One Year Anniversary

Today is the one year anniversary of A String of Words. It’s so awesome to look back to a year ago at this time and realize how far I’ve come with my writing and in pursuing a freelance writing career. When I started this blog, I wasn’t even sure I would leave my job and I never in a million years believed it would happen so fast or that I would have such good results in such little time.

Over the past year, I’ve thought of developing this blog into more than just a personal blog and of trying to create a large following, but recently I’ve decided against it. When I started this blog it was meant to be about my life and my writing journey, and that’s what I want it to remain about. I like that I can talk on professional topics if I want but also go off topic just as easily. I like the freedom. That’s not to say I don’t have other blog ideas in the works, but as for this one, it will remain the way it is.

To the small number of people that read this blog – thank you!

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Signs of a Less Than Perfect Client

I’ve been applying for freelance writing jobs as an independent contractor for over a year now. In this time, I have come to recognize some reoccurring signs of less than desirable clients. I’m not talking about what is written in the job ad, although sometimes that in itself can be a telling sign. What I’m talking about is what happens between when you apply for the job and then start working with the client for pay. Usually there is a certain amount of back and forth emails and phone calls before you actually start to work. This can be very telling of the type of client that you have on your hands. From my experiences, here is what I’ve learned and hopefully it will help you avoid the less than perfect clients out there.

Unorganized
If a client comes off as unorganized from the beginning, then chances are they will be unorganized for the duration of your working relationship. For example, I once had someone email me about a job. They gave me a list of their writing needs and asked me what experience I had. Fair enough. I sent them a detailed email back including what I could do for them and samples of my work that related to the work they were needing done. The next day they called me and we had a chat about those same experiences and I was told a decision would be made in the next few days. I followed up our phone conversation with an email thanking them for their interest and highlighting my interest in working with them. Then things got a little weird. I received another email from the client a few days later asking me what I had experience writing and asking if we could have a phone conversation about it. I sent them another detailed email and offered to speak to them over the phone again. They never called. A week later, way after they had originally said they would make a decision, I received another email asking for the same information. At this point I caught on – they were highly unorganized. I decided that I didn’t have the patience or time to enter into a working relationship like this and nicely let them know that I was no longer interested in the work. While some clients do make occasional mistakes and mix-ups with writers, right off the bat and repeatedly seemed like a bad sign to me.

No Contract
Another sign of a potentially bad client is when they don’t have a contract or want to sign yours. In another example I applied for a project that seemed perfect for me. It was right along the lines of what I write and the pay was good. After a few emails I had a phone conference with the client. It became apparent that they would not be giving me a contract to sign even though they claimed to work with many different writers. I thought, okay maybe the writers they work with just give them their contract. So I asked them if they would be willing to sign my contract. They gave me a roundabout answer that ended up being they don’t sign contracts. Um, red flag – no thanks. I abruptly ended that conversation.

Pushing for Work
A final reoccurring sign of a potentially bad client is where they just jump right in and start demanding work without working out the finer details such as pay. In responding to one ad for an editor, I asked several questions and for specifics of the project. In the response email I received I didn’t get a single one of my questions answered. Instead the potential client sent me several projects with instructions. I emailed them back to ask what the pay rate was, if they would sign a contract, how much work a week the project would take, etc. In response, they emailed me that they needed my first project the following day. They still didn’t answer any of my questions. Needless to say I felt justified in telling them I wouldn’t be taking on the work.

Have you encountered any of these types of clients? What did you do about it? What signs do you think indicate a less than perfect client?

Skiing and Writing: How do they compare?

Finally, I’m getting in some time for a blog post. It’s been a whirlwind of business for me for me since my trip and I’ve been absent from blogging for longer than I would have liked. But paying clients trump personal blogging. So anyway, about my trip – it was wonderful! Seeing my best friend and spending a whole week with her was awesome! We did some really cool things and I got to see a lot of Colorado. By far the best part was skiing in Breckenridge. Having not been a huge skier, I found that I did a lot better than I had hoped I would. And of course the time spent on the ski lift gave me time to draw some parallels between skiing and freelance writing. From my observations there are two types of beginner skiers and approaches:

  • The Jump Right in Approach: Those that hop on the ski lift and head right to the top of the mountain. Once at the top, they fearlessly attempt to fly down the mountain often falling, but when they do fall, they get back up and try to get down the slope again. Like beginner skiers, there are those people who decide they want to try freelance writing and they jump right in. If they make a mistake, they brush it off and move on. There is something to be said for that. Having the courage to keep trying is impressive in this tough career. However, in their haste, sometimes markets aren’t researched and money isn’t saved for slow times. Often they take on one time clients just to get by, but fail to build up long term clients.
  • The Slow and Steady Approach: Those that take a lesson before getting on the lift and when they do get to the top, they take their time and practice control as they go down the mountain. If they fall, they figure out what they did wrong to correct it the next time. In freelance writing there are those beginners that are planners. They research markets, they save up some money to fall back on during slow times and they consistently try to build up a good client base while learning from their mistakes so as not to repeat them.

In my previous ski experiences I have been the type to just dive right in to try to fly down the mountain. This as you can imagine caused me to fall a lot and lead me to believe I was not a good skier. This time however it was different for me. I took the slow and steady approach. I realized that it wasn’t a race to the bottom and that it was more important that I make it to the bottom without any broken bones.

I have taken this same approach in my writing career. I saved up money and worked part time freelancing to experiment with different markets before I quit my full time position. I have also worked hard to find long term private clients and to build a good relationship with them.

Even with all of that planning, money was tight and at the beginning – I was barely scraping by, but just as I approached this career in a steady manner, my income has steadily risen each month. I think if I had just jumped right in without planning I would have been much less successful. I would have gotten frustrated, lost confidence and probably by now would have been looking for full time work again. And just like skiing, I’ve made it this far unscathed.

How about you? What approach do you take and how has it worked for you?

Writing Reflections

As 2009 comes to an end, and the beginning of a new year is looming just a few days away, many people begin thinking about goals and resolutions for their fresh start.

But for me, this time of year would not be complete without remembering how far I’ve come. So today, before I write out my goals for 2010 I want to remember the past year. I remember waking up the first day of 2009 and thinking that I needed to change my life in a drastic way. I had told my husband that with the purchase of a laptop, I would find a way for it to pay for itself. I was going to get back to my roots and follow my dreams to freelance writing. At the time, I was thinking I would begin pitching to magazines again. After all, that was what I had done in the past. I never in a million years thought that by the end of the year I would be a full-time freelance writer.

As my husband sat around New Years day watching football, I typed into Google freelance writing and up on the screen popped a million sites. I spent hours that day researching and reading what knowledge and experiences others had to share. It was my first time learning anything about online writing. That same day, I signed up for Blogger and created my first blog (which I erased a few months later). A few days later, my research led me to sign up for Associated Content. I can’t tell you the thrill I got when my first story got bought. So I wrote more and at some point realized that I was never going to make a living there.

A few weeks went by and I stumbled upon Demand Studios. I signed up and had my first article published. Now that was better money. I became obsessed with writing for them and finding other online sources of revenue. I worked most nights late into the night after working a full day at my full-time job. A few months later, I started this blog. I began fantasying about quitting my job and those dreams started to look within reach when I landed my first private client. In July, I finally quit my job and went full time to freelance writing. By August, I was working for myself.

Today, I am proud to say that I have many private clients on a regular basis and many more one time projects sprinkled in a month. I am proud of what I have accomplished this year. It hasn’t all been easy. I’ve had to learn about accounting, contracts, technology, confidence in myself and more. But I have loved every single minute of it. I have many writers from around the world that I would now call friends and hope to someday meet in person. For the first time in my adult life I am living the life I always imagined for myself.

Without being too sappy, I want to thank all the people that I have met through writing this year that have hired me, given me advice or just lent me an ear to vent. I truly could not have made my dreams into a reality without such a warm and sharing community that freelance writers all over the world have created.

My goals will be coming soon, but for now, I just want to be proud of and thankful for how far I’ve come. What are you most proud of this year?

Stepping Out of My Comfort Zone

If I had my choice, I would never leave my comfort zone – that place where I can work happily along every day without ever having to feel the least bit nervous or awkward. But, nothing is ever that easy. Over the past year, freelance writing has really pushed me to step out of my comfort zone on a daily basis and while going there is often nerve racking to say the least, going there is essential to improving myself as a writer and businesswomen. Here are five ways I’ve had to step outside of my comfort zone:

Talking about money. I hate discussing rates and giving quotes. I am always worried that I will quote a client too high and they will run for the hills never to be heard from again, or I will quote too low and then I’ll be unsatisfied with what I’m making. Either way, talking about money is terrifying to me, but in this career it’s completely unavoidable.

Following up. A close second to discussing money and rates is following up. This I find myself doing for a few different reasons.

  • First (and I’m lucky, I’ve only had this happen once or twice) is following up to get paid. You know those clients who you do the work for and then wait weeks to get paid. To me following up to ask for money is almost as bad as quoting my rates. It’s awkward, but completely unavoidable.
  • The second scenario is when I have to follow up after quoting my rates or when I do work on spec and hear nothing back. This too is awkward, but if I have learned nothing else, I have learned that persistence is a key to success in this field.

Cold calling/emailing. I know that I won’t get work unless I put myself out there in many different ways. That being said, cold calling makes me nervous, I’m always worried about saying the wrong thing or sounding stupid. When I cold call or cold email a business I always try to think to myself: What’s the worst that can happen? So they might say no, but they could also say yes. Or they could say no, but remember me a few months down the road when they need a writer. Or they could just say no and I can move on to someone else. No big deal

Saying no. Okay, this one probably sounds weird, but I am a yes person. I don’t like disappointing people. However, I have come across some really bad offers while looking for writing gigs. A potential client offering to pay me a whopping $2 per 500 word blog post – no way will I even consider that, but it’s still awkward saying no.

Writing on topics I have no experience in. I like a challenge, so I tend to take on challenging work and often that means stepping out of my comfort zone. If I’m not experienced in a topic, I’m always afraid that I’ll come off seeming like I don’t know what I’m talking about. But you know what? That has never happened. With good research, I’m learning I can write on almost anything. Still, that doesn’t mean I don’t get nervous with the unknown.

Like it or not, I can’t deny the fact that most of what I’ve learned has come from stepping out of my comfort zone. The comforting part is that the more I step out my comfort zone, the easier these things become, and while I may not ever be completely comfortable discussing rates or asking for payment, it is getting easier. I know that no matter how nervous or awkward I feel, it’s worth it in the end.

When do you step out of your comfort zone?

What happens when you depend too heavily on a content site?

LaptopI started my freelance writing career years ago with clients here and there, but if I’m really honest my writing career actually began earning me a livable wage when I began writing for several content sites. In fact, the work I was getting from several content sites allowed me to save enough money to leave my full time job in July and pursue freelance writing full time. As you can imagine, I have a lot of love for content sites. But this post isn’t about how happy I am with content sites, it’s more about how they can make you lazy.

Writing for several content sites gave me a base in which to grow my talents and my income. That being said, soon after I left my full time job one of the content sites I had been writing for dried up and eventually went away. Then I was left with just two – one that provided more than enough work and one that was hit or miss. I still write for both, but the one that was providing more than enough work has started to fade. Now all of a sudden, I have a slight problem. You see, part of my work load is in the form of private clients and part is from said content site. So what happens when this site doesn’t provide as much work as it once did? Well, I have been forced to re-evaluate and look at what I’m really working towards here. Do I want to work for content sites forever? No! That was never my intention, but the content sites have made me lazy.

I have always struggled with putting myself out there and finding more private clients. I would think to myself, why should I when I can make quick money writing for a content site? But the problem is that my work isn’t really being recognized – frankly, it’s not my best writing and it’s not like I am reaching for better by being stuck in the content site rut. Nor does writing for a content site give me much networking opportunities. What started out as my safety net has turned into the thing that is holding me back.

It has become very apparent to me in the last few weeks that while I have a steady flow of private clients, I haven’t been putting myself out there, I haven’t been networking like I should, I haven’t been searching for new opportunities and I haven’t been reaching for better. All because I can sit at home and churn out article after article for quick pay, but at the cost of zero networking opportunities, not many usable clips and no improvement to my writing skills. Plus, when those articles become less available, then I am left struggling to meet my income goals.

While content sites will probably never go away and I could probably find another one tomorrow that would supplement my income, I don’t want to rely on them anymore. I want any income that comes from content sites to be extra income – not depended on income. My solution? Tomorrow I start hitting the job boards again, I start networking more than I have been, I start querying magazines again and I put myself out there like I used to before I got comfortable and lazy working on content sites. My new goal is to fully support myself on private clients. I’ll let you know how it goes!

My Progress

Progress

While I was out and about this weekend, a couple of people asked me how everything is going with my writing. Since I haven’t given an update in a while and the main point of this blog was to document my transition into the freelance writing world. So for those of you who are wondering here we go:

Clients
I have done pretty good getting new clients. I am still applying for 5-10 writing projects a day, although I have to admit that it gets a little old sometimes. I have managed to get quite a few projects this way and a couple of times lately, I have had so much work, that I haven’t had time to apply for jobs every day. Just last week I signed a contract with a new client that will keep me pretty busy through December which is exciting!

Financials
My money situation is better than I thought it would be at this point. That being said, I am only making about half of what I was making in my full-time job. One of the reasons for this is that I’ve taken some lower paying jobs, just to have something to fill my time and bring in some form of income. Now that I am having a lot more work come my way, I am trying to narrow some of the lower paying jobs down and only take higher paying gigs so I can hopefully bring my income level up.

Published Work
A while back I said that I was going to start sending queries to more magazines. That is still hit or miss for me. I feel like querying magazines takes a long time. It’s something that is worth it, but it’s certainly not paying my bills right now. However, I’m happy to announce I do have an article that will be published in November in a local publication. To see my name in actual print again will be awesome and I can’t wait!

Overall, I am finding my weeks more and more full –I even have some projects lined up for the future which is great! I am definitely becoming more comfortable telling people what I do, giving my rates to clients and in general with running my own business. I even have business cards now! Most days I really feel like I am on my way to success and that right there is an accomplishment.