over my own schedule made me miserable, and the entry-level jobs I got didn't draw on my writing ability, which I felt was my biggest strength.

I started taking on freelance writing work out of college for extra income. I worked on brochures, website copy, articles, and other random writing tasks for businesses. About a year and a half ago, when I had just turned 25, I quit my last full-time job and opened a freelance writing business. Since then, I've been able to earn money on my own time doing something I'm good at. I take great pride in my business and I'm excited about my prospects for the future. I'm still working on that novel, but now I have a job I love to do in the meantime.

On this blog, I talk about my experiences as a freelance writer. I share my successes and failures, offer tips for running a freelancing business, and generally talk shop. If you're interested in writing or in starting your own business, here are some posts on this blog that you might find interesting:

My Top Five Myths About Freelance Writing: A post about the reality of freelancing--don't believe everything you hear.

Bad Writing Gigs: Tell 'Em Where to Stick Their "Exposure": Pitfalls to watch for when looking for freelancing work.

Making a Living Writing Online: Can it Be Done? Some general advice on getting started.

A Career in Writing: Four Things My College Education Didn't Teach Me: What I wish I'd known before graduating.

Smart Spec Work: When to Work for Free. I don't advocate working for free, but I know some writers do it for various reasons. If you're beginning as a freelancer, here's how to make sure you get something out of it.