Archive for the ‘Blog’ Category

How to Find a Mentor

Friday, 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?

Wednesday, 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

Sunday, 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?

Wednesday, 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?

Thursday, 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?”

Friday, 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

Wednesday, 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

Monday, 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

Thursday, 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

Tuesday, 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?