Saturday, July 26, 2008

Back Soon!

I will be traveling a lot until August 15. I'm still working in addition to traveling, so I've got a lot to juggle--and a bunch of client projects in the past two weeks means this blog took a back seat. I'll be posting as I have time until the middle of August, when I'll get back to a regular posting schedule.

Have a great summer!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Nervous? This Will Help.

I just read a post over on Words on the Page that really spoke to me. Lori talks about a new project that's outside her comfort zone--and she's nervous about it. I've definitely been there. I am a walking ball of nerves a lot of the time. Whenever I start something I've never done before, a little voice in my head starts screaming "You STINK!" Then it starts singing 80's dance music at the top of its voice. Here are a few things you can do to drown that voice out.

Read your testimonials. If you've collected testimonials from previous clients, those can be a big source of self-esteem. Read them over and over. Revisit them when you feel less than confident. If you don't have testimonials, you probably have some private emails from clients saying good things about you. Save those in a special file. These are genuine evidence that you are not, in fact, a fraud. You have scores of other clients who loved your work, and this one will too.

Draw parallels between this and something you can do in your sleep. Even if it's a new type of project for you, it's all writing and research at the end--and you can do that easily. New to writing e-books? Maybe you've done a ton of articles--and an e-book is just a long, extended how-to article. New to sales letters? I bet you rocked at persuasive essays in college--like those, sales writing is simply building a compelling argument. You can always find a bridge between a new project and something that's familiar. Use it to plan out your approach.

Do your research. Your client won't expect you to be a subject matter expert in their industry. But it can boost your confidence to do some reading before you show up for the meeting. Do some research into their company, their industry, the type of writing you're doing if it's new to you, and have some ideas going in that are grounded in fact. Even if you don't use them, it will give you a springboard to start a conversation about the project.

Remember they're human, and so are you. You're not expected to be perfect. And you're already good at what you do. Don't be intimidated into thinking you need to know the answers to all the questions, or that you can't show your personality.

What's the worst that can happen? The worst that can happen is that they don't hire you. Or they want revisions. Or maybe they don't want to go forward with the project and they back out under your contracted exit clause. Oh well. It happens. Will you remember this in five years? Will it matter when you're old? No.

Attacks of self-doubt strike even the most accomplished of us. It's part of being human, but as you gain experience you'll get used to it--and you'll come up with strategies for dealing with it. Use these tips to talk yourself down from that ledge, and you'll be able to go into that client meeting more excited than scared.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

My Five Truths of Freelancing

I saw this post on Words on the Page the other day about the seven truths of freelance writing. Lori covered a lot here, but I felt compelled to add a few of my own:

The more of a hurry they're in for the first draft, the longer they'll take to get back to you once it's turned in. This happens all the time. You'll get a client who is in an insane hurry for the finished product. He asks you to complete everything in half the time you usually take. You agree to it (charging a rush fee, hopefully) and you bust your butt to turn it in on time. You wait for a reply: "We loved it, send us the invoice!" would be fantastic, but you'll settle for "We need some major edits..." as long as you hear something back. You wait a week. You wait two weeks. Nothing. The more of a hurry the client is up front, the less of a hurry he'll be in once you pass in the work.

Learn to love the ebb and flow. Last year my big slow month was May. This year May was OK, but you never know how the rest of the year will turn out. You'll have busy months and slow months. If you've got too much work to do already, you'll hear from three more clients before the end of the month. If you're hungry for work, your clients won't need you that month. It's just how things are.

You can't get too complacent. Complacency is the freelancer's worst enemy. We don't have a sympathetic boss giving us raises and Christmas bonuses. We have to earn those ourselves. I love this post over at Rogue Ink about how much money you think you'll need. Set big goals. If you fail by a little, so what? You'll still make a lot of money.

Wearing your PJ's all day isn't as fun as it sounds. Trust me. You start to feel gross.

Writer's Block tends to evaporate under the pressure of paying the rent. Think you won't know what to say when the time comes? Trust me, you will. The client is counting on you. Your dependents are counting on you. Your houseplants are counting on you. The words will definitely come.

So what are your truths of freelancing?

Monday, July 7, 2008

Content: King or Crap?

Just saw this post over on Bly's blog asking this question: "is 'Content is King' a load of crap?" Bob states that author Tim Sanders brings up an interesting point: people are too busy to actually read all that information you're offering:

There’s too much information in today’s world, and our defense mechanism to sort through it all is to vote with our gut, to vote what we feel. We look for shortcuts, and those shortcuts are called brands. The reason you buy Tide detergent at the grocery store is that you don’t want to read fifty labels. You trust Tide because you already know it works.

I had a response, but after thinking it through I realized it was longer than would be useful in a simple comment--so I decided to offer it up here. I believe in information marketing. I don't think it can be your only method of marketing, but I believe it can be highly effective--even though consumers are time-starved. Here's my response.

It depends on the type of prospect you're marketing to. Stating that content is crap is way too general to make much sense, in my opinion. Maybe the time-starved mother of three will stick to Tide rather than get crazy and try Bold because she's used it before and she likes it. But what if that time-starved mom is purchasing a new car and needs to figure out which one has the best gas mileage, is the most dependable, and is the best value for the money? Then you can bet she won't be too busy to read. Similarly if you're trying to market to managers of midsize companies, you'd better have some informational material they can use to wrap their minds around your solution--making a big business purchase requires a lot of justification to shareholders, bosses, and so on.

It really does depend on your product. You need to know who's looking for information and whether your product is likely to be a buy-on-the-fly kind of thing, or whether it requires more thought. A big purchase requires a lot of thought. A low-cost everyday necessity might be able to rely more on brand.

It depends on the type of information and where you put it. Putting a lot of "useful content" on the label of a box of Tide may not be the best move--nobody wants to stand in the grocery store for an hour and read through fifty labels. I agree with that. But if a customer goes to your website for info, you'd better have that info up there--or they'll go somewhere else. Content is more effective if you offer it where and when customers want it--whether that's on your website, at your booth at the trade show, or as a giveaway report to those who send for it.

You have to convince consumers that you're trustworthy. The problem with some examples of information marketing I've seen is that it doesn't do a good enough job of presenting the company as trustworthy. Customers are naturally suspicious of information they get from a specific company, because they assume you have an ulterior motive--to get them to buy. That's why it's so important to be impartial. Give fair and balanced information. Don't be afraid to suggest other sources of information or even other products if they might be better for customers. If a company isn't getting great results through information marketing, it may be because they're not doing a good enough job at appearing impartial.

People might be "too busy to read," but they're also brand-saturated. The article states that people are too busy to read--that they want shortcuts, and that's what a well-known brand gives them. I agree that customers don't want to stop and agonize over every little purchasing decision, and brand gives some companies an edge over others. But you build brand through advertising and presenting a coherent marketing message, and consumers are definitely getting oversaturated with marketing messages. That's why information marketing is so effective--when done right, it cuts through the advertising clutter and gives information that consumers can trust.

Information marketing isn't right in every situation. It's a tool like any other marketing tool, and it has to be used in the right way, to the right people to have the best effect. Content may not be "king" in that it's the only or most effective marketing tool out there--and it's definitely not the only thing a company should concentrate on. But I believe they ignore it at their peril.

Friday, July 4, 2008

My Declaration of Independence

Today is the anniversary of the day when our country declared independence from England. Two years ago, around the same time (although not exactly on the same day), I declared independence in my own life--I quit my job and started freelancing full-time.

I had been working as a GED teacher for an adult education nonprofit for two years before I started my freelancing business. Before that, I worked as an editor at a major educational publishing company. Not the type of editor who edits actual books, though; my job was editing test development software that administered licensing tests to insurance agents. When I was hired, I thought I'd be editing the actual tests. In fact, that was the original job description. Then budget cuts ensued, nearly the entire IT department was pink-slipped, and word came down from on high that us editors would now be "our own IT." I am not good at technical matters. I am not good at figuring out technical problems. When left alone with malfunctioning software I get impatient and frustrated and generally need to get away from the electronics before I break things. So this wasn't a good job for me.

Someone I knew gave me Bob Bly's How to Make $80,000 a Year as a Freelance Writer. I read it cover-to-cover and decided business freelancing wasn't something I could do; I'd majored in creative writing in college and I thought I couldn't credibly convince companies to hire me. Then a co-worker at the publishing company told me about Elance, where she made extra money writing. I checked it out, but it seemed like a lot of money--so I didn't buy a membership then.

After a few years I left the publishing company and got a job as a GED teacher at an adult education nonprofit. GED teaching was better for me than the job I'd had earlier, but it still wasn't something I felt I was great at. Still, I stayed for two years. At the end of the first year, I met a woman who had been freelance writing for several years. She was not much older than me, and had a similar background. I remember totally re-evaluating my opinion of freelance writing when I met her--I thought, if she could do it, there's no reason why I couldn't.

I didn't know anything about getting started at first, so I went with the only lead I had: Elance. It took me a little while, but after some time I built up a good reputation on the site and started making what seemed to me at the time to be decent money. Meanwhile, I was getting more and more unsatisfied with my current job--and more convinced that the only way I could be happy at work was to work for myself.

I talked to business owners, my parents, and others I felt would have good advice, and they all unanimously told me not to rush things. Save up money, build up contacts, don't do anything rash. But I reached a point where I felt I couldn't be unhappy at work for one more minute. So after two years of teaching, I left to start freelancing full time.

I can't say it wasn't terrifying, and I can't say this would be the right choice for everyone. But for me, jumping right in worked out well--so far. About two years ago, I declared independence from schedule slavery, a daily commute, and always feeling like my best talents weren't being used. Today, I feel solidarity with my country, which also managed to break away from a dependent situation and forge a new life for itself. The U.S. isn't perfect, but it's the oldest current democracy in the world. Hopefully my move to independence will lead to a future as stable and long-lasting.