4 Ways Freelance Writers Can Obliterate Their Weak Points

by Carol Tice – 25 Comments

Freelance writer advertising her weak pointsMany writers tell me they have obstacles holding them back from taking the plunge into freelancing.

They worry they write too slow, or don’t have a journalism degree, or are introverted and won’t be able to do enough marketing.

These stories always make me think of Kristy.

She’s a friend I had in high school who didn’t own any shoes.

Kristy’s father was a professional gambler who was often out of town, or out of money. Or both. With the result that most of the time, Kristy and her mother were barely scraping by.

What impressed me was that it didn’t stop Kristy from doing anything. She left the tiny apartment she shared with her mother each morning, attended school, and even sang in a vocal group with me, for which we wore a dressy skirt-and-blouse ensemble she had designed.

We performed in swanky venues like banquet halls and fancy restaurants. We even played the Hollywood Bowl once!

Kristy was never asked to leave any of those places because she was barefoot. She never even got called out at school because she went shoeless.

I was fascinated by that, so I made a study of what she did that allowed her to skate by without this usually essential item of attire.

Faking confidence

Kristy’s secret: She never looked down and drew attention to the fact that she was barefoot.

She never acted sad or like anything was wrong. She held her head up, met people’s eyes with complete confidence, smiled her dazzling smile, flipped her super-long, strawberry blonde hair over her shoulder, and let her gorgeous soprano voice ring out.

I can only imagine how Kristy felt inside, knowing that her poverty was on view for anyone who cared to notice. But she certainly wasn’t going to give students who might taunt and humiliate her any hints on where to stick in the knife.

And it probably wasn’t a coincidence that the singing outfit she designed for our group had a full-length skirt.

How to play to your writing strengths

Kristy’s approach to dealing with your deficits works great for freelance writers, too.

Recently in Freelance Writers Den, we’ve been having writers do a SWOT analysis as part of our Freelance Business Bootcamp. That is, writers have to identify their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in building their freelance business

This has been a fantastic exercise that I strongly recommend for all freelance writers!

Once they’ve identified their weak points, students look at ways to improve on or minimize those weaknesses and maximize their strengths.

Here are a few tips on how to do that:

1. Fail to mention your weak spot

One writer recently wrote me that she feared her three advanced degrees and complex writing clips on arcane topics would put off prospects. They might feel she was overqualified or would want sky-high rates!

I pointed out that she could simply not bring up her academic background, and create a concise bio signoff for herself that focused on her writing experience or industries she knew.

The same goes for whatever you’ve got in your life that you think might make clients shy away.

Are you about embark on a six-month backpacking trip? Have a physical disability? Your first love is writing your novel? The client does not need to know.

Don’t be like the girl in the photo above, flashing what you don’t have on the ball. Just keep that shirt buttoned up.

2. Ignore deficits and just go for it

Many writers have fears that their lack of a writing-related degree will make it impossible for them to pursue a freelance writing career. Fortunately, I never let the fact that I’m a college dropout stop me from writing for prestigious publications including Forbes and the Wall Street Journal.

Realize that freelance writing is a field with no qualifications except what you can put on the page.

I can tell you from experience, clients don’t care how you came by your article writing skills — in a back alley or at Columbia. If you can tell a story, you can write your way to the career you want.

3. Play up your strengths

Instead of sitting around bemoaning what you don’t have on the ball, learn to emphasize your strengths, just like Kristy did.

Did you used to work for a mortgage lender? Bet those types of firms would love to have you write their websites. Prioritize those likely prospects to the top of your marketing calendar.

Do you write fast? Maybe specializing in rush work could allow you to earn more. Let your writer network know you can dive into the breach if they have a client with an emergency they don’t want to handle.

If all your clips are from content mills, just write super-strong query letters and don’t get into a discussion of your portfolio. More than one writer has gotten a national magazine article sale that way.

4. Take action to turn weaknesses into strengths

Sometimes, writers have a weakness that poses a true obstacle to their being able to earn a living as a freelancer.

Say, you want to write articles for great-paying magazines or top websites, but worry that you don’t have the writing chops.

You know you’re a weak headline writer, or you have a hard time matching your writing style to that of the publication. Or you’re shaky on how to get great quotes and weave them into the story.

In these situations, you’ve got three choices.

  1. Trial and error. You can spend many years writing and trying to improve on your own. (This is actually the method I took! What a timewaster.)
  2. Career stagnation. Or you can keep feeling insecure, holding back from marketing your writing services, and not make much progress as a freelance writer.
  3. Take a shortcut. Finally, if you want to solve this now, you can take an article writing class and get a mentor to share decades of their experience and tips with you.

What are your weaknesses as a freelance writer? Leave a comment and tell us how you overcome them.

 

How I Got My First National Magazine Article Gig: Step-By-Step

by Carol Tice – 35 Comments

Step upBy Tracy Hume

I’m celebrating the publication of my first national magazine article.

Writing has always played a role in the day jobs I’ve held (community relations assistant at a hospital, academic report writer and grant writer at a community college).

But most of the writing I’ve done for work has been written for a very specialized audience. And except for a short stint as a temporary guest columnist for The Denver Post in 2002, it was mostly behind-the-scenes and did not carry a byline.

In 2006 I began freelancing full-time, focusing on the areas I knew best — researching and writing specialized academic reports and grants. These are worthwhile writing niches.

However, it’s helpful to be able to show a breadth of writing abilities on your writer’s website, and bylined pieces are an essential part of a writer’s portfolio.

I wanted to get a byline in a national magazine to show potential clients I can also write shorter, consumer-oriented pieces.

Here’s how I made that happen.

Write what you know

Step 1. I’m a regular reader of Weight Watchers magazine.

I noticed each issue had a one-page article featuring different types of exercise. I love square dancing and thought to myself, “why haven’t they published an article on square dancing? They should!”

Lesson: Pitch a magazine you already read with a topic you are passionate about.

Step 2. I found an editor’s name in the masthead and Googled “editor name” “@weightwatchers.com” to find her e-mail address. Bingo!

Lesson:  Use whatever tips and tricks you can to find editor contact info. I learned the Google search tip in one of the weekly webinars offered by the Freelance Writers Den.

Step 3. I sent a query to the editor. In the query, I described my connections with both Weight Watchers and with square dancing to establish my authority on the topic.

But I didn’t have any relevant clips, so I broke one of the rules of query writing: I wrote the 400-word article and sent it in with my query.

Before I wrote it, I carefully studied the feature in the magazine for style, length, tone, subheads, etc. and then I tried to mimic it as precisely as possible.

Dear [editor's name]:

I am a professional freelance writer, a Weight Watchers member (55 lbs lost so far, still moving toward goal), a regular reader of Weight Watchers Magazine and a square dancer. I think square dancing would be a great topic for the Magazine’s “I tried it!” feature.

I wouldn’t normally send a pre-written article (see below: ‘Square Dancing: When her partner walked out, she stepped up by committing to eating right and dancing to a new tune’), but most of my recent writing has been B2B, so I thought it would be best if I sent you an example of what I can do. I can also provide additional copy for online content, including links to national square dance sites, etc.

Thanks for your consideration!

Tracy Hume

[I attached the article draft here.]

Lesson: Sometimes the only way to show an editor you can write what they need is to go ahead and write it.

Step 4. Four weeks after my e-mail query the editor asked me to send clips. The only relevant clips I had were two essays published eleven years ago in the newspaper. I sent them. She gave me the assignment.

Lesson: If you have ever had anything published, it counts as a clip.

Write – and revise

Step 5. On May 8 the editor assigned me a 400-word piece with a due date of May 17. She gave me multiple suggestions for revising the piece I had submitted with the query. I turned it in before the deadline.

Lesson: Be prepared to write quickly and deliver on time.

Step 6. After I turned in the story it went through six weeks of revisions. For a 400-word story!

Different editors had different questions, and each editor wanted to emphasize a different aspect of the story.

After revisions were finished a fact-checker confirmed every detail. I responded quickly to each request.

Because it was a personal essay, I wanted it to be true, but if they needed to modify the voice to fit the magazine, I was cool with that.

In the end, not a single sentence I had submitted in the original query survived the rounds of revisions intact!

Lesson: Don’t be married to your words. The magazine’s editors know best what fits with the voice/tone of their publication.

Paid and published

Step 7. I submitted my invoice on July 8, after the last round of revisions was accepted. I received a check on July 15.

Lesson: Weight Watchers magazine pays on time! (Probably can’t generalize to all consumer magazines here … I’m sure each one is different.)

Step 8. My piece, “Dance Therapy,” appeared in the November/December 2013 issue of Weight Watchers magazine. (Now I’m a local celebrity — within my local Weight Watchers group, anyway. Ha!)

How do you use your passions to get great gigs? Tell us in the comments below.

Tracy Hume is a Colorado-based freelance writer who loves learning new things and writing about them. She learned to square dance last year, and this year she’s completing a certificate program in health information technology.

 

How to Avoid Overwhelm and Launch Your Freelance Career

by Carol Tice – 49 Comments

Dive right into freelance writingThe Internet has made some things about freelance writing a lot easier.

You can investigate what a magazine has recently written, for instance. Or find an editor on LinkedIn.

But in other ways, our Information Age has caused problems for writers.

I know because I keep hearing comments from new freelance writers like this:

“There’s so much to know and the world of freelance writing is rapidly changing. I feel so behind and don’t know how I’ll ever catch up. Can you help?”

I do have a tip on that.

Admit it’s a bottomless pit

Stop imagining that if you study study study — you read enough blog posts, buy enough books about writing, and take enough courses — there will be a point where you will feel you know “enough” about freelance writing.

And then, boom! You will dive in and be writing up a storm.

This will never happen.

You will not look up one day and realize you now know everything you need to know about blogging or writing magazine articles or whatever your chosen niche is, and now you’re ready to do this writing thing. Because new blog posts and e-books come out every day, with new tips for freelancers and solopreneurs.

So how can you kick your freelance writing into high gear?

The reality is, you have to start writing and marketing, and learn as you go. Yes, you will feel nervous that you don’t know it all. But that’s the only way you will move this forward.

Here’s a simple, five-step plan for cutting the overwhelm and getting your freelance writing biz into gear:

1) Find an expert or two

There are a million people who blog about freelance writing on the Internet. There are books, and videos, and e-books. Figure out the mode in which you like to learn, and then find one or two experts who deliver advice in that mode, and whose advice really resonates for you.

Check out their credentials. How long have they been freelance writers? How successful are they?

If they’re the real deal and you love what they have to say, then commit to reading (or viewing) them closely.

Next, look at what else you’re consuming, and start trimming it down. Yes, even if that means you’re going to unsubscribe from my blog.

You want to go from the spurting firehose of way-too-much information of various quality levels down to a small trickle of high-quality stuff.

2) Look for action items

As you read your chosen gurus, look for actionable advice. Something simple and practical you could do right now, or that you could put into practice soon.

Maybe it’s just one tip, or maybe it’s a whole article writing class that’s a perfect fit to give you the chops you need to quickly move up to better-paying markets.

Now that you’ve found your action item, stop reading.

Yes, let those emails you subscribe to pile up for a few days or even months. (I’ve been known to end up with more than 1,000 email newsletters piled up to read when I’m ready.)

3) Stop worrying

The thing that keeps many writers frozen is that they’re worried the action item they’ve chosen isn’t the best one. You might feel like you’re flailing around and wasting time.

But this will never be the case. When you take action, you are learning — even if it’s learning that plug-in doesn’t work for you. That still moves you forward.

And if that action item spoke to you and made you want to stop reading and go “Oh man, I’ve got to try that!” it’s probably something you need. Trust your gut on that.

4) Take action

When you’ve found one writing prompt that speaks to you, a great social-media marketing tip, or that perfect class, stop reading.

Now, go and execute on that.

Put everything you’ve got into that class. Or go download that plug-in you want to try. Implement that one new design trick on your blog.

5) Repeat

Now you’re ready to come back to your experts and read some more. You’ll be surprised how much more efficient this is if you do it in batches instead of reading a bit every day.

Taking breaks when you’re not in ‘learning’ mode will also help you come at the advice with fresh eyes. You’ll be able to spot that next great action item more easily.

Keep at this, and you have the perfect recipe for a thriving freelance writing business. You’re taking concrete action to grow your freelance business and improve your craft, and you’re continuing to learn how to do it better.

How do you avoid overwhelm and move forward with your writing? Leave a comment and share your approach.

Is This Inappropriate Emotion Killing Your Freelance Writing Income?

by Carol Tice – 70 Comments

I’ve got a question for you today, writers. How do you feel about your freelance writing clients?

I ask because today’s topic is just that — the feelings we have for our clients. Because business isn’t all dollars and cents. It’s also relationships. Our clients are people, too.

Some of the feelings we have for them are appropriate and useful feelings, such as enjoying a client’s easygoing personality or the feeling of satisfaction that comes from successfully completing a complex writing assignment.

But some feelings freelance writers have are sadly misplaced, and really hurt your ability to earn a good living as a freelancer. Check out what a couple of writers said to me recently, and I think you’ll start to see why I’ve put that big-eyed dog up as the photo for this post:

“My client is great and has given me a rave review on LinkedIn. I’ve worked with him for years, and continue to out of loyalty, even though the pay isn’t the best.”–Shari

“I’ve been writing for a ‘content mill’ and I do enjoy the work. It’s varied, the people who run it are genuinely lovely, and the man in charge has been happy to give me advice, and permission to email examples of work to clients, even though we publish without our own names on the work.

“Of course the pay is very low. I earn a penny a word (in the UK). But I have some loyalty to them, because they’ve really helped me out.

“I’m a qualified librarian (my degree is in English linguistics and literature, and my postgrad librarianship qualification is in information management). I can write well. Any suggestions?”-April

Yes, April, I have suggestions. Let’s start with this:

Don’t be misled

As you can see, some freelance writers are highly susceptible to the problem of misplaced loyalty.

We fall in love with our clients and stick with them, even though if they are radically underpaying us. When we should run for the hills instead.

We say they’re lovely people, even as they compensate us so little we couldn’t buy a bag of groceries with a week’s pay.

Let me drop the scales from your eyes, folks: While you are doggedly sticking with these clients out of “loyalty,” your client has no such similar feelings for you.

Try asking for a raise to an appropriate professional freelance wage, and you’ll see just how loyal your low-paying clients really are.

Then you’ll see this has been a one-way relationship all along. It’s you, being used by a crummy client. It’s a dysfunctional relationship like an abusive marriage.

It will only end when you decide to quit. Because the client has a great deal — a wonderful writer they’re getting for a song!

If they find another writer who will work for less, they’ll drop you in a minute. Make no mistake.

Why we cling

There’s one other point to consider about why writers hang onto to crummy clients.

Often, it’s because getting rid of them would mean admitting that you’re just spinning your wheels here. You’re filling your time with work that’s not paying your bills, and often isn’t even building your portfolio.

Also, that you need to be out marketing yourself to find better clients. If you really hate marketing, you tell yourself loyalty is the reason you can’t do any right now.

After all, loyalty is such a wonderful quality, right? You wouldn’t fault yourself for being loyal.

But you should, when it’s aimed in the wrong direction — one that could cost you your dream of earning a living as a freelance writer.

Where your loyalty should lie

Anytime you catch yourself experiencing feelings of loyalty to a low-paying client — wishing you had better clients but feeling you should stick with this loser just because they’re already a client, and you have all this history together…stop.

Take a step back.

And ask yourself this important question: Why are you in business?

I’d bet it’s to pay your bills, or to feed your family. The people in your life who depend on you — they are the people who deserve your loyalty.

Your business that helps those people is what you should be loyal to. If you don’t care about it and make it grow, nobody else will.

You need to act in the best interest of your business, before you run out of money and have to take a day job. That is priority one.

Otherwise, you’re not a business, you’re a charity. And soon you might be a charity case, too.

How to move on

Don’t delude yourself that nice people who underpay you are still good clients. They’re not. They  are sucking the life out of your business and putting your freelance writing business at risk of failure.

I know…but they’re so nice! Maybe when you chat on Skype they are. But really, they’re screwing you.

If you need to, here’s an exercise that may help: Put up a poster next to your computer with your low-paying client’s face and a little talk balloon that says, “I don’t pay you fairly, and I don’t care about you.”

Then remember that every minute you spend on a low-paying freelance writing client is a minute you’re not out finding the clients who will pay you what you need and deserve for your hard work.

Are misplaced loyalties holding back your writing career? Leave a comment and tell us about it.