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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

Tips for Avoiding Loser Writing Clients

Loser Writing Clients Are No GoodAre you attracting the caliber of writing client you would like? Many writers complain they only seem to draw lowball-payers with drama problems.

My mentee Katherine Swarts asked this week:

Does anyone have any suggestions, when it comes to professional and social networking, for conveying an upfront image that says “Top-quality, top-pay work only”? I’m tired of fending off individuals and amateur entrepreneurs who want someone to dash off a resume, college-paper edit, self-published-book edit, or write a press release for $50-100. They usually approach me directly, so simply ignoring them as I would a content-mill ad isn’t an option.

I’m sorry to report that loser clients strike even experienced, high-earning writers… But there are some concrete steps you can take to cut down on the number of loser pitches you get and increase the number of solid leads. Here are my tips:

1.  Look at what your Web site says. Let’s travel on over to Katherine’s Web site, SpreadTheWordCommercialWriting. It’s a pretty solid site, but it could be better. I’d add a picture of Katherine right there on the home page — remember, people hire people, not faceless sites. I also recommend having at least a partial bio right on that landing page, with a few of your top client names showing, as I do on mine. Think about your site like a prospect — what do you want to know? I think primarily, it’s “Who is this writer, what types of writing do they do, and who have they written for before?” Try to get brief answers to those right on the landing page. Since Katherine’s URL has “commercial writing” in it, that helps.

Running through her tabs, her bio just has a few association and certification links, and needs beefing up. She’s got some clips (though I’d like to see markets cited with the article links), testimonials (nice!), and she does a newsletter (very nice!). So a mixed bag here, and the home page needs substantial strengthening so it screams “I’m a pro, and these are the types of writing I have experience in.”

2.  Look at the layout of your Web site. Katherine knows her bright-yellow and blue layout isn’t the most professional look, but she doesn’t know how to update it. This is a problem I hear about all the time. Two words: Solve it! Either take a class to do it yourself, or hire somebody to overhaul your layout with more professional colors. That bright-yellow reminds me of some cheesy direct-mail ad.

Cheap Web help is readily available — for about a year, I used a teen from my high school’s digital design program. They need final projects to work on! Writer sites are not that complicated, and some appropriate tones and clean organization would help. One problem I see a lot on WordPress-based writer sites is their blog about some arcane niche topic dominates the home page while their resume and clips are shunted aside. Not the best strategy for getting better-paying work. Put those white papers and feature articles front and center instead.

3.  Look at where you’re networking. When I first started actively networking for my freelance writing business back in ’08, I went to a few local events in my small town. I was a bit startled to have experienced networkers ask me, “Who’s your ideal client?” I didn’t know what to say! I hadn’t really thought about it that much. When I did, I realized my ideal clients at this point in my career weren’t going to be at these local events — they are medium- to major-sized corporations and $1-a-word magazine markets.

So I changed where I network, got off my fanny and humped it into Seattle to go to big-time networking events. What do you know — I met the editor of Costco Connection, an editor of Microsoft Office Live…way better and more appropriate clients.

If you’re not getting the caliber of clients you want networking where you are, hit a bigger market or explore some other events until you hit the right mix. Maybe consider sucking it up and joining one of the pro groups such as BNI, where people are more serious about their business and understand marketing costs. Also, plug your authority more — maybe post some articles on BizNik that display your expertise.

4.  Look at what you’re saying when you network. Do you have your elevator pitch down on what you do? Does it include a specific description of the type of writing work you’re looking for? Hone your pitch to deflect losers. “I’m a freelance writer” leaves you wide open for anything, where “I’m a freelance writer who focuses on national women’s magazines and healthcare-industry copywriting” communicates more professionalism and a sharper sense of what you want.

5.  Look at where you’re querying. If you’re thinking publications, are you taking the time to search the Writer’s Market or other databases to find top-paying markets to query? Are you crafting well-polished queries tailored to those markets? If you don’t ask $1 a word markets for assignments, you usually don’t get them.

Photo via Flickr user levaine

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The Lowdown on Copywriting Rate Sheets

What Not to Do For Freelance CopywritingOne of my mentees recently asked me if she could see a copy of my rate sheet, as she had a small-business prospect and was wondering what to charge them.

I had to tell her that I don’t have a rate sheet. I know some copywriters do have a set list of charges they hand out to prospects.

I think that’s a big mistake. Why? Because every client is different.

Some clients are a dream to work for, love every word you write and never ask for edits. Some are so dysfunctional you can’t get rush emails returned when you’re on a project deadline, and then they edit your work by committee until it’s unrecognizable. One wants everything in a big rush, while the other will take it whenever you can fit it into your schedule.

Both these clients might want me to write 800-word articles, but would I want to price them the same? No way!

When people ask me to give them an off-the-cuff bid or to send a rate sheet, this is my response:

“I don’t have a set rate sheet, because every project is different. Once I learn more about your project, I will be able to give you an accurate rate quote for your job.”

What to do if a prospect requires a quote

If I’m answering a terse job ad that offered few project details but requires a price quote in response, I offer a big range that leaves me lots of wiggle room.

Example: “Recently, I’ve done work ranging from $50-$100 an hour, or $.30-$1 a word.” I include the lowest figure at which I could possibly imagine doing the work under the best circumstances.

This means if the client is looking to pay $10 an article, they will not call me. So set your range low enough that you won’t be sorry if they don’t call.

If the prospect is looking for a professional writer and has any understanding of professional rates, I’ve hopefully stayed in the running without committing myself to a set price for a project where I don’t really know the details.

When you’re landing your first small-business clients, you’ll find it tough to get a firm description of what they really want. That’s because they often don’t know themselves! They just know their business needs help communicating. That’s why – after having been burned by one client too many who said they wanted one thing but turned out to want something else entirely – I have taken to sending prospects a questionnaire.

Getting project specs in writing is a useful exercise for both sides. It helps clients describe what they want, and it gives you documentation you can use to raise your prices if the client asks for more work later. My questionnaire is always evolving as I learn more about parameters I want defined before I start a project.

Photo via Flickr user Edinburghcityofprint

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Should Your Blog Divorce Your Writer Website?

Seperate Your Blog From Your Writer WebsiteBy Carol Tice

Freelance writer Lynn Fisher recently wrote me with this question about blogging and Web sites:

…I wondered if there was any benefit to having a separate blog and web-site. I have a blog (mostly to save money and time because I have a full-time job as well as freelance writing). Any thoughts on this? Thank you, I’m trying to ramp up my game a little.

You may not know this, Lynn, but I am the perfect person to ask! As it happens, I began with a free site just like you, in my case a ZoomInfo profile. Then around 2008 I got it together and with help from a teenage Web developer I found in my local high school’s digital-design class for $12 an hour, I put up my own Web site, caroltice.com. Then I added a blog to it about the business of writing, which became the Make a Living Writing blog. The blog lived under a tab, while most of the site focused on getting me new writing gigs.

But things started to evolve and change. I found I loved blogging about writing, and had a lot of experience to offer. I quickly found a substantial, enthusiastic audience.

A few months ago, I spun MALW off to its own, separate Web site.

Why did I separate them? And why, in turn, might you want to think about separating your blog from your writer site? The answer depends on what you’re trying to do with your blog, and what you’re trying to do with your author site.

I think a lot of writers don’t ask themselves: Why do I blog? What is my goal? Why am I doing this free writing? If you can answer those questions, you’ll know whether your blog and writer site belong together or apart. Simply, if the blog and your resume site serve the same goal, they will likely be happy on a site together. If they’re going in different directions, they may do better apart.

For me, I soon realized I was going to want to write e-books that expanded on the Make a Living Writing blog. Then I’d want to set up a shopping cart and a promotional page and sell the ebooks. I also wanted to be able to recommend books, friends’ ebooks, classes and other items to visitors to MALW in an effort to turn MALW into a small business of its own.

At the same time, site-monetizing strategies were totally inappropriate to my resume site, which is mainly for prospective clients to come and see my resume and clips. I didn’t want them to think of me primarily as someone flogging an ebook. I had come to a fork in the road.

I also wanted to be able to be brutally honest about my writing life — the problem clients, the pay rates, the negotiation strategies. I soon realized I didn’t want these entries to be the first piece of mine a prospect saw! MALW is for new and developing writers; caroltice.com is for business owners and magazine editors. Two audiences, two sites.

Do your blog and author site belong together or apart? Leave a comment and tell us the answer, and why. Lynn, hope you’ll weigh in, tell us what your blog is about, and whether it goes with your resume site.

One final thought I’ll throw out there — I notice that on many new-writer sites, the blog predominates on the home page, while the resume and other clips are hidden down the margins or under tabs. I always wonder if that’s the best strategy, if the main point is to get writing gigs. Interested to hear some other opinions on that. I did mine the opposite way — mostly about the resume and clips, blog on the side.

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

Photo via Flickr user Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com

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