Archive for May, 2012

6 Quick Tips for Writing Killer Subject Lines

Saturday, May 26th, 2012

Email is a big part of daily life for freelance writers. With dozens of emails to deal with every day, it’s important to be able to keep things straight and find things quickly—and that starts with your subject lines.

Of course, that’s only half the job of an email subject line. The other half is communicating clearly and efficiently with clients and associates. Email is a two-way street—and failing to use clear subject lines can lead to confusion, delays, or even lost or deleted messages.

It’s fairly simple to write high-impact, meaningful subject lines that keep the lines of communication open and make it easier to complete jobs on time. Follow these quick tips to an impeccable inbox.

1. Never leave the subject line blank. This one should be obvious, but it still happens fairly often. With so many viruses clogging the web, people are rightfully leery of opening blank emails. On the plus side, most email programs will warn you if you’re about to send a message with no subject, giving you the chance to add one.

2. Be specific. Vague subject lines are easy for the recipient to ignore—and hard for you to locate in your inbox or sent folder. Avoid using subjects like “That project we discussed.” Instead, include the project title or a few descriptive words about it.

3. Include direction. If you’re sending an email, chances are you need something from the recipient. It’s a good idea to work the action you’re requesting into your subject line, such as “Need your opinion on…” or “Looking for the documents…” or “Have you received…”.

4. Keep it short, but concise. Using a long, detailed, and verbose subject line is a bad idea for a few reasons. Most email programs will truncate the subject with […], so the recipient will have to open the message anyway. Also, your recipient will likely lose interest after the first five or six words.

Keep in mind that it’s acceptable to skip prepositions and articles in the subject line, while still getting your meaning across. So, “I’m writing to confirm our call on Friday of this week at 3 p.m.” can simply say: “Confirming Friday 3 p.m. call.”

5. State urgency—but only when it’s urgent. If you’re sending an email and you need a fast reply, it’s okay to use words or phrases like “Urgent” or “Action required” or “Time-sensitive” in the subject line. However, make sure it’s truly important. If a client or associate continually receives “urgent” messages from you, they may infer that nothing is actually urgent and delay the response.

6. Avoid triggers. As the volume of unwanted email increases, spam filters have gotten more sensitive. To keep your messages from being flagged as spam (and to avoid looking unprofessional), refrain from using ALL CAPS in the subject line, and don’t use symbols—especially $$ or !!! Include only alphanumeric characters.

A few common spam trigger words and phrases to avoid: free, [percent] off, subscribe, click here, and satisfaction guaranteed. The phrase “information you requested” can also trip up spam filters—another good reason to make your subject line specific.

With these simple guidelines, you can ensure that both you and your clients have an easier time managing your inbox landslide. Now, if we could just make sure everyone followed them…

5 Time Management Tips for Freelancers

Sunday, May 20th, 2012

One of the biggest perks of working as a freelance writer is that you get to set your own hours. And one of the drawbacks of freelancing is…you have to set your own hours.

It’s a blessing and a curse. You have the benefit of a flexible schedule, and the responsibility to make yourself stick to it—because no one else will. And without a clock to punch, many freelance writers develop an unfortunate tendency to procrastinate, which forces us to rush in order to meet deadlines.

Whether you’re just starting out in freelance writing or it’s old hat by now, observing these basic time management tips can help you cut back on stress and get more done, faster.

  • Show up for work on time and prepared. One of the best ways to stick to a schedule is to treat your freelance work the same as you would a “regular” job. As tempting as it is to stay in your pajamas, taking the time to get dressed will help you mentally prepare to start working. Whatever time you’ve scheduled to work for the day, make sure you’re at your desk by then.
  • Separate work space from home space. Speaking of your desk—where is it? If you’re working from the kitchen table or a corner of your bedroom, it’s hard to feel like you’re doing a job. Having a designated office with a door is ideal, but if you don’t have the space, consider investing in a screen partition to create an office illusion.
  • Power down the distractions. You may think having the television or the radio on as “background noise” is helping you—but consciously or not, it’s distracting. If you really need noise while you’re working, try a fan, or an ambient track like Rainy Mood.
  • Write it down. Your head is not the best place to keep your schedule. A paper calendar is great, but you should also supplement with a computer program that will send automated reminders. Additionally, make yourself a daily to-do list to keep everything on track.
  • Learn to say no. As much as we all want to be super-people, freelance writers can’t do it all for everyone. It’s tough to turn down family or friends—but on the other hand, it’s tough for them to understand that “working from home” means you actually have to work, and can’t take them up on their offers or requests at the drop of a hat. Be polite, but firm, when dealing with demands on your time.

Once you start incorporating these time management tips into your daily routines, they’ll become habits, and you’ll be amazed at how much time you save. Enjoy your flexible life!

Freelance Fitness: 5 Exercises You Can Do at Your Desk

Saturday, May 12th, 2012

As a freelance writer, you probably spend more time at your desk than someone with a 9-to-5 office job. And if you’re like most busy business owners, you probably don’t have the luxury of heading to the gym every day—and sadly, all that typing you do doesn’t burn many calories.

On those days when you miss your workouts, there are plenty of exercises you can do right from your desk. Instead of staring guiltily at the elliptical machine that’s serving as a coat hanger, try these simple exercises to get your blood flowing and keep your energy levels up.

  • The one-person sports team: While seated, tap your feet rapidly on the floor, like you’re doing a football drill, for 30 seconds. Then give yourself a cheer—pump both arms over your head for another 30 seconds. Repeat this 3 to 5 times.
  • Lift those legs: From your chair, lift one leg and extend it out straight. Hold the position for 2 seconds, then lower your foot until it almost touches the floor. Hold again, for 3 to 5 seconds, before lowering it completely. Alternate legs until you’ve done 15 lifts per leg.
  • Seated squats: You’ll need a chair with arms for this one. Plant both hands on the arms of your chair and slowly lift your butt off the seat (hint: your feet don’t have to leave the floor). When your arms are fully extended, lower yourself back down but stop before touching the seat, and hold for 3 to 5 seconds. Repeat for a total of 15 times.
  • Hamstring situps: For this one, you’ll get to kick back and put your feet up! Push your chair back from your desk and rest your right heel on the edge of the desk. Sitting up straight, bend forward until you feel the back of your leg stretch gently. Flex your foot a few times, then point it and bend your body forward a bit further. Hold for ten seconds, and repeat with the left leg.
  • Neck flex: To help ease out those kinks in your neck, drop your chin and roll your head back and forth a few times. Then, lift your chin and bend your neck to each side. You can repeat this a few times.

Regular exercise is important for great health, especially when you live the somewhat sedentary lifestyle of a freelance copywriter. And when you work alone, like me, you don’t have to worry about anyone seeing you doing bizarre things at your desk.

Choosing a Blog Platform for your Freelance Writing Business

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

So you’ve decided to start a blog for your freelance writing business. Great! Blogs are an excellent way to feed search engines with fresh content. They’re also a great tool for networking and connecting with potential copywriting customers.

But when it comes to picking a blog platform, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the countless options. Here are a few tips to simplify your choice.

Integrated or separate?

This is an easy decision. When blogs were brand-new, it was common practice to have them separate from the main website. Then, when folks realized that a highly searchable blog is a surefire SEO booster, folks started integrating them right onto their business sites.

An integrated blog is definitely your best bet (and I’m not just saying that because I have one!).

Enlisting a professional

If you have a website designer who created and maintains your freelance site, you can probably just let her know that you want an integrated blog, and she’ll put it together for you. Make sure you have easy access and a user-friendly interface for posting to your blog. It’s also a good idea to allow comments as a means of interacting with potential customers.

If you’re not particularly tech-savvy and you want a blog that melds seamlessly with your existing website, it may be a good idea to hire a web designer to make sure it’s done right.

Do-it-yourself options

Basically, you’ve got two choices for adding a DIY blogs to your website. You can use web design software like Dreamweaver or Microsoft Expression (technical difficulty: hair-pulling to keyboard-smashing) or you can integrate a blog platform into your existing site (technical difficulty: mild to moderate cursing).

There are three main blogging platforms that are free and enjoy widespread use: Tumblr, Blogger, and WordPress. Tumblr’s options are limited, and the platform is more suitable for images than text—great if you’re a freelance photographer, but not so much for freelance copywriters. As of 2010, Blogger no longer offers an FTP option for integration.

That leaves only WordPress—but the good news is that it’s a robust and stable platform, with tons of flexibility, plenty of templates, widgets, and add-ons, and a whole lot of functionality.

You can check out the free WordPress platform here, and find instructions for integration with your website here.
Whether you choose to hire an expert or do it yourself—happy blogging!