Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Great Guest Post Experiment

I am dropping everything and going to Ecuador at the end of August. I'll be there for several weeks. And--get this--I will NOT be working when I'm there. Nor will I be checking my work email. At least...not when there's no Internet connection available. The really crazy part? I'm actually going to tell my clients I won't be in the office.

This is very different from all the other vacations I've taken since I started this blog. At the beginning, I would simply post a message saying I'd be out of town for a certain number of days. Later, as my business got busy and I started doing "working vacations"--all my vacations have been working vacations since 2007--I would think I could handle blogging and working and vacationing, realize I couldn't, and let the posting slide--no mention in the blog because I always figured tomorrow I'd write a bunch of posts. Not too professional. I know it's bad blogging practice, but sometimes life gets in the way.

OK, so this time I'm doing something different. instead of letting my vacation time catch up to me, I'm soliciting guest posts from anyone who wants to see their work up here. I'll be gone for a while and the more guest posts I have ready, the less work I have to do. Which is good.

Guidelines: please send something at least 200 words in length. Themes include the freelance writing life, getting clients, marketing, dealing with clients, and writing advice. I may be contacting some of you directly to see if you'd be interested--especially if you have a blog I visit on a more-or-less regular basis. But anyone is welcome to send me something I can use. If you're interested, post in the comments or just send me an email.

In return for your guest post, you get linkage to your site and a promise that I'll write one for you next time you're out of town


Thursday, July 23, 2009

If You're Not Marketing, You're Just Scraping By.

I saw a couple of interesting posts on working for content mills at Words on the Page and The Avid Writer recently. The question: why do some writers work for content mills instead of marketing to private clients? The money is a lot worse (although I have to say, I'm surprised there are content mills paying as much as $20 per article nowadays. I'd think they'd all be paying $5 per article or worse). The answers were varied, but one of them got me thinking: you work with content mills, and you don't have to do any marketing.

I know a lot of writers have a raving fear of marketing. I relate to it. But most businessowners wouldn't. Could you imagine the owner of your local gym, grocery store or car repair shop saying they have a fear of marketing? How would these people make any money? If you can avoid marketing and survive, you're insanely lucky. Most businesspeople can't. Most businesspeople wouldn't be caught dead getting stuck in the equivalent of a content mill rut just because it gives them the stability to avoid marketing. The bottom line is, if you're not marketing, you're not thriving as you could be.

So why don't writers like to market? I've heard a few reasons given--and I've even given some of these myself. It takes too much time; it's too much of a hassle; it takes too much effort away from personal writing projects. But I think beyond all these excuses is a single reason: lack of confidence. The only way to build your confidence in the writing world is through self-education and experience. Here are a few reasons all writers (including content mill writers) shouldn't avoid marketing:

Marketing makes your job more stable. That content mill (or regular client) could fold at any time, leaving you out in the cold. In a way, freelancers are more stable than people with regular jobs, because they work with several employers--if one evaporates, there's always another one. But that's not true if you're relying on one or two regular clients to keep your head above water, especially in a recession. Marketing increases your client base and helps guarantee you'll stay busy.

Marketing gets you out of ruts. Chances are, that regular client paid you what you thought was a great wage when you were just starting out. But as you've improved your skills, it's pretty likely you're worth more now. Every new client is a new opportunity to give yourself a raise.

Marketing IS your job. I think it's funny that as freelancers, we're happy to market for everybody but ourselves. Marketing copy is our job. And doing it for ourselves gives us practical hands-on experience we can apply to client work. Try it: order a few cheap postcards on VistaPrint with good copy and a call to action, and mail them to businesses you have a solid track record working with. You'll probably get at least one taker.

Every time I've marketed--even when I've just emailed a few businesses in a few minutes to see who's looking for freelancers--I've gotten at least one response that's led to increased income. Marketing might be scary to some of us--writers can be natural introverts--but don't let marketing trepidation hold you back from living up to your potential.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Projects I Don't Handle

I love being a jack-of-all-trades, although I've started to focus on web copy. I love doing different types of projects and offering numerous services to clients looking for a "one-size-fits-all" writer. But some projects just don't work with me, and never did. Here are a few areas I typically don't write in--and why.

Press releases. I've written several successful press releases for clients, but it's not an area I like to focus on and lately I've been recommending press release clients to other writers. The reason? Press releases are supposed to be about newsworthy events, and newspaper editors select which ones make it into the paper based on which ones offer info their readers are likely to find fascinating. Self-promotional documents masquerading as newsworthy stories are anathema to editors. The problem? Many of the clients I encounter who want press releases want me to get coverage for really banal things--like their new website launch. If there was something really innovative and different about their new website, that would be workable--but often there isn't much. Trying to turn a promotional agenda into something newsworthy may be the perfect project for some writers, but for me it's a struggle.

Magazine and news articles. I know several writers who do both commercial copy and magazine writing. While I do ghostwritten articles for trade magazines sometimes, I typically don't submit article ideas to magazines on my own. I'm not crazy about the way magazines pay--100% once the story is published, much less if they decide not to publish it through no fault of your own, and often months after your story's run. I like commercial copywriting better, where I have more control over my terms and payment schedule.

Highly technical writing. I love learning all about new technologies and translating those into sales copy that appeals to consumers. What doesn't work as well for me is writing highly technical copy for an expert audience. I got involved in a blogging project like this once where I essentially had to become as much of an expert as my readers to provide them with expert-level commentary, and to reach that level I'd need an advanced degree. Suffice it to say the project didn't pay enough to reimburse me for research time.

Ghostwriting books, screenplays and other involved creative projects. I'm writing my own novels, and prefer to devote my novel-writing efforts toward my own career--so I typically avoid ghostwriting other people's--although I'm perfectly happy to write nonfiction e-books and such. There may be some angel clients out there for these projects, but often when I see someone in the job boards looking for a writer for a long creative project, something about those postings always makes me nervous. Maybe it's that I get a sense of big egos looking for writers to confirm their brilliance--and I'm a little nervous about getting stuck with a lame idea and a slightly psycho client.

What projects do you typically avoid? And which ones on this list do you handle regularly?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

10-Minute Marketing Tip

So I've been getting sick of the job boards. I'm starting to think about doing a postcard mailer campaign to local marketing agencies and web design businesses. But that's a longer project. In the meantime, I've got a ton of work to do this month and not much time to market. But if I want to make sure I have a profitable next month, I can't afford to put off my marketing.

But marketing doesn't have to take hours out of your day. Today I spent a few minutes writing up a quick email message targeting web designers. The pitch? Web designers can expand their services and get an edge over their competitors by offering professional copywriting to go along with their design. I'm a writer who specializes in web copy that sells AND attention-grabbing link bait articles and viral video scripts, so I'm the perfect partner for web-savvy design businesses.

Then I did a quick Google search for web designers. A few clicks gets me to a directory with tons of links to web design sites. I check them out--avoiding super cheap web design sites because they probably won't be serving clients who can afford me--and start emailing the ones that look promising.

My track record is pretty good. So far I've contacted 10 businesses and gotten a response from one--almost immediately after I emailed. Hopefully it will evolve into a business partnership that will be lucrative for both of us. All in well under ten minutes.

How do you market when time is short?

Monday, July 13, 2009

How to Quit Worrying and Love the Phone

I'm not gonna lie: I hate the phone. Maybe it's because I'm Gen Y--we're used to emailing and texting, but see phone calls as inefficient. And maybe that's what gets to the heart of it for me; I've spent an hour on the phone before trying to get information from someone that it could have taken ten minutes to gather, if I could only get the person on the other end to quit going off on tangents. I also hate the high-pressure feeling of a phone call. When you email someone, you can think out what you want to say, revise, and make sure your message is really coming across like it should. In a phone call, it's a lot more difficult to control your message.

But still--a lot of clients love the phone. And if you're not readily accessible by phone, it could lose you business. Here are a few things that help when it comes to getting yourself to quit worrying and love the phone.

Get a business line. I don't have a business line now, but I used to--and let me tell you, it made client phone time so much easier. When the business line rang, I knew it was a client--I didn't have to worry about whether I should answer with "Catalyst Writing Services, this is Jennifer" or a plain "Hello" when the phone rang. There's something to be said for being mentally prepared to pick up when the phone rings--and if you don't know whether or not it's a client calling, that can be difficult.

Script it out. Whenever I need to call someone for business purposes, I take a quick minute to write out what I'm going to say and read it aloud. This way I ensure I don't suddenly blank on my own phone number when leaving a message. Trust me, it's happened.

Call when nobody's home. Peter Bowerman advocates a sales cycle that starts with cold calling. Really, I'd rather have my toes bitten off by wild beavers than cold-call anyone. I know my strengths, and phone sales is not one of them.

However, at that 15-Second Pitch seminar I can't quit talking about, the instructor told a story that really struck me--she taught a client of hers who also hated phone sales (a photographer--huh, maybe phone phobia is a creative-person thing) to call at odd hours when she knew nobody was going to answer the phone, then leave her pitch on the answering machine. Not surprisingly, she got a ton of business this way.

I'm still going to communicate more by email than by phone. But hopefully as my business grows, I can find ways to be more comfortable on the phone. Maybe it's not my ideal method of communication--but it's not worth losing business over.

Friday, July 10, 2009

My Productivity Killers--And How to Deal

Working for yourself, you're directly accountable to yourself for how much you produce and how much you make. The more I can work in a day, the more successful I'll be. if I don't get everything done in a day and leave time for marketing and other business tasks, I don't give myself enough opportunity for success during the day.

Sometimes my day goes smoothly--and I get everything done that I want done. Other times, I get stuck on a single project I thought would take an hour--and it winds up taking all day. Sometimes this has more to do with my focus than the difficulty of the work. Here are a few things that never fail to distract me--and how I deal with them.

The Internet. The Internet is a necessary evil. I need it to communicate with clients and market, but I also can get drawn into a great time-wasting vortex. Between blogging, my forays into social networking, checking email incessantly, and playing around on Facebook stalking people I haven't seen since high school (come on, you know you do that too) when I should be working, sometimes I can lose hours to the Internet without realizing I'm doing it. Sometimes I need Internet access for certain projects, but with projects that don't need online research, I sometimes head out to a cafe that doesn't have free Internet--just so I can stay focused.

The phone. My friends and family know I work from home--and they know they can reach me in the afternoons. I love spending time catching up with the people I care about--but not when I'm in the middle of a project. Of course, the diplomacy is tricky--they know I make my own schedule, so I always worry they assume I could talk if I wanted--so I tend to stay on longer than I should, just to be nice. Being nice isn't always the best for your business, though....

The work! Sometimes there's just so much to do that I can't focus on a single thing. I start one project and then worry that I'll never get time to finish the next one. So I start switching from project to project, never really focusing or finishing. To combat this, I make a lot of lists--and get a kind of perverse joy from crossing things off them.

A late start. The worst productivity-killer for me is getting up late. Nobody's demanding I show up to work by a certain time in the morning. Still, most of the time I try to get up early enough so that I have a whole day to get things done. Sometimes life doesn't work out that way, though--and just going to bed an hour later than usual can cause me to wake up later and lose considerable work time.

As freelancers, we're responsible for our own success--and part of that, for me, is making sure I have enough time to do everything that needs doing. And there are still more things I want to do than I have time for.

What are your productivity killers--and how do you deal with them?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

On the Value of Good Writing

Talking to a middleman client I work with sometimes, he told me why he sometimes has difficulty selling writing services along with his graphic design: "the client usually has a volunteer just write something quick," he said, "and it winds up sounding awful."

It astounds me that in a world of people who are business-savvy, they have no idea of the value of good copywriting. It creates problems for writers who work with smaller, less-experienced businesses run by people who think anyone can write as well as anyone else.

But here's the thing: writing is sales.

Paying top dollar for slick-looking brochures and then letting volunteers write the copy is like paying thousands for a gorgeous trade show booth and thousands more for a spot at the most well-attended, well-known trade show in your industry, where you'll have access to all the major players--and then staffing your booth with volunteers with no sales experience.

Yes, you've got the booth to catch the eye. Yes, You've got the right positioning. But if your salespeople can't drive the message home, you won't recoup your investment.

The same applies with articles. I was in discussion the other day with someone I thought was a serious SEO content client. Turns out they were baffled as to why I charge what I do when other writers charge as low as $5 per article.

My answer: Would you want to trust your online reputation to someone who charges $5 per page?

There are internet marketing gurus who claim that online sales depends entirely on writing--that graphics and even usability come second. I'm not unwilling to believe them. What good is a beautiful website for your online catalogue if people like looking but can't be convinced to buy? What good is usability if people can find your sales page easily, but don't want to open their wallets? And what's the point of SEO if the world beats a path to your door, only to find you're not offering what they want?

Writing is persuasion. That kind of writing takes work--it takes client interviews, market analysis and marketing expertise, not to mention the ability to express why your product is better than the competition's. And you can't buy good persuasion on pennies per word.

Monday, July 6, 2009

What's Your Pitch?

Back at the end of June, I attended a 15-second pitch workshop with marketing expert Laura Allen. I've been thinking since then about my dislike of networking and how to overcome it. It doesn't make any sense, because I love talking about my business--but put it in a networking context, and I freak out.

The thing is, I'm not shy. In my other life, I'm an actress. I have no problem getting up on stage in front of hundreds of people; I rarely get stage fright and when I do, it has more to do with feeling unprepared than worry over being seen by so many people. So maybe that's at the root of my hatred of networking: a feeling of being unprepared. This is a novel concept, at least for me.

The cool thing about acting is it's all scripted out. I'm not stuck up on stage, with all eyes on me, having to think up what to say next to move the story along. I know what to say. All I have to do is deliver the words believably. Maybe that's how I feel when networking--like I'm stuck having to come up with compelling ways to "sell" myself on the spot. That's why I liked this 15-second pitch idea.

So what is the 15 Second Pitch? It's a way to sell yourself quickly and naturally in a way that draws people's interest and doesn't freak you out. It's a very short speech that packs in a lot of info about who you are and why you stand out--you even get room for a call to action. On the website there's a wizard that walks you through it. Here's my pitch-development process:

Step 1: Who you are.. The first step asks who you are, what you do and what you specialize in. That's easy: I'm a freelance writer specializing in web copy.

Step 2: What you do. The next question is a big blank box where you write what it is you do, exactly. Hm. It's pretty sad that I'm freezing up on this step. It probably shouldn't be longer than a sentence, so I'll think short and concise: "I write website pages that sell AND rank high in search engines."

Step 3: Why you're the best. THIS is the most important step, I think. Why am I the best at what I do? I blank a bit at this step too until I remember my secret weapon: client testimonials. Looking over those, I notice a trend: my work basically does the bulk of the sales work so the client can close faster.

Step 4: Your call to action. Another easy step: just hand them your business card and ask them to check out your samples online. Right? And then you move on.

So after that, here's my 15 second pitch:

My name is Jennifer and I'm a freelance writer specializing in website copywriting. I write web pages that appeal to search engines and people. My work closes the sale so the client doesn't have to. Here's my business card; feel free to check out my samples online.

Granted it's not perfect; I should probably read this aloud and tweak it, as well as seeing if I could come up with a better USP. But it's a beginning!

So what's your pitch?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

July 4th Hiatus

My July plans caught up with me...and I'll be back to a regular posting schedule after the weekend of the 4th. Hope you've all got some fun plans for the holiday--and aren't working too hard!