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.