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The Critical Networking Step Many Writers Miss

Networking Requires Immediate Follow upIt’s confession time. This past week, I made a tragic error.

I washed a pair of my husband’s pants.

No, I do laundry around here. It’s not that.

It’s that inside a small side pocket of the pants, it turned out, were about 30 business cards my hubby had collected at a big networking event several days before. It was a multi-chamber, all-county networking event at a local casino. Sort of a once-a-year opportunity.

The cards were turned into mush in the wash. Totally unreadable. I should have checked the pants more thoroughly before washing.

I felt so bad! After all, I had been the one encouraging him to get out and more aggressively network to find clients for his new Web-video business.

What allowed this mishap to occur was…it had never crossed my mind that the business cards would still be in the pants! Because what was the point of collecting those business cards?

So you can follow up right away with all your new leads! This is the missing link in networking, the critical step so many new networkers — freelance writers and all other types of freelancers, too — so often overlook.

When I get home from a networking event, before I even put my purse down, I get out the business cards I’ve collected from wherever I’ve squirreled them away. Then I walk them straight over to my desk and put them down right next to the monitor. That way, they’ll be the first thing I see when I’m next in the office, and I’ll get straight to my followup.

Those leads are gold. They represent thousands of dollars of potential new business. Great new relationships. Fun new friends.

You’d be crazy to leave them lying around, or shoved in a pants pocket.

Without followup, networking is often a total waste of time. The people you talked to also spoke to dozens of other people. It’s all a blur! You need to make another connection and start building the relationship.

Connect with them on LinkedIn. Start following them on Twitter. Send them a quick “Nice to meet you!” email. Send them a contact for someone you know who might fit a need they have. Email them an interesting article, your resume, or whatever other followup is appropriate to the conversation you had. Update your marketing calendar to get in touch with these new leads again in a month or two.

Sometimes, prospects need a while to come around to the idea of working with you. I’ve had networking connections take a full year of development before they offered me a gig.

So follow up. Get in touch. Or your networking is as useful as that soggy stack of unreadable business cards I sadly fished out of the laundry.

Photo via Flickr user PolandMFA

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Writers Who Want to Earn More Find Ways to Learn More

Freelance Writing ClassroomBy Carol Tice

Do you feel like your writing career has hit a wall? If you can’t seem to move up and land better-paying assignments, know that there’s a proven way to break this blockade.

You need to learn more. You might need to learn more about how to write in magazine style, or how to market your writing, or how to write an enthralling first-person essay, or how to write compelling brochures, or how to report stories for a same-day deadline. The exact area of missing knowledge will be different for every writer.

A commitment to lifelong learning is a must for writers with big career dreams. There are three main ways I know to advance your learning about the craft and business of writing. They are:

1) Go to school. You don’t have to attend Columbia and get a master’s degree in journalism (though I’ve heard the connections you get from that are amazing). When I first realized I was becoming a freelance writer, I found a few night classes I could take through UCLA Extension. At the time, I was out-to-here pregnant with my first child…but I waddled off to class, because I knew I needed to find out more about how writing worked if I was going to support my growing family! I studied magazine writing, copywriting, and journalism ethics.

I’d probably be nowhere now without those three courses. They helped me analyze what I was doing fairly well intuitively, understand why and when a story worked well, and learn how to do it better. I learned how to do a professional interview.

Besides what I learned, taking those classes gave me confidence that I knew what I was doing. That confidence helped me pitch story ideas, get published, and eventually, land my first full-time staff-writing job.

These days, you can take classes through writer’s associations, Writer’s Digest, Media Bistro, and many others, not to mention your local community college. There are classes to fit every writer’s schedule and budget. In recent months, I’m trying to catch free one-hour teleseminars whenever I can on emerging writing forms such as blogging and social media.

2) Get a staff writing job. Before there was j-school, this is how everybody learned how to write for a living: They got a job at a newspaper, an alternative paper, a small journal. Then they wrote, and wrote, and wrote. It’s hard to do the volume of writing as a freelancer that you are asked to do as a staffer.

I find when I talk to really successful freelance writers, it’s rare that somewhere in their past, they have not had at least a one-year, full-time gig. I worked 12 years full-time at two different publications, and that volume of work — well more than 1,000 fully reported articles filed for just one of those two publications! — trained me up as a writer like possibly nothing else ever could. Having to find four story ideas every week, pitch them, get them approved, find sources, report them, write them, and turn them in on time breeds terrific discipline, develops your news nose, and gets you hundreds of contacts.

And you just write and write and write. You learn how to write a great article when you’re totally not in the mood. How to find so many story ideas that you never, ever run dry.

I realize it’s not falling off a log these days to get a full-time writing gig. But look around — you never know what opportunities you might find. Even a three-month internship would be a huge learning experience.

3) Find a mentor. Getting someone to school you one-on-one about the writing biz can be a quick route to radically enhancing your skills. Whether it’s an editor who takes you under their wing, a writer friend who’s willing to look over your stories before publication, or a professional writing mentor, seek out someone who can help you take your skills up a notch.

Have you done some learning to advance your writing career? Tell us how you learned what you needed to know, and how that knowledge changed your writing career.

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

Photo via Flickr user James Sarmiento

How to Earn Well as a Freelance Writer–When English is Your Second Language

Freelance Writing With English as a Secondary LanguageI heard from two different writers last week who had a similar quandary: How to earn well from writing, even though English is not their first language. Obviously, this poses an additional challenge beyond what most U.S. writers face. But I know it’s still possible to carve out a successful freelance career.

Since I’m afraid I’ve forgotten almost all of my college German and have never tried to get paid writing assignments in another language, for help on this question I turned to a bilingual writer-friend of mine from LinkedIn Editors & Writers who has a thriving career, Randy Hecht. She speaks fluent Spanish, and has written for such cool publications as National Geographic Traveler Mexico, the Spanish-language version of the AARP magazine, and Colombia’s El Tiempo.

The first question is from a journalism student, Aline Barros, who is from Brazil:

I live in Maryland. I found your blog through research on Google. Here is my story: I used to be a student in Brazil and my major was journalism. I am completely passionate about it.

However, I moved to the USA and because at that time (6 years ago) I did not know how to speak English, I decided to give up journalism. Do you know when you do not feel good enough for something? That is what I felt.

Thank God that feeling passed and I am in school again, and pursuing journalism. My biggest problem is that I do not know what to do after I graduate. Should  I just be a freelancer? I just want to write. Writing is what I love. Could you give me some advice? I just feel a little lost.

Even if you do not reply, thank you so much for reading. Your work is amazing and I love the way you write.

Thanks for writing, Aline! Here’s Randy’s answer:

Bilingual skills are always a plus, but Aline has an extra edge as someone who has native knowledge of Brazil’s language and culture. Global-minded businesses and the publications that cover their interests are paying close attention to the BRIC countries—Brazil, Russia, India and China—all regarded as having growing importance in the global economy. The US consumed 14% of Brazil’s exports in 2008, and Brazil in turn consumed 14.9% of US exports. That’s not as huge an exchange of goods as we have with our biggest trading partners, but it’s a good base with lots of growth potential. And that, er, translates to a big opportunity for a journalist or business writer who is fluent in Brazilian Portuguese and immersed in both Brazilian and US culture.

I speak from experience. Although my company, Aphra Communications, works predominantly in Spanish and English with a strong focus on Mexico and Spanish-speaking South America, we include a few Brazil specialists in our network to handle interest in that country’s business practices. Several magazines, research companies and trade associations have asked for our help in gathering business intelligence about Brazil, and that’s not even our primary area of expertise. If Aline is interested in business writing or business journalism, her timing couldn’t be better.

Here’s my other question, from Nisha, a writer in India:

As a Freelance writer who couldn’t even break the barrier of $10 per article, I would like to hear from you.

1 – The majority [90%] of the buyers on forums and bidding sites are not ready to make a decent [NOT a high] payment simply because I’m not a ‘NATIVE’ speaker. How can I fight back on this discrimination?

2 – When we are competing with the ‘craps’ who are more than happy to work at rates, say $2 per 500 words, tips to outperform?

3 – Do you have any tips to get rid of this ‘Nativity’ syndrome?

While I didn’t pass Nisha’s letter on to Randy, I think the advice here is similar. Like Aline, Nisha needs to better leverage her knowledge of one of the world’s largest, fastest-growing economies!

One clue to the strategy is in Nisha’s response — “Buyers on forums and bidding sites are not ready to make decent payments to non-native speakers.” So…stay off the forums and bidding sites! That’s not where the good-paying clients are, even for native English-speaking writers.

Instead, you’ll need to prospect actively for markets where instead of a negative, your knowledge of another culture and language will be considered a big plus! It could be publications looking for writers with an understanding of both languages and cultures. It might be an English-language publication in India or Brazil, where they might appreciate your U.S. knowledge enough to mentor you a little on your English. Or perhaps an American paper for Brazilian or Indian expatriates, written in their native language or a mix of Hindi and English (or Brazilian Portuguese). Network with other bilingual writers for leads on publications that might be appropriate. Aline could also work with professors while she’s still in school to get help developing some solid prospects to call.

Or, as Randy suggests, research companies that have strong export or import relationships with the U.S. Perhaps they need marketing help from someone their executives can relate to because they speak the managers’ home-country language fluently?

Do a little research on their existing marketing and see where you might spot a void you could fill. Maybe they need a newsletter, product descriptions, some Web content in English, to help them find American buyers? Call or email them and introduce yourself and your services.

One other suggestion: Consider finding a native English speaker to team with for bilingual customers. Randy works in a team environment in her agency.

Overall, you’ll need to look for situations that turn your bilingual and non-native status into a plus, rather than a minus.

I’d love to hear from other non-native English speakers with any other tips they have for Aline, Nisha and other ESL writers! Leave a comment below.

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Photo via Flickr user jammick

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3 Simple Steps to Create Consistently Awesome Web Content

Excellent Writing Content ChartEarlier this week, I described how to find lucrative Web content clients. Now, we’ll assume you’ve gotten a client. The next step is to write Web content the client loves.

How can you make sure you do that? Here are three simple steps to writing killer content:

Ask a lot of questions. Bad Web content happens when writers rush off to write with only a vague idea of what should be on the Web pages they’ve been asked to create. Don’t skimp on research! The more you learn about your client company, the better they will like your Web pages. Once you’ve defined page lengths and deadlines with your client, here are some key questions to ask:

1. Why is this content being created? What is the goal here?

2. Who is the target audience?

3. What points of difference make this company stand out from competitors that I can describe in the content?

4. What similar company Web sites do you think do a good job in your industry, that I should look at?

5. Are there existing company marketing materials these Web pages should relate to in terms of style and content? If so, may I have copies?

6. Who else should I talk to at the company to learn more?

7. Are there customers I should get testimonials from for these pages?

8. Should I tour the plant, visit the store, drive around with a sales rep, or take other steps to gather more details on what you do?

9. What do you see as the ‘voice’ of your site? Is it friendly, authoritative, approachable, casual, funny, businesslike? Name three adjectives that describe the company personality you’d like to see expressed in the tone of your site.

Does this sound like a lot of work? It often is! But talking to an expert in a product or service, and gathering a lot of company background, will make the actual writing so easy.

Listen to their language — then, use it. Listen carefully to the exact words your company sources use as they talk about their products or services. Take detailed notes. Do they talk about “providing expert guidance” a lot? Say their toys are “the best-made in the industry”?

When you go to write, use exactly these phrases. Don’t get all cocky and “creative” and think your job as the writer is to come up with other ways to say what they just said. Instead, make the site sound just like them. Clients will be blown away. “That’s exactly what I was looking for!” will be a typical comment. Sure, you may need to vary these phrases so you’re not saying the exact same thing 10 times on a page. But stick to the spirit of what they told you as you craft the content. Get out a thesaurus if need be to find other words that are close to their favorite phrases.

Capture their tone. If the CEO is a pretty straight-arrow, formal, suit-wearing kind of guy, don’t use contractions.

Imagine the head of the company is going to read your page out loud to prospective customers. Create something that would work for that.

Deal with rewrites professionally. This is the stage where many new writers run into trouble. You thought your first draft was amazing…but your client may want lots of changes. Several different company teams or individuals may separately make suggestions. You may want to limit the number of rewrite rounds you allow before charging more in your contract.

The key at this phase is to stay calm, open-minded and professional. Remember, ultimately, it’s their Web site. They’re the boss.

Especially when you’re starting out, don’t be too worried about how initial projects break out in terms of hourly wage. They may not pencil out well, as you’re learning how to do great Web content here. All that really matters is that the project is a big success, the company is thrilled, and you get a sample you can proudly show your next crop of prospects.

Do you have any other tips, or questions about how to deliver great Web content? Leave a comment below.

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Photo via Flickr user Digital Markketing

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7 Steps to Finding Good-Paying Web Content Clients

Writing Website Content is Hit and MissIn the big discussion of Demand Studios’ IPO last week, some questions came up about how to find better-paying clients. It’s something I’ve discussed before, but we can never talk enough about the many ways you can move up and earn more money here on MALW. So today, I thought I’d tackle one of the easiest types of clients to find — businesses that need Web content.

This niche is really like shooting fish in a barrel. Why? Because you can just look on the Internet at Web sites, find the ones that suck the worst, and call the company.

It’s really that simple. Here are some steps to take to identify good Web-content prospects:

1. Find local companies. Possible strategies for finding prospects: Get a Book of Lists for your town. Grab your local Chamber’s business directory, or visit the Chamber and grab one of every brochure in the rack. Or just drive through a local business park or your nearest downtown shopping district, and make a list of local business company names.

If you’re just starting out in copywriting, or in Web-content writing, I recommend focusing on companies in your town. You’re more likely to be able to make a connection with a company you can come down and meet with in person. If you have a special knowledge area — legal, retail, nonprofit, accounting, whatever — further narrow your search to companies in that industry. You may not have Web content samples, but maybe you have articles, brochures or other work in their industry, which would help pave the way to convincing them you’re the writer for the assignment.

How can you zero in on better-paying clients? Try to get a sense from their site of the value of what they sell. What do you think this company makes in a year? A medium-sized law firm, for instance, likely has a very healthy cash flow. A successful, growing retailer with multiple locations — same. You can also do Google searches to see if the company has gotten any press, and if so, if they mentioned company revenue. In my experience, business-to-business companies are more desirable targets than consumer-focused companies…it may be me, but they seem to more often have substantial marketing budgets. If a company sells $500,000 engines to automotive companies, they’re probably a better target than one that sells $5 toys at craft fairs.

Prioritize companies that are good candidates for ongoing work — they constantly introduce new products, or want to keep a blog updated weekly. Steady clients that will have work each month are always more desirable — and end up generating more revenue — than those seeking to simply add a few new Web pages to their site and call it done.

2. Look online. Now take your list and find all the company Web sites in your target geography and industries. Take a browse through them. Shortly, it will become clear to you that some of their sites are awesome and detailed, while some have real problems. The losers have important pieces missing — no strong “About us” page, no team bios, no details on what their products or services do and how they benefit customers. Reading the site, you can’t figure out what they do, how long they’ve been in business, who their clients are, who the people are running the company. These are your prospects.

3. Prepare a pitch. Take notes about the state of the Web sites. ABC company has no verbiage whatever on their home page, just a list of links! XYZ company has no media page with press contacts. RFQ company has a blog set up, but it hasn’t been updated in three months. And so on. Create a pitch tailored for each one that goes something like this:

“I’d like to introduce myself — I’m a local freelance writer. I was looking at your Web site recently, and noticed it doesn’t have ______. I’d be happy to take a few minutes to talk with you about how adding a ___ to your Web site would help drive more traffic to your site/get your company noticed/build your reputation and bring you more clients.” (If you haven’t pitched companies before, know that everything you say should tie in to the company finding more business. That is why they hire writers — they’re hoping your words will attract more customers.)

4. Call or email prospects. I’ve had good luck with both methods of reaching out, but do whatever you feel suits your personal communication style. Some writers give great phone, while some craft really catchy emails that get results. To start, identify the businesss owner (if it’s a small biz) or the marketing manager (if it’s a medium to larger one). Find their phone number or email address, and get in touch.

5. Have examples. If you don’t have examples of your own Web content work, just find a few sites that you think are well-done (by competitors of your target, ideally) so you can show them what effective content looks like and point up how their site is lacking in comparison. Business owners don’t like to feel they look lame when compared with similar businesses.

6. Be prepared to build a relationship. In my experience, your first contact with a small business about writing Web content will often not result in an instant sale (though sometimes it does!). More often, you may need to have several conversations that may string out over weeks or months as the company decides exactly what new content should be written. Start a tracking system for staying in touch periodically with these prospects. Send them interesting articles about why adding a blog would help their business…don’t necessarily hard-sell them every time you chat. Don’t invest a ton of time, as this may or may not pay off, but show you’re a useful resource who knows about how to use the Internet to help businesses grow. This week, I’m finally signing a lucrative contract with one financial-services consultant who I’ve been speaking with all year.

7. Quote a decent rate. Web-content rates are all over the map. If you’re new, start at $100 a page at least. And know that Web pages should be short — 300-400 words is plenty. If they have more to say, they should create subpages (which you should also charge $100 for!). They want blogs? Think $100 per. Pay can range up to $1 a word, $150 an hour, and more in my experience. Rates will depend on the complexity of the information you need to convey on the company site. Need to write about foreign currency trading or actuarial consulting? It’s probably going to pay more than writing about a pizza parlor.

But remember: If you quote a lowball rate, you’ll write for low rates. Try to get the client to mention a budget first, and then negotiate from there. Stick to your guns on what you think is fair pay.

Photo via Flickr user nickHiebert

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Staff Writing Job vs Freelance Writing — Which is Best?

The Difficult Writing ChoicesI recently got a question from MALW reader Dan Smith. He’s a cool guy (his URL is itsdansmith — great solution for someone with a common name!) living in the UK 300 miles from London, who’s built up a substantial freelance writing business on the side, while his full-time job is in business consulting. Here’s his story:

 

I’ve been a freelance writer for a few years now and I’m developing my career, so that the income I receive from writing can support my girlfriend and I comfortably, as well as in the future, any children we have.

Me and my girlfriend have been thinking about moving to London.  We have family in the city and every time we visit we love it and don’t want to leave. The problem is that with the cost of living substantially higher in London (for example, our mortgage on a 2 bedroom house is just short of £400 a month – the 2 bedroom apartments we’re looking at in London are around £300 a week), I need to increase my income.

I think ideally I’d like to carry on freelancing.  I’ve spent the past few years developing my career (although it has only been the last 8 months where I’ve really took a grip of it and pushed it forward) and it would seem a waste to slow this progression right down. However, doing a quick search on some job websites there’s a whole host of full time writing jobs available in London with salaries around the £30-35k mark (roughly $46-54k?), which would be a enough to live on, especially if my girlfriend got a job of around the same salary.

Yes, I could do what I do now and work during the day and freelance evenings, but the reason I’m moving to London is to enjoy the city.  I’ll probably still do some freelance work, but I don’t really want to be working from 9am to 9pm.

I’m just looking for a bit of advice really, Carol.  Should I develop my freelance writing career (I’d need to double my earnings) or should I take a full time writing role (and still freelance a little to supplement my income)?

Whew, lots of questions in there! But basically it boils down to: freelance, or full time? The answer depends a lot on your personality type and your ultimate goals for your writing career. On the freelance side:

Do you enjoy the hustle of finding clients, tracking down payments, the thrill of landing new accounts, the variety you get as a freelancer? The freedom to earn an unlimited amount and keep your own hours? Do you love working in your shorts?

Or do you hate networking, feel lonely in a home office, and feel nervous about finding enough work? Does the idea of getting out there and finding twice as many clients seem doable and exciting to you, or overwhelming? When you think about having kids around, would you like to be able to make your own schedule with them, or are you cool seeing them for dinner and on weekends while you work in town long days? Your gut reactions to these questions will give you some clues.

Also, could you maybe supplement your freelance writing with some freelance business consulting work like you do in your current full-time job? Maybe between the two you could have a full income from all freelancing?

On the full-time staff-writing side, my thoughts come from my experience having had two full-time staff gigs that lasted a total of 12 years.

First off, just because you see a bunch of full-time writer ads doesn’t mean you can get one of those jobs. Every employer I talk to who’s looking for full-timers tells me they get 200 resumes for every job. So odds are probably long on landing one of the gigs. Definitely secure a job before moving to London, rather than moving to London in hopes of lining one up! (And then your girlfriend also needs a good-paying a job in London, too, so there are a lot of ifs in that equation.)

A little insight on staff writing jobs: In my experience, they usually involve something like coming up with four story ideas, reporting them, writing them, and turning them in, each and every week, week after week, year after year. And all the articles are about one select beat. Or on the copywriting side, researching and completing a large volume of assignments each week for the company, about the same basic stuff.

I found over the years that there were a select group of people who could really hack it. Many came and went quickly, as they didn’t have that many story ideas, or lacked the work ethic and discipline needed to be that kind of reliable workhorse.

At one of my staff jobs, we were never fully staffed, and we even had one person go AWOL in the middle of a trade show the staff covered, who was never seen again. People with master’s degrees in journalism regularly threw in the towel.

Guess I’m trying to say: It can be a very intense grind…or you could love the challenge and the adrenaline of always having those deadlines looming. Your editor could be a screamer, or they could be an awesome mentor who’d take your writing to the next level. They could also be the type that thinks everybody should work 9 to 9. I had one editor who liked to begin ripping up the front page again around 6 pm and was never happier than when the whole staff stayed until 10. So a full-time writing job doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have so much time to enjoy the city!

Finally, ask yourself which sounds more secure to you — locking in one full-time writing job at a set salary (which may rise over time gradually, but generally won’t shoot up skyward)…or having a diverse portfolio of freelance jobs, no one of which represents a majority of your income, which give you unlimited earning potential, but likely fluctuating monthly revenue?

For me, in this era of outsourcing, layoffs, and economic uncertainty, I think having one employer sounds scary. They have all the power over my life. They fire me and poof! I’m losing my apartment in London. They also only pay so much.

I may be biased toward freelance in part because I earn substantially more now as a freelancer than I did as a staffer — and I was a well-paid staffer. Maybe you’re the kind of hustler who’d have a better income freelance…or maybe a staff job would pay more bills. Depends on how much energy you’d be willing to put into marketing.

If you take a staff job, I’d think of it not as losing your freelance momentum, but of that freelance work having paved the way to that point where you could land a full-time job in your new field. It built the experience and clips you needed to move ahead to the next part of your career. And as you say, you can freelance on the side, or can pick up freelance writing again later in your career if you hit the point where you want out of the staff-writing life.

For every writer, there are stages to their career, and different situations may be right at different times. You can learn a heck of a lot as a staffer, and it can reliably pay a lot of bills if you find a great situation. It might solidify your transition into writing as a career.

I had one full-time stint that was so awesome, such a great learning experience, and so much outright fun, that when they handed me my pay envelope I’d always say, “All this and a paycheck too!” (Thanks Don & Rami!)

Ultimately, Dan, trust your gut about which is the right way for you to go — and best of luck getting to London! Stay in touch and let us know what you end up doing.

What’s your thinking on which road is best for you right now — full time or freelance? Leave a comment and let us know.

If you enjoyed this post, you can subscribe to Make a Living Writing to get free tips twice weekly on how to earn more from writing. You can also send me a question about your writing career, and if I think it’s of interest to my readers, I’ll answer it here on the MALW blog.

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