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 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 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?