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Writing vs Marketing: 5 Tips for Scheduling Your Freelance Time

My Freelance Writing ScheduleBy Carol Tice

Ah, the old juggling act. As a freelance writer, you need time to write! Even if you don’t have an assignment, you need time to practice your writing. But at the same time, you’ve got to be out there marketing your freelance-writing business to keep it growing.

How can a writer find time in their schedule for both writing and marketing? It’s always a tricky balancing act.

Earlier this week, responding to Alyssa’s post about time management and juggling family and writing, reader Kelli commented:

Now that my youngest is in kindergarten, I’ve got 15-20 hours/week to devote to writing! No excuses!

I’m curious how people find balance between looking for writing gigs and actually writing? I feel like I could spend hours researching the aspects of starting a freelance business, but then the writing time fades away!

She brings up a great point. Marketing your writing business is a bottomless pit! There’s always more you could be doing. A few more comments on those forums, another networking meeting, a few more query letters to send, an hour researching prospects you might send messages to on LinkedIn.

Especially if you’re getting started in freelancing writing, as Kelli says she’s doing — you could easily read all day about whether or not to write for content mills, for instance, and which ones pay better. Or research whether creating and monetizing your own niche blog would be a better way to go than trying to land copywriting clients.

Here are some tips for keeping your writing on track while still devoting enough time to marketing:

1. Remember it’s all about the writing. If you have writing assignments, meeting those deadlines comes first. Period. Keeping existing clients happy is job one. If you have no current clients, write for at least an hour a day on something — your blog, a journal, spec articles. Then spend all the rest of your time on marketing. Paying clients are essential to keep the freelance lifestyle going, so focus on lining them up!

2. Keep it contained. To keep from losing your mind, find a containable slice of marketing that you can handle within the time you know you’ll have. Perhaps have a different marketing task each day — Monday you check job boards, Tuesday you write queries, etc.

3. Reserve a specific time block for marketing. Maybe it’s at night after the kids go to bed — that’s your marketing time. Or maybe for two hours first thing in the morning. Or Wednesday is marketing day. Any way that works for you, but set up a specific time each week for marketing. That way it’ll happen, but you’ll also have a clear sense of when marketing time is over and it’s time to write.

4. Have a goal. Marketing is a lot easier to execute when you know what you’re trying to accomplish. Do you feel destined to be the next $1 million blogger? Then learn about blogging. Do you need to land a major copywriting client to provide a measure of security to your freelance writing? Then focus on cold-calling, direct mail, in-person networking, or whatever other strategies you feel will most readily connect you with businesses hiring freelancers.

5. Measure your results. Whatever the goal, try to pursue several strategies at a time. Then, after several months, take a look at the results. How have you found your assignments? The answers are often VERY interesting, and can help you figure out the most productive ways to spend your marketing time.

Next week, I’ll talk about how I got great clients this year — what marketing strategies got real results and landed me clients paying $.50-$1 a word, $100 an hour, and up.

How do you work marketing time into your schedule? Leave a comment and tell us your techniques.

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

Photo via Flickr user Dru Bloomfield – At Home in Scottsdale

Why I Told My Husband to Work for Demand Studios

Content Mill Factory for Starving WritersRegular readers of MALW know that I am not a fan of content mills. We had one of our liveliest-ever discussions here a few posts back about Demand Studios’ IPO plans, which to my mind revealed more reasons to be wary of the popular content factory.

As a result of my position that $20 an article is not a fair wage and that writers can do better, I’ve been called an elitist snob and worse.

So it may surprise some to learn that I recently told my husband that he should work for Demand.

Why? Because he is one of those people who are in a perfect position to benefit from a short stint at the Demand factory.

My husband is not a writer — he’s a Web video producer. He is a UCLA film-school graduate who worked in TV for years, and now he’s getting back into the visual arts. He’s a very talented visual artist, but to be frank, marketing is not his strength. He’s put together a couple of nice samples, but he’s having trouble translating that into paying clients.

In other words, he is perfect for Demand. Yes, they only pay $100 a video, which given the additional hours it takes to go out and shoot and then edit a video, I’m sure makes it roughly equivalent to Demand’s writer payments in terms of an hourly rate. So the situation is basically the same as for writers who contemplate writing articles for Demand.

It will be work for peanuts. But right now, for him, that will be a step up!

A few Demand assignments should be able to give him a few more samples and round out his portfolio. It’ll also give him experience taking assignments and meeting deadlines. It’ll get him in the habit of going out and making videos on a regular basis. I really see it as all good — for now.

The key to this idea is that he shouldn’t hang around Demand very long. Once he has a complete portfolio, he should be movin’ on up.

I’ve said it before, but it’s often been lost in the din of outrage that I’ve dared suggest mills aren’t the best new invention since the Internet… Mills have their place. For a brand-new artist who needs to get their feet wet, they’re great. For writers who don’t have the time for marketing or an interest in earning big, they may be the only game in town.

If you do have dreams of making a high-earning, award-winning type of career out of it, the trick is not to hang around places like DS and get hooked on these low pay rates — and get lazy about marketing. You can bet once he’s got a nice-looking portfolio, I’ll be suggesting my husband go out and find his own clients.

Photo via Flickr user loop_oh

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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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