How to Find a Mentor

September 18th, 2015

ApprenticeshipEstablishing a relationship with a mentor is a valuable milestone for any young professional. Not only can it provide meaningful insight and industry knowledge, but it can also help you hone your skills and become more desirable in the job market. Whether you’re a freelance writer building a portfolio or a recent marketing graduate, a mentorship can help you develop into a more well-rounded, well-informed person.

While the need for a mentor is common business knowledge, many professionals find themselves stumped when it comes to getting started. Here are five tips to help you find the right advisor and continue full steam ahead along the path to success.

1. Set goals.

Before answering the question of who your mentor is, you should think about why you want one. Are there any particular abilities or skills that you would like to improve? In which areas of your career do you need feedback? By setting goals for what you would like to accomplish with a mentorship, you’ll increase your chances of finding the right person to help you achieve them.

2. Know what to look for.

You should have at least a rough idea of your dream mentor. Ideally, it should be someone who’s very much like yourself, and who has a career trajectory similar to the one you’d like to take. If your mentor shares many of your traits, you’ll find it much easier to communicate and glean valuable wisdom from their experiences.

3. Start slow. 

During this process, you may find a few potential mentors on the horizon. Rather than simply asking one of them to guide you, take the time to get to know them and gauge whether they’ll be a good fit. This is where the Internet is invaluable. Do plenty of research on potential mentors, whether that’s by reading their blogs or researching their work history on sites like LinkedIn.

4. Get to know them.

Once you’ve done your due diligence, invite each candidate out for coffee or lunch, without expressly stating that you’re feeling them out for a mentorship. This will give you the opportunity to learn who they are as a person and test your professional chemistry. While it’s wise to have a few questions in mind, don’t conduct the meeting like an interview. Keep it informal and friendly, but pay close attention to the vibes you’re getting from this person. Do you think you can learn from them? Would you enjoy spending time with them?

5. Let it develop naturally.

Once you’ve narrowed down the options and made your choice, don’t force anything. After your initial meeting, email or call to say you’d like to meet again and make plans for a future date. The relationship should develop organically, but if you find yourself stuck at any point, you can always simply ask if they’d be open to a mentorship.

Finding a mentor can be tricky. But by taking things slow, keeping an open mind, and carefully considering your options, you’ll be poised to establish a dynamic, reciprocal relationship that will inspire and motivate you for years to come.

Why Hire a Ghost Blogger?

September 9th, 2015

Ghostwriter_2It’s easy to decide to start a blog—but not so easy to execute. Many writers or marketers underestimate the work involved. Not only do you have to create a content schedule, but you have to research and generate each individual blog post. This may involve finding pictures, sources, and quotations, or even interviewing industry experts yourself. Add the need to design, market, and manage your blog, and the workload can quickly become overwhelming.

Fortunately, there are other options for those looking to start their own blog, including hiring a ghost blogger to create the articles for you. Ghost bloggers are freelance writers who can research and write blog posts on just about any subject imaginable. Professional ghostwriters are highly devoted to their craft, ensuring that you start your blog off with the right words. Read on for a few of the benefits of hiring a ghost blogger.

Quality Control

It can be tricky to nail the right content and tone for your blog without relevant audience insight. Most ghost bloggers have years of experience writing for blogs, so not only can they target their writing toward your demographic, but they can also incorporate strong headers and quality content that will engage, inform, and captivate your readers. When you hire a trained professional, you can rest assured that the writing will be error-free and tailored to your specifications.

Fresh Eyes

Giving your ghost blogger a set of guidelines to follow is a great way to ensure that your content is consistent and genuine. However, one of the main reasons to use a freelance writer is for the fresh perspective they bring to the page. This writer may look at your core message from a different angle, and propose helpful tips on how you can get the most out of your blog. With experience and analytics backing their opinion, a talented freelance writer will be a valuable tool as you build your audience.

More Free Time

It seems there’s never enough hours in the day—but with a freelance ghost blogger in your corner, you’ll free up a few. Not only will you receive quality work, but you’ll have more time to devote to other interests and initiatives, and to focus on the design and marketing of your blog. With the ghost blogger taking care of the content itself, you’ll have the opportunity to read what others are writing about and create a relevant, reader-friendly content calendar for the writer to follow.

Whether you specialize in eCommerce, accounting, or animals, starting a blog is hard work. You have the ideas and inspiration—now hire a ghost blogger to put your vision into words. With quality content and more free time on your hands, you’ll be better equipped to build your brand and draw a larger audience — ingredients for a successful blogger.

Application Tips for Freelance Copywriters

August 23rd, 2015

pick meWorking as a freelance copywriter can be highly rewarding, allowing you to nurture your creativity while exploring a wide range of interesting subjects. One day you might be tasked with blogging for a musician, and the next day might have you crafting a case study for a cosmetics company. But the application process for these positions can be very competitive and rigorous. How can you ensure that your resume makes it to the top of the pile? Let’s dive into a few tips for ensuring that your freelance writing application stands out and doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.

Read the Instructions 

Before you write, you’ve gotta read. Thoroughly peruse the job posting or application instructions. For many gigs, the posting will specify what specific subject line you should use, which person you should contact, or whether you should include salary requirements. Sometimes the company will request a writing sample or a link to your portfolio. If you only skim the body of the ad, you could miss important instructions and come across as unobservant to your prospective employer.

Make It Reader-friendly

Keep in mind that the hiring manager may get inundated with dozens of applications for the position. While your resume and cover letter should be attractive and well-designed, they should also be organized with the reader in mind. Break your cover letter into smaller, digestible paragraphs, and use bullets or lists in your resume. Incorporate headings and bold text to highlight particularly important points.

Be Genuine

Copying and pasting a cover letter template will put your resume on the fast-track to the trash bin. Let your real personality shine through, whether that’s by using a fresh, genuine writing style or including personal (but not too personal) details about yourself. Mention what you like about the company, and how you think you can help them achieve their goals. Be honest about your qualifications; don’t over- or under-sell yourself. There’s a fine line between impressing the hiring manager and turning him off with a smarmy sales pitch.

Choose the Right Samples

At some point, you’re going to have to supply writing samples. Choose samples that are relevant to the work the company does. If they’re in the education industry, for example, you might send an instructional piece or a news article about education reform. Beyond their core content, you should also pay attention to the tone and voice of their work. Do they like tongue-in-cheek, or are they a more professional, polished firm? Tailor your clips accordingly. If you’re applying directly to an advertising company, you may find it worthwhile to send a variety of pieces to showcase your range.

No-one ever said it was easy to break into the freelance writing industry — but these four tips will help you stand out among the sea of applicants searching for the perfect copywriting client.

Are You Guilty of Using Weasel Words?

August 12th, 2015

3650766823_1d2ba42be3In the realm of bad writing habits, “weasel words” are pretty high up there. These tricky terms are used as a crutch for writers to weasel their way out of making a definitive point. Instead of taking a clear stance on a subject, the writer undermines her statement by qualifying it with one of many culprits, including “might,” “could,” “very,” “surely,” “however,” “although,” or “as much as.”

So, why would a smart and creative writer choose to settle for one of these weasel words?

Reason #1: To Purposely Skew the Facts

This is likely the most common reason freelance writers use weasel words. If there’s a particular study or data set that could support their argument, they might be inclined to frame it in an ambiguous way to strengthen their case. For instance, you may write that “studies show that our software could increase workplace efficiency by up to 20%.” If only one company reports an efficiency increase of 20%, however, this number could be highly misleading.

You don’t have to chuck your statistics – simply find a way to frame them that doesn’t involve weasel words. For instance, you could write that “one company reported an increase in workplace efficiency of 20%.” This is factual, honest, and to the point.

Reason #2: Plausible Deniability 

In some cases, freelance writers might want to hedge their language as a means of protecting themselves from false claims. If a writer definitively claims that something will happen and then the exact opposite occurs, they could lose a significant chunk of credibility. Weasel words are a tempting way to get off the hook. After all, saying something “may” happen is different than saying that it WILL.

This is actually a reasonable use for weasel words, but it does come with one caveat: don’t overdo it. If your article or press release is peppered with these sneaky sayings, your readers may get the impression that you have an ulterior motive or that you’re misrepresenting yourself. Only use weasel words if you feel it’s necessary to protect yourself, but don’t abuse them.

Reason #3: Lack of Evidence

And then there’s the instances when writers simply don’t have the factual evidence to back up their claims. This is perhaps the most pernicious use of weasel words, and over time it can wreak havoc on a freelance writer’s career. Simply put: if you don’t have the facts to back up your argument, make a different argument or write it as an opinion piece. But whatever you do, don’t use this language technique to create false impressions or mislead your readers. More often than not, they’ll find out and peg you as dishonest.

Although weasel words are best avoided, there are some instances when it may be necessary to slip a few into your writing. As with any technique, use them sparingly and with good intentions, and you won’t come out looking like a shyster.

Content Marketing vs. Copywriting: What’s the Difference?

April 23rd, 2015

content marketingIt’s happening more and more often lately: a client will contact me with what’s purportedly just a simple writing project… but then as the specs and goals unravel, it becomes clear that she’s looking for more than just a copywriter: she needs a content marketer.

But wait — aren’t they the same thing? Not exactly. Some copywriters stick strictly to wordsmithing (and there’s nothing wrong with that!), while other writers are more marketing-minded and enjoy incorporating their writing into the overall package. Many writers are somewhere in the middle.

And, of course, not all content marketers are copywriters.

Definitions of Content Marketing & Copywriting

If you think of content marketing as a house, copywriting is like one of the support beams. Could the house stand without the beam? Most likely, but it wouldn’t be nearly as strong or sturdy.

The Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing as “a marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience.” Whatever technique is used — from email campaigns to text messaging to online display ads — the objective is to get customers and prospects to click, convert, share, or do SOMETHING that contributes to a healthier bottom line.

According to Wikipedia, copywriting is “written content conveyed through online media and print materials, primarily used for the purpose of advertising or marketing, often used to persuade a person or group as well as raise brand awareness.”

What Does Content Marketing Look Like?

There are countless types of content marketing pieces. Below are just a few:

  • Infographics: As the name implies, these are attention-grabbing graphics that present any kind of information, usually statistics or compelling facts, all presented in a highly visual — and usually very colorful – way. Here’s a link to some of the most popular infographics of 2014.
  • Podcasts: Anyone selling a product or service can use podcasts to distribute value-adding audio content to their audience. Podcasts can include entertainment, guidance, information, interviews, or anything that supports the publisher’s goal. Here are a few examples of high-impact podcasts.
  • Whitepapers: Wikipedia defines a whitepaper as “an authoritative report or guide informing in a concise manner about a complex issue and presenting the issuing body’s philosophy on the matter. It is meant to help readers understand an issue, solve a problem, or make a decision.” Not necessarily sexy or entertaining, but definitely value-adding when presented to the right audience.
  • eBooks: Electronic books can be written about any topic, product, service, or industry. For instance, a personal trainer might hire a freelance copywriter to write an eBook with fitness and nutrition tips, and then incorporate a “soft sell” driving readers to his website to learn more (and to ultimately book training sessions or purchase his other products or services). Check out some examples of effective content marketing eBooks.
  • Videos: Justin Bieber isn’t the only one who got rich through YouTube. Modern companies recognize the power of online video content. And it’s easier (and more affordable) than you might think. You don’t necessarily have to hire an expensive production company to create a compelling, useful video that highlights your product or service.

There are plenty more examples, from case studies and product guides to interviews and how-tos. Anything that can be distributed to a target audience — with the goal of persuading them to act — is a form of content marketing. Some types, like business books and whitepapers, obviously require copywriting. But for other types, businesses may attempt to forgo hiring a writer and produce the media in-house.

So, you may be able to produce content marketing pieces without copywriting — but they won’t be nearly as effective. After all, given the choice, you’d never leave out that support beam when building a house… so don’t skimp on well-crafted words when investing your time, money, and energy in a content piece.

“Who Will Be Writing My Content?”

April 10th, 2015

ghostwriter1I get this question a lot from prospective clients. They visit my website, see “Words by Melissa & Associates,” and wonder “Who are these mysterious ‘Associates’?

I don’t blame them. After all, they have a right to verify that their content will come from a professional, trusted source.

When I started my Cincinnati freelance writing business back in 2007, I was a one-woman show. From technology case studies to articles about potty training to descriptions of Santa figurines, I wrote every word. Over the next couple of years — as my client roster, workload, and family all continued to grow — I realized I was approaching a line. And once I crossed it, I simply wouldn’t be able to keep juggling without dropping something important and breakable.

That’s when I began experimenting with hiring backup writers to handle some of the overflow work. I had mixed feelings about it at first. After all, the quality of my content was a source of pride to me, and the foundation of my business. It was a little scary to give up some control and put my trust in third parties. But every reward starts with some element of risk. This strategy seemed to be a viable way to cultivate as many client relationships as possible, while boosting productivity.

Over the years, I’ve worked with a handful of writers. I carefully hand-pick them to ensure optimal quality and precision of the finished product. I still do a large bulk of the client work myself, but during those periods when projects are coming in fast and furious — and the line between “writer” and “mommy” becomes blurred beyond recognition — I may leverage one or more writers to assist with initial drafts and research. All content is funneled through me for final review, editing, and any necessary rewriting before I submit it to the client for review.

For the projects where I’ve outsourced at least some of the content, the clients have reported that quality was not compromised. To the contrary, it’s often improved by the benefit of having multiple people’s eyes on the content. Plus, if a project calls for a specific type of knowledge or experience, I can tap a writer with that particular specialty. And if any revisions are required (which is rare), I personally handle them.

I’ve also found that working with other writers has made ME a better writer. I’ve honed my editing chops, learned to effective manage people and projects, and become a stronger communicator — all important traits for any successful freelance writer.

Ultimately, my freelance writing business is only as successful as my clients’ satisfaction levels. If they are receiving engaging, well-written, and fully researched content — along with my stamp of approval and quality guarantee — then I’ve done my job well. Just as a surgeon needs help prepping her patients before the main event, I believe there’s no shame in a busy copywriter enlisting some help in crafting an early draft.

Nothing trumps quality — regardless of who’s holding the pen.

Handling Criticism With Grace

April 8th, 2015

revisionsAll freelance writers go through it. Whether we’re writing web copy, product descriptions, or press releases, there will inevitably be those heart-sinking days when clients give us — to put it delicately — less than stellar feedback. Maybe the tone or style wasn’t quite what they had in mind, or perhaps the research was lacking and a few facts were missing or in error. Or perhaps the client is just exceedingly picky and darn near impossible to please (which is a separate issue altogether).

Whatever the source of the dissatisfaction, that first instance of negative feedback can be a crushing blow to a freelance writer’s ego, especially if he or she is just starting out. But as your skin thickens and you get some content jobs under your belt, you’ll get better at handling criticism from clients — and, in many cases, turning it into a positive.

Read on for a few tips on how to gracefully receive less-than-glowing feedback, and come out of it with your confidence intact.

  • Remember that it happens to everyone. We’ve all heard the stories about how Stephen King and J.K. Rowling endured dozens of rejections before their first books were published. Judging content is extremely subjective, and there will inevitably be someone who doesn’t fall in love with your stuff. Keep in mind that you’re in good company, and one disillusioned client does not erase your previous successes and skills.
  • Step back before reacting. It can be tempting to immediately reply in defense of your work, but it’s best to take some time to let the feedback sink in. If the client provided clear and detailed gripes, you know what you’re dealing with. But if the feedback was vague — such as “It didn’t meet expectations” — ask for clarification of what specifically didn’t float their boat.
  • Do some discovery. Once you have the detailed feedback, revisit the project specs and make sure you didn’t miss anything. Next, review the content again and make sure you didn’t miss any errors. If you realize that any part of the content falls short of your best work, you can acknowledge that in your response.
  • Take responsibility. If you discover that you were at fault for any of the issues — whether it was a typo or a botched fact –  ‘fess up and offer an apology. Never offer a string of excuses or pass the buck. The client doesn’t need to know that your kid was sick and you were distracted while writing their article. Just apologize and offer to fix it.
  • Offer revisions. Most freelance writers offer one (or sometimes two) round of revisions at no additional charge. I’d say in 99% of these cases, some thoughtful editing can turn around the whole situation. Of course, if the client has suddenly decided she wants to make sweeping changes to a project’s topic or scope, that warrants a separate conversation and fee adjustment.)
  • Keep the client’s needs in mind. If you’re not meeting them, the project won’t succeed. Treat every complaint as an opportunity to better understand those needs, so you can recalibrate your arrow and hit the bulls-eye squarely next time.

These are just a few best practices for handling negative client feedback. I’d love to hear what other freelance writers (and clients) would add to this list!

The Great Pay Disparity

April 6th, 2015

moneyI’ve been a freelance writer for eight years now, since leaving my corporate content job in 2007. In that time, I’ve found that the only consistent part of content writing is its inconsistency — especially in regard to pay.

Starting out, anxious to build a portfolio and gain some credibility, I was content to get paid peanuts. I’ll admit that I wrote plenty of articles for $10 or even $5 apiece. But as my experience and client list grew, I nudged up my fees accordingly. Even so, I’ve always been fascinated by the huge disparity in what various clients are willing to pay — and it’s not always what you’d expect. A small business may offer a competitive rate for some blog posts, and the next day a larger company will share their considerably smaller budget for web content — leaving me scratching my head.

With the hugely subjective nature of placing a value on content, how can a freelance writer sniff out the higher-paying clients and eventually leave those $5 articles behind? Here are a few tips.

  • Vet the prospects. There ARE quality clients out there with healthy budgets. Sure, they’re harder to find, but it’s worth the digging. Bypass the too-good-t0-be-true Craigslist offers; these usually don’t pan out. Take the time to thoroughly research companies, make a list of the good, solid ones, and tailor your marketing efforts to them.
  • Say bye-bye to job boards. Like most freelance copywriters, I used them early on, but they’re not an avenue for sustaining a steady (or growing) income. Most of those boards are frequented by low-paying clients who want to audition a bunch of new writers for pennies on the word.
  • Network. Ideally, in person. A single face-to-face meeting can get you further down the path to prosperity than dozens of anonymous Internet exchanges.
  • Publish quality content. Whether it’s your own freelance writing blog (like this one), or a reputable website or magazine, putting great content out there is the quickest way to build credibility and establish the trust of high-paying clients.
  • Base rates on value. Instead of limiting yourself by pricing your services hourly, consider how much revenue your web copy, article, or eBook will generate for the client – and then charge accordingly.

I could go on and on — but these are just a few of the ways that content writers can start weaning themselves off of penny-pinching clients and attract the ones who place a higher value on skilled writing professionals.

Success Story: North Capital

March 19th, 2015

Screenshot 2015-03-19 16.47.56North Capitalnorthcapital, founded in 2008, is a fee-only investment advisory firm. The company provides a wide range of services, including financial planning, guidance, and discretionary investment management. Their clients include individuals, families, and institutional investors. In addition, the firm is currently launching a crowdfunding platform for smaller investors, made possible by the JOBS Act.

As a financial firm, North Capital operates in a complex industry. This means the company must provide clear, concise copy that communicates what they do, how they work, and how they can help clients—all in a matter that is compliant with the various laws and regulations of the financial sector.

An ongoing challenge

As the financial industry is undergoing significant change, North Capital is dedicated to providing proactive education to clients, while promoting the firm’s perspective. High quality content is a crucial aspect of this mission, but the company was unable to produce enough content in-house to meet their needs.

In seeking a copywriting service, North Capital required a solution that would distill complex industry practices and issues into accessible, digestible content for non-finance professionals. Their criteria included strong writing skills, industry familiarity, responsiveness, timeliness, and a willingness to collaborate.

Writing that speaks for itself

To search for a copywriting solution, North Capital used Elance, an online platform that allows them to “test drive” service providers. The firm considered a number of different freelance writing firms and individuals, comparing portfolios and work samples to find the best solution.

After reviewing all of the potential freelance writing service providers, North Capital contacted Words By Melissa to fill their copywriting needs.

Delivering a measurable ROI

A Cincinnati copywriting firm, Words By Melissa consistently provides high quality content for North Capital. The company was able to improve both the volume and value of thought leadership pieces and other educational content, and is very pleased with WBM’s ability to continually meet their needs in a timely manner. “One of the articles that Melissa collaborated on has become a core marketing piece for our firm,” North Capital said.

Melissa and her team save both time and money for North Capital by providing first-rate content on demand, which subsequently frees up top management to focus on their core business.

How to Spot a Great Freelance Client

March 10th, 2015

successEvery freelance writer has heard the horror stories about bad clients, and most have had at least one run-in. You know you should try to avoid working with those problem clients—but how can you ensure that more of the good ones wind up in your roster?

What makes a good freelance client? The ability to recognize them can help you build a successful freelance writing business that benefits both you and the companies you write for. Working with great clients means less stress and a more flexible, creative working environment, which translates into higher quality output.

Here are some of the common characteristics many good freelance clients share.

A good track record

One way to spot a great client is to find out how they treat other freelance writers they’ve worked with. If other writers have had poor experiences with the client, it’s doubtful that you’ll be treated much better. In cases where the client hasn’t worked with freelance writers before, find out how they treat their customers—this can be a good indication of what you can expect from the relationship.

Clear communication

This is one of the most important traits for any freelance-client relationship. Good freelance clients will successfully communicate what they want and need from an assignment, since they’ll realize that you can’t deliver something that wasn’t requested. They’ll also be available to answer questions, ensuring that projects are completed the right way, the first time.

Realistic expectations

Great freelance clients don’t expect you to work miracles. They set reasonable deadlines, and don’t ask you to take on a big project Friday afternoon that’s due on Monday morning. They also won’t keep expanding a project and adding new tasks, unless they’re paying extra. A good client values quality over quantity.

Fair pay

They say you get what you pay for, and a good freelance client takes that to heart. Great clients know that low pay means high volume and rushed work. They’re willing to pay more for quality, and they’ll come through with payment in a timely fashion.

Respect for your work                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Good freelance clients understand that writing is a skill, and they’ll have respect for you and your abilities. Respect is an important foundation for any business relationship—if a client has a high regard for you, they’ll be much less likely to offer low rates or haggle on prices, neglect payments, add on more work (without paying more), demand short deadlines, or engage in any of the other behaviors associated with bad clients.

Another sign of respect is a client who lets you do your job, without micromanaging or second-guessing your abilities. Good clients are comfortable with the client-writer relationship—that’s why they started working with you in the first place.

Willingness to form an ongoing relationship

Building a long-term relationship is an advantage for both freelance writers and their clients, and a great client knows this. Good freelance clients are looking for writers who can learn their style and expectations, and then continually deliver the quality of work they need. They don’t want to train a new writer every time they need another project done.

The best clients will also seek to grow the professional relationship with you. Over time, they’ll ask for more comprehensive projects, and will pay more as your experience and value increase.

What qualities do you look for in a great freelance client?

Success Story: Informatix

March 1st, 2015

informatixlogoInformatix is a full-service digital marketing agency based in Australia, with expertise in multiple core areas and clients around the world. The agency specializes in providing clients with advanced, customized technology and automation solutions, and helping them gain a competitive edge in a crowded digital landscape.

With services ranging from market research and email marketing, to website design and SEO, to comprehensive online systems, Informatix understands that content is still king. As the agency’s copywriting needs grew along with the company, they sought an external solution to provide the same results-driven level of service they offer their own customers.

Knowing the material

Informatix had a copywriting solution in place, but it was too inflexible and generic for the company’s evolving needs. They sought a copywriter who could handle a more personalized and informative writing style across all of their target markets, in a way that would educate and inform clients and prospects about who they are and what they do.

The agency’s criteria for a copywriting solution included prompt and timely turnarounds, the ability to follow marketing briefs, and the skills and knowledge to write informed copy across multiple industry sectors. Quality and affordability were also crucial considerations for a new external copywriter.

Delivering results

After testing several copywriting firms, Informatix decided to work exclusively with our Cincinnati copywriting firm for their copywriting needs. We provide concise, on-message, quality marketing material, delivered promptly and on tap, which helps Informatix generate interests from prospects and close more sales.

By using our copywriting services, Informatix says, “Open rates have improved, feedback from our database has been positive. They like reading our stuff.” Words By Melissa has helped this agency dramatically improve their SEO ranking with organic search engine results—and ultimately saved the company time and money.

As experienced marketing copywriters, we’re thrilled to help Informatix achieve stronger SEO, higher open rates, and improved visibility and sales.

 

How to Handle a High-Maintenance Client

February 17th, 2015

thMost freelance writers find that the majority of their clients are great to work with. But just like any other industry, there will always be a few who turn out to be a little more challenging. They may be hard to please, contradictory, overly involved and demanding, or hyper-concerned about results to the point of micro-managing projects.

Regardless of the particulars, dealing with high-maintenance clients can be frustrating for a freelance writer. These tips will help you tackle the occasional but inevitable difficult client, so you can emerge with your professionalism and sanity intact.

The best defense is a good offense

One of the best ways to handle difficult freelance clients is to not work with them in the first place. Of course, it’s practically impossible to spot every potential challenge, but a proactive strategy for identifying and avoiding high-maintenance clients can go a long way toward alleviating issues.

Here’s how to set up your freelance writing business so you’re less likely to pull in difficult clients:

  • Charge professional rates. Keeping your rates low can be a competitive strategy, but rock-bottom fees tend to attract the type of client you don’t really want to work with. Low-budget clients aren’t likely to respect your skills as a professional, because they view you as cheap labor—which can actually make them more demanding than high-paying clients. They’re also not very invested in a project they’re not paying much for.
  • Allow yourself to say no. Beginning freelance writers often feel they can’t afford to turn down any client, even if they know the client is going to be a nightmare to work with. Strive to be in a financial position where you’re able to turn down some projects down. This may mean working another part-time job until you’re established—but focus on quality over quantity, and build your freelance practice in a way that allows you to be choosy with clients.
  • Build relationships with regulars. Repeat clients are gold to a freelance writer. The more steady, reliable clients you have, the less you’ll need to take on difficult clients. Developing a solid working relationship also benefits your clients, since they don’t have to seek out a new freelancer every time they need content.

Despite taking precautions, you’ll still end up with the occasional challenging client. Here’s what to do when you find yourself in these situations.

Stay in touch

It’s a natural instinct to want to avoid contact with a difficult client, but this is exactly the wrong approach. The situation will actually be better if you communicate frequently. High-maintenance clients typically need to feel like their concerns are being addressed, so as long as you’re speaking regularly to them about the status of their project, they’ll believe you’re on top of things—and will be less likely to get frustrated.

Instead of asking what’s wrong, ask what’s right

A common problem freelance writers have with difficult clients is the “make it better” routine. You turn in a project, and they’re not happy with it—but they don’t say why. The extent of their feedback is “just make it sound better.” When pressed for details, they either can’t or won’t articulate what they don’t like about the content.

In this case, you may be able to get more insight by asking the client what’s right about the project. Use open-ended questions to find out what they think would make it sound better, or whether there’s a particular way they want something phrased. Listen to the responses and give them exactly what they’re asking for.

Request a reference or example

There are many freelance clients who can’t articulate the type of piece they want. If you’re struggling to understand why they’re unsatisfied with a particular project, or if the initial instructions are vague and unclear, ask the client to provide specific examples of the type of writing they envision.

Don’t accept a list of business authors or a noncommittal “it’s kind of like this, with some of that” here—instead, request links to websites that have a similar tone and style to what the client wants. This can help you pinpoint the issue, even if the client can’t.

Stay professional

High-maintenance clients can test even the friendliest and most patient freelance writers. When a client complains endlessly, yells at or berates you, or generally acts in an unprofessional manner, it’s tempting to give back what you’re getting. But staying professional in the face of less-than-cordial behavior not only helps you manage your stress levels, but can also help to defuse a potentially explosive situation.

Fire the client

This should be a last resort. If you’ve tried and failed to come up with something the client is happy with, and you’ve used every trick in the book to figure out what they really want to no avail, then it’s time to part ways. Again, keep it professional—simply tell the client that you’re obviously not a good match, and you’re withdrawing from the project.

How do you handle working with difficult clients?

Success Story: RTV

February 1st, 2015

rtvlogoEstablished in 1999, RTV is a leading provider of virtual tour technology and maintains the largest full-service virtual tour and property marketing network in the world. In addition to providing premium self-service virtual tour software, the company maintains an extensive network of virtual tour providers—entrepreneurs who operate their own virtual tour companies using RTV’s software and extensive resources.

In order to keep in touch with their vast network of customers and providers, and to expand their customer base, RTV needed to produce more high-quality content, in a short amount of time. They were also redesigning their primary business website and looking for fresh, new content that reflected the quality of their service offerings.

Searching for a great copywriter

As RTV’s focus shifted toward managing their growing network and developing new products, the company sought a reliable copywriting service that could produce great content quickly, and match the voice they’d established. Their criteria included unique, affordable content with a dependable turnaround.

After trying out a few different services, RTV contacted Words By Melissa and received an instant reply. The company was thrilled with the speed and quality of our Cincinnati copywriting team. They were particularly impressed with the voice match of the content, which reflected the tone and style of their existing material.

Reliable copywriting that saves time

Words By Melissa provided RTV with a comprehensive refresh for their website content, and provided new copy for their corporate email templates. The company also enlisted our Cincinnati copywriters to write weekly blog posts in order to keep their website optimized with fresh content. As the owner stated, “The work speaks for itself…it saves time, and time is money!”

The team at Words By Melissa is pleased to help RTV keep their business website fresh, engaging, and unique, with quality content that helps their customers and providers succeed with virtual tours.

Success Story: World Web Content Writers

January 15th, 2015

world_web_content_writers_-_seo_web_writing_services_and_search_engine_optimization_positioning_experts_-_logoWorld Web Content Writers specializes in producing high-quality web content, and also provides WordPress installation services. As the importance of content continued to dominate Internet marketing for all types of businesses, the demand for this small company’s services grew—and they had a need for more freelance writers who could maintain the professionalism and quality their growing business and reputation required.

The hunt for quality, value, and specialized skills

While professional and prompt content were essential qualities, World Web Content Writers also needed a copywriting solution that could handle high-quality content production for technical subjects, one of the fastest-growing demands from their clients.

The company placed freelance job ads seeking qualified talent and reviewed the applications that flooded in. “We considered and rejected many writers,” the company said. “We work only with the best!”

Words By Melissa: A letter-perfect match

Ultimately, World Web Content Writers chose to work with our Cincinnati freelance copywriting business to meet their content production needs. Their criteria included top-notch quality, professionalism, and attractive value—and WBM delivers on all counts.

The company stated that since partnering with us, they’ve saved both time and money on their freelance writing projects. “Our business revolves around writing, so [WBM’s] service is critical,” the company said. Words By Melissa consistently delivers prompt, polished content that meets or exceeds expectations, even for niche markets such as technical writing.

In addition, World Web Content Writers has realized increased search engine rankings and traffic through our SEO web content writing services.

Success Story: Local Surge Media

December 30th, 2014

Local Surge Media, an online marketing agency based in Austin, Texas, provides a range of Internet marketing services that includes SEO, pay-per-click advertising, website design, lead generation, and customer outreach. While the company employs full-time writers, they often found themselves with a high volume of copywriting needs that their staff was unable to handle.

Aligning with the company’s needs

Local Surge Media needed a copywriting resource to provide reliable results on short notice when they had overflow situations. They set out to look for a skilled professional who could produce top-quality copy with a fast turnaround, and maintain their rigorous standards.

“Anytime we send work out to other contractors, we risk our reputation as a firm, so it’s important that the standard of work and professionalism is the same as what we have internally,” says the founder.

Finding a permanent copywriting partner

In searching for a freelance copywriting solution, Local Surge Media engaged in a process of trial and error. The company ended up rejecting several copywriting firms due to negative experiences—specifically, a lack of quality and failure to meet promised deadlines. With their client reputation on the line, they couldn’t afford excuses.

When the company contacted Words By Melissa through Elance, their expectations were exceeded and a long-term partnership was formed.

Saving time and preserving the company image

Our Cincinnati copywriting firm provides Local Surge Media with promptly written, high quality copy on short notice whenever they experience workload overflow. The company has saved a lot of time with a reliable copywriting solution that delivers work on-demand, with no excuses.

As the company states, “Your ability to learn and adapt to our expectations, as well as our clients, makes the process much easier than dealing with new firms every six months.”

Words By Melissa is pleased to help Local Surge Media maintain their industry-leading reputation by providing exceptional web content, blog posts, company bios, case studies, and other marketing content.

Tips for Managing Your To-Do List

December 20th, 2014

todoTo-do lists can be a writer’s best friend. Making lists not only helps you figure out everything you really need to get done, but also provides a sense of satisfaction as you check off finished items.

On the other hand, the humble to-do list can also become a driving force that dictates everything you work on—if they’re not managed well, you can end up constantly working in reactive mode instead of gaining steady ground on your mountain of work.

How to-do lists evolve into taskmasters

It’s natural to group tasks on a to-do list according to urgency. In fact, one of the most popular ways to categorize to-do lists uses the “four quadrants” defined by Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. These quadrants create groups of tasks that are:

  1. Important AND urgent
  2. Important but NOT urgent
  3. Unimportant BUT urgent
  4. Neither urgent nor important

Most people assume that tasks under the first group, important AND urgent, should be tackled first. But Covey has stated that the second group—important but NOT urgent—should actually be a higher priority.

Why? When you’re focused on doing nothing but important, urgent tasks, you’re constantly in putting-out-fires mode. You only handle things when they absolutely have to be done, and as a result you fall behind on larger projects that have long lead times.

For a freelance writer, working on the most important and urgent tasks often means putting off that huge 10,000-word assignment that’s due in three weeks, because you have plenty of time and more urgent things to do—only to suddenly find yourself with just three days to write 10,000 words.

How to change your lists and master your tasks

If your to-do lists have gone from inspiring to daunting, a shift in your priorities can help you work more efficiently, stop procrastinating, and get out of rush mode more often. Here are some tips to help you tame a runaway to-do list:

  • Break it down: This is an elementary to-do list step, but many writers still skip it. If you have a big project, don’t write it down as “finish a 10,000-word ebook”. Instead, list smaller tasks such as “research ebook, write ebook outline, write 2 ebook chapters,” and so on, spacing the tasks out until the deadline.
  • Use a “WANT to do” list: Add a category of tasks you want to get done today to your lists. You’ll feel more motivated to get to them, and more confident when you check these items off.
  • Keep the “MUST” list short: If your to-do list has ten items under the “do this today OR ELSE” category, you’ll end up feeling demoralized and overwhelmed. Consider your musts carefully, and decide which 2 or 3 things really have to be done today—and which ones can be moved.
  • Make a “quick tasks” category: Add a list of things you can complete in 5 minutes or less, and tackle those tasks when you have a break—such as between phone calls, or in the middle of a larger assignment. Your lists will start showing more accomplishments, and you’ll feel like you’re making progress.
  • Consider outsourcing your optional tasks: If you have a list of things that would be nice to get done, but they aren’t important or urgent, think about outsourcing. There are inexpensive sources for overflow tasks, such as eLance and Fiverr—and if you have teenagers at home, they’d probably be interested in earning some extra cash.
  • Emulate the experts. Check out these 6 things successful freelance writers do every day.

With a few simple changes, your to-do list can be more manageable than ever. How do you tame your to-do list?

How to Sell Without Selling

December 14th, 2014

Used-Cars-trailer-still

It’s right there in the name: The purpose of SALES copy is to sell something to the reader. But, as you may have heard, today’s potential customers don’t want to be sold to. So how are you supposed to write sales copy that doesn’t sell…but still sells?

Fortunately, it’s not as confusing as it sounds. Here are some tips to help your copy stop selling to your customers, and start making sales.

Don’t be “salesy”…

Shouting from the rooftops about how amazingly mind-blowing your product or service is, and why people need to buy it right this second, simply doesn’t work. An overly salesy approach makes grand promises (you’ll make a million dollars overnight!), pushes a lot of hype (this product will literally change your life!), and stresses urgency and fast action (act now, or gremlins will eat your grandmother!).

Aside from the wording, another popular “salesy” technique is to use big, bold font, colored type, capitalized words or phrases, and far too many exclamation points. This simply makes you look like you’re on the other side of the screen, jumping up and down and shouting at your potential customers like a stereotypical used car salesman.

…but don’t leave out selling entirely

Under-selling can be just as damaging to your marketing efforts as over-selling. It’s a tough balance to strike, but don’t tone down your sales copy so much that you forget to actually sell.

For example, let’s say that it’s National Hand Washing Awareness Week (which is a real thing—it’s the first week of December), and your company sells handmade soap. So you decide to write a sales email for your mailing list. You spend a lot of time putting together an informative piece with current hand washing statistics and interesting information, you send it off to your list—but no one orders any soap, because you didn’t mention selling it.

Even when you’re avoiding the selling tactics that turn customers off, you need to include a call to action. It can be something as simple (and non-salesy) as a sentence at the end of your email: “In celebration of National Hand Washing Awareness Week, we’re offering 50% off our most popular handmade soap bundle. Click here to get your discount and enjoy clean, fresh-smelling hands.”

Focus on their needs—not yours

You need to sell a lot of homemade soap. But your customers aren’t interested in helping to increase your profit margins—they just want clean hands. The best non-selling approach to sales is to identify what your customers want or need, and appeal to those desires in your copy.

One great way to do this is to identify your Unique Selling Proposition (USP)—the aspect of your products or services that set you apart, the benefit you can deliver to your customers that no other company can. This USP should be tailored to your target audience. For example:

  • If you have frugal customers, point out that your handmade soap is the most affordable on the market and offer to beat any competitor’s price
  • If you have customers looking for luxury buys, emphasize the heavenly scents of your soap and the all-natural ingredients that leave skin softer
  • If you have hard-working customers, explain how the scientifically proven formula of your soap removes the toughest grime

Find out what your customers want, and use your sales copy to meet those desires in a logical way that’s easy to envision. They won’t feel sold to—they’ll simply want what you have, and be willing to pay for it.

Resume Copywriting Tips to Stand Out from the Crowd

December 9th, 2014

resumeNo one likes resumes. Job seekers hate writing them, recruiters and employers hate wading through them—but they’re a necessary tool for anyone who’s looking to land an interview.

Unfortunately, there is plenty of competition among resume submissions, and you only have a few seconds to get an employer’s attention before he or she moves on to the next in the pile. In fact, Forbes reports that recruiters spend about 7 seconds reviewing a resume before they decide whether or not to interview—so they’re looking for a reason to reject. Some deal-killers for resumes include:

  • Typos and grammar mistakes
  • An unprofessional email address
  • Irrelevant information

Your resume must be letter-perfect, professional, and exciting before applying for a copywriting job. Use these copywriting tips to polish your resume to a high shine and catch the attention of employers — or consider hiring a freelance writer to wordsmith your draft.

Use structure to cut clutter

If you load your resume with “fun facts” about your interests and hobbies, employers will pass you by. All they want to know is whether you deserve an interview. Streamline your resume with a simple structure: Objective, Summary, Work History/Experience, and Training.

Keep it short and sweet

Concise, punchy resumes are a beautiful thing to employers. You don’t have to detail every single job responsibility and accomplishment to get attention—stick to the highlights, and if your job history is less than 10 years, keep it all on a single page.

Don’t try to use a tiny font size to cram everything in, either. A one-page resume should be about 700 words.

Weed out weak words

Certain words used on a resume can indicate either low achievement or a lack of experience, and both of those will turn off employers. According to a ZipRecruiter analysis of 3 million resumes, those words are: me, myself, learning, first, hard, chance, and need. If your resume contains these poor word choices, rewrite to remove them.

Pile on power words

On the other hand, ZipRecruiter identified a number of words that make recruiters and employers happy, so use them when you can. These include: development, skill, project, business, professional, experience, knowledge, team, management, and leadership.

Get creative with your summary

Your summary is the first thing employers read, so make it amazing. Come up with a powerful paragraph that leaves out clichés and reveals your achievements, experiences, and ambitions—while tying it all in to how you can do great things for the company.

Drill into details

When listing your experiences and accomplishments, avoid flat phrasing and general statements that read like a job description. Highlight your unique contributions and list the results you achieved, using numbers and percentages whenever possible. Proving your ROI as a candidate is a great way to get noticed.

Proofread backwards

A survey from CareerBuilder found that 58% of resumes have typos in them—one of the easiest reasons for employers to reject you, and one of the easiest to fix. Spending a little extra time proofreading your resume is one of the best investments you can make in your job search.

So, once you (or a skilled freelance resume writer) has transformed your resume into a streamlined, lean and mean interview-landing tool:

  • Wait a few days before proofreading. If you try to proofread immediately after you’ve worked on your resume, your eyes will see what you meant to write, instead of what’s actually there.
  • Ask someone else to read over your resume and look for grammar, spelling, and other mistakes or awkward spots.
  • Read every line backwards, one word at a time, starting from the bottom.

Keep in mind that a resume should not be a dry list of what you’ve done in your career. Instead, it should be an engaging snapshot of you as a candidate, with an emphasis on why the employer needs to call you right now for an interview.

Success Story: Farmhouse Five

November 28th, 2014

Cowgirl_Boots_WSFarmhouse Five offers charming and affordable kids’ wall art, home accents, and nursery decor with original artwork. The owner, Therese, had been writing product descriptions and web copy since launching her home-based company 13 years ago, but she wanted more time to focus on her passions: drawing and painting.

Looking for a copywriter who could provide fun, unique descriptions of her custom products, Therese turned to Google and quickly found our Cincinnati copywriting service.

Whimsical copywriting to match adorable products

Therese was impressed by our copywriting samples, and contacted Melissa right away to hire her for web copy and product descriptions. She explained that she was looking for something descriptive and unique, with a fun flair, to help her website exude the same personality as her products for kids.

Therese was thrilled with the results. “Melissa is great at wording and putting together paragraphs that flow well,” she said. “She is also great with alliteration. . .my favorite [at] Farmhouse Five!”

Storytelling that sells

After redesigning with the new copy and a fresh layout, Farmhouse Five has a website that “finally flows with wording and photos.” The improved web content from Words By Melissa noticeably improved SEO and increased site traffic.

Farmhouse Five’s owner says that our copywriting service saves her valuable time. “[It’s] so nice not to think about this aspect of the website,” she said.

Differences Between Journalism and Business Writing

November 21st, 2014

journalism writingThere are many different kinds of writing, and sometimes it’s hard to draw the lines of distinction. Some writing disciplines overlap, requiring similar skills, methods, or mindsets. But it’s often important to know the difference, especially if you’re a copywriter with clients looking for certain types of content.

While there are some similarities between journalism and business writing, the requirements and approaches are different. Here’s what you should know about each of these writing areas.

Business writing: It’s mostly marketing

The business writing category covers most types of copywriting assignments. Web content, blog posts, brochures, case studies, email campaigns, press releases, product descriptions, and even some articles are all considered business writing.

The main characteristic of business writing is its intention to sell. The piece might be peddling a product or service, an idea, an opinion or viewpoint, or even entertainment—but it’s usually written to convince the reader of something. By definition, business writing is biased in favor of the business that’s using the content.

A piece of writing with intent to sell typically requires a different writing style. There’s always some degree of hype involved, with varying intensity—the hype might be subtle for press releases, and blatant for email campaigns. Business writing employs “salesy” copy, with strong descriptions, interesting turns of phrases, wordplay, and calls to action.

Journalism: It’s mostly facts

The journalism style of writing is for reporting the news. Journalistic pieces present the facts to readers, backed by research and fact-checking. But there’s more to this type of writing than dry, fact-filled paragraphs—journalists must also be able to grab attention and engage readers.

One of the biggest challenges in journalism is maintaining a neutral viewpoint. Every issue has at least two sides, but journalists aren’t supposed to pick one. Instead, journalistic pieces must be written in a way that informs without bias, and lets readers make up their own minds on the issue.

Instead of hype-driven wordplay and sales-tuned copy, journalism writing uses clear language, interesting turns of phrase, and judicious quotes from verified resources. One thing journalism and business writing have in common, though, is the need for catchy headlines.

Writing on both sides

As a full-service freelance copywriter in Cincinnati, I can provide pieces in a variety of styles, including journalism. One of my regular assignments is writing articles for Adweek, an online industry news website. A recent piece I wrote, “CVS Pulls the Plug on Apple Pay”, is a good example of a compelling headline followed by a balanced article that reports on the issue—including the pros and cons of Apple Pay for retailers, and the fact that CVS may reconsider if Apple’s mobile payment system sees more widespread adoption.

Had this been a piece of business writing, it might have focused on how great Apple Pay is, and why more retailers should adopt the payment system.

Do you take on business writing and journalism assignments? What’s your approach to journalistic writing?

Is Email Turning Everyone Into Bad Writers?

November 17th, 2014

02email7The widespread use of email has, for better or worse, transformed society. Now instead of making a phone call to a colleague, a business, or even a friend to find something out, we can just fire off an email. In fact, some people go to great lengths to replace all phone conversations with email. Even face-to-face conversations have decreased with the rise of electronic communication.

But is this reliance on email turning us into crappy writers?

The case for bad writing: Email is rushed and sloppy

Some people believe the medium of email promotes bad writing. It’s often informal and hurried, a quick note dashed off without any proofreading or even a simple scan. Many an awkward, hastily written email is tone deaf: riddled with poor word choices, spelling and grammar mistakes, and far too many exclamation points.

What’s more, people receiving email seem to have little or no expectations for writing standards. There may be some risk of professional consequences, such as not getting promoted because your grammar is terrible and management feels you’re not an effective communicator. But there are no email police to impose penalties for misplaced commas, all-caps subject lines, or barely coherent sentence fragments that are missing important elements—like verbs.

The case against bad writing: Volume improves quality

On the opposite side, some people view this explosion of email as beneficial. Relying on email as a primary method of communication forces you to write more—and theoretically, the more you write, the better you’ll be at it.

Email has brought regular writing into the lives of many people who would otherwise never write a thing if they could help it. Those who avoided essays and reports like the plague during their educational years are now pounding out paragraphs with ease, on a daily basis. Managers and executives who might have dictated their correspondence to secretaries are now writing out their thoughts directly (and secretaries are now administrative assistants, with considerable writing chops of their own).

The verdict: Email isn’t all bad

Atrocious spelling, grammar, and sentence construction continues to plague short-form written communication—just read the comments section on any YouTube video for proof. But as a whole, email may have actually improved the average writing skills of America, comma splices and all. And there are some pretty cool things you can do with email that can’t necessarily be accomplished with a pen and notepad.

Your inner grammarian may cringe at the homophone confusion or the shotgun approach to punctuation you see frequently in your inbox—but hey, at least they’re writing.

Robot Writers: Can They Replace Human Creativity?

November 12th, 2014

robot-penHave you read anything on Wikipedia lately? If you’ve come across entries on the world’s largest online encyclopedia that seem a bit stilted, like they could have been written by a robot—there’s a chance they actually might have been.

A bot program called Lsjbot, written by Swedish university administrator Sverker Johansson, is able to write up to 10,000 Wikipedia entries a day. Many of the bot’s entries are about either animal species or small towns in the Philippines, but Lsjbot has been incredibly prolific so far with more than 2.7 million articles posted on the site—or about 8.5 percent of total entries.

Lsjbot isn’t the only robot that’s written Wikipedia articles. The rambot, a U.S. based bot program written by Wiki user Ram-Man, began “writing” entries about U.S. county and cities in 2002. Rambot’s first entry was Autaugaville, Alabama. And rambot is just one of the 1,647 Wikipedia bots currently listed as contributors, both active and inactive.

Is this the beginning of the end for human writers?

Robots and writing sophistication

As technology has advanced, software programs have been developed that allow for vast amounts of data to be gathered, filtered, matched, and placed together in particular ways. This includes the English language. In fact, bots are used to generate a significant volume of news reports, including by the Associated Press—they can quickly turn a set of facts into a readable news story, and are available to “write” at a moment’s notice.

However, most experts don’t see robots as replacements for human writers. Instead, these writing bots can be relied on as efficiency tools, generating routine content such as financial reports or breaking news summaries. This frees up human writers to focus on more in-depth, emotionally charged content.

Kris Hammond is the founder of Narrative Science, a service that uses the Quill writing bot platform to provide narrative reports for businesses. Hammond recently claimed that by 2025, 90 percent of the news the general public reads will be generated by robots. However, he explained, “That doesn’t mean that robots will be replacing 90% of all journalists, simply that the volume of published material will massively increase.”

Can robots beat the real thing?

Writing robots are increasingly sophisticated, and some are able to produce copy that’s practically indistinguishable from human writing. And of course, they’re faster and more efficient. But are they better?

Human readers can breathe a sigh of relief, because while robots may become copy workhorses, there are many aspects of writing that a robot author simply can’t accomplish. Robots can’t get creative—they can only work with the resources they’re given. Robots can’t draw emotional connections or infer meaning. Robots can’t be subtle, or funny, or conversational.

So as long as people demand entertaining, interesting, and emotionally meaningful content, human writers will get to keep their jobs safe from the robot revolution.

Success Story: Point Click Productions

November 7th, 2014

pointclicklogo

Copywriting Solutions to Streamline Work Flow

As a full-service web design and search marketing agency, Point Click Productions provides clients with custom solutions for e-commerce and online marketing. As part of their comprehensive design service, they position copy on the websites they design—but obtaining that copy was proving to be a challenge.

Many clients were intimidated by the idea of writing their own copy for the marketing materials provided by Point Click, including websites, brochures, and email campaigns. Others were significantly delayed in providing web copy, which resulted in project setbacks and pushed-back launches.

Words By Melissa delivered a copywriting solution that allowed Point Click to expand their client services, reduce project delays, and save a lot of valuable time.

The Hunt for a Reliable Copywriter

In attempting to provide copywriting services for clients’ projects, Point Click worked with a number of copywriters over the years. The company used various services to find freelance writers, including Textbroker, LinkedIn, Elance, WriterAccess, and other “boutique” services.

But there were continual problems with the writers: poor quality work with obvious spelling and grammar errors, missed deadlines, and even failure to complete assignments.

Our Work With Point Click

Point Click’s hiring process has always involved taking copywriters for a “test drive.” The company hired Words By Melissa years ago for a small project and was very impressed with the work, particularly the quality and the fast turnaround time. Though they worked with other, cheaper writers, they always returned to us.

With our copywriting services, Point Click is able to obtain copy for their web design and marketing projects with better quality than the clients themselves are able to provide—always on time and within budget. In fact, Words By Melissa is now listed on the Point Click About Us page as an official member of the team.

Words By Melissa is thrilled to help Point Click Productions streamline their workflow process, provide improved services for their clients, and save time on project after project.

A Day in the Life of a Freelance Writer

November 4th, 2014

multi-task-mom-stress-400x400Ever wonder what it’s like to be a freelance writer? Naturally, most of it involves lounging by the pool with a cool, refreshing drink in one hand and a laptop by the other, idly typing away on assignments you’re really excited about while the money just pours into your bank account—or maybe not.

Here’s a look at a real day in the life of one freelance writer who doesn’t currently own a pool and hasn’t started drinking by breakfast (yet). Working from anywhere has its perks, but it’s not always as glamorous as it sounds…

5:30 a.m. Before I’m truly awake, I lace up and head out for a quick five-mile run. My body must move first before my mind will follow suit.

6:00 a.m. Mornings start the same way as any other family—get everybody up, fed, dressed, and ready for their respective days. Kids to school, adults to work. The big difference for me: “going to work” does not involve any driving. I can just walk across the hall into my office. Hooray!

8:00 a.m. Consider a shower, but that’s preempted by some early work. First order of business is to check my — oh, wait, the school’s calling. Someone’s forgotten a lunch, and someone else may or may not have lice. Good thing the school’s only five minutes away. BRB

8:36 a.m. The workday begins (seriously this time). First order of business is to check my email. I’ve set a rule in the interests of productivity: email is checked only three times a day. Morning, lunch, end of day. I respond to everything and feel very productive. No more email until noon—on to checking today’s calendar and getting things done.

9:00 a.m. Finish up an article I started yesterday that’s due today, and send it off to the client. Now everything I have is new work, so I pick the most complex one and start researching. It’s easier to write about a topic if I’ve read up and let it simmer in my brain awhile before I get started. Get a little sidetracked and lose 15 minutes following random links, but I’m back on track soon.

10:00 a.m. Thinking about that shower again… it’s okay, it’s not like there’s anyone around to smell me. Still plenty of time to shower before school’s out.

10:27 a.m. Broke my email checking rule (it was an accident) and found an emergency request from a long-term client, sent three minutes after I signed out earlier. They really need this press release to jump on an opportunity due to breaking news, and could I possibly have something for them by 2 p.m.? Fire off a reply—of course I can, I’m super freelance writer!—and start on the press release.

12:00 noon: Supposed to break for lunch right now but I’m almost done with this press release. I’ll grab a sandwich and eat at my desk. Take a break later.

1:47 p.m. Press release done, three assignments researched, one article outlined, one intro written. I could really use a nap right now. But the bus is going to be here soon, and that shower is still calling me… maybe I’ll just grab a Diet Coke and see if there are any Kit-Kats left in the kids’ Halloween baskets…

2:45 p.m. Heard all about the kids’ days at school, reviewed homework, got everyone a snack, and now they’re watching a movie while I get back to work. Must finish at least one of these assignments today. Background noise and the afternoon blahs break up the concentration a little, but I’m still making progress.

4:08 p.m. Wrapped up a blog post and made headway on a case study. Had to stop when one of the cats chased a squirrel up a tree and got stuck 10,000 feet in the air, promptly sending the kids into panic mode. After an hour of balancing precariously on a 12-foot ladder and plying Skippy with treats, he rolled his eyes and calmly climbed back down all on his own. Back to work.

5:00 p.m. The workday is over! Now to close the office door and spend quality time with the family, and relax for the rest of the night… just kidding! It sounded good, anyway.

6:00 p.m. Making lunches for tomorrow, battling homework wars, signing tests and permission slips, letting the husband vent about his hectic day in the corporate grind, cleaning the kitchen, navigating the rough terrain of prepubescent girl drama…

6:30 p.m. Dinner? A simple phone call puts an end to that dilemma.

9:00 p.m. Now that the kids are fed, (somewhat) clean, and in bed, it’s time to wrap up that case study I almost finished earlier, write the intro for the assignment that’s due first thing tomorrow, set up the next day’s calendar, update the website, check messages, reply to a few clients, and get that query out I meant to send three days ago. Oh, and maybe I’ll manage to scrape up half an hour to work on that novel that’s been mocking me from the taskbar for weeks…

10:45 p.m. Just remembered that shower… oh well, too late now. There’s always tomorrow.

11:48 p.m. Finally going to bed. Tomorrow I’m going to have everything done by 5, I swear. Okay, I’m at least going to finish everything by 5 on Friday and take the weekend off. All right, maybe just Sunday…

Freelance Writers: Should You Generalize or Specialize?

November 1st, 2014

topic

In many respects, freelance writing is a unique industry with abundant career options. But on a basic level, there are two paths your freelance writing career can take: jack of all trades, or niche expert.

Each choice has its advantages and disadvantages. Which path is right for you? The answer depends on your goals, your interests and abilities, and the amount of effort you’re willing or able to expend.

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of freelance writing on general topics versus a niche focus, and tips on deciding which path you should take in your freelance career.

General freelance writing: More work, less pay

The generalist path means you’ll take freelance writing assignments on just about any topic. You may find yourself writing blog articles about tax and finance one day, and website content for a business consultant the next. You could write about pet care, fashion, tech products, family issues, jewelry, web design, politics, and home improvement, all in the space of a week—and then work on completely different topics the next week.

As a general freelance writer, you’ll typically find that there’s plenty of work available. The down side is that generalists don’t earn big money. In order to make a decent living while writing on general topics, you have to produce at a higher volume.

General freelance writing can be challenging and rewarding, but there are tradeoffs. Aside from the lower pay, much of your work (or all of it) will be written on behalf of your clients—and they’ll be credited as the author, not you. This makes it difficult to develop a portfolio, especially considering some clients may not allow you to publicize the work you developed for them.

The key to success as a general freelance writer is to have a well-designed business website with a writing portfolio that showcases your versatile abilities, and to build a reputation as a reliable writer who completes quality assignments on time. Proving your worth can also help you get more work in the form of referrals from existing clients.

If you’re a fast writer who enjoys working with many different topics, this may be the career path for you.

Niche freelance writing: More pay, more risk

First, the good news: Freelance writers with specialties can typically command higher rates — sometimes much higher, depending on your niche. As a specialty freelance writer, your goal is to be considered an expert in your field, and therefore worth paying more. When you take assignments, you’re usually credited as the author.

The drawbacks? It takes time to build a reputation, there will be less work available (and more competition), and you could become “typecast” as a certain breed of writer.

There are many ways to establish yourself as an expert, but all of them take time. You can build a reputation through writing just in your niche—though you may have to start out with lower-paying jobs until you’re established. A professional blog on your topic can help to solidify your expert status. You can also network on social media and make connections in your chosen industry.

For niche freelance writers, available work is limited. You’ll also be in competition with other niche writers in your topic, and especially in the beginning, you may end up fighting for every job. As your reputation builds, landing assignments will become easier.

Finally, when you decide on a niche, it’s difficult to change topics. For example, you won’t be able to command the same high rate for tech articles if you specialize in women’s health. If you get burned out on your topic—or if the available work dries up—you’ll have to forge an expert reputation in a new topic.

Still, niche freelance writers can enjoy better pay for less work. If you’re willing to establish a reputation, you can make a great living writing on niche topics.

Reasons to Write Your Business Book Now

October 31st, 2014

2401674702_8d2928ec1cMany professionals have enough expertise to write a book, and most are planning to do it…someday, when they have time. But why wait, when there are so many benefits of writing and publishing a business book?

If you’ve been looking for a reason to get started on your business book, here are ten of them:

1. Get quality leads without trying

A book is a powerful sales tool for your business. When you have a book published, you’re differentiated from the competition—and big name clients can find you. People who read your book are pre-sold on your business, making them more likely to hire you based on the reading.

2. Become a thought leader

When you have a business book out, you’re viewed as an industry expert or guru. In addition to your personal status boost, your entire company can be seen as a thought leader in your industry.

3. Have instant credentials

In any business, the experts bring in the best clients. When you’re the author of a business book, you have demonstrable expertise and extensive evidence to back up your claims—within your field, you “wrote the book.”

4. Generate unsolicited business

Having a book out can bring unexpected and positive results—such as when business leaders read your book, and then call you up to say how much they enjoyed it, and ask how much you charge. Suddenly, picking up clients becomes a lot easier.

5. Open more doors

Whoever you may be interested in talking to, whether it’s a fantastic prospective client, a powerful investor, or an industry expert who could help you further your business, the ability to send them a copy of your book can substantially increase your chances of arranging a meeting.

6. Close more deals

Service industries, consultancies, and other client-oriented business owners can take advantage of having authored a book during client negotiations. Your prospective clients are likely to ask why they should work with you—and you can answer by explaining that you wrote the book on your field of expertise. It gives you immediate credibility and helps close the sale.

7. Amplify your sales force

Although you will benefit directly from writing a business book, others in your company can also use your book as leverage. This is especially true for your sales team, who can hand out copies of the book to top clients and leads—which lets executives and VIPs view them as problem-solvers instead of money-grabbers.

8. Boost your client caliber

A business book can position you as an industry leader. When you’re viewed as the expert or the guru, you’ll find larger and more high profile businesses willing to work with you and benefit from your proven expertise.

9. Strengthen existing relationships

You can also use a business book to impress (and cross-sell to) your existing clients. There are many ways to do this, from offering a copy of the book as a bonus with the purchase of services, to sending out copies as gifts, to simply offering books for sale at client functions.

10. Make more money

Everyone wants to earn more and work less, and that’s what a business book helps you do. By positioning yourself as an in-demand expert with your business book, your clients will be willing to pay more—since they can clearly see the types of results you can achieve, spelled out in your book.

Business books are powerful tools for professionals in any industry. Have you started writing yours yet?

Secrets to Writing a Winning Intro

October 20th, 2014

“Yofishing-99318_640u can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” –Jack London

Whether you’re writing a blog post, an article, or an entire book, sometimes the hardest part is getting started. You know your introduction needs to hook readers—after all, the job of your first sentence is to get people to read the next, and so on. A great headline will get people to click on your piece, but a great intro will convince them to actually read it.

How do you write an intro that hooks the reader, line and sinker? Fortunately, there is no single answer. When it comes to writing a winning introduction, there are plenty of effective approaches.

Lead with a relevant quote

Everyone loves a good quote, like the one that starts this blog post. When you open a writing piece with a quote, you’re borrowing the built-in authority of the source, while setting the tone for the information that follows.

Stuck for a good quote to use? BrainyQuote offers an extensive library of quotations, sorted by both topics and authors. There’s also a searchable database on The Quote Garden, and inspiring image-based quotes to browse on Pinterest.

Find something in common

Letting readers know that you have something in common can help them connect with you and what you’re saying. For example, if a freelance writer reads this blog post, he or she will most likely identify with the first sentence of the opening after the quote. We’ve all had trouble starting a writing project!

The second section of this blog posts also starts with a commonality: “Everyone loves a good quote.”

Tell a personal story

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a best-selling novelist. Sharing something personal, however briefly, enables readers to see you as a person. You don’t have to go back to your childhood in order to get personal with an introduction, either. Consider starting with a few lines about an experience, a professional challenge, or other life event that relates to the information you’re about to present.

Ask a question

Rhetorical, subjective, controversial, or thought-provoking questions can make great introductions to any piece. For example, this blog post could have started out by asking, “What’s the best way to grab a reader’s attention in 20 words or less?” And the response would be: Ask a question to which they want to know the answer, and then use the rest of your piece to respond.

State a powerful fact

The average attention span of a human has shortened to 8 seconds—which is less than the attention span of a goldfish. This fact is a very good reason to work on your introductions, because you don’t have much time to hook your readers. Opening with relevant facts or statistics is one of the most effective ways to set reader expectations and keep people interested.

What types of intros have you found effective in your own writing?

5 Simple Things Stopping You From Succeeding as a Freelance Writer (Before You Even Start)

October 10th, 2014

rejection copyIf you’re just getting started or thinking about becoming a freelance writer, the first step is identifying the ingredients for success. The obvious requirements are strong writing skills, a computer, and preferably a dedicated website for your freelance business. Throw in a LinkedIn profile for networking, some home office essentials, and maybe a few profiles on freelance job boards or message sites, and you have a solid foundation. But what else do you need?

The answer is…surprisingly little. Here are five things many aspiring freelance writers think they need in order to find success—that can actually hold them back from building a thriving freelance career.

Lots of free time

Many people hold off on entering the freelance writing industry under the assumption that they need to dedicate all of their time to succeed. Like any other venture, freelance writing is a business. But the great thing about freelancing is that you don’t have to take the full-time plunge immediately. In fact, it’s better to start out part-time and gradually build a portfolio that you can use to land more freelance gigs.

Most of the common excuses begin with “as soon as…” and end with “then I’ll start freelancing.” People fill in the blank with phrases like:

  • Quit my job
  • Cut my work hours
  • Save money to buy professional services (web designer, job board memberships, logo commission)
  • The kids start going to school

Starting right now, ignore these excuses. You can start freelancing any time, no matter how many or how few free hours you have—whether it’s getting busy writing articles you can sell, or sending pitches to publications or companies hiring freelance writers.

Full support from your family / friends

Some people stop short of launching a freelance writing career because of the disapproval (or imagined disapproval) of the people closest to them. You may believe your spouse will be upset when you’re spending time working instead of with him or her, or that your parents will nag you to get a “real job,” or that your best friend will think “freelance” means “you aren’t doing anything, so you should babysit my kids / run an errand / go to lunch or a movie with me.”

But you’re the only one who has to give yourself permission to be a freelance writer. It’s great to have support, but if there are some people who don’t understand what you’re doing, you don’t owe them anything. And their perceptions will likely change when all that hard work starts paying off.

Total mastery of all things freelance

As a fledgling freelance writer, you probably don’t know the secrets to writing the perfect pitch or query letter, or how to build a stunning freelance website, or the best prices to charge clients, or where to find the most lucrative gigs. And that’s okay.

Many aspiring freelance writers fritter away months or years researching the industry—when the best way to learn is to jump in and start doing it. Of course you’ll make mistakes along the way, but you’ll learn from them. Your skills will gradually increase, your professional network will grow, and you’ll reach your definition of success much faster than you would have by reading a stack of industry books.

Fear or hatred of rejection

This one should be a given—after all, no one likes being rejected. But when it comes to your freelance writing career, rejection is your friend. You will be successful only when you’re ready to embrace it.

Freelance writers who are getting rejections are sending their work out. If you’re not getting rejections, that means you’re not trying to sell your work—and you can’t make money in freelance writing by keeping your work to yourself.

Rejections can indicate whether or not you’re on the right path. Form rejections can tell you that your approach (or your writing) needs work. Warm rejections that invite you to submit future work say you’re getting close. And rejections with feedback mean you’re almost there, and may even be able to sell to the editor who rejected you, if you make the requested changes.

The need for perfection

When you’re writing a freelance assignment or something you’re going to query, you naturally want to craft the best possible piece of writing. But if you aim for perfection, you’ll never get to the query stage (or you’ll miss your deadline), making it impossible to earn money for that piece.

There is no such thing as perfect, especially in freelance writing. There is good enough, and sometimes there is great—but nothing will be perfect. And you don’t want perfection, anyway: you want solid, well-researched, and engaging content.

What’s holding you back from succeeding as a freelance writer?

Have You Fallen For These Sales Email Myths?

October 5th, 2014

email-iconEmail marketing is one of the oldest tools still used by online sales pros—and it remains one of the most effective. You can find plenty of advice out there about writing a great sales email, from broad how-to suggestions right down to the optimal number of characters in the subject line and the best times of day to send a campaign … but not all of that advice holds true.

Here are three myths about marketing emails that you can feel free to purge from your sales writing rules to engage your email subscribers.

Myth #1: The subject line must state your deal

The point of a sales email is to sell, so many marketing pros believe that the subject line should always be what you’re offering—a discount, a freebie, a great deal on whatever. But while this approach can work, it’s not always the best approach.

The only cardinal rule for a sales email is to engage your audience. This means your subject line—as well as the contents of your sales email—should appeal to what your audience wants. If you’re operating a list that subscribers joined specifically to get discounts and freebies, it makes sense to advertise the deal in the subject line.

But if you’re selling to people who are already familiar with your products or services, a better approach is to address a pain point in the subject line, and then answer it within the body of the email. The opening tease, such as “Want to…?” or “Wish you could…?”, can increase click-through rates more than percentages or prices.

Myth #2: Your call-to-action must link to your sales page

The call-to-action is the golden rule of email marketing. If your subscribers don’t know what they’re supposed to do, they won’t do it. Therefore, it’s widely repeated that you should link your call-to-action directly to your sales page—so all a reader has to do is click through and make a purchase.

But the truth is that most of your audience is tech-savvy, and customers no longer need (or want) to be led by the nose to a checkout page. They want to learn more about you’re offering, whether it’s through reading your sales email or clicking a link to an informational page on your website. Informational links give subscribers the option to either read your sales pitch or click straight through to learn more—which they’ll do if they’re interested and likely to buy.

Myth #3: Scannable means using bold text and bullet points

“Scannability” is an important concept to email marketers. After all, no one’s going to read the entire email—so you need to make your main points stand out with bolded phrases and exclamatory bullet points. They won’t pay attention to the rest of the text…or will they?

It’s true that the most effective sales emails are scannable, and that bold subheadings and bullet points are valuable. But there are a few other areas of your message that deserve some extra attention:

  • Your opening: The first sentence, and even the first word, of your sales email should instantly engage your audience. Start with the strongest possible verb—for example, instead of leading with “Have you ever wanted to…?”, cut straight to the chase: “Want to…?”.
  • Your left margin: When reading in English, the eye is drawn to the left. Scannability is about short paragraphs and bullet points, but the important point is to begin each line with an attention-grabber, not simply to break up the text. Start each of those short paragraphs with a strong phrase, and you’ll see better results.
  • Beginnings and endings: People who are reading fast tend to skip the middle. This makes the end of your paragraphs and bullet points just as important as the beginning, so close out your statements with strong wording choices.

What sales email myths can you remove from your email marketing strategies?

Why the World is Tuning Out – and How You Can Get Them to Pay Attention

October 1st, 2014

megaphoneThe digital age may seem to be in full swing, but the Internet revolution shows no signs of slowing down. What was once a flood of content is now a constant deluge, and people are increasingly tuning out to avoid the bombardment.

Just how much content does the average user take in, and how does it affect customer behavior? According to recent statistics from KISSmetrics:

  • There are 1.2 zettabytes of information online (a zettabyte is one billion terabytes; a terabyte is 1,000 gigabytes). By 2020, there will by 35 zettabytes.
  • There are 5 billion mobile subscribers, with an estimated 50 billion by 2020.
  • There will be more data generated in the next 4 years than in the history of the world.
  • People see more than 34 billion bits of digital information every day—the equivalent of two books online.
  • People spend less than 6 minutes a day shopping—an amount of time that hasn’t changed in four decades—and less than 3 percent of waking hours actually buying.

Considering the sheer amount of exposure generated by this information explosion, it’s no wonder people are tuning out. Machines can transfer data at a rate of 2 million bits per second, but the human absorption rate is only 126 bits per second. For online marketers, the problem becomes: How do you get people to take in your information over all the other content that’s available?

Here are some tips on getting attention in an impossibly crowded online world.

1. Build a quality mailing list

Email marketing may be one of the oldest online strategies, but it’s still one of the most powerful and effective. With a high quality, permission-based email subscription list, you gain access to an established customer base that is already interested in what you have to say. Rather than trying to get your content noticed, you’ll attract people who are waiting for your content to arrive.

2. Publish only good content

This seems like a given, but many marketers still subscribe to the idea of quantity over quality. They may post the occasional piece of high quality, well-written or well-produced content, and then use not-so-great filler just to “keep the search engines happy” or ensure there’s something new to read. Or they may farm content out to the lowest bidder—and get exactly what they pay for.

The problem here is that if your visitors or social media followers keep getting poor quality or useless content, they’ll tune out fast.

Engaging, quality content is far more important, especially when there is so much competition. It’s a much more effective strategy to focus on producing one high quality piece of content per week, or investing in a skilled freelance copywriter to provide you with great content that will keep your audience coming back.

3. Write to your audience

There is a tendency among online marketers to go for broader appeal, whether that is writing on irrelevant yet interesting topics, or making weak (or even ridiculous) connections to trends or current events. This may get eyeballs on your content, but the majority of those viewers won’t translate into qualified leads who want to buy what you’re offering.

Rather than increasing page views, focus on increasing the appeal for your target audience. You need to have a strong understanding of your market demographics, and to know things like where they spend time online, what topics are important to them, and what kinds of problems your products or services can help them solve. Publishing targeted, relevant content is more effective than jumping on bandwagons.

4. Make it easy to share

Once you have a built-in audience that looks forward to reading your relevant, high quality content, you can enlist them in helping to spread the word. Online consumers place exponentially more trust in peer reviews and recommendations than marketing material—so the more customers you can get to generate positive conversation about your business online, the more people you’ll reach.

Make it easy for them by posting social share buttons (including email sharing links) with every piece of content you publish—whether it’s to your social networks, as a guest writer or blogger, or on your own blog posts and foundational web content.

You don’t need millions of followers and page views to get attention in today’s crowded online marketplace. With a targeted approach and a focus on what matters to your audience, you can gain higher quality views that lead to more sales.

Copyright Terms Every Freelance Writer Should Know

September 16th, 2014

copyrightRegardless of the capacity you work in as a freelance writer, at some point you’re likely to end up signing a contract—or multiple contracts. While a good contract will protect both you and your clients from any confusion over the rights to the work, the contract itself may cause some confusion.

It’s important for freelance writers to truly understand what they’re signing before they agree to a job. Poorly worded or unfavorable contracts can end up limiting or erasing your rights, or even damaging your reputation down the line.

Here are some common copyright terms that often appear in freelance contracts, and what they’ll mean to you.

License: Who has what rights?

In terms of contracts, license is a very broad term that covers the rights being granted to a work. Copyright is actually a series of rights that automatically belong to the creator of a work, so a license lets clients exercise some—but typically not all—of the rights to the work, for which they’re paying you.

Granting a license means that you’re not giving away all the rights to your work. Your contract should specify which rights you’re surrendering to the client, and which you’ll keep for your own use.

Exclusive vs. non-exclusive: Who else gets the rights?

Exclusivity, or a lack of it, is an important element of a license in a contract. If you grant an exclusive license to a client, it means once you’ve completed the work, only the client can use it in the capacity specified by the license. Neither yourself nor your client can sell exclusively licensed work to someone else, and you need permission from the client to display the work on your own website, such as in your portfolio.

With a non-exclusive license, you are legally permitted to use the work yourself, or to offer the same non-exclusive license for sale to others. Keep in mind, however, that selling a piece you wrote for a specific client to someone else is usually considered poor taste, even if you technically have permission with a non-exclusive license.

Sublicensable: The client can sell the rights

If a work has a sublicensable license, this means the client can resell or re-license the work to others, and still use it themselves. An exclusive license is automatically sublicensable, since the client has sole rights to the work. If it’s non-exclusive and sublicensable, both you and the client can re-license the work.

One thing to note here is that with a sublicensable contract, the client doesn’t need your approval or permission to re-license the work to others—including sites you may not want your work to be associated with.

Transferrable: The client can give away the rights

Similar to sublicensable terms, a transferrable license lets the client give or sell the rights to the work to a third party—with the difference being they will no longer hold the license themselves. The license is transferred rather than shared, and the client has given up all rights to the work.

Once again, with a transferrable license your work could end up owned by a site or party you’d prefer not to be associated with.

Derivative works: The client can change the content

A derivative work is a new work based on an original. In freelance contracts, derivative work rights are usually requested so the client can either edit the work, or modify content to fit in an allotted space.

However, a derivative works clause can also permit the client to create translations, videos, and other modified formats of the work, if there are no restrictions on the right to create derivative work spelled out in the contract.

Attribution / moral rights: The client doesn’t have to credit you

Attribution or authorship rights in the United States deal with your rights as a content creator to be credited and given a byline for your work. Outside the U.S., this type of rights is often called moral rights.

If you are ghostwriting for a client, waiving your attribution or moral rights is often a standard contract clause that allows the client to claim credit for the work. However, if you’re expecting to be credited and receive a byline, make sure this clause doesn’t appear in the contract.

Additionally, moral rights can sometimes include the right to not be attributed if you choose not to be associated with the work, or the right to object to offensive uses. Read the moral rights clause carefully, if one exists, before signing.

Copyright transfer: The client retains all rights

Unlike transferrable licenses, a copyright transfer means that you are giving up any and all rights to the work, and the client will retain sole control and discretion. This can be an acceptable contract term—but only if you’re absolutely sure it’s what you want, and you feel that you’ve been adequately compensated for the work.

Keep in mind that in the U.S., copyright can only be transferred through a written contract, for which any freelance contract would most likely qualify.

Have you run across any unusual contract terms in your freelance writing career?

5 Things Successful Bloggers Do (That You Should Too)

September 9th, 2014

blogIf you’re actively running a blog, whether it’s to promote your business or support your personal passion, chances are you want it to be successful. You want a high search engine ranking, a loyal readership, and some return on your investment—whether that’s increased visibility and profits for your business, or a revenue stream that buys you more than a cup of coffee every month.

While there is no “secret” to being a successful blogger, there are common habits shared by every blogger who’s living the dream. If you emulate these habits, you’re likely to find yourself with a growing blog that’s on track to reach your definition of success.

1. Successful bloggers love what they do

The idea that being passionate about your particular subject fuels success is such a cliché that many people have stopped considering it. Passion is supposed to be a given—of course you’re passionate about your business (or you wouldn’t have started it) or animal shelters, or vinyl records, or nanotechnology (or you wouldn’t be blogging about it). But do your readers know how passionate you are?

For successful bloggers, that passion shines through in every post, on every social media account, and with every guest blog or article. Your core readers will share your passions and love coming back, again and again, to find out what else you have to say.

2. Successful bloggers blog a lot

Once again, this “secret” should be obvious—but many bloggers don’t realize just how important it is to be prolific. The first benefit to writing a lot of blog posts is that the act of writing makes you better at it. The more you write, the more your craft will improve, and the higher quality of your writing draws in more readers.

Another advantage of prolific bloggers is on the search engine front. The more content you have, the more frequently your blog is indexed by search engines—and a continual supply of fresh content also gives more algorithm weight to your posts. Every time you post something new, search engines consider it more important. It’s a cumulative effect.

Finally, regular blogging—whether your schedule is daily, Monday through Friday, or just one or two posts per week—tells your readers that they can expect new content at certain times. This makes them more likely to come back and find out what’s new with you.

3. Successful bloggers are concise

With this habit, keep in mind that “concise” doesn’t necessarily mean “short.” You don’t have to restrict your blog post length to tweet-sized comments in order to be successful—in fact, long-form content can boost your search engine rankings and conversions (or subscription rates).

So, what is concise? It means making every word count, leading with a killer intro, and arranging content in an easily digestible format.

Successful bloggers mix long-form and short-form content, and break up longer content with short paragraphs, intriguing subheads, and bullets or numbered lists. Concise content delivers what readers are looking for without the fluff, in a way that keeps even 1,000-word blog posts engaging and fast-moving.

4. Successful bloggers stick to the plan

Blogs that are scattered, random musings on whatever the author happened to be contemplating that day rarely succeed—unless it’s the blog of a celebrity or notable industry guru, who can get away with saying anything because people will hang on their every word. For the rest of us, the path to success involves choosing a topic and sticking to it.

The best bloggers will relate everything to their core topic, even if it seems to be about something completely unrelated at first. What’s more, successful bloggers have a long-term plan, and they don’t let minor details get in the way of the big picture.

5. Successful bloggers are always learning

The biggest reason there are no secrets to blogging success is that things are always changing. There are always new rules, new formats and platforms, changing audience tastes, new SEO strategies, and myriad factors that grow and evolve along the digital frontier.

Successful bloggers love to learn and try out new things. It keeps things fresh for their audience, and interesting and challenging for them. They’re always on the lookout for the next big thing—and they’re willing to evolve with the times.

So if you’re passionate, willing to work, and ready to plan for now and the future, you can be a successful blogger. What habits have you found most effective for growing your blog?

I’m Not That Kind of Writer

September 5th, 2014

GhostwriterIf you’re a freelance writer like me, you’ve probably had some version of this conversation before:

You: I’m a writer.

Friend/Relative/Stranger: Really? What books did you write? Can I read one?

You: I…don’t write books. Yet.

Non-writer: How can you be a writer if you don’t write books?

You: I’m a freelance writer. I write web copy, blog posts, articles, white papers…

Friend whose eyes are glazing over: Are you going to write a book? I never could, but I have all these great ideas for books. Hey, you could use them, and we could split the money! Writers are rich, right?

You: Well, I do get paid for my writing.

Oblivious stranger: It’s easy to get rich if you write a book. Everybody’s doing it. Why don’t you?

You: The thing is, I really like what I do.

Person looking for someone else to talk to: Well, tell me when you write a book. I’ll definitely read it. Can you give me a free copy?

I’ve learned that it’s best to be patient with folks like this. They usually mean well. It’s just that if you’re not working as a freelancer, or working with freelancers, it can be hard to understand that while all books are writing, not all writing is books.

People who aren’t writers don’t think about the simple fact that every word they read, every day, had to be written by someone. When you’re reading a shampoo bottle, someone got paid to tell you that this shampoo is specially formulated to remove oils and gently detangle, leaving your hair clean and silky smooth. When you’re on the checkout page of an e-commerce site, someone got paid to explain where you should enter your credit card details, and how you can calculate your shipping costs.

And if you’re a freelance writer reading a shampoo bottle, you’re probably thinking that it’s lousy copy, and someone should’ve paid you to do a better job.

No credit? No problem.

Another concept that’s hard for non-writers to grasp—and even some writers of the fictional persuasion—is the idea that you usually write content that ends up giving credit to someone else. For most freelance projects, your clients hire you as a ghostwriter. You work hard to craft a compelling and well-researched article, or an entertaining blog post, and it’s published under another person’s name…usually your client’s.

What’s hard to convey is that you’re okay with that.

Ghostwriters are well-compensated for their efforts, because they get paid. It’s nice to have public recognition for a piece of great writing, but it’s even nicer to pay the bills, put food on the table, and occasionally see a movie—all without having to leave your house and suffer through commutes, office politics, and Casual Fridays.

So the next time someone asks what you do for a living, tell them you get paid to make other people look good. They’ll probably think you’re an image consultant or a vice president, and the conversation will move on to less confusing things.

Meanwhile, find other freelance writers who get what you do, and make friends with them. Then you can compare notes about which shampoo bottle copy sucks the most, and how you could totally write something ten times better.

Why You Don’t Necessarily Need to Hire an Industry Expert as a Writer

September 3rd, 2014

gandhi_writing_1942In an increasingly crowded online environment, content marketing is the most effective (and trendy) way to draw attention to your business. Of course, you want to maintain credibility and deliver rock-solid content through the articles and blog posts you publish to various channels—but you don’t have time to write them yourself. So you should hire experts to provide the content, right?

The truth is, working with experts in your industry is not always the best means of getting great content. You’ll often fare better hiring a well-rounded freelance writer with great research skills, who can become an impromptu expert in your field and deliver accurate, engaging content your audience wants to read.

Writers do it more

The main reason to opt for a skilled freelance writer over an industry expert is the quality of the writing. Experts certainly have in-depth knowledge and a nuanced understanding of what you do in your business—but not all of them can articulate their expertise in writing. Some very smart people are actually terrible writers, simply because they don’t write regularly.

Freelance copywriters, on the other hand, live and breathe writing. They understand the craft, the process of engaging readers, and the strategies that help you increase traffic and boost search engine rankings—such as how to incorporate SEO keywords naturally into the flow of a piece. Readers won’t realize they’re seeing strategically placed keywords, and search engines weight content with natural keyword placement higher than blatant keyword stuffing.

Writers don’t need credit

Often, the “cost” of hiring an expert includes attributing your content to the expert, along with a bio and back links to their personal or business website. While this can give you a slight boost in name power, it doesn’t help to establish you personally as an expert in your field.

When you hire an experienced freelancer, he or she typically works as a ghost writer. You’ll receive high quality, well-written content, and you become the owner of that content. You can add your own name, bio, and website link, and benefit from increased visibility, recognition, and traffic.

Writers are fast learners

Experts might know every last detail about an industry or subject, and they can be excellent resources if they’re willing to share that knowledge. However, if an expert doesn’t already know how to write, you can’t teach them.

Writing is a unique skill in that the underlying craft can be applied to virtually any subject matter. Regardless of topic, the same techniques can be used to achieve great results. Strong writers can research your industry or topic and get a handle on the subject matter, so they can produce credible, relevant web content or blog articles.

Do you have experience working with experts or freelance writers for content marketing? Share them in the comments!

Business Writing vs. Creative Writing: How to Balance Your Job with Your Passion

April 10th, 2014

Saying that you’re a writer can mean so many things. There are all types of them, from the occasional hobby writer to the award-winning journalist to the best-selling novelist. You may be a blogger or a freelancer, an article specialist, a short story writer, or the author of non-fiction books.

But if you’re writing professionally today, there’s a good chance you’re overlapping several of these categories. Maybe you’re a freelancer trying to finally get that novel finished in your spare time, or you write articles for pay while trying to get your blog about your life’s passion off the ground.

Whatever your particular blend of writing disciplines, it can be hard to balance everything.

How can you satisfy the business side of your writing life, and still find the time and energy to indulge your creative pursuits? With some planning and discipline, it really is possible to do it all.

Find your rhythm

Most people have a certain time of day when they’re more creative. For one person, it may be when she first sits down to work, while her mind is still clear and refreshed, and the day’s stresses haven’t started piling up. Another might have creative periods in the afternoon, once he’s handled a few pressing projects. Someone else may be a dedicated night owl.

The first step in balancing business with creative writing is finding YOUR time. When do you produce your best creative work? Pay attention to your output for a few days, and you’ll discover your natural power hours—this will be the time you’ll dedicate to your passions.

Creativity on a schedule

While it’s okay to follow your creative muse, it’s also important to understand that sometimes your muse needs motivation. If you wait until the “mood” strikes you to put in creative writing time, you may never get started. Or you might interrupt your business writing groove and never get it back.

Once you find your optimal creative time for the day, schedule your passion projects for that time—just as you would schedule assigned work. Muses are fickle, but if yours knows the clock is ticking, it will do you the favor of showing up for work more often than not.

Care and feeding of your creative side

When you’re constantly writing, either for business or pleasure, your well of creativity can run dry. One of the best ways to maintain balance and enthusiasm is to give yourself time to recharge.

Choose something you enjoy doing that doesn’t involve sitting in front of the computer, and make it a regular activity. Go for a walk, curl up in a chair with a book and a cup of coffee, or have lunch with friends. Once you’re refreshed, the work will be there waiting for you.

Embrace all of your writer hats

A lot of professional writers who are working on creative side projects choose to keep their passions under wraps. This can actually be a disadvantage. First, it’s exhausting to keep secrets—and second, many of your clients will actually be impressed with your creative pursuits, and may value your work even more.

How do you handle your varied and rewarding writing pursuits?

Spring Cleaning for Your Social Media Presence

April 9th, 2014

Spring cleaning isn’t just for your house, home office, or business location. Whether you’re a freelance writer in Cincinnati or a bicycle shop owner in Poughkeepsie, your small business can benefit from a good spring cleaning of your social media presence. It shouldn’t take much time — and when you’re done, you’ll have bright, shiny social media profiles that are ready to work for your business, make an unforgettable first impression for your brand, and keep you connected with your audience.

So set aside a dedicated day, or an hour a day for about a week, and implement these spring cleaning tips for your social media.

Delete social channels you don’t use (or need)

There is a prevailing idea that when it comes to social media marketing, the more channels, the merrier. Combine this with constant introduction of “the next big thing” in social media, and many small businesses end up signing on to every social channel available in an attempt to increase their potential audience.

The problem is, it’s impossible to keep that many social profiles active and up to date, especially for a small business. You often end up with a trail of half-finished, rarely used pages across the Internet that reflect poorly on your business.

With social media, the most effective marketing plan is to concentrate on the few networks that bring the best results, and to delete the rest. Focusing your efforts on select social channels will give you a stronger brand, and a higher ROI, than diluting your business with multiple, weaker social outlets.

Freshen up your profiles

It’s easy to think that once you create a business profile or “about” page, you’re done with it for good. But your business is always evolving—and social media is evolving even faster. When’s the last time you updated your social profiles?

Now is a great time to review each of your profiles, and make sure they accurately reflect your business as it is today. Look at your business descriptions from a customer’s point of view—do they accurately convey who you are and what you do? Can customers tell from your profiles what kind of value they’ll get when they engage with you on social media?

You should also review your visual assets on social profiles, and consider updating aspects like header and cover images to give your pages a fresh, new look.

Check your links and content information

Just like business profiles, links are not necessarily a set-it-and-forget-it task. The Internet is in a constant state of change, and if something you’ve linked to has vanished, you might have dead links lying around that can annoy your customers and negatively impact your business image.

Take some time to check your website, email signature, and cross-promotional social media links. Prune out links to any social channels you’ve deleted, and replace dead links with correct, working ones. Finally, make sure you double-check your contact information and mail-to links on all your social media pages, especially if your business has moved or you’ve changed email addresses.

Spring cleaning your social media channels is a great way to keep your small business brand fresh and effective online. How will you spruce up your social media for spring?

Draw Readers In: 4 Formulas for Writing Magnetic Headlines

April 3rd, 2014

Whether in Google searches, on blogs, or on your Facebook page or Twitter feed, you’ve seen linked headlines that you practically felt compelled to click on and read more. Most people don’t spend a lot of time thinking about why certain headlines attract—but if you understand what makes an article or title intriguing, you can write powerful headlines that readers won’t be able to resist.

Here are four strategies for crafting magnetic headlines for your blog, guest posts, and feature articles.

Work in some numbers

Lists, statistics, big figures—numbers are a great way to grab attention. Lists are an especially popular headline format, and list-based posts or articles also encourage commenting and interaction as people share their own opinions of what should or shouldn’t get ranked.

Some ideas for number headline formats include:

  • Top X or Best X… (example: The Top 5 Little-Known Uses for Household Sponges)
  • X Ways To… (you can substitute other words for “Ways,” such as “4 Formulas” in the title of this article)
  • X [Group] Are… (or do, or have; example: 1.5 Billion People Own Smartphones, or There are 42.5 Million Dog Owners in the U.S.)
  • Percentages (example: Nearly 10 Percent of Americans Work from Home)

With the Groups and Percentages example, you can add a subhead that ties into your small business blog post or article. For example, if you blog about telecommuting, you might say: “Nearly 10 Percent of Americans Work from Home – Here’s How You Can, Too!”

Tie into current events

When something newsworthy happens, there are millions of people looking it up on search engines. Tying your headline to a current event will not only increase visibility, but also garners higher click-throughs and reader engagement.

Holidays are a popular tie-in. Of course, there is Christmas and Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, and all the popular holidays—but those don’t happen every day. How about tying into Car Care Month (April) or Pet Appreciation Week (June 1 – 7)? There are plenty of little-known holidays that can make compelling headlines.

You can also tie into breaking news, big sporting events like the Olympics or the Super Bowl, and anything that’s making the rounds in the news.

Ask a question

Question headlines encourage readers to empathize with the question, want to know more, or find out the answer. For example, an article in Psychology Today asked, “Do You Close the Bathroom Door Even When You’re the Only One Home?”

A popular headline format is to ask a question that most readers will say yes to, but don’t want to answer that way. These articles or posts should explain how they can change their answer. Examples include “Are You Paying Too Much for Your Car Insurance?” and “Do You Spend Too Much Time at the Office?”

Make a statement

Headlines that take a stand—for better or worse—attract readers. From the intriguing to the controversial, statement headlines get people interested in what you have to say, and why you’d make such a strong statement. A few examples:

  • The Best Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe, Period
  • Stress Relief in Just Five Minutes a Day
  • Save Hundreds on Your Monthly Grocery Bill

Of course, with any of these headline formats, it’s essential to follow up with compelling, well-written copy that matches the spirit of the title.

Do you spend enough time thinking about your headlines? What are the best or most effective headlines you’ve ever written?

Using Pinterest to Boost Your Business

March 30th, 2014

I’m excited to publish my first guide on Accel.io, a unique online marketplace for Smart Guides. Freelance writers create “actionable, interactive content designed for people who want results and world class processes.”

Accel.io is passionate about delivering better content experiences to readers, helping content producers create more engaging and dynamic content, and creating a strong, symbiotic relationship between these two groups.

I hope you’ll check out (and review) the guide here: How to Market Your Business on Pinterest.

Want to Be More Successful? Paint Your Home Office

March 15th, 2014

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, freelance writer, or telecommuter, working from home means spending a lot of time in your home office. You probably make sure that it’s organized and quiet, but aesthetics are often put on the backburner for many home office workers—so it might surprise you to learn that a fresh coat of paint can improve your productivity.

Why wall color matters

The colors that surround you affect your mood, energy levels, and job performance. According to interior designer and therapist Christa O’Leary, “Our bodies react to color on a physiological level. The color red stimulates our appetite and increases our heart rate. The color blue has a calming effect on the nervous system.”

In addition to these human-wide reactions, colors also have a personal effect. You may consciously or subconsciously associate a color with a certain person, location, or event—and that, in turn, affects your work habits.

Choosing the right color for your home office

The color you paint your office walls should be based on the effect you need on your work. As a basic guide:

  • Blue colors and shades affect your mind
  • Yellow colors influence your emotions, ego, and self-confidence
  • Red stimulates your body
  • Green colors and shades affect your essential balance (mind, body, emotions)

The intensity of the color also has a strong influence on your state of mind. Bright, strong colors serve to stimulate the areas they effect, while paler shades with lower saturation produce a soothing effect.

So, for example, if your work involves stimulating your mind (such as accounting), you might choose to paint your office blue. However, it’s a common misconception that blue is best for creativity—yellow works better, as it can make you more optimistic.

Red can be a counterproductive color for a home office, as it stimulates your body to do something physical. And finally, if you paint your home office green, you’re likely to enjoy a calming and reassuring sense of balance—so if your work is stressful, such as customer service, this may be the color for you.

Bonus tips for painting your home office

Paint color is important, and using the right accent colors can be even more beneficial. While red is a poor choice for the main color, red accents can help you stay bold and confident—a good selection for salespeople or negotiators. Placing yellow accents in a primarily blue room can produce an overall calming effect with energizing focal points.

The type of paint can also matter. Glossy paint tends to generate higher energy, while flat paint can create a soothing environment. It’s a good idea to use environmentally friendly, low-VOC (volatile organic compounds) paint, especially in a room where you’ll be spending a significant portion of time.

How long has it been since you’ve painted your home office? What colors would you choose?

5 Great Tools Google Offers for Freelance Writing Businesses

March 1st, 2014

These days, any small business looking to succeed must have a functional, stable website. But for busy freelance writers and other small business owners, creating and maintaining a website can sometimes fall to the bottom of the to-do list—in fact, nearly half of small businesses don’t have a working website.

This is a huge mistake that will cost you business. Andrea Faville of Google says that up to 97% of U.S. searches performed on the world’s largest search engine are for local goods and services. If you’re not online and findable, with a user-friendly and intuitive website, you’re missing out on the #1 way your customers are looking for you.

Fortunately, Google wants to help small businesses succeed. They offer a number of tools and features that enable you to compete with larger companies and establish a strong, customer-friendly online presence.

Free website builder, web hosting, and more

Google maintains a website called GYBO.com (Get Your Business Online) for small businesses. Here, you can register a domain name, create a great-looking and functional site with easy-to-use website builders, and have your website hosted online—all free, for up to a year.

GYBO.com also offers a series of free, interactive video tutorials that cover everything from the basics of getting a website up and running to creating mobile-friendly websites, and much more.

Affordable, real-time document creation and collaboration

With Google Apps for Business, you can create documents, spreadsheets, and presentations; access your files from anywhere; share and collaborate in real time; and get email addresses for your domain—all for as little as $5 a month.

This service is an affordable and feature-rich alternative to Microsoft Office, which provides the same functionality—and in some cases, better features—for a lot less. And what small business wouldn’t want to save money?

Hang out with your customers online

Making personal connections with customers is crucial to boosting conversion rates. Google makes that easy with Google+ Hangouts for small businesses. You can place free one-on-one or group video calls to talk with key customers, hold team meetings for geographically diverse staff, offer seminars and Q&A sessions, and more.

Improve online marketing strategies with analytics and trends

With so much data flowing across the Internet, analytics are critical to online success. You need to know things like how many visitors your site attracts, where they’re coming from, what they’re looking at, and what makes them leave—or what converts them to customers. You can learn all this and more for free with Google Analytics.

For further improvements to your marketing campaigns, look to Google Trends (also free), where you can search trending terms over time and apply them appropriately to your strategies.

Showcase the quality of your small business

It can be hard for online customers to distinguish reputable businesses from not-so-great ones. Trust and a good reputation are essential for any small business, especially online. Google can help you gain consumer confidence with their Trusted Stores program.

A Trusted Stores badge from Google assures visitors that your website will provide them with a great experience. To qualify, you’ll need to have good customer service, shipping rates, and online reviews for your business. You can apply for a Trusted Stores certification here.

With so many powerful and free tools from Google, it’s almost impossible for your small business website to fail. Which features will you sign up for? Share your thoughts in the comments!

 

6 Things that Successful Freelance Writers Do Every Day

January 17th, 2014

The key to succeeding as a freelance writer is developing good habits. Emulating the strategies used by seasoned freelancers can help you build a thriving career and keep it going strong, day after day.

How do top-performing copywriters make a living doing what they love? Here are some common habits shared by writers who consistently land quality clients, earn good money, and enjoy life as a free agent.

1. They write

This is the most fundamental habit for success. Freelance writers write. They write just about every day—not just because they have to, but because they want to. They enjoy writing, and would continue doing it even if they weren’t getting paid (although payment is, of course, preferred).

2. They ignore the myths

There’s a common, glamorous image of freelance writers as people who lounge around in their pajamas all day, except when they’re taking their laptop poolside or to the beach. But successful copywriters take their profession seriously, just like any other job. You have to get up, get dressed, and report to work every day.

(That’s not to say you can’t knock out assignments in your pajamas sometimes. After all, one of the greatest benefits to freelancing is the flexibility. Just don’t make it a daily habit.)

3. They have a space

It takes a tremendous amount of discipline and concentration to work “anywhere.” Sure, it’s possible to write in a coffee shop, or your bedroom, or even a park bench—but the effort it takes to sustain yourself with so many distractions often isn’t worth it.

Successful freelance writers have a designated workspace. It might be a home office, or a converted closet, or just a corner of the living room or kitchen. But wherever it is, it’s where they work, and their productivity benefits from using this space consistently.

4. They start early

Mornings are typically the most productive time of day. Successful freelancers know this, so they get going early to capitalize on that time and put a dent in their to-do lists. If you have productive mornings, you can give yourself a break in the afternoons and spend less time working every day—while still getting more done.

5. They’re always marketing

For most people, the art of pitching doesn’t come easy. But self-marketing is an essential skill for a freelance writer, and those who succeed in this industry understand its importance. You ARE your business—and if you don’t promote yourself, no one will.

Incorporate marketing into your daily freelance life, even if it’s just making sure you send at least one pitch to a new client every day. This is how you reach the point where clients are coming to you, instead of the other way around.

6. They change what isn’t working

Who says “no” to paying jobs? Successful freelance writers. They know when to let go of assignments that aren’t paying what they’re worth, or clients who are too demanding and diva-like to be worth their time and effort. When you let go of the obligations that cut into your time, you’re free to focus on landing better opportunities.

What’s your most successful habit as a freelance writer?

Why Freelance Writers Should Avoid Content Mills

January 14th, 2014

On the surface, content mills seem like a great idea for struggling freelance writers, especially those who are trying to break into the market. No experience necessary! Get paid weekly! Earn as much as you want!

But if you want to make a living as a freelance writer, working for content mills isn’t likely to get you there.

Is it possible to earn decent money with content mills? Sure—but you’d have to be an incredibly fast and prolific writer, able to churn out article after article on a daily basis. The starting pay for most mills is a penny (or less) per word, with many offering incremental increases (fractions of a penny, in some cases) according to a quality rating system. At one cent per word, you’d need to write 5 million words a year to make an annual salary of $50,000 (before taxes, which are higher for freelancers).

That translates to almost 14,000 words per day, every day, or 35 400-word articles. If you want weekends off, you’d need to write just over 19,000 words, or 47 (and a half) 400-word articles, five days a week.

Most content mills do pay regularly and on time, so you can make a little money. Unfortunately, there are a lot of things they can’t do for you, which you’ll typically achieve with traditional freelance writing channels. These include:

Helping you (substantially) improve your writing

In general, if you practice something a lot, you’re bound to get better. The sheer volume of writing that content mills require practically guarantees some improvement. However, you’re missing out on a big advantage of regular freelance work: relationships with professional editors.

In most cases, editors for content mills provide cursory fixes to grammar and punctuation. Professional editors for large publications and online venues work with writers to offer direction on substance, style, and writing techniques.

Teaching investigative research and reporting skills

Articles for content mills typically require a quick Google search for the topic, if that (some can be written off the top of your head). But if you ever want to land high-paying freelance work, you’ll need to know how to dig up information that’s not readily available.

Extensive research and news-gathering abilities are important skills for success with freelance writing. It’s hard to learn those skills when the most difficult thing you have to research is “what color do most people in the U.S. paint their living rooms” (the answer is blue, according to Google).

Improve your marketing skills

One of the perceived benefits of writing for content mills is that you don’t have to pound the digital pavement looking for assignments. You get to pick from an existing database of articles and write the ones you want, without ever having to submit your resume, write a cover letter, or put a pitch together.

Marketing skills are a necessary evil when it comes to freelance writing. Big, well-paying clients don’t simply fall into your lap—if you want high paying assignments, you have to go out and get them. And that means researching your markets, writing solid pitches, and having a professional resume and writing samples at the ready.

Enhancing your reputation

Most editors and high-paying freelance clients are familiar with content mills—and won’t look twice at writers who apply with clips written for these sites. For the most part, writing for content mills doesn’t do your reputation any favors. In some cases you’re not even given a byline, so you can’t claim your work and point to it as evidence of your skills.

The bottom line

If you need the challenge of producing coherent pieces on demand, and could use an extra fifty bucks a week while building your real freelance writing career, content mills could be an acceptable temporary solution.

However, don’t rely on them as the foundation of your freelance career. Put in the time to hone your skills, establish a well-connected network, and build a credible library of clips. And when your freelance career takes off, you can say goodbye to content mills in favor of fulfilling, lucrative assignments from high-paying clients.

Are White Papers On the Way Out?

January 9th, 2014

Since the early 1990s, businesses have used white papers as marketing tools to provide select information about products, services, or new developments, and to boost sales. White papers are typically multi-page documents, either printed or in PDF format, that contain text along with images, graphs or charts, statistics, and other elements designed to favor a certain brand or conclusion.

In today’s fast-paced world of condensed information and short attention spans, are white papers headed the way of phone books and newspaper ads—or is there still a place for these in-depth presentations blended with sales pitches?

Why the white paper is losing favor

Often when someone mentions “white paper,” eyes start to glaze over. The reason? Originally, white papers were for primarily academic or government use—and many businesses adapting them for commercial purposes stick to the dull, dry, overly long spirit in which they were created.

Another common problem is that it’s tricky to get the tone right. An effective white paper should come across as informative and interesting, with a light bias toward the company that published the paper (which is expected and acceptable). However, many white papers are written as blatant marketing pieces with more fluff than fact.

White papers and modern marketing: Can it work?

With today’s marketers focusing on messages that will fit in a paragraph on Facebook or a 140-character tweet, can long-form advertising like white papers compete with snappy headlines and instant gratification? If it’s done right, they can.

Not all white papers are created equally. In fact, the white paper is a versatile document that can be written in several different ways. The three main types of commercial white papers are:

  • Numbered lists: This type offers a set of points, questions, or tips, usually about a specific business issue—which the company publishing the white paper is able to solve
  • Backgrounders: These white papers explore the benefits of a company’s offering—typically either a product, service, or methodology (for tech or consulting companies)
  • Problem/solution: In this type, a common business problem is discussed, along with a point-by-point look at the solutions a company can provide

White papers may use one of these formats, or combine them—usually by adding numbered lists to either a backgrounder or problem/solution scenario—to create more detailed white papers.

Once you have an engaging white paper, the next step is to make it accessible. Printed white papers are all but extinct—but there are many ways to present white papers digitally and reach a wider audience.

For example, you could offer the traditional PDF format, or a popular eBook format such as EPUB, as a free download on your website. You could break down a white paper into sections and use it as a multi-installment email marketing campaign, or offer the full document as a free bonus when people sign up for your email list.

Don’t have the time to create an engaging and informative white paper? Consider hiring a freelance writer to put together a highly readable, professional presentation to market your business.

5 Resolutions Every Freelance Writer Should Make This New Year

December 30th, 2013

2014 Calendar

The end of the year is a great time to look back on what you’ve accomplished in your freelance writing career—and to look ahead to how you’ll improve in the coming year. As we bid 2013 goodbye, it’s time to start considering your strategy for 2014 and making resolutions that will help you be happier, healthier, and more prosperous.

Regardless of where you are in your career—whether you’re an established freelance writer, you’re fairly new to the game, or you’ve made the decision to start freelancing in 2014—these five resolutions will get you further ahead in the game.

Charge what you’re worth

What’s your current pricing strategy for your services? If you started out offering low rates to beat the competition, or the idea of charging more just hasn’t occurred to you in a few years, it could be time to give yourself a raise.

A lot of freelance copywriters worry that raising their rates could drive some clients away. However, keep in mind that the best kinds of clients understand that you get what you pay for—so when you charge higher rates, you’ll have more of those, and fewer clients who are just looking for the cheapest deal with not much thought to quality.

Another point to consider: With higher rates, you can work toward ending the feast-or-famine cycle that comes with the natural ebb and flow of the freelance industry. More money for today’s jobs means a more padded bank account when your project flow is running lean.

Learn to say no

Along with the fear of losing clients through higher rates, many freelance writers worry about turning down jobs. They’ll take every project they can get, like squirrels storing nuts for the winter, “just in case” they can’t find any work next month.

Unfortunately, this road often leads directly to burnout—and what happens when you have 12 projects due next week, but you can’t write a single word?

Resolve to make 2014 the Year of Saying No. With strong planning (and higher freelance rates), you can take on fewer projects and concentrate on doing the ones you enjoy, instead of the ones you do just to pay your utility bill on time.

Find places to delegate more

Established freelance writers, and anyone who finds that they’re consistently getting more work than they can handle, should strongly consider outsourcing.

More companies of every size, in every industry, are outsourcing to third parties—which means the prices for these services are more competitive. If you’re fielding a high volume of projects, you might want to contract with another freelance writer to take some of the overflow.

And if you’re doing fine with your work volume and just want more time to write, there are plenty of non-writing aspects you can outsource—like graphic design, website maintenance, marketing, accounting, or record-keeping.

Rediscover the outside world

Think fast—when was the last time you had an actual, spoken conversation with someone who doesn’t live in your house? Many freelance copywriters get so focused on their business that they forget about the importance of the human connection.

If you’ve been hibernating in your writing cave for long periods of time, make it your goal in 2014 to reconnect with other real people. You might try to get some real-life networking in, attend conferences or trade shows, or just make more time to have the occasional lunch with friends.

Remember why you love what you do

Why did you decide to start your freelance writing business? It’s probably not because you enjoy dealing with difficult clients, chasing down payments, working late hours, or isolating yourself from the real world.

Take some time to remind yourself what you wanted out of your freelance life—and this year, make sure you get it. Treat yourself to a morning of sleeping in as late as you’d like. Work in your pajamas. Indulge in an extra-long lunch. Make sure you’re enjoying the benefits of working for yourself as often as possible, and you’ll be happier, healthier, and more productive without even trying.

Here’s to you—may 2014 be your best year as a freelance writer yet!

How to Become a Career Blogger

December 28th, 2013

If you’re a serious blogger, chances are you’ve considered—or dreamed about—blogging as a career. But is it possible to make a living as a blogger? Plenty of people are doing it, and you can too.

These tips will help you shift your blog from hobby to paying job.

Make blogging your business

Your attitude toward your blogging has a major impact on your success. If you treat it like a hobby or side project, that’s where your blog will always remain. To make money from blogging, you have to treat it like a business—whether it’s full-time or part-time.

Instead of working on the blog only when you have a few spare minutes, schedule other activities around blogging. This will result in higher quality and better consistency, which in turn attracts more followers.

Another aspect of running a business that you should incorporate into your blog is investing for returns. Of course, you’re already dedicating time to running your blog. But if you plan to make money, part of your profits should be reinvested in your business, spent on things like custom templates, domain names, and marketing.

Look for multiple income streams

Many bloggers believe that all the money in blogging comes from advertising. While selling ads can generate decent revenue, you shouldn’t rely on advertising alone. Unless your blog is incredibly popular, it’s almost impossible to earn a full-time income through ad space.

Affiliate programs can be a good source of income for bloggers, provided you’re selective about it. Don’t rush to join every program that will accept you. Instead, choose affiliates with strong reputations that offer products or services related to your blog’s topics—and that will benefit your readers.

You can also monetize your blog by offering premium content or selling your own products. Some bloggers offer paid subscriptions for high-value content that isn’t posted publicly to the blog. Others sell related products—books are a popular choice, such as those published by renowned bloggers like Jen Yates at Cake Wrecks and Allie Brosh at Hyperbole and a Half.

Consider multiple blogs

If you’re blogging in addition to working, you know that one blog is hard enough to maintain. However, once you’re a full-time career blogger, you can bring in extra income by running additional blogs related to your primary one.

Not enough time in the day? If you’re running a successful primary blog and one or more secondary blogs, you might consider hiring a freelance writer to generate fresh content, giving yourself more time to dedicate to your core business.

Are you working toward becoming a career blogger? Have any other tips to share? Leave a note in the comments!

 

WBM Featured on The Biz Buzz

December 12th, 2013

I’m thrilled to have been interviewed by editor Christina Hamlett on The Biz Buzz about my life as an entrepreneur and freelance writer, my business, and more.

Christina and I discussed how I got started with Words By Melissa, what life is like as a full-time freelance writer and business owner, how the economy is affecting the freelance industry, and what I like to do when I’m not working. I had the opportunity to share some of the best advice I’ve received in seven years as a freelancer, along with some of the things I’ve learned personally along the way.

Head over to The Biz Buzz to read the full interview, and say hello in the comments!

5 Easy Website Builders for Your Small Business or Freelance Site

September 23rd, 2013

Building your own WebSite!

A recent small business study from Yodle revealed some startling findings: 52 percent of small businesses don’t currently have a website.

What makes this so surprising? Not only is a website an essential tool for marketing any business, but there are plenty of easy-to-use site building tools, ranging from inexpensive to free, that make creating a professional-looking website a snap.

If you’re not happy with your current freelance or small business website—or you don’t have one yet—take a look at these full-featured services to find out if one of them is right for you.

SnapPages

This DIY website builder comes with a drag-and-drop page editor and a large library of website themes and customizations—colors, fonts, typography, and more. There’s also a sizable collection of social plugins and an integrated blogging platform.

Cost: Free for limited pages and file storage with SnapPages branding; $8 per month for a Pro account with a personal domain, extra features, and more.

Squarespace

Designed especially for businesses, Squarespace comes with a 14-day trial that includes a free domain. A user-friendly interface allows you to add pages, customize font and colors to match your brand, and integrate an ecommerce store. There’s also a full blog platform, social media integration, analytics, a built-in mobile website, and more.

Cost: Starts at $8 per month, up to $24 per month for fully integrated ecommerce, advanced options, and unlimited features.

Jigsy

At once website builder and content management system, Jigsy has a drag-and-drop editor for simple page creation, and unique designs with mobile-friendly templates. Blogging, photo sharing, drag-and-drop ecommerce, and more are included.

Cost: Free for a single website with advertisements and limited storage. Ad-free Pro memberships with unlimited features and storage are $8.25 per month.

Wix

This free website builder comes with a huge library of slick, professional website templates, and many selections that are designed with types of businesses in mind—restaurants, sellers, service providers, consultants, and many more. The drag-and-drop editor allows integration with a wide range of web apps for social media and comments, online stores, email marketing tools, live chat, and more.

Cost: Ad-supported Wix websites are free, with ad-free plans starting at $8.25 per month.

WordPress

Perhaps the most popular platform for building websites, both WordPress.com and WordPress.org offer fully featured website tools that include practically everything you’ll ever need for your site. For those who lack technical skill, WordPress.com is often the better choice—it’s an easy drag-and-drop interface with premade templates, while WordPress.org is a platform that requires a domain host (though the platform itself is just as easy to use).

Cost: The WordPress platform is free, and there are hundreds of free templates to choose from. While free domains are WordPress branded (yoursite.wordpress.com), you can purchase a personal domain through WordPress starting at $18.00 per year. There are also premium templates available for a one-time fee, typically starting at $75.

 

How to Lose a Social Media Follower in 10 Days

September 21st, 2013

ShareThis Icon Overlain by Twitter, Google+, and Facebook Like Share Buttons

In the real world, unless there’s a major betrayal or conflict, friends and colleagues tend to stick around. But in the realm of social media, it’s all too easy to lose followers and fans. Even a minor annoyance can prompt people to click that “Unlike” or “Unfollow” button.

Unless you want to see your follower list dwindle, avoid committing these social media don’ts:

  1. Ignoring your followers. When someone likes and/or interacts with your page, they expect to get something out of it—whether it’s regular updates, responses to their comments, or special offers.
  2. Being too salesy. Your customers came to your page for information, entertainment, and perhaps the occasional special offer, not for a deluge of advertisements.
  3. Posting random or irrelevant content. If someone subscribes to a women’s fashion page, they don’t want to see parenting tips. Serve up content that pertains to the theme and audience of your profile.
  4. Overdoing the quotes. Sure, there are plenty of poignant and catchy quotes out there…but your followers want to hear what YOU have to say, not just regurgitated tidbits from other people.
  5. Sending generic responses. Don’t think you’re fooling anyone with those autoresponders. Social media users can spot a canned message a mile away.
  6. Posting too much. When it comes to social media, quality trumps quantity. Leave them wanting more.
  7. Overdoing the hashtags. Tagging can be a highly effective way to bring exposure to your posts, but don’t let the value of your messages get obscured by too many #s.
  8. Whining. No-one likes a complainer. While you don’t necessarily have to post about puppies and rainbows all the time, too much negativity will quickly alienate followers.
  9. Repeat yourself. If you post the same message again and again, bored followers will run for the hills.
  10. Letting the stream dry up. When it’s time for social media spring cleaning, the first casualties are the pages that remain stagnant for long stretches of time.

By not committing these ten social media sins, you’ll have a much better chance of keeping a firm grasp on your fans and followers.

 

 

5 Quick Tips for Beating Procrastination

September 17th, 2013

do it - procrastination concept

So you’re facing a huge project that’s going to take days to get through. Or maybe a series of small, unpleasant tasks you’ve been dreading. Or perhaps you simply don’t feel like getting any work done right now.

Whatever the reason, we all battle the procrastination monster at some point—usually more than once in any given workweek. Try these tips to tame the beast and conquer the stress of having unfinished work hanging over your head.

  • Start with the hardest task. Beating procrastination is all about momentum, so it may seem like a good idea to begin your day with easy tasks—you can knock them out quickly and you’ll feel like you’ve accomplished something. The problem is, that sense of accomplishment can sap your motivation to keep going. Tackle the toughest projects first, and work on easy things when you don’t need the motivation you’ve already expended.
  • Break it down. Facing a huge or seemingly never-ending project? Take a few minutes to break the project out into stages, and then tackle one stage at a time. You’ll end up with a series of small successes, eventually leading to the big goal.
  • Sit up straight. Believe it or not, your posture can have a strong effect on your mood—and if your mood is slouchy and bored, your motivation to get things done will reflect that. The simple act of sitting up straight in your chair can help you feel like you’re ready to work.
  • Adjust your environment. Sitting at your desk all day can quickly get monotonous, and monotony detracts your focus from work, toward all the other things you could be doing away from your desk. Move to another computer, grab a laptop, or try the radical pen-and-paper method for a change in routine that will shake your productive mind loose.
  • Take a break. Use this strategy to beat the type of procrastination that comes with “I’ve already been working four hours straight.” Countless studies have shown that regular breaks actually improve productivity. Get up, grab a drink or healthy snack, and spend a few minutes cleansing your mental palate so you can come back refreshed.

What are your favorite procrastination crashers?

Solving the Biggest Work-From-Home Challenge: How to Stop Working

September 16th, 2013

For anyone who works from home, or wants to make the transition, there’s plenty of information out there about how great it is. No more commuting! Work in your pajamas! Follow your passion! It’s true—working from home is undeniably awesome.

Except when it’s not.

If you’ve been working from home for a while, you probably roll your eyes whenever someone tells you how lucky you are. There are definite advantages. But there are also pitfalls, and one of them is figuring out how to stop working. Preferably before your family forgets who you are, and then calls the police the next time you sit down at the dinner table because they don’t recognize you.

So how do you leave work when you’re living with it? These tips will help you occasionally take the office out of home, so you can remember what it’s like to sit on your couch without your laptop and a pile of projects, wondering who brought the cat to work with them.

  • Define your space and stick to it (that goes for everybody). If you don’t already have one, you absolutely need a home office. You might not have a spare room, or a closet you can transform. If that’s the case, stake out a corner of a room and declare it your office. Explain to your family that when you’re there, you’re working (and when they stop laughing, tell them you’re serious).
  • Give yourself a schedule. Yes, one of the benefits of working from home is scheduling freedom. You’re flexible and you know it. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t at least plan on working certain times of the day—because it makes it that much easier to quit when your “day” is done. If you have to stop for an emergency, you can always tack on hours later. That’s flexibility.
  • At the end of the day, quit. You’re done. Turn off the computer and don’t look at it until you start work the next day. This takes practice, but it can be done. If you have to, you can let clients or supervisors know to text or call after a certain time with emergencies. But only real emergencies.
  • Schedule an activity to reinforce quitting time. Your willpower might not be enough to keep you out of your home office at the end of the day. To combat this, give yourself an appointment after work. Use that dusty gym membership or go for a nightly walk, catch the next episode of the show you’ve been diligently not watching during work hours, or just make a date with your family for dinner.

Make a habit of separating your work from the rest of your home, and watch your stress levels drop!

 

Small Business, Entrepreneurs & Freelancers: Optimize Your Lunch Break

September 10th, 2013

Eating at the desk

If you work on a self-imposed timetable, you might be in the habit of working through lunch at your desk. For many freelancers and small business owners, this feels like the most productive way to do things. You need to eat, but if you can work while you’re doing it, you can finish your day sooner. Right?

Ironically enough, studies have proven that taking breaks actually make you more productive—not less. If you work eight hours straight, your brain will slow down on you, and you’ll find yourself burning the midnight oil yet again.

Here’s how to make the most of your lunch break, and come back to work refreshed and ready to tackle your schedule so you can enjoy some actual free time after dinner.

Leave your desk

It’s not truly a time-out if you’re still on the computer—even if you’re only catching up on your favorite blogs or hitting friends up on Facebook instead of working. The simple act of standing up and walking away from your desk is enough to signify to your brain that you’re truly taking a break, which gives you a more effective recharge.

In fact, leave all electronics, period

During your lunch break, put everything aside—even your smartphone or tablet. Telling yourself, “Oh, I’ll just answer a few emails” is cheating. You’re still working, and your brain will feel it later.

If you’re truly on a tight deadline, take it mobile

Some days, you really do have to work through lunch. After you take a minute to verify that it’s honestly inescapable, consider downloading what you’re working onto a laptop or tablet, and heading outside (or to another room, at least) to eat while you work. If you have to keep going, the temporary change of scenery can help to keep your mind stimulated.

Enjoy what you’re eating

Regardless of how or where you take your lunch break, treat yourself well by eating something that tastes good and gives you the fuel you need to get through the rest of the day. Save the lighter fare for dinner, and allow yourself a few extra calories at lunch for the sake of pleasing your taste buds.

And if you can’t remember the last time you took an actual lunch break, now is the perfect time to start!

5 Backup & Disaster Recovery Tips for Your Small Business

September 4th, 2013

Smart Women Mousepad

As summer winds to a close, your business faces an increased risk for data loss from seasonal storms, power outages, and a general increase in activity that can lead to human error. Now is a great time to review your backup and recovery plan—and make sure you have good habits in place to protect your data.

These five tips will help ensure that you’re covered in the event of data loss or disaster.

  • Check your defenses. Effective, up-to-date anti-malware programs and firewalls are an important part of an overall data backup plan. Make sure that all of your work machines—including any mobile devices that are used for business purposes—have the latest definitions and security updates.
  • Automate your backups. If you don’t have one in place already, set up a system that will automatically back up all of your data on a periodic basis. Good choices for small businesses are cloud-based backup solutions like MozyPro (starts at $10 per month) or Carbonite Business (starts at $229 per year).
  • Run periodic tests. Make sure your backup and recovery system is working by periodically recovering an important file and testing it for validity—make sure it still opens, contains the right data, and can be edited and saved. You can also use an alternate hard drive to test a full-system recovery.
  • Stick to proven brands. In technology, there’s something to be said for a recognizable brand name. Your backup plan is useless if you’re storing data with a cloud service provider with weak security, or on hard disks that are easy to break or corrupt. If you’re considering a new brand of backup hardware or software, ask for opinions from other businesses who have used it before you commit.
  • Keep a full remote backup. Whether it’s a cloud storage service or a few terabytes of external hard drive, make sure you have at least one full set of data stored off-site. If you need to keep a backup hard drive onsite, invest in a heavy-duty, fireproof safe to store it in.

Your small business backup plan is essential for keeping you up and running. Take the time to test your plan today!

4 Ways to Engage Your Email Marketing Subscribers

August 8th, 2013

It’s great to have a substantial subscriber base for your email marketing campaigns, but how many of those people are actually reading and responding to your messages? List building is important, but it’s even more vital to engage your subscribers.

If your email marketing ROI isn’t meeting expectations, here are some ideas for getting more of your subscribers to bypass the delete button and connect with your messaging.

Deliver great content

While this seems like a given, there are many reasons your email marketing might not contain the best possible content. You may be focusing on quantity over quality to meet a schedule, or perhaps you’re pressed for time and rushing to put an email together.

To make the most of your marketing lists, you need to put out great content, every time. Your entire message, from the subject line to the closing statement, should be carefully considered for maximum impact.

If you always seem to run out of time to work on your content, consider scheduling a dedicated block each month to put together all of your email marketing materials, or hiring a freelance copywriter to write the content, so you can just plug it in and send it out.

Segment your list

There are quite a few benefits to segmenting your email lists. In addition to lower unsubscribe rates, you’ll usually see higher open and click-through rates, and more conversions, when you target your subscribers more precisely.

To segment your list, you can use existing customer data that you’ve already collected, or simply ask subscribers to provide demographic data at various points, such as during the subscription process or by sending a special “get to know you” mailing.

Make an offer they can’t refuse

This doesn’t mean you should threaten your subscribers. However, exclusive offers can generate a lot of interest—and dramatic exclusive offers will get your subscribers to sit up and take notice.

If your list response has been lagging, consider shaking things up by sending out an offer for subscribers only that beats out any discounts or deals you’ve offered previously. Make your 10 percent discount a one-time 50 percent discount. Give a great free gift with purchases, like an Amazon gift certificate or dinner-and-a-movie gift card. Surprise your subscribers by proving that their business is important to you.

Get interactive

Most people are happy to talk about themselves. Use that idea with your email marketing list—invite your subscribers to share personal stories, and create a way to showcase them for the rest of your list.

For example, a company in the pet industry might ask email subscribers to send in photos of their pets, and then post them on a dedicated website or social media page. If you ask for personal stories related to your business, you can start sharing one or two stories in each future mailing. There are endless interactive possibilities.

How will you engage your email subscribers?

Yahoo Trouble: Why This Search Engine Has Not Taken Off As Planned

August 4th, 2013

For those who can remember the early days of the Internet, mainly the 1990s, there was a different class of leaders when it came to activity on the World Wide Web. Online enthusiasts were greeted in their email inbox by AOL’s iconic “You’ve Got Mail,” and television commercials touted search leader Yahoo! with men on mountain tops shouting “YAHOOOOO!.”

Those days seem like a distant memory for both of these companies, but Yahoo’s fall from grace has been much more staggering than that of AOL. There was a time and place when Yahoo was the most visited page on the web, an achievement made possible by the company’s vision and early adoption of the move from newspapers to online news. So what happened and why is the new CEO, Marissa Mayer, a constant topic of conversation?

Lack of Vision

As mentioned, Yahoo dominated the early days of the Internet in terms of traffic, because the company was at the forefront of the shift in news reporting and readership. As print newspaper began to decline, Yahoo was there with full online reporting and easy reading for millions. However, that same vision was not able to see or accept the next shift in web browsing.

While millions of web surfers still access the Internet from in-home providers like www.satelliteinternetdeal.com/, an ever-increasing percentage of the population is accessing content from across the web on smartphones and tablets. Mobile devices, and social media, are changing the way web browsers access, view, and interact across the web.

Rather than adapt again, embrace the mobile culture, and move toward greater integration with social media, Yahoo chose to dig in its heels and keep cranking out the same style of content it had for years. This lack of vision and an unwillingness to change led to a rapid downfall.

Turnaround Efforts

When it became apparent that Yahoo’s downfall couldn’t be reversed, much less leveled off, the company went through about 18 months of tumultuous transitions and overhauls. In late 2011, CEO Carol Bartz was fired and replaced by former PayPal CEO Scott Thompson. Board leadership was overhauled, attempts to embrace the mobile culture were made, but none of it seemed to make a difference.

At the heart of the problem was Yahoo’s inability to attract ever important online advertising dollars. Google’s AdWords machine is the epitome of success in today’s search world. AdWords generates billions of dollars in revenue for Google each year and attracts an equal number of visitors to its website.

The real turnaround may not have really begun until June 2012 when a young, savvy businesswoman was plucked from Google headquarters to lead the charge at Yahoo. Marissa Mayer, a former executive at Google, was hired as CEO of Yahoo—and after a year in charge, has had quite the impact on Yahoo. But her tenure has not been without controversy.

Enter Marissa Mayer

Mayer had been an instrumental player in the growth, expansion, and dominance of Google during the early 21st century and the expectation was that she’d be able to raise Yahoo from the dead. From the moment she arrived on the scene, however, she was embroiled in a controversy of a personal nature.

Upon her arrival at Yahoo, it was simultaneously announced that Mayer was pregnant. Almost immediately, critics and supporters lit up blogs across the web, either singing her praises or denouncing her. From that point on, her every move was subject to scrutiny, including:

  • Her decision to take two weeks of maternity leave and then return to work, leading many to question to her work/life priorities
  • She built a nursery next to her office at work, while also ending Yahoo’s telecommuting  policy for employees, bringing further scrutiny of her priorities
  • The expansion of maternity leave to 16 weeks and paternity leave to eight weeks brought mostly praise
  • An expansive acquisition program that many labeled as destructive to employee morale

Her personal life choices aside, Mayer has led a major overhaul of Yahoo’s business approach, with some 20 acquisitions during her one-year tenure. The latest and largest was Yahoo’s acquisition of Tumblr for $1.1 billion in June. While many of Yahoo’s acquisitions of have been mobile-oriented purchases, none have yet had the impact of reversing Yahoo’s fortunes.

In the end, Mayer’s moves have been the sort of aggressive approach Yahoo needs if it’s going to recover from a nearly decade-long free-fall. Most critics have had positive views of Yahoo’s acquisitions to date, but more needs to be done to reverse the company’s fortunes in full. At some point, in order to overcome or even make a dent in Google’s dominance, the company must address its woeful value in the eyes of advertisers.

This guest post is from Ryan Hugo, a business analyst. He frequently shares his insights about the tech industry on business blogs.

 

3 Cool Things You Can Do with Gmail

July 31st, 2013

A lot of small businesses use Google’s Gmail for their business accounts. Gmail is free, it sounds professional enough (more so than Yahoo or Hotmail, anyway), and it comes with plenty of useful features like filters, forwarding and POP/IMAP, chat, the ability to link several accounts, and integration with Google Docs.

But there’s more to Gmail than most people realize. Here are a few great features you might not know about.

Send a text message

Using the Chat function, you can send SMS text messages to your Gmail contacts. To enable this, go into Settings and click on Labs, and then search for SMS in Chat. Click on Enable and save your settings.

Then, to send a text:

  • Enter the name of your contact in the “Search, chat, or SMS” box on the left side of your inbox (you must have the Chat feature on to see this).
  • In the options box that appears, select “Send Text (SMS)”.
  • Enter the phone number you want to text in the dialogue box and click Save.
  • In the Chat window that appears, type your message and hit Enter. The message will be sent as a text.

Automatically file your attachments

It’s a pretty common practice for many people to just leave messages with attachments in their inboxes, so they can find them again. Unfortunately, it’s not a good practice—because you have to search for them every time you need them.

The attachments.me add-on for Gmail can help you get organized and save your attachments to a better storage platform. You can set up the service to automatically copy your incoming attachments to the cloud service of your choice, whether you use Google Drive, Box, SkyDrive, or Dropbox. And if you don’t use cloud storage, attachments.me lets you see all the attachments in your Gmail inbox in thumbnail form, and sort or search them quickly.

Organizing incoming mail with labels

If you’re not already using Gmail’s labels to filter your email, you’re missing out on the biggest selling point for this platform. It’s an easy way to categorize messages, show you what’s important at a glance, and find the information you need fast.

To filter with labels:

  • Click on “More” in navigation pane to the left of your inbox
  • Scroll to the bottom and click “Create new label,” and enter a name for your label
  • Find and open an email that represents what you want to filter, such as messages from a specific client, or a daily status report
  • From the “Reply” dropdown box, select “Filter messages like this”
  • Click on “Create filter with this search” and choose the label you created

Now, when similar messages arrive they’ll be automatically labeled—and you can just click on the label in the left navigation pane to see only those messages.

Are you getting the most out of your Gmail account?

Does Your Alexa Ranking Matter?

July 29th, 2013

One of the main goals for any small business involved in online marketing is to increase traffic to their website, blog, and social media pages. Of course, it’s important to measure and analyze traffic, and that’s why many marketers use Alexa to gauge the effectiveness of their campaigns.

But should you worry about your Alexa ranking? If your small business website’s AlexaRank is somewhere in the millions, should you be working on improving your numbers—or are there better ways to improve your online visibility?

What is an AlexaRank?

The Alexa Traffic Rankings are a widely accepted authority on website traffic levels. Alexa.com computes these rankings on a daily basis, using a combined measure of page views and users, or reach. To arrive at the Alexa ranking, these two numbers are averaged over time, using the prior three months of traffic data.

So, your website’s Alexa ranking reflects both traffic levels and the number of unique visitors you receive.

Top Alexa ranked sites

Alexa monitors web traffic for sites all over the world, and refreshes its list of the top 500 global sites every day. The current top 10 websites by AlexaRank are:

  1. Facebook
  2. Google
  3. YouTube
  4. Yahoo!
  5. Baidu (the leading Chinese search engine)
  6. Amazon
  7. Wikipedia
  8. QQ.COM (the leading Internet service portal in China)
  9. Windows Live
  10. Taobao Marketplace (the leading online shopping destination in China)

It’s interesting to note that three of the top 10 Alexa ranked websites originate in China—the country with the biggest population in the world. India is the second most populated country, and the United States is third.

What this means for your small business website

Your AlexaRank can serve as a rough indicator of website traffic, but improving it shouldn’t be the focus of your online marketing efforts. As a small business, it’s more important to focus on traffic quality over quantity. Getting the right people to visit your site will be more valuable than having a lot of visitors.

Potential exceptions are businesses that rely on advertiser revenue as a primary profit stream. Alexa Rankings are important to advertisers, and you can charge more for ad space on your website when you have a high AlexaRank.

So if you’ve been frantic over improving your Alexa ranking, you can relax. Focus on building quality traffic through content marketing and good SEO practices, and your online marketing strategy will succeed.

Square for Small Business: Take Your Money and Run

July 25th, 2013

Obama taking donations via Square mobile payment system

Whatever kind of small business you’re running, the ability to accept credit and debit cards will net you more customers and faster payments. But merchant accounts can get expensive, with per-transaction fees, monthly minimums, and equipment leasing costs all taking a bite out of your profits.

Enter Square. This ingenious little plastic dongle attaches to your iPhone, iPad, or Android smartphone, and lets you swipe customer cards anywhere for on-the-spot payments. Created by entrepreneur Jack Dorsey—whom you might know better as the inventor of a little social network called Twitter—Square is easy to operate, and a lot more cost-effective than merchant solutions.

The accessory, called the Square Reader, plugs into your device’s headphone jack and syncs with the free Square Register app to process payments. The reader itself is also free. You’ll pay only 2.75% per transaction, which is lower than most merchant solutions, with no additional fees and next-day deposits.

Any type of small business, from babysitters and dog walkers to consultants and retail stores, can benefit with Square. It’s simple and straightforward, and you’ll never miss another opportunity to make a sale when you’re carrying a register in your pocket.

3 Great Cloud Storage Options for Small Business

July 23rd, 2013

Cloud storage can be a real lifesaver for today’s small business. The flexibility of being able to access and share your files from anywhere with a connected device is invaluable. With cloud storage, you can work on projects whenever you have a few spare minutes, easily share content with your staff or clients, and quickly pull up the information you need—all without having to run back to the office when you need to look something up.

There are hundreds of cloud storage platforms to choose from, but not all of them will be right for you. These three cloud services offer the right blend of features and pricing for any small business on the go.

Box

A big service with a little name, Box delivers cloud storage solutions and more for small business. In addition to secure online storage, you can organize files into folders, collaborate virtually, set permissions for viewing and access, transfer large files quickly, and access the app from any platform. Box also offers additional features for business, including a sales portal and secure Deal Rooms for virtual meetings and transactions.

What does it cost? Box is free for single users with up to 50 GB of storage, and business plans for three to 500 users with 1000 GB of storage cost $15 per month. There is also a 14-day free trial available.

Google Drive

This storage solution, paired with Google’s popular productivity suite, is ideal for small businesses—especially those already running Gmail. Google Drive fuses Google Docs with cloud storage, so you can save, share, and collaborate in real-time on documents, spreadsheets, and presentations.

What does it cost? The first 5 GB of storage are free. If you need more space, you can pay $2.49 per month for 25 GB, or $4.99 per month for 100 GB.

Microsoft SkyDrive

Like all other Microsoft products, this cloud storage solution is a strong choice for Windows-based users who are running MS Office. Microsoft SkyDrive offers excellent integration with the Windows operating system, particularly Windows 8 and the Windows Phone platform, because it syncs not only files and folders, but also apps and system/device settings.

SkyDrive is also available for Mac, iOS, and Android platforms as a straight storage solution with Office integration.

What does it cost? SkyDrive gives everyone with a Microsoft account (formerly called a Windows Live ID) 7 GB of free storage. For more storage, the annual (not monthly) cost is $10 for 20 GB, $25 for 50 GB, and $50 for 100 GB.

The Productive Home Office Checklist

July 20th, 2013

If you work from home as a freelance writer, entrepreneur, or small business owner, you probably already know that having a dedicated work area—separate from your home life—is crucial to getting things done. But is your home office truly set up for productivity, or is it just another place in your house?

Here are some quick essentials for making your home office a more productive place to work.

  • Have a door that closes. If at all possible, your home office should be located in a separate room with a door. Having a closed door not only lets family members know that you’re working, but it also helps you get into work mode, which makes it easier to stop thinking about the laundry or the dishes crying out for your attention.
  • Evict the television. If you have a TV in your home office, move it out. The temptation to stop working and turn on that show you keep missing can be tough to resist. Not watching television in your office also helps to reinforce the separation between work and home.
  • Get a comfortable chair. You may be using a folding chair or a wooden one from the kitchen set, either to save money or to avoid getting comfortable so you’ll keep working. The problem is, you’re likely spending eight hours a day or more in that chair—and potentially doing long-term damage to your back. Invest in comfortable seating for your home office.
  • Have a place for all your things. It’s too easy to simply set a pile of papers down in your home office and then start piling more things on top. Disorganization can quickly lead to clutter. Invest in shelves, filing cabinets, or whatever else you need to stay neat and organized. Clutter is distracting and costs you valuable time when you have to search for what you need.
  • Check your lighting levels. Insufficient light decreases productivity, especially over the winter months. Make sure your home office has windows to let the sunlight in—or if windows aren’t possible, enhance the lighting with strategically placed lamps.
  • Get the right tools for the job. Don’t deny yourself the latest advances or gadgets if they’ll help increase your productivity. Could you benefit from a second monitor, a wireless mouse and keyboard, or a faster Internet connection? Upgrade when necessary to make your home office life easier.

Finally, don’t forget that you’re allowed to place your personal mark on your home office. It should feel like a workspace, but you also want to be comfortable and happy while you’re there—because that helps to increase productivity, too.

3 Weird but Effective Ways to Improve Productivity

July 18th, 2013

Catching up on e-mail...

For freelancers, small business owners, and anyone whose productivity is tied directly to self-discipline, it can be hard to stay focused and productive all day. You may be fired up and cranking out work for most of the morning, but as the day wears on, it’s harder to keep your mind on the tasks at hand—and it’s especially difficult to keep going when no one but you is enforcing when you can end your day.

You’ve probably heard that healthy snacks, brief work breaks, and the occasional power nap can help you stay productive. But if that isn’t working for you, try some gum, music you don’t like, or cute animals.

Chewing gum boosts your brainpower

Researchers at St. Lawrence University performed a study with students who chewed gum a few minutes prior to a test, and a control group who didn’t. The gum-chewing students scored noticeably better than those who went in gum-less. The exact reason isn’t known, but researchers believe the marked results are due to a neural arousal caused by chewing. So when your focus is flagging, try popping some sugar-free gum to improve productivity.

Listen to music—but not your favorite tunes

The neuroscience of music states that listening to songs releases dopamine, which improves your mood. This makes sense to anyone who’s gotten through an afternoon song by plugging into their preferred playlist. However, music service Focus@Will suggests that listening to music genres that oppose your preferences can actually boost your focus.

The reasoning behind this theory is that music you listen to for fun creates associations with good memories and good times—which draws your focus away from what you should be doing, and toward what you could be doing. So choose a music stream with a different feel from what you usually listen to, and perk up your productivity.

Look at cute pictures of animals

You finally have an excuse to look at all those adorable kitten and puppy pictures online—it actually improves your productivity and concentration by a significant amount. A study conducted by Hiroshima University in Japan found that after viewing cute, pleasant images of animals, participants were able to increase their focus on performance by 44 percent.

Go ahead and visit your favorite cute animal website, or watch a couple of funny animal videos on YouTube. After a short cute-break, you’ll find yourself able to get back to work easier.

4 Reasons Websites Underperform

July 12th, 2013

How To Check Website Google Rankings

For a small percentage of businesses, websites are stairways to riches—but for most companies, they are little understood entities that result in poor search engine rankings, little or no visitors, disappointing sales, and weak interaction. To surpass the fierce online competition, companies must deploy a well-rounded website marketing strategy.

Is your website failing to deliver? It could be due to any of these five common reasons:

You treat your site like a brochure.

Successful websites aren’t static sales documents–they are dynamic, ever-changing entities. Unlike a brochure, your website must constantly improve and change as your business evolves. Use it to document new and exciting services or products. In addition to text content, you can add video, audio, infographics, blogs, polls, reports, books, and much more.

Keep your website fresh with new content. A website with outdated content will get ignored, or even downgraded, by search engines. Websites that are frequently updated are considered valuable. You can never have too much content or too frequent updates.

You don’t tell stories.

People love good stories—and every business has one, even yours. Websites with compelling narratives are excellent reputation builders. Tell stories about how and why you started your business, or about the services or products you offer. Share customer success stories. When you share your story, you not only showcase your personality, but you also invoke emotion and foster loyalty.

You underestimate the importance of mobile compatibility.

Mobile Internet usage is skyrocketing. If your site is not mobile optimized, a large number of prospective customers will be unable to view it. A mobile-friendly website enables prospects to browse and interact with it on a screen as small as a few inches. It is realistic to expect half of your site visitors to use a mobile device to view your website. Mobile compatibility is no longer just another cool feature to have – your site can’t succeed without it.

You ignore the power of SEO (Search Engine Optimization).

For many small businesses, advertising is out of the question. You can save money by optimizing your website for relevant search phrases. Unique, value-adding content is a solid foundation for good SEO. Search engines reward websites that are frequently updated with new content. For example, a web designer could have a collection of articles dealing with website design topics. If you are a web designer in San Diego, relevant keyword phrases like “San Diego web designer” and “San Diego web designer” should be included on your website.

Making updates is a complicated process.

The easier it is to make updates, the more likely they’ll happen. The easiest website platforms are known as CMS (Content Management Systems). Some of the most common are Drupal, WordPress, and Joomla. The CMS enables you to make content updates in a matter of minutes, without help from your web designer, so you have full control over your site. A website that’s frequently updated is rewarded by more visitors and higher search engine rankings.

This is a guest post from George Meszaros, the CEO of Webene, a San Diego web design company.

Get More Done with This Super-Flexible To-Do App

July 10th, 2013

Whether you’re a freelance writer, a small business owner, or a busy CEO, you know that organization is the key to managing your time and boosting productivity—and the majority of successful people use some form of to-do list for time management.

The classic to-do list has gotten a lot of attention in the world of programs and apps. Today, there’s no need to keep a pen and paper handy when you can choose from thousands of electronic forms of this handy tool. One of the best out there is a free program called Remember The Milk.

The advanced to-do list for people on the go

It’s a cutesy name, and it might make you cringe a little, but Remember The Milk is a lot more than a novelty. This program is perfect for keeping track of everything in your personal and professional life, with an ultra-simple interface and more cross-platform compatibility than just about any other to-do app out there.

A few things you can do with Remember The Milk:

  • Add, organize, and prioritize your tasks any time, from anywhere—even offline
  • Choose the type of organization that best suits your style, from lists to tagging to virtual sticky notes
  • Smart task searching uses an intuitive, advanced search engine to find what you’re looking for, even if you don’t remember what you named the task or when you scheduled it
  • Set up reminders that can be sent via SMS, email, instant messaging, or any combination, so you’ll never miss a task
  • Share, send, and publish tasks with your contacts—the app can be integrated with your email for easy sharing

Supported platforms

Remember The Milk is available in app form for both iOS and Android platforms (the iOS app supports adding tasks with Siri). It also integrates easily with Microsoft Outlook, Gmail, and Google Calendar. You can install the app on every device you own, and sync it so your tasks are always available.

This program is especially ideal for small business owners, many of whom use Gmail or Outlook for their primary email. Learn more about Remember The Milk here.

Face Time

July 9th, 2013

DCEB Success 2011 video shooting backstage. Eva Byrne. head shots

If you’re like most of today’s small businesses, you’re pretty involved in online marketing. How would you rate your efforts in the highly competitive digital world? When your online marketing attempts just aren’t going anywhere, but you’re doing everything “right,” it may be time to look in the mirror—and make sure that’s not where you’ve taken your business photo.

Today’s online environment is highly visual, and you need a professional, good-looking headshot to make a memorable impact. Here are a few good reasons to pay attention to your photo:

  • In the absence of personal interaction, people connect with images before text. Your professional headshot is the key to gaining the trust of prospects and customers online.
  • Using a consistent, attractive photo of yourself will strengthen your brand and help you achieve higher recognition and visibility across all channels.
  • Content with images—including headshots—gets 94 percent more views than content without images.
  • An unprofessional photo that’s clearly a selfie or otherwise homemade can actually turn customers off your brand, because it looks like either you don’t have the budget for pro images, or you simply don’t care about professionalism.
  • You need a professional headshot to claim authorship on Google+, which can give you a huge boost in search engine rankings.

So if you’re struggling to make a splash online, get a professional headshot and make sure it appears on everything from your website to your social media profiles—anything that’s online and associated with your business brand. It’s a worthwhile, one-time investment that will ultimately be worth a thousand words.

Can Freelancers Really Work from Anywhere?

July 9th, 2013

Writer

Every freelancer dreams about working on some sun-drenched tropical beach, free from the constraints of a typical office job, or maybe poolside with a drink in one hand and a laptop near the other. It’s the perfect scenario for those who work from home—but is it really a good idea?

It’s important to remember that “work” is the key word in “work from home.” If you try to set up shop in a distracting environment, and the part of your job that brings in money—the actual work—will suffer.

So where should a freelancer get down to business? Here’s a look at some common work-from-home environments, with pros and cons for each.

The beach

PROS: It’s the beach. A nice breeze, refreshing surf (hopefully, not where it can reach your laptop), and the joy of doing your job while you sit in the sunshine.

CONS: Unless you’re lucky enough to own a private beach, there are probably other people around. Chances are, it’s noisy and crowded. Oh, and that comfortable sand? Your laptop doesn’t like it—and it will get everywhere. Plus, there’s no place to recharge your batteries.

The coffee shop

PROS: When you leave your house to go to work, it feels more like an actual job. If there’s a friendly coffee shop nearby that doesn’t mind you camping out for hours, you’ll have a short commute. Plus, there’s coffee and snacks that you don’t have to fix yourself, and outlets to recharge your laptop.

CONS: Like the beach, it may be crowded and noisy—though most coffee shops have lulls. There could be distracting music playing. And working long-term at a coffee shop can get expensive when you keep buying all that java.

The library

PROS: A quiet atmosphere, power for your laptop, and all the research material you’ll ever need at your fingertips. Many libraries also offer free Wi-Fi, making email and online research easily accessible.

CONS: You have to be quiet. If you’re the type who can’t sit still for long periods of time and needs to get up and move around, or you have a tendency to talk to yourself when you’re really into the work, the library might not be for you. And with fewer libraries around these days, you could end up with a long commute.

At home

PROS: No commute. Work in your pajamas. Access to the comforts of home. Privacy and the freedom to do anything, even if you do your best work while performing jumping jacks and singing show tunes.

CONS: In a word: Distraction. If you have family, you’ll need a separate room with a door for your office, so everyone knows that when you’re in there, you’re working. You also have to fight the urge to abandon a tough project and tackle the laundry or the dishes—because you’re right there, and they need doing. It takes a colossal amount of discipline to successfully work from home.

So, where do you work—and how’s that working for you?

How to Make the Most of a Small Business Conference

July 6th, 2013

201211663

In a recent post, I talked about attending conferences as a way to keep your business moving forward during the summer slowdown. If you’re planning on hitting the conference circuit in the coming months, here are a few tips to help you maximize the experience and enjoy high returns on your conference investment.

Plan ahead

If you’re attending a conference, you’re going to be away from your business for a few days. This can be a scary prospect for many small business owners—so lay the groundwork you need to leave the office with confidence. Make sure your schedule is cleared, and if someone’s in charge while you’re away, give them a way to contact you in case of emergencies.

You should also do some prep work for the conference itself. Most small business and industry conferences offer multiple sessions that may have overlapping times. Get a copy of the conference schedule, and decide which sessions are must-attend and which ones you can miss. Conferences can get busy and hectic, so be sure to allot some downtime for relaxing.

Prepare for the dreaded question

“So, what do you do?” That’s the million-dollar question at every conference, the one just about everyone will ask the first time you meet. Make sure you’re ready to answer it without stammering and floundering by preparing an elevator pitch.

An elevator pitch is a brief, exciting summary of your business that can be delivered in the time it takes to ride an elevator. It may sound easy, but it takes some groundwork to come up with a sentence or two that encapsulates what you do in an intriguing way. You should also practice giving your elevator pitch with a friend or co-worker before the conference, so your answer will come smoothly.

Don’t forget your cards

Everybody’s mobile these days, and most business information is exchanged with smartphones or laptops. However, actual printed business cards still have value—especially at a conference.

Just about everybody will accept a business card if you hand them one. They might tuck it in a pocket or stash it in their wallet, but at least they’ll have a physical reminder of you and your business that they can come across later.

Seek out hidden treasure

A lot of conference-goers make the mistake of focusing on connecting with speakers and VIPs, ignoring the potential of networking with other attendees. When you’re at a conference, you should talk to as many people as possible. You never know who will turn out to be a great contact for your business.

Do your post-conference homework

To get maximum benefits from a conference, don’t put the experience behind you when you get home. Following up with the contacts you made is essential, because that’s when the real connections begin.

Take a few minutes to identify the most important contacts you interacted with at the conference, and schedule some time for personal follow-ups—if possible, within a week. That way, the meeting will still be fresh in everyone’s minds, and you’ll be able to make things happen.

Small Business Tips for the Summer Slowdown

July 2nd, 2013

Iced tea at Georgia's

With summer in full swing and everyone heading out to enjoy the season, a lot of small businesses are seeing fewer customers, lighter orders, and a general slowdown across the board. It may be part of the natural life cycle for a business, but sluggish summers can be frustrating—and disconcerting.

Here are a few ideas for freelance writers and other small business owners to pick thing up during the dog days of summer.

Tackle neglected projects

Chances are, you’ve got a bunch of ideas and initiatives you’ve keep meaning to tackle, but there’s never enough time. Summer is perfect for working on the back end of your business. Consider any (or all) of the following:

  • Spruce up your website: Does your company website look the same as it did two years ago? Or even five years? Refresh your content, reorganize and simplify, do some SEO work or mobile optimization, or get a complete overhaul and a whole new online presence.
  • Grow your network: It’s always a good idea for small business owners to get out there and forge new professional contacts. Summer is conference season, so look around for affordable industry conferences or networking events in your area. Sign up early to guarantee your spot!
  • Reassess your goals: Is your business on track to meet annual goals? The midway point of summer is a great time to go over your long-range plans and make the necessary adjustments to hit your targets.

Revive your staff

Without so many customer demands in the summer, you’ll have more time to focus on your employees. Consider introducing some motivational or inspirational programs that will refresh and revitalize your staff, so they’re functioning at 100 percent when business picks up again.

Summer is the perfect time to bring everyone together so you can discuss the company as a whole. Plan a company picnic, field trip, or luncheon, and combine your strategy sessions with fun for maximum impact.

Give yourself a break

Most small business owners don’t take nearly enough personal time to recharge. If you don’t already have a summer vacation planned, make sure that happens. Even just a few days away from the office will help you regroup and recharge, so you can put your restored energy back into your business when you return.

Is Your Data Safe?

July 1st, 2013

In a world where just about every piece of information about you could be recorded somewhere, it has never been so important to keep your data safe. In business, every task we do on a computer leaves an electronic paper trail that needs to be kept out of the wrong hands.

Data theft is just as big of a threat to businesses as it is to individuals, and could potentially devastate the most established of companies. Here are a few smart preventative measures that all companies, large and small, should practice to safeguard their data.

Password protect everything.

This is a simple but effective way of making life difficult for hackers. Passwords should only be given to employees who have a legitimate need to access data. Change passwords regularly, especially when you hire new employees.

Contrary to popular belief, it is normally acceptable to write passwords down. It is far more secure to change passwords regularly and keep a log in your office than it is to have an age-old password that is known by everyone you’ve previously worked with.

Update your software, and build your toolbox.

A hardware-based firewall will help protect your network, while an up-to-date antivirus utility will help clean up any malware that finds its way through. Malware is always evolving, so make sure your software keeps up.

This will also involve using the latest operating system. Software will stop updating if the operating system can no longer run it, leaving your system vulnerable.

Prepare for the worst.

Time-sensitive or financial data should be backed up at least once per day. The loss of just a few days worth of financial records could be disastrous for a business.

Keeping your own backups is good practice, but not fully secure in and of itself. Plus, it could take days to piece together the fragmented data to a account for a broken network.

For business networks, a multi-server system is the easiest way to keep data secure and to have a solid contingency plan. A second server can be set up to automatically copy all information from the main server at scheduled intervals.

Give no single person total control.

Only allow each user to do what they need to, and give certain privileges only to those you trust. This is all part of damage limitation—if one employee’s account is comprised, there is only so much that can go wrong.

If this causes discontent, you could even place such restrictions on your administrators, including yourself. Don’t allow yourself, or anyone posing as you, to make major changes without the permission of a second user.

This guest post is from Joe Errington, a social media and marketing executive for MITIE, which offers archiving and document management in its wide range of business services.

SEO Advice: Quick Tips on Keyword Placement

June 29th, 2013

Keywords are the heart of any search engine optimization (SEO) strategy. For a small business, SEO is often the responsibility of the owner—but crafting an effective strategy can be challenging. You know that your website is supposed to contain “targeted keywords” to help potential customers find you online, but what should they be, and where should you put them?

A note on choosing SEO keywords

Unless you’re occupying a highly specific niche, chances are your small business has a lot of competition. One of the best SEO keyword strategies is to choose local keywords to optimize. Since I’m based in Cincinnati, Ohio, I use terms like “Cincinnati freelance writer” for my website SEO, to help local clients find me faster.

Combining local terms with your industry’s top keywords is a great way to rank high in search engine results. You can use the free Google AdWords Keyword Tool to research the most popular search terms associated with your small business.

SEO keyword placement strategies

Once you know your target keywords, where should you place them in your website content? A lot of small businesses make the mistake of keyword stuffing—using their keywords as many times as possible on their pages, even where they don’t make sense in context. This strategy will only get your website ignored by search engines.

The most effective placement for keywords include:

  • Metadata: Your keywords should appear at least once in the Title and Meta Description for each page of your website. You can also create a Meta Keywords tag and list relevant keywords in order from the longest to the shortest phrase. Not fluent in HTML? Don’t worry—most popular website platforms, like WordPress and Blogger, offer a way to enter metadata without coding.
  • Headings and subheadings: Search engines give more weight to text that’s coded as a heading or subheading on website pages. Including keywords in these lines can boost your SEO, and also helps make your content clearer to visitors.
  • Anchor text: Anchor text, or text that is linked to another website or a different page on your site, is also given more weight by search engines. Make sure the keywords used in your anchor text are appropriate and accurately reflect the linked content.
  • First 200 words: Search engines pay more attention to the first 200 words, or “above the fold” content, on a website page. Place your target keywords here—but make sure naturally flow with the content.

Making just a few simple changes to your website content and metadata can bring big SEO improvements. Where do your target keywords appear?

Direct Mail: It’s All About Your List

June 28th, 2013

What your direct mail marketing says is important, but your mailing list can make or break your entire marketing campaign.

According to the Database Marketing Institute, not surprisingly, the recipients of your marketing materials play a huge role in the success or failure of your campaigns. Experts agree that 40% of your mailing’s success is determined by who the recipients are, 40% comes from the value of your offer, and 20% results from the design or copywriting your piece contains, according to Entrepreneur.com.

Building Your Own List

Mailing lists typically contain both internal and external names. Internal names are people you currently do business with, or have done business with in the past. According to Marketry.com, your best chance for new sales lies with your existing customers, who are familiar with your products and services. External names are prospects that may or may not be aware of your brand that you would like to do business with.

You can use documents generated by your business to assemble an internal list. Some of the internal documents that are helpful for list-building include customer records, correspondence from customers (even complaints!), warranty documents, sales and service records, lists of former customers, and any market research surveys your company may have done.

Your list can also be further segmented into specific categories, such as purchasing history, gender, demographics, industry, frequency of ordering, etc. Essential information that you should gather for your list includes names, job titles, addresses, telephone numbers, and email addresses.

You can also collect list information from external sources, including customer websites, Internet databases, industry trade publications, membership directories for associations in your business niche, telephone directories, surveys, business reports published in newspapers, and government or industry statistics, such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Purchased Lists

Once you’ve compiled your customer list, it can serve as a tool to help you develop a customer profile and target audience for use in purchased lists. You can rent or buy a list from thousands of different sources, including list brokers, online services, Microsoft Office Publisher, or various other mailing list organizations. It is even possible to have a list created based on your specific requirements.

According to TheDirectMailMan.com, there are two sources of purchased lists: self-service providers and full-service providers. When using a self-service provider, the user sets an ID and password with an online company and chooses the relevant criteria that will help create his list. Once the list is compiled, it is available for purchase and download almost immediately.

Full-service providers are good options for those ordering a mailing list for the first time, or those who do so only occasionally. Full-service companies allow free counts to be requested via an online form, or by phone or email. Although the list isn’t usually available right away, full-service providers typically offer suggestions and allow the requestor to ask questions and get more involved in the process, which may lead to a better quality list.

Are Purchased Lists Worth the Money?

There are pros and cons to buying or renting a mailing list. Pros: A purchased mailing list will provide a business with an immediate list of potential customers and significantly reduce the time a company must spend finding their own leads. Cons: Purchased mailing lists can be costly and may not always be current, and may not always contain new leads that will be interested in the products or services offered by a particular company.

When ordering a mailing list, it is important to realize that a big list is not necessarily a better list. The goal of any marketing campaign is to generate the largest possible number of leads with the smallest possible investment. When it comes to lists, it’s definitely quality over quantity.

This guest post is from Jan Hill, a freelance journalist who covers direct marketing tips and trends for Vistaprint.com, a leading source for custom postcards and other marketing materials for small businesses across the globe.

Tips & Tricks for Using Dropbox

June 26th, 2013

Every business today uses electronic files—and, of course, you need somewhere to store them. Cloud storage solutions like Dropbox are great tools for freelance writers, small business owners, personal users, and anyone who need access to their files on the go.

Dropbox is free to use, making it ideal for budget-conscious small businesses—and it has a lot of fantastic features that go far beyond just backing up your files. Here are some ways to use Dropbox that will help you get even more functionality and flexibility from this free platform:

  • Back up files via email: Create a (free) custom email account at SendToDropbox, and then send messages with attachments from your primary email address to this account. The attachments are automatically saved to your Dropbox folder.
  • Access files offline: When you “favorite” text or image files in Dropbox through a Dropbox mobile app, you can access them anytime—even when you don’t have a connection.
  • Upload files via URL: If you want to save a linked online file or web page to Dropbox, URL Droplet lets you do it fast—just drop the link in the form, and it automatically saves to your folder. This is a great feature if you work with clients who transfer files to you online.
  • Access your Firefox settings on any device: If your browser has a lot of customized settings and favorites, you can use Dropbox to carry your settings with you. Just download Firefox Portable to your Dropbox account, and you’ll have anywhere access to your add-ons and settings.

Want to use Dropbox for your small business, but need more than the 2GB of free storage that comes with basic accounts? You can add more free space in a number of ways—you get an extra 500MB for each friend you refer (up to 16GB, or 32 friends), another 250MB for taking a tour of the site, and 125MB for each way you connect to Dropbox through social media networks.

3 Easy Ways to Revive Your Email Marketing

June 25th, 2013

It seems like everyone’s talking about social media these days. But as a freelance writer, I see businesses consistently pushing their efforts toward email marketing—and with good reason. Email lists are still the most effective form of online promotion, with higher open/click-through rates, audience engagement, and ROI than Facebook or Twitter.

Have you been back-burnering your email marketing efforts in favor of the shiny promises of social media? Here are a few quick tips to get your all-important lists back on track.

Build a dedicated subscription page

Of course, you already know the importance of having an opt-in box for your email list on every page of your website—but you should be capturing email addresses from more than just your website visitors. With a dedicated subscribe page, you can use a single link to point people straight to your opt-in form, instead of giving detailed instructions on where to find your opt-in box and what to do when they get there.

Use your dedicated subscribe link in your email signature, on social media, and anywhere you interact with online prospects.

Send more emails

Every marketer fears the dreaded spam label, and as a result, many are overly cautious when it comes to email frequency. You need to strike a balance between too many emails and not enough—but what’s the magic number?

The surprising answer is: probably more than you think. Online data analyst Dan Zarella has observed that people are actually more likely to unsubscribe from lists that send infrequent messages, because they forget why they signed up in the first place.

Don’t be afraid to send to your list weekly, or even a few times a week, and help keep your business top-of-mind with your prospects and clients.

Offer a simple, well-written newsletter

Newsletters are great ways to engage your email list. You can add value to your subscription by offering content that’s entertaining and relevant to your target audience. The newsletter doesn’t have to be a complicated production, either. Here’s a good format for a weekly newsletter:

  • Introduction: Give readers a brief intro or reminder of who you are and what you do, along with a link to your website.
  • Value-added content: Include a feature article, or a few short pieces, with content that’s relevant and interesting to your audience. You can place the full text inside the newsletter, or just include the first paragraph with a link to your blog for the rest.
  • Resources and links: Offer a list of related websites, free ebooks, or other content that your audience might enjoy.
  • Call to action: Here’s where you talk about your latest specials, offer exclusive discounts to subscribers, promote an upcoming event, or share anything you want your readers to know about.

If you don’t have the time or inclination to create a regular newsletter, consider hiring a freelance writer to produce your content. It’s a great investment for your email marketing efforts that pays off in more list subscribers, and more conversions to customers.

 

How Can Time Management Tools Help You?

June 22nd, 2013

There are a lot of time management tools available these days that can be installed on your computer, smartphone, or tablet (and synced across all devices). But there are also some offline “old school” tools that help you effectively manage your time.

Within the last couple of years, there has been an explosion of resources. When choosing a productivity tool, make sure it’s one that you’ll actually use and that integrates well with your work style.

Whenever possible, choose simple, uncomplicated tools. Avoid solutions that require you to tag each member of your team EVERY TIME. According to Laura Stack, a Denver-based trainer and author on productivity, many of these time management tools are “so complicated that 80% of the people fail.”

Resist the temptation to jump from one shiny object to the next. Before committing to any one tool, identify your weaknesses. For instance, before purchasing that online collaboration app, make sure that it has a robust reporting feature. Getting up to speed on new software takes a lot of time, so minimize the number of transitions.

Remember, the most popular tool is not always the best choice. Just because your business colleague has been raving about a particular time tracking tool doesn’t mean it’s the right option for you. Time tracking tools—or any time management tools, for that matter—have different functions, features, and special abilities. Are all of them relevant to your business? How can using this particular tool help your staff? Make a checklist of Must-Haves, and Nice-to-Haves.

For better time management, smooth integration is key. Various tools can work in conjunction with one another. If you’ve decided that a time management tool is the smartest route to take, be sure to choose one that easily integrates with your current software applications.

This is a guest post from Anthony Codispoti, the founder of GetMyTime, a web-based time and expense tracking solution for small & medium-sized businesses.

10 Freelance Writing Gurus You Should Follow

June 20th, 2013

Ideas never run out

In my last post, I wrote about why you should compile a list of the top experts for your industry and post it on your blog. Today, I’m taking my own advice and sharing my list of go-to freelance writing gurus that can serve as valuable resources for you.

Grammar Girl: Quick and Dirty Tips

Every freelance writer needs to produce work with impeccable grammar. For smart, in-depth explanations of grammar rules in plain English, there’s no resource better than Grammar Girl, a blog run by Mignon Fogarty. You’ll never misplace a comma again!

Blog URL: http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/

Copyblogger

Freelancer Brian Clark has earned his crown as king of the freelance writing bloggers, serving up valuable and informative daily posts on all aspects of the freelance world.

Blog URL: http://www.copyblogger.com/

Chris Brogan

A prolific blogger, freelance writer, and entrepreneur, Chris offers a wealth of information for small business owners, with an emphasis on solo freelancing endeavors.

Blog URL: http://www.chrisbrogan.com/

The Urban Muse

Freelance writer Susan Johnston covers a variety of writing topics, including business, writing, and careers. She also features interviews packed with advice from other successful freelancers.

Blog URL: http://www.urbanmusewriter.com/

Thursday Bram

When you’re in business for yourself, you’ve got to wear a lot of hats. Thursday tackles many of those secondary but essential roles, offering tips on taxes, overhead, health insurance, and more.

Blog URL: http://www.thursdaybram.com/

Bob Bly, Copywriter

This freelance copywriter and marketing consultant has three decades of experience in the business, and offers tips and advice on writing, advertising, PR, online marketing, branding, blogging, and more.

Blog URL: http://bly.com/blog/

The Writer Underground

Successful freelance writer Tom Chandler combines entertainment with information in his frequent posts on the business of writing, covering a broad range of topics and writing industries.

Blog URL: http://writerunderground.com/

The Well-Fed Writer Blog

From award-winning, veteran freelancer Peter Bowerman, this blog is all about “income-boosting resources for commercial writers.” Enough said.

Blog URL: http://www.wellfedwriter.com/blog/

The Anti 9-to-5 Blog

A successful freelance writer since 1992, Michelle Goodman offers insightful, actionable advice for building a flexible, prosperous freelance career.

Blog URL: http://www.anti9to5guide.com/

Freelance Writing

The About.com guide for freelancers, written and maintained by Allena Tapia, provides an incredible amount of resources, tips, and informative blog posts, including salary information—a topic that’s hard to find elsewhere.

Blog URL: http://freelancewrite.about.com/

Boost Your Freelance Blog Traffic—and Your Authority—with a Guru List

June 18th, 2013

Writer's Digest Book Shipment

Your reputation as a freelance writer is essential to your success. If you’re viewed as authoritative, knowledgeable, and professional, you’ll be able to land higher profile clients who will pay more for your skills and talents. But if you’re not already working for quality clients, how can you improve your reputation?

One way to do it is through your freelance blog. Your blog content is out there for public viewing, and (hopefully) coming up in search engine results when people look for things like “best freelance writer” or “freelance writing services.” For a reputation-building blog post, try creating a list of gurus in your field.

How to build your guru list

Every industry has its influencers—the ultra-successful people, the handful of top names that are endlessly quoted, cited, and followed. Chances are, your clients will be interested in learning more about these top freelance writing gurus who work in the same areas as you.

There are a few ways to build your list. Most freelance writers have at least a few popular industry blogs they follow and read, so you can start by listing your favorite blogs. Check out the sidebars on those popular freelance blogs, and you’ll probably find some links to similar blogs that you can include. Another option is to search for “[your topic] blogs” on Google, or on a blog search engine like Technorati.

Try to compile around 20 or so of the top influencers in your industry for your guru list. You can write a few sentences or a paragraph of description about each one—and be sure to link from your post to the gurus’ blogs. That will be important for the next step.

Strategies for getting freelance blog traffic

Once you’ve got your guru list posted, you’ll have a ready reference on your blog that will interest both your clients and the search engines, and also makes you look authoritative and smart. You should see at least a slight natural boost in traffic, thanks to all the popular sites you’ve linked to.

Another great way to generate healthy traffic with your guru list is to spread your post through social media. Tweet the link to all those mega-successful influencers you’ve written about, and post about it on Facebook with links to the gurus’ Facebook pages. They might just pass your post on to all of their fans and followers, bringing new visitors to your freelance writing blog.

 

Want to Succeed in SEO? Don’t Skip the Updates.

June 15th, 2013

Though SEO can be one of the most effective tools a business can have, it can be a challenge to keep up with constant changes. Search engines are always implementing updates to help them scan for valuable content, all with the goal of calculating a website’s ranking. Recent search engine algorithm updates have once again changed the game and raised SEO standards. With this latest update, content is squarely in the spotlight.

Search engines are looking for websites that are active and full of knowledgeable industry information. In order to find reputable, relevant websites, they look for several key factors, including:

  • Longer content
  • Inbound links and shares from quality sources
  • Good spelling and grammar
  • Video and images
  • Proper formatting
  • Outbound links to quality sources

Producing quality website content takes a lot of time and energy, which some businesses simply can’t spare. If you don’t have the resources to keep your content updated and solid, you may want to consider hiring a professional. Whether you outsource the job or = decide to do it yourself, the following tips are a great start for gathering search engine-friendly content.

Strong Internal Content

One of the best ways to generate strong internal content is through a company blog. This can save you the expense of hiring an outside resource—you can simply assign the job to team members who are already knowledgeable about your company. This keeps readers informed and also makes you look good from a search engine standpoint. You can take these blog posts one step further by developing them into a series or a white paper that could be uploaded onto your site and used as valuable content.

 Strong External Content

Another way to meet the new SEO standards is to allow other writers and experts to contribute guest posts for your site. This has the added benefits of making interesting content available to readers and showcasing your authority. You’ll need to build strong relationships to keep the guests post coming, but it’s definitely worth the investment. Guest posts can help build inbound links, establish author ranking, and strengthen branding.

Be Visual

If you want to have a website full of strong content, go beyond the written word and offer visuals, such as videos and images. This makes your website more appealing and uses different resources to provide information. Not only will this strengthen the content of your website, it will also establish credibility through other social media outlets. This is a vital move for companies that want to stay up-to-date with social media outlets.

Search engines are always coming up with new updates in order to better rank the content value—and spam risk—of websites. It’s essential for businesses to stay abreast of these updates in order to have successful SEO strategies.

This is a guest post from Lillian at gadzoo.com, a comprehensive Internet marketing provider. Her blog educates businesses in staying up to date with the latest developments in SEO and digital marketing.

7 Important Questions to Ask a Freelance Copywriter

June 13th, 2013

More and more businesses have found that outsourcing their copywriting needs to a freelance writer can be a viable way to cut costs. A freelance copywriter who isn’t a good fit for your business can wind up doing more harm than good. Before entering into a contract with a freelance writer, be sure to ask these 7 crucial questions.

In today’s turbulent economy, retaining a full-time copywriter can be cost-prohibitive for many small- to mid-sized businesses. But if you think shelling out a regular writer’s salary will hurt your bottom line, neglecting your content altogether can have an even more detrimental impact. So, what’s the solution?

More and more businesses have found that outsourcing their copywriting needs to a freelance writer can be a viable way to cut costs without sacrificing the quality of their content. Remember, though: a copywriter who isn’t a good fit for your needs can wind up doing more harm than good for your business.

Before entering into a contract with a writer, be sure to ask these crucial questions:

  1. When can you complete the job? This is a tricky one. While you want your content to be turned around as quickly as possible, you also want your provider to take the necessary time to craft it to your specifications. Also, be wary of writers who are available right away and promise a turnaround time that seems too good to be true. A good writer will most likely have a solid client list, resulting in at least a small wait time.
  2. What are your rates? A colleague of mine once said that when evaluating bids for a project, he automatically eliminates the lowest and the highest quotes. There’s some wisdom to this. Rock-bottom prices often require a sacrifice in quality; strive for a comfortable balance between expertise and value. Also, the answer to this question should be arbitrary. A good copywriter will usually charge by the project, rather than by the word, page, or hour.
  3. What do you need from me? Be wary of the copywriter who doesn’t have questions about your project. To achieve your desired results, he or she will have to be well-attuned to your business objectives, your target audience, and what you’re trying to achieve with your writing project. Before writing a word, your provider should become an impromptu authority on the topic at hand — and that will require some legwork.
  4. Do you have a website? If the answer is no, this isn’t the writer for you. If a provider is going to help you boost your online presence and help drive more web traffic to your site, they need to have a basic familiarity with Internet marketing strategies and web writing — and without their own site, they’re lacking in those areas by default.
  5. Do you outsource? If you contract the services of a copywriter, it’s assumed that he or she will be doing the actual writing for your project. If they plan to farm out your assignment to a junior writer and take a portion of your fee for themselves, they should let you know that your project will be completed by someone else on their team.
  6. What’s your policy on revisions? It’s a rarity for a project to arrive in your inbox in perfect condition. There will almost always be at least a few changes required. Most professional copywriters include at least one or two rounds of revisions with their quote. If not, find out what they charge for change orders.
  7. Will you sign an NDA? The answer to this should always be yes. An experienced copywriter should have no problems signing a Non-Disclosure Agreement, which states that all work provided and purchased becomes your sole property and will not be published, sold, or copied by the writer after completion of the project.
  8. How will we communicate? There should be more than one answer to this question. In addition to email, a writer should be accessible via phone, Skype, or live chat. Obtain as many contact details as possible, and ask about the writer’s typical response times for inquiries. Ideally, your email or phone call should be returned within a 24-hour period.

These questions should get you off to a good start in evaluating whether a potential copywriter is a good fit for your content needs. Hiring a great freelance writer is a cost-effective investment in the success and profitability of your business. Choose wisely!

Should You Update Your Web Copy?

June 11th, 2013

Just because you’ve seen a dip in search engine rankings doesn’t mean you need a web copy overhaul. If business and conversions haven’t suffered, a good freelance writer may tell you to refrain from fixing what’s not broken. That said, there are some valid reasons for why you may need to consider refreshing your website content.

We all know the old adage “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it” — but there are plenty of website owners who don’t heed that sage advice. As a freelance copywriter, I regularly have clients who contact me asking to rewrite web content that’s only been up for a few weeks or months. When I ask them their reason for wanting to update it, the answers run the gamut:

“We were #7 in the Google search results last month, and now we’re #15.”

“I’m just tired of looking at it.”

“It’s been up there for six months. Seems like it should we should mix it up a bit.”

The reality is that none of these reasons is necessarily grounds for a web copy overhaul. A short plunge in organic search rankings may not have a noticeable impact on leads or conversions. And by making a change to achieve one goal (seeing your business’ name “up in lights” in Google’s Top 5) you may end up sacrificing some other key initiatives. Plus, with the well-known fickleness of search engines, Google and Yahoo may end up having less of an appetite for your new website copy as they did for the old version. And remember: just because you’re tired of your web content doesn’t mean your customers are.

Instead of gutting and replacing content that’s still earning its real estate, why not have a professional freelance writer create some keyword-rich web articles for publication in online directories? A cost-effective Google AdWords campaign can also help give your web presence — and your conversions — a boost.

Of course, there are instances when a web copy update is warranted.

Have your conversions taken a hit? If a lower percentage of your visitors are converting into customers, it may indeed be high time for a content refresh. But before you assume your website copy is the culprit, consider any other recent changes that may have impacted your users’ experience.

Have your offerings changed? If you’ve added or removed products or services, your web content should certainly reflect the change in your business’ direction.

In light of new market developments impacting your industry, new keywords have recently been popping up in your analysis reports, and you want to incorporate them into your web copy.

Whatever you decide, be sure to test as much as possible. Copy updates shouldn’t be an “all or nothing” endeavor. Tweak a little here, sneak in a Google AdWords campaign there, and test the heck out of it. Just be sure to keep a version of the old copy so you can revert back if it doesn’t work out as you’d hoped. And if writing isn’t your forte, enlist the services of a trained freelance writer to give your content a professional touch.

Just because you’ve seen a dip in search rankings doesn’t mean you need a web copy overhaul. That said, there are some valid reasons to consider hiring a freelance writer to refresh your website content.

Why is Business Branding So Important?

June 9th, 2013

For a new company, the message the brand conveys to the consumers – and, to a certain extent, its competitors – can make a big difference in terms of market position, customer loyalty, and communication.

First impressions

The brand of a business is the first impression most people will get when interacting with a company. Whether it’s a customer, a partner, a potential supplier, or the public at large, the way in which a business presents itself speaks volumes about its persona and market position.

If a company wants to gain trust, respect, and a position worthy of its aspirations, well-thought-out branding is key. A lack of clear branding indicates an absence of direction and purpose, which can be incredibly damaging when seeking clients or customers in a competitive marketplace.

Creating a connection

Buying a product or service should go beyond just a simple transaction. When you develop a relationship with your customers, they’ll feel like they’re getting something more than just a product—they’re getting an experience, a service, something that means more than the simple item in their hand.

Every time a person chooses one brand over another when picking a product that is essentially the same, they are reflecting the relationship they have with that brand. Why do people choose a pricier designer label product over a budget item than delivers the same essential benefits? Because the brand gives them the added value of prestige, assurance of quality, or a feeling of belonging to an exclusive group that would choose that brand over a generic product. These are all feelings that are impossible to evoke in your customers without an identifiable brand.

Foster loyalty

Once a company has a solid brand tailored for its intended customers, it has the opportunity to grow the loyalty that customers feel towards the organisation and its products or services. If people can identify why they prefer one company over another for the provision of comparable services, they are more likely to seek them out and remain loyal rather than choose the first product they come across that meets their needs.

Brand loyalty is the holy grail of marketing, and is something for which the majority of organizations—particularly those offering consumer goods—strive to achieve. Even companies that don’t sell a consumer product can benefit from a strong brand and the loyalty it can engender. Anything that positively differentiates one company from another is a huge benefit in a competitive market.

Conclusion

Business branding is a vital aspect of developing a corporate persona with which clients, customers, and the public can identify. Following identification comes preference—and after preference, loyalty. Once a company has gained the loyalty of its customers, it will be much better positioned to weather the slings and arrows of market forces.

This is a guest post from SAS London, a UK-based digital communications agency.

Are You Happy With Your Conversion Rates?

June 8th, 2013

More than ever, Internet industry leaders are focused on the online consumer experience. Experts are encouraging online marketers to take good care of customers and listen to what they are saying—through their words AND their clicks.

The importance of lead generation can’t be denied. However, many agree that with a little thoughtful analysis and some simple website changes, you can begin to see a better return for those lead acquisition dollars spent.

1) Gather the Data

Most conversion experts agree that surveying your audience is invaluable in uncovering pitfalls, slowdowns, or page errors that are causing abandonment or simply not leading to your desired result.

Talk to Your Audience: Host a quick survey, perhaps just a one-question poll right on the page. Some will take it. Start a Twitter or Facebook discussion to gather more in-depth views from your audience. A larger site may hold an online chat or teleconference.

Analyze Your Data: The information you need is already out there—the key is knowing when and how to use it. Web analytics, if not already part of your web server or blog account, are easy and cheap to set up. Start looking at your website traffic, where it comes from, how many repeat visitors you have, and how long visitors have stayed. You may be surprised by the picture painted by the numbers.

2) Let Go of the Ego

Many small businesses, and even some larger ones, become attached to certain aspects of their site and their customer experience. Without the data to back up certain assumptions, all site pages and features should be on the table of consideration for change.

Rely on your data. Listen to your customers. Then put aside your long-held, or even recent, assumptions to make the changes necessary to solve customer problems and alter your marketing message to align with your target audience.

3) Know Your Message – Refine Your USP

This can be the most important—and most fun—part of conversion optimization.

Your website should tell a story: your story. It should convey a specific message that aligns with your Unique Selling Point or USP. What makes you different? Are you a family-owned business? Do you customize each order to the customer’s specifications? Your story should tell your website visitors who you are and why they should use you above all others. Do you have a heartfelt story of the journey you took to get where you are now? Share it with your customers in marketing emails or on your landing page.

Be sure your story is consistent. Reiterate your message in all sales materials so it becomes familiar and is readily brought to mind when they’re ready to convert.

4) Keep it Simple

There may be barriers to conversion on your website that you have not realized. With the focus on traffic acquisition, it’s possible you may have overlooked some obstacles to gaining new customers.

Providing Too Much: If your goal is to have a site visitor buy a product, make sure your page is focused on that action. If you are providing other opportunities for the viewer to do something else that will distract them from this goal, it should be worth the risk of losing the conversion.

Call to Action: Does the viewer easily understand what they must do to convert? Is it obvious? Be sure your “action” button or link is prominent. Also, be sure they are not asking the question, “What do I do next?” They may leave the site if the path is unclear.

Clicks Are Made By Humans

E-commerce and Internet marketing are continually evolving, and it can be tough to keep up. However, this evolution speaks to the human side of all that traffic. Just as in the brick-and-mortar world, customers want to be seen, heard, and appreciated.

This is a guest post by Wendy Brunner, a writer, mother, and web developer writing from Fountain Hills, Arizona. You can find her on Google+. She enjoys writing about saving money for Save1, a coupon site that feeds hungry children.

How Can Freelance Writers Use Corporate Video?

June 1st, 2013

As a freelance writer, I started my business so I could write for a living—not so I could worry about things like online marketing and SEO and multimedia. But in today’s tech-savvy market, it’s impossible to make a big impact or maintain a competitive edge without investing at least some time, energy, and (hopefully not too much) money into building a strong web presence.

One of my goals for this latter half of 2013 is to start dabbling in video marketing. With 89 million people around the United States watching close to 1.2 billion online videos, the reach and power of video simply can’t be denied. At first, I wasn’t sure how this strategy could benefit a freelance writer. But after doing a little research, I’ve found that there are plenty of reasons to add this to my marketing plan.

Reason #1: Video is an attention-getter.

There are countless freelance writing websites on the web, many of them with spectacular portfolios and well-crafted promotional copy. But those that feature a video on their home page have an immediate advantage over other sites. Potential customers are immediately drawn to moving images. A prominent, high-quality video could be just the lure you need to reel ‘em in.

Reason #2: It shows off your personality.

There’s only so much you can get across in writing. By combining the trifecta of well-written content, eye-catching graphics, and a well-produced video, you’ll have a much better chance of connecting with your target clients and establishing yourself as an interesting, unique, and approachable freelance writer.

Reason #3: Video is a great way to explain what you do.

Sure, you can write all about the services you offer—web copywriting, case studies, press releases, etc.—but it’s much more effective to explain them verbally. Again, this gives you another opportunity to connect personally with clients and establish a sense of trust and camaraderie.

Reason #4: Case studies are boring to read.

Let’s face it: reading a case study probably doesn’t rank too high on your list of exciting things to do. But when explained in a video, complete with inflection and expression, a client’s success story suddenly sounds much more compelling.

Remember, not all corporate videos are created equal. In fact, an amateur video can actually do more harm than good. To bolster your reputation as a professional, trustworthy copywriter, I highly recommend working with an experienced corporate video specialist like Keywest Video.

3 Free Tools to Improve Your Focus and Better Manage Your Time

January 24th, 2013

Just about any job today requires working on a computer. Unfortunately, easy access to online distractions often results in wasted time that should be spent working. This is especially challenging for people who work for themselves, such as small business owners and freelance writers like me.

These free, easy-to-use tools can help you make more efficient use of your time, and improve your focus so you can get more done—and get out of the office faster.

Focus Booster

If you’re not familiar with the Pomodoro Technique, it’s a simple time management strategy designed to give you better focused and increased mental agility, so you can pack more work into less time. The idea is to work for 25 minutes, and then take a short break (3 to 5 minutes) before returning to your tasks. After four 25-minute segments, you take a longer break of 15 to 30 minutes.

It sounds great, but it’s easy to lose track of time and forget when you’re supposed to stop. Focus Booster takes on that task for you—it’s an online timer that is pre-programmed in Pomodoro increments. You can also download a free desktop version.

Toggl

Touted as “insanely simple time tracking,” Toggl lets you keep track of the time spent on all your tasks with a single click. You can switch between tasks any time, and generate various reports on how your time is spent.

This is a super-easy way to invoice clients, and it also helps you see just how long you’re spending on projects, so you can make any necessary adjustments. Toggl is available as a desktop download, a mobile app, or a Firefox browser plug-in for tracking online tasks and activities.

RescueTime

This time management and productivity tool is packed with useful features. RescueTime lets you keep track of the time you spend on your computer. The program runs in the background, and you can set it to monitor the time you spend actively using applications, websites, or even documents. Then it analyzes the collected information in various ways—showing how long you spent doing what, and how productive you’ve been.

The free version is RescueTime Lite. There’s also RescueTime Pro, which includes more detailed analytics and features like manual tracking for time away from the computer, customized alerts, and a tool that temporary blocks distracting websites. RescueTime Pro costs $9 a month.

4 Quick Tips for Beating the Midday Slump

June 11th, 2012

COFFEE

If you work from home—whether you’re a graphic designer, coach or consultant, a virtual administrator, or a freelance writer like me—you’re probably no stranger to the dreaded midday slump. The signs are impossible to miss: as the clock creeps toward late morning or early afternoon, your eyes get heavy, your brain gets foggy, and it’s all you can do not to crawl into bed.

Many people rely on caffeine or energy drinks for a quick midday perk-up. Unfortunately, these short bursts aren’t usually enough to sustain you for the rest of the day. Instead of reaching for artificial stimulants, try one of these quick refreshers to get back on your game and finish your work with energy to spare.

1. Grab a change of scenery

Instead of having lunch at your desk, prepare and eat the meal in another room, or even outside if the weather’s nice. Staring at the same four walls for hours at a stretch gets monotonous, which leads to sleepiness.

If you absolutely have to work through lunch, at least take a few minutes to walk into another room, where you can stand up, stretch, and take a couple of deep breaths before returning to the grind.

2. Take a mind break

It takes a lot of focus and concentration to stay disciplined and productive while working from home. Once your mind gets tired, your body will follow suit. When you start feeling sluggish, mentally or physically, try tuning out work for a few minutes by playing a quick round of your favorite online game.

Another way to give your brain a rest is to call up a friend and have an actual conversation. The simple act of talking to another human being helps to get your brain cells firing again, and gives you a restorative respite from work.

3. Treat yourself to a nap

One of the best perks of working from home is relative freedom, and no clock to punch. This means you can indulge in a nap here and there—but don’t actually go to bed. Instead, grab a 10- to 20-minute snooze in your chair. Any longer, and your nap will have the opposite effect of leaving you groggy for the rest of the day. You can set the alarm on your cell phone, or just program an online alarm clock right at your desk (so you can’t cheat and hit the snooze button). Try this one.

4. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate

Water does wonders for your energy levels. Keep a large bottle at your desk (a half-gallon plastic juice bottle, rinsed out, works perfectly) and try to get through two of them every day. And to combat midday slump, splashing cool water on your face is wonderfully reviving.

Other than chugging Red Bull, what’s your favorite trick for clearing out the afternoon cobwebs?

6 Quick Tips for Writing Killer Subject Lines

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

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

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

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!

What Do Babies and Investments Have in Common?

March 25th, 2012

I recently collaborated with Jim Dowd from North Capital on an article about keeping financial portfolios healthy through regular monitoring. To illustrate the concepts in plain, accessible language, we used the metaphor of a well-baby checkup.

This was a fun take on an important topic for investors. Metaphors can be powerful tools for copywriting—they let you match complicated concepts to terms that are easy to understand, and get the important concepts across to target audiences in a relatable way.

The finished piece is currently featured on Morningstar.com. You can read the full article here, and see for yourself why investments are like babies!

Voices of Gratitude

November 11th, 2011

Happy Veteran’s Day! A heartfelt thanks to the brave, selfless men and women who have served our country in order to give us the freedom to do whatever completes or inspires us… even if it’s something as simple as working from home while having breakfast in bed in your PJs. (No video Skyping for me.)

Check out my most recent post for Mamapedia, one of my favorite clients. I love my country!

Freelance Writers as Social Networkers: The New Trend in Online Writing

June 12th, 2011

photo

As the steady stream of tweets and status updates becomes a virtual monsoon, it’s clear that social networking is here to stay. But what does that mean for freelance writers?

Most of today’s writers use social media to advertise their services and stay connected with clients, other writers, and the online business community. But on the flipside, freelance writers can carve out a whole new niche for themselves by offering social media services to other businesses. Social networking has become a full-time job in and of itself, and opportunities abound for anyone with the right combination of writing, marketing, and online networking savvy.

Think you have what it takes to manage social media accounts, create engaging blog posts, market products, and interact with customers? If so, you may be able to tap into a growing and lucrative new market.

What does it take to start your own social networking business—or, if you’re already a freelance writer, to take advantage of this trend and get hired as a social networker? You’ll need:

  • Facility as a writer and the ability to be clever, witty, and engaging with words
  • The ability to act as a company spokesperson, capturing the voice and style of a variety of businesses and managers
  • An understanding of corporate requirements, marketing strategies, and online PR venues
  • Experience with the biggest and most popular social media tools, including Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn (as well as specialized communities, if you’re targeting certain industries)
  • Top-notch “netiquette”, good judgment, and the ability to interact with (other people’s) customers politely and professionally
  • Proven ability to succeed in blogging and social media, evidenced through your own blog, Facebook pages, and/or Twitter following
  • Effective organizational skills and the ability to manage many social media accounts on a daily basis

Not every writer makes a great marketer, and many marketers can’t write their way out of a paper bag. But for writers who combine the online social networking skills with marketing and business knowledge, landing gigs as a social networking consultant is a great way to get new clients and boost your bottom line—one tweet at a time.

4 Free Ways to Market Your Freelance Writing Work

March 22nd, 2011

It will probably come as no surprise that I think freelance writing is the best job in the world (well, next to margarita and lounge chair tester somewhere on the coast of Mexico). If you enjoy being your own boss, need flexibility in your workday, and love writing, this career is right up your alley.

But, contrary to what my mother might think, it’s not all about sleeping in until noon and writing about whatever strikes your fancy. To succeed, you need to find reliable clients who will pay you (generously, with any luck) for your work. For many freelance writers, marketing and networking with clients is dreaded and often avoided—until they start to get hungry and realize these connections equate with a paycheck.

Whether you’re just starting out or you’re already an established freelancer looking for new ways to market your business, here are some of the best ways to find new clients without spending a cent on advertising:

  • Business cards: Even in this high-tech age, every professional should have business cards. Did you know you can get them for next to nothing from certain websites? All you’ll have to pay is shipping—not entirely free, but pretty close.
  • Advertising online: Whether you choose to set up a website or start small by posting online ads or creating your own writing blog, there are plenty of ways to promote your freelance business online—and all it will cost is your time.
  • Networking online: Discussion boards devoted to writing and business are good places to start getting the word out. Wherever you post or chat online, include a link to your writing site or blog in your signature. Don’t be spammy about it, but do seize opportunities when they arise. Just keep it short, sweet, and professional.
  • Publishing online: There are dozens of reputable (and less-than-reputable) content sites seeking free articles, as well as industry sites in a variety of fields that welcome quality contributors. “Donating” your writing to these sites builds a portfolio and gives you free advertising. When crafting your bio and qualifications, make sure to also mention that you work as a freelance writer and you’re available to hire.

Think about the kinds of clients you’d like to work for—businesses, individuals, charities?—and target the places you’re mostly likely to encounter people looking for the services you offer. With a steady, concerted effort (and some talent sprinkled in), you’ll soon have all the writing jobs you can handle!

4 Ways to Drive a Freelance Writer Crazy

March 18th, 2011

Camera tests positive

So you’ve gone through the applicants, considered resumes, read dozens of portfolio pieces, and chosen who you hope will be the perfect freelancer for your project. Now what? Read on for four surefire ways to drive a freelancer crazy – and what you should do instead to get the best possible product from your writer.

  • Keep changing your deadlines: “It’s a rush job – can the press release be ready in three days?” If you’ve found a real professional, she might charge you a little bit extra but will probably find a way to make it happen. But then your web designer doesn’t get back to you in time, and you inform the writer that you won’t need the content for another week—so can she waive the rush fee? Perhaps she agrees to bill you at a lower rate, and then you find out that you’ll actually need the materials even sooner – tomorrow at the latest. Can she make the new deadline in time? Everyone has a complicated workweek once in awhile, but try not to flip-flop back and forth from urgent to relaxed deadlines.
  • Send documents in unusual or inaccessible formats: Most freelance writers are pretty experienced at working out software incompatibility issues—but if you’re one of the rare computer users who prefer a really odd file format, it’s always a good idea to convert your files to a more generic type before sending them. Not only will this foresight keep your freelancer from pulling out her hair, it will save you time and frustration, too.
  • Request keyword stuffing and other SEO “mistakes”: If you’re hiring a freelancer to create search engine optimized (SEO) content for your website, you’ve probably chosen someone who has extensive experience and skill in this type of work. Asking for an excessive amount of keyword use in your web copy is more than a challenge to your writer—it’s also bad practice and a red flag to search engines. If you’re going to hire a writer with keyword and SEO expertise, heed their advice to ensure the ideal combination of high rankings and proper protocol.
  • Ask for sources after the work is completed: Everyone wants something different, and your freelancer doesn’t know the details of your project as well as you do. If you need professional references for your writing project, or a particular kind of quote or citation, spell it out as early in the process as possible. That way, your writer won’t have to spend billable time digging up additional sources and instruction after the fact.

It’s easy to drive a freelance writer stark raving mad, but it’s even easier to provide her with the information she needs to deliver quality content on time, within budget, and a smile—with the promise of a long and mutually profitable relationship.

5 Questions to Ask a Freelance Writer

March 12th, 2011

Question mark

So you’ve made the smart decision to hire a freelance writer to craft your website content, put together a marketing brochure, edit your e-newsletter, or create weekly blog posts for your business. You already know the best sites to find skilled, professional freelancers—or maybe you’ve already posted an online ad and received dozens of responses. But how can you determine which writer is the best one for your needs? Here are some of the most important “interview” questions to ask before giving a writer license to assemble your message:

  1. “Have you done this kind of writing before?” This question covers everything from the type of project—a blog post, article, press release, email, or what-have-you—to your niche or industry. If you’re hiring someone to prepare an e-book on Internet marketing, for instance, a professional wedding blogger probably won’t do your product much justice.
  2. “Can I see samples of your work?” Anyone can claim to have the writing chops to produce a masterpiece, but the only way to be certain of a provider’s skill is to review his or her portfolio, particularly samples in your genre.
  3. “What’s your availability?” Ask about the writer’s preferred communication style and timeliness of responses, and nail down a timetable for project completion.
  4. “What are your payment terms?” Does the provider charge a flat rate for the project, by the word, or an hourly rate? The majority of experienced writers will ask for an up-front deposit, followed by full payment upon delivery of the completed draft, but there are exceptions. Make sure you know in advance what you’re agreeing to pay and what that money will get you.
  5. “What’s your policy on revisions?” Some freelance writers will charge extra for time spent on edits, while others account for one or two rounds of revisions in their project quote.

Hiring a freelancer can certainly take the burden off you and your staff, but it’s critical to ask the right questions before kicking off a project. By doing due diligence, you’ll ensure that you outsource to someone with the skills, work ethic, and industry background to bring just the right words to your vision.

What Qualifies as a Business Expense for a Freelancer?

March 6th, 2011

If you’re just starting to earn income as a freelance writer, you’ve probably heard that you can write off businesses expenses and save money on your taxes. This may spawn some questions: “What kinds of expenses? What counts as a business expense? Can I write off my computer/electric bill/new toaster as a business expense?”

The simple answer is… maybe.

The definition of a permissible business expense, according to the IRS, includes anything that is “wholly, exclusively, and necessary” for your business. What this means is that anything you spend money on for business purposes is allowed – so long as it isn’t an item meant to serve a dual purpose. (If you buy a pair of work shoes, they’re a business expense; if you buy a pair of shoes to wear to your cousin’s wedding and occasionally wear them to work, they’re a personal expense with a dual purpose.)

So, what kinds of business expenses can you declare as a freelance writer?

  • Work computer and software
  • Bank charges related to business accounts
  • Marketing costs, i.e. website design or brochure printing
  • Dedicated telephone line
  • Research and industry-related books, magazines, newsletters, etc.
  • Membership fees for professional organizations
  • Conference and networking expenses
  • Travel expenses to writing conferences
  • Meals eaten while at a conference, business meeting, or interview
  • Office costs, or a portion of your rent, heating, and other expenses related to the square footage of your home office space (this applies only if you have a dedicated office that is separated by walls or dividers from the rest of the home)

When it comes to freelance business expenses, there is definitely a grey area. What about the laptop computer you bought for work, but occasionally use to play videos for your kids? How about the reference book you bought for the office, but ended up giving away to a friend six months later when it wasn’t useful to you? And can you write off that expensive dinner you had with a client?

Accountants and tax experts agree that there’s really no clear-cut line that defines permitted business expenses. It’s wise to keep track of all expenses, even if you’re not sure whether they are legitimately deductible. The bottom line is that it’s better to save receipts and ask your accountant at year-end, than toss them and find out later that you could have written it off!

Creating Content for Your Business Blog

February 12th, 2011

You already know you need a blog to succeed in today’s competitive market…but what now? As a business owner ready to embrace the online marketing tools of the 21st century, one of your biggest challenges is figuring out exactly what to say on your professional blog. If you’re stumped, there are some great blogging experts who can offer advice and assistance. On the other hand, you may want to go it alone. Read on for some essential tips and tricks to creating a business-friendly blog.

What’s the Purpose of a Blog?

There are many right ways to use a business blog – but these don’t include posting chatty monologues, an excess of personal opinions, and diary-esque posts. A good business blog is usually a blend of industry facts, information about products and services, and interesting tidbits that answer common questions and entertain.

Does that sound like a lot for one blog to accomplish? For some corporate bloggers, it’s just the beginning. For others, even the thought of writing a weekly post is enough to induce a headache. If you don’t enjoy writing or are having trouble coming up with ideas for your professional blog, a freelance writer with blogging experience can help you create fine-tuned, targeted content to attract loyal readers and reinforce your skills and expertise.

The Ps & Qs of Business Blogging

What kinds of posts should you use to populate your blog?

  • Industry information: To some people, this might look like you’re giving advice away for free, but you’ll be amazed at how many new clients you can gain by giving away some of your “insider secrets” on the web.
  • Your mission: It shouldn’t be the only topic, but it’s important to remind readers of the tenets of your company, your brand, and your offerings.
  • Relevant trivia: Everyone loves to soak up interesting factoids, especially if they’re presented in an engaging way. Unsure of your ability to entertain? This is a perfect example of the kind of blogging that can be outsourced to an experienced freelance writer.
  • Q&A: Do you often receive the same questions from current or prospective clients? Answer them preemptively and professionally on your blog. Your clients will appreciate the easy access to information, and you’ll save on customer service costs.

Creating content for your business blog can be fun, interesting, and ultimately very rewarding if you take the time to write timely, relevant posts your customers want to read.

Uses for a Freelance Writer

February 4th, 2011

Invest in Content

If you hire a writer (a good one) to create a one-off page for your business website and then forget she exists, you’ve missed out on a golden opportunity. She may not be able to shingle your roof or cook you a delicious dinner (unless you find an especially multi-talented freelancer!), but there are more ways than you might think to leverage the talents of a skilled writer as a means of saving time and improving the reputation and visibility of your business.

I’ve been hired to fill a number of roles for a wide spectrum of businesses, from creating blog articles for e-commerce websites to editing professional training manuals. Here are just some of the many services a professional writer can provide to help your business thrive:

  • Article writing: In this SEO-centric age, article writing is perhaps the most common of all freelance writer jobs. If you need an article on any subject under the sun, from accounting to aardvarks, a good freelance writer can do the necessary research and write it with authority.
  • Web content: From blogs and landing pages to corporate profiles and product descriptions, today’s successful freelancers are experienced at crafting solid, scannable content for business websites.
  • Manuals: Whether you run a technology business, a medical training center, or a school, a skilled writer can provide you with professionally written manuals or training guides.
  • Brochures and press releases: Want to make a powerful first impression? A freelance writer can help you craft marketing materials that will promote your brand with polish and pizzazz.
  • Editing: Most freelance writers are happy to provide editing services, polishing up your draft or breathing new life into an outdated website, manual, or article.
  • Online social media expertise: By virtue of having built a business from scratch and handling their own marketing strategies, most freelance writers have firsthand experience in best practices of social media and search engine optimization (SEO), making them a great resource for anyone who is just learning the ropes. Hire a writer to handle your blog, Facebook, and Twitter accounts, or to teach you how to do it yourself.

We’ve just scratched the surface of the many hats a versatile freelance writer can wear. To learn more about our capabilities, send me an inquiry or check out my portfolio.

Financial Tips, Tricks, and Tools for Freelance Writers

February 1st, 2011

Like many freelancers, I’d rather be working on my latest article or preparing copy for a client than balancing my books – but when tax season rolls around, I’m always glad I had the foresight to think ahead and set up financial systems that work for me. Here are some of the tools, tips, and tricks of the trade I’ve learned since taking the leap into full-time freelancing territory:

Planning Ahead

Because a freelance “salary” isn’t necessarily a regular occurrence – the timing of payments can be irregular, even when business is good – a wise freelancer sets aside a certain portion of her income for a rainy day. I keep emergency funds in a separate account, at a safe distance from my spending money. Try to set aside 10-15% of your income, or whatever you can realistically spare.

Records and Taxes

There’s no rule that freelancers have to do all the bookkeeping and taxes themselves, but it’s prudent to at least have a grasp of the kinds of expenses you can write off as a freelancer and the records you should be keeping of bills, expenses, and invoices. As a freelance writer, you should speak with a tax expert to ensure that you’re taking full advantage of the tax benefits available to you as a self-employed individual.

Smart Writing, Smart Spending

I’ve learned there’s only one guarantee in this business: working smarter eventually pays off. There’s no way to predict when a client might take weeks or months to pay you for a delivered product—or even refuse to pay—and there’s no assurance that a project will be completed within the expected time frame. Budget your time carefully, and factor in any extra hours required for research, interviews, or other pre-writing work. Whenever possible, I also try not to spend money until I’ve received it.

Freelancing is the adventure of a lifetime: the chance to run your own business, be your own boss, and break free of other people’s schedules and demands. With freedom, however, comes the burden of total responsibility for your finances. By planning ahead, budgeting carefully, and spending wisely, you’ll be more likely to get on solid financial footing.

Setting Healthy Freelancing Limits

January 28th, 2011

Whether you’re a veteran freelancer or a new writer just breaking into the business, it can be a challenge for even the most disciplined wordsmiths to set good boundaries about when, where, and how much to work. When the “office” is just a few steps from the dining room (or kitchen, or bedroom…), it’s all too easy to find yourself answering emails late into the night or sending your family off to the movies without you while you work over the weekend.

If you love writing – and why would you be freelancing if you didn’t? – it can be tough to draw boundaries between work time and personal time. No matter how much you enjoy your work, you’ll ultimately realize that time off shouldn’t be regarded as a bonus, but as an absolute necessity for a sane, balanced, and productive life.

Here are a few tips for setting healthy limits and giving yourself the free time you need. (I’m the first to admit that I have yet to master many of these myself.)

  • Avoid weekend deadlines: Just because you CAN work on weekends doesn’t mean you HAVE to! Reduce weekend stress by refraining from setting deadlines that fall on a Saturday or Sunday.
  • Minimize email on weekends: Although there will be times when it’s necessary to answer a hot-button email from a client on a Saturday night, try to avoid it whenever possible. I still check my email periodically over the weekend to make sure there aren’t urgent matters that need quick attention, but I’ve found that a majority of messages can wait until Monday. Most clients will follow the example you lead – if you don’t initiate email conversations on the weekend, they won’t, either.
  • Set appointments for calls: I have clients all over the globe, and taking calls in the wee hours to accommodate clashing time zones quickly leads to midnight madness! On the same token, it’s impossible for me to chat about web content strategies when I’ve got a house full of screeching preschoolers. I ask clients to make an appointment with me before they call.
  • Make plans that take you out of the house: Remove yourself from the realm of temptation by going out with friends, seeing a movie, or simply taking your kids or dog to the park. A scheduled break clears my head and helps me focus better during work times.
  • Schedule free time: Last but not least, make sure to schedule at least a few hours each week of “free time” at home that’s just for you. Read a book, write a few pages of that novel, or break out Candyland with the kids – no work allowed!

You can rack up all the clients and money as humanly possible, but true happiness and fulfillment as a freelancer depends on setting limits and boundaries between freelance work and the rest of your life. It’s wonderful to get paid for doing what you love, but—like anything else—excess can lead to stress.

Press Release: HR Solution

December 12th, 2010

As a Cincinnati freelance writer, I wrote this press release to announce a new HR management service by a business software firm.

Press Release – Marketing

December 12th, 2010

Luxury home developer boosts their online business with Abinko Web Services

This dual press release features the web marketing service that improved the online profile of a top Florida developer.

Press Release: Auto Repair

December 12th, 2010

I was hired as a freelance copywriter to prepare this press release for a do-it-yourself (DIY) car repair website.

DIY Auto Repair is Fast and Free at MechanixTrix.com

If you happen to be an experienced mechanic, a dead car battery or pesky “Check Engine” light are simple problems to solve. But for those who don’t know the difference between a strut and a carburetor, even the simplest car troubles can bring travel plans to a screeching halt. With the recent economy struggles, do-it- yourself auto repair has become a popular new endeavor. With dozens of reputable experts willing to share their valuable knowledge online, you don’t have to be a master technician—or rack up hefty charges—to get running again.

MechanixTrix.com was founded by David Oliva, an experienced mechanic who had fielded complaints from dozens of frustrated drivers who were forking over hundreds of dollars for the diagnosis and repair of problems they could have fixed themselves—or paying for the assembly instructions they needed to install the parts they had purchased.

Recognizing a need for a free online resource for car owners, David set out to provide a comprehensive database of common car problems and recommended solutions, eliminating the need for drivers to sift through hundreds of web pages to find what they need. His ultimate goal? To save today’s busy car owners valuable time and money. With many years of combined experience in the automotive industry, the owners of MechanixTrix.com have the necessary expertise and service skills to help ensure drivers a smooth, safe ride.

MechanixTrix.com is a community-driven site, which means all of the resource articles are posted by other drivers. Anyone—from amateur mechanics to everyday drivers—can share an automotive tip or technique by filling out and submitting a simple form. Unlike other DIY car repair sites, MechanixTrix.com doesn’t require its users to create an account or pay any membership fees—joining the online community is fast, free, and easy.

At MechanixTrix.com, drivers have a wealth of free information at their fingertips:

  • How-to articles for diagnosing and repairing all types of car problems in several categories, from changing oil to replacing a catalytic converter
  • News feeds related to the automotive industry, including cutting-edge technologies and new model releases
  • Images, videos, PDFs, and other media files to supplement the articles

Those seeking automotive advice can browse by category (accessories, electrical, driveability, brake, and engine), by vehicle type (i.e. car, truck, motorcycle, etc.), by manufacturer (i.e. Honda, Ford, etc.), or by year. To search for a specific car problem, they can also enter a keyword or phrase.

Need automotive repair instructions or interested in purchasing advertising space? Visit www.MechanixTrix.com.

When All Else Fails…TALK!

May 14th, 2009

Alexia Tsotsis, Writer, TechCrunch, Brett Hurt, Founder & CEO, Bazaarvoice, & Mikkel Svane, CEO,  Zendesk @ LeWeb 11 Les Docks-8892

When I left corporate America last year to focus on my freelance writing business, there were plenty of things I was thrilled to leave behind. No more waiting in line for the microwave! No more hovering cube lurkers waiting for me to hang up the phone! No more borderline-rude questions, like “Sure you’re not carrying twins in there?” or “Pregnant again? Haven’t you heard of contraception?” And in addition to those petty annoyances, I could bid adieu to wasting hours of my life sitting in construction traffic, to seeing the kids for five quick minutes before they were whisked off to the sitter’s before dawn, and frittering away vacation days on pediatrician appointments.

But for all the benefits of working independently, there are certain aggravations that have followed me home—like reading “tone” into emails. Given that I’m solitary by nature and notorious for avoiding phone calls, I’m a huge fan of electronic messaging, but every now and then I still get burned by the typewritten word.

Case in point: after spending 5 hours working on some sales letters for a client yesterday, the bottom fell out of my stomach when I received an email last night stating that I had “missed the mark” on the project. The client went on to imply that I hadn’t understood her instructions (which were so minimal as to be almost nonexistent), that I “hadn’t bothered” to review the product I was writing about (untrue; I’d practically dissected it), and that she was “very unhappy” with what I’d delivered. She topped it off by requesting—horror of horrors!—a phone call the next day.

Well! By the time I’d finished re-reading the message for the fourth time, I was torn between crying, puking, and firing off a vicious reply. I finally recovered enough to type a professional—if not slightly huffy—response, confirming our 2:00 PM phone call, then sat back and prepared to stew.

The rest of the evening was a bust, with all the wasted hours of work and the client’s hurtful email festering in the back of my mind like an uninvited guest who refuses to go home. I tossed and turned for much of the night, lying in dread of the inevitable phone call. Waking this morning, I considered sending a follow-up email and calling off the whole thing, suggesting that she just find another provider and chalk up the lost 5 hours (and the project fee) to a lesson learned.

By the time 2:00 rolled around, my stomach was churning and my palms were sweating. I took deep breaths as I dialed the client’s number, bracing myself for a chilly greeting and then a vicious rundown of everything I’d done wrong. I resolved not to suck up, knowing I probably would anyway.

Imagine my surprise when the client answered the phone and sounded—could it be?—pleasant! Surely this wasn’t the same woman who had read me what I interpreted as the riot act in her email the day before. Today, she made cheerful small talk, thanked me for my time, apologized for the limited instructions, and then stepped me through what needed to be changed. On the phone, her feedback was clear and straightforward. I promised a revised version by this evening, and we said our goodbyes—warmly!—before hanging up.

All told, the call took 8 minutes. 8 minutes to wipe out the nerve-wracking depression that I’d allowed to ruin the past 20 hours.

Don’t get me wrong—in today’s hectic world, email is a godsend. It’s quick, it allows you the luxury of thinking about what you want to say and how you want to say it, and it gives you a written record of your correspondence. But for all its practical purposes, email can have a dark side. There’s no way to know for sure what the sender meant to convey with her word choice, no way to determine if she was smiling or frowning or giving the screen the middle finger as she typed. In some cases, when a stiff turn of phrase threatens to send you into a tailspin, picking up the phone can save you considerable heartache.

Up in Lights

November 17th, 2008

Life as a freelance writer is crazy at times: working at the dinner table, burning the midnight oil, cranking out a project while nursing a six-month-old. But every once in awhile, something pretty cool happens that makes it all worthwhile.

For me, it was getting interviewed by a reporter for U.S. News & World Report last week — he was doing an article on successful women entrepreneurs and asked if Iíd like to be featured as a web freelance writer. After about half a second of deliberation, my uber-professional answer was “Heck, yes!”

Take a look at the article.

Recession-proofing Your Freelance Business

November 8th, 2008

Save Money

The impacts of our struggling economy are, sadly, numerous and impossible to miss. Most businesses are operating on a “lean and mean” mentality, cutting back on full-time staffers and outsourcing whenever possible. Not bad news for freelance consultants like me, who are more than happy to pick up the slack

That said, I don’t think any of us are entirely immune to the effects of the widespread penny-pinching. Even us freelancers will feel the impacts of non-essential projects being cancelled or deferred, fees dwindling to lower amounts, and more competition among those who have lost their jobs and hopped into the already crowded freelancing pool.

So, what’s a freelance writer to do? Any (or all) of the following:

  • Sock away as much as you can. This should be a rule of thumb for all of us, but itís especially critical for freelancers who donít know exactly how much is coming in each month. Create an automatic savings transfer and regard it just like an ordinary bill. Having a nest egg will help reduce anxiety if and when you face a slow period.
  • Hit up past employers for work. With many companies facing hiring and salary freezes, thereís a greater call for temporary help. If you previously held a full-time position, check with your former boss to see if they have a need for your services. Your experience in the trenches will give you an immediate edge over other candidates.
  • Cut back on outsourcing. It can be tempting to take on extra jobs and hire other people to help you complete them, but you need to take a good, hard look at just how much youíre netting from farming out these jobs. If youíre spending a considerable amount of time reviewing and editing the work, and paying out a significant chunk of the project fee, you may want to consider doing it yourself and pocketing the full earnings.
  • Be tax-savvy. As a freelancer, youíll more than likely owe some taxes at the end of the year. Set aside a percentage of each and every payment (see your accountant to determine a recommended percentage, usually somewhere between 25-35%) to go into a tax account, out of which youíll pay estimated or annual tax fees.
  • Become a more well-rounded writer. By stretching outside of your comfort zone and taking on a broader range of services and topics, youíll be more likely to snag jobs from many different types of clients.

As many financial analysts predict, our current financial bind is likely to begin unraveling in the coming weeks and months. In the meantime, do your best to remain patient and positive. Happy writing!

Calling all Chic Moms

October 26th, 2008

One of the most rewarding aspects of freelance writing is having the opportunity to become an impromptu expert on all sorts of different topics, from diamonds to gardening to dieting. Equally fun, though, is landing a job writing about something thatís very relevant to my own life, something that feels like second nature from the word “go” — as was the case with Embellished Mom.

With three young daughters, I’m painfully aware of how youngsters can gobble up every scrap of a new mother’s energy, making it all too easy to ìlet yourself go — especially for stay-at-home or work-at-home moms. Before you know it, hip-hugger jeans have given way to sweatpants, you wear spit-up like an accessory, and you’ve half-convinced yourself that makeup is only necessary for special occasions.

Mike Cho, founder of Embellished Mom, launched his online mommy’s boutique under the premise that you don’t have to be Angelina Jolie to qualify as a hot mom. His web store offers some of the hottest designer styles in baby slings, nursing cover-ups, car seat covers, diaper bags, maternity apparel, and more. His assortment is a delightful mix of pretty and practical, fun and functional, driven by requests from busy moms who want to retain their sense of style amidst a flurry of dirty diapers and non-stop nursing sessions.

For the past year, I’ve had the pleasure of writing blog articles and web content for Embellished Mom. I don’t profess to be a fashion diva, but I’m a firm believer that new moms need to take the time to pamper themselves, and Mike’s site makes it easy — and surprisingly economical — to do so.

I’ve Got the Itch

August 3rd, 2008

“A writer never has a vacation. For a writer, life consists of either writing or thinking about writing.” – Eugene Ionesco

If you’d asked me five, ten, or even twenty years ago what I’d be doing for a living in my early thirties, I would have given the same answer each time, without hesitation: a writer. From a very young age, when I spent long afternoons pounding out melodramatic stories on my grandmotherís massive electric typewriter, I’ve always known it was what I was supposed to do — that, in fact, I had very little choice in the matter.

Through my teens and early twenties, working as a writer meant nothing less than becoming a famous novelist, cranking out bestsellers from my beach house. As I grew older, I allowed the definition of the word to stretch a bit, writing articles for local papers during college and submitting stories to magazines. After graduation, when the bills started rolling in, I held positions as a technical writer, an e-commerce copywriter and, later, my present-day gig as a freelance copywriter, all the while telling myself that as long as “writer” was somewhere in my job title, I wasn’t officially “selling out”.

The problem was, it wasn’t enough. Every couple of months, I’d get what I called “the itch” — an uncontrollable urge to return to the type of writing I truly loved, to create something original and interesting, to indulge the idea for whatever novel happened to be marinating in my mind at the time. The past decade has been a constant struggle for time to write — a moment stolen here, an afternoon there. Somehow I managed to finish three novels, two of which were represented by literary agents, one of which was good enough to snag the interest of several reputable editors before they ultimately declined.

After that last wave of submissions, I took a year-long hiatus from creative writing, busy with the demands of my job and growing family. After the birth of my third daughter, though, the itch was back in a big way — not so much a desire to write as a NEED. Any writer knows what Iím talking about: the certainty that nothing else is as important or as fun as writing, that a day with no creative output is a day wasted.

And so, six weeks ago, I started scratching. After quite a few late nights and stolen weekend afternoons, I’ve suddenly found myself 30,000 words into a novel thatís feeling like an old friend. And as I heard a fellow writer say once, if you enjoy writing it, others will more than likely enjoy reading it.

Of course, my weekdays are still filled with freelance writing jobs, and those provide a different type of satisfaction. I love what I do: hopping from one job to the next, learning something new every day, interacting with clients from all corners of the world. But at the end of the day, it always circles back to that little girl’s dream, to her matter-of-fact conviction that she’d see her name on the shelves someday. I may not have the advantage of her naive confidence, but hey, I’ve got the itch. And with lots of work and a generous helping of luck, it may just be enough.

My Success Story

July 17th, 2008

I posted the below story on Elance, a freelance network site where I obtain many of my projects, and I thought I’d share it here as well.

My Success Story
I was torn about giving this post such a — well — self-aggrandizing title, but I felt the need to share what can only be described as the life-changing experience I’ve had since finding Elance nearly eight months ago.

First, a little background: I’m a 32-year-old mother of three girls (ages 4 years, 2 years, and 3 months). Until this past March, I had a full-time job as an E-Commerce Content Manager with an upscale home decor website. The position paid handsomely and it wasn’t bad as far as jobs go, but I was working ridiculously long hours and commuting nearly an hour each way. Time with my kids was minimal, and sanity was dwindling. When I became pregnant with my third child last summer, I knew something had to change, but I had no idea how or when. My husband had a good marketing job, but we weren’t in a position to live on just one income. Freelancing had always been an appealing idea, but I had no clue how to go about making it into an economically viable solution.

Thatís where Elance came in.

Last October, my husband casually mentioned that one of his co-worker’s wives had found enough work on a website called Elance.com to allow her to leave her full-time job. I logged on to check it out, and within 5 minutes I was hooked. I created a profile and started with a basic membership, bidding on a few projects here and there. I landed my first job within the week (writing a few SEO articles), and a day later landed another one. I continued to bid on projects through November ’07, and continued to garner awards. As I began to slowly acquire ratings and feedback, I started to wonder if this could actually work.

A few weeks after joining Elance, I received my first invitation to bid on a project. Wow! I giggle now to think of how giddy that made me. The idea that buyers were actually seeking me out seemed unfathomable. To my surprise and delight, the invitations kept coming. Since then, I’ve never had to actively seek out a project. Every single one of the Elance projects I’ve landed has been a result of an invitation sent to me. Many buyers I’ve met here have turned into long-standing clients with whom I enjoy profitable, professional relationships.

Shortly after my third baby was born, I took a leap of faith and resigned from the job I’d had for more than 5 years. I enlisted the services of a designer to create my website. I began taking on more jobs (too many, at first). I was terrified, and exhilirated. In the four months since I quit my job to freelance full-time, I’ve netted slightly more each month than I was making at my corporate position.

These days, instead of rushing myself and my children out the door at 7 AM only to sit in gridlock for an hour and then in a stuffy cubicle for another 9 hours, I’m working from my home office, my couch, my kitchen table, or my patio. I’m leisurely taking my kids to and from pre-school, nursing my infant during client calls, and getting dinner ready at a reasonable hour instead of hitting drive-thrus at 8 P.M. Donít get me wrong — there’s still stress. Many nights and weekends are spent frantically finishing up projects for looming deadlines, and working in such an unstructured environment definitely has challenges of its own. But overall, I am a more relaxed and happier wife and mother.

For you newbies out there who may be frustrated by slow starts, I’m here to tell you that success IS possible. As long as you have the talent and the commitment, you can make a living at this. A year ago, I never would have believed this could happen. And now I’m doing it.

Anyway, I didnít mean to “toot my own horn”, so to speak, but I’m hoping that my story will serve as some level of inspiration for beginners out there who are wearing the same shoes I wore last fall.

Wishing you happy (and profitable) writing,
Melissa