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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

Listen in on a Writer-Client Negotiation

Writing Client Negotiation Tips to Help You Earn MoreOne of the biggest problems many new copywriters have is they’re afraid to discuss a client proposal and negotiate. Instead, the writer gets a prospect and is so excited, they jump at the first offer that’s made. Often, this means they end up with a lower rate than they might have secured if they’d explored the client’s needs and budget a bit.

This process should have some give-and-take to it as you hammer out what you’re going to do and how much you’ll be paid. It’s also an opportunity to display your knowledge of what will best help the client meet their goals for growing their business. A recent conversation I had with a prospective small-business client went like this:

Prospect: I looked at your site and I love your writing! I have a new Web site I’m launching that will have an audience of private-equity investors and small companies looking for funding. I was thinking about having you blog for me once a month for a couple months. I also need a press release written.

 

Me: I could certainly do that for you, but I have to tell you I don’t think it’s going to be effective in drawing enough traffic to help your business get rolling. You need more frequent posts – at least one blog a month. I have a minimum contract for startups that’s four blogs a month for $500 that I think would start getting you meaningful traffic.

Prospect: That’s a little high for my budget…

Me: What if I throw in the press release? I’d do that if you signed on to a minimum three-month contract.

Prospect: That sounds good.

So what happened here? I took what was likely just $200 or so of blogging work and maybe a $250 press release and turned it into a $1,500 minimum contract. Because what I proposed is more likely to succeed in building this client’s business by drawing more prospects, I also upped the likelihood this will turn into a long-term gig.

Throwing in the press release made the client feel he was getting a freebie, and sealed the deal. In reality, his blogs were easy to put together, and he was willing to let me write them ahead of time all at once, which was very time-efficient for me. Even with the press release, my hourly rate for the project stayed in the neighborhood of my target $75-$100 an hour, so it wasn’t much of a sacrifice on my part.

As with all truly successful negotiations, it was win-win.

Of course, if you make a suggestion and the client doesn’t like it and wants to stick to their original idea, you can always agree to it and take the work that’s offered. But remember, it never hurts to negotiate a little and see if the client might commission a bigger, better project.

Photo via Flickr user Joe Howell

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7 Ways to Shake Up Your Online Writing Job Search

Twitter is a Great Way to Advertise Your Writing BusinessAre you in a job-ad rut? I hear a lot of complaints from writers that there are no good jobs advertised online.

What writers who say that often mean is they keep going to the same two or three online job boards every week, or even every day. The jobs are all super low-paid junk from Craigslist…and they’re getting depressed.

If that’s you, I’d like to gently remind you that insanity is sometimes defined as doing the same thing every day but expecting a different result. If you don’t think you’re seeing quality job listings, it’s time to shake up your online job-search routine.

Some different places I look for writing jobs:

• Niche sites. Since I’m kind of a financial dork, I get great leads from Gorkana alerts, which seems to attract a lot of financial publications. I got my new gig blogging for BNET through Gorkana, and I did not see that job anywhere else. Somewhere, there’s a site for an industry specialty you have that might list related writing jobs. Find it and bookmark it. Realize that employers are sick of getting bombarded with 200 resumes when they place an ad, and they’re seeking out smaller-circulation places to put out the word.

• LinkedIn. If you haven’t looked for jobs on LinkedIn, check it out! It’s a growing, busy place for listings, and has a sophisticated search engine so you can filter jobs a number of ways. While I don’t see a lot of freelance gigs on LinkedIn, I’m impressed by the number of writing-sector full-time jobs I see on there, every day.

• Indeed. This is a powerful job-oriented search engine that searches across many other portals. It has interesting statistical capabilities too, and can tell you trends in job listings. Great way to toy with search terms and turn up jobs you might otherwise miss. Want to cheer yourself up? Look at this chart for jobs with “writer” in the description — and you’ll see ads have stayed fairly constant straight through the downturn!

• Twitter. Search on twitter for “writer jobs” and take a look at the number of sites that are streaming their job offers on there! Build yourself a nice list where you can look at your customized jobstream — or just follow my list if you like.

• Your desktop. I don’t often go on job-search sites anymore, because I’ve dragged most of the sites with jobs that interest me onto my desktop through RSS. Great way to save time and get to the jobs you want as soon as they’re posted.

• Industry association job boards. The Society of Professional Journalists is among the professional writers’ organizations with their own job listings. When’s the last time you checked them out? The National Writers Union has a job hotline for members that enforces decent-pay standards.

• Morning Coffee. I just discovered this list recently, and it’s one of the ones on my desktop, along with Writer’s Weekly. Morning Coffee seems to have a more extensive range of writer jobs than I find on many writer-job sites. I found a smokin’ hot lead for me this week on Morning Coffee that needed my insurance expertise and was offering up to $60 an hour.

Of course, as regular readers of this blog know already, I find the best jobs aren’t waiting for you on an ad on the Internet. You get them by prospecting — getting out and meeting new people, sending query letters, or however else you reach out in the real world. Don’t forget about in-person networking and cold-calling, as they can’t be beat for meeting new clients. But if you are looking for jobs online, think about new ways to approach your search if you’re not seeing quality leads — they’re out there.

Photo image via Flickr user szlea

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Writing Gigs You Never Thought of: Community Moderator

By Carol Tice

Today I’d like to talk about a growing writing niche that’s a bit off the beaten trail — community moderating. Indeed.com recently had 83 job listings for community moderators, both for free local forums and for pay, moderating online forums for companies — Allstate, Fox Entertainment, and many others. Corporate moderators learn to be the “voice” of the brand to their online community.

This niche is so new that it’s like wide-open spaces as far as breaking in. If you write well, have an even-tempered disposition, a background in the subject matter, and are willing to get trained on the company’s criteria for what is an allowable post, you could find yourself getting into a whole new sideline. Community moderating tends to be steady work, so it can provide a ground floor that helps you keep freelancing and supports other writing projects.

I’d like to introduce WM readers to someone who’s got a paid moderating gig — my awesome Make a Living Writing Web developer Tony Kehlhofer — that’s his mug above. After six months of freelancing, Tony, who’s an experienced programmer, started a couple of Web sites he’s monetizing, Maps4Kids and TotalCraigSearch (lets you search Craigslist across many cities at once for jobs, check it out!)…and was recently trolling for more freelance work.

He answered a Craigslist ad — NOT kidding! — and several rounds of interviews later found himself moderating building-block giant Lego’s new massive-multiplayer online game for tweens, Lego Universe. They flew him to Denmark for training…can you say dream job? He reports it’s decent, steady money and there’s growth potential aplenty. His edge: They wanted someone bilingual-German, and Tony lived in Austria for years. I was dying to hear the details, and thought WM could listen in:

CT: Tony, what did you say to Lego that got you this amazing gig? Did you have any moderating experience?

TK: I didn’t really have any. I said I’m familiar with online tools and gaming, I’m willing to work as a contractor, and I spoke the required language, German, which is the second language they’re going to roll out. I interviewed on Skype in English, then on Skype in German and took a written test in German. They flew me to Denver to meet the hiring executive, and then to Denmark.

CT: What did you learn about moderating in Denmark?

TK: We went through extensive psychology and policy meetings. We talked about trademark issues — you can’t be “Luke Skywalker” on Lego Universe. We learned how pedophiles groom children online so we can spot them. There were up to 20 people on my team there, who’re based everywhere, Spain, Italy. I’m one of the oldest members (laughs)…by far.

CT: What-all do you moderate within the game?

TK: Everything, even the usernames. The conversations the players have when they get in an area together. There are also community forums.

CT: What kind of hours do you work for Lego Universe?

TK: I’m working 16-20 hours a week now, and it will ramp up to 24-32 hours a week when it goes live. I was in the program, which is in beta, last week and had to approve over 300 new usernames in a few hours. My afternoon is the middle of the night in Germany, so I save them having to pay third-shift overtime.

CT: What sort of future opportunities do you see now that you’re in moderating?

TK: I think there’s a whole career path here in moderation that is pretty incredible. For me, the neat thing is there’s another company involved with Lego, eModeration.com. They do a first level of screening out problems. Their client list is exceptional — MTV, Disney, Canon. So I’ve made a connection there.

CT: Any final advice on finding unusual jobs such as this one?

TK: Search widely. I have eight or nine regular search terms I use to find jobs on Craigslist in Seattle, and I would never have found this one if I hadn’t decided to also search on “German.”

Since this interview, I’ve posted on my own site about more jobs in social media — take a gander over to Make a Living Writing to learn more.

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

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