Category: Freelance writing

Make your own marketing materials

Having a successful business means successful marketing, as we all know. Along with cold calling, cold emailing, and word-of-mouth marketing, it’s just as important to have professional materials that you can physically hand someone. Lately, while out and about doing day-to-day errands, I make it a point to talk about what I do. What always follows is a request for my business card. I love my business cards, but I know I also need something more.

When I contact new prospects, I need to be ready to send them a brochure as well. Sure, my website is a brochure of sorts, but everyone has a website these days. Anyone can make a cold call or send an email. But a freelancer who uses a variety of marketing materials, both online and on paper, will stand out in the crowd.

Luckily, there are lots of options for getting printed materials for your business. You can hire a graphic designer and then hire a printer, you can try printing things from your own home, or you can use an online document producing and printing company.

You can create your own documents right on their site. Making your product is simple, and you can type text, add pictures, and move things around quite easily. You can also upload a finished project or use one of their templates. When you’re planning a major marketing campaign, details are important. You can get an idea of the paper types by ordering the samples ahead of time. I like to know the weight, the texture, and how light affects the paper when I have a serious project.

As a freelance writer, I sometimes run across clients who need printed materials as well. A reasonably-priced printing service is a great complement to my business. Besides brochures, you can try magnets, calendars, catalogs, window clings, envelopes, and a whole host of other marketing materials. And yes…even business cards.

Have you ever used an online printing company?

Balancing Act

Credit: Kristin Smith

My daughter is seven years old this year, and I’ve finally taken the plunge and decided to homeschool her. I wanted to start when she was five, but she was more interested in going to regular school. It kind of worked for a couple of years, but with our big move, she seemed to be more comfortable with the idea of staying with me. I don’t blame her.

This year is definitely going to be an experiment. I have to make a living solely with my writing business, all while working at home with a young child. In the past, while she was at school, I’d either work for someone else part time or I was a full-time student (with student loan money as a supplement to my writing business). But this is going to be quite the test.

So far, it’s been rocky. When I’ve landed big projects, I’ve taken her to play areas that included wi-fi. That way, she kept busy and so did I. I also stay up late or get up early (or both). My parents moved to Georgia as well, so they’ve been a source of babysitting from time to time. But it’s mostly been me.

The challenge will be keeping my daughter happy and fulfilled while I also seek out prospective clients and work on projects. It helps that I’m not strict about our homeschooling “curriculum.” I’ve chosen to unschool her. We’ve joined a local homeschool group that offers classes and field trips, and we’ve made friends with some neighborhood children. Prospecting via cold calling is pretty non-existent at this point, though. It turns out that the only child of this single parent requires lots of interaction (no surprise).

Creativity is going to be essential if we’re to be successful, but I’m determined. I truly believe that homeschooling is best for my daughter, and that working for myself is best for me.

Have you needed to be creative to balance your work and your family?

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!

Cold Calling procrastination

Bus Stop

I’ve been learning a lot of cool things from watching the replays from International Freelancers Day (replays are only available until October 31, 2010). One of the messages I took to heart is that it’s crucial to prospect in order to get business. While that’s obvious, it still bears repeating. In order to make money doing any kind of freelancing, you need to let potential clients know you exist.

One of the best ways (in my opinion) to prospect is to make cold calls. Whenever I do a cold-calling campaign, I get new qualified leads (which, when handled correctly, may turn into paying clients). Whenever I stop making cold calls, my business grinds to a halt. According to Peter Bowerman, author of The Well-fed Writer (and also a presenter on International Freelancers Day), this mostly has to do with the low volume of calls I’m making. He suggests doing a full-force cold-calling campaign with hundreds of calls (and follow-ups once you get leads). Then you’ll never have to do such a huge number of cold calls in the future after that initial push.

Knowing what I know, and having heard the message repeatedly, why is it still so tough to pick up the phone? I actually like cold calling. I’m very much a phone person, and I love to talk to people. I don’t get discouraged when I get a ‘no,’ and I don’t even mind the occasional abrupt secretary. I’m good at cold calling.

But for some reason, the hurdle of that initial call is huge for me. So I start avoiding it. I make long Excel spreadsheets with prospects to call, I color-code the columns, I research more prospects to add to my list (which is easily over 100 already), and I start to negotiate with myself the best day and time to start calling. I write out my script by hand, then I re-write it on the computer and print it out for a neat copy, and I practice saying it (over and over).

My next procrastination step is thinking about the ideal location to make the calls. I check the batteries on my phone, think about whether or not to use Skype so I can use a headset, I research how to cold call, and then I’m finally ready.

Or not.

Now comes the hard part. I start deciding which company to call first. Surely I can’t call the first one, because they probably won’t need a freelance writer. So I look at their website. Yeah, I’m probably right. So on to the next one.

You get the idea. By the time I am really and truly ready to call, days or weeks have passed with absolutely no action being taken.

My advice to you (and me)? Skip most of the steps. The most important one, which I didn’t mention above, is to pick up the phone, dial the number, and ask for the name of the person in charge of hiring freelancers. Then ask for his/her email address so you can email your portfolio. Easy, right?

How you do handle your prospecting? Do you make cold calls easily, or do you procrastinate too? Any advice for the rest of us?

International Freelancers Day – Replays

If you missed out on International Freelancers Day in September, don’t fret. Until October 31, 2010, they have posted a few replays for free. If you like what you see, you can sign up to see the entire conference (also for free)! Just go to the International Freelancers Day replay page and get started. But hurry! It only lasts until October 31, 2010.

I did get a chance to see a few of the presentations, and they were simply wonderful. You certainly can’t beat the price. So what are you waiting for? Go check it out. But do let us know how you liked them. I can’t wait until next year!

Get it in writing!

To Sign a Contract 3

Recently I agreed to do an editing project for an acquaintance of mine. We agreed that I would be getting paid for my services, and I agreed to work for less than I usually do.

This may not be a problem on its own, but I made the HUGE mistake of not getting a written contract. Or even a spoken contract. I trusted the acquaintance and thought that I’d at least get paid a fair wage for my work.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. And I know the damage is done.

Being a nice guy is great, I suppose, but if you want to get paid properly you really need to get some kind of contract. By just letting things fall where they may you set yourself up to be used. You can be a nice guy by giving your friend, family member, or acquaintance a “nice” contract to sign. It may seem harsh, but it’s the only way you can (sort of) protect yourself.

Even with a contract there’s no guarantee you’ll get paid. This is one reason it makes sense to get some type of deposit up-front…at least you get something for your work. But without a contract you set yourself up for getting nothing at all.

What kind of contract should you write?

The simplest (and maybe nicest) contract is an email exchange. After you talk on the phone or in person and iron out the details, send a short email summarizing what price and terms you’ve agreed to. I did do this with my last client, but I didn’t do one more crucial step. Before you start working on the project, WAIT for your client’s emailed response. In that responding email the client should clearly concur with your summation.

Another method is to write up a general agreement that outlines your terms and the price you’re charging. You should sign it and then give it to your client to sign. Either make a copy of the signed agreement or just have two agreements for the each of you to sign. Once you have that in hand, go ahead and start working on the assignment.

Contracts that are spoken — oral agreements — are legally binding, but they’re difficult to prove and, therefore, difficult to enforce. Don’t feel like you’re being a bad guy by running your business properly. As a benefit, you’ll start finding that clients treat you with respect when you command it from the beginning.

What kinds of contracts have you used for your freelance work? Do you have any horror stories?


It’s all in the follow-up

Remember 1

Follow up. We hear it a thousand times. If you go for a job interview, make cold calls, or deal with a business for just about anything, it’s apparently crucial that you follow up.

Why?

Well after that initial contact — that initial great impression — the person you met with gets busy doing their everyday thing. And unfortunately, they start to forget things. Even that amazing conversation they had with you. Or even if they don’t forget, they get a follow-up call/email/letter from another candidate, and your brilliance suddenly becomes out-of-sight and out-of-mind.

Here’s a quick and easy follow up method. Hopefully it will work, even for the laziest among us:

  • Before you head to the interview or appointment, address and put postage on your thank-you note’s envelope.
  • During your appointment, start thinking about what you’ll say in your personalized follow-up note. For more ideas on how to accomplish this, take a peek at this Freelance Switch article on following up.
  • As soon as you get home, write a personalized handwritten or typed note. If your initial communication was via phone, write a follow-up note before the end of the day.
  • Using some type of reminder system (Outlook, tickler files, cellphone, calendar), set a date no more than a month in advance to send another follow-up note. This one will be similar to the first “thank you” note, but it should mention how excited you are to eventually work with them.
  • If you’ve gotten no negative remarks, go ahead and schedule another note that goes out during a holiday or something similar. The point is to stay on your prospect’s mind in case a gig becomes available.

In my experience, the most difficult thing about following up is committing to doing it. If you’re pretty good at following up with potential clients, what’s your secret? Do you have a different method to share?


Google Voice for freelancers

Thanks to a good friend of mine I recently found out about Google Voice. And am I ever so glad I did!

Google Voice is a freelancer’s dream.

Here’s how it works. You choose a phone number you like. I chose one that’s local to my current home.

Say you don’t have long distance at home, like I don’t. But your cellphone reception is poor in your home, like mine is. If you’re online with your computer, type in the phone number you want to call. Like magic, your landline home phone rings! You pick it up, and your call is connected (for free) to the number you typed in.

Not in front of your computer? No problem. Pick up your landline and dial your Google Voice number. You’ll get an option to place a call. Anywhere in the U.S. and it’s free!

Even better, give your new Google Voice number to anyone, like clients. When they call you, you can set it up so that both your home and cellphone ring. So you’ll never miss an important client call, unless you want to. And they’ll have a professional, local number to call, and you can answer it wherever you are. If you’re staying out of town for a week, you can set it to ring the phone wherever you happen to be residing.

I also like that you can block certain numbers, and you can even set it to make the caller give their name first. If you want, you can send them to voicemail (and even listen to their voice message as they’re leaving it).

Anyway, I think it’s cool, and I like not having to give out my real number to people. Their caller ID shows my Google Voice number as well. And if I ever need to make a change then poof! No one has my real numbers anymore. But call blocking should take care of any annoyances too.

The only drawback is that you have to request an invitation from Google Voice, and then you have to wait patiently (I waited about a month) for your invitation. I have no idea how many they’re giving out, or if it’ll always be free. But for now it is, so head on over and put in your request. But choose your number wisely. It costs $10 to change it later. You can enter a word you’d like your number to correspond to, or search through for certain numbers in a sequence.

One more perk…If you have an Android cellphone (like I do), you can automatically make all of your outgoing cellphone calls using Google Voice. So your cellphone number is still protected from folks, and if you’re calling local clients they still get that local number.

Do you have Google Voice? Let us know if you do, or if you plan to get it soon.


Am I a Guru?

Gavel

One of my favorite ways to find writing gigs is through freelance job blogs. I recently applied for a job, and it turns out the client uses Guru.com to correspond with and pay their freelancers. I’d heard of Guru.com before, but a lot of writers say that with the bidding, pay gets watered down. So I never looked into it.

The gig I was applying for sounded cool, so I went on over to Guru.com to sign up (for free). Now that I’m there I’ll go ahead and fill out my profile and see if I can land some gigs this way too.

The more, the merrier. I’m beginning to realize that even though my goal is to work one-on-one with businesses that value writers (and are willing to pay accordingly), making no money is a quick way to get discouraged. “Right now” money takes the edge off.

Have you joined any bidding sites like Guru.com? Share your experiences with us.