Friday, January 23, 2009

I Think I Can

Last week, my new client sent me an e-mail about a project he wanted me to start. After being nominated for one of those "favorite local _____" awards, he was convinced by the sponsoring magazine to purchase ad space in the publication. He had a quarter page ad to submit to them within a week's time. He sent some of the details he wanted included in the ad.

At first I thought he just wanted me to write copy for the ad. I had to have a conversation with about how small a quarter page ad was and how much copy would realistically fit in it. We also talked about how much copy people will reasonably read in an advertisement.

At some point I realized he actually wanted me to design the ad. My first response was "I am not a graphic designer." I told him I could write some copy and slap it in a text box with his logo, but it wouldn't look outstanding. After I found out the ad would be 4-color, I immediately knew it needed more graphics.

I know several graphic designers, but I knew it wasn't something I could drop in someone's lap with less than a week's time to work on it. My only option was to try to do it myself. Once I felt I had responsibly informed him that I would do my best with it, but it would not look professionally designed, I started the ad.

Though my first instinct was to refuse the project, I ended up with a decent product. As it turns out, even though I didn't have experience in this area, I had worked with enough designers on projects to know what looked good and what to put where. The biggest challenge was working with software with which I didn't have much experience.

He loved the ad and we got it to the magazine publisher prior to the deadline. Now there are a couple caveats to this story. I was lucky that my husband's computer actually had the design software I needed to complete the project and that he knew how to use it so he was able to give me some basic instruction. The lesson I learned here is that I actually know more than I think I do and I can accomplish what may have seemed impossible before.

That doesn't mean I aspire to becoming a graphic designer, but as my projects start to lean more toward the marketing end of the spectrum, it's a good idea to develop skills that complement the writing skills I have and make me more marketable.

Monday, January 19, 2009


I'm back. I know I've been seriously neglecting this blog lately. I can't figure out whether few people are reading it because I'm not updating it much or I'm just using few people reading it as an excuse for not keeping it updated.

I have been keeping busy between my two big clients and working on a few other projects here and there. I'm still struggling with time management. The more I examine how I'm spending my time, the more convinced I become that though I'm busier, I certainly have time to fit blog posts into my schedule. It's amazing how much easier it was when I didn't have any billable work to do. In the beginning, blogging was the closest thing to work I actually had.

Part of the problem, I know, is not being able to think of anything to write. When it seems like you've covered all the obvious topics it's difficult to think of others. I guess I'll start by carving out a few minutes today to brainstorm about topics. Maybe if I think of them a few days ahead of time it'll be easier to get the posts written.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A Tale of Two Blogs

Something I've never mentioned here is that I look at Google Analytics almost every day to find out how much traffic my blogs had the previous day. I've been doing this almost the entire time I've had my first blog, The Accidental Athlete. When I created this blog, I looked at the stats for it from the beginning. I won't go into all the reasons I do this—they're not relevant to the point of this post. What I will say is that there's been a trend with Freelance Writing Adventures lately. The traffic to the site is down 9.54%. I'm going to talk about this today, even though I'm breaking one of the cardinal rules of blogging, which is "don't blog about blogging."

The decline in traffic bothers me a little, not because I'm so vain that I want everyone to read my blog, but because one of the things I'm trying with my clients is increase traffic to their Web sites. I want to learn from my personal failings so I can help my clients succeed. So I've been analyzing the situation, trying to figure out where this blog is deficient. To do this, I've attempted to compare it with my other blog, which incidentally has an 18.82% increase in traffic. Here are the similarities:
  1. They're both written by me and, therefore, have essentially the same caliber of writing.
  2. They're both updated with the same approximate frequency. Since the end of November, my blogging hasn't been as regular as I had intended. However, that's been true with both blogs. For example, I got so busy I didn't update this blog yesterday, but I didn't update The Accidental Athlete either. There is an occasional weekend post on the Accidental Athlete, but that's the exception rather than the rule.

The differences:

  1. The subject matter is obviously different. Here I write about my trials and tribulations as a freelance writer. I attempt to give advice stemming from the things I have learned in my relatively short stint in the profession. My other blog is about mountain bike and cyclocross racing and training. It's peppered with occasional bits about my struggle to lose weight/get healthy and random bike-related things.
  2. There is no photography in this blog, whereas there used to be some in my other blog. Since my point-and-shoot camera died in November, I have been reluctant to lug with husband's digital SLR around, so there's been a dearth of pictures.
  3. The Accidental Athlete tends to be more emotional in nature. I think I express more frustration, elation and other emotions because riding and racing are something I'm passionate about, but also something that completely disappoints me sometimes. Although I very much love what I do for a living, I'm not sure that comes through in this blog since I don't think I'm totally committed to the freelance way of doing things. And although I seldom question quitting the day job that was making me miserable (which was the catalyst for beginning a freelance career), I sometimes question whether it's the right thing for me.
In the end, I'm not sure I came to any conclusions from my analysis. I think it may just be that this blog is boring. Of course, I realize I'm now opening myself up to my four readers to do a critique of this blog, but I guess that's part of the point of beginning this discourse. So fire away.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Too Busy to Look for Work

Lately I've been neglecting freelance writing ads. In fact, as a result of meetings, networking and a steady stream of projects, I haven't spent much time on any freelance writing sites. I've been doing a lackluster job of keeping my blog updated.

If anyone had told me in those first few weeks after I quit my job that I'd have trouble finding any time to spend looking at freelance writing ads and keep my blog updated, I wouldn't have believed it. It's become reality, though. The problem is, even though I'm somewhat happy with the amount of work I have currently, I realize that it's not going to last forever. I have to find a way to cultivate future work.

Additionally, I'm spending a lot of time training for one of my hobbies, mountain bike racing, working on a business development with my husband and helping out some organizations in a volunteer capacity.

Something tells me I'm not really as busy as I think I am, that I'm just not doing very well with time management. I'm going to make an effort in the next week to add more structure to my days, set aside blocks of time to work on certain projects and see if it helps me to work more efficiently.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Been to the Library Lately?

I used to frequent the public library, but in the past couple of years I've done more buying and borrowing of books, so I've been somewhat neglectful of my local library. This week I went to a small business owners panel held at the library and I discovered that I was underutilizing a valuable resource.

Have you ever heard of a business librarian? Our library has one. Maybe it's because, with our reliance on the auto industry for most of our business here in Michigan, our economy has been in the toilet for longer than everyone else's and they're trying to encourage growth in any way possible. Whatever the reason, the library is full of business and marketing resources that are as of yet untapped by many.

In addition to books, there are seminars and handouts, business plan contests and tons of advice for burgeoning entrepreneurs. For me, this resource is twofold. Not only does it give me ideas for marketing my freelance writing business, it's helping me be a better resource for the small businesses that constitute my client base.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Following Directions

There's a lot of advice out there for freelancers and one of the pieces I've encountered most often involves following directions. Clearly, being able to follow directions is important for many types of situations. However, apparently some people don't read the freelance writing ads very well or perhaps they read the ads but don't respond as requested.

For example, if an ad asks for a writing sample, a resume and a cover letter, you send them all three. It only makes sense, right? If you're responding to an ad that asks for your rates, you should include your rates in your correspondence.

As someone who has been involved in the hiring of employees, I can attest to the fact that not following the directions in the ad leaves a bad first impression. If someone can't follow the instructions for how to respond, why would a potential employer or client believe they will be able to follow directions for the assignment or in the workplace?

The other day, though, I encountered a situation in which it made very little sense to me to follow the directions included in an ad. The client asked interested parties to respond with a resume and stated that the resume should include the following:
  • Education and work history
  • Specific editing, proofreading and writing experience
  • Applicable areas of expertise
  • Availability
  • Word-processing programs on your system

To me, some of these items made sense, but others didn't belong anywhere on a resume. I was confused as to why they wouldn't just ask for a cover letter. I toyed with the idea of altering my resume to include them, but in the end I decided not to answer the ad.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

I Saw Your Resume on Craigslist

In a recent post I talked about an idea I got from a fellow freelancer for posting an ad on craigslist. I decided to post an ad myself and see what happened. So far, the results have been completely lackluster. As with anything like this, when you post something, you open yourself up for all kinds of replies that don't interest you. Even though you are asked to indicate whether or not you want to be contacted by recruiters or for other services, many people don't follow these.

So far, I've received no legitimate responses to my ad, but several from people trying to get me to use a job search site or offer me a job completely unrelated to my post. In fact, I can tell none of these people even read my ad or just don't care about relating their e-mail to my ad, because most of them say "I saw your resume on craigslist." Mind you, I didn't post my resume, just an ad.

Still, I've decided to rerun my ad when it expires. Here are my reasons:
  1. I've already written the ad, so it will take very little work to post it again, even if I change it around a little.
  2. Someone someday, when I least expect it might actually see it and send me some work.
  3. It doesn't cost anything.
  4. It takes about two seconds to delete an undesirable e-mail and I probably only got about 10-15 of them in the span of a few weeks.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

How to Lose a Client in One Day

I didn't actually lose the client, but I easily could have. One of my tasks is to write and upload a new post to the blog module of their Web site each week. No problem, right? The writing wasn't difficult. It just meant gathering some industry-specific information and getting the login information for their content management system.

I'd used plenty of content management tools before. After all, for several years when I had my day job I was in charge of Web site maintenance. This tool, however, was more complicated than the others I'd used and I ended up creating a new blog instead of posting to the existing one.

As soon as I realized the mistake, I attempted to delete the new blog—and ended up deleting the company's entire existing blog. Luckily, I didn't panic. Instead, I got in touch with one of tech guys, who was able to restore the posts, which had just been dumped into the recycle bin.

My client was understanding about the whole situation. I think because the situation was resolved it didn't bother him. Yet again, though, I've learned a valuable lesson in the freelancing world. Don't delete anything unless you're absolutely sure you want it deleted.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Back to Business

Well, that's it. All the holidays are over. My husband goes back to work today and I can finally get down to business. It's not that I didn't do any work during the holiday season, but it certainly wasn't as productive as I would have liked. I didn't check the job boards every day and I certainly didn't update my blogs every day.

But it's a new week and I have several meetings scheduled. I have a new client to work for and several projects scheduled for my first client. I also have some articles I've been neglecting that I need to start writing and revising. I need to ramp up my search for new short-term gigs. My savings is, in effect, completely depleted now and it's really impossible to live completely off my husband's salary, so I need to start bringing in some serious cash. Here's to a productive, billable week.