Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Referral is Reality

I had a very productive meeting yesterday with the potential referral I mentioned last week. As it turns out, the client is getting ready to redesign his company's Web site and needs to get it up quickly. Before doing so, he wants me to check out their current site, find out which content should stay or go, be finessed and what's missing. Once the new site is up, he also wants to do some weekly work on SEO, as well as some press releases here and there. Basically, he's ready to hit the ground running.

Since my work for my first client has been ramping up and I've got to finish some revisions to one article and another article I haven't even started yet, it means I should be very busy. I know it's still too early to tell—after all it's only been a little over two months since I started this endeavor—but for the first time it seems really promising. I just need to find some way to keep all the work caught up while pursuing new work at the same time.

Monday, December 29, 2008

No Paid Holidays

Well, clearly I've been on another hiatus from this blog. Last week I did a little work, but as soon as Wednesday hit, any motivation pretty much went out the window. I spent time with my family, trained hard for the mountain bike racing season and read an entire book. My husband did a lot of lounging and playing with his new XBox 360. As I've stated before, I have a much harder time getting motivated to work when my husband is home. If he's vegging on the couch, I feel like that's what I would like to be doing, too.

So, while my husband was taking some necessary days off, I was taking days off with him. This week, again, he'll only be working Monday and Tuesday, so there's more of that to come. One dramatic difference that I only recently thought about is that while he's sitting around doing nothing, he's getting paid. That's one of the advantages I decided to forgo when I left my full-time job. While he has paid holidays (and usually more than everyone else because he has a government job) and paid vacation days, if I don't do anything, I'm not making any money.

I'm going to try to keep that in mind this week and make it a productive one, despite the holiday.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Early Christmas Present

Yesterday morning I was determined to be productive. I got quite a few things done in the morning, but by afternoon, I had lost a lot of my motivation. I had to go out to run a few errands, including buying the last remaining Christmas present on my list and picking up some food for my furry monsters, Gretchen and Maddy. By the time I returned so, miraculously, had my motivation to work.

While I was gone, I checked my BlackBerry obsessively (as I always do) and I received two very important e-mails. The first was in response to my reply to one of the those pesky writing gig ads I always complain I never land. Well, I guess I have to stop complaining, at least for a week or so, because I finally landed one. Merry Christmas to me! It's not high paying, but it is a long-term job that's expected to last six months to a year and it's a steady $200 a week.

The second e-mail was from that referral I mentioned last week. He is very interested in having me do some work for him and he wants to meet with me on Monday.

It was great to get some good news and my motivation to work magically reappeared as quickly as it had evaporated. Hopefully, it will last until Christmas.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Difference

Recently, I talked about the holiday slowdown that seemed to be happening with freelance writing ads. I also mentioned how not a lot of work got done at this time of year while I was working at a full-time office job. We always got the days between Christmas and New Year's off, and inevitably, those last couple of days before Christmas, it was exceedingly difficult to concentrate on getting anything done.

Last Friday, Jodee of Freelance Writing Jobs did a blog post on the subject. She made some good points and started me thinking about my attitude going into this week. Last night, I was thinking I would be lucky to get a few things done this week since I'm already in Christmas mode. I kept hearing myself say "I'll wait until after Christmas to contact that person."

When I was working in an office, it was acceptable to put things off until after the break. No one expected much to get done, and all my work was going to be there waiting for me when I got back. Here's the difference now that I'm freelancing. For the most part, any work that I get has to be something I've initiated. And even though it's Christmas this week, the relatively slow speed with which I am able to obtain freelance writing jobs and clients means I have to plan ahead or when Christmas is over, I won't have much work to do.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Good Idea

As I've mentioned here before, I spend a lot of time on Freelance Writing Jobs. I look at the job postings there on a daily basis, but I also find it a good resource for information. Often the information I get is from other readers, so I always make sure to read the comments section.

Yesterday I posted a comment about how unlucky I've been with getting any gigs from the ads and wondering if I should continue answering them. Others seem to post comments about landing jobs fairly often and I was feeling discouraged. Ann G., a frequent commenter on the site, was encouraging, but also shared a great idea with me.

She said she had actually posted an ad on craigslist for a writer needing work and had some success with it. To me it seems like a no-brainer. It doesn't cost anything and a lot of people look at craigslist. I think it's certainly worth a try.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

My First Referral?

Something happened yesterday that I wasn't expecting. During my regular Wednesday morning meeting with my client, he asked me if I was looking for more work. Umm, yeah. As it turns out, he was talking to one of his business contacts and telling him about the work I was doing for his company. His contact mentioned that he thought it was a good idea and wondered if I could do some projects for his company. Now nothing has been finalized and I haven't even talked to the guy yet, but I'm pleased just for the glimmer of hope. It would be wonderful if I could actually get another long-term client out of this. I think if I could have three clients who gave me steady work along with the stray article here and there, I could make enough for a full-time job. But I shouldn't get ahead of myself.

At any rate, up until this point I've been relying on myself to market my business and overlooking the most obvious source of good PR—a satisfied client.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


It's funny how I'm always coming to different realizations while preparing to write blog posts. It seems like every day at freelancing I'm exposed to some revelation I feel the need to expound about on my blog. The latest has to do with those online ads I'm always scouring and firing off replies to in the hopes of bringing in more work. Periodically, the daily posts will be related to health care or something similar. I noticed yesterday that I seem to gravitate to those particular posts.

Now this isn't really that remarkable since I spent most of my professional writing career writing for a pharmacy association. Except that one of the reasons I left my job to become a freelancer (albeit one of the less urgent ones) was that I was tired of writing about pharmacy all the time and I wanted to write about something different for a change. So that begs the question, why I am still looking for healthcare writing gigs? The answer is probably that I feel confident in my ability to write on those topics and I feel I can demonstrate that to the potential client with my clips.

Opportunities to write about many different topics abound. The insurance industry, technology and education are just a few I see daily. In spite of this, I usually reply only to ads that are very general or ads that are related to health care in some way. The one exception is when I replied to an ad for an online cycling publication, Pedal Pushers, which just yesterday published my first article for their site. I guess that should tell me something.

I'm curious as to how my fellow freelancers choose topics. Do you gravitate to writing for certain industries. How did you choose them or did they choose you?

About Time

I'm finally completing that post from when I was tagged a few days ago by Sarah. It's amazing how much of a cramp having actual work is putting in my ability to blog in a timely fashion. I'm going to complete the first part of the tag, but I can't think of anyone to tag, so I'm going to be pathetic in that respect. I just finished tagging a bunch of people on my bike racing blog and I honestly don't have many readers on this one.

So, my assignment, since I've chosen to accept it, is to grab one of the books closest to me, go to page 56, type the fifth line and the next two to five lines that follow. A couple days ago, when I saw that Sarah had tagged me, I grabbed the closest book and set it aside so it would be ready for this. Here goes:

It was like we were living with a wild stallion—and trying to teach it to sip tea from fine porcelain. Some days I felt like Anne Sullivan to Marley's Hellen Keller. I thought back to Saint Shaun and how quickly I, a mere ten-year-old boy, had been able to teach him all he needed to know to become a great dog. I wondered what I was doing wrong this time.

Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World's Worst Dog
John Grogan

This is a great book, but I wouldn't recommend reading the ending sitting on a plane next to a complete stranger like I did.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Working Smarter

As I mentioned in my post yesterday, I've had a recent growth in the amount of work I have. Though I'm certainly excited to have work to do and the hope of some money with which to pay my bills, it means I have to function more efficiently to meet my goals. And while I've applauded my ability to get work done during the day rather than being lured into the dens of iniquity that are satellite t.v. and the Internet, I've had to examine my time a little more closely. Though I realize I do spend a lot more time working than not working, I also discovered I have a tendency to get distracted and to rearrange my priorities for the day on a whim. If I don't feel like tackling the task at hand, I often put it off and disguise it by doing something else productive.

Even so, I do like having variety in my days. One of the things I enjoy most about working from home is that I can have lunch with friends without being at the mercy of a time clock. I also enjoy being able to complete the occasional household chore and take my dogs to the dog park while there's actually some semblance of daylight. I don't want to ban all these activities from my day because I think that would be defeating the purpose. If anyone has any suggestions, I'd been open to hearing them.

For now, though, my plan is to make a list of things I want to do at the beginning of the day, number them in order of priority and stick to the numbers. I'll also schedule a couple of breaks for myself and make a commitment to containing my non-work-related Web reading to those times. Hopefully, that will allow me to work more efficiently as my workload increases.

P.S. I got tagged by Sarah a couple days ago and later today I'll have a bonus post just for fun.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Holiday Slowdown?

Over the last couple weeks, I noticed that there seemed to be fewer and fewer freelance writing ads (or maybe just fewer ads that interested me). Since it's December, I wondered if it was just a holiday slowdown. When I worked in an office, I remember not as much work getting done around the holidays. The mood was festive and everyone was looking forward to the holiday break. Consequently, everyone just wanted to finish whatever had to get done before the break. No one worried about initiating any new projects or finishing anything that could wait until after the festivities.

However, last week I had what can only be described as an onslaught (in relative terms, of course) of work that did not come from ads. I had an unexpected project come up on Friday that caused me to neglect my blog in order to finish everything. Now I have to spend this week finishing the following things I was hoping to get done last week and over the weekend, including a marketing plan and three articles. Not that I'm complaining.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Small Business Multi-tasking

Since I went out on my own in October, I've attended a few free seminars for small businesses. My reasons for attending were the following:
  • As a freelancer, technically I have a small business and I thought they might be useful.
  • Many small business owners and potential clients would be there for me to meet.

I made a few contacts through these seminars, and I also learned tips that could help me market my business better online. Yesterday, however, when I was working on the marketing plan for my client, I realized there was another advantage to attending those seminars. A lot of the information and handouts I received were not only useful to me in marketing my small business, they also helped me come up with ideas for marketing my client's small business.

I would recommend checking out some of these resources, particularly if they are free. In my community, there's actually a small business librarian who can point you to events, books and other materials that are available for small businesses. Your community may have something similar. If your community has a small business association, it may hold informational seminars. I'm starting to find out there are a lot of things that are worth trying—you never know when they might prove to be worthwhile.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Exciting Possibilities

I had a meeting with my client this morning and we made some good progress. While we were meeting and afterward when I was doing some follow up, I started to realize something. My client has a lot of work for me. Even though I've complained about some of the challenges, in many respects the company is the perfect client for me. Why?
  1. They seem to respect my judgment and feel I have some expertise.
  2. They don't have an internal marketing person, so I get all the work.
  3. They don't ask me to do a lot of editing or rewriting.

The amount of work they have for me is such that it's probably enough for a part-time job, and they have been taking my suggestions for additional marketing very seriously. So, in many ways, it's ideal. I can have the flexibility of working from home on my own time schedule, but still have the security of knowing there's work coming in each week.

I'm going to spend the next few days working on a marketing plan for the company, and after that, I'll have regularly scheduled, recurring projects. I'm pretty excited about the possibilities.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

I Need Deadlines

It seems that almost every online ad for a writing gig contains the requirement of being able to meet deadlines. That's fine with me because I'm used to working with deadlines. In fact, I'm used to working with extremely tight (and often unrealistic) deadlines. I've been known to do whatever I can to meet a deadline, even if it means staying up all night.

What I didn't know until recently is that I actually really need deadlines to work effectively. Case in point is the article I've been working on for a local electronic publication. Those of you who have been reading my blog since the beginning (all two of you) will remember how excited I was about working up the nerve to contact the editor and subsequently being rewarded with an article.

I was excited then and I'm still excited. That's why it's kind of strange that I'm still working on the article nearly four weeks later. And by still working on it, I mean that I haven't touched it since the week before Thanksgiving.

The problem is that the editor gave me a nebulous deadline for the article. She told me they wouldn't be able to publish it until after the first of the year so there was no hurry. I should have set a deadline myself, committed to it and told her when I'd get it to her, but that's not what I did. Consequently, the article is only about 60 percent done. I still have to interview one more person, which is the biggest holdup since I'm apprehensive about interviewing people because I'm still getting used to it. (My first interview went very well, though, so I should have just kept the ball rolling.)

This is dumb for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that I want to be seen as a professional who can finish things in a timely fashion. Additionally, this article is pretty high paying compared to some of my other work and I could really use the money.

So, I'm setting a firm deadline for myself to finish it this week. I'm also going to commit to the practice of setting deadlines for all future projects and announcing them to my clients ahead of time. That should help me to get things done in a timely fashion.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Hard to Hear

Last week, I sent my first article in to an online cycling magazine. After I answered their ad and sent them my clips and a link to my cycling blog, they contacted me and asked me to do a short (two paragraphs) piece as a trial for them. Some freelancers refuse to do trial pieces that are unpaid, but I base my decision on the situation. I was willing to do it for this one since it was so short and they were looking for a vastly different type of writing than what is represented in any of my clips. Besides, I really wanted this gig because cycling is my most significant hobby and I am thrilled to write about something for which I genuinely have a lot of interest. They really liked my sample piece and called me a few days later to talk about my first article.

It gets better. It turns out that they wanted art for the article, too, and they were willing to pay for any photos I had that went with the article. Well, it just so happens that my husband, who has a cushy State job in IT, is an amateur photographer with a decent entry-level SLR camera that takes pretty good pictures. He's also a cyclist and bike racer. Needless to say, we were thrilled to be able to sell some of his photos.

I submitted my first draft of the article early last week. I wasn't overwhelmed with the result—for some reason I was having trouble getting into it and it was hard writing in the style they wanted. I turned in the article because I didn't want it to be late, but I'll admit it wasn't my best work. It wasn't total crap, but I knew I could do better.

Luckily, they gave me some positive feedback, but asked me to add a few more details. I was so glad they did because the second time around I got really into it and I was so much more pleased with the product and they were, too. It went to the editor for final editing and they chose several photos to complement the article.

When I received the edited version, it was prefaced by an explanation from the editor. He indicated that he had edited it a lot more harshly than he normally would, just because he wanted me to get used to the style they wanted. He did tell me that I was still free to propose changes. I got the message on my BlackBerry while I was out and was on pins and needles until I could get home to open the attachment.

The first time I read through the article I started crying. I wasn't that attached to the article, but just the suggestion that I was inferior because of how much he changed was so upsetting. It didn't look anything like what I had submitted. After letting myself calm down for a few minutes, I read through it a second time and I saw something a little different. Most of the wording really was mine—he had just rearranged the order and changed the punctuation to come up with an altered flow.

We got a sneak preview of the article last Friday and I am so excited to be able to post the link on my blogs and on Facebook when it's released to the public. I'm just amazed at how good it looks with all of the photos. It's written in a very conversational, first person style and any of my English teachers would cringe at the way it's punctuated (or not, as the case may be), but I'm still very proud of it. It's amazing how any reservations I had just disappeared when I saw the end result.

I want to post some analysis of my reaction to the edits, but this post is already far too long, so I'll save that for another day.

Thursday, December 4, 2008


I met with my client yesterday to figure out how we could resolve some of the issues we're having, namely that we aren't getting much accomplished. We had an extremely productive meeting and came up with a lot of ideas for how we could start getting more done. The immediate result was that I was able to finish a project yesterday afternoon that I've been sitting on for a while and will be able to send out an invoice for it in the next couple of days. It will be a larger paycheck than any I've received so far. That, in and of itself, is success.

It continues to surprise me how many lessons I am learning each day in my freelance writing adventures. The most significant things I learned from this experience are to speak up when something is not working and to look for innovative ways of dealing with people who have different styles and situations.

When I worked at my day job, I had to constantly pester people for copy. They were always missing deadlines, and though I tried to be nice about it, I felt well within my rights to continually nag them until I got what I needed. When you're a contract worker and your contact is one of the owners of the business, the situation is a little more delicate. I had a problem with getting what I needed from my contact and reminded him periodically when I didn't get something, but I didn't really feel like I could put a lot of pressure on him. After all, he knew the consequences if something didn't get done, and for the most part, the consequences affected him more than they affected me. (Although, if I don't get work done, I don't get paid.)

Earlier this week, I sent him what I thought was a fairly diplomatic e-mail, stating that I didn't think we were getting a lot accomplished and I wanted to discuss how we could work better together. He called me and was very receptive to the idea. He agreed that we were treading water and took responsibility for his part in it. And then we discovered something. Right or wrong, he admitted that if something wasn't on his schedule, he probably wouldn't get to it. Now I'm sure this is not true across the board—I can't imagine he wouldn't answer an e-mail from a client who is bringing in money, but my e-mails and phone calls were falling by the wayside because he didn't have time scheduled to deal with them.

What we came up with was a recurring, weekly virtual meeting. Now I know that each week, that time slot is mine. If I need any feedback or clarification from him on something, I can get it at that meeting. That's not to say that I can't e-mail or call him in the interim if I have a question, but I know I won't have to wait weeks to get a response from him. I'm confident this will remove a lot of the impediments.

The takeaway from this is that I'm going to have to learn to work differently with different people. Ultimately, I think I want the same thing my client wants, we just need to think creatively to make sure it gets done.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Resources Part 1: Books

I found this list of Top Ten Books to Get Your Freelance Writer for Christmas online this morning. I've actually read two of the books on the list already. I downloaded The Well Fed Writer shortly before I began this whole freelance writing adventure, and it gave me hope that I could actually succeed at this endeavor. Several years ago I read another of the books on the list and it remains up there in my top five favorite books of all time, the rest of which are fiction. The book is On Writing by Stephen King. It affected me so profoundly that when I finished reading it I immediately started rereading it. I was also prompted to write a celebrity letter, which is something I have only done one other time in my life, the first being the letter I wrote to Alice Cooper to tell him how disgusting I thought he was when I was nine and a half. If you haven't read it, you should, but don't expect it to be like anything else you've ever read from Stephen King.

The list started me thinking about how important it is in freelance writing to make use of the resources available to you. One of these resources is books. Whether they're the hard copy variety or downloads, they can give you a lot of useful information. It always helps to learn from someone whose been in the same situation. If you can avoid making the same mistakes they've made or capitalize on things they found to be successful, you have a head start. I know I haven't tapped into enough of the information that's out there, but I intend to add a few of these books to my Christmas list and commit to reading more freelance writing resources in the future.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Working from Home is Like Working

After working from home for a month and a half now, I'm continually surprised by how many comments I get from people which imply I'm not working. While it's true I don't have a huge workload right now, the amount of time I spend looking for work is significant. So though I may be writing blog posts, looking at ads for writing gigs or updating my Web site, I still feel like it's work. It's also true that I have a lot more flexibility than when I was working in an office, so if I want to make doctor's appointments or take my dogs to the vet during the day, I do it. Still, I'm not the slacker everyone assumes I am.

Just as an example, I have one friend who constantly calls me during the day to initiate long phone conversations. He's bored at work and wants to talk. I've gotten to the point that I don't answer his calls if I'm in the middle of something because I know the conversation will be lengthy. After I started doing that, he questioned why I wasn't available to talk. From his perspective, I'm at home doing nothing all day, so he couldn't figure out why I wouldn't be free.

I wonder what it would take to gain the respect of friends, acquaintances and the general public and convince them that I'm not just sitting around eating bonbons all day.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Mish Mash

I've been thinking lately about my efforts to obtain freelance writing jobs and I'm wondering if I should be more focused in my search. Up until now, I've been trying to take whatever I can get since my work and income have been scarce. That means I've been soliciting local publications for the chance to write articles, as well as networking in an attempt to get projects from local small businesses and associations. To add to the mix, I've been answering ads online for individual gigs and writing a little for content mills.

One reason for being so diversified, as I've already mentioned, is because I want to get any work I can. A secondary reason is that I like the idea of doing varied projects for different types of clients. If I can write a press release and brochure copy for a local business, write an article for a publication and one for a Web site, it keeps things interesting. I also know, however, that many of the freelance writers I've encountered focus on one genre or the other. Some focus on trying to get published in magazines, while others stick to blogging. What I don't know as of yet is if either of these approaches is better. I would be interested in finding out whether there are many others out there who split their efforts between media like I do or whether most of them are focusing on one genre. I think I'll try to investigate it a little further.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


One of my biggest frustrations with my freelance writing career is, believe it or not, the only business client I've actually landed. I hooked up with my client through a mutual friend and we've had many meetings to discuss how I can help them.

The scenario goes something like this. They don't have anyone on their staff dedicated to doing marketing or communications, so the partners end up trying to do it on their own. Because they're extremely busy with other types of client development, many of these projects have fallen by the wayside. There are all kinds of things they should have been doing that never got done.

But there's another problem. The partners don't really have time to interact with me, either. So, the situation goes something like this. I have a long conversation with one of the partners (at least I'm only dealing with one at this point) about a project they want done. He is extremely gung ho and excited during the conversation. We end the conversation with me agreeing to do some background work and him agreeing to send me some materials I'll need to complete the project. So, I do my part, send the partner a status update and remind him to send me the materials. Several days go by with no response.

A week or so later, maybe more, I get an e-mail from the partner asking me to call him at a certain time. During the phone call, he starts talking about a different project, which he asks me to make my priority. Nothing seems to happen with the original project.

At this point, I've only completed one actual project. I've also submitted two other small pieces which I ended up gathering all the information for since I never got the materials he was supposed to send. I never heard back on either one of the smaller pieces. It's really confusing because whenever we talk about a project, he acts like it needs to be done right away. There are also outside organizations I know he's supposed to be giving some of these materials to, so we're missing their deadlines.

Further complicating the situation is that the partner is the very good friend of one of my friends, so I don't want to alienate him. Additionally, the company worked with someone who did marketing and communications for them before who scammed them and tried to charge them for a bunch of work he didn't do. Needless to say, they're a little gun shy and I'm trying to be sensitive to that.

It's a frustrating situation, but I don't want to give up on them. For one thing, I really need the money and they have paid me some money. The partner also told me I could start billing them on a biweekly basis for the work I had done, so now, even if I don't complete a project, I can still send them an invoice. Marketing myself to them has already been accomplished. I'm already in the door, I just have to figure out how to get these projects finished while working around this unproductive way of doing things. I also really do believe they want and need this work to be done. I suspect the real barrier is just that they're extremely busy in addition to being disorganized. Next week, I think I'll have a conversation with him and try to set up a schedule and plan of attack. Perhaps if we document things in an organized fashion more will be accomplished.

I'm heading North this afternoon to our cabin. That means no electricity or running water, let alone Internet, so I'll be on hiatus until next week. I wish my legions of readers a happy holiday.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Blinking Light

When I was in high school (and even a little beyond) I would sit by the phone waiting for it to ring. I got my own phone line in my bedroom for my 15th (maybe 16th?) birthday. It even had an answering machine so I wouldn't miss anything. Still, I'd lounge on my bed with the phone sitting next to me, just in case my boyfriend (or someone with potential to be my boyfriend) called. I'll admit I did the cliched "picking up the phone to see if it's working" thing. Sometimes I'd even go out to the kitchen and call myself with the house phone, just to ensure nothing was wrong with the line or the number. But that's all behind me. I haven't waited by the phone for a boy to call in at least hmm ... four years.

Now I'm feeling just like that again, though. I have this light on my BlackBerry. It starts blinking whenever I have an e-mail message. So, I sit there at my computer, doing whatever work I have and searching for more and every so often, I steal a look at the BlackBerry, hoping I have a message. Sometimes my eyes play tricks on me and I think it's there when it's not. Often, I find I have a message realize it's from Amazon, Google Alerts, Ticketmaster or the Detroit Red Wings and not what I'm waiting for, which is someone, anyone, who wants to pay me to write something.

I'm sure there are many out there (although most of them aren't reading my blog) who have had the same experience. How do you handle all the waiting?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Good Resource

I just found this (60 Helpful Blog Posts for Freelance Writers and Bloggers) at Freelance Writing Jobs. I haven't been through all the links yet, but I'm definitely going to bookmark it for future reading. Judging by how much I like this site, I'm sure the links will be quite valuable.

Week #4

I can't believe I've been doing this for four entire weeks. It's been a challenging ride already. Even if someone offered me my dream job tomorrow and I gave up this whole freelance writing thing, I still think it will have been worth it. Some of the lessons I've learned have been invaluable and I think they will help me later in life, regardless of what I'm doing. Week #4 was a week full of the those experiences. Here's a quick recap:

  • Attended three networking events—I'm still holding out hope that one of these will turn into something one of these days. Regardless of the outcome in terms of actual work, I met some really interesting people. One of the things I've realized in the past few weeks is that I really need to get out more.
  • Finished and submitted an article to Demand Studios—I need to think long and hard about whether I'm going to continue doing this. It's an extremely tiny sum of money for an amount of work that's not commensurate. If I do continue, I'm going to have to put less time into the articles. I put a bunch of work into the last one and then ended up having the article be too detailed. The editors subsequently ask me to do a rewrite. Way too much work for a $5 paycheck, if you ask me.
  • Replied to a bunch of online ads—I think I heard back from one and I didn't get the gig. Replying to these ads has been somewhat discouraging.
  • Worked on my article for the local online publication (Capital Gains)—This actually ended up being very enjoyable, though I was apprehensive about the interviewing process. I interviewed one local businessman (who was very gracious and probably spent way too much of his precious time with me). After the interview, I sat down with my notes and started writing the article so I could do it with the interview fresh in my mind and it's already half done. I'll probably have to cut some since I need to interview two more people.
  • Sent a second invoice to my one client—I billed him for some ongoing work. Hopefully, some of this money will start trickling in soon.
  • Landed a position with an online cycling publication called Pedal Pushers—I've been working on this one for a few weeks. I answered an ad several weeks ago and I've been communicating with them via e-mail. Last week, they asked me to write two paragraphs about my cyclocross race (with specific instructions for style) and they were very complimentary about the results. On Sunday, I got a call from them and they want me to write my first article! I'll give this one its own post later and talk about it in more detail, but needless to say, I'm really excited because I'll be writing about a subject of great interest to me.

This week's bound to be a slow week due to the impending holiday, but hopefully, I'll be able to get a lot of work done before the break.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Dirty Word

Last week there was a post on a site I visit daily about that dirty word "plagiarism." The focus of this post is employers who threaten would be applicants that their work will be scanned by anti-plagiarism software. I don't know if there's more than one type because I'm new to this, but the one I keep hearing about is called "Copyscape." There was some discussion on the board about whether potential employers telling you this up front was insulting.

I personally found it very offensive the first time I read it in an ad, but after I started to see it in so many places, I figured it was just par for the course. I can see the employers' side of it, because in my communications job I often found plagiarism to be a problem. Coworkers were constantly submitting articles to me for our newsletter or magazine that had content just cut and pasted from somewhere on the Internet. It was pretty easy to spot because I knew the writing style of those sending me the submissions and I could tell when a couple paragraphs here or there didn't fit. However, I lived in fear that one day I would miss something and I would end up publishing work that wasn't ours without permission or any type of a citation. So, I kept sending out warning e-mails until I had most of them trained not to do it, or at least to alert me when they'd copied something so it could be cited or rewritten.

So, I realize that plagiarism is a big deal, and I also realize that it's probably hard to discover if you're reading something written by someone you barely know. I also know you have to pay attention to it, because as an editor or publisher, you could be in big trouble for printing it. That being said, for someone who is a professional writer, being suspected of plagiarism before you even submit something is really insulting.

Imagine my shock the other day when one of the articles I submitted was flagged for plagiarism. At first, I was furious. Since I was always so conscientious of avoiding it, the accusation was extremely hard to take. But after I calmed down a bit, I realized the article was full of documentation requirements and that the names of the those documents were probably all in one place in numerous sites on the Internet.

I went through the process of disputing the allegation and explaining why I thought the article might have been flagged, as well as why I thought it should still be published. Within a day, I received a very polite and apologetic e-mail from one of the editors who explained that it was just a precaution and my article clearly wasn't plagiarized. Apparently, when the software flags an article, it notifies you right away before any actual human has reviewed it.

Clearly, being accused of plagiarism bothers me even more than I thought it did. I guess I'll have to learn to live with it and wait for the process to uncover the truth.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

What's in a Name?

I've been noticing some confusion among people I meet when I explain to them that I'm a freelance writer. Yesterday, someone asked me if I just wrote articles and sent them to magazines hoping they'd publish them. After laughing internally, I politely explained that I was mostly interested in writing communications materials for businesses. I'm not making much money now, but I certainly wouldn't be making any if all I did was sitting around writing articles, hoping someone would publish them and pay me for them.

It made me think a lot about using the term "freelance writer" to describe myself. To me, it makes sense. "Freelance" means I'm working for myself and not tied down to any company. "Writer" describes the activity. However, it does seem that the phrase conjures up pictures of magazine articles in peoples' heads.

Don't get me wrong. It's not that I can't or won't write magazine articles. In fact, I think I already mentioned that I'm working on an article for a local publication right now. It's just that's not the kind of writing I really want to focus on doing. In an ideal world, I'd have a few good business clients who would give me work on a long-term basis. It would be outstanding if they were from different industries so I could have varied experience, and I would enjoy a good mix of projects, both online and print.

But how do I communicate this to people when I only have a limited amount of time to talk? If I give them my card and they visit my site, they can read about all the services I provide, but what if they don't get that far? What if they don't make the connection that I can help them with their business? If I have a chance to explain what I do it helps, but what if I can only introduce myself?

I've toyed with the idea of using the phrase "freelance commercial writer." I've even used it a few times, but that seems to make people think I write commercials. "Business writer" is also an option, but to me that sounds like I want to write about business topics. That's not it, either.

If anyone is reading this blog, anyone at all, I wish they'd give me a few suggestions. For now, though, I'm just really thankful when someone follows up my declaration of being a freelance writer with the question "What kinds of things do you write?"

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Networking Part Four: Getting it Done

I actually thought I was finished with my series on networking. It seemed like I covered all the bases, and with the millions of networking opportunities I've had lately, I should be an expert, right? Wrong.

The truth is, I've gone to a lot of networking events recently. And I have met some people and gained valuable contacts. It's not because I'm great at networking, though. In fact, I've gone to one or two events where I haven't talked to anyone. Last night was a prime example of how paralyzed I get at these events.

My husband and I attended a gathering of a local group for young professionals at a bar downtown. I was counting on a few people I knew being there because I'm just not comfortable walking up to a group of people (or even one person) and starting a conversation. If someone I know is present, I can talk to them and they can introduce me to others. However, if I'm in a room full of people I don't know, I don't really do anything.

I spent almost the entire evening talking to my husband. (Not that talking to him is bad, but I can do that at home, and he isn't going to get me any business.) After about an hour, I finally saw someone I knew and talked to him for about five minutes before he had to leave. He introduced me to one person who left as soon we started talking.

Luckily, my husband saw a guy he went to high school with who came over and talked to us for a while. One of his coworkers (and part owner of the company) joined us, and he might actually have some business to send my way.

If I hadn't met that one guy, would the evening have been a total bust? Probably not, since it was a pleasant atmosphere and my husband and I got to enjoy some time together. However, I also realize I missed an opportunity to meet a lot of people who may be able to help me.

I have two more networking events today. Luckily, I'm going to those with my graphic designer friend, who is determined to introduce me to her contacts. Even so, I know I need to get better at this though it doesn't come easily for me.

To that end, I've been looking for resources to help me get over feeling shy at networking events. So far most of what I've found has been patronizing and even a bit insulting, but I did think this article was pretty good.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

My First Productivity Challenge

I've been working from home for three weeks now, and so far I've been patting myself on the back for remaining so productive. Though I have worked a few personal errands into my schedule, I have been very conscious about not sitting around wasting time. I haven't been watching television or spending a lot of time on the Internet doing things that aren't related to work.

Yesterday, however, I faced one of the biggest challenges in motivation I've had since I began this journey and I failed miserably. Without going into a lot of gory details, let's just say I had a horrible fight with my husband and since I'm a drama queen with a tendency to overreact, I was sure it would mean the demise of my six-month old marriage. There were also a few other things conspiring to make me feel a little depressed.

When I had a regular job, I would have had to suck it up and go on with my day. I would probably have gone into the office scowling, ingested major amounts of caffeine, kept my office door closed all day and slogged through my work. Staying home wouldn't have been an option.

But things are different now. All the things that haven't been much of a temptation since I started working from home suddenly were. I started out okay, writing my blog posts and taking the puppies to the dog park. Then everything collapsed.

I spent the entire day on the couch with the television on, alternately napping, watching t.v. and feeling sorry for myself. I accomplished next to nothing. Then I felt worse for not doing anything.

The lesson I learned is that it's a lot easier to be productive when I'm motivated. When I'm feeling sad or depressed, it's going to be a lot more challenging. I guess it's something I'm just going to have to be aware of and not let myself fall into that trap.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Week #3

Week #3 contained a few successes. In fact, I actually have some work to get started on this morning. Here's a quick recap of my progress last week:
  • I consulted Freelance Writing Jobs every day for jobs and responded to a few. I also spent a lot of time looking at other online job sites, but I don't think I'll spend much time doing that in the future. For the amount of return I get, I'm not sure it's worth the effort. The Freelance Writing Gigs postings are fairly comprehensive and I tend to find a lot of repetition of those on other sites.
  • As I mentioned in my Self-Doubt post, I got approval to write an article for a local online publication. I spent quite a bit of time doing background research on the article and talking to the editor late last week. I have a feeling I'm going to end up putting more hours into this project than I'm compensated for, but I still think it's a good move. The clip will be impressive, and I think the local exposure will be valuable. It's also going to be a challenge because it will involve interviewing people, which is something I'm not really used to doing.
  • I had a call with my client to talk about some upcoming projects and to set up a billing schedule for ongoing work. This is very exciting because it means I will actually have some money coming in soon. For reasons I won't go into now, this very important for dealing with this particular client. I also did some follow up from this call for the ongoing project.
  • I attended three events for networking. The most helpful was a web optimization seminar for local business owners. Not only did I gain some insight into how to get my site noticed, I met a man who is writing a book and is interested in paying me to edit it. (He sent me a follow up e-mail and indicated he thinks it will be ready for me to look at in about 60 days.) I also met a freelance graphic designer who thought she could send me some work from her design clients and vowed to take me to a slew of networking events. (We went to one on Friday.)
  • I finished and submitted my first article to Demand Studios. I'm waiting to hear if it's been approved. I also submitted two more topics for articles. The topics have been approved and I'll need to write the articles in the next couple of days.

It wasn't a bad week. I had a few interesting developments. Of course, I would feel better if I was making money, but I hope I'm laying the groundwork for the future.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Networking Part Three: Facebook

I'll admit it. I'm a Facebook junkie. I was skeptical when a business contact told me I should get a Facebook page earlier this year. In my mind, it was for college kids. At the time, I didn't realize that, in addition to being a lot of fun, it's useful.

In fact, I found out about a lot of the networking events I've attended recently through Facebook. More and more businesses and organizations have pages on Facebook. When you become a fan of a business or join a group, you receive notices of events they're holding. It's also a good way to promote your business. I used it to announce the launch of my new Web site when I had it up and running.

Here's an example to illustrate how useful Facebook has been to me:

Recently, I saw that one of my business contacts was attending a networking event. (For those of you who aren't familiar with Facebook, when you RSVP for an event on the site, it notifies all your contacts of your intention to attend.) I clicked on the link to the event, read about it and visited the Web site of the organization using a link from the event page. I joined the group, which is a networking organization for young local professionals, and registered to attend their next event.

I could give several more examples of how this particular social networking site has been useful to me in my freelance business. Now it's true I could have found out about the event by talking to someone, but these things don't always come up in the course of a conversation. Exploring Facebook by looking through the profiles of contacts and searching for groups and businesses has allowed me glean all types of useful information.

Let me share of a few tips for using Facebook:
  • Be careful what you share on Facebook. Realize that your statements and activities have the potential to be seen by many, many people. If you're using the site even partially for professional purposes, you don't want to appear in an unfavorable light.
  • Explore. Search for individuals, businesses and groups. Look through your contacts' profiles for interesting groups or events.
  • Don't be afraid to make contact. On Facebook, you ask individuals to be your "friend," which allows them access to your information and keeps them updated on your news and vice versa. Before asking someone to be your friend or accepting a friend request, you can view how many mutual friends you have with someone and who they are. That way, you can widen your network to acquaintances and friends of friends.
  • Use Facebook's communication tools. Becoming friends with local business professionals who are little more than acquaintances allows you to send them personal messages. That way, you can contact them directly without having an e-mail address.
  • Beware of Facebook addiction. It happens to the best of us, particularly when you have a Facebook application on your mobile phone.

Facebook may not be for everyone, but I've found it extremely useful. Besides, it meets one of the most important criteria for a freelance writer just starting out—it's free!

Thursday, November 13, 2008


I was originally going to continue my networking series today, but something happened yesterday that I needed to document on my blog some I'm switching gears a bit.

Yesterday afternoon, I was feeling quite discouraged about the progress I've been making with freelancing. I didn't expect to have an enormous amount of business at this point, but I expected to have some. I've been spending most of my time responding to ads for freelance gigs, networking and e-mailing business professionals in my community in an attempt to drum up some work. So far, I still only have the single client I had when I started.

What was really getting me down yesterday was the search for online gigs. There are a number of sites I check daily for opportunities, and I usually end up responding to at least a few for which I seem to be qualified. I never get any responses from these, but that's not exactly what bothered me. It's just that, periodically, individuals will leave comments on one particular job board to indicate that they've landed a project from one of the postings. When I could tell myself that no one was getting these jobs it didn't seem as bad, but when I had proof that people just like me who were reading the same job postings on the same board were getting them it was very discouraging.

Now it's not that I don't want these individuals to get work. It seems like there's more than enough work to go around, so I'd like to see others succeed. It's just that when I see other people landing work I've been unsuccessful with landing, the inevitable self-doubt starts to emerge. I start to wonder what's wrong with me.

I learned a valuable lesson yesterday about why I need to squash that self-doubt. A few weeks ago when I was at a local business expo, I collected numerous business cards from people and I later followed up with those contacts. One of the individuals I didn't contact is the editor at a local publication. For numerous reasons I can't explain, I didn't think it was worth pursuing, even though I receive the publication and it is very impressive. The bottom line, I think, is that I thought the publication was out of my league.

While I was still reeling from self-doubt yesterday, I began to feel desperate. I finally threw caution to the wind and decided to e-mail her. Of course, with the way my day was going, as soon as I sent the e-mail, I found a typo in it that I thought I'd corrected. I assumed that was the nail in the coffin, but I was wrong.

Two hours later, she sent me an e-mail with an idea for an article. They're going to give me a shot and pay me to write the article. It will mean a little bit of money in the bank, a good clip and some heavy exposure in my community. Now all I have to do is submit a great article.

I'm starting to realize that self-doubt could be my downfall in this endeavor. I can't let that happen.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Networking Part Two: Schmoozing

In addition to reaching out to all the people I already know, I'm also trying to meet new people. You just never know who might send some business your way or pass your contact information on to someone they know.

Schmoozing people isn't something I've really ever been comfortable with, but I'm starting to develop my technique out of necessity. I've found you really can do it without being obnoxious. It's natural to hand someone my card, tell them what I do, ask them for a card and request that they keep me in mind if they are ever in need of my services. Sending a follow up e-mail the next day or in a couple days is also a good thing to do, but I stay away from making any demands or asking them point blank to do anything for me.

One thing I try to steer clear of while networking is seeming self-absorbed. This is difficult for me because I tend to obsess about my own problems and situation, but being on the receiving end of this is not a lot of fun. Meeting someone at an event and talking about myself and my business for 15 minutes straight without even asking about them or seeming interested in what they have to say is not going to win me any friends. This may seem obvious, but you'd be surprised at how many people think it's okay.

Another thing I like to try to keep in mind is that everyone else is probably attending the event for the same reason I am. They're all trying to make contact in one way or another. I also don't discount anyone, even if it doesn't seem that they can help my business in any way. I am, after all, a social animal underneath, and basic human contact still fulfills a need. (Even if it doesn't get me any business, I could make a friend.)

The next question is where. I would recommend attending anything where you may have a chance to talk to other business people. I personally try to stick with gatherings that don't have much or any expense associated with them since I'm not bringing in much money right now. Here are some examples of some networking opportunities I have had in the last few weeks:
  • Local business showcase—Businesses set up booths in the local convention center for an all day event. There was also a reception at the end of the day. The cost to get in was $5, but you could print a free pass from the organizer's Web site.
  • After work event for local creative group—I was already a member of our local group of creative professionals before I left my job, and this event was free to members. It was an informal gathering at a downtown bar and a good chance to meet people.
  • Creative reception at the local university—This event was free to members of the creative community. The purpose of it was to give students in creative fields the opportunity to network with those in local creative businesses, but there was also quite a bit of interaction between professionals.
  • Web optimization seminar for business owners—This event was put on for free by a web optimization company. It included some helpful tips for getting my site noticed, but also gave me a chance to interact with business owners before and after the seminar.
  • PR presentation—Our area has an every other month presentation put on by the local small business association. The presentation is free and conducted by an area expert on a different topic. Attendees are usually PR and communications professionals.

Attending these events has been much easier since I'm not working all day. It's given me a good opportunity to meet people and absorb some good information at the same time. It's also been pretty easy on my finances.

These things are out there if you look, and most areas probably have similar groups and events. Networking Part Three will cover one of the tools I have used to find these happenings.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Networking Part One: It's Who You Know

Even though I'm only in the third official week of my freelancing career, I've already learned some important lessons. One of the most important is that there are many, many people out there competing with me for the same jobs. This means I need something to differentiate myself from others. As I've already mentioned, promoting myself doesn't come naturally for me, but it's essential to survival in the freelance world. And though I've spent a lot of time looking for projects on the Internet, I'm also trying to focus on the business community in my area.

My greatest asset in marketing myself to local businesses is undoubtedly the people I know. Granted, I only have one client so far, but that client came to me because a mutual friend was having a conversation with the client about his needs and thought about me.

I didn't think I knew a lot of people, but when I started looking more closely, I realized I knew many more people than I thought I did. As I began my freelance writing career, I started reaching out to those people more and more. No one is off limits. I'm slowly working through a big list of people I have worked with, worked for, used as vendors, etc. Here are some examples:
  • I gave a stack of my cards to the salesperson for a printing company I worked with a lot in the past. When he's out on sales calls or visiting clients, he can pass my name along to anyone who expresses interest in having copy written for brochures, newsletters or other publications they're going to be printing.
  • I gave my Web address and other contact information to a guy I know who recently started his own Web consulting company. His clients occasionally have trouble writing copy for their sites and he told me he never had anyone to refer them to for that service. Now he does!
  • I sent my Web address and other information to a former coworker who deals with a lot of area businesses. He's constantly meeting with business owners as a function of his work, so he can pass that information along pretty easily.

As I said, I'm working through a list of people I know from all aspects of my life, even friends and family. I recently plugged my services to a friend I met through mountain biking, which is one of my hobbies. For a long time, I saw her at races and events sponsored by our local mountain biking group without even realizing she's a significant player in the public relations/strategic planning/corporate communications world here in town.

My secret when asking friends, family and colleagues for their assistance is to be very low key about it. I just pass information along to them, either in person or by e-mail, with the request that they keep me in mind if they need any communications work done or encounter someone who does. I try not to be pushy about it, and I don't ask them to actively promote me, just to keep their eyes and ears open for the need and keep my contact information handy. I haven't seen a lot of results yet, but I'm convinced that one of these days it will pay off.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Freelancing for Free

I read an interesting article this morning on the New York Times blog about how to decide whether to do any freelance work free of charge. (Read it here.) This is something I've been struggling with quite a bit since I started trying to build my freelance business. In my mind, there are two main reasons for doing any writing for free.

  • Exposure—It's hard to get a business going if no one knows your name. Advertising can be expensive and ineffective. You could spend a lot of money on advertising in different mediums and not get a lot of bang for your buck. This can be particularly taxing to a budget without much working capital. However, many publishers, particularly if they're getting a free article, will let you include (in addition to a byline) your contact information. It may be small, but is, in effect, free advertising.
  • Clips—It's important to have a portfolio, virtual or actual, to show prospective clients. Companies are not going to want to hire you based solely on your word that you're a competent writer. If you're just starting out and don't have many (or any) published pieces, this can be difficult. Writing articles with no compensation other than a couple of copies of the published piece may not add to your checking account, but it can provide valuable samples with which to demonstrate your ability.

These are both important reasons for doing writing without compensation. However, there can be some disadvantages (other than the obvious) to taking these jobs that are critical to consider.


  • Your time is valuable—When you write for free, you are spending time you could be using to drum up more business or working on items that are billable. Of course, if you're just starting out and don't have any clients, nothing is billable.
  • Free work is not worth as much—There are some people who will think your work isn't that good if you're willing to give it away for free. That particular company or publication may be happy to have it, but if word gets around, others may think your writing's sub par.
  • Things could snowball—If people find out you're willing to write at no charge, they may all want you to do it for free. If you do have one or more existing clients, they may be very unhappy to find out you're making them pay for what you're giving away to someone else.

The bottom line is that writing for free is an individual decision that may or may not make sense, based on your specific situation. In my case, I worked in association communications for so many years and I have tons of published clips. However, since I spent so much time at the same association, they're mostly all focused on the same industry. Though I have many clips, my clips lack variety. Now I know I can write competently about all types of topics, but without other samples it's difficult for me to demonstrate this.

Additionally, though I'm certainly looking at business both online and far afield, I'm concentrating my efforts on local companies and associations. That means a few articles in local publications could do a lot to help get the word out that I'm available.

The decision I've come to is this. I've offered to write some articles for a few local publications where I may have contacts in exchange for some varied clips, a byline and the chance to publish my contact information and/or Web address.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Week #2

I have week #2 under my belt and I'm still surviving. I had a number of firsts this week. Here's a rundown of what I accomplished.
  • I finished my first project for my first client.
  • I developed an invoice form and invoiced for my first project.
  • I did some preliminary work on a second project for my first client, but now I'm at a standstill until I get more information from them.
  • I followed up on three contacts I made at the expo I attended last week. So far, I've received one response of the "not now, but maybe later" variety.
  • I met with Aquent on Wednesday, had a long interview and passed a proofreading test. I need to follow up with some additional information and then, hopefully, I can get sent on a few short-term projects.
  • I looked at tons of postings online for freelance jobs. I found four that seemed interesting/appropriate/feasible and submitted materials. So far, I haven't heard anything from any of them. There was one in particular I thought I would be very well suited for—it was a freelance copy editor position for an association in California. One of the problems with some of these online positions is that there are just so many people applying for them, it's easy to get lost in the shuffle. (I'll write more about the whole online job process in a later post.)
  • I applied for and was accepted by an online web content service called Demand Studios. I'm not too sure about this one yet. I'll elaborate on it as I find out more.
  • I set up a Pay Pal account so I can get paid for online jobs.

This afternoon, I'll be attending a couple of networking events. Still, not a bad week. At least I finally had something billable.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Flexibility = Productivity?

When I was working full-time for a professional association, my day went something like this:
  • Arrive at work at approximately 7:30 a.m. (official work hours began at 8:30 a.m.)
  • Work through the morning
  • Take a 10-minute break around 10 a.m. (This 10-minute policy was strictly enforced and employees were expected to punch in and out. Employees were counted as tardy if punching back in after more than 11 minutes.)
  • Go to lunch sometime between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., return from lunch by 2 p.m. (Same punching in and out and tardy policy was enforced. We weren't allowed to eat or take our lunch break at our desk, so we had to either leave or just work straight through without eating.)
  • Take a 10-minute break around 3 p.m. (Same as morning break)
  • Leave the office between 4:30 and 5 p.m. (official work hours ended at 4:30 p.m.)
  • Often take work home and/or put in time on weekends (For weekend work and work at home, employees did not punch in and out)

This was the way my schedule, as well as that of many other employees, worked. Some arrived even earlier and stayed even later. Now, let's examine this a little. First of all, is that fact that, even though I was salaried, I had to punch in and out. To me, this makes no sense at all, but it was a rule instituted out of "fairness" to hourly employees. However, since my focus is on flexibility of hours here, that's all I'll say on that matter.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should admit that during the months of May - September, we worked slightly more hours on Monday - Thursday and left the office at noon on Fridays. During the winter months, the above was my schedule.

Here's the effect this schedule had on me. During normal business hours, I had a lot of interruptions. This certainly decreased my productivity. During times outside normal business hours, I tended to be a lot more productive, but I resented the amount of time I worked for which I was not compensated. The job was a 35-hour a week job, but never seemed to fit into 35 hours. We were not "required" to work overtime, but the workload necessitated it. Since I was working during daylight hours and on weekends, it left little time for me to participate in the outdoor activities I enjoy so much and I became more and more disgruntled.

Since I've started freelancing, I've found that most days my schedule goes something like this:

  • Wake up around 6 a.m. and start updating both my blogs (I consider this to be part of the workday, because it is writing and gets my words and name out there.)
  • Take my husband to work between 6:45 and 7:30 a.m. (Don't ask)
  • Work on writing projects or marketing myself to get projects between 7:30 and 10 a.m.
  • Take my dogs to the dog park until about 11:30 a.m.
  • Eat lunch (read while eating, catch up on blogs, etc.)
  • Work on writing projects or marketing myself to get projects until 2:30 p.m. or so
  • Training ride on my bike until 4 p.m.
  • Work on projects or marketing until about 5:15 p.m.
  • Go pick up my husband from work
  • Eat dinner
  • Work on projects for an hour to two hours in the evening

This ends up being about 7.5 or 8.5 hours of work a day, although the schedule varies a little if I have appointments or other things come up. The key is that the time is flexible—it can be changed or rearranged if necessary. At the end of the day, I still have a few hours left to spend with my husband, I don't resent the time I spend working in the evening, I'm more productive during the hours I am working, and I'm healthier and happier because I get to train and exercise my puppies during daylight hours.

Now I'll admit this lifestyle isn't for everyone. Traditional business hours work just fine for some people, and some jobs clearly necessitate these hours.

I did a quick Google search this morning and wasn't able to find any statistics showing that employees with flexible work schedules are more productive, but I did find a lot of anecdotal evidence. Although I'm just starting out, it certainly seems to be true in my case.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Master of My Domain

When I was trying to get things in place to start my freelance writing adventures, I thought it would be a great idea to have a spot on the Internet to store writing samples. That way, I wouldn't have to send a bunch of attachments via e-mail. I could just send interested individuals a link, and they could peruse my writing samples and resume at their leisure. I also thought I might get a little web traffic.

Since I'm trying to keep expenses low, I set my site up as a subdomain for an existing domain my husband and I use. We made the URL
http://writing.chris-andrea.com. Everything was live and it didn't cost us a penny that we weren't already paying. I had the URL printed on my business cards and began distributing them to people.

Then I started getting a comment here and there. People wondered who Chris was and what he had to do with my business. I got the oh-so-subtle vibe from people that I was someone without a "real" business, just using someone else's domain. This was particularly true when I attended a business expo in town last week and handed my business card out in mass quantities.

No one came right out and said it, but I started to think my efforts to be frugal could affect my ability to get new business. After all, a domain can be purchased for as little as $9.95 a year. Was it really worth it not to get my own? It would mean the added expense of reprinting my business cards, but they weren't that expensive to begin with and it would be a lesson for me. I would also need to either migrate my content to another site or point the new domain at my old one, which isn't complicated.

It's true that I don't have much money now. I decided to be a freelancer after I quit my communications job. That left me with the month's notice I gave to drum up business and save my pennies. The result is that I have to spend the money I have left extremely carefully. This will become a recurring theme for me as I try to decide which expenses are justified to build my business. However, I think this expense is justified, so I purchased the domain
http://www.andreadavisfreelancewriter.com. I shouldn't have to explain that one to anyone.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

I Like to Work!

I finished my first official project as a freelancer yesterday. It was a 500-word marketing article for an association magazine. I was a little nervous before I started it, though I'm not sure why. It's not like I haven't been doing this writing thing for a while. I guess it's just that, if you're on staff for someone and you write something they don't like, they just ask you to redo it. It doesn't usually make them want to fire you unless you do it repeatedly.

Since my client had only seen my sample work, I felt like I was working on approval. I was also writing about an industry that was fairly new to me.

I would have to say it went very well, though. Once I started writing the article, I was really getting into it. After being miserable at my job for the last two years, I finally remembered what it was like to enjoy work.

No job is perfect, of course, but if I can get this freelance business to take off, I think it would make me quite happy. There will still be issues that come up that are unique to freelancing, but it's so nice to be able to get my work done without having to worry about things other than the actual work at hand. (If I want to eat at my desk, I can eat at my desk, and I don't have to be afraid I'll get in trouble for coming in with wet hair or get sent home for a wrinkled shirt. Seriously.)

I ended up getting through the article fairly quickly, working efficiently. I sent the draft article to my client and he reviewed it and suggested a couple of easy additions. After sending an e-mail to the association that would be printing it for clarification on a few things and receiving a reply, I did one more easy round of editing. The client approved the article and I sent it to my contact at the association. The project was finished!

I felt so good about the project that I wanted to start another one immediately, but unfortunately, that will be delayed until my client can get me a little more information. Until then, I'll be pounding the virtual pavement for more work and figuring out how to make an invoice so I can bill my client for my first job.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Interesting Dilemma

As I begin my journey as a freelancer, I'm sure there will be many situations I'll encounter that I wasn't expecting. One of these occurred in my first official week of freelancing.

On Friday, I had a meeting with my sole client and representatives from another organization that has agreed to market my client's services to their members by making them a preferred vendor. The meeting was to determine what type of marketing materials I needed to create to provide the information to their members.

Since I had never met either of the representatives before, they gave me their business cards when we began the meeting. I had printed business cards specifically with my freelance contact information on them, so I gave each of them one.

The meeting progressed, and I didn't think anything else about it. However, when my client and I spoke after the meeting, he told me he'd like to get an e-mail address set up for me on their server so I could give that e-mail out and people would know I'm their PR/communications representative.

He has mentioned getting me an e-mail address in his company's system before, so I'm not sure how much it was a reaction to me handing out my business card. He was very nice about it, though, and certainly didn't say "don't hand out your personal business card" or anything like that. I also have to admit that it did cross my mind that I was ever so subtly marketing myself when I handed out my card.

I wasn't really disturbed that my client wanted me to have an e-mail address with his company's name, and if he has a real problem with me handing out my business card at our meetings, I will refrain from doing so. It just reinforced the idea to me that I don't know what the etiquette is in this situation yet. Clearly, I wouldn't spend a lot of a client's time trying to market my services to other clients, but I'm not sure what to do in a gray area like this.

I'm going to do some research in this area and see what I can find. What about you, have you encountered this situation before? What did you do about it?

Friday, October 31, 2008

Week #1

I have week #1 in my career as a freelance writer under my belt, and I've already learned a multitude of things. It may be far too early to make this determination, but I really think I'm going to be able to make it work. Everything I've read about making freelance writing a business seems to indicate that you spend at least as much time looking for work as you do completing it. Particularly in the beginning, I think that's going to turn out to be valid.

Since it's my first week, everything I've done has been related to seeking out work. The following are highlights of measures I took to try to obtain work:
  • I did a lot of searching on the Internet for places that advertise freelance writing jobs. Somewhat surprisingly, craigslist is actually a good source for postings. Additionally, there are many freelance writing sites that, besides giving general information and advice, periodically compile relevant job postings from different sources. One particular site I like is Freelance Writing Jobs.
  • I revised my resume slightly and developed a couple of freelance-specific cover letters.
  • I applied for a few freelance jobs I saw posted.
  • I spoke with someone at Aquent, a nationwide talent/staffing agency for creative professionals, to try to obtain some short-term or contract work. I set up a meeting with them for next Wednesday.
  • I spent all day on Thursday at a Lansing business expo, handing out business cards and making contacts. I got some good contact information, which I plan to follow up on early next week. I also attended a seminar about how to get my Web site noticed more by Google.
  • I had a meeting with my first client this morning. I'll be starting work on my first project, a one-page marketing article for an association publication, this weekend.
All in all, it's been a good week.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

A New Beginning

Recently, I left my job of eight years to follow a different direction. My full-time communications position at a professional association had its advantages, not the least of which was security. It was a steady paycheck and was leaps and bounds ahead of the jobs I had when I first graduated from college. I was using my skills, but something, namely professional fulfillment, was definitely missing.

Originally, I looked for a replacement full-time position. When I decided to quit my job, I opted to pursue freelance jobs to make some money while I looked for another position. Then I came to a realization—I wanted freelance writing to be my new position, rather than just an interim measure.

Things in my personal life, namely a recent marriage, made the prospect of self-employment feasible. The stars aligned and the timing was right, so I jumped in with both feet.

The opportunity to start my own freelance writing business is both exciting and daunting. While I embrace the concepts of working for myself, picking my projects carefully and being able to do different types of writing, I realize there are drawbacks. The writing is the easy part. I've been doing that since I learned to read and have always had an aptitude in that area. Self-promotion is the challenge. I've never wanted to be a salesperson, but I understand that this business will require me to sell myself.

I finished at my job two weeks ago, and after a week's vacation, I began my freelance writing business in earnest earlier this week. I'll be figuring this out as I go along, tapping into resources I find along the way, capitalizing on contacts I've made during my professional career and trying to spread the word. I hope you'll join me for the ride as I begin my freelance writing adventures.