Friday, March 30, 2012

Best of CatalystBlogger: Also, See You After April 9!

I've got a vacation planned--I'm heading to France for ten days, leaving...yesterday! If everything goes well, I should be arriving in Paris around the time this blog post goes live. I'm looking forward to passing a romantic few days in the City of Lights, roaming around the French countryside, and spending time with someone very dear to me.

In the meantime, I thought I'd leave you with a redux of some Catalystblogger posts you may have missed. Not my most high-profile posts, but ones I felt were quite strong and may not have gotten the viewership they should have. (My own fault--I did drop out for a whole year!). Anyway, I hope you enjoy--and I'll see you a bit later in April!

Things You Can't Buy for $5 An Article. In which I get into an over-excited state over the $5-an-article market--seriously, who hasn't gotten into this state at some point on their blog?--and talk about what you can, and can't, get for that price.

Suppressing that "Nice" Reflex. I struggle with this all the time--the tension between putting your business needs first and being "nice." It's why I'm not too comfortable working for close friends, unless under very special circumstances.

Forget Paying Your Dues: Why You Shouldn't Wait to Live Your Dream. This is a post from 2008--but I think it's quite relevant today. The longer I've been doing this--and by "this" I guess I mean living life as an adult, out of college--the more I've realized that there is never, ever a "right time" for anything. You will never have enough money saved up. You will never have enough experience. I think that yes, you do have to plan and prepare--but don't do it too much. No matter how much you plan and save, you will always have to take a leap to go after what you want.

On Being the Freelancer Your Client Calls in an Emergency. I've been thinking a lot lately about the difference in expectations between the corporate and the freelance world. The two operate very differently, and while they can work quite well together, there are also some clashes. This post addresses one facet of that--and I may write more about it when I get back.

I hope you have a wonderful week--and I'll see you soon!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

What's the Weirdest Place You've Worked?

I've been really, really busy lately. On top of a burgeoning freelance business--work has really picked up for me in the last few weeks--I'm finally starting to make some progress in acting (I originally started my freelancing business to have a flexible day job that would let me go to auditions--trying to earn a living while having an acting career can be brutal). I've been on a lot of auditions, photo shoots, and film shoots that have cut into the time I need to get freelancing work done. When I do have uninterrupted time at home, I have to fit in noveling too--I'm working hard to get one of my novels ready for agents this year.

So I've found myself having to snatch back work time when I can get it. Here are just a few strange places where I've managed to get work done in the past few months.

On the subway. If you live in New York, you know how much of a time suck the subway is. Depending on where you live, you might spend 45 minutes or more on the subway getting to your lunch date or dinner plans or meeting or whatever. That's valuable time you could use to be doing something productive. Believe it or not, I've actually gotten freelance writing projects done on the subway before--nothing complicated that requires a huge amount of concentration, but anything easy that doesn't require an internet connection.

In the doctor's waiting room. I saw a post on The Urban Muse the other day about working doctors' appointments around your freelancing. I take it a step farther: I work in the waiting room when I'm waiting for my appointment. Then I'm not fuming because of a twenty-minute wait--I'm still getting my work done.

At the park. My favorite place in Manhattan to while away that random three hours between my morning audition and my late-afternoon audition is Bryant Park. It's beautiful and sunny there, there are plenty of places to sit, and you can even pick up wireless internet in the park. I've heard of people renting office space for this type of day--when you have lots of appointments in the city and need to use the few hours between them productively--but I think Bryant Park is the best option, if the weather is nice--and there have been a couple of days in the city recently where it has been. If it isn't, the New York Public Library is right next door and it has quiet, Internet-connected reading rooms.

On a film shoot. Film shoots are kind of like war: 90% waiting and boredom, 10% excitement. Last one I did, I took my laptop with me. When the crew was setting up lights for the next scene or filming a scene I wasn't in, I went and found a quiet corner to work in.

What's the strangest place where you've gotten freelance work done?

Monday, March 26, 2012

Landing Ongoing Clients

Freelancing can be a feast-or-famine industry. Your earnings are great one month, not so great the next. Many people think the only alternative to that is a steady job. Not really. If you can land a few ongoing clients that give you steady work, you’ll have the best of both worlds. Ongoing clients give you financial stability similar to what you’d find at a steady job. And, true, you could lose any of your ongoing clients at any time—but you could lose your job at a company at any time, too. And if you have several, losing one ongoing client isn’t the end of the world—even if you’d rather not. So in a way, it’s more stable than working for a single company.

Here are a few ways to land those ongoing clients.

Get yourself out there. You never know who’ll turn out to be a wonderful ongoing client. I met my first one on Elance—I’ll always be grateful to this person for keeping me going when I got started. For several years, his paycheck covered my rent every month. I met another fantastic ongoing client just by checking out his website and emailing to see if he’d be interested in working together. I still work for this person today, and it’s been a blast.

Check in regularly. You may have some semi-regulars that could be turned into regulars, if you’re enterprising enough. Make an effort to make contact with the person once a month—whether it’s with a link to an article you think they’d like, a note of appreciation, or maybe even a discount on your services (I’ve done percent-off promotions for previous clients before on slow months, and it usually always brings in some business).

Know where the work is. Some businesses are more likely to need ongoing help than others. SEO companies can be great sources of ongoing work—but be sure you don’t fall into any low-priced article traps. So can marketing firms and web design companies—all those clients they design websites for will need copy, too. Resume writing companies can be a great source of ongoing income. So can blogs and online magazines, if the rates are good. And publishing houses that hire freelance editors and pay a decent rate for editing are also likely to need ongoing work.

Where do you go for stable, ongoing work?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Can Young America be Fixed?

Did you know that about 16% of America’s youth (aged 16-24) are unemployed? Compared with the national unemployment rate, which is at 8.3% according to the most recent data, that’s a high number. There’s no question that young people bear a disproportionate burden in a bad economy—as the least experienced, they’re often the last hired, the first fired, and most likely to be taken advantage of with ridiculously low wages and reduced benefits. Add to that a heavy student debt load, and it’s not looking like America’s youth is going to move out of Mom and Dad’s basement anytime soon.

I have a lot of anecdotal evidence about smart, talented, and driven recent graduates I know who are either still living in their parents’ homes a year or two after graduation or underemployed and struggling. I’m sure a lot of my readers do, too.

Last week, I heard about the Young Entrepreneur Council. Their #FixYoungAmerica campaign aims to raise awareness of youth unemployment—and build the case for stronger entrepreneurial education in schools and more support for young entrepreneurs after graduation.

This is a cause that’s pretty close to my heart. I’m especially in favor of encouraging entrepreneurial education in college. Speaking from the perspective of a major in a creative field, I can say that every successful artist in any genre must also be an entrepreneur—and when colleges ignore the real, practical demands of being successful in creative fields (or in any field), they do their students a huge disservice.

I was an acting and creative writing double-major in college. All I wanted to do was pursue my creative goals. After I graduated, I bounced around various office jobs for five years, trying to find something that offered the flexibility to work around my real goals and an atmosphere I didn’t find oppressive. It took me five years to figure out that no business was ever going to give me what I wanted—I had to make it for myself. I think if I’d been introduced to entrepreneurial concepts in college, it wouldn’t have taken me so long to get my life where I wanted it to be.

And I think in this difficult economy, students need this type of education more than ever. Artistic types who’ve been conditioned not to think of themselves as businesspeople need to learn that “business” isn’t a scary concept. It doesn’t mean selling out. And everyone needs to learn early that there may be no company around to take care of them when they graduate—and how to make their own way if there isn’t. Many students never think of opening their own business because it was never presented as a real option to them throughout life. I know that it would never have occurred to me in college.

I know there’s a debate going on in academia about whether college should be focused on job skills and vocational issues or learning and exploration for its own sake. Personally, I don’t see why these two things should be mutually exclusive. I think it would be great for entrepreneurial studies to be woven around any type of degree program, teaching students to apply what they’re learning to making a living in the real world—whether they’re in economics, science, the arts, or any other discipline.

Today, recent graduates aren’t just looking for a flexible schedule and a job doing something they love, like I was. They’re looking for a paycheck, benefits—the basics. In this economy, they might not even get these things if they don’t make their own way. And if they aren’t more supported in terms of loan forgiveness, access to low-interest-rate micro-loans, and other incentives and support.

#FixYoungAmerica is supporting the Young Entrepreneurship Act, a piece of proposed legislation that includes expanded student loan forgiveness programs for entrepreneurs, broadened access to micro-loans, and increased investment in education focused toward entrepreneurship. And you can learn more about #FixYoungAmerica here—and even share your ideas about what needs to be done to help America’s youth survive the recession. Maybe I’ll see you there!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Blogs I Love

I was going through my blog roll today to weed out links to dead blogs as well as re-introduce myself to some of my older favorites. If you get a chance to skim through my blog roll, here are a few links you should definitely click on--these come highly recommended.

Words on the Page. This is one of the blogs I visit every week. Lori's posts are uniformly well-written and thoughtful, and her approach to the business of writing is firm, fair, and level-headed. She also really has it together when it comes to marketing--whether you're new at the game or experienced, there's a lot you can learn on this blog.

The Well Fed Writer Blog. Peter Bowerman is smart, talented, and entertaining--and his advice is always spot-on. Like many freelancers, he's also the person I credit with getting me started--with the eminently readable and practical Well Fed Writer. It's a classic and worth a look, especially if you're just starting out.

Men With Pens. What I love about Men With Pens is that it's a bit edgy. James Chartrand is never afraid to call it like it is--and the writing is always entertaining.

IttyBiz. IttyBiz is like your older (funny) entrepreneurial sister. This site always cracks me up. It's hilarious, it's no-nonsense, and it offers great advice. It's more geared toward business in general than to freelance writing in particular, but most freelancers run IttyBizes--so most of what you find here will probably be applicable.

What are your favorite blogs? Now that I've narrowed it down, my blogroll could use some fleshing out!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Things That Annoy Me on Blog Sites

So I regularly hang out at my favorite freelance writing blogs before writing my own blog posts--just to get a blogging mindset going and see what kinds of conversations are out there. There are so many blogs out there that I love, but sometimes I find myself getting annoyed while I do this--especially when venturing out of my trusted blog circle. Here are a few things that have me clicking the "back" button.

Anything that interrupts my reading. I tend to get annoyed when I head over to a blog, see a headline that looks fascinating, start reading--and an application pops up asking me to sign up for a subscription, fill out a survey, or something else. I find this pushy and aggressive and it really puts me off. I'm there to read--not follow the website owner's agenda. Leave me alone--if I want to sign up for a subscription, I'll let you know.

When it's difficult to find my way around. If I can't find your old posts, can't search topics, or can't find your blogroll--I grumble. I don't think every blogger has to have a super-fancy blog design--some of my favorite blogs are either on Blogger or are still very bare-bones. But I hate to look for things. If I can't find what I'm looking for, I probably won't come back.

Slow load times. Yeah, my Internet connection isn't noticeably slow--but I will never be one of those people who has the cutting edge technology and the up-to-the-minute browser. I get put off when a site is trying to do so much that it takes forever for things to load--video ads are the worst for this.

Aggression and snarkiness. I hate conflict. I'd just rather everyone be nice and treat each other well, even when they disagree. I understand that bloggers want to allow their readers to have their say--even if that say veers into snark territory--as long as it's not beyond the pale. But If I check out the comments section and there are lots of people spreading the meanness around, chances are I'll never comment myself.

What are your blogging pet peeves?

Friday, March 9, 2012

Do You Work for Friends?

I have a policy on working for family members and close friends. Only small projects, and only for free. I don't let close friends and family members pay me. That may be kind of a radical position to take, but for me it works.

The reason is that people expect different things from business associates than from friends. A good friend is supposed to always be supportive. When a friend doesn't pay you back, you're supposed to show some compassion and let it slide. That's not how business transactions work, however.

I've found that when money starts changing hands, friendships get weird--and there's all sorts of confusion in the business relationship that isn't there when there isn't a pre-existing friendship or family-member relationship. That's because you're taking a friendly relationship and putting it in a business context--but the friend still expects friend-like behavior from you. In some cases, the friend will use that expectation to take advantage of you--either deliberately or subconsciously. This is why working with friends in a business context makes me nervous.

I am usually not OK with doing any of these things when working with close friends and family members. But I think if you do work with them, you may have to be:

You have to be OK with giving up-front advice. I usually take advice and criticism more personally from close friends and family members (some exceptions, of course) than I do from people I'm less close to. And most people I know are the same way. I'm aware that as a friend, I'd have to be quite a bit more tactful about giving advice on existing writing and tactics I don't think are working well for someone--and that can get in the way of clear communication sometimes.

You have to be OK with nagging for payment. The absolute worst-case scenario is when a friend doesn't pay you. This kind of thing can wreck a friendship. We're supposed to be compassionate with our friends--and if I see a friend is really struggling to pay me something they owe, my instinct is to let it slide. Indeed, in a lot of situations, I'd look like a jerk for pushing for payment. But in business, you have to make sure you get paid--regardless of the other person's financial situation.

You have to be OK with using a contract. Using a contract does imply, at some level, a lack of trust. Not so much that it can ruin a business relationship--actually, using a contract often improves trust with both parties, signaling that both are on the same page and want to do things above-board. But with a friend, a contract can say "I don't think you'll do what you say you'll do, so I'm holding you to it." That can make things awkward.

You have to be OK with saying no. Does your friend need you to work all weekend to meet a demanding deadline? Switch the scope of the project without paying more? Do endless revisions past your usual mark? As a business owner, I have no problem saying no to these requests. As a friend, it makes me a bit uncomfortable. Especially when I'm working with someone who knows me really well--and knows I'm just saying no to that weekend work so I can chill out at home, not for any long-held plans.

When I work with close friends and family, I keep the transaction solidly within a friendship context. No money changes hands--although a trade might be OK. And I keep the project small so it doesn't become overwhelming--no regular work for free. How do you negotiate working for friends and family?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Everyone’s Marketing Fingerprint is Different

Over at Words on the Page, Lori Widmer brings up something I’ve been meaning to write about ever since I had a conversation with a friend about getting into freelancing—the marketing routine, and why it’s tough to tell someone else how to market their business. He asked me the best way to get started, but really, what he wanted to know was where and how to find work (which is a whole different question). I always have such a hard time answering that question. There are so many ways to market yourself, but what will ultimately work for you is a very individual thing. Marketing is a marathon, and you have to choose the route that works best for you.

As for me, I keep it simple. Believe it or not, I get a significant amount of business just by cold-emailing businesses I want to work with. I’ve landed several long-term clients that way. Others include in-person networking (but never at networking events; this only seems to happen at parties and places where I’m hanging out, relaxing, and chatting with someone who it turns out has some work for me); referrals from existing clients and writing colleagues; the random postcard mailer every so often; and website traffic. I’ve also gotten decent, well-paid work from online job boards and Craigslist, although the prevailing wisdom is that isn’t likely.

Here are my thoughts to people who want advice on where to find work and how to market themselves.

Marketing is an individual thing. Like Lori says, what works for me might not necessarily work for you. I got started with Peter Bowerman’s The Well-Fed Writer, which advocates—among a host of other marketing options—cold calling. I will never be good at cold calling. In fact, I probably hurt my business by doing it. You, however, might rock at it. It doesn’t hurt to try.

You don’t have to spend a lot of time at it. Like Lori, I’ve heard self-proclaimed experts in the field say that you have to spend several hours a day marketing. Personally, I haven’t found that to be true. I market pretty much when I’m hurting for work, and rarely when I’m busy, which is the majority of the time (knock on wood). So every few months I might market for an hour or so a day until things pick up again. You don’t have to do it all the time. Although, it might fit your routine, lifestyle, earnings goals, and so on better if you do. There’s no reason not to, except that it cuts into work time.

Try a lot of stuff. I can’t tell you what marketing tactics will increase your business. That’s an individual thing—and I have no magic bullet of advice that will replace just getting out there, trying a lot of different stuff, and keeping track of your failures and successes. That’s how I learned to do it.

There is no advice that will replace trying lots of different things—and failing at lots of different things—before you hit on a method that works for you. To anyone looking for marketing advice, I’d suggest picking up some books on the subject—Peter Bowerman is a great place to start—and try one marketing tactic per month, or every two weeks, or however long you feel it will take to start seeing results…until you hit on something that works.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Careful Who You Recommend

When clients come to me with requests for services besides copywriting, I don't recommend just anyone. Fair or not, I'm aware that who I recommend will reflect in some small way on me--and I wouldn't want to be associated with a negative experience in a client's mind, even if I wasn't the one giving it. I also don't want to look like I don't have the client's best interests at heart--it's possible the client could suspect I recommended someone inexperienced just to help them out, rather than pointing the client toward someone who would truly do a good job.

Here are a few questions I ask when deciding whether to recommend someone to a client.

What were my experiences working with this person before? I love to bring business to other people. And I frequently recommend clients of mine to others looking for certain services. I feel totally comfortable recommending clients I've worked with in the past, because I know how they work, I've seen how professional they are, and I know they'll do a good job for the person who asks me for the referral. Of course, not everyone I recommend is someone I've worked with in the past.

Do I like their work? The people I recommend to others all tend to be people I have a history with--even if I've never worked with them in the past. They're people whose work I've seen and respect, people who have clear experience in the industry and the area the client is looking for.

Are they courteous and professional? This is big. Even if they do great work, I'd have a hard time recommending people who seem to have difficult personalities--at least not without a huge caveat to the client. I'd also have a hard time recommending someone I know isn't that strict about deadlines or asks for extensions fairly regularly.

Do they have the needed expertise?When I recommend copywriters for a job, it tends to be for a type of copywriting I don't offer--and that I know the other person has specialized expertise in. The reason for this is that I'm a generalist, which means I'm not as picky about the assignments I take on as some others. This isn't to say I'm not picky, but I won't turn down a brochure project or a radio spot just because I don't do that type of copywriting. I don't, however, do technical writing, or pharmaceutical writing, or user manuals for engineers, or writing for a highly niche-educated audience that doesn't compensate adequately for the amount of research I'd have to do. I also am not crazy about doing press releases. I'll do them, but if I"m swamped, a press release job is something I'm likely to pass on to someone I know specializes in that area.

How do you choose your referrals?

Friday, March 2, 2012

Is Copywriting an Ideal Day Job for Creative Writers?

I was at a party the other night. Drinks were flowing, music was pumping…and I was talking to someone about my job. Yeah, I do that sometimes. I love talking about my job, even at parties when everyone else there is working hard at forgetting their jobs. This is what happens when you quit doing stuff you hate and finally (finally!) make money doing something you love.

I came to copywriting as a creative person looking for a day job. All I wanted was steady, flexible employment that wouldn’t put any unreasonable demands on me about being at the same place at the same time every day (to me, any such demand was unreasonable). I was an aspiring actress and novelist. I wanted freedom to go to auditions whenever I wanted and work on my novels whenever the mood struck me. I didn’t want a boss breathing down my back. Oh, yeah—and I didn’t want to starve. I didn’t see any glamour in living in poverty.

It turned out copywriting was the perfect day job for me. But it isn’t for everybody. Some people find that it’s too hard to stay inspired about their novels, poetry, or other creative writing projects when they’ve been writing all day at work. Others find it too hard to deal with the lack of a steady, guaranteed paycheck or health insurance. If those things would bother you, then it’s probably not for you.

But for me, it was ideal. When I was working in a cubicle farm, I was rarely inspired to write creatively—I was too psychically drained from working in an environment that wasn’t right for me, forty hours a week or more. Now I’m inspired all the time—I’ve actually established a very dependable creative writing habit. The copywriting work doesn’t detract from that for me—the jobs I hated were much worse for my creative writing.

Flexibility helps me with that. I don’t have to be in a certain place every day, and I don’t have to act busy. Whenever I feel like it, I can switch from copywriting to creative writing throughout the day. Usually I do copy til about two or four—depending on the day—and then work for an hour or two on a novel.

Also, I’m good at writing. One of the reasons I was so unhappy in previous jobs was that I wasn’t being paid to do something I loved or had any particular talent in. Some of the things I was being paid to do—such as waiting tables or anything technical—the companies would have been better off paying me not to do. But even if copywriting isn’t exactly the Great American Novel, I’m good at it. I take pride in it. I enjoy it. And even if my creative endeavors never blossom into full-time work themselves, I now have the joy of knowing that I’ve built a life that can make me happy—both creatively and financially.

How do you balance your creative work and your day job?

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Fair Markups or Price Gouging—When is it Okay to Charge More?

If you’ve done your homework in establishing rates, chances are you have a basic minimum rate below which you know it isn’t worth your time to take a project on. But do you have a maximum rate? When do you raise your rates beyond that—if you do?

In this blog post, I’m not discussing raising your rates in general. I’m talking about specific instances when it’s fair to charge one client more than another for the same amount of work. Here are a few instances where you may think about charging more—and my thoughts on how appropriate each one is.

When you’re working with a difficult person. If after every email exchange with this person you feel the need for a glass of wine—even at ten in the morning—you’re officially dealing with A Difficult Person. These people are, in my experience, thankfully rare. But they do exist, and if you haven’t encountered one yet, don’t worry—yours will come.

So should you charge extra for bad behavior? A lot of people do—although they won’t tell the client that. I think it’s fair. A difficult person adds to your stress levels. You’re likely to get bigger demands, more revision requests, and more general hassle from difficult people. And sometimes you really don’t want to work with the person unless it’s for a lot of cash—so you quote the fantastic, ridiculously high price that would make their behavior tolerable.

When the client wants more than copywriting. I always charge more when the client wants anything more than straight copywriting—whether that’s including images, writing with HTML text, or including embedded links. Even what sounds like a small amount of added work can add up to a lot of time over the course of a large project. Usually the amount I charge per page for this type of added work is small—but it also adds up over time, and makes the extra effort worth it.

When you’re working in a client’s CMS. Uploading anything onto a client’s website is worth an extra mention. You never know what you’re dealing with if you’re using a custom CMS—you don’t know if you’ll have a difficult time getting the formatting just right or navigating to the right place to post, and not all CMS systems are easy to use. If your client wants you to navigate an unfamiliar CMS as part of your project, always get on the phone and have them walk you through using it before giving a quote—so you’ll understand better the work involved.

When the client can afford it. This one’s a bit more problematic. Some might call this price gouging…and when the tables are turned, I have to admit I’d feel that way. But it’s not always a simple answer. Some clients are used to working with freelancers who charge a certain price, and might not take you seriously if your price comes in well below theirs. In some industries and situations, a lower price can spell out “amateur.”

When you’re charging for your colleague’s graphic design, too. I’ve talked to people on the client end before who resent this situation—when the client asks for another service, such as graphic design, for example, and the writer brings in a graphic designer and then charges a mark-up on their price. I think it’s fair to charge a mark-up, however, if it reflects a certain amount of project management you’ll have to do. If you present yourself as the head of the team or company providing the service to the company, you’ll be held responsible for the team members’ work—at least to some extent--and that should be taken into account in pricing.

When do you mark up your prices—and where’s the line for you when it comes to fairness?

Monday, February 27, 2012

When a Client Wants More Than Copywriting

Sometimes a client needs more than your words. Sometimes they need graphic design, keyword research, SEO, media placement, or one of a wide range of other services that often go hand-in-hand with copywriting. If you offer these services, great—work them into your existing project.

But what if you don’t offer the extra service the client wants? You have several options, each with its own pluses and drawbacks. Here’s an overview of your possible responses:

“No, I don’t offer that service.” Sometimes the easiest thing to do is just say no and move on. This is the best track, I think, if you genuinely don’t know anyone who provides the service well enough to recommend them. Recommendations reflect on you, too, and you don’t want to recommend just anyone.

That said, by brushing off the client’s question, you do miss an opportunity—not just to make things easier for your client, but also to make a friend and even yourself some extra money.

“Sure, my company can handle that!” You also have the option of handling it all “in-house.” Don’t have an in-house graphic design department or SEO? No problem…bring one in! It works like this: you negotiate separately—and sign a contract separately—with the service provider you bring in. Then you offer your client a marked-up price, and the contract they sign with you covers the service provider as well.

The bit about the mark-up sounds good—but it’s not free money. You’ll have to earn it by doing some project management. You may act as a liaison between the client and the service provider, and you may be held responsible if the service provider doesn’t deliver on time. This type of arrangement usually comes with added responsibility as well as added revenue, which is why many feel it’s fair to charge a mark-up.

“I don’t offer that myself, but I can recommend someone who can…” This is an in-between option. Instead of brushing off the client’s request, recommend a service provider you know—or give the client a list to choose from, if you know several.

Under this arrangement, the client contracts directly with the service provider—you won’t be asked to manage the project. You won’t get any revenue, either—unless you and the service provider have a separate referral-fee agreement. This arrangement is usually easy to manage for you—no added extra work. It helps a fellow provider who may be inspired to return the favor someday. And it makes things easier for the client, who would likely rather use someone you recommend than find someone on their own.

How do you handle client requests for added services?

Friday, February 24, 2012

Content vs. Copy

I think the word “content” when applied to writing is a bit misleading. The way it’s used, it implies a commodity—like writers are just sitting on content warehouses and can just offer bulk rates on their inventories and still make a profit. No matter how much the web tries to commoditize writing, content-writing is still a service—content is not a product. But that’s another blog post. What I’m mainly concerned with today is content vs. copy—and the difference between these two projects.

There’s a distinct difference between what people refer to as “content” and copy. I’ve heard the word “content” used in a variety of ways to refer to writing, particularly writing online. And while some may define it differently than others, to me there’s a very clear divide between what’s called content and what’s actually sales copy. I quote and charge differently for these two types of writing, and I approach copy and content projects quite differently.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Dealing With Requests for Free Copy

Like a lot of freelancers, I do have a friends-and-family discount. Very few people in my life get completely free copywriting and editing help, no questions asked—but there are a handful of people I do that for. Close family. Close friends. My boyfriend. People like that. People who’d do anything for me, and people I’d do anything for—including write for free, anytime.

There are other people who fall into a gray area. A casual friend who mentions he’s setting up a website and starts to get excited about getting me involved—I get excited too, until it becomes clear to me he expects my help to be free. Random people like my landlord or my dentist—people I have a friendly relationship with, but not exactly a “do-anything-for-each-other” relationship.

The truth is, I can’t give free help to everyone who asks. Nor do I believe I should. There aren’t enough hours in the day, and if I’m doing something for free, it’s for someone or something very important to me. Still, a lot of the time, the people asking for help are friends, in a sense—people I have a good relationship with. So how do you say no without ruffling feathers?

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Conversation on Getting Started

I was having lunch with a friend recently. I asked him how his job was going—not good, apparently. After telling me a few hair-raising stories about his boss and coworkers, my friend told me something I’ve been hearing a lot of lately—“really, I want to be doing what you’re doing.” And then it came—the “how can I get started?” question.

I get that question a lot. From friends and strangers alike. It’s a question I’ve gotten a bit frustrated with in the past, as I feel like the answer is huge—and I can’t just give someone the magical formula for starting a freelance writing business. Because the truth is, everyone’s start-up story is different, and mine can’t really be replicated. I got my start on Elance, and they’ve changed their payment structure to the point where I no longer felt like it was viable to keep going. I’m not sure what it’s like over there these days—it’s been a long time since I used the site—but last time I checked, it was a much less hospitable place for newbies than it used to be.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Twitter: How Has it Helped You?

I have to admit—I haven’t quite gotten the hang of microblogging. I’ve made some stabs at Twitter in the past, but generally lost interest when I felt like I didn’t have any particularly interesting 160-character thoughts to share that day. But as part of my New Years resolutions (yes, it’s February and I’m still talking about those), I’m trying to get better about social media—and making a stronger effort with Twitter is one way I’m doing that.

Anyway, I just read a really interesting article over at Freelance Switch about the types of content people like to see on Twitter. The info comes from a study conducted by the Carnegie Mellon’s School of Computer Science entitled “Who Gives a Tweet: Evaluating Microblogging Content Value.” A team of researchers collected anonymous feedback from Twitter users about the types of posts they liked. I recommend going over to their site to read the whole thing.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Reasons People Criticize Your Writing—That Have Nothing to Do With Your Writing

I have a lot of friends who don’t write for a living, but who still write a lot in the context of their jobs. And I frequently hear them complain that the feedback they get from coworkers, bosses, and stakeholders in their writing is excessively critical and demoralizing. It’s a frustration I can definitely relate to. And as someone who does this as my day job, I’ve had to develop a very thick skin.

The thing is, sometimes the criticism is warranted. Sometimes there is definite room for improvement. But you always have to take into account that you might be dealing with an alternative agenda, especially when the criticism is excessively negative or looks irrational. It may not be about you at all—but about one of these things instead.

They want to prove their own expertise. Some people think of themselves as great writers—and yet for some reason, they’ve had to bring in a professional writer to do the project. These people often can’t help attacking your work with a red pen—more to prove to others and themselves that they are, indeed, writers themselves than to really help you improve the copy. If they’re getting very insistent about a grammatical rule that you broke mindfully for the sake of tone, for instance, you’re probably dealing with someone like this.

They’re not sold on this project. It’s possible that the person you’re dealing with isn’t sold on the prospect of hiring you—even after you’ve been hired. Maybe they resent the money spent—and maybe they wanted to hire someone else but were overruled. Sometimes, people in this situation may take it out on you. It’s never happened to me, but I’ve heard of instances where a client has been excessively critical of a project in an effort to justify withholding payment—probably the worst case scenario.

They don’t know what they want. They may have told you they wanted edgy and fun in your phone interview about the project—but when they get the copy, what they really wanted was conservative and safe (edgy projects are particularly susceptible to issues like this in my experience—I’ve written about it before). It’s possible that the person you’re dealing with wasn’t as sure as he or she sounded when they talked about tone or message—and expected you to read their mind.

They have a lot of misconceptions about writing. Some people have grammatical or craft-related misconceptions that they believe whole-heartedly. It’s sometimes difficult to persuade these people that your way is right—and it can take a lot of tact. But I always try to do it.

Excessive criticism can be difficult to deal with—and it’s hard not to take it to heart. But when it happens, take a step back and think about it objectively. If your copy followed the parameters your client laid out in your discussion, it may be that there’s an underlying reason for it that has little to do with the work you produced.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Defending Your Prices

I used to avoid any potential job where the client stated prices up front that were too low. I would just not apply to the job, or I’d let the project go without any objection. There was plenty of work out there that paid well, and I didn’t want to waste my time.

It occurred to me at one point, though, that negotiation wasn’t necessarily a bad thing—and some of these lower prices represent what the client ideally wants to pay, not what he or she is ultimately willing to pay. I started defending my prices in situations like this—more as an experiment than anything else. Sometimes, it didn’t work—the budget was truly inflexible. Other times, however, it actually did work—and I got some projects I never would have landed if I hadn’t bothered. Here are a few pointers for defending your prices.

Talk about what the money buys you. One of the things I emphasize—particularly when talking to the five-dollar-an-article crowd—is that there are certain things you can’t get when you’re paying that little for writing. You don’t get research, for one thing. What you’re usually getting is work recycled (or sometimes directly cut-and-pasted) from other articles already on the web. You don’t get someone assessing your market and the type of information your audience is hungry for. You don’t get research into topics that aren’t already well-covered. You definitely don’t get interviews. Breaking down exactly what work and expertise the client gets—and explaining why they won’t get that with the low-budget option—can be enormously eye-opening.

Talk in terms of money saved, not money spent. If someone’s trying to find a student or newbie to do their ten-page brochure for $50, it’s not necessarily money wasted—there are a lot of talented newbies and students out there. But the likelihood is higher than if you pick someone with a track record of experience in this area. And if you’re putting money behind the campaign—mailing costs, printing costs, graphic design, etc.—then the message is definitely something you don’t want to skimp on.

Talk about results. I like to talk about successful past campaigns. I talk about clients who’ve dramatically decreased time spent in sales, boosted revenue, or raised their click-through rates or web traffic as a direct result of my work. It helps to occasionally check in with clients to get the results of finished projects—and a few testimonials with specific figures definitely don’t hurt.

This won’t work all the time. But it does work enough that it’s worthwhile to do. How do you defend your prices?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Do You Do Craigslist?

Just saw a post over at Avid Writer on Craigslist. I've had good and bad experiences on Craigslist. I've posted ads there--particularly for resume writing--and I've also applied to Craigslist job ads. But I spend a lot less time over there these days than I used to. Craigslist is crawling with ads promising exposure in place of pay, telling you "this would be a great job for a student or work-at-home mom" (why? Because students and work-at-home moms don't need money?), and generally trying to get more for less. But it can work in your favor too--and I've actually landed a few good clients this way. Here are some thoughts on using it.

Don't expect a lot of money. Craigslist tends to attract people looking for cheap solutions. I've found that if I'm advertising resume writing services, for example, a lot of the time I'll get passed over for someone who'll do a resume for $50 or something like that. Occasionally, you can find better--but it's not common.

Expect a lot of competition. Speaking of the competition. Craigslist is free, and it attracts a lot of people. This can be bad--but bear in mind that a lot of higher-profile professionals don't use Craigslist. However, a lot of people who use Craigslist to find work are beginners in copywriting (I used to hang out there more when I was first getting started than now, because I just didn't really know where else to go) if you can present yourself as a real professional when responding to a Craigslist ad, you'll stand out. That means following the response instructions exactly as well as having a strong cover letter and some great samples to show.

Be prepared to defend your pricing. A lot of Craigslist buyers are really expecting cheap work. That doesn't mean you can't respond to them--but be prepared to defend your pricing when you quote. I sometimes respond to low-budget ads with a letter that discusses my pricing, why I charge what I do, and why it's better for the client--just to see if I can win them over. I actually have landed the occasional client this way.

Generally, I don't make Craigslist a big part of my marketing strategy. Occasionally I'll wander over there, but it's pretty rare. Still, every so often I'll get a good client. I landed a huge project this summer that's just ending now--through Craigslist. And I have picked up the odd resume writing job through there, which has definitely helped boost my earnings. It can be worth it--but it helps to know what to expect.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Things I Could Do Better

I'm a weird beast--I actually love New Years Resolutions. I loved them even in the days when I used to forget all about them within the first two months of a new year. I loved making lists--I'm a bit of a list junkie. In 2011, one thing I did differently with my life was actually stick to my resolutions--and I made discernible progress in some things. I really liked that. I think I'll try to make it a habit.

So I have a lot of resolutions for my creative stuff--novels, acting, and so on. But I also have a few for my business. Some of these are tentative--if I get to them or can afford them, great; if not, maybe next year. Some are a bit more important.

Get better about client appreciation. I'm sorry to say it, but this isn't my strong point. I am not much for Christmas cards. Or any types of cards. Or anything that makes me go to the post office. But I have several regular clients, and I realize that client appreciation is a good thing. I deeply appreciate these clients and love working with them. I just think I should be better about telling them that every so often.

I think maybe this year I'll get in the habit of sending a "thank you" postcard to one client per month. That can't be too hard, right?

Get a nifty blog redesign. This has been a goal of mine for years. I would love to get CatalystBlogger off blogger and onto its own URL, with some really professional graphics. Maybe even graphics that match my copywriting website. So this year I plan to do some research and talk to some people and get some quotes. We'll see where it leads.

Get a little better about marketing. This has been something I've struggled with every year. I only market when I need to. And usually that's fine. But this year I kinda want to move to a better neighborhood in New York, and doing that means making more money...and making more money will probably entail putting more effort into the "business" side of business. I know marketing doesn't have to be that time-consuming. So my goal is to read some marketing e-books--Lori Widmer has one I've got my eye on--and put together an easy strategy I can do regularly. The key is not to be too ambitious--I need things I can fit quickly into a regular routine.

Meet more freelancers in person. The thing about freelancing is it can be isolating. I don't have coworkers. Really, while I had the blog running consistently, this was my coworking community--and where I came to talk about the biz and commiserate with people who really got it. But in New York, there are so many freelancers to get to know--and I'd love to make some in-person freelancing friends. Not necessarily to generate more work--although that couldn't hurt. Just to get myself out there and meet new people.

So what are your goals for this year?

Monday, February 6, 2012

On Coming Back From the Dead

So, if you've been a regular reader of this blog in the past, you've probably noticed that I kinda skipped the whole year of 2011.

It's something I could be kicking myself for now. After all, isn't this the cardinal sin of blogging? If just not posting regularly is bad, think of how bad it is to evaporate for 12 months or word of explanation, no goodbyes, no nothing. And before I disappeared, this blog was doing pretty well. It was popular, it had garnered some industry attention, and it had a readership. And then I quit. Which is actually pretty out of character for me. I'm one of those annoying, type-A overachiever people. I work hard. I study hard. I cut my hair so I wouldn't have to let it down.

I don't know what it was that made me want to disappear. Some of it was that I was busy. Extremely busy. But really, if you want to do something, you find the time. I think there were other factors, though. I was looking into using Twitter to expand my business. I was working on my novel, and my super-talented literary marketing friend kept telling me I needed to get myself out there and start a personal / noveling blog. My acting teacher said I needed my own YouTube channel, I was starting to think about a "strategy" for LinkedIn...and then all of a sudden it just got to be too much. Too much exposure. Too much out there. I started to feel like I wanted to be a hermit for a while.

I guess what I started to feel was that the online world was getting too demanding. Not my readership here, but just the general constant demand to expose more, to share more, to be "social" in a way that sometimes felt more self-promotional than social to me. I just had this emotional reaction to that. And unfortunately, CatalystBlogger was one of the casualties of that--for a while.

I also felt like I'd run out of things to say. I think a lot of bloggers go through this, and I'd gone through it in the past--but never to this extent. I felt like I'd said what I needed to. I was done. I just couldn't think of anything else insightful to write about. This happened for a week...then a month...then two months. And after a few months of this, I started wanting to go back...but once you stop for a while, it's hard to get started again. You start to feel guilty about all that time, and you start avoiding thinking about it, and then all of a sudden it's been a year.

...and you realize you miss it.

Anyway, the reason I bring this up is that I just read a post about pretty much the same things I'd been feeling--over at Men With Pens. And even Bob Bly apparently took a hiatus recently. It's good to find out I'm not alone--that even really high-profile bloggers sometimes spazz out and quit for a while. And I love what James says about using this as a time to remake the blog, to get back to what made her passionate about blogging in the first place. Before I quit, I was thinking seriously (had been for years, really) about getting a pro wordpress design...maybe I'll actually do that this year. Maybe that year-and-some-change break I took was just the springboard I need.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Barter System: What do You Trade For?

I love the barter system. And I've gotten a lot of valuable things from it. In the past few years, I got a swanky overhaul on my freelance writing website by bartering for freelance work. I also got a great deal on a really expensive acting class through bartering--I now write the occasional press release for the company for free. Throughout the years, I've bartered for business advice, restaurant meals, and even (once) health care.

Freelance writers can definitely get discounts and freebies for business favors. There's a bit of a trick to it, though. Here are a few tips for bartering.

Pick the right people. Not everyone is a candidate for a trade. I usually try it with companies I know a). have worked with freelance writers in the past, or b). are seeking to work with them. For example, with the website overhaul, I knew this company was used to working with freelancers in a lot of ways--and I didn't have to sell them on the concept of working with a freelancer. This wasn't a new and strange proposition for them.

I usually wouldn't offer just for any dentist's office, restaurant, car repair place, or anywhere else that I didn't know already worked with freelancers. For some businesses, even if I could help them, it's just too alien a concept for them and requires too much up-front sales. Although for some people, it may be worth it.

Look for someone you know wants to hire you. Some clients won't hire you because you're too expensive. In some cases, these are prime opportunities for a trade. With the company that ran the acting classes, they'd asked me for a quote in the past--and didn't wind up hiring me because I didn't fit their budget. Usually, that would be the end of it--but I saw how they could offer me something besides money to get me working for them.

Don't overcommit. I usually try to keep any for-free project fairly small--or to spread it out over a relatively long stretch of time. That's because I need to be sure I've set aside enough time for paid work to get my bills paid. That said, I also treat all my barter projects with the same professionalism I'd give to a paying project. I meet my deadlines, I do the research work, and I don't worry about how much the client paid (or didn't). If I agree to a deal, I do it to the best of my ability--period. Because of this, I need to make sure I don't take on too much. A big lengthy project or a long-term, regular agreement that doesn't take more than an hour or two per week is probably not the best candidate for a trade for me.

What do you barter for?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Resumes: Do Freelancers Need Them?

I came across a post on Words On the Page about resumes. Namely: do freelancers need them? Lori expands the definition of "resume" to include websites, brochures, and other documents about your business and writing background--but I'm going to stick with the traditional definition of a resume here. And I'm going to take a middle-of-the-road tack on this. My answer is, pretty much, no. Usually not. Until someone asks for one.

I got through most of my freelance writing career without an official resume. I had an unofficial list of clients, which I would send people whenever they asked who I'd worked for. And I had a work-related resume that talked about my experience before freelance writing. I sometimes sent that along with the client list. This seemed to work fairly well, especially since I was hardly ever asked for these things. Most people were content to see the samples on my website.

If you're applying to jobs online or working with a creative temp agency rather than sending out postcards and marketing yourself in other ways, then yes, you will be asked for a resume--although not always. Some people still just want to see samples. But I think that when it comes to job postings, most people who don't have a lot of experience hiring freelancers just ask for the resume because that's what they're used to doing for all positions.

The thing is, a resume might be useful in showing a prospect what your history is, but it doesn't show him what he really wants to know--can you write? Does he like your style? Do you have experience really satisfying clients? You can show that much more effectively on your website with samples and testimonials.

The bottom line, though, is that when you're marketing yourself proactively, you generally choose what to show prospects--you may get a few who ask to see a resume, but if they see the samples on your site and your testimonials, that usually provides them with the information they really want when they ask for a resume. If the prospect is the person controlling the terms of what they see (as in job posts), you'll get asked for a resume more often--usually because that's what the person hiring is used to asking for.

I do think you should have a resume on hand for when people want one. But you'll probably not be asked for one often, and it's more important to put time and energy into your website.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Getting Back in the Swing

Right, so how long has it been?

…Yeah. Pretty long.

So, apologies to my followers that I dropped out of blogging for such a length of time. New York City will do that to you sometimes, but I missed blogging here, and one of my New Years resolutions was to come back.

So what have I been up to?

First of all, massive amounts of freelance writing work. My work schedule picked up a considerable amount after landing a few new clients, which was wonderful—but it meant my morning blogging habit got replaced by a morning extra-work habit. That work hasn’t slowed down too much (and I always feel the need to knock on wood when I say things like that), but I can carve out the time. I just haven’t.

I’ve also been traveling a lot. This past year I went to the Netherlands, Crete, Bretagne, India…and also out West for a ski break with my brother who lives in Utah. Most of these breaks were actually work breaks…one thing I love about the freelancing lifestyle is the sheer flexibility of it all. I’ve been having a blast.

In addition, I’ve been getting more involved in creative things I wanted to do in New York City. I’ve picked up guitar and salsa dancing. I’m putting a strong, concerted effort into learning French. I’m working on a poetry chapbook and getting involved in the slam scene in New York. I’ve got three and a half novels under my belt now—and a major goal for this year is to get one agent-ready. I’m taking acting classes. In other words, I’ve been busy.

I won’t be talking much about my extracurricular activities here. If you’d like to read about them, you can find them on my personal / creative blog, Song Up In My Head. Here it’s strictly freelance writing. Same rules apply…three times a week, come rain or shine or handsome men trying to whisk me off to Paris. Missed you all—but I’m glad I’m back.