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A Crash Course in Writer’s Contracts

Freelance Writing Contract Guidelines
By Carol Tice

Today I’m going to take you on a quick tour of the basic points you will usually find covered in a writer’s contract. I have signed many of these over my career and was a legal secretary in a galaxy far away from here, so I’ve always felt comfortable reading and negotiating my own contracts.

But if you’re new to contracts, they can seem intimidating and even boggling. I recently negotiated one that was more than 10 pages long!

Which brings us to point one about writers’ contracts: They’re negotiable. Every point in them. Beyond that, here are some of the basic areas you may see covered in a contract. Some you’ll want to make sure are in there, while others you may want to try and get removed:

1.Definition of the work. The contract should state how much work you’re supposed to do and when it’s due.

2.Payment terms. I’ve learned to define these sharply. The contract may say simply that payment will be $X. You want it to say something more like “payment will be $X and due in net 30 days. A 3% monthly late charge will apply to overdue bills.” If there are any possible bonuses you can earn from traffic, retweets or anything else, they should also be defined in the contract. If it’s a new corporate client, you should be looking for 25%-50% of the contract as an up-front payment due before you start, with those terms in writing in your contract.

3. Ownership. The contract should clearly state who will own the work. This could be straightforward — it’s work-for-hire and the client owns all rights. Or it could be more complicated — the publication or client owns the work for 90 days and then you can resell it, for instance. Or they only own it for online and you could resell it to a print publication.

4.Credit. The contract should define if you get a byline — and in this Internet age, I’m asking for my byline to be a live link to my Web site. Free marketing you want to have, and many clients are happy to give it.

5.Exclusivity. You want it to say you are free to work for anyone else you choose, or for there to be no exclusivity clause. If they have competitors they don’t want you writing for at the same time, they need to name them. Resist efforts to forbid you from writing for competitors after you’re done writing for the client.

6. Warranties. The client will want you to warrant that you are not plagiarizing the material you give them, or making up lies. They assume you’re smart enough to not write anything that could get them sued for libel or defamation of character. If you do, you will take the lawsuit hit, not them. This lovely clause is also known as indemnification.

7. Confidentiality. If the client is sharing company secrets with you as you prepare articles, they’ll want you not to share that information with anyone.

8. Termination. If it’s an ongoing contract, there should be a clause stating how notice is given and how much notice either side must give to end the contract. Thirty days seems pretty standard.

9.Limitation of liability. Translation: the client would like to limit how much you could sue them for if the relationship goes sour to the amount they have paid you. Resist if you can.

10.Kill fees. Many print publications still do pay kill fees if they decide not to use your article, of 20% or so. Hopefully you won’t need it, but ask if they will offer it.

11.Likeness. These days, many markets you write for will want permission to use your headshot and bio on their site. And that’s all good!

12. Right to reproduce. A good contract will specifically grant you the right to reprint the article in any media where you produce all the content, i.e. your own writer Web site. I’ve talked to too many writers who’re worried about putting a clip on their site because they didn’t make this point clear.

Did I leave anything out? If you have any questions about basic writers’ contract clauses I may have overlooked, leave a comment and I’ll try to answer them.

DISCLAIMER: I am not a lawyer and this post should not be construed as legal advice. Seek expert advice if you have a question about a contract.

This post originally appeared on the WM Freelance Writer’s Connection.

Photo via Flickr user ol slambert

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Blogging for Business, Part I: Finding Clients And Setting Pay Rates

How to Earn More from Business BlogsThis week I’m writing all about the world of blogging for business clients. I’ve been asked about this niche before, and recently got a bunch of questions on this topic from freelance writer Lee Lefton. Today, I’m going to talk about how to spot good business-blogging clients and what pay rates are out there.

As it happens, in recent months I’m earning more and more of my income from blogging for companies and online news outlets. Coming from traditional journalism, I never thought I’d enjoy blogging, but I’ve really grown to love this scrappy new format — and I’ve discovered there are some good-paying gigs in blogging, too. But clearly, that’s not been everyone’s experience.

Lee writes:

I recently had the opportunity to write a blog for two different clients. Both required 1,000 words or thereabouts. One client would provide some input, the other would require that I interview their customers or clients. The first had a budget of $25 per blog, the second, $35. Normally, I would attempt to negotiate, but I really didn’t see any room for that, so I politely declined both.

I’ve since spoken to a writer friend who does a lot of blogging and she said that was the going rate. I just find that very hard to accept. Would you be willing to give me an idea or a range of what you charge?

Let’s start by talking about what a good business blogging client looks like. First off, they understand the blog format — which is not 1,000 words long. More like 300-400 is considered the ideal.

Second, a good client understands that your regular blog entries have the power to potentially make their business happen. As a result, they want to pay a good wage so they can get a pro to write something exceptionally compelling. And $25 to $35 for 1,000 words obviously is not an appropriate wage, especially for blogs that call for interviews!

Third, good business-blog clients make a long-range commitment because they have realistic expectations and understand it’ll take time for the blog to build their traffic. My minimum contract for small-business clients is one blog a week for two months, for $1,000, and I’ve done several of those.

I don’t want to work on scattershot projects that won’t be successful, since I’m trying to build my reputation in blogging. One thing I’ve learned: Each business blogging client requires a huge initial learning curve where you don’t earn as well on an hourly basis, so that’s the amount at which I find it worth my time to get involved.

I’ve earned from $65-$300 for blog entries, depending on the situation, on the higher end of that where interviews were called for. Since I don’t take assignments below $50, I obviously do not agree that $25-$35 is the “going rate”! I think this format is too new to have a going rate just yet — rates are all over the place. It’s up to you to seek out the situations where blogs pay a living wage.

As with online articles, when you’re evaluating a blogging offer, the thing to keep in mind is NOT the per-blog price. It’s the HOURLY RATE. If it will take you 10 minutes to write the blog and you could crank out five in an hour, maybe $25 apiece is a great rate. I generally try to keep my per-blog rate around $100 apiece since I usually write blogs that take an hour or more to create. Blogs that require interviews obviously need to pay more.

The best-paying business-blog clients are in specialized business niches not everyone can write about. I’ve blogged about surety bonds, insurance, business finance, public companies’ SEC filings, and other dorky stuff for good pay. Identify your niche specialties, and then do in-person networking, or look at all the Web sites of companies in your target niche, find the one that needs a blog, and call them.

You’re looking for real-world businesses that sell a real product or service, or established news organizations that are moving online. They want strong posts that will make people hang around their site and buy from them, or their advertisers. If you want to make even more money, sell your blogging skill along with your knowledge of social media — that’s a great package of services that’s commanding good pay.

Later this week, I’ll talk about some of the technical requirements for blogging remotely for clients — the programs and techniques you’ll need to know.

Photo via Flickr user MyEyeSees

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To Earn More, Writers Need to Recharge — Fast

Avoid Freelance Writing Burnout I do a monthly “weigh-in” with my mentees, where we all talk about our goals and accomplishments for the month. One of my mentees noted this week that April was a slow month because “I spent the first two weeks of April recovering from being busy in March.”

Wait just a cotton-pickin’  minute there. Two weeks recovering? It is impossible to earn well if you need two weeks to get over it after you have a rush period.

As it happens, I had an insane rush the last two weeks of April. Two small-business clients needed four blogs apiece, another Web site needed a blog entry plus social-media links, I was blogging once or twice a day for BNET, plus three weekly blogs for a national magazine, and four fully reported articles were also due for various other clients. It was high-intensity, round-the-clock crazy. And if I let any deadlines slip, I might lose a client, or at the very least see thousands of income push into the next month. That latter is an insidious development I try to avoid as it always leads inevitably to lower annual earnings. Losing clients obviously I try to avoid as well!

I recovered from this deadline onslaught by taking all of Saturday off, as I always do. If I really want to recharge, I also don’t turn on the computer at all on Sunday…I think this time I might have just checked in for an hour or two. I garden, read to my kids, go for walks, cook, stretch, see friends. Then on Monday, I’m back at it.

I think a lot of new writers are coming into this field without ever having had to file on a regular basis. I filed four stories a week for more than six years at one point in my career, for instance. What that experience gave me is strong writing muscles. The more you research, write, and meet deadlines, the more you learn how to do it time-efficiently and without wiping yourself out. That ability to keep yourself healthy — and to bounce back, recover quickly, and be ready for more work — is key to upping your earnings.

No matter where you’ve started in writing and where you’re at now, you can think about how to make your writing work more sustainable. As you move up, you’ll get more difficult assignments, tougher editors, tighter deadlines. And you’ll need to be able to handle it all in stride and be ready for more next week.

What do you do to recharge after a big pile of writing assignments get filed? Leave a comment and share your tips.

Photo via Flickr user steve.ie

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An Easy Way for Freelance Writers to Earn More

Earn More from Freelance WritingIt occurred to me recently that there is one easy step freelance writers can take to earn more. I’ve used it a lot in the past year. It’s one I think many writers overlook, so thought I’d mention it today.

Ready? Here it is:

Ask for more money.

That’s right — even in this terrible economy, even though there seem to be a million other writers growing on trees…you can still ask clients for more money. Often, you’ll get it.

I got approached to write for a major business site not long ago by a content house that was providing the site with articles. I was quoted $250 an article. “Really?” I said. “I’m surprised at that rate, considering where these articles would be going. I do similar articles for clients of similar stature for $300 and up. I think $300 is pretty much the bottom rate I’d consider for this type of work.”

And presto: I got $300 an article.

Another 20-blog package I wrote started with a $200 apiece opening bid. When I said, “Gee, but it’s rush work…” they quickly raised the rate to $300 a post.

You can ask longstanding clients for a raise, too. I was writing for $85 an hour for a major private company, and at year-end I asked for $95 an hour, saying I felt I’d gained a lot of expertise in their business that made me more valuable. They grumbled slightly…and then gave it to me. That one probably translated into $8,000 or so of extra income over the next two years, for no additional work.

In talking with my mentees, I’ve found it’s common for writers to simply leap at the first rate offered for a job, and then feel locked into that rate forever. Know that an assignment offer may be intended as the opening of a negotiation, not a take-it-or-leave-it situation. New writers often get so excited when they get a work offer, they don’t think about whether the pay being offered is adequate for the assignment or calculate how many hours it will really take.

Before you leap, ask yourself whether you could make a case for a better pay rate. Does it require specialized expertise? A drop-everything rush not every writer might take on at this late date? Is it for a publication or Web site with a reputation for quality they need to burnish? If you can think of a reason why more pay is warranted, you’re crazy not to at least mention it to the prospect.

What’s that you say? You’re shy? Intimidated? Practice asking for more money in front of a mirror, or with a friend. Join Toastmasters. Whatever it takes to increase your confidence to where you could ask for more money.

There’s a basic rule in writing as in much of life — them that asks, gets. Asking for more money also has other benefits besides potentially getting you a raise.

1) You come off as more professional. Professionals negotiate, as opposed to just jumping at the first thing they’re offered. They’re not that desperate.

2) You feel empowered. You won’t do the assignment while always wondering if you could have gotten more for the work.

3) The worst they can do is say “no.” I can’t think of a gig I lost by asking for more money. Sometimes I’ve heard, “Sorry, that’s the limit on our budget,” and then had to decide whether I wanted to accept their opening price. But if you’re polite, calm and professional about it (never angry, snarky or rude), you usually have nothing to lose by raising the issue.

4) You hone your negotiating skills. Your negotiating ability is key to helping you move up the earning ladder. So consider each offer a chance to practice negotiating.

Have you asked for more money and gotten it on a writing assignment recently? Leave a comment and tell us how you did it.

Photo via Flickr user borman818

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Good-Paying Jobs for Writers in Social Media

Use Social Media to Earn More from WritingLots of freelance writers use social media — LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and the like — as a way of finding clients, finding sources, and staying in touch with other writers. But I think few are aware of the emerging writing niche of getting paid by companies to write on social-media platforms.

The most basic social-media jobs involve writing Web content or doing social-media strategy for corporations, helping them with their social-media presence. Many companies are at the stage where they know they should be in social media, but they don’t really know how to do it, and they are turning to outside experts. It’s sort of a gold-rush moment in the field, since it’s still an emerging medium.

If you’ve been using social media yourself — you’re blogging and posting on community forums and major social sites, or running your own niche site and optimizing it for search — you should realize you have expertise that companies are paying for.

Because it’s such a new field, pay is all over the map. You can tell it’s starting to be a real job niche, though, because niche job Web sites have already sprung up to aggregate these jobs, such as jobsinsocialmedia.com. Recruiter Jim Durbin, the site owner, says pay depends mostly on your credentials and job history. If you’re a brand-new writer with your own blog, you’ll probably start out not making much. If you have copywriting experience or an agency or big-company marketing background, you could find yourself making $120,000 a year in a social-media strategy job.

Recent trends on Indeed.com show jobs that include the phrase “social media” in the description have gone from basically nothing a couple years ago to nearly 1 percent of all jobs listed on the site! I got more than 18,000 job listings for that keyword on a recent search, many for major companies including Radio Flyer, Avis, Hewlett-Packard, Coca-Cola and Office Depot. Big nonprofits including World Vision are looking, too.

Here are some of the major jobs in social media and descriptions of what they do. Maybe there’s a great new area in writing for you to help grow your income.

  • Blogger. Most writers are familiar with blogging by now, but may not realize that companies and publications are paying well for blogs. Personally, I made more than half my income this month from blogging for companies and major publications. Pay ranges from squat to more than $100 a post.  To earn more, think about specialized, unusual expertise you can leverage, and target bigger companies and publications that need to project a top-quality image.
  • Community manager. I wrote recently on WM about my cool friend Tony Kehlhofer, who landed an amazing part-time, work-from-home gig as a community manager for Lego’s new massive multiplayer online game for tweens, Lego Universe. You can read over there about the training he got so he can now monitor and respond on behalf of Lego to kids as they’re playing the game. I talked with a recruiter recently at a division of Spherion for my AOL story who said he’d recently filled a similar full-time community manager gig for a big company that paid $120,000 a year. Generally, if you’re already making a big-time marketing salary,  you can command these kind of rates.
  • Social-media strategist or digital strategist. If you’re someone with a LOT of social-media experience, who understands what works and doesn’t in drawing people to a Web site, you can earn big in this role. Social-media strategists often oversee a social team developing on a company’s online marketing strategy. This person decides what the company needs to be doing in social media — what messages they should be sending, what sites they should be active on, the works. Copywriting coach Chris Marlow says most of the work is still freelance — but it’s going for upwards of $200 an hour. Working under this top-dog can be social-media marketing specialists and associates who help execute the strategy, tweeting, setting up Facebook fan communities and keeping them active, and so on.
  • Online customer service representative. This can be a bottom-rung place to get started. It’s like the social-media version of a call center worker. Online reps troll social sites for mentions of their company, and then respond if needed. Had an interesting personal experience with this recently — got to jawing on Twitter with another writer about taxes and how we’d gotten IRS notices. I mentioned TurboTax didn’t seem to know how to do the adoption tax credit, I’d gotten a revision letter both the years I took it using the software. Next thing I know, a TurboTax rep DM’d me on Twitter to ask if I needed help! I told him about the problem and he said he’d report it to the company. What a feel-good customer experience! Somebody got paid to reach out to  me on there…and you could, too. These folks are also sometimes known as “online reputation defenders,” crusading online to burnish their brand’s image.
  • Search engine marketing associate. SEM associates work with a Web site to make sure it’s optimizing its results in natural search on Google and other engines. Some of you are already doing this for your own sites, and could apply what you know to a paying gig.

Photo via Flickr user webtreats

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Blogs vs Articles – What’s the Difference?

Writing Articles vs. BlogsBy Carol Tice

As the blog emerged over the past decade, an entirely new format for communicating took shape. At this point I find the line between a blog and an article often blurs — you see long blogs with many interviews, and short articles with many bloggy links.

What exactly is the difference between an article and a blog? As the two styles converge, it’s an interesting question. For instance, I write online articles for Entrepreneur magazine. How are they not blogs?

Here’s my take on what makes a blog a blog, as compared with an article:
Blogs:
  • Are short. I usually aim for 400-500 words at most, and on BNET we aim for 300 words.
  • Have links. They’re usually focused on building traffic, so they should link to related information elsewhere.
  • Are informal. The writing style in blogs is usually pretty casual. The need to follow Associated Press Style rules goes out the window, you can LOL or say frak or write incomplete sentences or whatever you please.
  • Usually publish online and not in print publications. I’m sure somewhere there’s a publication running a page of blog entries in its magazine, but the vast majority of blogs are designed to be viewed on a computer.
Articles:
  • Can be longer. Many online articles I write are 800 words, and publications I’ve done 3,000-word pieces. That just doesn’t work for a blog entry.
  • Are better researched. I usually spend a great deal more time preparing an article.
  • May contain multiple interviews. I do blogs with interviews in them too, but it’s rare to see a blog entry that covers a trend and has multiple experts quoted with their points of view.
  • Use a more formal writing style. This is a generalization, but more article clients seem to want assurance that you are familiar with AP or Chicago Style and can write to it. Articles in general tend to follow old-school journalism conventions to a greater extent than does your average blog.
  • Articles appear in print or online. And often, a print article will also be reprinted online by the publication. But you rarely see a blog for a company or publication turning up in a print magazine they do.

What do you think the difference between a blog and an article is? Leave a comment and let’s discuss.

This post originally appeared on the WM Freelance Writer’s Connection.

Photo via Flickr user creepetz
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