Archived entries for research

Three Sites You Should Read

I firmly believe in the importance of continuously working to improve my writing and grow my skill set—and I don’t just mean the writing-related ones. I also am constantly looking for new products or processes for improving efficiency, sales tips and business practices. I follow business blogs as well as writing blogs and niche industry blogs (like pet stuff, since I cover pet topics).

Today I wanted to share a few writing blogs I read regularly that I think get paid less attention that they deserve. So many sites out there rehash the same information over and over and over again—they are worth keeping up with, for the rare occasion that they mention something new, but few sites really manage to offer new fresh content regularly. Each of these 3 are the exception to the rule. They continually provide new ideas and new perspectives from experts who are out there walking the walk every day. Continue reading…

As Journalists, Are We Also Experts?

I was discussing the idea of experts–and journalists as experts–with a fellow writer earlier this week. She shared that at her previous job, as a business to business journalist, she and her co-worker were frequently asked for advice from readers.

As magazine writers they naturally were in a position to receive up-to-date industry news and to interview various industry experts on subject matters relevant to their audience. This is true, I think, of almost any journalism job. But did that mean they were qualified to hand out advice?

We’ve Got The Beat

We, as writers, develop a beat–be it a neighborhood or a subject matter–that we tend to write about most frequently. Magazine staff are often assigned a beat, but even many freelancers choose a niche and write the majority of their work for that niche. As such, we grow networks within that field that we can rely on to provide us with quotes and information for our pieces; facts to slide into our writing… data from which we can draw ideas and write our stories. Continue reading…

Why E-Friends Rock (and a few that do)

The Panelists: Meredith, Amy, Michell, Rebecca, Megan, Alison, Erin

Blog Out Loud had its first east coast event last night, and I was in attendance. The panel consisted of a bunch of awesome ladies, and the hour-long discussion flew by. They touched on all the classic blogging and social media discussions – developing your voice, where to set your boundaries between your professional life and your online life, how to build a following, etc. but for me the most interesting and biggest take away (other than an awesome gift bag) was something I haven’t heard discussed before, but that really hit home.

The discussion about how to build your audience led to a conversation about online relationships. One of the panelists said that by making friendships online it allowed her to find friends based on common interests, people who she could form a real connection with, instead of just people who were geographically located nearby.

As someone who has formed a number of amazing relationships online through social networking and through blogging, I couldn’t agree with her more. And tomorrow I’ll be meeting one of my online buddies In Real Life (IRL) for the first time. Marian Schembari, the awesome lady that she is, has a meeting in the big apple. So after I get off work we’re grabbing coffee.

I’m super excited to meet her before she moves to London. If you haven’t read her blog and don’t follow her on twitter, you should, you’re missing out. Marian found a job in publishing by posting an ad on facebook; today, however, she freelances teaching authors and job-seekers how to use social media to make things happen.

Marian isn’t the only awesome person I’ve met online though – so I figured I’d call out a few others here and let you know you should totally check out what they’re up to.

Lindsey Donner and I met through Brazen Careerist. Then I applied to write for iGrad and she responded – of course she had read my work here and we already knew each other, so it was a done deal. She writes and works as an editor at iGrad, while also owning her own freelance writing biz. On her blog, Use Your Words, she writes about being a freelancer and shares tons of great advice. Naturally, she’s also on twitter, where she’ll post links to all sorts of great things (including the articles I write for her) and chats about what’s going on in her all-too-busy life.

Susan Johnson is another writer, based in Boston, where she hosts Media Bistro events. I’m pretty sure I “met” her through twitter (though we haven’t met IRL), but she also keeps a great blog about her adventures writing, reading and leading a creative life. She is a frequent contributor to Work Awesome and has written for a number of prestigious publications, including The Boston Globe.

Just one more, because I don’t want to overload you with the amazing people I’ve met without ever actually meeting….

Chris Rodell is our most recent Q&A – the first half of it went up this weekend past and the next half will be up soon. Chris has written for everything from the National Enquirer to Esquire; his blog, Eight Days to Amish, only talks about writing sometimes, and instead delves into all sorts of interesting things. He’s recently finished his novel for the 17th time, and is always up to chat. He’s also on twitter.

While this is far from the complete list, I hope at least one of these folks catches your fancy and that I’ve helped you make a connection… if there’s someone your following who is AWESOME feel free to leave their blog site or twitter handle in the comments & I’ll make sure to check them out!

Back to the Book: Sales

Alright, I paused on the marketing chapter for the last several weeks, but while I still haven’t talked about everything that chapter includes, we’re going to temporarily move on–because, like many parts of a business, marketing should be continuous–and come back to marketing techniques on a semi-regular basis (ie. when I feel like it).

Instead, this week we’re going to turn our attention to what is potentially one of the most important aspects of freelancing. We’re going to talk about Selling. That’s right, it gets a capital “S”–because it’s a big deal. Chapter 8 in Parker’s book is all about Selling Your Services (that’s actually the chapter title). One of the sentences on the first page sets you up for everything else you need to know about the topic: “As a salesperson, it’s your job to identify these people [prospects] and find out what they need and how you can help them.”

In many ways, sales is the opposite of marketing: marketing is all about trying to get the customer to know who and what you are, and convincing them to come to you. Sales is about going to them. In the marketing class I took as part of my Masters in Publishing degree, our professor described it as push and pull: marketing is pushing out info in order to pull in customers, while sales is about pulling in customers so you can push sales.

For many freelancers (including me) think selling yourself is a little terrifying. I can talk about it in theory until my tongue dries up and falls out of my mouth; I know what probably amounts to most of the “big tips” (make it about what you can do for them, not what they can do for you; always show yourself in your most positive light, etc.). And as I’ve discussed before, dealing with rejection is about realizing it for what it is: a less than perfect fit (or, as Parker puts it in this chapter–”Must rejection is no more than that–the prospect doesn’t need your services at this time.”)

So what can you to do rid yourself of the salesman jitters? The answer is two words that both batman and the boy scouts live by: BE PREPARED.

The first step of preparing yourself is creating a prospect list. Initially, your prospect list can look very similar to the list of contacts you made when working on market research. Then, perfect your elevator pitch–come up with a few benefits that you plan to offer to all your clients (both real benefits that your clients will see and benefits that set you apart from your competition). Remember that each person on your list is a person and if they can actually benefit from the services you are offering (and you can convince them of this) than they will WANT to hear what you have to say.

Once you have your list of clients and you’ve figured out roughly what you want to tell them, you need to actually try and make contact, while remembering what I’ve already said about rejection–they aren’t rejecting YOU, they are saying they don’t need your particular services at this time. If the prospect listens politely than tells you they aren’t currently looking for a writer, get their permission to check back in with them in a few months–promise not to be a bother (ie. Would it be alright for me to call you again toward the end of the year and see if anything has changed?) and get their OK to call again at that later date. If they say yes, GREAT, if not, well, cross them off your list.

One final note on something Parker said that I hadn’t realized. She writes, “Sales authorities will tell you that without a referral or previous contact, it can take five to ten sales approaches (such as a mailing, emailing, or phone call) to get a face-to-face meeting with a buyer, even when that buyer has a potential need for what you’re selling.” And that’s not even to make the sale–that’s just to get the meeting.

Link Round up:

How What You Don’t Know Can Help Your Freelance Business – Ever turned a lack of knowledge into an opportunity? That’s what this piece is all about. As new freelancers, there is no way we’re going to know everything there is to know about freelancing in our industry. Well, when you find something you don’t know if you can do, you can give up and go home or you can accept it for the challenge that it is. (NOTE: I do not advocate lying to clients about your experience – pointing them to similar projects you’ve done and telling them you think you can handle this new assignment is fine – butdon’t promise something you can’t deliver. It will lose you a client and gain you a bad reputation.)

Copywriting Jargon Got you Confused? Here’s Help. – In the last piece it was all about showing what you don’t know can help you, but in this piece it’s about testing your knowledge. Coming out of school with a Masters in Publishing definitely helped here, and even when I didn’t know the actual answer I had a pretty good idea and could figure it out – but this is a great way to see if you know as much as you think you do (and if you find you don’t … maybe check back in with recommendation number one).

How to Register a Start-Up – Some of my earliest posts were about researching the process of registering a small business; all the issues and not fun parts of doing said registering. This piece from the NY Times argues why becoming legally official is important.

Company Taglines – I LOVE THIS POST. One of the things I have been thinking about a lot lately is a tag line for my writing business – since I’ll primarily be selling to businesses, I consider myself in the Business-to-Business (B2B) market; Tom addresses how hard it is to come up with a B2B tag line and gives some solid suggestions for coming up with your own catch phrase. Mine? I think it’s going to be “Putting Your Passion Into Words.” (though I’ve gone back and forth on that first word…ex. translating? turning?)

Feel free to add your own links in the comments – and if you check out the piece on Copywriting Jargon, let me know how you did!


Weekly Link Round Up

How to Succeed in Business Without Knowing Very Much. – “I can rework the same paragraph 15 times and would never consider the first 14 “wrong” — just unsatisfying, or awkward, unmusical or unclear. I explore etymologies, refer to the O.E.D., rewrite, read anything I can about the topic at hand, take tangents while on a tangent.” I think that quote speaks for itself. Check out the rest of the post.

The Best Freelance Advice I’ve Ever Been Given - Marian, with her typical style, has infiltrated the ranks of freelancers and editors everywhere. But, fortunately for us, she decided to share some of what she found out. Great advice, and a must read if you want to be serious about writing.

Are You Just a Freelancer? Or a Successful One? This post, whose discovery was completely an accident, breaks down into numbers and incorporates in one post many of the things I’ve been trying to communicate throughout the time I’ve been writing this blog. It defines the difference between freelancing and BEING a freelancer. If you’re looking to make the shift, as I am, you had better know each of the things on this list.

How to Use Metaphors in Copywriting – Tom, who was recently kind enough to guest post for y’all, here on my humble blog, explains the difference between Liquid Engineering and a Leaky Umbrella – by which I mean a good metaphor and one that fails miserably. In his post he explains the difference between these two metaphors and why one works and the other … if full of holes (yeah, I did it, I went there, I was pun-ny).

Have You Seen This Dog? – Tell me, after reading Tom’s post above if you feel this is a perfect example of a leaky umbrella or of liquid engineering? It’s a post that touched home for me, which is why I am sharing it; I feel the sentiment it conveys is one all freelancers will know and recognize. At its essence, it is about the difference between our creative side and our business side and the need to keep the two separate but to nurture both, while understanding that the two have very different needs.

Teaching J-Students About Irony - An ironic post about irony. This post at We the Bistro made me smile. It spoke to the contradictory nature of writers and how rarely we remember to apply what we preach. Even those of us, like me, who write about how to do what we do well sometimes needed to be reminded to do more than talk about it. This piece did that.

Kicking Around a New Sales Strategy – With yesterday’s discussion of positioning fresh in mind, I couldn’t leave this post off the list even though it makes the list one longer than normal. While not from a freelancing perspective, it discusses in a way that is both frank and helpful the trouble with defining your target client base and the struggle one small business owner has had with it. The New York Times Small Business blog is one I read regularly. It is written by a number of small business owners who take turns authoring posts about their various businesses. Since they are essentially my target audience, I read it both for the small business advice and to learn more about my audience – but I think many of you can likely learn from it as well and I highly recommend it.

More Marketing Matters

Monday before last I started in on Chapter 7, which is all about marketing your services. A big part of marketing your services is developing your marketing position – which includes defining your business both verbally and visually.

The first step to creating your marketing position is to define your business – what makes you different from the competition? What sets you apart? You may want to come up with three adjectives that fit your concept of your company. Or, if you have regular clients already, you may even benefit by asking them for three words they feel define your business.

For me, the first three words to come to mind are: simplicity (I believe the process of hiring a writer should be hassle-free), clean (work I deliver will be error-free, correct and concise) and  helpful (I’m more than willing to throw in free consulting or advice along with my services – my goal isn’t just to deliver copy, but to help each business I work with achieve its goals).

So how does this translate to a visual brand? As you’ll see when I finally get this blog switched over to a self-hosted site and get my own personal site set up, it translates into simple design with clean lines and a lot of white space. For a more modern look, maybe you’d want to use colors like slate and plum; I have plans to mix the large amount of white with a little bit of dark gray and either a green or a blue.

In this chapter, Parker discusses her belief that the visual concept of the company should carry over into its logo design, its letterhead, its business cards and its website. But it carries even further than that. You should keep your company image in mind at every step of the process – correspondence should prove that you are helpful, for example. Error-free emails and communications will help create a “clean” image of your company in clients and potential clients’ minds.

Your sales materials should pitch that image. When you go on sales calls, you should dress to match that image. Your voice mail message should reflect it – if your image is “concise” then leaving a voice mail that tells your life story will not create the desired impression.

I think you get the picture.

One thing I believe in doing is surrounding myself with words that I think inspire me to achieve my goals. On the walls by my desk at home and at the day job I hang quotes and sayings – and once I determine my final business name, tag line and the 3 words I think describe my company, I will hang those there too, to serve as a constant reminder of what I want to achieve.

What words describe you or your business? How would you describe your image?

Marketing Research Questions

Since I discussed both what goes into conducting market research and what conclusions could be drawn from said research, I thought I’d also share the questions I am asking the Small Business owners in my area, as part of my R&D.

I plan to print out 30-something of these questions, so I can track each business owner’s answers on his or her own sheet. I’ve set the questions up so that I can circle answers, but still have room to jot notes. They are quick questions, because I know the people I am calling are busy, and will not want to spend a long time talking to me.

Another thing you’ll notice is there are six of them. Not 5, and not 10 but 6. First, I read a post (that I now can’t find) from another blogger on the power of using nontraditional numbers when making lists (3 & 7 are the most common “marketing” list lengths because they are apparently more likely to catch the eye than 5 or 10) – second, I’m slightly OCD (not really but still) and don’t like odd numbers; third, I couldn’t think of a 7th question that REALLY needed to be asked.

The last question contains several of the names I’m considering – i figured getting some market feedback couldn’t hurt. Other than that, the questions are fairly self-explanatory, I think. I’m trying to determine if there is adequate demand in my area (although thanks to the internet, I can work outside my area if I want) and what price this market will bear.

  1. Do you currently hire a writer when creating brochures, website content or other written information about / for your business (why or why not)?
    YES / NO
    ______________________________________________________________
  2. If so, where did you look to find a writer? If not, where would you look if you wanted one?
    ONLINE / PRINT / NETWORK / OTHER __________________________________________
  3. How much would you expect to pay to have a brochure written? What about content for a website? A press release?
    Brochure $_______ ; Website $___________ ; Press Release $___________.
  4. How do you market your business?
    SOCIAL MEDIA / EDITORIAL / ADVERTISING / OTHER _________________________
  5. What would be most important to you in choosing a writer out of the following: EXPERIENCE / STRONG SAMPLE WORK / UNDERSTANDING OF YOUR BUSINESS & ITS NEEDS / OTHER ________________________________________
  6. Out of the following four writing services, based on name alone, which would you choose? TYPED IDENTITY / INK JOT / CREATIVE CONCEPTS / IDENTITY WRITING SERVICES

Marketing Vs. Selling : Go to Market

“Marketing is what you do to make the sale possible — before your first contact with the prospect. Selling is what you do to make that contact and close the sale,” Parker writes.

Both of these are an important part of starting a business. But for many freelancers, marketing is an almost insurmountable task.

According to Parker, there are two primary reasons writers fail at marketing. First, she says they try too hard. That as writers, we expect to come up with the “perfect” marketing pitch – something unforgettable, something smashing.

The truth is, you have to be in it to win it. Or as the instructor of a marketing class Parker took said, If you’re there, you’ll get your share.

Chances are good you don’t suck. I mean, you may, I haven’t personally evaluated your work, but so long as you don’t completely suck, if you put yourself out there you will do some business. But you won’t do any business if potential clients don’t know you exist.

Second, Parker says that writers fail because when they get busy, they focus on the client work and fail to continue marketing themselves. When we’re swamped, like in up past our ears so that all that peaks over the piles of paperwork on our desks is our eyebrows, the last thing we want to think about is finding more work. But guess what? If we don’t, when we finish wading through that pile of papers, there won’t be another one waiting.

In order to make sure you don’t end up in a dead zone, with work behind you but none in front of you, it is essential that you develop a marketing plan and that you stick to it. This is not nearly as daunting of a task as it may seem.

The fist step is to do some market research. At the most basic level, marketing research is figuring out who your clients are and what they want.

If you know a few people who fall into your target demographic, invite them over for pizza and beer and tap their brains. If not, do what I’m doing.

Today, I began doing the preliminary work for my own market research. I put “Astoria” and “Chamber of Commerce” into Google and hit the search button. After realizing that there are a lot of places named “Astoria,” I refined my search and found the Queens Chamber of Commerce website. Listed there are a ton of local businesses.

I began by scrolling through them looking for likely prospects. I believe that my services will be more in demand among service vendors than among retailers; there may also be some demand from manufacturers. In addition to looking for potential clients / contacts, I checked out local small business events on the site’s event calendar and scanned the list for potential competition.

My next step will be to compile a list of contacts and contact information. I will write up a few questions (Do you hire a writer for your marketing materials? Would you? Why or why not? What would you pay for said services?) and then call, tell them I’m starting a small business and would like to ask them their opinion on a few things.

I’ll ask about what these people read, where they look for services, and what kind of small business events they attend.

Recording the answers for a dozen or so calls will give me a pretty good feel for the potential demand for a writer in the area. It may turn up potential competition. If I need more information, I make more calls, until I feel like I have a good idea how to reach the clients that I want to work for/with.

The next step will be deciding what steps to take based upon this information.

The Case of the Missing Internet

When I got my own apartment my very dear brother bought me a wireless router. At that point I had a PC and was very pleased with his present. It was something I genuinely needed, yet it was a thoughtful gift and one he knew more about buying that I did/do.

Fast forward: I leave my PC in a cab and the cabbie makes off with it (or else his next customer does). I never get the computer back. I buy a Mac, with the assistance of my fantastic other half (and then promptly pay him back for his portion of the investment). My Mac likes my wireless network. My roommates PC likes our wireless network. However one or the other of us frequently gets booted off.

So I consulted with my amazing tech guy who does all sorts of electronic mysterious things for me for free (because he’s amazing – and I reiterate that because he reads this blog). He says the Mac and PC are competing for the same IP address and the router isn’t sophisticated enough to assign different IP addresses to the different computers so that doesn’t happen. He can not access the router to tell it to do this because for some reason I do not have or know the appropriate password, despite my obsessive compulsive habit of writing down everything and keeping it for unreasonable periods of time.

In chapter 6 Parker discusses the different things a writer needs, technology-wise, to be up-to-date and survive. As I’m sure you can imagine, in today’s digital age, a stable reliable internet connection is among the must-haves.

Trust me, there is NOTHING more frustrating than typing out a long email or blog post, hitting update, and receiving a message that your computer is no longer online. F.R.U.S.T.R.A.T.I.N.G.

So I have decided that, with my next freelance gig, I will buy a new router. In the meantime, I’ve dug out a cord (ah, I remember ye, oh wires of old) and when the internet is on the fritz I plug in. It significantly reduces where I can work (it reaches my living room and my office – but not my bedroom, which is where I’m writing from now) – but it allows me to connect, so I can still contact my clients and they can reach me.



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