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Is Your Blog Making These 10 Common Mistakes?

Enliven Your Blog

Hopefully, your blog is livelier than this-here Post-it

Earlier this week, I spent a day reviewing writer’s blogs for free. I promised I’d boil down some of the common problems I saw into a handy guide — so here it is.

The 10 most common mistakes I see writers making on their blogs:

  1. No picture of you. My motto is “people hire people.” They don’t hire a Web site, or subscribe to a blog. They hire or follow you. They want to see your smiling face so they feel a personal connection with you. Mine’s on my About page. Which brings me to…
  2. Weak, invisible or missing ‘About’ page. One of my biggest learnings in A-List is that your About page is really important. Many readers visit it before deciding whether to subscribe. I didn’t believe this when I started out, but now that I do Google in-page analytics, I can see that my About tab is the most-clicked item of anything on my home page. I used to give it short shrift — it was actually just a link to my writer site! Lame. I believe I’ve seen a real difference in my subscription rate now that I’ve taken the time to write a page specifically for my blog site, about who I am and why I write this blog.
  3. No testimonials. Somewhere on your site — your About page is good, or even in the home-page sidebar — include a testimonial from someone who loves your blog, or your copywriting, or whatever you’re trying to market. Those firsthand quotes are very impactful to visitors.
  4. Visually unappealing. Many blogs I visit are hard on the eyes. For instance, they’ve got a black background with tiny little white letters — near-impossible to read, and if you ever try to cut-and-paste a paragraph to quote, it comes out invisible. Or they’ve got three columns, including one on the left-hand side. My second big learning from A-List is that design and usability really matter. Include a nice photo with each post — it’s amazing how much more interesting your post will seem. Unclutter your site of anything extraneous. Have just one, righthand sidebar. See Zen Habits for an excellent example.
  5. Too much advertising. Ideally, you shouldn’t have any ads on your blog, or maybe just one or two. At this point in the blogosphere, I think ads are a real turnoff for many readers. If ads are working for you, great — just tread carefully and don’t overdo. But if you’ve got Google ads slapped everywhere and you’ve made $12 from them this year, take them down! This was another big insight from A-List for me, that there’s a better way to monetize your site. You can affiliate-sell products you personally use and love on a “tools and products I love” page. This makes me feel like I’m not a sleazy shill, and that instead it’s another form of useful information I’m offering my readers. It’s selling with integrity, and it’s on a tab that doesn’t clutter up your blog page.
  6. No free stuff. You will not believe how many more subscribers you get when you add a free report. People love free stuff! Wish I had gotten my free product together a year ago, but thankfully, I finally got it up as of last week.
  7. It’s anti-social. I can’t believe how many blogs I’ve seen that have no retweet button, no way to share on Facebook or other social sites. Without the social-sharing buttons, it’s like you’re blogging in a dark closet. It’s very hard for you to get discovered. Yes, the odd reader might hand-carry your link to bit.ly and put it on Twitter, but make it easy and you’ll get a lot more promotional mileage out of each post.
  8. No regular updates. If you can only post once a month, then do that — every first day of the month. People are creatures of habit, and they want to be able to count on seeing a post from you at a specific time. If you post twice a week, always do it on the same days and even at the same time of day. Show readers they can count on you.
  9. You don’t engage readers. Many bloggers have complained to me that they can’t get any comments. You can change this by asking your readers questions, and by posting entries that are all about them…like the blog laboratory post. Then, double your number of comments by responding to every single comment you get. Those commenters will feel noticed, and come back and comment again. Blogging is not a one-way broadcast — it’s a conversation. You can get more ideas from this Blog Herald post on how to create posts that get more comments. Like Capt. Jean-Luc Picard always said on Star Trek:Generations, “Engage!”
  10. Sloppy, rambling, or typo-filled writing. This should go without saying, but with a bazillion blogs in the naked city, people are looking for you to blow their minds with your writerly skill. No typos, please, and keep your posts concise. Honestly, write the heck out of each post, as if it were a $1-a-word magazine article, and your blog will take you far.

If you recognize yourself in here, don’t feel bad. I’m constantly learning new things about how to make my blog better, and changing it yet again. Even really successful bloggers make mistakes and have to learn from others. For inspiration, see this great video from Mary Jaksch of Write to Done about how her Goodlife Zen blog sucked initially.

Speaking of blogs…and Mary Jaksch…the A-List Bloggers Club reopens tomorrow! If you’ve been wanting to get amazing amounts of help monetizing your blog for just $20 a month including group support, now’s your chance.

(A weekend reminder — I do not moderate comments on Saturdays, but if you sign up for IntenseDebate or WordPress, your comments won’t be held up.)

Photo via stock.xchng user jaylopez

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5 Reasons Why My Blog Has No Writer Job Ads

Are Writer Job Ads Worth It?

Writer job ads: Helpful, or a waste of time?

Since this blog is all about helping writers earn more, it may seem strange to you that I do not provide any writing-job ads. I can tell you that I have no plans to add job listings, either.

I’ve been meaning to do this for quite a while, but let me share with you today the reasons why I don’t have job ads on Make a Living Writing:

  1. Most online job ads don’t offer good pay. Yes, there is the occasional real live, great-paying freelance writing job that pops up. I know because back when I was still scanning the online ads, I got a couple of them. But for the most part, the hours you have to spend sifting through the garbage (“Write us a sample for free!” “You’ll get exposure!” “We’ll pay you for traffic!” “We want you to post 10 times a week for $50!”) make trolling online job ads one of the least time-effective ways to find truly lucrative gigs.
  2. Writers already waste too much time on online job ads. Practically every writer I’ve ever worked with in my mentoring practice has confessed to me that they can easily blow four hours a day or more obsessing over these easy-to-find online ads, rather than turning to more effective marketing methods such as cold-calling, in-person networking, email marketing, using your social network, or sending well-crafted queries. It is so easy to fritter away the hours mooning over these ads, fantasizing about getting these gigs, and crafting submissions. I don’t want to contribute to this problem by listing more job ads here on the blog.
  3. Mass ads are too competitive. When you’re seeing a Craigslist ad, you know that 200 people are going to respond. Your simple odds of getting noticed and hired are tiny. Is this really the battle you want to fight? I try to encourage writers to seek out specialized, niche job boards such as Gorkana’s alerts on financial and healthcare-related writing jobs. I got a major gig off Gorkana this year, so I know this strategy works. Since I can’t possibly hunt up specialized jobs for everyone’s niche, I prefer to stay out of the whole job-board racket and steer people to good resources.
  4. Applying to online job ads is passive and often demoralizing. When you’re applying to online job ads, it’s a passive dynamic. You’re letting the universe tell you what’s available. Where with pro-active marketing strategies such as cold-calling, querying, or networking, you are empowering yourself to get the clients you want. This is the mindset I want to encourage writers to have — that you are in control of your freelance-writing career. Many writers have written to me about their feelings of despair at applying to jobs they know hundreds of others are going after. You can easily send 10 or 20 resumes a week and get not one peep. This does not help keep your psyche in a positive head space about being a freelance writer!
  5. Other writing sites have writer job ads already. If you still really want to troll the ads, you can head on over to Anne Wayman’s site, About Freelance Writing. She puts up job listings three times a week, and does a good job of compiling them from many sources. In case you’re wondering, I’m not recommending you look at her job ads because I’m putting on Webinars with Anne and like her personally, but because I think it’s useful that her ads are only three times a week and not every day. This performs a certain awesome triage in culling the ads, in that there’s usually a day or two of delay before her ads go up. That means all the really lame, mass ads will have dead links soon after she posts them — and that helps you avoid wasting time. Any professional company that needs something specialized and offers real pay will have their ad up for a week at least, so you miss nothing valuable. And it keeps you out of the cesspit of looking at online ads daily and wasting umpty-leven additional hours. If you commit to only looking three days a week instead of five, you’ve freed up two days for other marketing tasks that might prove more productive.

Do you think I should have online job ads? Leave a comment and let me know your experience finding work through the ads.

Photo via Flickr user an1m8or

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10 Ways Freelance Writers Can Banish Fear

To be a successful freelance writer, you need to be truly fearless. If you’re afraid to put yourself and your writing out there, you miss out on opportunities that might have brought you more income.

How To Deal With Freelance Writing Fears

Is fear holding you back from earning more as a freelancer?

In mentoring many writers, I have yet to meet one whose problem is that they don’t write well. More often, their problem is self-confidence. Fear is holding them back from marketing aggressively — from going after the gigs they really want.

If you feel hobbled by fear in your writing career, this post is for you. Today, I’m going to provide you with 10 concrete tools for vanquishing your fears. I hope at least one of them will help you move beyond fear in the coming year.

  1. Live the fear. If you can find a way, try to experience your worst fear. The exercise will end that fear’s power over you. An example: I began my writing career as a starving teenage songwriter. I’d head off each week to an old stone office building on Hollywood Boulevard to have my songs shredded by my writing group. If our instructor sensed I was feeling timid, she’d say, “What are you afraid of?” I’d say something like “Everyone will laugh at me and I’ll be embarrassed.” And she’d say, “OK, let’s do it!” Then I’d sing the song, while all the other group participants laughed at me, quite loudly. Usually, I’d end up laughing too, because it was so obvious that a) that would probably never really happen and b) so what if it does? You don’t die of it or anything.
  2. Lighten up. I find a lot of fear comes from taking ourselves too seriously. Try to have a sense of humor about the mistakes you make in writing — say, misspelling a word in an 80-point front-page headline, as I did during a stint editing an alternative paper. Articles will have errors. Personal essays will be ridiculed. But in the great scheme of things, it’s still pretty minor. We live to write another day, and people’s memories are short. When things go wrong with our writing, we can either laugh or cry about it. Choose to laugh.
  3. Get a perspective. Back when I was that starving songwriter, I used to have terrific stage fright. To loosen up, I would think just before I went on that whether I rocked or bombed that night, I could be certain that one billion Chinese could care less.
  4. Break it down into smaller steps. Do you feel overwhelmed and frightened by all the options out there, and by everything you know you should be doing to move your writing career along your desired path? When you feel this kind of fear, stop looking at the big picture. Take your big wish list and break it down into this month’s to-do list — what could you reasonably get done in the next 30 days? Suddenly, the marketing plan or the writing assignment seems doable.
  5. It’s not about you. So many writers are crushed if they send off a query and don’t get a yes. To which I say: Your view is too self-centered. There are a million possible reasons for the lack of response that have nothing to do with you. That editor may have had a death in the family, quit their job, or just be too swamped to read it. Stop fearing personal condemnation and realize you’re just searching the universe for the fit that’s right, for both you and the publication.
  6. Stop experiencing rejection. Rejection is just a feeling in your head. Make a decision not to react to a “no” on a query as a rejection. Not getting this gig may turn out to be positive in so many ways. Maybe that editor would have been a terror, or that project would have kept you from taking a much better one that was coming shortly. Trust that you will find a match between your talents and the marketplace.
  7. Know that freelancers rule. People with full-time jobs are the ones who should be scared — millions of them have been laid off and have no income. In the past five years of freelancing, I’ve never lost all my clients at once! We are perfectly positioned for the 21st Century economy. Experts believe this is not a temporary, recession-era trend, and that more service jobs will be done freelance in the future. We’re the ones with job security.
  8. Get rid of negative beliefs. Did you know that as a human being, you have unlimited potential for personal growth? We read inspiring stories of human endeavor every day, and yet think “that couldn’t be me.” But it can! Banish “I can’t” from your vocabulary, and simply vow to get out there and try.
  9. Learn more. Do you have a feeling deep down in the pit of your stomach that you don’t know enough about the type of writing you’re trying to do? And that makes you afraid to put your work out there? If so, there’s a remedy for this — take a class. Join a writing group and have your work critiqued. As you learn more, you’ll gain confidence that you’re qualified to handle better-paying writing assignments.
  10. Get spiritual. Do you believe in a higher power, and that you’re not here by accident? Then you probably feel this higher power is arranging experiences in your life for your benefit — these events were put there on purpose for your character development. That means if you screw up an assignment or don’t get one, it’s because you needed to learn a life lesson from that experience. When you think of it that way, you have to ask: What am I afraid of? In my tradition, services often conclude with a hymn that contains the well-known phrase “into Your hands I commit my spirit” and ends: “You are my God; I won’t be afraid.” Harness your faith in the Source to banish your fear.

What do you do to vanquish your fears and move forward with your writing career? Leave a comment and let us know.

Subscribe to Make a Living Writing, so you’re sure to be there when I’m giving out free stuff later this week.

Photo via stock.xchng user dyet

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Writers: Get Feedback on Your Blog — Free!

Blog Laboratory(NOTE: The free blog review day is now over. But you can still benefit from all the advice I gave — just check out the blogs listed in the comments and then click on ‘1 reply’ to see my reviews.)

Would you like some free advice on how to improve your blog? Here’s your chance.

Leave me a link to your blog in the comments below, ask any questions you have about how to grow your audience or make it better, and I’ll reply with some tips. It’s just that simple!

I’ve been asked to do this kind of thing in the past, but I didn’t feel qualified.

Now that I’ve spent some time in A-List Bloggers Club, I’ve made a lot of changes to my own site, been named a finalist in the Top 10 Blog for Writers contest. I’ve seen my site grow its traffic to more than 300,000 hits a month and begin to earn its keep. So at this point, I feel like I have some useful insight to offer on what makes a good blog.

If you’re wondering why I’m willing to do this, know that taking a look at your blogs will  help me, too.

I’m getting ready to put on my next Webinar with Anne Wayman, and it’ll be on breaking in and earning big in freelance writing. Having a strong blog is definitely a key tool for freelance writers these days. So seeing your blogs and hearing your questions will help us to design the Webinar so that it delivers the information you need most. Stay tuned for more blogs soliciting your questions in the next month or so.

Thanks go out to Amy Spreeman for suggesting that I hold a “blog laboratory.” Thanks for participating in my writer poll in October, Amy!

Let the blog laboratory begin! Bwa hahahaha…um, sorry, saying “blog laboratory” makes me feel like a mad scientist.

Leave your blog info below for a free critique! I’ll close comments for this post tomorrow morning (Wednesday), so don’t delay.

Later this week, I’ll boil down the learnings and offer some tips for a great writer’s blog. Subscribe and you won’t miss them.

(NOTE: The one-day free blog review time has now expired. Thanks to all who participated!)

Photo via stock.xchng user 123dan321

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Will You Be Singing the Freelancer’s January Low-Income Blues?

The Low Income Writer BluesI’ve noticed something about my freelance writing income. It always goes to crap in January.

Does this happen to you?

I’ve developed a theory about why the first month of the year is often a loser, and I’m going to test it out this year.

My theory: Income sucks in January because marketing tends to slack off in December.

After all, it’s the holidays! Everyone’s on vacation, editors are out, you’re busy with family. The next thing you know, it’s January 3, there you are in the office, looking at a kind of empty slate of assignments.

When you’re trying to earn big in freelance writing, having a “down” month is a problem. We need to find ways to keep the income flowing consistently.

Two ways to beat the January low-income blues

I was talking to my longtime Seattle writer-friend Sharon Baker (yeah, the one that saved my butt by recording my Webinar), and we got to discussing the January-revenue problem. She shared a great strategy she’s using to make sure her January schedule is full:

1) Call existing clients and drum up work. Sharon’s been calling around to her clients to put a bug in their ear about what they might want from her next year. This is a great way to start the year with assignments, and Sharon had already found an assignment or two for January this way. (After she reminded me about this, I placed a couple calls to existing clients of mine about work for next year!)

Many companies set their marketing budgets for 2011 now, so it’s the perfect moment to check in. It doesn’t have to be anything pushy, just, “Hi, I’m starting to look at my plans for January, and I’m wondering what I can learn about your needs for next year.”

This is also a good move because if you’ve been fantasizing that an ongoing client is going to keep rolling into 2011, but in reality they’re done with you, now’s the time to find that out. Getting the word early gives you more time to market and find a replacement gig if one of your clients is headed into the sunset.

Personally, I’ve been mostly using another strategy to try to fill up my 2011 calendar:

2) Push projects into January. I’ve gotten several calls from new prospects in the past couple weeks. Since my December is already as full as I want it (because I’m taking the last week of the year off), I made them each this pitch: “Wow, your project sounds interesting and I’d love to work on it, but we’re kind of headed into the holidays. Could I start your project first thing in January?” I’ve already got two projects I lined up this way.

It’s a pretty easy pitch to make — December is a fairly unproductive month for many people, who want to head out on vacations. I ask if we can have a quick phone meeting this month to firm up details, and then start after New Year’s. Seems to be working for me.

How do you plan to beat the January low-income blues? Leave a comment and tell us your strategy. Or beat the blues by subscribing to Make a Living Writing and getting free tips on how to earn more from your writing. Coming up later this week, I’ll be giving readers free feedback on their blogs.

Photo via stock.xchng user hakill

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Why I Hired a Writing Mentor — Part 1: I Wanna Quit My Day Job

Susannah NoelBy Susannah Noel

Here’s the story of why I hired Carol Tice to be my writing-business mentor:

I need a job that’s flexible and can also pull down a solid income.

A couple years ago, I decided this job could be copywriting. Not anything literary, of course — but business writing, for websites, newsletters, and blogs.

In the spring of 2010, I was lucky to land a 9-to-5 position as a marketing manager for a website developer. Now I write all day, and I’ve learned a ton. But I still need to edit books in the evenings and on the weekends to make ends meet.

Because my job is an hour away, I have very little time to spend with my kids. So as much as I like my 9-to-5 gig, something has to change.

I’ve decided I need to go freelance full-time.

Of course, that’s easier said than done. Becoming a well-paid freelancer is a great goal — but how do I take the first step?

Maybe a Mentor?

A few weeks ago, in one of my furtive, late-night surfing sessions, I came across Carol’s article, How I Make $5,000 a Month as a Paid Blogger.

To be honest, it made me a little sick with envy. I blog at my 9-to-5 job, not unlike what Carol does — but even with additional freelance editing on the side, I don’t make nearly as much. But at the same time, I was exhilarated. If someone else can do it, I thought, maybe I can, too.

Then I noticed Carol’s page on mentoring. And my little puff of exhilaration grew into a gale-force wind. I had a plan.

I wrote a quick blog post on my new idea to hire a writing mentor — Carol very kindly posted a comment — and suddenly, I was being mentored. Just like that.

Carol Delivers

After I gathered my samples and sent Carol a list of my interests, she and I got on the phone for a delicious two-hour-long phone call.

It was like drinking a tall glass of water, after years of only sipping it by the teaspoonful. I finally got the nuts and bolts information I needed — not from a book or an online article, but from a real writer, talking only to me and my situation. Here’s what we talked about:

  • Potential markets that make sense for me, and how and to whom to pitch my ideas
  • How to improve my website, including what focus I could give to my blog
  • Creative ways I can network locally
  • The possibility of adding additional services to my repertoire, in addition to writing and editing
  • What I need to do financially to make a freelance business succeed — the rates I should charge and the amount of money I should save before I launch out on my own

Even before we hung up, she’d sent me several lists with resources, tips for how to find writing gigs online, and a list of action items. I suddenly had pages and pages of ideas on how to move forward. Here are the ones that most intrigued me:

Potential markets. For a year I’ve written newsletter copy for a local arts college. Carol suggested I build on that and develop college communications as one of my niches. We also discussed how I could parlay my experience writing copy for an accountant-focused Web developer into business-finance blogging.

Networking. I live in Vermont, a small state with fewer networking opportunities than elsewhere. But Carol had the brilliant idea that I could host a Mediabistro party. I love the way this busts through limitations and makes its own rules. No networking event? So make your own!

Improve my website. Over at my Vermont copywriter website, I had slapped some pages together without too much thought, figuring it was better to have something than nothing. Carol agreed — but she also suggested several easy updates that would instantly make the site more professional.

For example, she pointed out that my landing page would benefit from a professional tone and approach, and I could move the more casual, personal details to an About page. She also thought I could shift the focus of my blog from writerly thoughts to SEO discussion, given that I do SEO work at my full-time job.

The Power of Speaking It

But perhaps even more helpful, Carol directly addressed my disbelief that I could actually do this, actually become a full-time writer with enough money in the bank.

She told me about the Jewish Baruch She’amar prayer:

Blessed is the one who spoke, and the world came into being, blessed is He.

“This prayer is about how God created this world by speaking. We’re created in God’s image, and we speak our reality into being also,” said Carol. “The more you tell people you are making this transition to full-time freelancing, the more it will become real.”

I’m not religious, but this resonated with me. I felt a shift in my mind-set — from wishing, to deciding.

Here I Go…

Of course, for my freelance career to take flight, I need to do more than get my positive attitude on. I need to start marketing, pitching, and, most of all, writing.

So that’s what I’m doing — step by step. This week, I sent Carol my to-do list for December. I’m going to work on my website, research companies and people to pitch, and take a training course on writing for B2B copywriting.

It’s one tiny move forward at a time — but, finally, it’s my reality.

Susannah Noel is a Vermont-based business and marketing copywriter delivering meticulous SEO copy that drives traffic and boosts sales.

Follow Susannah’s journey from day-job copywriter to freelance writer — subscribe to Make a Living Writing.

Are you trying to make the leap from day job to freelance writing? Done it already? Leave a comment and tell us how you did it, or what your plan is for leaving 9-5 behind.

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