Category: Copywriting

Homeschooling 101

sunflower

Homeschooling while working from home is definitely not for the faint of heart. I mentioned in another post that this year will be an experiment, so we’re trying out different things to see what works.

One thing I’ve noticed is that my daughter has an affinity and a love for science, which isn’t surprising considering I have degree in biology. But what is surprising is her interest in geography and social studies. I borderline hated those two subjects in school.

We’ve explored China and Asia in general, she’s taken a Mandarin Chinese class or two, we take “trips” on the map and globe, and things of that sort. She’s also very good at art, so the shapes of countries and details of things like cars are something she notices a great deal.

Math and reading aren’t high on her list of fun things, though. When I was a child, reading and writing were like breathing to me, and math was pretty fun too. I’m not too worried, since I firmly believe in child-led learning (and a love of science and social studies will be enhanced by reading, as she’ll figure out soon enough). But during this experimental stage, I’m open to different ideas.

I’ve been hearing about several online programs for homeschoolers, and I decided to do some exploring. I read reviews and looked at sites, and I made contact with some.

This year (and every year) will be full of learning for both me and my daughter. There’s a lot of knowledge to be acquired, and no one will ever know it all. Life is just one big adventure full of things to learn, and the best way to learn is to live!

Do You Need a Freelance Writer?

One of the hardest things about being a freelance writer is convincing businesses that yes, hiring a freelancer is a wise thing to do.

Are you a business owner? Let me guess some reasons you might not think a freelancer is for you.

1.You’re a pretty good writer, right? Why hire someone else to do what you can take care of on your own?

  • The simple answer to this is that your time is not unlimited. While you may write exceptionally well, if you have a million other tasks to complete, perhaps writing is something you should outsource.

2. You want control. You’d rather have someone in your office so you can look over his shoulder while he works. You want to see what you’re paying for, while it’s happening.

  • This makes sense. That’s why employees generally work in the office. But think about it. Do you really want to hire another employee? There are taxes to pay, paperwork to complete, desk space and computers to provide, paper and other supplies for printing and such, and the list can go on. If you have an employee on-site, you’re liable for workers’ compensation in some cases, and at least liable if they slip and fall in the office. Not to mention that employees converse with others, take bathroom/smoking/snack breaks, check their cellphones and make personal calls, and any other number of off-task activities. All of which you’re paying for…by the hour.
  • A freelancer charges only for time-on-task, especially if you pay them per project. If the cost of brochure copy is an agreed-upon $1000 (for instance), it doesn’t matter if the freelancer takes a shower while banging out your copy. You pay $1000 for the brochure. Period. No need to micromanage. No need to watch over his shoulder. When you purchase a car, you don’t watch each piece being manufactured. You don’t pay by the hour for its assembly. You just pay for the finished product.

3. You know someone who can do it for less. I’m guessing you might have a cousin or a brother-in-law who can write. Why not just give him a few dollars (or nothing at all) and have him write your copy?

  • This one isn’t one I’ll answer straight out. If you’ve ever worked with family, you already know this isn’t the best idea in the world. If you haven’t, and you want to give it a try…vaya con Dios. And then hire a professional freelance writer after the ordeal is over.

Are you a business owner? Have you ever hired a freelance writer? Why or why not? Tell us about your experience(s).

Freelance Timekeeping

vintage parking meter

So you’re a freelancer. Maybe you write for businesses. Maybe you’re a graphic designer. Whatever kind of freelance work you do, it’s essential that you keep track of your time. You need to know how long it takes you to finish a 3-panel brochure. Otherwise, the next time you quote your project, you may estimate incorrectly. You might also need to work on an hourly basis from time-to-time, so of course you’ll need to know exactly how much you should charge the client.

The wonderful thing about freelancing, from your client’s perspective, is that they pay you only for time on task. You’re not paid for phone breaks, laundry time, or the 20 minutes it took you to wash your dishes. If you work from home, these little interruptions can add up. Unless you’re able to work for uninterrupted blocks of time, you need a system to keep track of your time.

Now, how fancy do you want to get? There are lots of cool tools you can use on your computer. Check out this list from Freelance Switch. Or you can use a stopwatch that allows you to stop it for breaks and restart it from the last time when you’re ready. You can download a stopwatch application for your smartphone also. Or you can just take note of the time on a piece of paper, and write down when you stop, and write down when you start again. Later, you just add up all the time.

After you’ve done timekeeping for several projects, you probably will need to have some system in place to keep a log of total time spent. This is great for future projects of a similar nature that you want to price, and it’s also a good idea for your tax records (in case anyone ever asks).

What methods for timekeeping do you use? Have you tried one method, only to realize it didn’t work? Share with us!

Freelancer’s Guide to Finding Clients – Review

Telescope

Being a successful freelancer of any type means that you have to have clients. Makes sense, right? Then why do so many of us have a hard time getting work? The problem might be that we don’t know how to find clients. Or we need a little shove to get out there and do it.

Martha Retallick, a freelance graphic designer and photographer, has written a wonderful e-book that tackles the subject of how freelancers can find clients. She does a great job of making it relevant, by including examples from her own career (blunders and successes alike). She writes like she’s talking with you, so it’s an easy, comfortable read. And the tips and techniques are solid. Some of them I already use, and some I learned while reading.

As an added bonus (for me, especially), Martha includes a reference to an article I wrote a few years ago about how to use cold emailing as a marketing technique. It’s nice seeing my name in print.

In her own words:

The Freelancer’s Guide to Finding Clients is about being proactive. It’s about finding clients instead of waiting for them to come to you.

In addition to offering a detailed how-to guide to making cold calls, it covers:

  1. Warm calling and e-mails to people with whom you’ve had some previous connection.
  2. Follow-up calls and e-mails to people you’ve just contacted.
  3. Keep-in-touch calling and e-mails to people you contacted a while ago.
  4. Market research calls and e-mails.
  5. Outreach via cold, warm, follow-up, and keep-in-touch e-mails.

Head over to Envato Tuts+ Marketplace to get your very own copy of the book. It’s definitely worth it! And be sure to tell Martha where you heard about her new book.

How do you find new clients for your freelancing business? When you get Martha’s book, tell us what your favorite parts are!

A child’s first laptop

Kids & Computers 81Photo credit: Anissa Thompson

My daughter loves computers. It’s no wonder, since I spend a fair amount of time blogging, taking online classes, emailing, working, and researching. But I have to confess that I’m a bit stingy with my computer. She wants to play PBSKids.org games, or she wants to “type” on Word. I’m not really good with sharing. Plus, if she’s quietly playing a game, what better time for me to write a blog post or finish up a client’s project?

When is too soon to give a child her own computer? I decided that 5 was a reasonable age in our case. My old laptop was getting, well, old. Some of the keys are faded, the memory is pretty full, and it’s too heavy to lug around to coffee shops that often. On top of that, it gets hot pretty quickly (though thankfully it doesn’t overheat since I bought a nice cooling pad).

I recently took the plunge and bought a brand new laptop for me. It’s much lighter than the old one, it comes with Windows 7 (it’s always good to learn a new operating system), and I have no problem carrying it around. My daughter gets to use my old laptop. Even though I wasn’t sure I should do it, it’s been a welcome addition to our household.

The only problem I didn’t foresee was where she’d use the computer. Even at 5, she knows how to go online, so I need to be nearby to monitor her computer usage.

All in all, we love having two computers. When I’m working, my daughter can do her “work” too. And I love that she’s learning while having fun, since there are a lot of great websites for children.

Does your child have her own computer? At what age do you think it’s appropriate for a child to have their own computer (if ever)?

International Freelancers Day – Today!

Late notice, but I just found out about this AWESOME event. Today is International Freelancer Day, and to celebrate, there’s a huge online conference going on right now! Best of all, it’s completely free. Really. Nothing to buy, nothing to agree to. Just free. And there’s a stellar list of presenters. I’m bummed I just found out about it (where have I been?)

But it’s not too late, thank goodness. Just go over the website (right now!) and register. Make sure you wait for your confirmation email or you won’t be able to attend. Once you do this, you’ll have access to the live sessions. And if you missed some, like I did, there will be replays available later (assuming you’ve actually registered).

If you’re serious about freelancing, this is the event for you.

Sessions started today, September 24, 2010 at 9:00a.m. EST, and they go on through tomorrow, Saturday, September 25, 2010 ending at 5:15p.m. EST. Speakers include Bob Bly, Peter Bowerman, and more. So head over there right now (the link is in the picture above), and see you there!

When you finish watching some sessions, chime in here to let us know what you thought!

Comment spam control

No spam

I love getting comments on my blog posts, so if you’re thinking something while reading my posts, please let me know. One thing I have noticed recently, though, is comments that make no sense. What’s funny is that they have some elements of the post in them, but overall they’re gibberish.

Part of being a “do follow” blog is dealing with comment spam. In case you don’t know, “do follow” means that when you comment here, my site provides a link to your website (assuming you put that information in the comment form). That’s great for building Google PageRank, so I guess a lot of sites comment here just for the links. It doesn’t hurt that my page has some PageRank juice to give out too.

For that reason, I have my comments on moderated status. If you see your comment hasn’t been approved in a couple of days, please feel free to email me. It’s possible I didn’t get to it yet, or it might have wound up in my spam folder. I generally don’t weed through the hundreds of spam messages I get for one or two real comments.

One type of comment spam that’s hard to catch is the “repeat everything” comment. This is where the comment is actually an exact duplicate of some snippet from my posts or from others’ comments. They sound real, and it requires my delving into my memory to realize that it’s something I’ve seen before.

Another common type of comment spam is the “great post” comment. Those are just annoying, but they’re fairly easy to spot. They might say, “Nice blog,” or, “I agree with you,” or other non-specific comments.

Luckily, the Akismet spam catcher thingee does a good job of keeping out most comment spam (like the ads for viagra).

What kinds of comment spam have you had to deal with?

Email (dis)organization

An E-mail!

If you’re anything like me, your inbox in your favorite email program is disorganized and full. I use MS Outlook for email, and I fully intend to keep it organized and manageable. But for some reason, I have over 1000 unread messages, and who knows how many read messages. It’s a complete mess! I also forget to respond to people occasionally, making a mental note to get back to them after I’ve given their message more thought. Somehow I forget to give it more thought, I guess.

I really do care about my email messages. I check email a couple times each day. And I even use the folders system to some extent. Because messages are removed from the server after deletion, I have a folder that I call “keep” so I won’t lose important things. At the same time, there are folders for bills (I forget to open that one a lot), and I keep those indefinitely also.

My plan of action is to only “touch” an email once. When it comes into my sight, I have to read it and either do the required action, file the message in an appropriate folder, or delete it. That’s the plan. I’ve had this plan for a long time, though.

What’s your email situation? Are you really organized? Do you keep all of your messages in your main inbox, or do you move them to folders? I really wish that Outlook allowed me to highlight messages (instead of just flagging them). Maybe if I could highlight a message just like I can highlight a row in Excel, I might actually take action on things that I want to take a quick glance at and save for later.

So if you’ve sent me an email and I haven’t responded, please don’t think I’m ignoring it on purpose. I probably just filed it away or it got lost in the inbox ocean.

Please share with us how you keep your email organized and efficient.


A Room with a View

bench in naturePhoto – Michaela Kobyakov

If you’ve been reading Crayon Writer for a while, you probably know that it’s not super-easy for me to stick to one plan of action for long. I like variety, though I do like to work on short projects for hours on end.

But one thing that never seems to change for me is the need to have pretty scenery around me. I need to work in a room with a view.

This came up recently because I considered moving to a new apartment. I like mine, but I could use more space so my daughter can have her own playroom, or so I can have a separate office (or both). My apartment complex has amazingly large floor plans, and I was all set to move on up to a larger place.

But I realized that though bigger, the other available apartments don’t have the view I currently enjoy. When I look out my window I see greenery and parts of the beautiful desert. I get wonderful animal visitors too. I’ve seen Gambel’s Quail and their babies, rabbits, different lizard species, hummingbirds, all kinds of birds (I’m a bird watcher), and a gopher snake once. I’ve even seen a bobcat with her cubs/kittens walk across my porch.

Occasionally a neighborhood kid uses my “backyard” for a passageway, but overall I find the beauty to be calming. Sure, a bigger place has its advantages, but if I have to stare at a brick wall or a sidewalk or a parking lot all day, I doubt that my mood would be as serene.

What about you? Do you prefer a certain background for your life?


Writing rituals

Music Band 1

Do you write for a living, or spend a lot of time writing? For some, writing can be a way to relax and unwind. Others may write because their boss pays them to do so, and still others make money and relax at the same time.

Like other routine tasks, having a ritual can be helpful (or even essential). I like to turn on my saved music list (formerly Imeem, now MySpace Music). It’s not random music like the radio, so I can get into a groove and block out outside distractions. I do find myself singing along, but because I know the songs so well, it doesn’t require any mental energy.

What about you? Do you have favorite songs or a favorite radio station, or does music distract you too much? Maybe you have a special chair or perfect time of day. I also usually have a cup of chai tea before I write…it seems to calm my mind and get it ready to focus.

Maybe your ritual is more eccentric. Do you hop on one foot three times and spin in a circle before you settle down to the task at hand? This cool article from the National Writing Project discusses a few interesting things some writers do before they start writing.

What are your writing rituals?