Private Clients vs. Content Sites

I’ve wanted to weigh in on this topic for some time, but haven’t gotten around to it. I’m also a little hesitant because I know there are huge debates raging out in the Internet land about this very topic and I really don’t want to get involved in the battle.

Let me first say very clearly that I have ABSOLUTELY NOTHING AGAINST content sites. In fact, when I first started freelance writing most of my income came from a well known content site. Having been on both sides of the debate allow me to share my opinion.

Content Sites

I’ve worked for several including Demand Studios (DS) and have to say that there are many benefits to content site work plus, if I ever need to I will do more work for them. It’s nice to simply have them around to fall back on. Here are my pros and cons with content sites:

Pros

  • Plenty of work – for most sites, there is always work. At DS they have thousands of titles available every day.
  • Fast Pay – content sites offer weekly or bi-weekly pay. DS even pays their writers twice a week. This meant that my PayPal account always had money in it.
  • Quick Work – articles for content sites typically range in length from 400-600 words. This generally means the articles are fast and easy to write.
  • Little Commitment – for most content sites there is no commitment required. I haven’t written for DS in a few months, but I could sign onto my account today and churn out several articles without being penalized for not writing in a while. Additionally, once an article is written for a content site you can forget about it and move on. No thinking about work when you’re not working.

Cons

  • Low Pay – To me the pay rate at content sites always seemed low. This isn’t to say that you can’t make a living off of them – I did for several months when I had nothing else, but I worked long hours and made less than half of what I make now.
  • Picked Over Titles – If you like to write about popular topics like weddings or pets your choices in titles are limited to non-existent. Sometimes I found the only titles left didn’t even make sense.
  • Inconsistent Editing – All the content sites that I worked for employed many editors. The problem was, what one editor found acceptable, another didn’t. I was constantly getting contradicting feedback from editors. At times it got very frustrating.
  • No Personal Connection – DS has a forum and that’s great, but for a content site that only pays me $15 per article I don’t want to have to go hang out in the forum for a personal connection. There is no “good job” or exchanging ideas to improve projects that you get with private clients.

Private Clients

For the past few months I have made my living solely from private clients and I have seen a huge improvement in everything associated with my career from my income, to my time, to even my mood. I love my private clients and feel very fortunate to have found all of them. There are a lot of benefits to private client work and very few cons. Here are mine:

Pros

  • Personal Connection – With private clients, I have immediate access to the client, the company and the editor. If I have a question I can fire off an email directly to the client, not visit a forum. Plus there is a lot of feedback and even some “good jobs” sprinkled in. And editing is done the same way, by the same person and guidelines every time!
  • Higher Pay – The pay with private clients is most definitely higher. As I transitioned from content site work to all private client work I saw my monthly income rise while I worked the same or even fewer hours.
  • Better Quality Work – I do my best work for my private clients for several reasons. First they pay me more so they expect (and rightfully so) to have perfect work turned it. Also due to the personal connection I feel more accountable for my work. Finally the work I do for my private clients is work that I intend to use as clips (with their permission of course). Clips from private clients hold a lot more weight and get me much more work than clips from content sites.
  • In Depth Projects – Rather than writing a short 400-600 word article my private client work tends to be more in-depth and more researched work – the type of work I can get involved in and really care about versus an article I write and then promptly forget about. Even when I write 400 word articles for clients they still require more thought, creativity and research that really gets my brain working.

Cons

  • Juggling Clients – When it rains, it pours. In other words, when one client needs me for a big project, it seems like they all do. Not that I’m complaining, its good to get needed! But sometimes my schedule gets tight and some days I juggle several projects and deadlines because of the commitments I have made to my private clients.
  • Accounting – I actually have to create the invoice, keep track of my hours/projects and bill my clients. Then I have to wait for payment. I’ve been lucky so far and all of my clients have paid me consistently and on time, but the whole process tends to be a bit slower than with content sites.

Overall, the benefits of working for private clients far surpass working for content sites. I would gladly take on more private clients than more content site work and I feel so lucky that I have had a full schedule for the past few months that has kept me away from the content sites. Fingers crossed – hopefully it will stay that way.

What about you – who do you prefer to work for?

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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!

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!

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?

Got Karma?

Karma as defined by Dictionary.com means an action, seen as bringing upon oneself inevitable results, either good or bad.

I’ve been thinking a lot about karma lately. It all started over Thanksgiving weekend. We were visiting my in-laws and someone in the family had just won money off of a scratch off lottery ticket – not millions or anything like that, but a couple hundred. Everyone was making fun of him because after he won, he proceeded to tip very, very generously at the bar. In response to everyone making fun of him, he shrugged and said winning is all about good karma.

Along the same lines, my in-laws are
avid gamblers. They regularly visit casinos and they nearly as often win, which they then proceed to share their winnings generously with family. Quite often my husband and I will get a random check in the mail because they wanted to share their latest winnings with us. This has lead me to put a lot of thought into how some people seem to be so lucky, they just have that “good karma” thing going on. I want good karma.

Even my husband is fairly lucky. Unfortunately, not in the lottery sense, but he always manages to get promoted while others are being let go and things always seem to go his way when he needs them to. I’ve studied my husband for long enough to realize that good things happen to him because he is a good person. He never has anything bad to say about anyone, he is always willing to help someone in need and in general he is very accepting and kind to everyone. He gets this from his family. The reason for their luck comes down to the fact that they are just such good and nice people. When they are in a bind, people really are willing to help them out, when they want to play the lottery, the universe smiles on them because it knows that half of it will end up in the pockets of someone who needs it more.

I’ve been trying to apply good karma to my writing life. I volunteer on committees. I offer to help friends and family with things like their resumes free of charge. I go the extra mile for all of my clients. I try to offer what advice I have to give to help other writers. And, I have to say that getting clients, getting referrals and keeping clients has come way easier to me than I ever thought it would. Could this be karma? I don’t know, maybe I do have good karma after all. What is your experience with karma and the powers that be?

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?