Archived entries for in practice

Get Out of Your Own Way

As writers, frequently the biggest obstacle we have to overcome is ourselves. Parker talks about this idea in several chapters in the book – “The goal is to be IN business, not to have your business perfectly set up” (chapter 5) and “as writers, I think we often expect too much of ourselves…we need something smashing, something unforgettable, the kind of thing that will set a new standard” (chapter 7).

For example, I commonly see  articles on “Finding the time to write.” The irony here is that the time spent reading that article could instead be spent writing. By no means am I immune to these tempting distractions. I’ve spent the last who-knows-how-long designing my business cards, waiting to finalize my company name so I could add it to the design along with the proper website address. I’ve used not having business cards as an excuse to put off attending business networking events, since cards play just a large role at these kinds of events. In turn, I’ve put off moving forward, using a tool that should instead be a major resource for new clients.

Well, today, despite STILL not having settled on a business name (the latest idea is Echo Writing Services – “words that provide a real return”) I decided enough was enough. I’ve finally ordered business cards. Since I don’t know what my company name will be, they are just personal cards, with my name, “freelance writer / editor” and all my contact information on them. For a web address I included this blog, since I have my portfolio here.

You’ll notice that I didn’t just settle on a name–I think it’s important to get things right. It’s just equally important not to let that perfectionism hold you back. While it takes time, learning how to tell when to move forward and when to finish the task at hand, is an important skill to have. And whose to say you won’t learn a great tip reading “Finding Time to Write” that won’t greatly improve your productivity? You may. Just make sure that if you’re reading the article, you’re not doing it instead of writing–or you’re defeating your own purpose.

A True Story: Working With Elvis

As a New Yorker I spend a lot of time on subways–a minimum of an hour and a half a day. That means a lot of time on my iPod, and since my musical acumen is rather limited, I tend to spend it listening to podcasts. There are a number of podcasts that I subscribe to on iTunes, but the two big ones are Slate magazine’s political gabfest (which is always amazing) and a ton of NPR podcasts. Both tend to serve as great filters for the rest of the media world–they discuss the big stories that are out there and, through their discussions, I find myself hooked by books and articles I probably never would have heard about otherwise.

Well yesterday, I listened to NPR’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me podcast featuring Jerry Weintraub. Music or film enthusiasts may know who he is–I didn’t. (For those of you who are like me, he managed people like The Carpenters and Frank Sinatra, and is a well-known film producer). During the NPR interview what caught my attention was Jerry’s tale of how he ended up working with Elvis.

Jerry didn’t know Elvis. He didn’t even know anyone who knew Elvis. But he decided he wanted to take Elvis on tour. And guess what? A year after announcing his intentions he had raised 1 million dollars and convinced the King to give him a shot.

After listening to the interview I’ve bought a copy of his biography, When I Stop Talking You’ll Know I’m Dead, as an audio book (I have an Audible.com monthly membership) and I can’t wait to hear what other crazy accomplishments Weintraub pulled off, despite my complete lack of interest in all things pop culture.

But there are two lessons I think we should all take from this.

1. Don’t be afraid to set big goals–even huge, completely ridiculous goals–and work your ass off to achieve them. Anything is possible given enough time and work.

2. Know one interesting thing about yourself or your company and use it to make sure people remember you. I would never have known who Jerry was if not for his NPR appearance and I would never have remembered him beyond the podcast if not for that one tale that completely stood out.

The Secret to Sales Success is not to Sell Anything

After my post about selling your services I posted a few questions on Brazen Careerist to find out how other entrepreneurs and freelancers felt about this issue. The responses I got were great, but one important point stood out. Kim LaSalle said: “I’ve never ‘sold’ anything. Honestly. I recommend strategies or tactics based on client objectives. I don’t believe in selling someone something they don’t need.”

She raises an excellent point. In truth, selling your services isn’t about convincing a client to buy. It’s about offering them an opportunity to grow their business…with your help. If you’re offering something with true value to the client, then it’s their job to be receptive to ways they can better serve their clients–and your job is to help them do exactly that.

This mind-shift, a slight change of focus, suddenly made the idea of a sales call a lot less scary. Because suddenly it wasn’t a “sales call.” It was a phone call to find out if there was anything I could do to help a fellow business owner. And who doesn’t like to get a phone call from someone offering to help them achieve their goals?

If YOU don’t view your services as legitimately helpful, how can you expect potential clients to view them that way? Think about the services you offer and decide for yourself: Is this a legitimately helpful service I’m providing?If not, perhaps you should rethink your business plan.

By no means does “helping others” mean you shouldn’t charge for your services–after all, if the work you’re doing is valuable, they will see a return on it. You’re helping them make money, and you should receive a portion of that return (i.e. the amount that you charge for your work). Kim (who currently owns a marketing and public relations company) evaluates this when it comes to billing, and operates on a value-based billing system (charges based on returns).

Doing so allows her to balance her workload with different clients at different rates. While I’m not sure how this could be structured for a writer the majority of the time, it is already being used in some sections of the industry (think websites that pay based on page views or corporate clients who pay for direct mailing pieces), and perhaps we can consider how it would work in other ways; clients may be more comfortable investing in a service if they know that should the service not perform as promised they can get their money back.

Work Life Balance

Despite the best intentions, some times life intrudes. Whether it’s illness, a personal crisis or a death in the family, occasionally things happen that take you away from your work. This is one of the areas where freelancing and a day job differ significantly.

If you freelance, it means you don’t have anyone to answer to (except your clients) for days off. If you move assignments around so that you can still finish them by deadline, you can take off almost at a moment’s notice. On the flip side, however, it means that if you take a chunk of time off, there is no one to run things in your absence. No one else at the office who can try to make ends meet while you’re gone.

Being able to take a break when I need it is one of the perks–but it’s also one of the disadvantages. The guy I’ve dated on and off for the last six years recently joined the navy. Granted, it’s a great contract–they are going to train him to be a nuclear engineer and pay him a salary that broaches on ridiculous. Although he won’t leave until December, we’ve been spending a lot of time figuring out what this change will mean for us.

During college, he went way upstate (Rochester) for college, and then did co-ops in Virginia and Tennessee, so it’s not like we haven’t dealt with being long distance before. But we’ve been dating for almost six years and his contract will be for the next six years. It’s one of those turning points in a relationship.

Unfortunately, while I’ve been dealing with that, I haven’t been dedicating as much time and effort to freelancing as I was before that particular issue arose. I’ve still been working on it–but not as much as I should have been. There are lots of articles out there about the struggle freelancers have convincing their significant others, their parents and their friends to respect working at home as a real business with real hours. But it’s not just important for those around us to respect the time our businesses require–we have to respect the time it takes too.

Fortunately, I’m still only freelancing part-time, and my full-time job pays my bills. Money earned freelancing goes backing into freelancing (buying business cards, getting my website set up, etc.); unfortunately, this is still an area where I need to improve. So here are the steps I’m going to take to better focus on achieving my long-term freelancing goals:

1. Break the big steps into small steps. After looking at my long term goals I’m going to try and figure out how I can work toward them on in little ways. I’m going to give myself a small goal to achieve everyday–whether it’s writing a query letter draft or finishing up an assignment–and do it. That means, starting tonight, I’ll be updating my Goals page on a much more regular basis (I haven’t updated it in a while….).

2. Consequences and rewards. It seems basic, but if I don’t achieve the goals I want to achieve by the end of the week, my weekend is forfeit, until those things are done. In essence, I’ll ground myself the way parents do to teenagers who don’t clean their rooms. And, if I accomplish everything I set out to do in a given week (or when I finish a particularly dreaded job), I’ll reward myself in some small way–something in the $10-15 range.

3. I’ll give myself time off. No one can work 24/7 everyday. Until now, my goal has been to blog everyday and everyday work on freelance stuff and 5 days a week work 8 hour days at the day job…. which means things like laundry and cleaning my house fall behind and I end up stressed out with a short temper. I’m going to start taking one day during the work week (M-F) and one weekend day (sat or sun) where I don’t touch work and where I don’t blog.

Evaluating Your Competition

One of the biggest parts of starting a company is evaluating your competition. An entire section of your business plan should/will be devoted to this, and it’s one of the things you should probably do fairly early in the game. This is because evaluating your competition can lead you to opportunities you didn’t know existed. It can also help you figure out how to differentiate your company from their in your marketing materials–as well as where you market to find customers.

I’ve mentioned before that your website, when done well, can be a major tool in promoting your business–it creates a place for clients to find more about you and, sometimes, even a place for clients who have never heard of you but are looking for the services you offer to find you.

My website is one of the primary tools I am creating as a freelancer. I want it to be a place that I can refer potential clients to, where they can find information about me, samples of my work, informational articles that will help them decide if they need my services and that will help them promote their business, ways for them to contact me and a list of the services I offer (with aprox. pricing info.).

Right now I’m taking a class about creating a website, and one of the assignments for week one was to look at and evaluate three competitors’ websites.

I found looking at my competitors’ sites very enlightening. Despite the number of web savvy writers out there, there appear not to be very many in my area. I started by using yellowpages.com and searching for writers in Astoria, NY. Most of the search results either didn’t link to a website or were not actually people who are doing what I want to do. That tells me that either most people don’t look for writers via the Yellow Pages and therefore writers don’t bother to be listed there OR that it’s an opportunity for me to be listed in a common place potential clients may look where my competition, for the most part, isn’t. So I found two sites to evaluate through Yellow Pages.

Then I Googled Freelance Writer. The initial return was mostly resources FOR freelancer writers, not freelance writing services. So I tried again – this time I added my location (Astoria, NY) to the search query. This returned a number of freelance writers. The first search result that came up was in Brooklyn. Since Google searched via proximity, this shows that there is a lack of people doing what I want to be doing in my area (at least a lack of them online). This didn’t match my expectation at all. I thought with my proximity to NYC that I would have a lot of local competition. Which means I expected to find a lot of companies online doing what I do. I did not.

In all honesty, that’s probably because a lot of writers rely heavily on referrals. But, it means that any potential clients that don’t have a writer within their network and turn to the internet have a small pool to choose from. So, there is a real opportunity there to differentiate myself via my website and find clients online. Without doing some research on my competition, I never would have seen this opportunity, which for me emphasizes how important my website will be. As a result, I’ll spend a lot of time and effort on my site.

It’s The Little Things

I’m always amazed by the small business owners who have made it eight or ten years without even the most basic of marketing. It always makes me wonder how much better they’d be doing if they’d invested the time or a minimal amount of effort in taking a few basic steps to make sure everyone knew what they were about.

For example, a friend’s father does home maintenance and construction–is motto is that when the professionals mess it up, he can fix it. He installs bathrooms and floors, works on roofs, does some masonry outside… he’s a jack-of-all-trades handyman. Until this year he didn’t have business cards. He isn’t listed in any phone books. I don’t think he has an email address, let alone a website. He has successfully worked purely on referrals probably for over a decade–which in my mind means he has to be damn good at what he does. Can you imagine how much more business he would have done had he taken the time to do those few extra things?

My roommate is a little bit less severe of an example, but she has a small fashion line that she sells on Etsy. The girl is damn good at what she does – she really took the time to learn her trade, and prides herself on getting the details right (the seams no one will ever see, the way patterns in the fabric line up). But she’s also going to school to be a teacher, and the majority of the people she knows (beyond her close friends) probably didn’t know her website address and probably couldn’t have picked her work out of a line-up.Unlike my friend’s father, she had business cards and is great at networking, so had a serious bunch of people who she could call on to do photo shoots – but she’s had some trouble finding a reliable website person and those photo shoots take quite a while before they go up online. And before we moved in together, she didn’t even include her website in her email signature. So no one had a way to see her latest and greatest work.

It’s important to let the people in your life know what you’re up to. In yesterday’s post I mentioned a friend had recommended me for work – that’s because she knew what I’ve been doing lately. One of the bloggers I follow recently recommended friends for an assignment (and makes a great case for why and how to make sure you keep people up-to-date on your life HERE)–which shows it really is bigger than a once-in-a-while thing. So how can you let people know what you’re doing?

Tailor your email signature. Include a relevant job title and a link to your blog/website/twitter feed … whereever you talk about your work. And if you aren’t talking about your work in any of these channels, you should be. The more enthusiastic you are about what you do, the more likely you are to come to mind when someone has an appropriate project for you. You can even update your signature each time you get a new piece published and say “See what I’ve done recently…” and link to it.

Have business cards on you at all times, hand them out frequently, and always hand them out in pairs. Give each person you give your card to, two cards–one for them and one so they can pass your name along.  Make sure your card (and your website, and your twitter bio..etc) share what kind of work you’re doing in a way that is clear, but without saying “I’m looking to do xyz.” There are a ton of great places to get cards printed for little to nothing, so you really don’t have an excuse (while this site is about pet siting, it includes a great list of cheap places online to get cards printed).

Talk about what you do. If I asked 5 of your closest friends to recommend someone who does what you do, would they all give me your name? If you don’t know, then we have a problem. When someone asks “How are you?” or “What have you been up to lately?” don’t just say “good” and “not much.” Instead, use it as an opportunity to mention a project you’ve been working on, or a new client that you’re excited to have taken on. While you shouldn’t blab on and on about it, you should at least mention your work. Say one or two sentences (“I’m really good actually–I just got this great new assignment and I’m going to be writing an article on animal-testing-free makeup for Cosmo. What about you?” or “I’ve been doing a lot lately–my freelancing has really taken off and just yesterday I gained a client–he writes graphic novels in the horror genre. What about you?”) Not only does this promote you, but it makes you a heck of a lot more interesting.

Word.

Once a month, for the last 5 months (minus January where I was out-of-town) I have trudged 40 minutes out of my way to Greenpoint, Brooklyn. My destination? Word. Word is a great little bookstore located at 126 Franklin St. where I joined a book club some months back.

I first learned about Word through Marian Schemari’s blog, where “bookavore” aka Stephanie, Word’s manager, wrote a fantastic comment on Marian’s post. And the more I learned about this little bookstore, the more I wanted to support it in some way. This little bookstore was doing everything right – as a business to business writer, I really admire indie businesses who “get it.” Word gets it.

Unfortunately, a 40 minute trek is a little long whenever I want something to read, but fortunately, Word has a book club (and a ton of other AWESOME events). So I joined.

I had never been part of a book club before. The closest I’d been was my college literature classes, which, as an English major, I took many of–the first time I attended a book club meeting, I had only managed to get the book a few days earlier. I’d rushed through reading it, so that I could at least say I had read the whole thing. But that didn’t matter. I left book club feeling incredibly mentally stimulated and really … happy. I had found people who, like me, loved words.

And every time I go back, I leave with that same feeling. Being around people who love what you love, talking about it… it’s an incredible feeling.

In Parker’s book she writes that we should network with other people who do what we do–other writers–even though they are our competition. She says that doing so gives you someone to fall back on should you get sick, be unable to take on an assignment, or should some major tragedy befall you.

I agree that it’s important to meet people who are passionate about the same things you are. But not for business reasons. Instead, I think it’s important because being around these people reminds you why you love what you love, and why you do what you do, which isn’t always easy to remember when it’s Thursday, you have four assignments due at the end of the week and have already pulled two all-nighters since Monday.

Even though I don’t know how many, if any, of the people in book club are actually writers, the important thing isn’t networking per-say. Instead, its being about to talk about what I love in a pressure-free environment; and meet some great people while doing so.

Hitting Send

My boss has commented once or twice, when looking over pieces he wrote in older issues of the magazine, “I wrote that? Damn I’m good.” When I do the same, I always feel the exact opposite–”I wrote THAT?!?! And they published it?” Almost every piece I work on, I fret about getting it right. And I have a problem–I can’t edit my own work. Every time I edit something I wrote, I end up starting from scratch.

Take exhibit A as an example: My boss constantly praises the writing of one of our editors; so today I decided I would take a closer look at one of her articles (see it here) her style of writing and figure out what about her writing impresses him so much. The first thing I noticed was her soft lead. So I decided to see if I couldn’t achieve something similar. So I tried it.

And now I’m a nervous wreck. My boss won’t even look at the piece for at least 2 more weeks–I still have to do several interviews and all I wrote today was the introduction–but I’m worried he’ll think my attempt to copy her soft lead is silly. It really felt like I was taking a risk.

This is how I feel almost every time I submit a freelance article for publication.

Most of the time when I finally finish an article and hit send, I immediately wish I could call it back. I worry that the person on the other end isn’t going to like it, or is going to want to edit it to smithereens and will hold back because they don’t want to hurt my feelings (or that they won’t hold back, but instead just won’t use me again).

My suspicion is that my insecurities go back to what I talked about a while ago or, more recently– that I’m faking it–that I still haven’t gotten to that point at which I consider myself a writer so I constantly worry about being exposed. I’m hoping that when I get my website up and functioning this weekend that that will begin to change. Then, when I finally order business cards and begin introducing myself AS a writer, that it will set in even more.

But only time will tell.

Hosting OR Where you Keep Your Domain Name

As I discussed in Monday’s post, hosting services are services that “store” your website files in a place on the web (or, really, on a server that is always connected to the web) so that anyone can find them anytime.

Now, the reason I said not to buy your domain name immediately once you find one that you both love and that is available, is because some hosting services offer a free domain rebate or free domain name with purchase of a hosting plan. My host, dsgnrhosting.com, offers said rebate. Godaddy also offers hosting – my roommate bought her domain name through Godaddy and uses them for hosting and has been very pleased with them thus far. As with any major business decision, shop around a bit. The following are some things to consider when comparing:

Price and Payment Plans – Some sites are more flexible than others. Do you have to pay the year upfront? Can you pay month-to-month? How easy is it to upgrade or downgrade your hosting package? Do they offer any coupons (godaddy offers a number of coupons, according to my roomie)? Remember, money spent on hosting and your website is money you are taking out of your bottom line. It is an investment, and having a good website is a good investment, but you want to make sure what you’re buying is actually what you need. In addition to looking at the price for hosting services, check for extra fees –set up fees and domain registration fees, especially.

Memory – Essentially, this is how big your cabinet is; it will decide how many files you can keep up and how complex your website can be. If you already have a website built, you can look and just see how big the files are. If you don’t have a site built yet, it may be a good idea to ask a friend or colleague whose site you like how large their site is – this is likely to give you a pretty good indication of how much space you’ll need.

Email - Most hosting services include email services @yourdomainname.com. For instance, that is how I have an email account mbreau(at)jargonwriter.com. Can you create unlimited email addresses at your domain name?

Hosted Domains - This is how many domain names you can have set up for that hosting service account. I plan on having at least 3 domain names – one with my company name, one with my actually name and one for my blog (now set up!).

Traffic – This directly effects how many visitors you can get per month. In addition to actual visitors, this number is affected by search engine spiders (“crawlers” that check your site and catalog it so that search engines know what the site contains), which run through your site on a regular basis. There is a complicated formula for figuring out how many visits you can get per byte, but the easiest thing to do is just call or email the services you’re considering and ask what those numbers are.

Downtime – Servers generally undergo routine maintenance, but occasionally things happen and they go down. While the server is down, people will be unable to access your site. Ask about average annual downtime and policies pertaining to downtime, like whether the site reimburses customers for extended downtime.

NOTE: There are free FTP services out there (firefox offers one, for example) which essentially make the need for a hosting service moot. Instead, your website is uploaded to the ftp site and web surfers can access it. The downside, is many of the free services are fairly easy to hack; if you’ll be using your site for any sort of monetary transactions you NEED to purchase a hosting services or you’re putting your customer’s accounts at risk. If you’re just setting up a basic website, you may be able to get away with using a free account – but hosting services come with many additional perks (like the email address thing) and a good hosting services is a lot less likely to go down than a free ftp site.

Once you’ve chosen a hosting service, signed up for a package and bought your domain name, it’s time to start designing your site.

In the comments, please let me know what hosting service you use, what your experience has been and/or what factors play(ed) into your choice of a hosting service.

Shopping For A Domain Name

As I discussed yesterday, one of the first steps in setting up your website is choosing a domain name. The easiest way I’ve found so far to find out what names are available is to come up with one and then input it at Godaddy.com, which will quickly search for the chosen domain name with a variety of endings (.com, .net, .info, .us, .me, .org, etc).

This lets you know that the name is available. But don’t hurry into purchasing the name–some hosting services, including mine (dsgnrhosting.com), offer you a free domain name when you purchase hosting. This, among a number of other things, is something to consider when choosing a host for your site (a post on choosing a hosting service coming soon).

Personally, I favor having a domain name that ends in .com, if at all possible. Most people immediately think of a website as being a “dot com” so while other options exist, my recommendation is that you find a domain name that is available with that ending. For me, having a unique domain name is important enough that I am running each of the names I consider through godaddy before adding it to my list of possibilities.

If you have already established a legal business entity – you’ve registered your company name with the local business bureau and done all the government paperwork– then your domain name should in some way work with your established name. If your name, as registered, isn’t available as a dot com (many common words are in use already as domains for related products and if you’re using your name and you have a common last name that may be taken as well) many articles recommend you choose a .net, .info, .me etc. Other articles suggest adding words like “the” to the beginning of your name.

What I recommend instead is using a shorter, quirkier or easier to remember version of your name – an abbreviation, for example. For Melissa Breau Copy Company perhaps I’d do www.melbcopy.com, which rhymes when pronounced (mel – b – copy).

The trick is to make it both related to your actual company name in a way that will allow clients to create an association between the two mentally and to make it obvious and clear enough that clients will still associate it with your company.

When you’ve found a domain name that you feel is a good choice for your company and is available for purchase, your next step is to choose a host for your site (do this BEFORE buying the domain name).



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