Archive for the ‘Money’ Category

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.

What Do Babies and Investments Have in Common?

Sunday, 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!

What Qualifies as a Business Expense for a Freelancer?

Sunday, 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!

Financial Tips, Tricks, and Tools for Freelance Writers

Tuesday, 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.

Recession-proofing Your Freelance Business

Saturday, 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!