Sunday, June 29, 2008

My Four Biggest Mistakes as a Freelance Writer

Nobody's perfect. While I really feel I've grown as a writer and businessperson in the past two years, I made plenty of mistakes along the way--and some of them I'm still making. Here are four of my big freelancing no-no's--either ones that took me a long time to overcome, or ones I"m still working on.

Not carrying business cards around everywhere. I feel like lately, whenever I meet someone new and start talking about what I do, I invariably hear that the person I'm speaking to needs some help in the writing department. And do I ever have a business card? No. Writing my website address on a bar napkin is hardly a great way to make an impression. Like the person I just met is going to bring their scribbled-on bar napkin to the boss the next morning and say "Guess who I just met at Paddy's Shuck n' Jive last night! Our web copy problems are solved!"

Moral of the story? Need to get business cards. Need to carry them around.

Not putting my blog under my own domain name right away. I didn't put my blog under my own doman name because, well...I didn't know it was that important. Now I know otherwise. I also figure it will be a hassle to switch domain names at this point, and I'm going to have to reap the consequences of the cyber-choice I made later. If I had simply pointed this blog to my domain I wouldn't have to squander all the link love I've gotten since starting the blog, or worry about my subscribers, once I switch over.

Not being nearly as aggressive as I should be with marketing. I market when I notice work drying up. If I had a coherent marketing plan, work would be much more stable--fewer of the highs and lows of freelancing. Or at least that's what I assume.

Under-charging. We all make this mistake when we start out. While many freelancers start at the number they'd like to charge and then raise it, I started at that number and then lowered it.

So come on, confess: what are your biggest freelancing mistakes?

Six Ways to Build Credibility on Your Website

As a web writer, your website is your storefront. And it's out there online with millions of other websites advertising the services of your competitors. When clients find you, often the first thing they see is a website. And even though the Internet is a crucial marketplace for freelancers--so many of us work almost exclusively online now--it's often difficult for prospects to trust you with their business based on your website alone.

If you can inspire trust on your website, you'll generate more business from the site--and have to do less work reaching clients in other ways. Here are five powerful ways to build trust and attract business online.

Testimonials. Testimonials do a lot to build trust. When a prospect sees a list of quotes from previous clients raving about your work, they're much more likely to be interested in your services. Of course, to get a testimonial from a client you often have to ask--and some of us just don't. To ensure you gather as many as possible, make a testimonial request part of your regular project routine. Whenever you complete a project with a client, ask for a testimonial and send a short questionnaire over. A list of ten or so testimonials will do wonders for your business.

Case studies. Case studies are an excellent way to show prospects exactly how you help your clients. Pick a few projects that went particularly well, and write long articles on them--complete with client quotes. Your case studies should demonstrate the problem the client had, any special challenges that came with the project, and exactly how you solved the client's problem and met those challenges. Display them on your site for prospects to read, or include them in your regular e-zine if you have one.

Portfolio descriptions. Porfolio descriptions work the same way case studies do; they're just shorter. Next to each sample in your online portfolio, write up a brief description of what the client needed and how you provided a solution. These don't have to be long--a paragraph or two will do. The idea is to write a small story giving prospects a behind-the-scenes peek at how you help clients solve their problems--and how you can help them solve theirs.

A client list. A list of your previous clients is always a good way to show you have experience. If you've worked with any nationally recognized businesses, that's great--but even without a few famous names up there, a list of previous clients will show that you've got a long work history in a specific industry or across several industries.

Focus on results. Results sell. If you have clients who give you testimonials that tell about a result your writing got for them--they closed a deal in record time; they have an enormous boost in traffic; sales are through the roof--hang on to those. Those are your most valuable testimonials. Put them in a prominent place and make sure all your prospects see them. Emphasize your results in your website copy, as well. If your articles often go viral; if a client once got so much traffic from your content that the server crashed; or if your clients regularly tell you your writing helped sales--those are definitely powerful selling points to emphasize in your copy.

Write a blog. Blogs build credibility because they get your name out there and showcase your expertise. There's also something about being published; even if it's on a blog, people assume you're the voice of authority. If you're known in your industry's blog circuit, your profile is higher and people will believe you're an expert in your field.

My current website doesn't do much to build my credibility. Not to worry--all that will change soon. All of these techniques can do the work of selling for you, if they're used right. And that's good news for your business.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

If They Can Do It--You Can, Too.

Bob Bly's blog makes me feel confident about my writing ability all the time.

Here's what he does: he finds bad ads and picks them to shreds. People got paid to write some of these ads. There are a lot of bad writers out there, folks. Why does this make me feel good? Because I know I'm better than that. Because clients who are used to this kind of writing will love it when they see actual good writing. I'm not trying to sound arrogant or condescending--just really, really optimistic.

If these people can get away with writing this stuff, imagine how much better you can do:

Business entrepreneurs. Check out this post about the phrase "business entrepreneurs" used in a radio ad for a web development company. What other entrepreneurs are there besides business ones? Doesn't the word "entrepreneur" imply business? C'mon, admit it: you can do better.

A jungle of jargon. Over here, there's a guy with a company bio that's full of jargon. Seriously. Check this out:

“CZ provides results-focused learning solutions aimed at providing employees with the essential skills that enable them to optimize their performance and achieve measurable business results.”

Do you have any idea what CZ actually does here? I don't.

Yes, typos matter. Then there's this post about a gym owner who sent out a postcard with a big, obvious typo in the copy. The gym owner was dismissive, saying the picture of the hot girl on the card will pull people in. Um, sure, if you're a straight guy who can't spell. But are those the only people you want to draw? Personally, a hot chick on an exercise bike isn't going to draw my attention--but a typo sure will.

Redundancy overload. Redundancy is everywhere. Witness this post about a car ad that starts off "if you have a car you don't need or have little use for..." Does the phrase "or have little use for" add meaning to this sentence? No. It just repeats the "don't need" concept with less clarity. It's muddy writing. You can do better.

There is a lot of bad writing out there. As a good writer, this is your competition. If your writing is better than the rest, you can't help but do well.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Catalyst Mailbag: A Dose of Reality about Working Online

I get a lot of mail from people who want my advice on starting a writing business. I've always answered these in private before, but lately I've been feeling like it's more beneficial to readers to answer these questions on the blog rather than over email.

Here's the latest one:

"I just discovered your blog today, and I just wanted to ask your advice on finding good freelance and article writing gigs. I discovered Helium late last year, and have discovered that it's really not geared to real writers, and has turned into a kind of information meat market. I am looking for a similar service, where I can find jobs consisting of article or blog writing. I am more comfortable, however, negotiating through a service that can guarantee my payments, rather than doing a lot of work and getting taken advantage of by a client that's not trustworthy. Do you know of any Helium-like sites, where the writers actually get paid for their work, rather than just their click-thru revenue?

I've also attempted to find part-time telecommuting jobs and projects online. A lot of the postings I see online for telecommuting writer jobs are on paid job sites, like The first thing I was taught coming out of college was that you should never have to pay to see or apply to job postings. Are any of these sites worth the money?

I really appreciate any advice you have to offer."

My overall answer is that there are no guarantees. There are no super-lucrative, trustworthy sites that pay you great money for articles (if there were, we'd all be working for them instead of pursuing clients). Most of the sites that pay for articles pay a pittance, and base it on your click-through rates or views. You're usually responsible for getting your articles seen, and my position is that if you're going to do all that work to get views, you should do it on your own site and get 100% of your adsense revenue. Here are my thoughts on some other points:

Paid job sites. The email asked about Virtual Vocations, which I have no experience with, but I do know a thing or two about paid job sites in general--I got my first freelance assignments through Elance. As far as I know, Elance has by and large been considered the most writer-friendly job site out there until recently, but that really isn't saying much. While it kept me in spare change when I was moonlighting and building up a portfolio, once I went full-time I realized I couldn't sustain a business purely on the site. Then they changed their business model to make the site more expensive for freelancers, and I felt really lucky I'd already started moving my business away from it.

Paid job sites are more difficult to make money on nowadays because they bring together providers working all over the world--including third-world writers offering third-world rates--and put them in a competitive bidding forum where the lowest price wins. Buyers on these sites are often looking for the bottom basement rate--if they weren't, they could just type "freelance writer" into the search engines and go with a well-known, established freelancer. There is immense pressure to underbid, especially if you're less experienced. Plus you're paying a large monthly fee plus a commission on each dollar you make to the bidding site. While it's still possible to get work on these sites, my experience is that the ROI is generally not that great, conditions are less hospitable for newbies now than they used to be, and there are better ways to find clients.

Sites that guarantee payments. Forget it. There aren't any. I've never used Elance's dispute system, but I've not heard good things about it. PayPal advertises a dispute system, but when I finally needed to use it, I found out it was designed only for buyers of products--there were no protection for sellers of services whatsoever. The best protection I've found is to ask for a 50% up front deposit at all times--clients who are willing to pay part of the cost up front are usually willing to pay the full price--and to get a signed contract, including the client's real name, address and phone number, sent over by fax, PDF or snail mail so you know where to find them if they don't pay up. And even then it's not always effective--just ask Kathy Kehrli of Irreverent Freelancer.

Finding part-time telecommuting jobs online. Here's the thing: if you're really looking for part-time telecommuting jobs online, stop. Many, many more people want to work from home than there are companies that want employees to work from home. I went through this too, and I realized that most people with a steady job with a single employer--either part-time or full-time--working from home didn't get those jobs by looking for "work from home online" job ads. They applied for full-time jobs, worked for a period of time on-site to prove their effectiveness and dependability, and after a time negotiated a work-from-home position.

The thing is, so many people don't realize this--and want to work from home--that scammers and other people looking for something for nothing advertise work from home opportunities online to rope people in. These are often scams, or websites offering a portion of ad revenues for your work. They are seldom if ever worth your time.

What really works. I know you don't want to hear this, but doing a lot of work and taking risks is what works. Build a website that showcases your portfolio samples. Learn as much as you can about copywriting in general and running a copywriting business in particular. Read Bob Bly's Copywriter's Handbook and Peter Bowerman's Well-Fed Writer. Get in touch with businesses--by phone, email, or snail mail--telling them about your services. Be willing to step outside your comfort zone. Take on lots of different projects until you find out what you're best at and what's the most enjoyable to you. Occasionally you'll get bad clients, but the vast majority are decent, honest, and will appreciate what you do for them. It will be a lot of hard work, and working directly with clients can be more intimidating than working through an impersonal website--at least at first. But if you build a business you can use to sustain your life--rather than basing your income on a single site or two that could change its business terms or go offline at any time--you will definitely not regret it.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Catalyst Partners With LucidCrew

Now you can get kick-arse design and awesome writing all in one place.

Catalyst has partnered with LucidCrew, a full-service web design and development company that offers gorgeous graphic design for the web and for print, SEO, web hosting, identity design and branding. Now they offer copywriting too. So they're even more full-service.

(Go to the website and check out the logo at the top, with the group of people. I'm the one on the right. In the skirt.)

Here's the thing about me and websites: I have a ton of ideas, and I don't have the skills to implement them. I would love to experiment with my website, upload something new every day, set up an e-blast to keep in touch with clients, sell e-books and all kinds of fun stuff. But ever since I made my first forays into designing my own website, I've realized that design is not easy. Seriously--have you ever tried drawing a straight line in DreamWeaver? These programs were not designed for casual users.

I've always thought that if somebody would just design a program that would just let people do what they want to do with their websites without any technical skills whatsoever, they would make a killing. Because there are a lot of people out there like me with big creative ideas and without the ability to make them happen.

LucidCrew must have figured this out, too. One of the things that really drew me to this company (aside from the fact that I liked their design style) was their content management system, MediaStove. It's perfect for people like me who want to play around with their websites but who have absolutely no skill as programmers or developers. With this program I can set up an email newsletter, blog, upload pages and pictures, display video, add to an online catalogue, publish articles, and all kinds of cool stuff--and I don't have to know a thing about programming or design myself.

Anyway, I'm thrilled to be working with this great company, and can't wait to start handling client projects with them!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Is The Climate for Freelancers Tougher Now?

Over on the Well Fed Writer Blog, there's a discussion going on about whether or not it's still possible to achieve financial self sufficiency as a freelance writer in six months or less. Bowerman first wrote his freelance writer's Bible about eight years ago, and he wanted to know if his "six months or less" promise was still possible today.

Some of the responses to this post were eye-opening. Especially Karen's. If you'll scroll down in the comments, you'll see that Karen has had a freelancing career for seven years now, and she's seen her client list drop significantly in the past few years.

Should we be scared? Is the market for freelance writers taking a nose dive? Here are some thoughts on why it might be--and why it might not be.

More freelancers = more competition. Books like Bowerman's and Bly's really increased public interest in freelance writing. Now there are so many books about it, websites devoted to it, e-books and business coaches and classes and all sorts of businesses that market to people who want to become freelance writers, it's no wonder writers are seeing more competition. And new freelancers price low. It's possible seasoned pros are seeing more competition from new, eager writers who'll do anything for that first clip--even work for free.

Global outsourcing may not be good news for freelancers. The Internet is both a blessing and a curse to freelancers, in my opinion. Clients now have access to writers all over the globe, for better or for worse, and some of these folks work for extremely cut rates. Hiring these people is like outsourcing your factory to China and paying six cents a day for work you'd have to pay a living wage for in the States. Freelancers face the same competition all workers in America face from low-wage workers in other countries.

Elance, Guru, et cetera. Job bidding sites give clients who are looking for a price break a single, easily-accessible place to find cheap work. I used to work on Elance, and while I charged high prices compared to the rest of the pack (and still got work), I was not the norm. Perhaps before these sites became popular, it was tougher for clients who wanted cheap writing to find cheap writers. Not anymore.

More businesses than ever need good freelancers. However, the Web has created an insatiable market for businesses looking for writers. Natural search is pretty much all writing--only a regular stream of content will get you at the top of the SERP's and keep you there. Savvy businesses understand that quality writing is the only thing that really works--you can't use $5 articles as link bait and expect to get anywhere. This is a huge market for writers.

Economic downturn = more companies hiring freelancers. Life is scary nowadays. Gas prices are up. Wages are down. The economy is stagnating. It's good news for freelancers--companies that would ordinarily hire full-time writers cant' afford to, but they still need to market their products or they won't get paid themselves. So they hire freelancers, who are cheaper than full-timers. Don't let the economy scare you.

The web gives us access to more clients. It used to be that you were stuck in the town you lived in when it came to finding clients. But the web means we can work for clients anywhere. I have clients in the U.K., in South Africa, in Canada, and even in China. When you're an online freelancer, you're not constrained by the businesses nearby--the world is your marketplace.

I'm not scared yet. The market may be changing--but I think there's still plenty of business out there for good writers.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Five Ways You Sell Yourself Short

"Fake it til you make it." I hate that advice. I hate the idea of being fake, first of all; I may be an actress in my second life, but there is a big difference between acting and being fake. But perhaps even more importantly, I don't think anyone ever feels like they've "made it." I found this post over on the Well Fed Writer blog the other day on how even old pros get nervous turning in first drafts. If Peter Bowerman still gets nervous sometimes, there's really no hope for me.

But even so, a lack of confidence can and will hold you back from reaching your potential as a freelance writer. I struggle with doubt all the time--and as I've grown and handled more types of projects successfully, I've learned that many of the things that have held me back have been all in my head. Here are five ways you may be selling yourself short--and earning less as a result.

You think you can't do it. Doubt has kept me from pursuing all kinds of projects in the past--from lucrative landing page gigs to simple press releases. You name it, and at one time I probably thought I couldn't do it. Of course, eventually a long-term client would come to me asking for help on the very thing I thought I couldn't do, and of course I said yes anyway, since I knew these businesses so well by then...and I did a fine job each time. Believe me, as long as you know how to educate yourself on how to do new types of writing, you'll be fine.

You think you need a certain type of experience. In the beginning, I was very nervous about talking to clients because I had never worked at an on-site agency before. While that kind of experience is great to showcase if you have it, you don't need it. My nervousness over my lack of on-site experience held me back from putting myself up for all kinds of jobs that I probably would have handled just fine.

You think you're not "professional" enough. I didn't have loads of experience in the corporate world when I started out. Because of this, I doubted what I saw as my professionalism. I thought I didn't look like a businessperson--let's face it; I still look like a college student--and I thought I wasn't sales-and-business-savvy enough to be able to present myself professionally to professional people. Today my idea of professionalism has evolved a lot--and even though I know it's still evolving, I also know I'm darn good at what I do and I treat my clients very well--and that's enough for success.

You need an attitude adjustment. Sales used to freak me out. You can imagine the damage that caused my business. Sometimes our preconceived attitudes about something like sales, math, or website design--i.e. that you can't do it, shouldn't have to do it, and refuse to learn--can keep you from running your business and promoting yourself effectively. This is something you grow out of pretty quickly if you want to succeed.

You don't consider what your writing is worth to your clients. One of my clients just emailed me to let me know he landed a huge contract the day his new website copy went up. Another client has seen his traffic skyrocket because the articles I write for his site go viral all the time. How much is that traffic and business worth to your clients? A lot. And there are plenty of other businesses out there that want your skills. You have to know the value you bring to businesses if you want to set prices that are fair to you.

Your success is all in your head. It's definitely important to stretch outside your comfort zone every so often--especially when you're first getting started. If you do, you may find you can do more than you thought.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Developing a Sales and Marketing Mindset

I had a client write me a testimonial the other day. It was great. Here are a few of the high points:

"From day one of our new and improved website copy we received favorable comments and leads. We had one prospect that we were waiting to contact until the new material was available and as soon as it was we sent a link. It led to a sale that closed in the fastest amount of time in our company’s history...through Jennifer's research, I actually learned something new about a segment of our market. Now that’s the way to deliver above and beyond expectations!"

This is exactly the type of testimonial I used to read on other writers' sites and think to myself, "I don't think I could do that." Not because I didn't have confidence in my writing ability, but because I had this idea that writing and sales were two separate things. In my mind, I kicked arse in the writing department. But I had no confidence in my ability to sell.

I think the problem was that for a long time, "sales" was kind of a dirty word to me. It made me think of overbearing used-car salesmen and telemarketers. The closest I ever came to sales at work was a college job I had my Freshman year, where I had to call alumni and persuade them to donate to the school. I stunk at that. I think I raised about $50 the entire semester I worked there, and it was from my dad.

But through working with clients and honing my skills, I've realized that my perception of sales and marketing was entirely wrong. I didn't have to change my writing ability, but I did have to change my mindset. Here are some of the ideas I learned that completely changed my attitude towards sales.

By pitching your services, you are not doing anything dishonest. I think my biggest block about sales and marketing was that I felt like it was fundamentally dishonest. And sure, some ads exaggerate. But as a writer, I offer something of great value to clients--the ability to explain why customers want their services, educate readers and connect with an audience. Think about it--you might charge a certain amount to write a website, but how much will the client make as a result of your rewrite? Each time this particular client lands a gig, it's thousands of dollars. If my writing lands him even one such client, my services are well worth it. I'm not lying when I tell potential clients my writing can boost their bottom line.

If you're not preaching to the converted, you're talking to the wrong market. Another thing I hated about my perception of sales was its pushiness. I hated the idea of trying to make someone buy something they didn't want. But most seasoned salespeople will tell you not to pitch to people who don't want what you sell. The right audience is an audience of people who need what you sell and who are used to buying it.

Writing is sales is writing. I also thought there was something mysterious about sales that set it apart from typical writing skills. There really isn't. When you sell your client's service or product in writing, you're simply explaining in clear, simple language--your target audience's language--how your client can solve their problems. The business that explains it best wins. You're building a case for your client. It's the same basic skills you used to write A+ research papers, but with a more accessible style.

By letting businesses know about your services, you're doing them a favor. Businesses need copywriters. Anyone with a website needs a copywriter. Especially people with any kind of e-commerce website. If they're looking for good writing, they want to hear from you. There's nothing bad or intrusive about contacting these businesses.

If you are a writer, you can be a great in-writing salesperson. Maybe you don't shine in in-person sales or over the phone, but you don't have to. If you can simply explain what you do and how it helps your customers, you'll get business--and you'll make sales.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Catalyst in the News

Susan Johnston from The Urban Muse interviewed me a while ago for an article about that awkward time after you graduate college and before you have that whole financial-purpose-life thing figured out. You can read it over at Young Money.

People often say that being young is all about being free to explore and do what you want. I've found that my twenties have been largely about compromise--if I want to live where I want to live, I have to a). live with a lot of roommates or b). make a lot more money than I'm making now. I can have a fabulous business of my own, but I still don't have health insurance. (I know, I know, it's dangerous; believe me, my mom brings it up at least once a week). True, I'm compromising a lot less than I would be if I had kids--but is the decision not to have kids to preserve freedom a big compromise of its own?

Maybe for some people, the twenties are easier and more free. But it seems to me that adult life is comprised mainly of a series of compromises, big and little--no matter your age.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

On-Site Writing vs. Freelancing: The Showdown

I know I've mentioned this quite a bit, but for those of you who were wondering where I've been the past three months or so, I've been working at an onsite gig: my former full-time employer needed a temporary fill-in for an employee who left unexpectedly, and I decided to take that on. This only months after broadcasting to all and sundry on Words on the Page that I would never do an onsite gig; not me, no way. Well, kids, we all have our price.

Anyway, I've come to realize that choosing between flexible freelancing and onsite reliability is not an all-or-nothing proposition. Many freelancers go in and out of full-time and part-time onsite work, all while maintaining and sometimes putting on hold their own independent businesses. Writing can be the ultimate fluid career, and your needs change depending on your life circumstances. Fresh off the onsite boat, here are my insights as to the benefits and drawbacks.

The Benefits:

A reliable income. This was my reason for taking the assignment on. I needed cash at the time, and I couldn't justify turning it down--even if it came in a less-than-ideal package. I could see going back to an onsite gig if the timing is right and I happen to need the money again, if only on a temporary basis. I could also consider doing it long-term if, for example, I wanted to buy a house. Banks are much more likely to give you a loan if you have a steady job, I've heard, and picking up an office job for a year could get me a better rate on my first home loan.

Social interaction. You do get pretty isolated freelancing, if you let yourself. I saw people every day for two months. I got to wear my cute work clothes and my cute work shoes. I got to meet new people. Although there are definite downsides to work interaction, it's not all bad.

Quick feedback on your work. One of the things I actually liked about the onsite writing work was that my boss was right there--I could hand in a draft, wait an hour, and get in-person feedback. This is definitely a different experience than emailing a draft to a client, waiting a few days, waiting a few more days, emailing them to remind them about the draft, waiting a few more days...OK, it's usually not that bad, but you get the point. In addition, I found I felt better about experimenting a little more. I wasn't worried about nailing the first draft every time, because my boss was right there to check out the draft, offer small tweaks or big changes, and give immediate feedback.

Total immersion in the project. Another benefit was the fact that everyone there was completely caught up on the work. The graphic design, the project management, the writing team--we were all right there, giving each other ideas, feeding off each other's energy. It definitely changed my writing; I think I would have written completely different material had I been doing it alone, with only a single client interview to guide me.

The Drawbacks:

Much less time to focus on my long-term goals. Despite these benefits, I will always be too independent to really feel at home at a full-time job. The problem with onsite work is that it takes away time you'd ordinarily spend moving yourself forward, and makes you focus on moving the company forward. I just can't be happy if I don't feel I'm dedicating a big part of every day to achieving my own personal goals, regardless of what another company wants. I had to put a lot of things on hold when I took on this onsite gig, and now, even though my bank account is thanking me, I still feel like I'm two months behind.

Inefficient use of time. I've grown used to being careful about how I use my time as a freelancer. I guide client phone calls to be as efficient and to-the-point as possible. I use my time efficiently so I have more time to play later. In an office, everyone's stuck there until closing time--so there's no incentive to not waste time. One of my biggest private peeves during this on-site experience was meetings. Long, pointless meetings where people got drawn off-topic, debated endlessly about whether or not there should be a comma in the title of an article (my answer: No! There shouldn't be! And you all have to listen to me, because I do this for a living!) and generally made me crazy.

Less opportunity to earn more through my business. Yes, the regular paycheck was good for my business. But I also found that as soon as I took on the onsite gig, for some reason new clients poured in for freelancing. I rushed home after working onsite and dove right into freelancing work, often working until long after traditional office hours should have ended. How much more money could I have made if I'd had the time to pursue more freelancing work? Sure, it's great to have a regular paycheck--but it can also be exciting to know that you have the potential to earn a lot more than usual one month--and you don't have time to do that when you're stuck at an onsite job.

I've known this for a long time, but this experience has only served to remind me that I am SO much happier and more productive freelancing. I'm looking forward to a footloose flexible summer of typing on the patio, impromptu beach trips and sleeping in a little every morning.

Monday, June 2, 2008

The Benefits of Blogging (Hint: It's Not What You Think)

I just saw an article on IttyBiz about social media marketing, and why it sucks. And this includes blogs. Basically, according to the post, us businesspeople and marketing people are really only talking to each other. The people who buy from us don't go to our blogs. They don't want to interact with us. They just want to find what they want quickly and for a good price, buy it, and go do other things.

I can't speak for everyone's blog, but I can say this commentary definitely rang true for me. The people who read my blog for the most part are writers. Not designers. Not SEO's. Not online entrepreneurs. (OK, maybe there are a few of you out there. But I think you're the minority.) And I know you all love me...but you probably won't hire me.

So if I'm not connecting with clients, what am I getting from this blog? It's not monetary gain; I make enough on this blog to go grab sushi every three months or so. That's not much sushi, folks. I explained this recently to someone who emailed me assuming that because my blog is well known in a few circles, I must be making money from it--and wanted to know how he could do the same thing. My email was a long explanation of the benefits of blogging--aside from money. Here are a few.

I do get clients this way. I just told you my readers are generally not clients. But that doesn't mean I haven't gotten work from this blog. Every so often someone looking for a writer finds this blog and likes my writing style. And every so often someone I know through blogging sends a referral my way. It does happen, even though my regular readers and commenters are usually not the same people who hire writers.

I build credibility. A good blog can be a career-maker. Mine is building my credibility for clients; I can now tell people I run an award-winning blog, and I can point them to an online writing sample here that I"m proud of. When potential clients see I'm well-respected in my industry here, it raises my credibility in their eyes. It gives me leverage to charge more. It helps me grow my business.

I rise in the ranks. Blogging helps your ranking in the SERP's. Granted, my blog is not attached to my website URL yet--so I don't think it's helping that beyond simply linking to it. But my blog posts come up in plenty of keywords important in my industry, and it can lead possible clients to my website. Even if you just use Blogger, a blog raises your visibility and makes it more likely clients will find you.

I get to talk shop. I originally conceived of CatalystBlogger as a way to connect with clients. I sort of envisioned myself as a writing expert of some type, dispensing advice from on high on how to write better copy. But when I got down to it, that wasn't what I found myself writing about day in and day out. This blog turned into, essentially, a place for me to "talk shop." I don't get that at home; I don't go to work with coworkers who do the same thing, and I don't live with or know a lot of people among my friends and family who do the same thing I do. I get it here, with all of you. I get advice, encouragement, and friendship--I've even met a few of you in my area for drinks and lunch. Occasionally I get a referral from my new writing connections, and I'm always happy to send referrals to people I've had contact with through their blog and mine. Connectivity does make a difference.

Blogging may not make you rich. But even a moderately well-trafficked, well-written blog can help you make connections, gain visibility, and build a more credible face for your business. Don't worry so much about whether or not you're making money or actively selling on your blog. Even if you're just writing for others in your industry, you're still making a difference to your business.