How One Freelance Writer Broke Into Her Dream Niches

by Carol Tice – 1 Comment

Freelance writer dreams of successBy Jessie Kwak

If you’re just starting out as a freelance writer, breaking into new magazines can seem like a chicken-and-egg scenario.

You’d love to write for Redbook, Psychology Today or Popular Woodworking, but editors want to see clips in the field. How do you get clips in your target niche before you’ve broken into it?

I started out as a travel writer, but I wanted to branch out into better paying markets – so I started figuring out how I could use my travel writing to do so. Using a combination of strategies, I slowly began building a portfolio that has helped me break into some of my dream niches, like personal finance, business, cycling and beer.

How did I do it? Here are my tips:

Pitch a topic you’re an expert in

My first sale outside the travel writing niche was to a regional parenting magazine, ParentMap. It was, of course, an article about travel with kids, but now I could add “writer for parenting magazines” to my skill set.

To break into personal finance, I pitched a piece about how a 6-month backpacking trip taught my husband and I to talk about money. The editor loved it, and now I’m writing another piece for them on how to budget for travel.

The plus side of these articles is that they’re not just travel pieces – I can use them to break into writing about personal finance and relationships, too.

Say you have a few clips writing business profiles, but you’d really like to break into food writing. Take a look at the magazines you’d like to write for – could you pitch one a profile of the new sustainable sushi restaurant down the street?

Almost any beat from accounting to technology can be slanted to fit a variety of other niche magazines. It’s a great way to break into a new market.

Pitch new topics to your current editors

After I wrote a few travel pieces for ParentMap, I pitched my editor a piece about teaching your kids to ride a balance bike. That earned me a clip I’ve used to attract clients in the cycling industry (another major dream niche of mine).

If your editor at the local home and garden journal likes your regular container gardening articles, try pitching her a piece on the latest crop of hi-tech gardening gadgets. If she assigns it, you’ve just landed yourself a clip writing about technology that could help you break into another great-paying niche.

Pitch articles that combine niches

I keep a wish list of magazines I want to write for, and whenever I’m pitching a new piece – whether it’s to a current editor or a new market – I figure out how to make it slant toward multiple niches.

Wanting to break into writing about beer, I pitched a travel piece to Beer West Magazine. With the ability to say I’d written for a beer magazine under my belt, I pitched the Brewer’s Association trade magazine a piece about getting startup capital for your brewery through crowdfunding.

Voila! A clip that shows I can write about breweries, small business startups, and crowdfunding, and now I’ve cracked writing for trade publications.

This isn’t hard to do, but the trick is to do it consciously. You need to make every hard-earned clip count, especially in the early stages of your writing career. Don’t sell yourself short by only pitching ideas that can be used in a single niche.

How have you broken into new niches? Tell us in the comments below.

Jessie Kwak is a freelance writer in the Pacific Northwest. She writes about the good life: travel and the tourism industry, outdoor adventures, food and beverage, and (of course) cycling.

Become the Best Ghost Blogger Ever in 30 Minutes Flat

by Carol Tice – 15 Comments

A half hour is all freelance writers need to become a great ghost blogger.Does the idea of writing as a ghost blogger for a client make you nervous?

I hear from a lot of writers who wonder how that’s done. How do you successfully write as someone else? And how do you keep from becoming a schizophrenic if you’re ghost blogging for multiple clients?

I’ve also heard from quite a few writers who’ve tried ghost blogging but ended up with unhappy clients. The posts just didn’t ‘sound’ right. Something was off.

And they ended up losing the gig. Which really hurts, especially if you’ve lined up a good freelance blogging client who’s paying $100 a post or more.

I hate when that happens! So today, I have a couple strategies to share that will solve this.

2 Steps to perfect ghost posts

There is an easy way to do this ventriloquist trick, where your writing comes out sounding just like the client would have written it. Your client is ecstatic, the posts are easy to write, and this gig becomes a nice, ongoing deal.

It’s a two-step process that I’ve done many times, and it works like a charm.

I caught on to these tricks fairly early on in my small-business ghost-blogging career, sort of by accident. Once I tried these techniques, I was blown away by the results.

Clients universally raved about my ghostwritten posts. “That sounds just like how I would have said it!” they’d say.

How can you do this? It takes a little time. Really, very little! A half hour ought to do it.

Here’s how to become a terrific ghost blogger — fast:

Make an appointment

Tell the client you need a half-hour chat with them to get the blog rolling. You probably need to talk to them anyway, just to map out the topics you’ll write about and firm up a publication schedule.

Lots of freelance writers have an aversion to client meetings and talking on the phone, and try to get this figured out on email or instant chat. Do *not* do this with ghost blogging clients.

Instead, get them on the phone, and start a conversation. Tell your client you’d like to ask a few questions to learn about their business and get up to speed. Some questions that work great:

  • Why did you start your business?
  • Who are your customers and how do you solve their problems?
  • What are the biggest challenges in the business today?
  • The biggest opportunities?
  • What are you hoping to accomplish with the blog?

Get a business owner talking about what they do and their marketing goals, and you’ll hardly be able to shut them up. You’ll hear their passion coming through and learn why they love what they do.

Either record this conversation or take lots of notes. Pay particular attention to words and phrases they use repeatedly. Note industry jargon and ask what it means.

Presto: Now you have a written record of exactly how your client ‘sounds.’

Pick up those words and phrases and industry lingo and use them in your ghosted blog posts. If they like to start sentences with, “Anyways…” or say “sooner than later” a lot, use it in your post.

The results will amaze you. Clients will wonder how you got it to sound just like them!

Simple: You listened, and you used their words in their posts. No surprise, they love it.

Do an exercise

One more thing while you’re having that client chat that will help you is to ask them one key question. This will help you to write the posts so they’re in the tone and style the company wants.

Yes, you can study their existing marketing materials for a bit of this, too. But pose this one challenge to your client, and you’ll nail it.

Ask the client to describe what they want customers to feel about their company when they read the blog. What are they trying to convey about their business, at the emotional level? Ask them to use no more than five adjectives for this description.

Is their company friendly? Approachable? Authoritative? Innovative? What are the most important values they want to impress on readers?

Make your client give you a list of descriptors, and it’ll be easy to craft prose that delivers on their vision.

Now when you sit down to write ghosted blog posts, you aren’t facing a blank page. You have ideas, you have their own words in front of you as a swipe file, and you understand the tone they want to set with their blog.

What are your ghost blogging tips? Leave them in the comments.

P.S. Need to learn more about freelance blogging? Grab my new e-book, How to be a Well-Paid Freelance Blogger, for 50 percent off!

How to be a Well-Paid Freelance Blogger

 

 

Freelance Writers *Can* Retire: 4 Simple Saving Steps

by Carol Tice – 44 Comments

Freelance writer saves for retirementBy Abby Hayes

Are you saving for retirement?

Without employer matches and helpful HR departments to rely on, we freelance writers are on our own for retirement planning.

No matter what your personal situation looks like, a smart freelancer needs to plan for retirement just like we plan for taxes, marketing, and other business-related costs.

With these steps, you’ll be well on your way to saving what you need for retirement. And that tax bill may be smaller, too.

1. Set goals by age

Instead of setting a seemingly impossible end goal for your retirement savings, focus on reaching smaller goals by a certain age. Fidelity suggests saving 1X your average annual income by the age of 35, 3X your salary by 45, and 4X your salary by 55.

Breaking down your goals this way means you’re more likely to stay on track.

2. Use the right account

Many freelancers mistakenly think that their best retirement savings option is a traditional or Roth IRA with a low $5,500-$6,500 contribution limit. But, actually, there are much better options around for US-based and US-expat freelancers, including the following:

  • Solo 401(k): Choose tax savings now or later with both traditional and Roth options. A traditional IRA lets you tax-shelter money now, where a Roth will let you withdraw it tax-free at retirement. Limits are subject to change, but in 2014 you can contribute up to $17,500 (plus an extra $5,500 for those 50 and older) as an “employee,” and then add up to 25 percent of your net self-employment income up to an overall limit of $52,000, not including over-50 “catch-up” contributions.
  • SEP-IRA: In this more streamlined account, you can save up to 25 percent of your net self-employment earnings, up to an overall limit of $52,000 in 2014.
  • SIMPLE IRA: A great option for low-to-middle earning freelancers, the SIMPLE IRA lets you set aside up to $12,000 (plus an extra $2,500 for those 50 and older) in 2014. Plus, your business will add either 2 percent of your total income or a 3 percent matching contribution.

Any of these options gives you the flexibility to save much more money in years where you earn more, so you can reach your retirement goals more quickly. And if you’re in the UK, you have the option of saving in a personal pension, which offers tax relief in the form of bonus savings on contributions up to £50,000 for the 2013-14 tax year.

3. Set monthly goals

There are two ways to set monthly retirement savings goals: by dollar amount and by percentage.

If you have a fairly steady freelancing income, you can set a dollar amount goal – whether that’s $50 per month or $500 per month. In this case, set up an automatic monthly transfer to have the money wired from your checking account to your retirement savings account monthly. That way, you won’t be tempted to spend it!

But if you’re like many freelancers, your income is a bit of a roller coaster. In this case, consider setting a percentage-based goal – like 5-20 percent of your income. Then, get in the habit of automatically transferring that percentage of every single payment you get into your retirement savings account. Again, when you build this habit, you won’t be tempted to spend your retirement savings.

4. Kick in additional year-end contributions

Retirement savings contributions are a great way to save on taxes for both US and UK freelancers. If you find that you’ve got some money lying around at the end of the year, consider kicking some of it into your retirement fund.

In the US, the additional tax savings could mean that you write Uncle Sam a much smaller end-of-year tax payment. In the UK, the more you max out your personal pension contributions for the year, the more tax relief will grow your retirement savings for you.

Abby Hayes blogs about the intersection of freelancing and money at Finance for Freelance, and is the author of 47 Money Saving Tax Deductions for Freelancers, a guide to help freelancers squeeze out more savings at tax time.

5 Quick Ways Busy Freelancers Can Keep Marketing

by Carol Tice – 30 Comments

Busy freelance writerIt’s always great to be busy as a freelance writer. But one problem that often crops up is that it’s easy to let marketing slide.

Then, next thing you know, those current projects wrap. And you find yourself facing the terror of an empty schedule and the plummeting income that goes along with it.

One writer recently asked me what to do about this problem:

“I have some regular clients, but projects are coming to an end. I find now, in 2014, I’m wondering where and when the next client will appear. I have a good-sized social community via Facebook and Twitter, I have glowing testimonials, but the work is simply not there.

“My question for you is a) where do you find your clients? What has worked/not worked for you? and b) do you or anyone else you know sub-contract?”

Unfortunately, just from the nature of these questions, I could tell this writer was probably headed off the financial cliff when her current projects wrapped up.

3 Things that don’t get clients

Inaction. The big thing is, freelance clients do not usually appear magically, without your doing anything. Not good ones, anyway.

The clients are “not there” for all freelancers, until we go out and proactively market and find them. Take responsibility for your business success and realize it’s up to you to get out there and look for new clients (or new projects from current clients).

Wondering how others do it. I could tell you what worked for me in marketing but ultimately, I think it’s not that helpful. Because — at the risk of stating the obvious — you are not me.

Every writer’s portfolio, goals, ideal client, specialization, and experience are different, as are the ways we feel most comfortable doing marketing.

You need to develop your own marketing plan, instead of wondering if there’s a magic rock other freelancers could tell you about, under which would be a bunch of awesome, great-paying clients.

Really, quizzing other writers on where they find clients is just another form of inaction — rather than figuring out your marketing approach, you’re hoping to find one you can swipe. Where actually doing a lot of marketing is what gives you the only useful data on where you get clients.

Asking writers for gigs. Few freelance writers I know have so much work that they’re subbing it out to other writers. If they do, it will be to writers whose work they know well, not writers who are total strangers you randomly ask for work.

In general, other writers should not be your target client. There isn’t a ton of work in that pool.

Which leaves you to do the marketing to find your clients.

Yes, it’s hard to find time for marketing activities when you’re still busy wrapping up those current client projects. But it’s essential that you do it now, or you’ll find yourself falling off the income cliff in a month or two when those projects end.

5 Quick marketing techniques

The good news is there are quick ways to keep your marketing rolling, even during busy times. Here are five of my favorites:

1. Improve your online tools

If you like clients to simply appear without exerting yourself, invest time in improving your writer website to make it a strong inbound marketing tool for your freelance business.

Don’t have a writer website? It’s time to get one. You really can’t present yourself professionally these days without a site.

Making sure you’ve got good key words for your type of writing and/or geographic location on your writer site, and that you frequently update it to help Google think it’s a busy place, can all help you get found on search by the right type of prospects.

Tweaking your site copy is something you can do 10 minutes a day on, and it’s well worth it to up your odds of drawing prospects to you. Inbound marketing is the ideal, versus having to actively pitch prospects — write copy once, let it go out and sell for you endlessly. So this should always be the first priority.

2. Tap your network

This writer says they have decent numbers of connections on Facebook and Twitter — but is she using them? Do your tweeps know you are looking for new freelance clients? If not, now’s the time to put out the word.

Yes, that’s a little tricky on social media since hard-sell messages are frowned on. But usually people won’t flame you if you just ask for their referrals.

The writer who sent this comment may be missing out if they’re not active on LinkedIn, the one social-media platform where self-promotion is more acceptable. There are great ways to troll for clients on LinkedIn — so get busy on there.

My experience is LinkedIn connections are happy to recommend and refer you, if you’ll only ask. And it takes just a few moments a day to reach out. You can even mass-mail your LinkedIn contacts 50 people at a time, but use this option with caution to avoid coming off spammy.

While you’re doing quick online networking, don’t forget to ask your current clients for referrals, too — they can be a great resource for new work.

3. Meet live humans

One of the best ways to build relationships and get fresh leads on new gigs is to get yourself to some in-person networking events. Often, these take place at night when you might normally not be working on client projects, so they can be easy to slip into your schedule.

Yes, some networking events turn out to be a waste of time, but don’t let that discourage you. Keep circulating around to different groups until you find the one where you get promising leads. Be sure to follow up after you meet, too.

4. Short bursts

If you want to send letters of introduction or query letters and feel like you never have time for a multi-hour writing project, you can get it done by splitting up the task into 10- or 15-minute tasks.

Today, just write the introductory paragraph, or maybe do a quick pre-interview with a source so your query has a quote. Tomorrow, write your bio line that’ll go at the bottom. And so on, until your query is ready to send.

5. Job alerts

Yes, online job ads often lead you to lower-quality clients. But if you target niche job boards or boards where the employers have to pay to post, such as LinkedIn’s Jobs, you can hit some nice pay dirt.

To make this quick and easy, set up alerts or saved searches on your key words and get sites to feed you relevant openings for your types of writing. A quick 5-minute scan a day of that can help you find at least a few leads.

Be sure to template some stock language you can cut and paste together and quickly personalize for the client’s situation so that it’s quick to respond when you spot a job ad that looks right for you. Also save time here by being picky and only responding to listings that sound like a perfect fit and ask for experience you have.

 

Whatever you do, try to commit at least a few minutes each day for some sort of marketing activity. You’ll be a lot less anxious about how you’ll pay the bills and keep your freelance business thriving when the current rush ends.

How do you fit in a quick hit of marketing when you’re busy? Leave a comment and share your approach.