So you want to be a freelance writer, eh? One way to get started

I’m an author and hope one day to be a household word in the mystery genre. From my lips to God’s ear, right? Anyway, I also make my living as a freelancer. A few days ago an online bud told me she wanted to start freelancing and asked if I had any suggestions on how she could start. And that’s how this post came about.

The following tips/suggestions are based on my own experience and what worked for me. There may be hundreds of other ways to approach freelancing and nothing is written in stone. I’ve always found that where there is a will there is a way, so if you have a better approach, feel free to mention it in the comments or just do it your way.

1. Subscribe to Funds for Writers and Writers Weekly. In my opinion, Funds for Writers and Writers Weekly are probably two of the best newsletters for freelancers because they have articles and listings for work, contests, etc. And reading the newsletters will just help you get the mindset. There are millions of other newsletters but I recommend you only go with a couple; otherwise all you’ll do is read newsletters.

2. Decide on a niche. You don’t have to have a niche – I really don’t. However, when I first started I did a lot of writing for lawyers. I was once upon a time a legal secretary so have a basic grasp on the law and the more you write about various types of law (or any subject) the more you understand it and can write about it easily. If you have a particular expertise or experience in a topic or field specializing in a niche may work for you. If you are a jack of all trades or get bored easily, you don’t have to specialize.

3. Practice writing in that niche on your blog or start a blog specifically for that niche. If you do decide to specialize and you have no clips you should either 1) start writing posts about that niche on your current blog or 2) start a blog specifically for that purpose. A free blog is fine, what you want to do is to be able to practice writing really good articles/posts and also to have samples to show prospective clients.

4. Add a “Hire Me” page to your blog. Whether on your current blog or in the case that you set up a separate blog for your niche writing put it on that blog. You don’t have to make the page fancy or sparkly – just an easy to read and navigate page that tells the prospect what you can do for them and how they can reach you. The page should be written from the viewpoint of ‘what I can do for you’ – which can be a little tricky because you have to write in such a way that shows you are competent but doesn’t sound like you are bragging.

5. Read “Breakthrough Advertising” by Eugene Schwartz. You can get it at Amazon but yes, it is hideously expensive. You may be able to find it in a used bookstore. Or possibly check it out from your local library. You may also be able to find it here but if at all possible get  your hands on it and read it.  I won’t blow smoke up your skirt, this book is huge and not an easy read. You won’t zip through it like a novel or even the usual book on writing techniques. It will take a while to read and you may want to read it several times because there is so much information in it, it is truly mind-blowing from a copy writing point of view. Schwartz is one of the most famous copywriters ever. In the copy writing world he is still a god. Personally, I learned more about writing from this one book than any other book I ever read about writing.

If you can just get the basics, you will understand how to write anything because all copy writing is written for the purpose of sales. Period. There is no other reason it is written. No matter what anyone says that is the truth. Websites, business posts, business blogs, magazine articles, etc, all written for the purpose of marketing/ selling something. Anyway, Schwartz is a genius and even if you never do copy writing you will gain a lot of insight into human beings by reading his book and it will make you a better writer. I promise.

6. Stay away from writer mills or other sites that requires you to sign up and bid for jobs. You get paid peanuts and they put you through the ringer and you can’t use any of your work for clips/samples. Do not ever sign up with a writer’s mill. These sites are typically in it for the owners to make money while the writers make peanuts, and truly get nothing out of it. They can’t approach clients privately. They can’t use their work as samples. And the editing process is ridiculous. And above all else they do not value writers. So stay away from them. Likewise craigslist for writer gigs. Many of them are scams but even the ones that aren’t have thousands of people applying for the same listing – so your odds suck. Although you can find things from time to time, generally speaking it will just drive you mad.

7. Study and understand SEO . If you don’t understand the basics of SEO then you need to either find a simple, easy to understand book or a website that you can learn the basics from. Generally, writers aren’t expected to do the SEO/keyword research but you must understand how to use keywords in your writing and why you’re doing it – and to do it so it isn’t just paragraphs of text with keywords stuffed into it.

8. If you don’t have one set up a PayPal account.  It is free and very easy to use. I get a lot of work from people outside the U.S. and I couldn’t do that if there weren’t an easy way for them to make payment. You do have to pay transaction fees which sucks but they aren’t outrageous, and it’s a business expense so at worst it’s a wash. There are other similar services which may be better but I have had great luck with PayPal.

Suggested approach/sequence

This is based on the assumption that you have no experience as a freelancer:

1. Set up a separate free blog which you can use solely for the purpose of practicing writing good SEO articles in the niche/niches you’ve chosen. As I mentioned earlier you may want to write about work or fields in which you have a lot of experience and/or familiarity. For example, if you worked for human resources in a large company, you could write posts about that – tips, tricks, etc.

2. If you want to try to get work right away, you could approach people you know. Offer to help write their website, brochures, sales ads, instruction booklets, or blog posts for their blog.

3. You could also approach web designers – even better if you know them personally. Web designers always need copywriters because though they build the sites, typically they don’t also do the writing.

4. You could put an ad in the local paper, church newsletter, mention it if you belong to any clubs, associations, etc.

5. Or if you feel really ballsy. Google the niches you’d feel comfortable writing in and check out their websites and blogs. If the website sucks or their blog hasn’t been updated lately. Contact them (from the info on their contact page) and offer to write blog posts or help them improve their web copy. You get the idea.

So there you have a list of hopefully helpful tips in breaking into the freelance writing universe.

You may have noticed I did not use the word easy in the title or anywhere in this post – that’s because it isn’t easy. As with any other career, you will not become a freelance writer overnight. No amount of tips will bring that about. You should be prepared to supplement your income or maintain your current job until you are generating enough work regularly to provide the income you need.

And too, self-employment is not for everyone. It can be lonely. It can be stressful. And the only benefits you get are the ones you provide for yourself. If you are the type of person who likes security, freelancing might work better for you as a sideline. Or you might prefer a position as an in-house writer in a large corporation or marketing agency.

So how about you, fellow writers? Do you freelance too? Any good tips to share? Knock yourself out and feel free to add to the list.

Writer Chick
Copyright 2015

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Quick and Dirty Tips for the Freelancer

TIP JAR

I collect tips. Small, sometimes insignificant little gems that don’t mean much alone but in a list look pretty nifty. For your hump-day enjoyment, I offer the following:

1. A tall skinny coffee mug keeps your coffee hot longer than a short fatty. I didn’t believe it either til I tested it. It’s true.

2. Keep a jug of water on your desk to stay hydrated. Most of us don’t drink enough water. My solution: keep a jug that holds the daily requirement of water on my desk. If it’s there you’re more likely to drink it rather than lifting your lazy butt out of the chair and walking all the way to the kitchen for something else. Also, buy a humidifier. They’re cheap and replace the moisture that heaters and electronics suck out of the air.

3. Take a walk every hour. Really even if it’s just up and down the block it will refresh you, get a little blood circulating and maybe help prevent writer’s spread. Just set your phone to go off every hour and go.

4. Get the hell out of your jammies and take a shower. We all love working from home because we can work in our jammies or ratty sweats and nobody sees our bedhead hair, right? Except you, every time you pass a mirror. I promise if you get up, take a shower and put on some normal clothes you’ll feel more alert, probably be more productive and won’t scare the UPS guy either.

5. Give crap away. Most of us have too much crap. Not because we’re one-percenters but because everything is so available. I can tell you right now that half the stuff I own I don’t need, don’t use and is gathering dust in a closet somewhere. We avail ourselves too easily of shopping therapy when we’re feeling, bored, blue or denied. I say eat an apple instead. Plus crap equals clutter, equals a space that’s hard to work in, equals dust mites and more cleaning. Find your local thrift store, charity or homeless center and cart your crap over there. If you have a lot they might even send a truck.

6. Convert your files into eBook formatsCalibre  is free, easy to use and kind of fun too. The latest version enables you to do some light editing too. I use it to get a feel for how my books will look in the format and also for sending to beta readers so they can read the drafts on the eReaders rather than a big clumsy Word doc that has to be read on a computer. For actual publication though I recommend you find an eBook formatting professional.

7. Got the winter blues? Get a full spectrum lighting lamp. When they first came out they were expensive as hell but now you can get a decent one for about $100. That may seem like a lot for a lamp but these babies mimic actual daylight, which your body needs by the way, and can help chase away the winter blues. Also if you love sunlight like I do then it’s a no brainer.

8. Head stuff. Working from home has a lot of pluses but also a few drawbacks. You spend a lot of time alone. There aren’t others around to cheer you up or make you laugh or even notice if your breathing sounds right. A lot of alone time can easily dwindle into thinking time. That’s fine if it’s productive – if not, it will just mess with you. Therefore stop thinking/worrying about shit you can’t or aren’t prepared to do anything about. It will only give you a stomach ache and disturb your bliss.

9. If there is a way to screw things up, you will find it. Especially if you try really really hard not to screw up. It’s a fact of life – accept it, figure out how to fix it and move on. Don’t wallow in it or be embarrassed by it – nobody cares that you screwed up but you. You know why? Because they’re screwing up too. We all screw up. Every one of us. Figure out how to learn from mistakes and move the hell on.

10. Nobody owes you a living. Nobody owes you a review. Nobody owes you a job or a gig. Nobody owes you their time or energy. Unless you’ve provided a product or service for which they agreed to pay or otherwise exchange. So stop acting like you’re a victim because you didn’t get something you wanted. Just go out and get it. Yeah it’s hard. Yeah it will take some effort and work. But that’s how everybody else does it, why should you be any different?

11. Get off the maybe train and commit. You have a dream? You have a goal? Well I hate to break it to you but daydreaming will not make it so. Believe me, I am the queen of daydreams and I never got anything I wanted from daydreaming. You want to be a writer? Then guess what? You have to write. You want to be an entrepreneur? Likewise you gotta go out there and entrepreneur. Things don’t just happen because you want them. They happen because you commit to making them happen and you refuse to ever fucking give up. I know it sucks but it’s still true.

12. When you commit things do just happen (or seem to). It’s sad but people really don’t get that the answer to all the many things they want in life is about commitment. How many times have you tried and failed? And how many times have you just said, “That’s it! I’m doing this no matter what!” and somehow magically made it happen? See the difference?

13. Everybody looks good in pink and turquoise. Not together of course (well, maybe). But for some reason those colors flatter everybody. Seriously.

14. All of us have something to offer the world. Find it and offer it. You’ll be amazed by how glad people are that you did.

As always feel free to add to the list.

Writer Chick
Copyright 2015

Nine Work Hacks for Freelancers

freelance hacks

I’m a freelance writer by day and mystery writer by night. Thus far my day job has put food on the table and paid the bills. Good, yes? It’s not easy being a freelancer and sometimes you may feel that sticking your head in the oven is more productive than trying to be your own employer – but there are good days too.

And though there is a lot of advice out there about how to succeed, get ahead and make gobs of money as a freelancer, there are some basics that rarely get mentioned. I’ve tried to put into a lot of sage advice from the so called experts with mixed results. However, I can give you a simple list of what has always worked in my freelance business.

Be Nice. Now, I know you’re probably saying, “Duh, of course.” However, you’d be amazed by how many freelancers aren’t nice. They don’t answer your inquiries; they are impatient, sometimes even rude. Or have a take it or leave it attitude. I get all kinds of inquiries, often ones that have nothing to do with freelance writing services but I try never to treat anyone disrespectfully or make them feel stupid. If someone contacts you and you can’t help them, tell them so nicely. If possible refer them to a person or a website or other source that may help them. You never know when you might encounter that person again – and if so, it may be you needing the help or a favor.

Be Responsive. Again, you’d be surprised by how many freelancers (and businesses in general) simply don’t respond to your inquiry. It’s as though they expect you to chase after them to prove you’re really serious about wanting their service or product. I know there are some marketers out there who advise you to do this, to make yourself or your business appear exclusive, etc. To that I say, hogwash. People who voice an interest in your service or product deserve a response. If you don’t respond promptly and politely to inquiries, soon you may find that no one voices an interest at all in anything you have to offer.

Be Generous. I constantly get emails from clients or past clients asking me about things that strictly speaking have no specific connection to the service I provide. For example, I have clients ask me all the time what I think of product images or names, or slogans or logos. My services don’t cover any of those things – but it doesn’t hurt me at all to take the two minutes to respond to them. And it makes the client happy and feel that you care. So how can a happy client be a bad thing? Clients remember providers who are generous with their time and attention and are more likely to come back to them when they need the services they provide.

Be Honest. Sometimes clients are going to ask you questions or for an opinion you don’t want to go near. It’s uncomfortable when a client sends you a link to their new website, which is a disaster and asks you what you think. Or a logo, or a product, or whatever. However, they are asking you because they respect your opinion. So be honest, (not blunt, or mean) tactful, but honest. They will appreciate it and you won’t have to feel guilty over blowing smoke up their skirt.

Ask Questions. Too many freelancers just say yes, yes, yes in order to get the gig. In fact, I’ve seen experts tell you to do so – explaining that once you get the job, you can figure out how to do whatever you’ve been hired to do. This is just playing with fire. Sure there is a certain amount of winging it that occurs in freelancing but you’re better off asking questions, questions and more questions to determine if you can truly help this person than to just say yes and hope for the best. If you don’t or can’t deliver in the end, not only will it cost you money but your reputation as well.

Listen. We have so many gadgets talking to us at all times – TV, radio, smart phones, texts, social media, blogs, advertisements – talk, talk, talk, talk. And all of us just talk louder so we can be heard above the talkers. Yet listening has become somewhat of a lost art. It can be hard to take a breath, close your mouth and just listen to what is being said but it can also save you an enormous amount of time and work. Listen to what your client is saying, repeat it back to them, so they know they’ve been heard, write it down so you remember what was said. So much easier than sending ten emails asking the same question over and over again. And less irritating to clients too.

Give More Than Expected. In other words, exchange in abundance, go the extra mile, show that you care. For example, a client emailed me saying his product was flying off the shelves and he couldn’t quite figure out why. Clearly, he wanted to know but didn’t know how to get the information. I suggested he send out a survey to customers who recently purchased the product and suggested 3-5 questions he could ask. He didn’t pay me for that, nor did I expect him to pay me. I simply wanted to help him. It was just an idea and I have 100 of them every ten minutes, so no big deal to me. To him, it might have been though. It’s perfectly fine to make a contract with someone and fulfill that contract to the letter without giving less or more but it won’t necessarily win you any fans. You’ll gain a reputation of being fair. That’s fine. But if your client later finds another provider who offers as good a service as you but is just a little more generous with their time or attention, who do you think she will hire for the next project?

Be Sincere. And by that, I mean be yourself. As freelancers, especially if we handle our businesses largely online, we may develop what we think is a professional demeanor. But in fact, makes us seem cold or distant. While you certainly want to be taken seriously, it’s really okay to make a joke or even swap recipes (yes, I’ve actually done that) as long as your work and work ethic is professional and you deliver what you promise – being yourself should really be okay.

Never Accept a Project Just for the Money. Look, freelancing is hard. And usually it’s feast or famine. Either you have no work or more work than you can handle. So during the lean times when a prospect comes to you, of course you want to land the job – baby needs new shoes, right? However, if you look at the project and don’t honestly see how you can help the person, say no. For example, I’ve had prospects come to me and ask me to rewrite content or a product listing. In most cases, I definitely see how I can help improve what they have – but sometimes there’s nothing wrong with what the prospect wants improved. Instead of accepting the project I tell the client that I honestly don’t feel I could improve what they have and that perhaps it is some other element in their business model they need to consider. My goal is to help my clients improve their situation so they can succeed – if I don’t feel that my service will do that, I say so. Believe me; it makes life so much easier.

I know these are very basic and maybe not news to many of you, but like that little black dress you keep in your closet that can be dressed up and dressed down, depending on the occasion – basics are the new black.

What about you? Do you have hacks that help you in your freelance business? Feel free to mention them in the comments below.

Writer Chick

Copyright 2015

How to Always be a Broke Writer

one centYep, that title is a shocker, ain’t it? But here’s the thing – in our industry we read a lot of articles.  We want to know how those who came before us succeeded.

Maybe we try to emulate somebody who has broken in, or get all hopped up on the latest internet marketing approach to promoting our awesome services.

But what you don’t often read about is how to fail.

Now, why would knowing how to fail help you?

Good question.  The short answer is so you know what not to do when you’re blazing the paths of freelance writer-dom.

And you might be surprised to see yourself on the following list:

  1. Don’t specialize, be a jack of all trades and master of none.  There are a lot of reasons this is a bad strategy. But the most compelling is that you’ll never be all things to all people.  By specializing you have a smaller focus but a much chance at real targeted marketing. Plus you end up really good at something.  Everybody loves that. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not telling you to turn down work that you can do and are happy to do. However, in terms of your business model and marketing, if you focus on your speciality and promote that you’re more likely to get the kind of clients you want doing the kind of work you are great at doing.
  2. Be reactive.  Like it or not, you have a business.  You may be the only employee and the only one producing your product or service but it’s still a business and should be run as one.  Hanging around and waiting for your existing clients to give you more work is reactive.  Be proactive, send out letters of introduction, list yourself in some directories, join the local Chamber of Commerce.  Chances are, right now only you and a handful of people know what you can do.  Don’t keep it a secret.
  3. Don’t choose a business model.  In other words just go at your writing career willy-nilly and hope for the best.  This will definitely keep you broke and require you pick up part-time jobs that don’t involve writing. A business model doesn’t have to be complex or fancy, it just has to be a specific approach that will advance your career.  For example: Figure out who you’re going to write for, what type of writing you’ll provide, what your fees are and the way you’re going to promote your services.  That of course is bare bones, but even bare bones is better than nothing.
  4. Promote haphazardly.  Now, I’m all for marketing and promoting and I’ve read, studied, listened to and used a bagillion different techniques for marketing. However, trying to run a website, a blog, Facebook page, twitter accounts, Google ads, banner ads, guest posting and free information products in order to saturate the market usually leads to you becoming a nervous wreck.  While there may be a day when you can master all of the above and still have time to actually write – but for now, pick one channel of promotion that you can handle and is effective and stick to that.  Your chances are much better for yielding a result.
  5. Don’t promote or market.  This should be a no-brainer but you’d be shocked by how many writers don’t promote or market.  They feel funny about singing their own praises or can’t be objective enough about their skills to even figure out what to say.  But if you can’t figure out how to promote your services how do you think you’ll be able to do it for a client? Suck it up, get rid of the false modesty and do a real assessment of your skills and promote the heck out of it.  If you need help, ask a client or business friend to help you figure it out.  Again, if you keep your skill and services a big secret you can definitely look forward to a job as a barista somewhere
  6. Work for clients who don’t value you.  This may be obvious and yet so many writers do this.  Part of the reason is that they don’t have enough confidence in their own skill or maybe they are just starting out and feel they have to pay their dues before they can get the choice assignments. But the problem with working with clients who don’t value you is that they make you feel bad about yourself and your work. And if you’re feeling bad all the time, you won’t have the energy or vibe to get better clients.
  7. Give up.  When you’re self employed and don’t get a regular paycheck it can make you grumpy.  Especially if things aren’t going great.  And I know writers who make an I-give-up declaration once a week.  No, they don’t mean it but does the universe know that?  Often we are the most likely to sabotage our own efforts.  Do what Napoleon Hill suggests – focus, be determined, believe in yourself.  Tell the universe you never give up because frankly you’re going to have to if you want to succeed at anything.  Nobody who has ever gotten anywhere has given up.  In fact, just the opposite, they refuse to give up.  Emulate those people.

Why should you listen to me?

Well, because I’ve made every one of these mistakes and more.That’s how I know it doesn’t work.  Experience, baby.  Not the easiest way to learn but effective.

So, did you see yourself in the list above? If so, what did you do to change things? Do you have any tips for success you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments below.

Writer Chick

Copyright 2013

Gobsmacked – Scammed Again

I consider myself an intelligent person, so whenever someone manages to trick me I feel utterly gobsmacked. A couple of months back, I was contacted by an internet marketing company to which I’d submitted a resume. The man I spoke to was charming, funny and you got a sense right off that he was regular folk. Someone you could be friends with. Good, right?

After we hung up, he immediately sent a contract and some tax forms, which I filled out and sent back the next day. Then I didn’t hear from the fellow for over a week – just when I was about to give him up for lost. Again, he was charming and offered reasonable excuses which I accepted. After all, I wanted the work and he complimented me quite a bit on my blog which he said he had been reading.

Then a couple more weeks went by and again, as I was about to give him up for lost, the phone rang. He had work for me. And wasn’t I delighted to hear about that? He offered me a price, which I accepted and told him to send the info and it turned out to be a pretty healthy chunk of work, which I finished in about three days. They were press releases, not the main type of work he had called me about but some ‘extra’ work that he thought he’d throw my way. He also told me there would be no delay on the pay and that I had only to send him and invoice and as soon as he got it, he would write me a check and send it off. Okay, this is the part that gets dicey. A few days go by and no check. He is only two states over from me and 5 days certainly should have been enough time, since I emailed him the invoice with the last press release. Oh, and he’d already assured me that the client loved the work. So, what was the problem?

The client was out of town and they hadn’t paid him yet – but oh the other work was going to be a go in a few days and again being the anxious writer I was, I let the fact slip that our agreement was that he would pay the invoice on delivery, not when his client paid him. Stupidly, I began the other work and worked on it flat out for four days and go it to him 4 days ahead of schedule. No acknowledgement, no thank you for the work, nothing. When I finally called him he said he hadn’t had time to look at it – which was odd since the deadline he’d given me had passed. If that was the deadline wouldn’t it have made sense for him to have looked at it/edited it? I started to get a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach but I’d invested time and work (all of which he had) and I had to continue to believe this was all going to work out fine.

The next day he sent me the pages with his edits, but he also sent me the pages of the other writer on the project and I saw that our pages were vastly different. It worried me that he hadn’t mentioned it – he hadn’t given me any guidelines, though I’d asked for them. But since he seemed okay with the pages I let it pass. He told me that once the client approved, he’d send out a check (which was the agreement). I also asked him about the check for the previous work and he said he was still waiting for his client to pay me.

Then I got a somewhat hysterical call from him two days later, saying the pages were wrong and claiming I’d lifted copy off another dentist’s website – which not only shocked me but made me feel sick to my stomach, as I didn’t lift anything from anywhere. I assured him that wasn’t the case and I offered to rewrite the pages more to the style of the other writer and he said okay. I rewrote the pages (50 of them) in about 36 hours. Just as I was ten pages from completion he called again and apologized for being so worked up and claimed he’d quit smoking and that’s why he’d been so anxious. I told him not to worry about it and finished the pages. I sent them the next day.

The day after that I recieved a cc of a mass email sent to all the writers saying payment had been scheduled and would be sent out Monday. Well, as it turned out it took 10 days for the payment to reach me and it was only for the previous ‘extra’ work – not for the pages.

When I called him again, he said the client was paying on the 15th (of May) and he would cut the checks the next day. The 15th was only few days away so I agreed, even though he’d had the pages for three weeks and they were already on his client’s website.

Well, and the rest of the story is this, after continually calling and emailing and getting false assurances that the check is on the way time and again, there is no check and I’m pretty sure there won’t ever be a check and that he never intended to pay me in the first place. Quite possibly the only reason he paid me the first check was in order to get me to do the work on the bigger project, realizing he couldnt’ stall me any longer and I wouldn’t deliver on the bigger job if he didn’t pay me the small check.

After reading this, you’re probably thinking, duh. And you’d be right to think so. You’d think that all the signs were pointing in the wrong direction and I should have seen them. And I did, sort of…but the guy was just so darn likeable and I just didn’t want to believe he was a shit. I just didn’t want to believe that somebody I liked would do something so shitty – that I’d been so naive and easy to take in.

So, what I’ve learned from this experience as well as a few others is this: Writers are often treated poorly, especially those who are striking out on their own newly and needy for work, the pay offered is close to being an insult and then not getting the small amount offered is even worse. From here on out, I don’t care if the person is charming or not, in fact, I may just shy away from charming perspective clients, I may just look for the just the facts, kind of client who sticks to business and keeps his word. And I will never ever work again on spec – if that means I get less offers than I guess it does. If that means I get no offers, that’s fine too because I can always go get a conventional job if I have to. But from here on out, a deposit is required for my services.

My advice to any writers out there, looking for work, don’t fall for this type of scam – they treat you nice and act like your friend but all they really want is work for free – even if he does utlimately end up paying me, it’s now been seven weeks since I completed the work and turned it in to him, yet he was paid by his client over a month ago. Is this the kind of client you want? I don’t think so.

As a writer you have to value your own work before someone else will. This writer has just begun doing that, as of now. I hope you do too.