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Avoid the Crash When A Big Writing Project Ends

So here’s a situation a lot of freelance writers are confronted with: You’ve had a great client and been working on their great project, but now you can see the end is in sight. Soon, this project will be over.

What to do? How to prevent the income and self-esteem crash that can come when suddenly, a fat account wraps up and that party’s over.

Got an interesting comment on this topic from one of  my mentees this month, Boise freelance writer Lindsay Woolman. She’s in this exact situation right now, as she strives to find more direct clients and move away from working as a subcontractor:

Right now my only client (other than subcontracting) is a ghostwriting book project, which has been the best and good pay. I expect it will last through the end of the month. It makes me nervous to have the project end, but she has really liked my work, so it has given me more confidence.

Right on, Lindsay, about the confidence — it feels great to do a fun, lucrative project!

But you’ve got that bad, nagging feeling because it’s ending. What is that nervous feeling? It’s the feeling that you should be doing something about this. Either:

1) You do nothing. You’re going to work this account, and feel nervous until the bomb drops and suddenly you have less income. Then you’re going to be poor and scramble to try to find a replacement. Meanwhile,  you’ll be depressed because the ego boost of having this great client is gone. This is not a good scenario.

OR

2) You take action now to find a replacement client. You really can’t act fast enough. If you start a six-week project that you know will end, the day you start the job is the day to start looking for its replacement. Because finding another great client takes time!

AND

3) You keep constantly prospecting, in case a client unexpectedly shuts down. In this economy, it’s happening more and more. Even if you can’t see an end, there may be one coming.

I’ve dealt with replacing big accounts myself…one of my biggest clients ever suddenly fired my editor about a year ago, and everything changed. Though I initially still had plenty of work in the pipeline from them, I felt the writing was on the wall. This account was going to wind down.

So instead of just cruising along on my remaining projects, I started looking immediately for something else to take its place. As it turned out, I didn’t find one giant account just like it to plug in when it went away — which it did, in about 4-5 months — but I found several smaller ones which together paid roughly as much.

Life went on without much of a hitch. No panic, no depression, no big income dip. The client went away mid-year in 2009, and it still wrapped up as my highest-earning year ever, because I was aggressive about replacing this account, and others that came and went, too.

This is one of the prime strategies for becoming a higher-earning freelancer — keep your pipeline of clients and projects constantly full. If you wait for the crash and then start looking for a replacement, that delay — and in this economy who knows how big a delay it will be? — will cost you big dollars over the course of the year.

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How to Earn Well Writing Reported Articles

Write Reported Stories to Earn MoreBy Carol Tice

One of the comments I get a lot from writers who started at content sites is that they can’t imagine how they could write fully reported stories and still earn well. They take so much time! Finding sources, setting up interview times, talking to live humans. How can it possibly pencil out?

Well, I’m here to testify that when done right, reported articles are a far more lucrative way to write. Here are some tips on how professional writers earn well writing reported stories.

1. Keep your interviews short. Unless you’re doing a 3,000-word profile of somebody or something similar, I try not to spend more than 15-20 minutes talking to any particular source. This not only keeps your hourly rate for the story up, but keeps the source from entertaining delusions that they will be the whole article. Respect sources’ time and yours, have your questions ready ahead of time, and keep it brief.

2. Think before you drive. Before you get in the car, adding hours to your reporting time, ask yourself whether this needs to be an in-person interview, or if it would do just as well as a phoner. Many roundup stories don’t need in-person work. If you do need to travel for a story because you really need to see things and people to write it properly, take a single day and line up all the interviews the story needs, so you go straight from one to another. That’s my M.O. with stories that need field work.

3. Double-down on your sources. While you’re talking to sources, think about other stories you’re writing for other outlets, and whether you could use them for those pieces, too. Also pick their brains for additional stories you could pitch elsewhere. Recycling your experts really saves time, and it’s legit as long as it’s different topics for different markets.

Example: Recently, I interviewed the head of a niche recruiting company for a career story on a major jobs portal. I learned her company had gotten certified as a Beneficial or “B” Corp, which I thought was interesting so I sold that idea to a corporate business-information Web site. She was a woman business owner, so I also got her into a story for the online site of a national magazine about women who owned her business type. Total pay: more than $1,400. Not bad for a half-hour of interview time with her, plus a few other short interviews thrown into the roundups.

4. Find sources fast. Learn how to use HARO, Profnet and other source-finding tools. Find expert authors fast on Amazon books. Become a Google pro. Tweet or tell your LinkedIn crowd about your sourcing needs. You have to find exactly who you need, pronto. If you have to interview three people to find one good expert, you can’t make this pay.

5. Resell, resell, resell. Once you’ve done a topic, think about noncompeting markets you could rewrite it for with a slightly different angle and reuse your experts. A classic one: once you’ve learned about a business, ask your source where they went to college, and sell a profile about them to their college alumni magazine. If it’s a daily paper piece, see if it could be resold to dailies in other markets. Crack that Writer’s Market and find more places that could use your idea.

6. Build relationships. Don’t be a news zombie, sucking the information out of a source’s head and leaving them a dry husk by the roadside. If you think a source is articulate and knowledgeable in their field, make friends! Often, if you’re friendly, respectful and don’t waste sources’ time, you can come back to the same sources over and over for various stories — sometimes even for the same outlet. Just ask your publication if it’s OK if you use someone you’ve cited for them previously.

You don’t want to overuse this — keep finding new sources, too. But when you get stories with rush deadlines, it’s great to have built a rolodex of sources you know will return your calls.

If you need tips on how to be a crack interviewer, there’s more here on that topic.

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

Photo via Flickr user Piratenpartei Deutschland

When Writers Set Goals…And Don’t Meet Them

Failure is a Part Of the Freelance Writing JourneyLike many of you, I set some goals for my writing business for 2010. With one-quarter of the year gone, it’s time to review those goals and consider adjustments.

Personally, I already have that sinking feeling of behinder-ness I get when I see myself not meeting all my goals. I want to be steering the direction of my writing career, not floating along like a leaf on a stream, staying in a rut of familiar clients.

If you’re like me, your to-do list tends to be pretty ambitious. I don’t take things into account like spring break, and kids underfoot, and power outages…which all happened around here last week. I don’t imagine I’ll ever get a bad night’s sleep or be too tired to write. I forget I’ll need to hem my kids’ pants, help them get a science fair project ready…in a word, life will keep happening.

But all those things happen, and the goals start to slide. I also saw my list sort of upended this year by one major goal that I unexpectedly met very early in January…but that dreamed-of new account, while thrilling and lucrative, turned out to need WAY more ramp-up time than I imagined.

So here I am well into the year and I haven’t sent anything like the queries to my targeted new national magazine markets that I thought I would…one of my big goals for this year. And my ebook is STILL NOT READY…and probably won’t be until next month at the earliest.

But a lot got done. Great new clients were signed up. I paid a lot of bills, and this month is set to be my biggest of ’10. The groundwork is starting to pay off.

Now’s the time to forgive ourselves for what we haven’t gotten done. The goal list may need a little judicious pruning — but that’s OK. Breathe and let go of the feeling that we’re behind, that we’re failing. Instead, let’s celebrate the progress.  Every day we can keep freelancing and make enough that we don’t have to look for a job is a day of precious freedom. As I struggle to steer this writing ship where I want it to go, I’m going to try to remember to enjoy the trip, setbacks, bumps and all.

Photo via Flickr user fireflythegreat

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10 Killer Interview Tips for Amazing Articles

Use Interviews to Supplement Your WritingIn this bloggy, Web-based, insta-posting age, interviewing sometimes seems to be a lost art. But if you want to move up and get better-paying writing assignments,  you’ll need to conduct interviews with people. You’ll need to not just do them, but to utterly rock at interviewing.

The difference between ho-hum and great writing is often in getting wonderful quotes from sources rather than blah ones.

A lot of new writers are getting started at content sites writing quick articles that don’t require any interviews. Then suddenly, an editor or business client will call wanting to assign you a great article or project — but it requires talking to actual live humans to gather information.

Don’t let interviewing be a roadblock to growing your writing business. Here are ten tips to get you started interviewing:

1.   Research your topic and your interview subject, and prepare a question list prior to your interview time.

2.   Shut up. People hate silence, and if you’re quiet, they will likely say more.

3.   Take copious notes, and consider bringing a digital tape recorder so you can go back over the interview.

4.   Take a little time to make small talk and put the source at ease.

5.   Remember your fact basics, and find out the who, what, when, where and why. Then, go beyond these to capture a few more details that bring the story to life.

6.   Consider your written list only a starting point. As sources talk, what they say will bring up more questions.

7.   If you have questions that may upset your subject, ask them at the end of the interview, so that you get as much info as you can before they shut you down.

8.   Ask, “Who else should I talk to about this?” “Where can I learn more about this?” and/or “Who disagrees with you on this?”

9.        Ask, “Is there anything else you’d like to say on this topic that I haven’t asked about?”

10.      Always conclude with, “Where can I contact you later to check facts or ask followup questions?”

Photo via Flickr user tuppus

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Your Writer Website – Where Are the Clips?

Show Your Writing on Your WebsiteBy Carol Tice

I’ve got a bone to pick today with writer Web sites. I look at a lot of them for my mentees, and over time I’ve found many of them have the same problem.

No clips.

That’s right. You go to a writer’s Web site and they’ve got a bio, and maybe a photo…and then there’s either a vague list of places they’ve written for, or there’s a bibliography-type list of the titles and markets of previous published articles, like for a college paper or something. Or just a list of places they’ve been published.

And no links I can click on to read the stories.

So I have a question for new writers: Why do you think people are coming to your writer Web site? Hint: It’s not to read about how you were staffer for three years at the Podunk Daily News five years ago.

Visitors want to read your clips so they can decide whether to hire you.

I’ve heard every excuse for why writers don’t have clips on their site.

1. “None of my clips are currently available online.” Then get a few of them turned into PDFs and linked to your site. Yes, I do mean pay a pro to do it if you don’t know how to format and code that yourself. Your site is a complete waste without clips.

2. “I ended on a bad note with that editor, so I’m afraid to post my stuff with them.” Get over it. Nobody’s going to quiz you about how it worked out with that rag. They just want see if your writing is compelling and/or shows familiarity with the topic they want you to write about.

3. “I can’t decide which ones to put up.” Pick a dozen of your favorites on a variety of topics you’d like to get additional gigs writing about, and start there.

4. “I don’t have my site up yet.” Then put links to clips in your LinkedIn profile, or take control of your ZoomInfo profile and put them there as a way to get started with an online portfolio.

5. “Well, once I start doing that I’ll have to keep updating it when I have new articles published.” Yes, indeed, you will. I try to update my “favorites” area of my site daily, or at least weekly, with something new to keep its rankings up and to make the clips prospects see as fresh as possible when they visit.

6. “I’m too shy to brag about myself by putting clips on my site.” Aw, honey. Let me send you a hug…and then buck up and put your clips on there. You want to make a living at this, right?

7. “I just can’t seem to get around to it.” In this Internet age, there is simply nothing more important you can do to market your writing than to get a decent set of your clips linked and organized in a single spot. It just says, “This writer is a pro.” No links says you’re not.

Calls I got from prospects tripled when I did it. So get busy and organize your portfolio on your writer site. Not only does it impress prospects, but it’ll make you feel good about what you’ve accomplished.

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

Photo via Flickr user Franklin Park Library

How to Get Paid More for SEO Writing

SEO Writing Helps you Stay on Target

As promised, I have one more question to answer this week from MALW reader Gina, who asked earlier about niche blogging vs general blogging. Today, we discuss SEO and high-paid writing. Her question:

Carol, I’m curious what you think of SEO writing. There are many SEO companies that charge big dollars to provide readable SEO articles and content to clients. How many upscale online writers do or don’t write with keywords in mind? I know search engines are becoming less keyword driven, but they are still a reality. Just wondering what your thoughts are on copywriters and SEO.

Let’s start by saying there’s SEO writing, and then there’s “SEO writing,” as in all the ads you see that are looking for an “SEO writer.” In my experience, this latter title in an ad usually means “I’m looking for someone who will quickly cobble together something from a few other similar topic pages they find online and use a lot of key words to help our rankings. We don’t care if the writing’s very good.” A threat that all content will be run through Copyscape to make sure you’re not plagiarizing is the hallmark of this genre.

And the pay is crap. And established, professional copywriters have names for what this is — names like “retyping” and “article spinning.” When you say it’s “readable,” in my experience that doesn’t mean it’s usually something anyone would ever actually want to read. These are articles created primarily for search engines to read. Whether people ever read them seems to be a sort of secondary consideration.

I know what you want to tell me, Gina — you’re different and special. Your SEO writing is great copy. If so…you’re being ripped off and underpaid for what you’re delivering. Stop writing for SEO houses if you want to earn more.

Well-paid copywriters sell themselves as capable of delivering knockout information in compelling ways, so that customers of their client Web sites will be excited by what they offer, come back often, and buy products and services. These articles are written for people first, and search engines second. That’s the difference. Not everybody can write something people want to read…the pool of possible writers is smaller…and pay is better.

Do top-flight copywriters care about SEO and use keywords in online content they create? Absolutely. We try to work them into our headlines and first paragraphs, for sure. But we’re not looking to use them at some crazy ratio where they’re every third word of an article. I’m often given keywords to use by clients. The key word there is “use,” not overuse. As you note, search engines are getting smarter about keyword-dense text. Keyword density isn’t most important to most good-paying clients — their top priority is to have mind-blowingly helpful information on their site and compelling sales materials that establish them as the authority in their sector and helps them sell.

As far as the “many SEO companies that charge big dollars,” I’m not sure that’s a reality. It’s a very cutthroat industry and I think their markup isn’t that different from that of any other type of copywriting agency or middleman. Stop worrying about how much profit SEO companies are making off you, and find your own clients to earn well.

Photo via Flickr user smemon87

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