The Freelance Writer’s Foolproof 15-Step Technology Guide

The amount of technology freelance writers need to know about in order to earn from their craft has just exploded in recent years, hasn’t it? I can remember when knowing how to turn my computer on, use Microsoft Word and a fax machine pretty much covered me.

Now, the list of tech stuff I need to know in order to earn well as a freelancer is a long one and seems to grow with each new gig: Campfire, Google Chrome, WordPress, Box.net, Movable Type, Blogger, Picnik, and on and on.

Regular readers will recall that I am not a lover of technology, nor naturally good at it.

In fact, I find it incredibly frustrating and it often makes me cry like a baby.

But over the years of being compelled to learn all this sparkly new technology, I’ve developed a system that makes it easier for me.

Here it is below. Proceed through each step until you reach one that gets the technology working:

  1. Try downloading the thing. Try a few more ways, on different browsers.
  2. Update all your existing software in hopes that will somehow make the magic happen.
  3. When you have it downloaded, try installing the thing. Try a few more times until you think you’ve got it.
  4. Once you finally figure out how to download the thing and install it, try to use it.
  5. When you can’t understand how to use it to do what you want, you have your choice of: rip hair, cry, curse, lie on floor and suck thumb, play Bejeweled and forget about it, or go for a walk and try again later.
  6. After recovering your composure, do Google searches to find what other people who couldn’t make the thing work have said about how to fix it. Try their ideas.
  7. Read every page of the online help manual. Weep softly as you realize much of it is like Sanskrit to you.
  8. Read the forums and wikis about the thing. Continue weeping.
  9. Tinker randomly in hopes of making it all just suddenly decide to freakin’ work.
  10. Submit a series of email help ‘tickets’ and pray the Ukrainian or Irish or Indian support techs will take pity on you and help you.
  11. Ask on writer and blogger chat forums if anyone has successfully used the thing and could help you.
  12. Take a class at your community college or through Biznik or a Chamber colleague you met in how to use the thing.
  13. Experience all five stages of grief defined by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross: Denial that you will not be able to get the thing to work. Anger that you cannot get the thing to work. Bargaining with your deity to be granted special tech powers that will enable you to make tech things work easily. Depression that you are not the sort of person who rocks at tech stuff. Finally, acceptance that you suck at technology.
  14. Beg your teen to teach you how to do it, or your neighbor’s teen. Realize that although he knows all about it, he is too lazy to help you.
  15. Hire a professional to install the thing and teach you how to use it.

How do you cope with new technology? Leave a comment and let me know if there’s one of these steps you usually end up at, or if you have your own system. Coming up next week, I’ll tell you my favorite tech tools for making my freelance-writing business, and my blogging life, run smoothly.

When I’m stuck on tech stuff, I usually get help on the forums in A-List Blogger Club (yep, I proudly belong, recommend and affiliate sell A-List memberships — the place to be for people who really want to earn from their blog). Join through me before Wednesday and I’ll send you a link to the 90-minute Webinar recording and PDF report 30 Design & Content Secrets to Skyrocket Your Blog (usually goes for $24.99).


  1. Kar says:

    Sing it Sister! I hear ya. Although I love new technology, as I’m a bit of a geek, it still flummoxes me on occasion. My favorite technique is to turn to Dr. Google, by searching very specifically for whatever, like wordpress plugin for dispensing beer. (Do they have a plug in for that? They totally should) And generally it turns out I have not invented a new way of being dense, that there were others before me, and the trail has been blazed. And I find my answer!

    I like your A List Blogger Club solution, as it increases your likelihood of success when you’re asking your question to a more concentrated pool of experts.

  2. Misti says:

    I’m a geek enough that between what I already know and Google, I can’t remember the last time I needed tech help.

    But it all started because as a kid, I played “What does this button do?”, then had to fix whatever I’d done to the family computer before my parents found out…

  3. Debbie Kane says:

    I feel your pain! I have a couple of tech friends I rely on when I have questions (who are very patient w/ me). I recently started working with a tech-wise advertising guy who’s been helpful, too. When in doubt, I’ve posted questions on LinkedIn or user-specific forums (like Crackberry for questions about my Blackberry).

  4. Andrea Dale says:

    I feel lucky that I am quite tech savvy due to family upbringing and a previous career in technical support.

    As such my tips are what you do before buying software, paying for a web site with technology you may use, or buying a technology gadget, etc.. Hopefully your research means that you will avoid installation and bug problems:

    1) Look at the support forums to see how the company responds to problems and if the community provides support, etc.
    2) Does the company provide live technical support, for free or for fees?
    3) Is the company’s FAQ and online help, current?
    4) Do I already have something that will work as well or maybe a little less well, vs. buying this item and investing my precious time to learn?

  5. Kymlee says:

    I guess i’m lucky to be able to play around with techy things and usually pick it up pretty quickly. If i can’t figure it out, i have a couple friends i can call on. For website problems, my web host has decent tech support. Anything i can’t figure out beyond that, i let it go. I really don’t think we need to know every new piece of tech to be successful freelance writers.
    Kymlee recently posted..Parents Can Get Together to Teach Kids Respect For Each Other

  6. Dealing with technology – I read a lot; learn by reading blogs, read articles in the writers’ mags, read about it via FB posts. It’s overwhelming at times.
    Karen S. Elliott recently posted..How to work with an artist to create a kick-butt book cover

  7. Karen says:

    Lol. As a former psychology student, I love that you brought Kubler-Ross’s 5 stages of grief into it – It really does feel that dramatic sometimes! I have accepted that anything technology related is going to be a steep learning curve for me, and try to take on one thing at a time. Whenever I’m convinced I just don’t get technology I go look at my blog, which I somehow managed to get up and running all by myself, and remind myself how far I’ve come. I also spend a lot of time saying “I’m a writer, not a techie, dammit!”
    Karen recently posted..Ten Things J K Rowling Taught Me About Writing

    • Carol Tice says:

      My new strategy is trying to allow a lot of time between when I start with a tool and when I NEED it to work. Applying this heavily to the Freelance Writers Den launch, which I’ll have in beta for a month for people to explore while we make sure it’s all working.

  8. Erin Hill says:

    I sort of lucked into a mentor a long time ago. This was back when I was thinking about web design, although I don’t remember where I came across this person. Anyway, she has done web development, graphic design, writing, and tons of other stuff…so she’s kind of my go-to guru on everything. When I first started this whole thing I frequently got myself in over my head, so I’d send her frantic emails begging for help. She was always happy to walk me through HTML, FTP, legal matters, and anything else I needed.

    Aside from her, I usually just read the manual or online help files and then toy around with whatever it is until I figure it out.

    • Carol Tice says:

      It’s so helpful to know someone who’s willing to just answer a question or two, isn’t it? Can be a real lifesaver with all the tech stuff we are expected to know now.

  9. Gabrielle says:

    Oh my gosh, Carol. Technology is kicking my butt right now. My mind flies so fast that it’s difficult for my hands to catch up. I’m working on figuring out how to do podcasts and video right now so I can create some webinars. Going to figure out Powerpoint and Camtasia. It’s just a matter of sitting down and spending a few hours tinkering.

    Kind of thinking that getting a tablet with touch screen would make it easier, but then I’d have to figure out how to work that! :)
    Gabrielle recently posted..6 Daily Marketing Ideas Your Target Audience Loves

    • Carol Tice says:

      LOL re: tablet.

      Camtasia is great, I found it one of the most easy and intuitive programs I’ve had to learn.

      Powerpoint I paid my teen to build my slideshows and gradually had him teach me stuff. Now I just have him set up the template initially and I can pretty much do the rest.

      Podcasts and video…which I could tell you I’ve found a great solution there. GoToWebinar costs a FORTUNE, and all the other platforms have something wrong with them — their platform’s not stable and people get kicked out, they don’t have a VOIP option, or don’t have VOIP/phone optional, which would be ideal. Some won’t let more than one presenter talk on a call very elegantly in VOIP. I tried and gave up on GVO Conference recently, which is VOIP-only…half my co-presenters couldn’t make it work, and even though I bought a 300-seat room they only really had 30 screenshare seats…sort of a rip.

      One I’m a little fascinated with now is join.me, which is just a little widget on your desktop. It has some international local calling numbers, and you can VOIP in with a smart phone. I may try them next. For now, I’m back to just using Anymeeting for free…at this point I know how their platform works and I like their live text chat option vs using something like TalkShoe or one of the podcast things.

      There are a MILLION of these providers out there, but I’m still waiting for the one that’s affordable, aimed at solopreneurs, and allows all the things I want — two copresenters, both phone and VOIP simultaneously, not having to choose one or the other. I’m willing to pay money but not a fortune.

      VERY interested to hear if anyone has any recommendations there…doing my Blast-Off group coaching class on the phone on Anymeeting…for now seems like the best route, especially for highly interactive forums, which is what I like to do. A lot of presenters simply don’t let the audience talk, and then they can use Ustream or GVO or something, and it’s just one person presenting.

      Mine are more complicated than that, like the Freelance Writer’s Free-for-all call coming up Wednesday with Peter Bowerman of The Well-Fed Writer…assuming we’ll have a LOT of people on that call!! And I’d like to be able to hear some of their voices.

      • Gabrielle says:

        I hear you, Carol. I wish there was a similar webinar system like GotoWebinar. They’re the best. I did take a webinar from a friend who used LiveMind. They use the Adobe Connect software, but take 25% of the profit so that may not be what you had in mind. If I come across a solution, I’ll make sure to let you know.

        • Carol Tice says:

          The irony is I actually had a chance to present on GoToWebinar once recently, and I didn’t even like it — I found their interface way too complicated- a chat pane AND a Q&A pane, hand-raising…which do you use when? And as with all these systems (except GVO), Macs can’t press the record button.

          • Andrea Dale says:

            Re: GotoWebinar/Meeting.

            I routinely use Gotomeeting for copy revision meetings, training clients on LinkedIn and my writing mentoring clients. Its really paid off in those areas and working with my clients in this way increases my credibility. Also, I *think* you can now record with a Mac (I use a PC, so I cannot try it out). I’ve been mulling over trying the Webinar software to offer LinkedIn group training, but haven’t decided because yes, it’s a bit expensive.

            • Carol Tice says:

              All my events have way more than the 25 or so people you can get in a room on Gotomeeting. Macs can’t record, I just recently asked them — saw a presentation on GotoTraining…none of their products have it. This sort of thing is good for training, but not interactive sessions where you want participants to be able to talk to you.

              They’re just more of a Fortune 500-type service company — that’s their target audience. I think there’s a huge niche out there for serving people like us, small and solopreneurs, that nobody is addressing yet — great business opportunity there. I paid $45 a month for GVO. Join me is like $27 I think, but doesn’t have what I need.

  10. Sarah says:

    This post makes me realize I totally need a tech mentor. Or just a friendly geek with lots of time on their hands to answer my questions. It just takes me so damn long to figure anything out. I usually finally do get it up and going (using many of the steps you’ve outlined), but by then I’ve forgotten what I wanted to use it for. Kidding!

    And I’m just talking about the basics – like trying to get my new blog going on wordpress.org with Headway themes. I’m absolutely petrified at the thought of using all those techie toys you’re talking about in the post and comments.
    My husband is much worse – he can barely figure out MS Word – so it’s all up to me in our household.

    Oh well, one step at a time…
    Sarah recently posted..Can Art and Practicality Meet

    • Carol Tice says:

      For quite a while, I used teens from my high school’s digital design program. Ask the teacher for a recommendation. Community colleges are good sources of affordable help, too.

  11. Hi Carol!

    There is no silver bullet. Except perhaps #15 – but silver bullets can be expensive (and they don’t work on vampires)!

    Fortunately, there are some more efficient ways to go about the process.

    Before you buy/download/install a new piece of software, go to google.com and type in

    [name of software] bugs OR problems OR sucks

    where [name of software] stands in for the name of whatever software you are considering, e.g.

    Microsoft Word 2010 bugs OR problems OR sucks

    If you’re concerned only about a particular machine, add that to the beginning, e.g.

    Macintosh Microsoft Word 2010 bugs OR problems OR sucks

    Skim the first few results to see if there are any crippling limitations or issues.

    If you’re not sure about the vendor, go to google.com and type in

    [name of vendor] scam OR problems OR sucks

    Skim the first few results to see if the vendor is reputable.

    Note to vendors: this is exactly why paying attention to your online profile is important!

    If you have a specific purpose for the software in mind, try

    How to [specific purpose] in [name of software]

    For example, to find out how to lay out text along a path in MS Word 2010,

    How to lay out text along a path in MS Word 2010

    Again, skim the first few results to see if the software can actually do what you want it to do. If you don’t find the answer, try phrasing the [specific purpose] differently. Remember that search engines – even google.com – operate on what you type not what you mean. For now.

    Once you’re satisfied that the software can do what you want and the vendor is reputable, make sure you understand the installation instructions. Again at google.com

    How to install [name of software]

    If the results come back as anything resembling “first create a bash script with #sudo unpack \etc\blah\bin\whatever …”, run away screaming.

    Note to Linux vendors: this is why users hate you. It is also why you feel so smug and superior. Neither of these is making you money.

    Finally, if you have a problem installing or running the software and a specific error message appears, take a picture of the screen. On a Windows machine, press the Alt key and the PrintScreen key at the same time to take a picture of the current window (presumably the error window). The picture is stored on the clipboard so you can paste it (Ctrl+V) into an email or a Word document or a Paint program et al. This is easier than trying to write down or remember exactly what the error message said.

    Return to google.com and enter the name of the software plus the word ‘error’ followed by the exact error message – or at least the first few words of it – inside double-quotes. Sorry, you can’t just paste the screen shot into google. Yet. For example,

    Microsoft Word 2010 error “.NET runtime status 1337 technobabble overflow; jargon verbosity maximized”

    And remember: if all else fails, there’s always step #15.
    Steven A. Lowe recently posted..3 Design Patterns for Project Failure

  12. Judy says:

    This blog post was very timely–I had spent many hours over the weekend just before that resolving a tech issue. I was stressed because things seemed to be pretty messed up. (Sidenote: I was reminded of the importance of staying calm when computer woes happen. Stepping away from the challenge temporarily, not going into a panic, and trusting that it would work out really helped me solve the problem.)

    I did do one of the things you mentioned here, which was that I Googled the error message I was getting. Presto, I got the answer to the problem (it was in a tech discussion forum), I tried that, and it worked.

    It is super important to keep on top of the tech stuff. I have a free program called Malwarebytes Anti-Malware that is supposedly quite good. When I ran it over the weekend, it picked up a few infected files that I think might have been at least part of the cause of the problem I was having. Another good, free program is CCleaner. I run that daily, right after I start up my computer.

    After I resolved the tech issue I was having, I spent a lot of time updating various programs, etc. It can be very time consuming to properly maintain computers! It helps that I have a lot of tech writing/editing experience and have been around a lot of tech/IT/engineer people.

    Just thought of something–maybe in the new Freelance Writers Den, you could have a tech expert do a call or Webinar re: tech issues for freelance writers? The class could go over things like what maintenance we should do, and how often, what programs we should have (such as for antivirus, malware, etc.), tips on troubleshooting some common issues, etc. I think that would be super helpful to many people.

    In combination with my own efforts to manage tech issues, I find that it’s just about imperative to have a local tech support person to call when tech challenges arise. Many of these tech people work onsite (come to your home office to work on your computer), which is really convenient. Also it’s good to have a routine preventive “tuneup” on your computer(s). When I asked my local tech person this week how often to do that, he said once per year is good.

    I always try to look at the best use of my time. And at times, I figure it’s more prudent not to spend hours and hours of my time (thus eating away at freelance writing time/focus) resolving computer/tech issues, and instead pay a tech expert to resolve the problem for me. That can wind up being more profitable in the end. That is, say I pay the tech person $100 to resolve the problem relatively quickly, whereas I would have spent 8 hours figuring it out.

    So me resolving it would have cost me more money, in the end, in the form of my lost work/earning time. Plus the distraction and stress of it all costs time/money, too. This same principle holds true for anything else–it’s often cheaper and more efficient to hire an expert than it is to try to handle everything solo.

    That said, it’s good as solopreneurs to have at least a certain level of knowledge on tech/computer stuff and on the other aspects of our businesses (bookkeeping, taxes, etc.etc.).

    • Carol Tice says:

      Ooh, that’s a great idea to have tech workshops! I am totally putting that in the hopper. I know someone who could do how to install a WordPress site, off the top of my head, and I’m sure I have more tech experts I could bring to the group.

      And I think of it the same way — my billable hours at this point are very precious and valuable, so I want to spend as few of them as possible programming widgets…

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