Best Month Yet!

As I’ve worked diligently the last few days to invoice and collect final payments for my work in February I’ve noticed something – February was a great writing month for me. For the first time since starting this journey, I went an entire month without having to be dependent on writing for a content site. This was one of my goals for the New Year and I am thrilled that I have already met it! What this means is that last month for the first time, I had enough private clients to make ends meet. This is so exciting for me I smile just thinking about it.

This doesn’t mean I have stopped looking for new clients – in fact, I actually had some free time in February where I could have fit one or two new clients or projects into my schedule. This is great because while I still look for clients, I can be more selective about who I take on and the pay rate that I’m willing to accept.

The fact that I was busy solely with private clients last month also means that I made more in the month of February than I have made in any previous month. I’m still not quite at my goal of doubling my income or of making what I was making in my full time job, but I made a significant improvement in it last month and this month is promising to be even better by far.

All in all, not only did I make more last month, I also worked less. Now, you’re probably wondering what I did with my free time if I worked less and wasn’t busy churning out articles for a content site? Well, I worked of course – I don’t call myself a work-alcoholic jokingly. It is still one of my goals to get published in glossies, so with my extra time last month I sent out pitches to magazines and I’m hoping to send out more this month. While I have already gotten a few rejection letters back, I’m not upset; I figure I’ll get a lot more of those before I get an assignment. I also started reading my stockpile of writing books especially those dealing with pitching to magazines. I’m hoping to improve my pitches this month.

For the month of February I couldn’t be happier with my progress and fingers crossed, perhaps March will be the month where I can finally start building up my savings account again!

Lacking the Creative Juice

I haven’t been posting here regularly, I know. The reason is I’ve been busy – not just busy but overwhelmingly busy. I hate using excuses, but with the holidays and this being my first year as a full-time freelance writer, I’m finding it hard to do everything and be everywhere at once. I have also been pushing myself to work a little bit extra at the content site I write for in order to make additional money that will help with all the gift buying.

I am very thankful that I have the option to take on extra work, that I have been blessed with landing two new clients this month and that I’ve been given a big project by a current client. However, in all this rushing around (I was literally in three cities in two days at Thanksgiving!) I have realized that being overwhelmed is not good. Yes, having a lot of work is great, but a lot of work and too much stuff going on is causing me lose my inspiration and my creativity – so much so thatI haven’t even been able to think of a topic for this blog.

So what am I planning to do about this? Well, no one said this career would be easy and this is definitely one of the harder times I have experienced, so I may need to work a little harder this month. I’m going to try to get up an hour earlier every day and perhaps spend some extra time on work at night. I’m also going to turn down a few holiday party invitations to stay home and just relax with my husband. I won’t be volunteering to bring a dish to every party that we do go to and I may cut out making cookies for all of my neighbors.

As far as my writing inspiration goes, I’m looking into creative exercises now. I’m thinking of scheduling myself some time each day to focus on creative exercises, writing about what I want to write about and doing other inspiring things like reading my favorite blogs. I haven’t been keeping up with my favorite bloggers and that bothers me because a lot of my inspiration comes from them.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who is feeling pressed for time and as a result uninspired around this time of year. What do you do to combat the holiday stress and manage to stay inspired through all the chaos?

The Key to My Time Management Success

timerI know that I’ve covered the subject of time management, or my lack of it before. Well, today, I’m happy to share that I’m kicking time management’s butt! For a while, I’ve really been struggling with this, as I know other writers and freelancers struggle with it too. Let’s face it, when you work from home there are a lot of distractions and at times a lot of other things that feel more important than work.

Over the past few months I have done a lot of reading on time management and how other people tackle it and I am completely convinced that there is no one size fits all solution. I think that we each need to find the right combination of techniques that work for our unique needs. Now before I tell you the key to my time management success, here are some small tips that are helping me and may help you too.

  1. Schedule time to check your email. I could spend hours on end on email, so scheduling times into my day to check it is very effective.
  2. Create a to do list. As long as I have been a working adult I have had a to do list. Every day before I stop working, I make my to do list for the following day with the most important things at the top – and let me tell you, it is a great feeling to check things off of that list.
  3. Set goals. I set weekly goals, monthly goals and yearly goals in order to make the income that I need to make. In addition to having my daily to do list, I also have my weekly list of goals to keep me on track.

While these three things help me, I am happy to report that I have stumbled upon my own time management jackpot. Are you ready for this? It’s a kitchen timer. Now you are probably wondering why I have made such a big deal about a kitchen timer and I’m sure I’m not the first to discover this, but it has completely transformed my work life, I just had to share.

The idea came to me because I needed a way to track my time for clients that I charge on an hourly basis. So, I brought my kitchen timer upstairs to my office and here is what I have found works for me: I set it for one hour increments of time. During that hour I don’t check twitter, I don’t answer my phone, I don’t talk to my husband – I completely focus on what I’m working on for that hour, be it an article, a resume, etc. When the timer goes off whether I am done or not, I take a ten minute break. If I finish before that one hour is up, I immediately start working on another project until the timer goes off. I can’t tell you what a difference this has made!

It’s perfect for me for a lot of reasons. It allows me to track my time, to take breaks regularly and to ensure that I’m not spending too much time on low paying projects. In addition, if I have my timer going, everyone in my household knows not to disturb me. Literally, my husband won’t even try to talk to me when he sees it going and my dogs are now trained that they lay down until the timer beeps. Although, when it beeps, they usually jump up and run around.

During my ten minute breaks, I get up, stretch, make a snack, do small household chores, check my Twitter, etc. And I have found that I look forward to my ten minute breaks plus I get a lot of little chores done around the house which my husband loves.

Quite honestly, it’s gotten to the point where everything I do during my working day is by my timer. If I check my email I set my timer for an hour, if I’m doing my writing job search – you guessed it, I set my timer, if I’m checking my Google reader and networking, I set my timer and if I am doing bookkeeping, I set my timer. It works like a charm. I’m so excited with the results that I’m seeing, I just had to share!

I even finished this blog post in an hour. Time for a break!

Tackling Time Management

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I really thought that I was well equipped to handle time management as a freelance writer. I have been to time management trainings and I have read many, many great posts by my fellow freelancers on time management. Plus, I was really good at this in my previous full-time job, so naturally, I thought I would be good at it right off the bat. Well, sadly I’m not. Here are some reasons off the top of my head as to why I may not be succeeding at time management:

  • I don’t have a set schedule yet. Why? I’m not really sure, but I’m working on getting into a schedule. For some reason, the gym seems to throw me off and I get less accomplished on the days that I go workout before I start working.
  • I can’t yet decide what is more important to spend my time on. For example, I need to make a certain amount of money a day to meet my goals, but I also need to apply for higher paying jobs in order to give me time in my day to focus on other aspects of freelancing like accounting, networking and looking for other jobs.
  • There are a lot of “time stealers” that I keep getting distracted by. When I say time stealers, I mean things like Face Book, Twitter and various household chores that I sometimes find myself doing when I should be working.

The point is, I need to come up with a schedule that works for me and that I can stick to. If I want to meet my goals, I have to become more efficient and productive with my time.

Also, I really want is to be done working at a decent time, so that I can spend my evenings with my husband. Lately I have found myself working late into the night because I wasn’t efficient with my time during the day.

I’m working on developing a plan to help my time management issues and hopefully I’ll have a good plan in place next week.

What are your time stealers? What do you do to manage your time efficiently?

Um, Seriously?

Overall, I really try not to complain. I love that I have the opportunity to pursue my life dream of being a freelance writer. I love that I have friends and family that support my decisions. I love that I can work from home. And I love that I have already gotten a few clients. But…..

This week I have been applying for jobs like crazy, mostly off the typical job boards and lists. Among some of the responses I got, one completely shocked me. Mind you that this job advertised for a “Professional Writer” with a college degree. So you would think, anyway, the ad went on to request a resume, three samples of work, a summary of my work experience and why I think I am qualified for the job. All in all, thanks in part to my new Web site, applying for the job took me about five minutes. But five minutes of my precious time, only to be told that after reviewing my resume and samples, they felt that I was very qualified for the job and they were willing to offer me, wait for it, wait for it…. $1-4 dollars per 500 word article depending on the exact length, plus a whopping $2 for editing other people’s articles. WHAT!?! Seriously people. Do they really think that I went to college, put together a resume, collect perfect samples of my work and take time out of my day to seek out opportunities only to be offered that? What an insult.

Now, I know at this point you are probably thinking “welcome newbie”, but I have heard the horror stories. I know that some places really do offer writers this measly wage; I just haven’t had the pleasure of experiencing it firsthand. So thus ensued my first moment of weakness. As I sat there dejectedly reading the email again, I just felt my self-worth going down the drain. But I didn’t let it keep me down long, soon I was able to brush it off and move on.  However, later that night as I was telling my husband about it, it dawned on me that somewhere out there, someone will really accept that offer. Which truth be told is what is going to drive down the rates for all of us freelance writers. Oh the injustice.

How can companies really think that it is okay to offer someone that amount for their precious time? In my previous full-time job, at least they had the decency to compensate me well for my time. No way in the world would they have thought to offer an employee $1-4 for an hour of work. That is why we have a minimum wage in this country, so people can actually support themselves. And, what so called freelance writer would actually accept that wage for their precious time? I think the minimum wage should apply to freelancers of all fields too. Can’t we all join together, not accept these crap jobs and demand at least a minimum wage for ourselves?

Do you have any horror stories about searching for jobs?

Countdown

It’s time to make some decisions about my timeline. In my full-time job I am an events manager for a non-profit organization. That’s right, I plan “parties” and everyone thinks I have the most fun job. But you know what? Planning events is hard work, long hours and takes a lot of patience, which I am running out of. But, back on topic.

I have a major event coming up in May and another one in August. The May event simply would not happen if I were not there (it is the largest event of the year, budgeted to raise $250,000 in one night!), so there is no way I am leaving before then. Plus wrapping up an event takes a while, so I’m thinking that the earliest I could leave is June. They will just have to replace me in time to plan the August event. As my husband said, there will always be another event coming up. And that is so true. Event planner’s schedules are dictated by the events they plan and in the non-profit sector, there is a constant need for large events to raise funds.

Here is my timeline – I will put in my notice after the May event and set my last day for the middle of June. My finances are looking good, the extra money that I am bringing in with my writing is helping a lot. By June I should have enough saved to provide a nice cushion to last me through the fall. Obviously, I hope that immediately starting out I will be able to make enough money without dipping into my savings, but I am realistic and know that, that will probably not be the case.

The problem is that with such a large event coming up and taking up so much of my time (I’m already working 50+ hours a week on it), it will be very hard for me to apply for and take on more writing jobs before June. As it has been lately, I am keeping up with the writing I have already agreed to, but have not been actively looking for more work, which as any freelance writer knows is half of the job. In leaving my job in June, I will probably not have enough work secured to make ends meet. I will just have to work harder those first few months to get more jobs. If it turns out that by the fall I am still relying on my savings account to get by, I will get a part time job to help supplement my income.

There you have it folks, June it is – let the countdown begin!

Associated Content vs. eHow

notebook-pen2I’ve been thinking a lot about eHow and Associated Content (AC) lately. I am currently a member/source for both respectively. Now, mind you, I don’t have many articles on either site, I have seven on eHow and four at AC with one processing to be exact. So, I haven’t really spent a lot of time with either, preferring to go after higher paying gigs. But, I keep reading about people making a lot of residual income a month on eHow and it has gotten me thinking that I should maybe invest some more time into both of these sites.

First though, I want to compare the two to see if one is better than the other. It is obvious from reading up on both websites that eHow is by far the more popular option. So many more people have tried it and so many people are talking about it. However, in my experience, AC gives writers a little more freedom to write. There is no set guideline for writing articles, they don’t have to be in the “How to” format; which I feel gives me more freedom of topics and much more to work with when writing articles. On the other hand, you can’t just sign up for AC and get articles published. You must write three articles and get them approved before they give you the freedom to publish your articles instantly.

Now here is where it gets a little interesting. AC allows you to decide how you want to publish your articles. You can publish your article as exclusive, which means you pretty much give up all your rights to the article except your byline, you can go with non-exclusive, which means you can re-publish the article other places, but you cannot remove it from AC, or you can choose display only, which means you can take it down whenever you want and publish it elsewhere. Once you have chosen how you want to publish your article, you can also decide if you want to put it up for upfront payment review. This means that your article will be available to be purchased by AC or their partners for a flat fee AND you can still earn performance payments (which is based on the number of page views, the same as eHow).

I have been a member of eHow for over a year and I made a whopping $10 last year. This year, so far I have made $0.40, pitiful, I know, but again I haven’t put forth much effort. On AC, I have made $5.53 since January when I signed up. I know this is not much either, but it is over half of what I made on eHow in an entire year. Yes, it has helped that two of my articles have sold (for a very small amount, I know, but still it’s something), and I am making money on them for page views. Plus, I have fewer articles published on AC than eHow and my performance earnings are almost the same. Of course, we are talking about pennies at this point, but I think I may be onto something here.

The one thing I like about eHow is that it is a community. They give you many opportunities to network with other writers if you choose to take advantage of their groups and seeking out friends (which, to be honest I haven’t done yet). I haven’t seen that AC has this option, but they do give you many tips on how to market your articles, which can be very helpful. Both sites give you a profile on which you can promote your website, blogs and other work. That to me is a tossup right now.

I’m not totally convinced either way, I don’t have a lot of knowledge about either site right now, but I think it is worth my time to read up on both sites to see how to choose better topics and generate more page views. I must say that with the bare minimum knowledge, so far, AC has shown me more potential. I’ll keep you posted as I try to boost my article numbers and marketing opportunities on both sites. What experiences have you had with these sites?