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The Best Writing Job I Ever Turned Down

Saying no is okThis is the story of the greatest freelance writing gig I ever turned down. It happened just last week.

About a year ago, I met an editor at a MediaBistro networking event who develops online content for a very large software company. Based here in Seattle. Yeah, that one.

In shmoozing him up, I discovered that he was best friends from childhood with one of my past editors…an editor who’d loved my stuff. He also knew another beloved editor of mine as well. To sum up, he was my dream prospect!

He didn’t have anything immediately, so for once I did a really good job staying in touch and following up.

And last week, he finally called me with an assignment. He needed someone to write a half-dozen articles, one a month, over the next six months.

The catch: It was on a brand-new version of one of their software programs. Hmmm…I’m not much of an early adopter, so I wasn’t using this new program yet. Small, dim alarm bells began to chime in the back of my head. But I was so psyched to work with this client!

We investigated a little more, and discovered the program doesn’t run on Macs, which is what I use. I’d have to buy a computer to do the gig!

My husband was in favor of buying the new computer and taking the gig. But he’s always in favor of buying new toys.

At this point, the alarm bells were louder. In reality, the assignment would be for me to buy and break in a whole new computer AND software, and quickly become an expert in using it so I could write about it. I don’t ordinarily write a whole lot about tech.

I was starting to get the ugly, real picture. I wasn’t actually a fit for this gig.

If I took it, I’d stand a decent chance of sucking at it. And that is the one thing I don’t ever want to see happen. The last thing I need is to disappoint a client at a major corporation.

So I passed.

My hope is another assignment may come along from this client that’s a better fit for my background, which is mostly writing about a range of other business topics. Maybe I’m nuts and should have bought the computer and given it a whirl. But my feeling was the huge ramp time that would be involved to essentially acquire a whole new expertise area probably would have meant I earned less net in the end, as I’d have less time for other clients.

I’d also run the risk of alienating an editor and never getting any future assignments from him.

The whole experience was a reminder to me that writers need to not jump at every offer that comes down the pike, no matter how great they may sound at first. Ask yourself, “Is this assignment really me?” I try to stay with assignments where I can answer that with an enthusiastic “yes.”

Ever turn down a major gig? If so, leave a comment and tell us about it.

Photo via Flickr user roland

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Finding sources — fast

The Source Sleuth

By Carol Tice

One of the biggest stumbling blocks for new writers is locating really great sources for stories on deadline. I recently had one of my mentees say she was doubtful she could finish a story she’s started this month, because she was having so much trouble finding sources! I think I solved her problem that day.

Thanks to the Internet, it’s easy to develop skills for quickly locating the sources you need. Unless you need a one-armed Burundian camel-driver or something else really out there, you should feel confident that you can find what you need.

I find these days you can often use social media to find sources, even pretty arcane ones. I tweeted a few months back that I needed a small business owner who had applied but been turned down for a particular new type of loan guaranteed by the Small Business Administration. I got a response within 24 hours, and had a great source.

Aside from asking around within your own networks, tweeting, or doing a good ol’ Google search, the two main Internet tools for searching that I use are ProfNet and HARO, or Help a Reporter Out. I’ll often do an Expert Search on ProfNet to see if I can just turn up a source immediately. If not, I’ll put out a HARO query. One HARO tip — be specific about what you need, or you’ll be inundated with responses!

The most important thing about finding sources is to just be unstoppable. Don’t give up until you have the person you need!

Recently, I had a source-finding crisis. I was on a one-week deadline for a story relating to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. I needed to find a small business that had been affected, and had done some disaster planning. I pitched the story in part because one of my expert sources for the story had assured me they had plenty of possible small business owners I could talk to. “You are going to have a GREAT source!” puffed their PR woman.

I did some looking on my own, but I wasn’t too aggressive because this source had been so confident they could refer me. Well, you guessed it, they kept stalling and stalling about handing over their source names. Finally, 24 hours before my deadline, I was emailed their contact names, and whaddaya know, none of them were workable.

So I took a deep breath, and started all over reporting the story. I had a pretty substantial article fee on the line, so I was going to find the source I needed! I started from scratch and thought about resources I hadn’t called yet. Thought about industries likely to have good stories about the impact of the spill on their business. Tried the Louisiana tourism board, they sent me to one local chamber, and in about an hour, I was on the phone with a resort business that had a great story.

It was noon. It took me half a day flat to solve this source problem.

This exercise reminded me of a truism in writing — the work expands to fill all the available time. If there isn’t much time and you’re really motivated, it’s amazing what you can get done. I try to remember this when I have longer deadlines, and still try to not let the work expand to take up more time than it should!

Have any creative source-finding methods I haven’t mentioned that are working for you? Feel free to share them below.

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

Photo via Flickr user Tony the Misfit

4 Tech Tools For Higher Writing Income

I recently did my half-year analysis of my writing business. Earnings are looking good for ’10, and one reason is that over the past year or so, I have acquired some new technical skills. Those skills, combined with my writing portfolio, have led to some great-paying online writing opportunities. I think this knowledge really made the difference in getting me fully booked with lucrative writing jobs.

Now, those of you who are longtime readers of my blog know that I am not a naturally tech-inclined person. Tech malfunctions make me cry. I pay a Webmaster to create my Web sites.

So believe me when I say that all of these tech tools are easy to use. I didn’t spend more than 10 minutes or so learning to use any one of them.

In this Internet age, having some technical ability is a great way to set yourself apart as a writer. It’s a value-add — something you can offer clients that saves them money on the back end, so it supports your earning a higher rate.

Here’s a look at the tech tools I think writers should be getting to know if they want to position themselves for higher earnings. Right now, I’m finding companies are fairly open to training people up a little on these, if you have at least a rudimentary knowledge of the tools already. A year or two from now, I think knowledge of these tools may well be required to get many better-paying online writing gigs.

1. Basic HTML coding. If you don’t know how to code a link (that’s <a href=http://www.yourwebsite.com> words you want to enliven </a> except without the spaces), well, that’s how you do it right there. Know how to code to bold, underline and italicize words. That’s about all I’ve needed to know, but you can learn more about html at the handy free site W3Schools. In many platforms you don’t need to know HTML anymore, but it’s useful for adding links in blog comments, so great for those who are pitching writing packaged with social media marketing.

2. A blog program. I was thrown into this arena on Movable Type, which is pretty clunky, but have since learned Blogger, WordPress and most recently Joomla. Blogging programs are very easy and intuitive to use, and all the popular programs are quite similar to each other, so learn one, and you pretty much get the drift. I acquired this skill just in time to use it on my major gig blogging for BNET (part of CBS!). I’m not sure I could have gotten the tryout there if I hadn’t been able to say, “Yeah, I’ve used WordPress before.” I’d used it for about two weeks, and still didn’t know a lot of the features…but they didn’t need to know that. Blogging basics you need include how to enliven links, schedule posts, and add photos.

3. How to add free photos to blogs. In June, I signed a big ghost-blogging and Web content client who hired me an hour after I sent my resume, and deposited a $300 up-front payment directly into my bank account before the end of the day. Why? I was able to solve a big problem he had — this marketing-agency owner was way behind in blogs for his clients. When I told him I could write posts directly on his clients’ Joomla blogs and have them ready to post, complete with photos, he was sold. He’s paying me $100 a blog, a rate he let me know he had not paid previously. The technical skill made the difference and supported my rate. I know I should know how to add videos too, but so far that has kind of eluded me…still working on it.

There are several sites where you can get free photos to use — I like Flickr Creative Commons, which I’ve used for this post you’re reading right now. It’s easy to add them to a post two ways: either right-click on “Save image to the desktop” or “Copy image address.” Then click whatever the ‘add media’ icon is in the blog program and fill out the little menu to select and download the .jpg file off your desktop, or put the image URL directly into the address line. Ta-da! An illustration to enliven your post.

4. Virtual team software. Right now, I get my BNET blog ideas approved in a virtual newsroom on Campfire, where we all crack wise, support each others’ efforts, and stay off email for all our BNET doings. I also work in a virtual team for that ghost-blogging client above on Basecamp, posting and updating files and getting information about my projects. These virtual-team platforms are so easy it doesn’t take five minutes to learn how to use them. They’re only a half-step above the Yahoo! Groups or BigTent forums you may be using in your personal life. If a prospect asks if you know about them, just nod your head.

What tech tools are you using to earn more with your writing? Have I left any good ones out? Leave a comment and let me know.

Photo via Flickr user Andrew Abogado

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4 Ways to Analyze Your Writing Business to Maximize Your Income

How is Your Freelance Writing Business?
By Carol Tice

With the half-year upon us, it’s time to look back on our progress in achieving our writing goals for 2010. We’re halfway there already! How’s it going? Have you achieved half of your small goals? Are you halfway to completing your major goals?

Besides reviewing your goals and possibly setting new ones, one thing I like to do at the half year is analyze the business I did in the first half. Here are some of the calculations I do to get a sense of who my best clients are, and how the year is going:

1. Multiply by two. First, add up all the income you received in the first half (you’re keeping a ledger, right?), and multiply the result by two. That is what you are likely to earn this year. React to that number — how do you feel? Good? Terrified? If it’s too low, what do you think you can do in the back half of the year to raise it?

Next, add up all the income you billed Jan.-June, and multiply by two. This gives you a more forward-looking forecast of the rest of the year’s income, as what you collected in January and possibly even February was likely billed the year before. The difference between the income received and income billed figures gives you your earning trend. If you billed more than you received, your forecast is for rising income; if it declined, your income is likely headed down.

2. Client totals. Now run down the ledger, and add up how much you earned from each client. Look at these totals together to see who your most valuable client is in terms of dollars. Also look at trends as the year progressed — do you have a client that’s tapered off recently that you could perhaps pitch some more ideas? Or is a client slowly fading away that needs to be replaced?

3. Client types. Next, look at the mix of client types you have. What do you think of the variety? Wish you had more blogging clients? More Web content? More print publications? Set some goals for adjusting your mix to keep it diverse.

4. Hourly rates. Hopefully, no matter whether you work on a per-word, per-article, per-project or per-hour basis, you are keeping track of your hours so you know what hourly rate you earn for each client. You might have a top client who seems great in terms of dollar volume, but when analyzed this way doesn’t look so hot. Maybe they’re sucking too much of your time, and you’d earn more and have more free time with a better-paying client.

Personally, I’m thrilled to have achieved some of my goals, and made progress on others. I’m on track to roughly equal what I made last year, which was my record earning year of my career, so that’s good (though I’m still hoping to break my record!). I recently became fully booked and can now take a brief break from relentlessly marketing my business.

My first ebook comes out in the fall, so it’s not factored into the projection and will hopefully add some revenue. I’m also happy that my mentee community continues to grow and mentees are seeing success (even though it’s not a huge part of my income, it’s gratifying!). Left on my writing to-do list — assignments from additional national magazine markets!

What does your half-year analysis tell you about your writing business? Leave a comment and let us know.

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

Photo via Flickr user Keith Williamson

Per Word or Per Hour — Which Earns Writers the Most?

Time is Money for Freelance WritersThere’s a lot of discussion online about writers’ rates. What’s the best way to bid a project — by the word? By the hour? By the project?

They all have their uses, especially since some publications and businesses are kind of in the habit of using one or the other of these methods for deciding what they’ll pay.

But which is the best way to price jobs? To my mind, it’s by the hour.

Time is your most precious resource. You only have so many work hours in the year, so you need to make as much per hour as you can. Which leads me to my one important rule of pricing jobs:

No matter how you price the job, track your hours and figure out your hourly rate. Because if you don’t know your hourly rate, how can you work on raising it? How can you compare clients and know which to keep and which to drop?

Now, if you’re working for an ongoing copywriting client, I personally believe bidding by the project is best. Your client is happy because they know exactly what they’re going to pay, and you can budget for the amount you will earn.

The trick is creating a flat fee for that project that will give you the hourly rate you want.

You can only do that by getting some experience with how long it takes you to do things. Obviously, this setup rewards efficiency. If you’re unusually fast, you can bid on a par with other writers, but end up with a better hourly rate, and earn more over the course of the year.

Before the downturn, I thought high per-article fees were the answer to maximizing earnings. But I’ve learned that’s not always true. When I was scrambling around for a few new clients in late ’08/early ’09, I got an offer from an old editor friend to write some quick articles for $100 apiece, just based on my knowledge of business topics, supplemented with a little online research. (Hey, it’s above my $50 an assignment limit, people!)

At first I was appalled. Prior to this time period, about the very lowest article rate I took was $300. Then I thought what the heck, and gave them a try.

I found I could write them in an hour to 90 minutes. A little quick math and hmmm…that’s $70-$100 an hour. Not too shabby. I’ve kept this work as good occasional filler projects — a quick scan of my bills for this year shows I picked up $1,700 this way so far in ’10, in maybe 20-22 hours. So the lesson is: Any work that earns a high hourly rate is good writing work.

Of course, getting a client where they’ll let you simply bill for however many hours you’re spending on their projects each month is the ideal. Then you know you’re getting paid for every hour you work. I had a client like that at $95 an hour for more than a year, sending me work every month. I think right now, those gigs are harder to come by.

But billing hourly protects you against the evil that is scope creep — the situation where you bid a flat project fee, but then the parameters of the project keep growing, as does your time spent. Been lots of discussion of how to handle this sticky problem on LinkedIn recently.

Most publications tend to assign a price per word or give a flat article price. In which case, you may need to work on your efficiency to make sure your rate stays as good as possible.

But you can always ask for more money — I’ve gotten companies to add $50-$200 to an article assignment or more if they ended up wanting sidebars, or a longer length, or I knew they were a slow payer. More about screwing up your courage to ask for more pay over at my latest post on WM Freelance Writers Community.

What do you prefer — billing by the project, the hour or the word? Leave a comment and let me know. Also, have you asked for more pay lately? If so share your strategy!

Photo via Flickr user zoutedrop

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The Very Best Place Online for Freelance Writers

Freelance Writers Marketing LensEarlier this week, I wrote about the many ways being fully booked helps your writing business. Obviously, I had a decent stable of clients…but I wasn’t at capacity. Finding a few new clients put me there.

Several readers asked if I could discuss the marketing strategies I used to help fill up my schedule. I’m happy to do so. I think many writers are wondering what the best marketing methods are, particularly what Web sites and online strategies are really useful.

So I will now reveal the single best place online for freelance writers.

First, the raw data: Below is a look at how I got each of the new clients I’ve landed over the past six months or so, which led to my being fully booked.

1.  Major TV network’s business blog — I found this gig through my weekly Gorkana alert, which offers job listings for a few specific areas in business, including finance and healthcare.

2.  Agency through which I blog and develop Web content for lawyers — I answered a Craigslist ad… I don’t exactly recall where, but I must have either seen it on About Freelance Writing (thanks Anne!) or on Writer’s Weekly (thanks Angela!).

3. Two small-business blog clients, both in business finance niches — These both found me through reading my blog for Entrepreneur magazine.

4. Fortune 500 company — They found me on a Google search for “Seattle freelance writer.”

There you have it. Have you guessed what the best place is to be for freelance writers? That’s right — it’s everywhere. As many places as you can be. Each place you are, each strategy you use, increases your odds of success.

Niche job lists are good sources of leads for specialized writing jobs.

Craigslist is full of junk, but if you keep scanning those ads, every once in a while you can find a very solid client.

Your great bylined work online is out there, marketing your business, 24/7.

Companies are finding writers through natural search on Google.

If I hadn’t had a broad-spectrum approach to marketing online — checking a lot of places, and really making the effort to make all my current online clients’ work shine — I wouldn’t have found all these clients. Just one important caveat: Be a skimmer, and don’t spend all day poking around the Internet looking for leads. I try not to spend more than 2-3 hours a week looking for job leads online.

I’d also make the observation that four out of five of these clients are on the copywriting side. My observation is that while publications are still tough to break into right now, copywriting is booming…so it’s not just where you’re looking online, but what you’re looking for, that’s important. Keep an open mind. Try new types of clients — you may find whole new areas of writing you discover you really like. That’s definitely my story.

Where are you finding good writing-job leads? Leave a comment and let me know. I’m sure I haven’t found all the great ways to market online yet!

Photo via Flickr user jared

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