Spec Work: Beneficial or Not?

Stop Sign

Over the past two weeks I have been asked to do four separate spec pieces. Normally, when I get these requests I email the potential client and let them know that I don’t do spec work, the reason why and I send them some of my published clips. Generally, I don’t hear back. Ever.

My issue with spec work is that in the past when I have done it with no questions asked I have never heard back. Once, I even found that my spec piece had been used, without my permission or even my name and after repeatedly trying to get in touch with the company, I never heard back. Yes, I got burned. How does the saying go? Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me…..

I’m not sure why all of a sudden there is a flurry of spec work requests but, here are some tips on how I handle these requests:

  • Don’t do it if it sounds like they are asking for spec pieces from a bunch of people. You know those emails that start out “You’re in the top 20 candidates, to determine the best fit we are asking for…..”
  • Always ask questions before you do any spec work. Clarify that your article won’t be used without your permission and get it in writing.
  • If you can’t get in touch with the company about your questions, it probably isn’t going to benefit you to do the piece anyway.
  • When a company asks for a spec piece just to apply for the gig, give a few sample paragraphs, but not a whole article. Explain why you can’t give a full article and direct them to samples of your published work.
  • Follow your gut, if you have a bad feeling about it there is probably a reason.

I have not actually gotten a job off of a spec piece. Most clients that hire me look at my online portfolio and can determine if they want to hire me based on my published clips without needing additional writing. That being said, I don’t like to rule out opportunities, especially if it’s a gig I really want. I try to handle every request on an individual basis. How do you handle spec work requests? Have you had any luck with spec work?

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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.

Hire Me Please

Thumbs upHave you ever come across a job ad that just screams your name? You know what I am talking about, that job ad where every word is just dripping with a description of you and your talents. I’ve came across several of those seemingly perfect jobs before and I just came across another one today in my daily writing job search. The most frustrating thing is to just know you are a perfect fit for a client only to apply for the work and not hear anything back. Well, rather than immediately writing the client a “hire me please” note begging to be hired, here are some tips to actually help you hear back from that client that you really want to work with:

Apply for jobs that you actually qualify for.

Okay, okay, I know that a lot of my fellow freelancers will tell you that you have to apply for many, many jobs in order to land one. And I’m all for that, but the real truth here is that you have to apply for jobs that you can actually do. While it is impressive to apply for 25 jobs a day, are you really completely qualified for all of them? It makes much more sense to take your time and apply for a handful of projects that you are sure you qualify for rather than rushing through and applying to tons of jobs that you don’t necessarily qualify for and really couldn’t do even if you got the work.

Follow the directions.

This should really be common sense. We are taught from a very young age how to follow directions, so why some people still can’t do it is beyond me. Really, the concept is simple: a client writes an ad for what kind of work they have and what you need to give them to be considered for the project. Make sure you give them everything they ask for in the way that they ask for it. If they say don’t send attachments, then don’t. If they say to send three samples, then send three samples, not two. Seriously, what are you saying about yourself and your work ethic if you don’t even follow the directions when applying for the project?

Use a conversational tone.

One thing that I have found in my months of looking for freelance writing work is that email, the Internet, blogging, Twitter, Face Book, all that changes the tone of applying for freelance work. Back when I used to apply for full time jobs (and I have applied for a lot!) it would be with a formal, by the book cover letter, a resume that was also straight out of career services and that would suffice. But with the boom of social media everything is more casual, especially in the world of freelancing. Many clients these days are looking to hire a contract worker that can communicate in a functional way, not necessarily by writing Dear____ and signing off Sincerely _____. Be friendly, give the information they ask for and do it in a conversational way.

Don’t be overly friendly.

Okay, this might seem a little contradictory, but there is a line. Don’t cross it. You don’t need to tell a potential client that you sleep until 11 A.M. every day and work until midnight, or that you need to make some extra cash to take a trip. There is just no need for this. Tell them what they need to know in a nice way that doesn’t cross that delicate line.

Be clear and concise.

In my early days of applying for freelance writing jobs when I was asked to provide a rate I would give one rate for a blog post or I would give a flat rate for a project. But silly me, I forgot to include what that entailed. Now I try to be very clear. If I quote a flat rate for a project I say that it includes an x number of rewrites or a certain amount of interview time. For blog posts I now quote my price based on the number of words.

Ask for feedback.

I’ll admit that this is a little tricky. You can’t ask for feedback on every job that you apply for – chances are you don’t hear back from all of them. But I’ll bet that you have heard back from some for possibly clarification on something and have still ended up not getting the client. In this case I always wait a few days and then send a quick email asking for feedback on my resume – or my portfolio web site which I now use, my clips, my correspondence, etc. On a few occasions I have had responses that were very nice and most importantly very helpful in making me more efficient at applying for future freelance work.

Did I miss anything on this list. What do you do that works when applying for freelance writing work?

Doing My Happy Dance!

Due to my persistence in applying for jobs, networking and being creative in my job search, I landed two jobs last Friday. I did my happy dance and celebrated a little over the weekend. As 2inspired wrote last week, in her post Practice Your Happy Dance, the little things need to be celebrated too. Now this week I have gotten down to the business of working for my new clients.

You can see where I have been looking for work on my post from last week called Job Hunting. One new client I got was from Deb’s list over at Freelance Writing Jobs. The other client I got was actually someone I used to work with. When I contacted them to tell them what I am doing now, they ended up having a long term project that they hired me for.

I am totally pumped that my efforts are showing and that I am actually able to get somewhere with all of this. I remember when I first started freelancing, my goal was to get just one private client, and then when that happened my goal was to land a private client that didn’t actually know me. Now I have achieved both of those goals and I am hoping that things continue to go up from here.

For the first time since going full time as a freelance writer, I actually feel busy. And let me tell you, feeling busy as a freelance writer has a whole different meaning than feeling busy in a dead end corporate job. I feel like everything I do has a purpose, I will literally see my results and being busy will directly pay off to me. Unlike the corporate world where a lot of times I felt busy, or more like overwhelmed, I also felt like I was running really fast in place. This is such a great feeling. I know that I can always keep myself busy, but to not have to rely on content sites so much, in itself is an accomplishment.

But while I’m busy doing my happy dance, I’m also keeping my eyes on the horizon. I am learning that this job is a slippery slope and I need to stay focused. Even though I feel busy now, I have to make myself continue to apply for jobs every day for when things do slow down again. It’s a fact, in this career, things will slow down again and it’s best to be prepared for those times.

As freelancers, it is the good times that help us through the bad times. I’ll keep doing my happy dance, but I’ll also remember this good feeling the next time things slow down and I get discouraged.

Job Hunting

In my first month of freelance writing full time, I met my earning goals easily. I knew I would due to the fact that I had a few private clients that paid well. So I was feeling pretty good about things, however this month is starting out to be a different story.

Last month it was so easy because my private clients were people who knew me from my previous job, knew my work ethic and knew that they would be happy with my work. There was some buzz when I left and some people in my network had projects that they hired me to do. Currently, I have finished all of those projects, and there is nothing on the horizon. Of course, they all said they would let me know when they have a project, but so far this month, I am sitting here asking myself: Now what?

I pretty much knew this would happen sooner rather than later and I am trying not to panic. I have tried to be proactive about it and have been routinely searching job boards and applying for jobs, many jobs. But the thing is, it is so much harder to find clients that aren’t familiar with you or your work and it’s also hard to know the best places to look for new clients. Today I decided to create a list of all the places I have  looked for jobs – kind of like a checklist that I have to make myself go through every day. I’m hoping that with persistence, this will turn into a few clients to help me through this month and to line up next month. Here is my job hunting list:

Job lists that are put out by other people. And I am very grateful!

Job Boards:

  • Craig’s List
  • CareerBuilder.com
  • Monster.com
  • Indeed Jobs
  • Hot Jobs
  • The Write Jobs
  • Online Writing Jobs.com
  • Freelance Job Openings.com
  • oDesk – Haven’t completely figured this one out yet

Out of the Box Promotional Stuff to Gain Clients:

  • Twitter
  • My address book – that’s right, everyone I know be ready, if you haven’t gotten an email from me yet, you will.
  • The phone book – I have started going through the phone book and sending people my information including my services.

I know that this list is just the beginning and there are endless places to look. I will keep you posted and try to update this list as I find success and other great resources.

Where do you look for work? Have you had any luck?

Week Two Roundup

It’s been a pretty decent week of writing for me, aside for my rant yesterday, sorry about that! I got much closer to meeting my goals. Mind you, my writing goals start out small and move up by the month as I hope to gain more clients or better paying jobs each month. I made myself apply for many more jobs and I ended up applying for over 25, which is over double what I applied for last week. I did get contacted for two that I am very interested in, so we will see how those turn out.

I couldn’t keep myself from working on my Web site last weekend, so it was pretty much finished by Monday. Here is the link to it if you want to check it out: www.RaechelConover.com. Any feedback would be great, and I’m sure I will be constantly making small changes, but there it is. I have to say that if you are thinking about creating a Web site, and you don’t know HTML, Karen over at Want To Freelance has some excellent information in her posts: Why Freelancers Should Know HTML and HTML Tricks for Freelancers. HTML is not hard to learn, but can seem daunting. Knowing something about it can help you immensely.

I finished my current series for the astrology Webinar I was working on for AltGlobe. Here it is if you want to take a look: Astrology Signs Webinar. If you want to read up on your astrology sign and the astrology elements it’s a great place to look, if I do say so myself.

I had my first experience of working out of my house. I was forced to go to the library because my neighbors were getting their roof replaced today and my dogs were barking at the workers every minute. The library was pretty uneventful, except that it was much louder than I remember libraries being. Note to self, take headphones next time.

My goals for next week include hopefully, fingers crossed, actually landing one of the many jobs I apply for online. I have also been keeping a list over the last few months of local companies that have shown interest in hiring a freelance writer and companies that I think might give me the time of day. Next week, now that my Web site is up and running, I plan to at least start sending my information to the companies on this list that I have a direct contact with. I also want to order business cards and I need to set up an email to my domain name. One job that I applied for, but didn’t get was nice enough to give me some feedback and said that this would make me look more professional. Well, if it will help me land a job, I’ll do it!

On a personal note, my husband and I have decided that we are way overdue for a vacation – we haven’t been anywhere since our honeymoon four years ago. So, we have been looking at exotic places to go this fall. We don’t have a ton to spend, but we should be able to swing some sort of all-inclusive Caribbean vacation. Hopefully I will start making a little more and I can always pick up more Demand Studios work so that it doesn’t take too much of a dent out of our savings.

Enjoy your weekend! I’m off to look at tropical beaches!

Time is Money

Today I worked my first official day as a freelance writer, and I have to admit, I felt a little lost. Not that it wasn’t blissful to sleep a little later and not have to get dressed up to go to work, but I still felt a little out of sorts. There are just so many things I want to do, I don’t really know where to start. Plus I feel very torn between writing $15 articles for Demand Studios and actually putting together a website or searching for jobs. Time is money and a website and job searching don’t have the immediate pay off. I do realize the pay off in the long run will be well worth it and I need to make time for those things, it’s just hard. What can I say? I’m an instant gratification type of girl.

My day started out good, I was ready for the day at 9am. But when I actually sat down to work, I remembered that I wanted to start the laundry, then I remembered that I had been meaning to water the plants and so went my list of housework. By the time I actually got back to my computer it was 10:30.

Needless to say, I didn’t get nearly as much done today as I had envisioned. So now I have a plan. Today when I finished writing for the day, I made a task list for the rest of the week. This is nothing new to me. I have always done this in my previously full time job, it makes sense to try it with my freelancing to. Freelance writing is now my full time job, I’m going to have to be more diligent about staying focused.

I think it is going to be an interesting transition for me. I am so use to a strict schedule and perfectly laid out tasks. It will really take some getting used to, being on my own with no one to talk to but the dogs. I’m sure I will find ways to make it work and stay on track, but my first day wasn’t as productive as I had hoped. Tomorrow I am off to work my one of two days at my old job for the week. But watch out Wednesday – time is money and I am ready to buckle down and get to work.