Suzannah over at Write it Sideways has a very good article about Demand Studios (my former sponsor) discussing whether it is a scam or legitimate freelancing. Her opinion is similar to mine. Demand Studios is not a scam. The worst they can be accused of is a bit of hyperbole in their advertising and PR, and I have yet to encounter a company that doesn’t do that. The pay at Demand Studios is low, but not rock-bottom, and it is possible to make a living writing there. Make no mistake, you won’t get rich, but I think it is a great place for writers who don’t have a lot of experience and want to build up both their skills and their portfolio. Everyone has to start somewhere. Her article is very in-depth, I recommend reading it if you want to know more about what it is like to write for them. For those who don’t like them, I am working on an article about how bloggers can effectively compete with Demand Studios and other content mills in the How To / Evergreen content market. Look for it soon.
I have discussed the importance of persistence and focus as part of your freelance writing career. Freelance writing means running your own business, and that means working hard. That doesn’t mean you should make yourself miserable though. The last thing you want to do is feel like you are tethered to your computer ten or more hours a day and that you should never take time for yourself. If you want to be miserable and overworked, you might as well get a regular job.
One of the advantages of a freelance writing career is that you don’t have to answer to some other person’s schedule. You make your own days. There will be times when you have to go all out in order to meet a deadline. Unlike a regular job though, you do have a certain amount of flexibility as a freelance writer and you need to take advantage of that on occasion. Here are a few of the things I do to take advantage of my freelance status.
Go for a walk
My personal goal for 2010 is to walk 1000 miles. That means I need to walk an average of three miles a day. I live in a small community that is surrounded by open desert. A three mile walk takes me about an hour, so I head off into the desert and take a look around me. I never know what I am going to find. I run across animals and plants that I have never seen, and the occasional rusted remains of someone’s car, camp, or desert party. I listen to music or audiobooks and I enjoy the fact that I am free to do this whenever I want to.
Go to lunch
For me, the closest real restaurant is twenty miles away, so when I go out to lunch it isn’t for a quick bite. There is an Asian buffet I like to go to. I take a notebook with me and I write down ideas as they come to me. I don’t take my computer because I don’t want it to feel like work. It is simply time for me to relax and think about what I want to do. I don’t do this every day. There are times when I am so focused on work that I eat a Clif bar and just keep writing. About once a week though, I take my two to three hour lunch and enjoy it.
Take a nap or meditate
Employers frown on people taking naps at a regular job, at least in the USA. That is unfortunate because after about four hours of work, a lot of people get a little sleepy. If I start to feel like that, I generally go sit in my recliner, put my feet up, and listen to one of the many meditation podcasts I get for free from Zen Worlds. I try to meditate, but half the time I just nod off. The advantage of doing this in the recliner though is that I’m bound to get up again in about twenty minutes. By then I am refreshed and ready to work.
Write from somewhere new
There are times when you need to get work done, but you want to escape your usual surroundings. My wife and I have taken several small trips while I have been freelancing, and attended a couple of conferences. Because I freelance, I never had to ask permission to travel. It didn’t matter where I was working from, as long as I completed my assignments. This is the sort of freedom you have as a freelancer, and you should take advantage of it.
Do what works for you
These are examples of how I take advantage of my freelance lifestyle. Freelancing eliminated over three hours a day of commute time for me, which means I have more time to spend with my wife and my friends while still working the same amount of hours as I did before. Find your own ways to take advantage your status as a freelancer. Spend time with your children. Write from the beach. Take an hour for yourself in the middle of the day. Do what feels right, just don’t get carried away. You are still running a business, it just happens to be one you are in control of.
If you want writing to be your career, whether you want to be a copywriter or a poet, you need to treat writing like a business. This can be hard for creative people. Writers like to write. Most writers don’t get into writing because they love business. Unfortunately, if you want to be a success, you have to realize that you are in a business and that the more you know how to conduct yourself as a businessperson, the more you’ll be able to take advantage of writing opportunities and see projects through to completion.
You sell a product
If you are a writer, then your writing is your product. You have to sell that product if you want to make a living. This means that you need to learn about sales. Take a class in marketing or at least get yourself a basic book on sales. Whatever your end product is, from articles to poems to short stories, you can only make a living if you make sales.
You are a product
Beyond your writing, you have to sell another product. That product is you. Whether you are trying to land an assignment, a contract, or a job, you need to sell people on the concept of you. They have to believe that you are the right person for the job. They have to believe that you will not let them down. They even need to like you. You have to make people want to do business with you.
You have to do things you don’t love
With any luck, you got into writing because you love to write. If you didn’t, you should seriously find another profession, because there are plenty of better paying and less stressful careers out there. If you do love to write though, you also need to learn how to do things such as desktop publishing, bookkeeping, taxes, promotion, research, attending meetings, networking, project planning and customer service. They are all part of the business and you ignore them at your own peril.
You need to manage yourself
You have faults, I know I do, and some of these are going to get in your way as a writer. You may be shy, awkward, lazy, scatterbrained, argumentative, easily distracted, bad at math, prone to depression, a perfectionist, etc. You need to be honest about whatever your deficits are and find ways to keep them from damaging your writing career. Whether you need to get a friend or hire an assistant to keep you on task, or hire an accounting service to keep track of your money, you need to be sure that the important things are being taken care of, either by you or by someone you trust. You need to keep yourself working.
You need money
You can’t make a living without an income. That means you may need to write about subjects because they will make you money, or take on additional non-writing work to keep you afloat. This is the reality of having a writing career. You don’t always get to do exactly what you want. You need to think in terms of how much money you need, and how you are going to get it. Sometimes that means taking on assignments you don’t love. Sometimes it means simplifying your life and giving up luxuries or even some basics so that you need less money. Whatever the case, your income matters and you have to find a way to live on the money you make or make more money.
Think like a businessperson
You are free to write like an artist, but you have to think like a businessperson at times. It is a good idea to take business classes, organization classes, and marketing classes. Once you know something about business, it will be easier for you to think of new projects in terms of how you can make them work for your career so that you can keep writing.
Make a daily to-do list
Sit down at the beginning of each day and look at your current assignments. If you don’t have any assignments, make marketing your assignment for the day. Make a list of the three things that you most want or need to move forward on that day and decide what steps you are going to take. Tackle those items as soon as possible, before the day gets in your way.
Make a daily don’t do list
Make a list of the things that you aren’t going to do that day. This is for your peace of mind. Write down any of those nagging tasks that you think you need to do but know you won’t do. Get those items on paper and off of your mind.
Throw away everything you don’t need
By throw away I mean throw it in the trash, recycle it or give it to someone else. Everything in your office that you don’t need is a potential distraction. Yes, you are welcome to have art and other things that aren’t entirely necessary but make life better. Just get rid of the junk, and realize that most of the things in your office are probably Â junk.
Keep track of the ways that you waste time
If you stop working to log on to Facebook and read your messages or play Viking Clan, write it down. If you stop to check your email, write it down. Make yourself list all the ways that you waste time. It will keep you honest.
Log your thoughts and ideas
Keep an open text file, a notebook, a smartphone or an audio recorder. Whenever you have a thought that seems valuable or won’t get out of your head, record it for later. You can review these thoughts at the end of the day to determine their value and any ways that you want to move forward.
Apply the 80/20 rule
The 80/20 rule, which applies to so much of life, is simply this. Twenty percent of effort results in eighty percent of results and benefits. Review your time and your projects and determine the most valuable way to use your time. What do you do that actually results in income, and what do you do that doesn’t result in income.
OK, Freelancing doesn’t mean customer service, but if you want to be a successful freelancer, you’d better be prepared to provide great customer service. This is day two of my discussion of, Write for the Web! A Beginner’s Guide to Writing on the Internet. This e-book was created by the men behind Men With Pens. They wanted me to take a look at it and give them my thoughts, so I am sharing my thoughts with you.
The Pen Men list eight keys to great customer service:
- Be courteous — professionally and socially
- Be responsive
- Be friendly
- Be confident
- Be an expert
- Be realistic
- Be calm and collected
- Be there
All those items are good advice. They all represent a key principal that is true for almost any job. Be Easy To Work With! It is good advice everywhere, but it is crucial in the freelance world, in which another freelancer is always just an Internet search away.
To me the key to being easy to work with (and I’ll be the first to admit I don’t always measure up to this) is to have empathy. This is true whether you are working with a freelance client, your manager at work or with with another writer. The questions you should ask yourself are:
- What do they WANT from me?
- What do they NEED from me?
- What DON’T they need or want from me?
If you can give them the first two and keep the third to yourself, you’re going to do well when it comes to customer service.
I used to do some freelance writing and web work for a private detective. This guy was seriously nuts. Some of his requests were downright strange and he he was frequently annoying. I never once complained to him and I gave him what he needed (after eliminating the more insane parts of what he wanted). Why did I put up with him? He gave me a lot of business (right up until he disappeared) and he always paid upfront in cash. To me, that made him a valuable client.
If I had two kids, Blogging and Freelancing, Blogging would get most of the attention. I would play catch with Blogging in the backyard. I would let Blogging sit in the front seat (and yell at Freelancing for fidgeting). If I could only afford braces for one of them, Blogging would get them. Why?
I don’t have to send out query letters
I would rather be writing articles than query letters. It is just that simple. The process of querying publishers or potential clients can take months and there is no guarantee it will lead to a sale. With blogging, I spend my time writing actual articles (and occasionally poems). I don’t spend my time trying to convince other people to publish me.
I can write about whatever I want
The beauty of blogging is that I am my own publisher. I determine what I write about and then I go out and write it. I don’t have to tailor my writing to a certain magazine’s style, space or content rules. I can write in my own voice and develop my own style. I get to be me.
I don’t have to answer to an editor
I have no doubt a good editor could make my articles better. My site could certainly benefit from one of those pricey word polishers. Unfortunately, I have often found myself the victim of arbitrary cuts determined by either an incompetent editor’s ideas or a publication’s space limitations. These are not problems I have to deal with as a blogger. Bloggers have the freedom to determine the length and style of their work. I love that freedom and I hate it when I have to give it up.
I get published when I want to be
The beauty of blogging is that I determine my own publishing schedule. I can publish an article as soon as I finish it or schedule it for whenever I want it to appear. The decision is mine. I’ll never get that kind of freedom as a freelancer. As a freelancer, I have waited as long as a year for an article to appear (and to get paid). Also, in the rare cases when I am having trouble with an article and it is taking me longer than I expected, I don’t have to worry about explaining myself to an editor or a client. I simply keep working on it until I get it right. I can even quit and move on to something else without any repercussions.
I get to connect with my readers
When I write for traditional print publications or for business clients, the best I can hope for is one or two sets of comments. In many cases, I receive absolutely no feedback from the audience. If I do, it’s a one-time event. Readers don’t follow my work. With my blog, I can develop long-term relationships with my readers. Not only will they comment on one article, in many cases they will come back again and again with their own ideas and opinions. They catch things I miss. They let me know when they like what I wrote. They let me know when they don’t. Knowing they are out there keeps me writing.
Article by Phil Philcox
Give or take a few thousand, there are over 23,000 daily and weekly newspapers in the United States. Weekly newspapers are published for the most part in small towns where there is no competition from large dailies. A weekly newspaper survives with advertising from local businesses, offering rates that are far below that of a daily newspaper. Of course, weeklies have a limited readership, so they reach a local audience with local news and local advertising. Operating on a budget, many weeklies have a small staff and there are weeklies that have 1-2 people doing everything from writing articles to shooting photos to selling advertising to running the presses and distributing the paper around town.
In my forty-plus years of freelancing, I’ve discovered a good market for my articles in weekly newspapers, but you must realized that small newspapers have small budgets. The Atlanta Journal (not a small newspaper) paid me $450 for a 1500 word travel article on Panama City Beach in Florida. I could never get that kind of money from a weekly newspapers, but I could earn $450 if I sold that article to 45 newspapers at $10 each or 10 newspapers at $45 each. I always retain the rights to articles by offering First North American Rights only. That way, I can turn around a month or a year later and sell the article again and again. I’ve sold one article as many as 30 times over a period of a few years, updating it as required to keep it current. This works with magazines as well as newspapers.
Sending out your writing via the old paper/envelope/stamp system is no solution if you want to reach 10, 45 or more newspapers. With a list of weekly newspaper website addresses, anyone can get a glimpse of the current issue and possible the papers archives and get an idea of what type of non-local material they use. A writer’s competition at weeklies is syndicated material that includes a variety of stuff (fillers, puzzles, comic strips, self-help articles, etc.) for only a few dollars each. Because there is no overlap in readership (the readers of a weekly in upstate New York never see an issue of a weekly published in downtown Cleveland), they can sell that material over and over again. A column like Ann Landers that appears in over 2,000 or more papers could be offered for $4 per column and everybody involved gets rich. With that kind of pricing, it’s difficult (but no impossible) to get paid fairly if you’re working on a one-on-one basis. Write a 650 word filler on how to save on your income tax and if you find one weekly interested in buying it, they might offer you $10-$15. I’ve been offered as little as $2 for an article and it cost me (at that time) $1 to mail it flat. You can’t survive under those conditions. But you can survive if you send that article to 10, 50, 100 or more newspapers and you can do that directly from the newspapers web site.
Almost all newspapers (dailies and weeklies) have some means of getting in touch with the editors. While dailies are usually staffed with people who can turn out a variety of material at no cost to the editor other than salary, there are dailies that buy material from freelancers. The Atlanta Journal article sale was the result of a query. They bought the article because I know more about Panama City Beach than any of their staff writers. If you know more about any subject then they can uncover through their normal research/writing routine, you can even crack the dailies. With website access, you can send you material off with a click of the mouse and if they respond, find. If not, there are others out there who might.
Here’s how I sold some humor columns over and over again to weekly newspapers around the country. You can do the same thing with a column on any subject or articles on any subject. I started writing the column for two upstate New York weekly newspapers in the mid-80s and over a period of two years had fifty columns, ranging in length from 500-750 words each. The papers in New York paid me $10 a column. The subjects were general in nature (dieting, paying taxes, living with a spouse, the cost of living, vacationing, politics, etc.) These were subjects that newspaper readers anywhere in the country could relate to. If readers can relate, then there are probably newspaper editors out there interested in what you have to say…if they can afford you. I started putting together the websites of daily and weekly newspapers and concentrated my sales pitch on weeklies for all of the above reasons. I picked two sample columns, opened an e-mail link (letters to the editor, staff e-mails, contact us, etc.) with a “…if you can use this at your normal rate of payment, I have some other columns I’d like to submit. If you can’t use it, just delete it.” I sent the two columns off the first time to 25 editors, using their e-mail link or the BCC block. When you send something to someone by typing in their address in the TO: box, only their address appears when it arrives at the other end. When you send something to more than one person and use the CC: box, they see the entire list of addressee…not a good idea. Using the BCC: (which stands for Blind Carbon Copy), they only see their address even if you send it to 500 editors. Check the e-mail HELP to see how to do this. Sometimes you have to insert a comma between each address.
I sent those columns to over 1,000 editors. While it was tedious, it’s my way of selling material over the Internet. The responses ranged from “…take me off your mailing list” to “sorry, not interested” to “we don’t buy freelance material” to “we don’t have any money” to “we like the columns. How much do you want for them?” I deleted all the negative stuff and wound up with 14 newspapers saying “how much?” If I had to do this by regular mail, I’d go looking for another way to earn a living. From previous experience, I knew if I asked for too much they couldn’t afford it. If I left it up to them, they’d probably pay $5. If I quoted them something in the just-over-reasonable range, say $40, they would probably counteroffer with something in the $20-$25 range. That’s fair enough for me.
Remember now, we’re working with weeklies that have only a limited amount of funds to buy outside material. If you have something good to offer and reach out to enough newspapers, somebody is going to respond. If not, you probably have a bad product, you’re probably too expensive or you’re not contacting enough newspapers. This type of marketing isn’t for everyone. There are writers out there who work on a piece for months and expect to be paid for their time. That’s certainly a reasonable request. But I’ve done both and realize that with the Internet, newspaper and magazine web sites and e-mail address, I can start selling my writing a new way and it works for me. All of this takes time, but once you get the hang of it, you can write something and send it off to a variety of newspapers both dailies and weeklies. Using e-mail links, you can send it to everything from The New York Times to the Marathon Keynoter in the Florida Keys. If they delete it and don’t respond, that’s just part of the marketing process.
Phil Philcox is the Editor of The Press Association USA (email@example.com) Phil Philcox is also the creator of Email Publisher 2000