Archived entries for in practice

5 Ways I Find Freelance Work

One of the most common questions among new freelancers (and even one that folks much more experienced than I am, frequently discuss) is how to find freelancing work. It’s not like working at a traditional job – work doesn’t just pile up on your desk when you’re out of the office.

So, how do you find work as a writer or an editor? Continue reading…

An Honest Review of Site5 Hosting

So even though you can’t see it, this week I made the biggest change to that will be made: I changed hosting services. The site is now hosted by Site5.

I agreed to do a honest review of the process in exchange for $5. So they’re totally going to credit me five bucks in return for this – no matter what I say. That disclaimer given, I promise this is a 100% honest review.

I decided to switch hosts for a variety of reasons, namely because I was having a few issues making regular, necessary upgrades and updates to my wordpress platform. Initially I had signed up with my previous hosting company because I knew the owner and we had done business together before – he offered to host my sites for free in a barter / services exchange. But I don’t know the backend stuff from the ground up like I should (though I’m working to remedy this). So updates required help from my fantastic tech friends.

That led to a decision to change hosting services. Danny, who I have mentioned before (he’s kind of my secret weapon for all things web-related…because he’s just that awesome) recommended checking out Site5. There were several points from the get-go that made them a good choice for me. First was their price point. As someone who is still in the launch phase of her freelance business, I don’t have a ton of cash to sling around. Site5 offered a solid plan for about $15 a month. For that price I get unlimited websites, bandwidth and disk space. I also got a free site migration. And they have 24/7 live chat customer support.

Now, to be fair, I was going from hosting I didn’t have to pay for to hosting that I would pay out of pocket. That meant I had/have high expectations. I ran into a few glitches (almost inevitable when making major changes), but their customer service was responsive, got back to me quickly and I was thrilled to be able to get someone on live chat late at night on a Thursday.

That said, I think it would be really helpful to have one person per shift handle my ticket, so that I would be communicating with the same person rather than requiring each new person to acquaint themselves with my issues (which I believe is what led to the email issues / mix up described in detail below). So far, their hosting services have been solid (no downtime that I’m aware of). Their customer service has been really good (quick response time, good follow up). They offer great add-on features (like the free migration), an affiliate program and all sorts of interesting backend features I’m in the process of learning how to use. Overall, I’ve been very pleased with them so far and have already recommended them to several friends (one of which is now using them too). Continue reading…

When the Word Well Dries Up

I wanted to title this post Melissa and the Very Bad Day, but thought that might be a bit over dramatic.

See, last week I had a Bad Day.

You know, the kind where you feel like Eeyore? Your tail has fallen off and it’s raining only on you.

When I get in that mood, I have no creativity. No enthusiasm. I basically just want to crawl back into bed, pull the covers up until all you can see of me is my toes down at the bottom, and yell at the world to GO AWAY.

This happens to me about once every two weeks, almost always right on schedule. You see, since I work full time and write whenever I’m not working, I run myself a bit ragged.

Every other weekend I take off. But when I’m not off, I’m ON.

On “Off” weekends, I go upstate (my family lives there) where I spend almost no time online or doing work. Those weekends I spend enjoying myself with my significant other, spend as much time as possible outside and generally relax.

But the weekends when I’m not “off” I am very definitely “ON.” Those weekends I spend 8-10 hours a day (or more) doing work. Writing, pitching, talking to clients, marketing… whatever it takes. And after working 5 full days, then spending 2 days doing yet more work, I tank. The Monday after an “ON” weekend, I generally feel dried out–and knowing that I still have another 5 days to go through before getting “off” time, I want to curl up and hide.

Unfortunately, hiding isn’t an option.

So on days when I want to hide, I don’t do client work (because if I did, I’d probably just have to redo it). Instead, since I have to do something, I do things that don’t require being creative or intelligent. I file paperwork. I fill out invoices. I update my excel spread sheets.

I give my writing brain the night off, and instead spend the day doing things that don’t require being a writer. Sometimes I deal with my inbox, responding to emails – other times I look over Craig’s list for freelance writing jobs I should apply to. Sometimes I do research for upcoming projects, learning more about the field or storing away links to explore later when I’m feeling passionate again.

My point is I spend the night working, because I have to, but I don’t try to force words when they don’t want to come.

Don’t get me wrong – I love what I do, or I wouldn’t put myself through it at all. But it’s not always easy.

How do  you cope with working on your business, even when you don’t really “feel” like it? How do you deal when you’re having a bad day? What about dealing with writer’s block?

My Story – How it all began

Last December

I was stressing out.

I was crunching numbers, comparing my salary from my “day job” to my projected student loan payments. The numbers didn’t balance. I realized that I would really be struggling to make payments and I began considering finding a second job.

Instead, my significant other suggested I freelance. He knew it was something I had always wanted to do. Freelancing full-time had been a long-time goal of mine, but one I had thought couldn’t happen until I was married with kids on the way and a significant chunk of “real world work experience” built up. It was something I really wanted to do, but I had a lot of doubts.

With his encouragement, I began marketing myself. I started this blog  (which follows my progress as I work to become a full-time freelancer) – and began to actively seek freelance work.

(I just want to pause for a minute and point out that having someone in your life – whether you’re a freelancer, a business owner or whether you still work for a boss – who is willing to encourage you to push your boundaries and work for what you want is essential. It’s no coincidence that I’m dating the person I’m dating. He’s an amazing person with an incredible ability to encourage me (and sometimes enable me) even when he doesn’t agree or share my passions.)

I fell in love with editing in High School…

My high school graduating class had over 600 people in it. I only remember this number because I was number 62 and still made it into the top 10%. While in school they broke us up by “academies,” each of which has a particular “major” (similar to how a college might break things down).

I spent my high school years in the communications academy, where I fell in love with the process of editing – of slowing going through something, tweaking it, making small changes, until the final project was much better than the sum of all those minor alterations.

I’ve always been a detail-oriented person who really enjoys slightly tedious tasks that allow me to learn, that require me to be incredibly organized and that revolve on a tight deadline.

But at the time I was divided. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to work with words or video.

College let me make that choice.

I experimented (the way one should in college) with multiple career goals, trying video editing (I worked in the student lab and frequently helped other students with projects), working on film sets, immersing myself in that culture. I also did a semester-long independent study where I read up on freelance writing, crafted queries and did other types of research (looking into publications I might want to write for, for example).

After trying both, I decided I wanted to write and ultimately, I wanted to freelance.

But self-doubt held me back.

I didn’t think I could freelance right out of the gate. At the time I wanted to write about the publishing industry, so I decided I’d get experience in the industry first. Thus my current “day-job.” Slowly, however, I’ve been realizing that I have what it takes.

What was a “maybe one day” is quickly becoming a “soon.” However, without that initial push, I wouldn’t have decided to give it a chance. Instead, I would have waited until who-knows-when (or if).

Opportunities are Everywhere

I’m taking a breather
from my latest freelance assignment to write this. The assignment is a piece about effective micro-organisms for a small business owner in Brooklyn who I met at the social networking event I attended a while back.

When I met her I don’t think either of us really expected to end up working together. She runs a composting-alternative company. The company sells  a product called Bokashi to break down organic waste; they deliver an empty bucket and enough Bokashi to mix it appropriately (you layer it) with waste (left over foods, scraps, etc.). When the bucket is full, they pick it up and give you a fresh one.

I’m pretty sure she saw me as a potential client or at least one more name to add to her email list. She was manning a booth at the event, so I saw her as someone to talk to until I got my bearings and relaxed enough to do real networking. We exchanged cards and I began receiving her e-newsletter.

Then, last week, the newsletter mentioned that she was hosting an event–so I shot her back an email and asked if she wanted an official press release written up. I included my hourly rate. I didn’t honestly expect to hear back, but I figured it couldn’t hurt.

I heard back.

We chatted on the phone about what I did and what she does, and agreed that I would attend the event and then write up a summary/paper of the information presented. It’s that paper I’m working on now.

I do stuff like this a lot. Sometimes it pans out, sometimes it doesn’t. But it never hurts to try.

I make a point to always be on the lookout for potential clients. When I see a website with obvious mistakes or simple typos, I email the company and let them know.

Sometimes this results in a thank you email – sometimes it doesn’t result in anything. But if I get a thank you email, I may email them and let them know that’s what I do for a living–and if they’d be interested in having the rest of the site read, I’d be happy to do it for my hourly rate.

While this doesn’t result in a flood of work, it does help keep me busy. And the nice thing about emailing corrections to a website is that you can hold off on emailing them until your short on the time required to do other forms of marketing; it can help keep you from hitting a slump.

Because We All Get Rained On Sometimes

One of the most dis-heartening parts of being a writer is dealing with the rejection. Often writers put work into writing out query letters and proposals, just to have them turned down–or worse yet, they don’t hear back at all.

As a result, sometimes there are days when we believe that rejection letter more than we believe in ourselves. You know, those days where you’ve fought with your significant other, spilled your morning coffee (or in my case, tea) and burned yourself, you’re behind on a project that is due that day and then you get a rejection letter. You find yourself believing you’ve made a mistake becoming a freelancer, or even thinking that you might be able to make a living from words.

Alisa at Project Happily Ever After, an excellent writer / blogger (one of my favorites, and one of the few whose every post I read) offered up a suggestion to bring us back from the edge. She calls it her “I don’t suck” list. Her blog is dedicated to “the story of how she went from wishing her husband dead to renewing her wedding vows. Her four-month project was a last ditch effort to save a marriage that many—her friends, her colleagues and even her own mother—had written off as hopeless,” this post (as do many of those that she writes) was about fending off the bad with the good.

She keeps a folder where she puts all the “feel good” letters, comments, emails, etc. that she’s received over the years. Since reading her post I started a Google document, that has slowly been growing with compliments, thank yous and other things that make me smile. It includes the comment from one of my closest friends, where he called me “A smart sassy sweetheart who has a knack for kicking it back” and comments like the one from a poster on Brazen who I helped–”I appreciate your advice so much, that I am going make a plastic likeness of you, and put it on the dash of my car!” Stored in the cloud, so I can access it anywhere, anytime, this one file can make me smile even on the worst of days.

Writers can specifically stock comments from editors they’ve worked with (“Great job on that piece”) or clients they have done projects for. That way, next time someone turns you down you can just look over the comments from someone who didn’t, and you’ll be able to rededicate yourself to the task, removing the morning-coffee stain, resolve the argument with your significant other, finish the project that’s due and re-pitch your query to a new magazine where it’s sure to be accepted (and where you’ll be paid twice as much) – or at the least, it will make you smile, and a smile is worth almost that much some days.

Learning to Listen (or where ideas come from)

Everyone knows a big part of being a good freelance writer (and of networking) is learning how to listen. But sometimes we forget that we can learn to be a better freelance writer or networker by listening to our peers.

I generally think I’m pretty good about being open to new ideas. I believe that ideas come from everywhere, and that one of the differences between a good freelancer and a mediocre one (and who wants to hire a mediocre one) is the ability to connect seemingly unconnected events in a way that makes sense and that creates a space for others to think.

But, despite Marian Schembari praising the powers of linked in on a regular basis, I hadn’t given it a serious chance. Marian had mentioned several times that she’s found it a fantastic platform for finding clients. Each time my face twisted in slight disbelief. After all, Linked in has a poor user interface and is organized in a way that’s not-even-close-to intuitive. Then one day last week she posted that she had found three new clients in an hour on linked in. I thought, no way, nuh-uh.

And I decided to give it a shot.

Well, I should have listened sooner. I joined a number of discussion boards and over the last few days I have gained four potential clients – and I spend less than half an hour a day doing it. End result? In the future I’ll pursue things that people I trust recommend. I’ll listen and instead of giving in to my preconceptions I’ll give new things a shot.

And if any of you out there want to learn how to be a killer connection maker on linked in, check out Marian’s site–she is an awesome chick who teaches social media (Check out her linked in tutorial), and at the moment has up a free video guide–The #1 Reason LinkedIn STILL Isn’t Working For You and How To Fix It.

Sometimes I suprise myself.

After my success at the networking event for work I had to wonder if I had turned a corner, or if it had just been a fluke. When I arrived at the business networking event I had RSVPed for this week, I had decided it must have been a one-time-thing; my hands were shaking and I couldn’t get myself to introduce myself to the woman who rode the elevator up with me. Shit. I thought to myself – this is going to be a disaster, and it’s going to last FOUR HOURS.

I arrived, business cards at the ready, determined to meet at least four people (one of my goals for the evening), with a post-it note in my purse where I had written down how I was going to answer the question “What do you do?” and with my talking points at the ready. I planned to ask questions and listen more than I talked. I read a great piece right before the event (it made the rounds on twitter Wednesday afternoon, but now I can’t find it) that had dished out a number of great tips, boosting my confidence.

It recommended creating a more-interesting-than-normal response to the one question that probably gets asked the most at any networking event–”What do you do?”

The writer said you should craft a response that included what you do, how you do it, and the result–something similar to an elevator pitch, but a one-liner. While what I came up with didn’t do this perfectly, it did yield much better results than just saying, “I’m a writer.” My carefully crafted (meaning, thrown-together-five-minutes-before-leaving-the-office) answer was, “I work with individuals and small businesses helping them put what they’re passionate about into words.” If the person still looked like they were listening, I followed it up with “I write content for marketing materials, brochures, press kits, website content, that sort of thing.”

Anyway, my point is, I was “prepared.” But I was still nervous. The venue wasn’t open yet when I got there, even though I was on time, so they asked us all to wait for a few minutes in the lobby. I played with my phone. Around me, a few other people were doing the same thing (presumably checking their email or making a call before the event–I’m sure they weren’t just pretending) while others chatted and mingled, networking (after all, that’s why we were all there).

Once the venue opened and we all filed inside, I forced myself to put away my phone and talk to someone–anyone. Fortunately, NYEBN (the group holding the event) has sponsors that set up tables. So to get myself started I walked around looking at tables and talking to the people behind them about their companies. From there, I found myself talking to one of the other attendees, who happened to be talking to the woman behind the table I was at too–and I got my first business card.

While that first conversation wasn’t with someone likely to need my services any time too soon, it helped me break the ice and get over my nervousness. Once he and I had chatted for a bit and exchanged information (he was an accountant, so there is a chance I’ll interview him for a piece one of these days), I felt much more relaxed–still apprehensive but not paralyzed–and began to use the tips I had come up with at the last event I attended and the tips I’d had recommended to me, once I put up that post. I looked for people standing by themselves or not engaged in conversation. And introduced myself to them. At least twice I had people thank me for coming up to them–they were clearly nervous themselves. Each time, that helped bolster my confidence a little more.

At the end of the night, I’d met 17 people, over four times the number I was aiming for. I ended up staying until 10:30, when they kicked the few of us still there out, because I was involved in a great conversation. About half of the people I spoke to were vaguely interested in potentially using my services at some point; about 4 are potentially serious prospects. And I’m definitely going to attend another event.

See, the nice thing about a networking event is everyone is there to network. The goal is to meet people. So when you walk up to someone, they aren’t thinking “who is this person and why are they trying to talk to me?” – they’re trying to decide if you’re someone who they can sell their product to, or whose product/services they are interested in.

Gimme a Break – Taking Time Off

“Gimme a break, gimme a break, break me off a piece of that kit kat bar!”

As the Kit Kat Commercial implies, sometimes we all need a break. And whether it’s 5-minutes to enjoy something sweet, or a weekend where you unplug and reengage in real life, it’s important to remember that its okay to take that time for yourself. Many small business owners and writers get so wrapped up in deadlines and work that they forget to stop.

In my household we joke that we don’t know what the word “rest” or “sleep” means. Both my roommate and I work full time and run our own businesses, after we finished our day jobs. That means a lot of late nights and crazy weekends. Both of us thrive in that environment – we like to go-go-go-go. But it’s important some times to remember to stop.

For the last two weekends in a row I’ve signed offline and stayed off for most of the weekend–and you know what? The sky didn’t start falling. The world didn’t end. And I rediscovered how amazing and incredible the guy I’m dating is; when I re-focused on work on Monday, I was able to look at things with a fresh perspective that allowed me to get more done. Obviously, I can’t do that every weekend, but it’s important to remember to do it some weekends. Creating a good work-life balance is essential to succeeding in the business sphere.

Unfortunately, this is something I used to be good at, then forgot all about. Recently, however, I’m beginning to get the scales back into alignment. Here are some of the tricks I use to stop from burning myself out:

Tip #1: Schedule In Down Time – I planned a weekend camping trip last weekend; it forced me to completely unplug. I loaded camping equipment into backpacks and we hiked into the woods. My phone was off, because it didn’t get reception anyway. I focused on the nature around me and on the simple things – building a fire, cooking food over it, cuddling up next to it with my hunnie… it felt good to get away, knowing that I had planned that time off and my deadlines weren’t going to suffer for it.

Tip #2: Reward Yourself with Time Off - When working for yourself, it’s important to remember to reward yourself with a lack of work, or the deadlines just pile up and you begin to burn out and feel overwhelmed. While it’s not the same as earning days, I reward myself with 5-45 minute breaks while doing work. Once I finish a particular assignment or reach a notable milestone, I put down work and do something else for a while. Sometimes, I read a chapter of a book (one I’m reading for personal pleasure), other times I get a snack, still other times I’ll watch a show on Hulu. Even if you only take 5 minutes to eat a Kit Kat bar, the sugar will give you the energy to sit back down and accomplish a bit more.

Tip #3: Stop work for the day when the work is going well – Hemmingway said, “I learned never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.” The idea is that if you stop while the going is good, then when you sit down to continue working on it the next day, you will know where to start, getting you back into the swing of things and helping you to gain momentum again.

I’m Done Holding Up Walls

For a while now I’ve been meaning to attend a networking event, to make new contacts and meet people who will help grow my freelance business (either as clients or just as contacts). It’s been on and off my goals page ever since I put the page up–but I’ve been making excuses.

I didn’t want to attend a networking event until I had business cards. I didn’t want to have business cards printed until I knew what I was going to name my company. Basically, I was standing in my own way.

See, I was totally that kid in elementary school who sat at the loser table at lunch. I was the one who always stood out, even when I was trying to fit in. In many ways I’ve overcome this–I’ve decided that there are good ways to stand out and bad, and I’ve decided to set myself apart intentionally by aiming for higher goals and pushing myself harder.

But that kid that got kicked out of class for reading under her desk when she was bored with the math lesson, that kid is still in me in some ways (and yes, that did happen). I still don’t feel like I fit in. I imagine that when I talk people are mocking me in their heads; that no one takes me seriously. So I tend to have trouble at networking events, because I generally imagine that when I try to join a conversation or when I introduce myself to someone, they are just wishing I’d leave them alone.

But last night, for what may be one of the first times ever, I did it anyway. Here’s how:

Tip #1: Find the most awkward looking person in the room. Someone who is holding up a wall. Who clearly doesn’t have anyone to talk to. Go introduce yourself to that person. Chances are they feel just as freaked out by the event as you do, and will welcome the chance to have a real conversation.

When I walked up to the woman who was standing all by herself last night, my hands were shaking. So I put them behind my back. I introduced myself and asked her what brought her to the event. Just like that we had something to talk about. When I started to run out of things to say and the conversation seemed to be lulling, I told her it was great to meet her, shook her hand and walked away.

Tip #2: Offer to help someone; either someone organizing the event or another attendee. If you can prearrange to help set up chairs or work the event in some way, it gives you a great excuse to talk to people and puts you in a situation where people are likely to talk to you.

This is a tip I’ve used before–typically, when I’m attending a conference, I attend for free by volunteering to help. While it saves my wallet, it also helps me meet people and make connections.

Last night, however, I hadn’t volunteered to set up. But opportunity presented itself in the shape of a great Dane. Since it’s a pet business event, this woman had brought her dog with her–I walked over and asked if I could pet it. When the woman asked where she could find a glass of wine, I volunteered to grab it for her so she didn’t have to lug the dog across the room.

And just like that, I’d made my second connection. If you can’t find someone who needs help, be the one that needs help instead. Ask someone where to find something, or what time something is supposed to start. Those types of things are easy ways to start up a conversation–or at least make sure you don’t go home without having spoken to anyone.

Tip #3: Ask someone who is standing on the fringe of a group if you’ve met them before. Pretend they look familiar. When they say no (after all, you HAVEN’T met them before), introduce yourself and ask them what they do just to “make sure” you haven’t met somewhere … if by some crazy chance they say yes (maybe they’re pretending too), say “I’m sorry, but I can’t remember you’re name. What was it again?”

I totally pulled this off last night. There was a gentleman there–I had met other people from his company (his name tag said what company he worked for) and asked him if we’d met. I then got him to introduce me to the whole circle of people he was standing on the fringe of, all of whom he knew. While my conversation with him didn’t last long, I managed to strike up a conversation with another member of the group that lasted for quite some time.

BONUS TIPS: So when I mentioned on twitter that I was working on this topic, Keith Daw, President and Director of Media Relations for Diamond Three mentioned that this was a topic he knew quite a bit about. He provided these next two tips:

Keith says:

Bring a buddy – Some people don’t do well talking about themselves or what they do, let alone in a room full of strangers. So, bring a trusted colleague to bolster your confidence and take turns introducing one another. It’ll be easier for both of you to approach strangers and provides instant credibility. It’s easier for us to brag on a colleague, or vice versa, than it is for us to talk about ourselves. So, bring one!”

Set meetings – You’re not at the event to close the deal, merely to pique their curiosity. Establish whether the person is someone that fits your target list, then exchange business cards and set a time to speak further via phone or in person, if possible.

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