Monday, August 31, 2009

GUEST POST: That Whole Work-Life Balance Thing...

Mike Chen is not only a talented commercial writer and blogger, but he also writes a mean novel. He documents the process over at his novel blog, and when he's not doing that he's blogging about hockey. He's definitely one to watch for--both online and in bookstores.

That Whole Work-Life Balance Thing...
By Mike Chen

If you're reading this, then you know that Jenny's going on vacation. A real no-technology, no-communication, no-work vacation.

How many of us are envious? Ok, that looks like all of you.

How many of us feel like we can make that clean-cut not-even-mail commitment to time off? I'm guessing if you're like me, and if you're like Jenny, it's one of those wishful-thinking things -- and kudos to her for finally taking some time off.

I think the difficult thing with freelancing or contracting, whether you're a writer, graphic designer, web developer or whatever, is that there's no firm boundary between personal and professional. There's a thick blur between those two things because the professional affects the personal and vice versa. Got a last-minute emergency request from a client? Slap on the quick-turnaround fee and take in the extra cash, but cancel whatever plans you have tonight. Gonna take time off to trek across Central America? Well, you sure won't be getting paid during that time, so be prepared to work your tail off when you return.

The problem with going out on your own, at least for me, is that there's this constant anxiety that you could be doing something to help your business. "Something" can be anything from marketing to blogging to working on an actual project, and that's the real kicker -- "something" is so nebulous that you can't necessarily shut it off.

A few years ago, my wife-to-be and I had one of those, um, discussions about where those boundaries lie. It seemed like whenever I got home from an on-site gig, I'd fire up the ol' laptop and begin a remote freelance project. While I felt like I was doing something good for our pseudo-family unit, she felt like I was disappearing into Work World. This seems to be fairly common among contractors and freelancers of the creative sort, and I think part of it is that the natural creativity that powers our careers is something that we enjoy, even when it's for work purposes.

Still, there had to be limits to this. It got to a point where I'd use my phone to work on drafts while waiting for a friend or out at an event. The biggest lesson I learned out of all of this is that sanity is much more valuable than money. And to achieve sanity, I had to set my boundaries -- and stick to them.

I have a system of sorts now. My weekly hours are a mish-mash of on-site, remote corporate contract, and freelance. When I come home from the on-site, I tell my wife (and myself) what I have to do and roughly how long it'll take. When those goals are met, I shut it down. I might write for fun, but the work switch turns off. On the weekends, I know I'll dedicate about two hours on one morning to polishing projects or handling logistics like billing and emails.

I stay flexible with this. I think any good business person should. If I get a quick-turnaround request that is worth the money, I'll take it. However, before I start, I take a big-picture look at who or what it's going to affect.

I believe I've achieved a balance with this, mostly because I can work a somewhat predictable schedule (8:30 AM to about 6:30 PM) that allows for flexibility on either side. I have a graphic designer friend that tells me that she has trouble establishing those boundaries, and she'll often work into the AM while her husband is asleep. While that may be feasible for the short-term, that sounds like a slow descent into hell over a long period of time.

A wise person once told me that life will move forward no matter what you do. That little nugget of wisdom really hit home with me, because as important as my business was, it became more important to learn to detach from it. It's difficult when it encompasses so much of you; however, the rewards go far beyond the extra money you might earn from working ridiculous hours.

If you plan properly and remain flexible, those boundaries can be drawn and adhered to. Even something like Jenny's absolutely-everything-off, as much as the notion of that might induce fear of losing clients and destroying business, that type of vacation is possible. In fact, I'd say it's necessary.

Of course, I haven't done something like that in the past two years. But I think about it a lot!

Friday, August 28, 2009

GUEST POST: Advice from a Freelance PR Writer to Press Release Seekers

Over at her blog, The Irreverent Freelancer, Kathy Kehrli keeps deadbeats, low-ballers and scammers in line with her sharp-as-nails commentary on crummy job listings and unrealistic client expectations. Even the ballsiest lowball employers don't dare utter the phrase "easy job if you know what you're doing" in her earshot--and her flat-out refusal to be taken advantage of serves as an inspiration to freelancers everywhere.

Advice from a Freelance PR Writer to Press Release Seekers
By Kathy Kehrli

In my freelance writing journey, I’m often faced with press release clients who want everything but the kitchen sink tossed in to their media releases. In such instances, I always take the time to point out the error of their ways. If all reasoning fails, I proceed with incorporating the changes asked for, grinding my teeth all the while.

You can be sure, however, such press releases certainly won’t be added to my portfolio anytime in the next millennium. Why? Because they break way too many rules.

On that note, I thought I’d take some time to make an informative post about what a press release should and/or should not do. If it saves one press release writer from having to explain all these rules to a clueless client, then it’s well worth the effort.

1. A press release should not read like a sales pitch. The key word here is newsworthy. If all you’re trying to do is sell something, buy an ad.

2. A press release should have one clear angle. If you’re debuting a new product, aligning with another company, running a discount promotion, now shipping internationally, etc., etc., good for you. But don’t ask that a single press release cover all those topics. Not only does such a mish-mash of ideas turn off the media, it confuses anyone who reads the PR. Pick a topic, any topic, and stick to it. Want all these things covered? Then, don’t be a cheapskate. Pay a competent writer to craft you four targeted press releases, not one. The return on investment will make it well worth your while, trust me.

3. Do not use a press release to pick a personal bone. I recently had a client who wanted me to write her a press release about her argument with her son’s private school. I declined, informing her it left way too much room for personal litigation. Although I never heard back from her on that front, she must have appreciated my straightforwardness because she was back a few weeks later asking for a second corporate PR.

What are some of your pet-peeve press release experiences?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

GUEST POST: So, What Commercial Writing Projects Are You Working On These Days?

A few years after I graduated college, a family friend gave me a copy of Peter Bowerman's book The Well-Fed Writer. I am not exaggerating when I say it changed my life. If you don't own it already, stop what you're doing, go over to Peter's site, and buy it. Seriously. You'll thank me. OK, all set? Good. Now on to the post:

So, What Commercial Writing Projects Are You Working On These Days?
By Peter Bowerman

Peter Bowerman here, "The Well-Fed Writer," taking Jennifer up on her invite to do a guest blog post while she’s away on vacation. Here’s an edited version of one I ran last year that got a lot of interesting comments. It was cool not only because it showcased the vast array of projects people were working on, but because, in the process, it provided people with a lot of ideas for different project types and industries that may not have occurred to you and me. Do check out the comments on the original post here.


I got a note from a new reader of The Well-Fed Writer recently, asking, “Curious. Are you mostly doing web copy in this day and age, or are you pretty much in the same industry as you started?” I guess the thinking was that the web has taken over the world and that, as such, that’s all we’d be doing. He IS new to the business. Obviously, there’s plenty of the traditional marketing communications pieces still being done out there.

But, it got me thinking about what people are working on these days. I figure, by sharing what’s on our plates these days, and how we landed it, it can showcase the wide variety of projects that make up the commercial writing sphere, while also giving us ideas about some new directions to go in, suggest to clients, hunt down, etc. And give any newbie lurkers some confidence that this gig truly IS for real (in case they’re wondering…)

Me? I’m working on a brochure for an online high school catering to home-schoolers. It’ll be used at trade shows or in other “leave-behind”? scenarios. That’ll be followed by a catalog for the school. A graphic designer found me somehow, asked if I knew a writer in his area (an hour away), nothing panned out, he steered his client to my site, she loved it, called me up, and we were in business.

(P.S. Since I finished the above project, I’ve done about 20K worth of work for that client (and her clients), and plenty more on the way.

I’m also working on a case study for a building materials company (my sixth project for them), originally landed through a speechwriter friend of mine (whom I thank with free lunches every few months for the many thousands it’s put in my pocket).

Also working on some copy for a menu insert for a well-known restaurant chain – pretty high-level demographics, psychographics, etc. Amazing how much agonizing goes into what people are thinking when they read a menu (personally, I think they could care less, as long as their meal is good, but hey, they want to pay me well to agonize, I’ll agonize).

Plus, some book titling and back-cover copywriting for three self-publishing authors through my coaching program. Fun stuff.

So, what are you working on these days?

How did you land it?

Noticing any uptick or downturn in certain kinds of projects?

Monday, August 24, 2009

GUEST POST: How Not to Pitch an Editor

I'm thrilled to have Deb Ng of Freelance Writing Jobs contributing a guest post to CatalystBlogger. If you're not familiar with this site, this is one you'll want to bookmark--Deb delivers dozens of freelance writing job leads several times a week, as well as tips on professional blogging, social media marketing, commercial writing and running a business.

How Not to Pitch an Editor
By Deb Ng

I’m buried under a pile of email. The amount of people wanting to submit a blog post for consideration for my freelance writing blog network is staggering. I don’t know if it’s because we’re a popular network or because we pay for guest posts, but I didn’t expect such a response to our seeking outside writers. Unfortunately, I will only be contacting a small number of the people who queried to ask them for more information about their pitches. Here’s why:

Not enough information

More than half of the pitches weren’t pitches at all. They were questions:

Dear Deb, How would you like an article about how to find a freelance writing job?

Sure…except we write about that every single day. How would this post be different from others? There is nothing here for me to go on.

On our “write for us” page, we list the types of blog posts we’re most interested in reading. We also ask that folks stay away from general topics or the stuff you find on every single other freelance writing blog.

When pitching an editor it’s best to include the slant of the article. For instance, if this writer told me she wanted to write a piece about how freelance writers can find work at writers conferences and list some of her tips for networking at these places, I probably would given the go ahead.

Not relevant

Before pitching a blog, website or publication, it’s probably a good idea to a little perusing. Not knowing anything about the market you wish to query is a freelance writing Cardinal Sin. I received pitches about gardening, web design, and iPhone apps. The thing is, these writers could totally have won me over with niche- focused pitches. For example, the iPhone writer could have discussed apps for freelance writers instead of his “How to Create an iPhone App” pitch. Instead of discussing tomatoes, the gardening blogger could have talked about achieving success by rocking one’s niche. Finally, if the web design spoke about how bloggers can benefit from strategic design instead of a post about where to find design jobs, he might have gotten a little more love.

Not what I’m looking for

I’m easy. I like a casual writing style and tips every freelance writer can use. Sometimes folks send in ideas for stuff I’m just not looking for. They might be the terrific writers, but their pitch didn’t grab me or it was a topic we just wrote about.

Editors want writers to look at the guidelines, read some of their past blog posts or articles, go beyond the usual and dare to be different. Editors aren’t only looking to fill space, they’re looking to enlighten, educate and stimulate. Don’t pitch the pieces that are easy to write – pitch the pieces you want to read.

Deb Ng is a freelance writer, professional blogger, social media consultant and founder of Freelance Writing Jobs, the number one online community for freelance writers.

Friday, August 21, 2009

GUEST POST: Freelance Writers: 3 Areas to Assess to Land More Gigs During the Busy Fall Season

Today's guest blogger, Yuwanda Black, is an SEO writer extraordinaire--and her blog, Inkwell Editorial, is one of the first resources I turned to when I was just launching my first site. She taught me a lot about article marketing and SEO writing--skills that ultimately got my business going online. These days she's also blogging at

Freelance Writers: 3 Areas to Assess to Land More Gigs During the Busy Fall Season
By Yuwanda Black

Did you know that freelance writing is a seasonal profession? It is. The seasons go something like this:

The busy season starts around the third week of August/second week of September. It lasts through mid-November. Then there’s a break for Thanksgiving. After this, there’s a flurry of activity for some businesses until about a week before Christmas. After this, it’s slow until late January/early February. Then, it picks up again through late May/early June. Late June through late August is pretty slow.

Knowing the editorial calendar (ie, busy seasons/slow seasons) helps you to do two things: (i) relax and enjoy the slow times; and (ii) prepare for the busy seasons.

Following are three areas to pay attention to during the slow season so that you capitalize on the busy seasons.

Your Website

Websites are like department store windows. They need to be refreshed to keep loyal customers interested and new customers coming in. When was the last time you revised your website? Have you been meaning to upgrade to a new wordpress theme? Want to add a blog? Been meaning to add more interactive features like video.

Now is the perfect time to do this before the busy fall season rolls around (and lord do I speak from firsthand experience here as I’m in the middle of a hairy wordpress design and host transfer – arrrggghhh, but I digress!).

What You Charge

Pricing is one of the first areas to assess in order to make more money without doing more work. Many freelancers forget that they are business owners. They are hesitant to raise prices because they fear losing old customers and not getting new ones. But in order to grow, you must.

If you’ve been freelancing for a year, for example, you probably priced your services below industry norms just to snag clients. In this time, you’ve gained a lot more experience – and skill. This means your value is higher. Don’t be afraid to raise your prices to reflect this.

Most clients understand. To make it more palatable, make it a small increase (unless you’ve been severely undercharging). And, give clients ample notice. You could send an email now that says something to the effect of, “Starting in October, our new rates will be . . .”

Lastly, assure clients that they’ll get the same excellent quality and will still meet and beat deadlines.

Note: It’s entirely possible that you’ll lose a few clients. BUT, you should never let that be a deterrent because what you charge should never be set based on how your cheapest clients will respond. This type of client (ie, price shoppers) will leave you eventually anyway.

Your rates should be based on the value you provide clients. And, this is determined by what your higher-end clients will pay because these are your “ideal clients;” your “money” clients.

Your Service Offerings

When was the last time you went over your service list?

Are some offerings more profitable than others? Have clients been asking for a service that you don’t provide? Are some services a pain to provide and not very profitable? Assessing what you offer clients goes directly to your bottom line.
By adding some services, deleting others and fine tuning yet others, you can increase your freelance writing income by 10%, 15%, or 25% or more.

By honing in on these three areas, as freelance writer, you can more accurately define your “profit centers.”

FYI, most freelancers never take an annual, proactive approach like this to their freelance writing business. By doing so, you position yourself head and shoulders above the competition – no matter what the season is.

About: Yuwanda Black heads New Media Words, an SEO Content Writing and Distribution firm. She also publishes two popular sites for freelance writers, and

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

GUEST POST: 5 Signs That This isn't the Gig for You

Today's guest post comes to you from our very own Urban Muse, Susan Johnston. Her blog combines practicality and professionalism to deliver stand-out business and writing tips for freelancers. Susan's focus is mainly on magazine writing, but the info she provides is often widely applicable to other freelance specialties--including copywriting.

3 Signs That This Isn't the Gig For You
By Susan Johnston

Since freelance writers are usually paid by the word or the project instead of by the hour, it behooves us to choose our projects carefully. I've been writing for several years, yet I still sometimes find myself slaving away on an assignment that takes twice as long as I'd expected or otherwise makes me crazy.
Often it's those assignments that editors dream up and graciously bestow upon one of their unsuspecting writers. It may be outside our comfort zone, but we accept it because we're so tickled to have an assignment that didn't require a query. Plus, it's good to stretch ourselves from time to time. But not every opportunity is a good one. Here are some of the signs I've learned to look out for:

  1. Hard to find sources. If the leading expert on your topic is retired or deceased, then that may be a sign that the idea is not as juicy as your editor thinks it is. You will eat up precious hours tracking down secondary sources, none of whom will be able to provide the specific information your editor wants. Save yourself the heartache and say no, unless it's a topic that you're dying to research for personal reasons.
  2. Mismatched scope and word count. Say your editor wants you to explain a complex concept that is totally new to your readers. She'd like you to include quotes from experts on both sides of the issue as well as examples and resources so that readers can find more information. Oh, yeah, did I mention that it's only 250 words and it's due by the end of the week? Run!
  3. Unusual ways of quantifying the project. I once had a client who only wanted to pay me for words with at least three letters (has anyone else encountered this? it was bizarre!). That should have clued me in that something was amiss. It didn't. In case you're wondering, MS Word does not have an easy way to calculate this. I checked. In future, if clients don't want to pay for "a" and "of", they should simply adjust their rate per word and let me focus on writing, rather than bean counting.
  4. Ethical dilemmas. There are enough writing gigs out there that you shouldn't have to resort to working for companies whose values do not align with yours. Say someone from Marlboro asks you to write ad copy and your best friend died of lung cancer after smoking Marlboros for years. Probably not the gig for you. There are more nuanced examples, but you get the gist.
  5. Dread fills you when you get emails or calls from your contact. When I get emails from certain people, I know it's going to be a long, confusing road ahead. Often I put off opening the email or I screen my calls, only to discover that it was actually a very simple question. When this happens, I remind myself to weigh the income versus the emotional costs. In one case, I decided that I could put up with a lot of s--- for $XX per hour, but I was secretly relieved when the project fell through. With that much baggage, I never should have agred to take it on!
Yes, many of these go back to the person's work style and temperament. But that's fodder for another post. For further reading, FreelanceSwitch had an interesting post a awhile back about when to say no. Monica Valentinelli also posted suggestions on how to say no. Anything you'd like to add?

SusanJohnston is a Boston-based copywriter and journalist who freelances for websites, non-profits, and other small businesses. Want to know more? Check out The Urban Muse or follow her on Twitter.

Monday, August 17, 2009

GUEST POST: Why Your Clients Don't Call You Back

I'm starting off the week with a guest post from one of my favorite bloggers, Lori Widmer from Words on the Page. She's one of the bloggers I visit every day sometime between my morning email check and my morning coffee. Lori's eminently readable blog covers a diverse range of topics from dealing with difficult clients (and I'm pretty sure she's dealt with every difficult client out there) to getting the most from your marketing.

Why Your Clients Don't Call You Back
By Lori Widmer

You’ve done the legwork, marketed like mad, and now you have some regular clients. Feels good, doesn’t it? But how good is it going to feel when their current projects are over and you’re sitting there like a wallflower on prom night, wondering why they don’t call? But you did a great job on the project and you received praise and accolades from the client. So what gives? Here are a few things that may be getting in the way:

Your clients have forgotten about you. It’s nothing personal. In fact, that’s the problem. You may have left a great impression, but did you go just one step further to make your relationship with your clients personal? Much of my own repeat business comes from people whom I’ve befriended. Mind you, it’s a fine line to walk, but a smile, sharing something personal (though not too personal), or just asking how that person’s day is going and really listening to the answer is all you need. People want to do business with people they like. Be someone they can like. They’ll remember you for it.

You haven’t kept in touch. More than anything, clients respond to you when you’re in regular contact. If you send them a quick email, a postcard, even a quick call once every month, you stand a better chance of having that client say “Know what? Maybe now’s the time to get that project off the back burner.” And if they have something ongoing that’s becoming too much, guess who will be on their minds when they’re ready to outsource it? It’s not enough that you’ve cultivated their business the first time – clients need regular reminders that you’re there.

Your clients have your old info. When you moved that email account, did you tell them? I had a client recently who sent a referral to the wrong address. Yes, I’d informed him of my email change ages ago and I’d updated my online sources. Luckily for me the referral was persistent. It happens that people just hang on to the old emails, though. However, if you’re emailing them once a month, your note should have a nice bolded reminder at the top prompting them to change their address books to your new address. Keep that reminder there for a few months. We’re all busy and we all forget.

You didn’t follow up. I hate to say it, but there may have been part of the project your clients weren’t entirely thrilled with. If you’d sent them a note or given them a call a few days after sending out the final and the invoice, you’d be able to ask if there was anything they’d like to change, any concerns, and any areas you might clear up for them. And you’d give them a chance to voice those concerns, which could possibly save your relationship. There’s also a good chance they won’t respond. People get busy and this is a low priority for them. My policy – ask twice, then let it go. You’ve done your best to please and chasing them down for a response could be interpreted as your wanting validation.

Don’t lose that momentum you have with those new clients. Make sure to get your name in front of them regularly, you’re connected with them, and they can reach you. And don’t forget to reach out after the fact to ensure everything’s fine with the outcome. It’s much easier to keep clients than it is to find new ones, and it takes just a little added effort to get them calling you back.

Lori Widmer is a freelance writer and editor who blogs about writing and marketing at

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Next Few Weeks

This is my last post before leaving on my epic trip to Ecuador. I couldn't be more excited to explore a new country and culture--and be away from email and the Internet for a while. This is my first real vacation in a long time.

I'll be back on September 11, and in the meantime you'll be in good hands with fantastic posts from some of my favorite freelance writers and bloggers. Here are a few highlights to look for:

Ever wonder why some of your regulars drop out of touch--even when you try to keep in contact? Lori Widmer explores the reasons why clients pull a disappearing act.

Devon Ellington provides valuable tips on how experienced freelancers can build and maintain financial momentum.

Get the client-side perspective with advice from Deb Ng on how not to pitch an editor--plus a post from book marketer extraordinaire Ginny Stone on how her well-known publishing company hires freelancers.

A post from a superstar copywriter whose books on freelance writing got many of us started. I don't want to ruin the surprise--all I'm saying is, BE HERE on the 26th of August.

So tune in over the next few weeks for practical, entertaining and hard-hitting advice from the pros. I know I've learned a lot already from reading these posts--and hopefully you will, too.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Is It Ever a Good Time to Make a Change?

I've been thinking a lot about timing lately. I'm considering making some expensive changes in my life involving where I live and the quality of my health insurance. These are changes I always thought I'd make someday, when I felt like I was earning enough to be comfortable. Everyone I talked to about it said to wait until I felt like the time was right--I didn't want to strain my budget, especially as I'm a freelancer.

So I waited. I built my business. But the perfect time never came--no matter what gains I made, I never felt like I was quite secure enough to make the jump. It's occurred to me that with nearly every big change I've made in my life--moving to New York, moving to Philadelphia, starting my business--I've waited for ideal times until I couldn't stand to wait anymore--and then I took action anyway. Funny enough, things have always worked out.

Here are a few things we tell ourselves to prove we're not prepared--reasons that might be holding us back.

The economy is bad. I started re-reading Peter Bowerman's Well Fed Writer recently. This is an old favorite I revisit a lot--I often find that, a year or so after my last reading, there are tips in its chapters that I wasn't ready to use before--so I didn't notice them. But as I grew in experience, I was able to take in and make use of more. Some of the best how-to books are like that. But re-reading the book this time, I noticed one thing in the first few chapters: when Peter started his commercial writing business, he was in the midst of a "creative recession" in his hometown--something he wasn't aware of until after he had become successful. If he had known, this may or may not have had an impact on his decision to go freelance--but chances are those who were aware of it would have advised him to wait. Still, it was better he didn't--even if the economic conditions weren't ideal.

We can't get away from bad news about the economy right now. But your business is what you make it, regardless of economic conditions. No matter how bad the nationwide numbers are, individual businesses still need to market--and they still need your services.

I don't have enough money. When I started my freelancing business, I was getting negative advice from all directions. Parents and concerned friends told me to wait until I had six months' worth of savings in the bank. They told me to wait until I had a long list of industry contacts. Until I'd landed a few lucrative clients. I saved for a year, and never got to the six-month mark--and I couldn't stand to wait any longer. I jumped in with both feet, and everything worked out--so far. Of course, my overhead was low and I landed some regulars right off the bat that kept me in business, but the point is that if you don't wait until your personal economy is in just the right place, you might just be okay anyway.

I don't have enough experience. If you write well, have some natural creativity and put in the time to read books and articles on copywriting, you can do well enough for most freelance writing projects with small to mid-sized businesses. You can jumpstart your skills by taking an AWAI course. But no matter how much you prepare beforehand, you will never learn as much through reading as you do in the trenches. Now is as good a time to start that journey as any.

My website/portfolio/business cards aren't perfect. Nothing holds us back like perfectionism. Even if you think your portfolio is subpar, it's still probably better than what a small business owner with no writing talent can crank out on his own--so get your name out there. You don't have a perfect logo, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't hand out business cards--my first business cards were all black and white text, with no graphics at all. And there's a lot to be said for a snazzy site, but if all you have is a simple online portfolio, that's all you need. Don't wait til your marketing materials are perfect--functional will do just fine.

I was talking with a friend of mine the other day who had just discovered she was pregnant. She told me she and her husband had been waiting for a long time to feel financially secure enough to have kids, and they felt a long way from that goal now--but the baby was coming, and they'd have to make it work. That's exactly the attitude that's worked for me in the past. So maybe I'll take these next steps anyway, with the hope that everything will work out in the end.

When you started your business--were you prepared? Or did going freelance require a leap of faith?

Friday, August 7, 2009

Blogging About Clients: Without Biting The Hand That Feeds You

I just saw a post on The Urban Muse about mentioning your clients in your blog. If you write about freelancing and the challenges and triumphs you face, chances are you will face this issue eventually. Here are a few tips for handling the tricky issue of talking about specific clients and projects in your blog.

Never use a client's name. This is pretty obvious--never mention a client by name if you're going to write something that isn't completely glowing. Your clients may read your blog--several of mine do at least semi-regularly--and you may be setting yourself up not only to lose the client, but to face legal consequences later.

Change key details. I don't just leave the clients' individual names and business names off the blog; I also change identifying details about the project--if I'm not writing something really positive. It's just one more way to make sure nobody is embarrassed or offended by my writing about them.

Focus on projects, not companies. I also think it's critical not to make things get too close to home. I'll talk about the way a project went, the challenges I faced and how I dealt with them, but I typically won't talk about the company itself. I won't make assumptions about the company's solvency, put down the client's offer or criticize the company itself in any way--even if I'm not mentioning their name specifically and change key project details so that clients don't see themselves in the post.

Promote your clients when appropriate. There are situations when you can mention clients by name without facing possible negative repercussions--when you're talking about them in a positive light. This is something I completely recommend, and something I plan to start doing more on this blog. If you really believe in a certain client's offer, it may be worth it for you to profile the project in a positive way--with a link back to the client's site. They're sure to appreciate the publicity, and it showcases your skills as well.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Social Marketing for Writers

OK, so I came out against Twitter when it was first getting big...but since then I started thinking about social networking's value to my business and questioning whether the time put in might bring a lot to my business later.

In that previous post, I made a few points that still made sense to me. Notedly, I said that social networking was a waste of time because the most lucrative clients don't go looking for writers on social networking sites. That may be true, but in today's market climate I also believe that if you don't have a social networking presence, you show yourself to be behind the times. Even if you don't actually find clients on social networking sites, you need to demonstrate your familiarity with them.

But beyond that, I'm a web writer. If I'm not using all aspects of the web to get ahead, clearly I'm not learning about all the cutting-edge methods for helping my clients succeed. For the past few months, I've been making an effort to expand my social networking presence. I haven't landed a huge ROI from that area yet--but I can say I definitely have gained quite a bit from this blog, including a few lucrative long-term clients. Especially in a recession, it's worth exploring every way out there of reaching out to clients.

So here's what I've learned so far.

Twitter is your friend.I'm a new Twitter user, but so far I've connected with a few prospects. I'm treating each Twitter blast like a small advertisement for my business. I post links to my blog posts. I write about the types of projects I'm doing. And I follow people I'd like as clients--marketers, graphic designers/web designers, and other businesses. I'm confident that if I keep up with it, it will land me some business eventually. And as I learn to use it, it will be just one more layer of expertise to fofer my clients.

Get a professional Facebook profile. I have a personal Facebook profile and a professional page. When I first opened my facebook account, I envisioned it being professional--but with all my friends on Facebook it quickly became personal. So I decided to open a page for Catalyst Writing Services. Facebook won't allow businesses to open their own accounts, however, and clients will still try to "friend" me on my personal page. I don't have anything on my personal profile that I feel like I have to hide from them, but I'm also aware that if I want to build a personal brand, regular status updates of whatever obscure song lyric I happen to be listening to, snippets of poetry and the funny inside joke my friends and I have been laughing at lately are not what they need to see. Because of this, I'm also considering opening a NEW facebook account under my name, but geared entirely toward my business and using the photo I usually use for professional purposes.

Promote your social networking efforts on your blog. So far, I'm starting to think that social networking strategy involves synergy: you have to have a lot of irons in the fire, and they have to speak to each other. Connect to your other social networking initiatives on your blog and write about your experiences. Link to recent blog posts on Twitter and on your Facebook status updates. Each social networking area is an opportunity to connect with clients.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Landing the High-End Clients

Tell me if this sounds familiar.

You're going through a slow month. So you check out the job boards and apply to a few ads that look promising. You get two responses. In one of them, the company says it's not paying you since it's a start-up, but they're offering a great opportunity for you to "get in on the ground floor" and "get exposure." The other one says that since they got SO many qualified responses to their ad, they're trying "something different:" they're asking all the writers to write up the first page of their brochure on spec. The one they pick gets the project and gets paid.

But you're not worried--you just got a few emails in your inbox from people interested in hiring you. With each one you discuss the project parameters, spend some time crafting a quote, and even slash your prices a little--prices you know are on the low end of the professional scale--because hey, we're in a recession. From one of the prospects, you get an email back saying you're still way too expensive for their budget--and they suggest you reduce prices further by outsourcing to writers in India. From the other two, you never hear again--despite follow-up.

So if that sounds like your latest marketing results, maybe you're thinking about how to land a more lucrative class of client. That's what's been on my mind lately. I've been considering signing up for a coaching class with Chris Marlow. In the meantime, I've been researching how copywriters can position themselves to automatically appeal to higher-paid niches.

Here are a few reasons why you may be turning those high-paying clients off your services.

Your website talks about why you should hire a copywriter--and what a copywriter does. This is a sure sign you're used to working with low-end clients--and this will reflect on you. However, if you can demonstrate you understand the needs of businesses that regularly hire and pay copwriters well--and know how to make their jobs easier--they're much more likely to be interested in your services.

You market online only. The best high-paying niches and national companies don't need to post on Craigslist to find a writer. They have the writers who are really accomplished in sales approaching them through direct mail, email marketing and cold calls every day. Every once in a blue moon, a really lucrative client might post on a job board--but don't sit around waiting for lightning to strike. Find these companies and approach them on your own--because your market-savvy competitors are.

You aren't targeting a niche.There are a few really high-profile generalists out there--Peter Bowerman comes to mind--but many highly-paid copywriters are specialists. And it makes sense. If you worked for a national business and needed to hire a copywriter for your next direct mail campaign--and if money was no object--who would you hire: the copywriter with experience in a range of projects, with maybe one sample of the type of project you're looking for and in a radically different industry, or a copywriter with a large portfolio of samples similar to your project and with a strong direct mail track record? Most of the more lucrative clients would choose the second option. You probably would do the same thing.

You aren't demonstrating sophisticated marketing techniques. Are you offering a free report on your website? Do you distribute an e-zine? Are you blogging and do you maintain a presence on key social networking sites? If you're not using sophisticated marketing techniques for your own business, this could be a sign that you aren't as skilled or experienced as you claim to be.

If you're not landing those high-profile clients, it could just be that you're not approaching them. So many of us are so marketing-averse that we put forth a half-hearted effort on the job boards and then wait for referrals to make up for the rest. But with a consistent marketing plan targeting a carefully chosen niche that speaks to your strengths, you're much more likely to land new business. And when they get to your website, hopefully your copy will confirm your expertise--not undercut your efforts.