Sunday, December 28, 2008

The freelancer writer's guide to getting organized


If you are looking for clients, then it’s best if you have a schedule to follow. You may get lucky with random bids, but in the long run, you need to have a proper schedule to keep the steady stream of clients coming in.

15. Don’t procrastinate: it’s very easy to use excuses such as ‘I need to organize my desk first’ to delay the actual task of job hunting. Don’t let any excuses put you off your selected schedule. Make one, which includes time each day or week to look for clients, and then keep to it. This is one of the most important tasks of freelancing and should not be neglected.

16. Clear time and space in your home/office for this job: keep a designated place be it at your desk or kitchen table, and make sure you include a phone, fax if possible and of course your computer. If you are using the writers guide, yellow pages or other directories, then have them ready to use at your side.

17. Eliminate chaos: You need to have a clear desk and clear mind before you begin. So make space in your schedule to also pay off your bills, clear your desk drawers and finish pending tasks; at least some of them. Know that you can finish the remaining tasks at hand after you write your bids or pitch for new business.

18. Keep the basics at hand: As suggested earlier, this includes your guides, directories, a phone, a fax if needed, paper and pens, a calendar, a day planner and whatever else you need to go client hunting with.

19. Monitor your job hunt: You may need to develop a system to keep track of the jobs you’ve applied for, the bids you’ve placed and the client pitches you’ve made. This could be a simple excel sheet or a folder on your desktop. Tracking is very important if you are to follow up; the second key to landing a job.

20. Update your portfolio: Schedule in time each week or month to update your portfolio. This way, when clients are interested in hiring you and visit your site/portfolio, then can see up-to-date work you’ve done.

21. Research, research, research: A sizeable chunk of your client hunt should be put towards research. Research the organization and the person you will be dealing with, the product or brand you’ll be hopefully working on, and the market you’ll be targeting. You can never do enough research to get it right, and the more you do, the better your pitch will be.

22. Build your network: I’m committed to handing out my business card x amount of times each day (the x varies depending on the amount of business I have on hand). Join groups, associations and writers organizations. The more your network, the more you can get the word out – You’re a freelance writer and you can produce excellent work for them.

Congratulations, by reading this you’ve taken the first step towards getting your working life more organized. Good luck in your search for new clients. Hopefully, now you’ll have the skills and time to tackle them.

IF YOU'VE FOUND THIS HELPFUL, THEN PLEASE SUBSCRIBE TO MY NEWSLETTER FOR TIPS 1-14
ON GETTING YOUR HOME OFFICE/ WORKSPACE ORGANIZED.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Happy Holidays


I'll be off for the holidays; spending some time with my family and friends. I hope you'll are stepping away from your computers too, and taking a well-deserved break.

If you do need to keep on working though, why not subscribe to my newsletter? It is chock-a-block full of great ideas and tips to keep you creative during the holidays. It also has great freelancing job site reviews and a special tip included each issue.

You can unsubscribe anytime you feel like it and I will never sell or distribute your name/email address ever! I hate spam as much as you do.

Click on the subscribe button to the right of your screen if you wish to be added onto my mailing list.

Enjoy your holidays and see you after Christmas!!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Freewriting


Ages ago, I had promised to elaborate on 'Freewriting', and since I use it so much in my own work; I think it's time to share this little gem of an idea.

Before you begin writing anything, you need to understand your own writing process. It's only when you can grasp your own techniques, most of which are the same no matter the subject; that you can understand why and how you need to change to improve your writing style. Some writers gather their research and put down a draft based on this material. Others simply put down their thoughts before they can slip away (and we know how often that happens!) and then gather their research and begin their draft outline.

But what happens when you have no ideas and no indication as to where your research must start? This is where freewriting comes in. Simply put, freewriting is a process where you put your pen to paper or hands on the keyboard and write, non-stop, for 10 minutes. That's it. No stopping to think, no going back to correct spellings or grammatical errors. No making any changes. Just writing down whatever comes to your mind. If your mind begins to wander, then let it- just continue to write down what you think.

The value of freewriting lies in that your mind is too busy (as are your hands) to critique what is being put down on paper. And once the critic is silenced, your thoughts are allowed to flow. And it's quite incredible the direction this flow takes you. You may not get your complete draft from a freewriting exercise; indeed, often your thoughts go in a totally different direction. But you most likely will end up getting focused and if you are lucky, then you will have a central point from which to continue to work.

I love freewriting and even if I'm familiar with a topic I'm about to write on; I use it to help me put down all the jumbled up thoughts in my mind. Then once I've done my research, I can see if I've missed researching any of the points my mind initially came up with. And sometimes, I even find my starting sentence (usually my most difficult sentence) from a freewriting exercise.

To try your own freewriting exercise, do the following:


-Select an upcoming topic you've been asked to write on. If you don't have one, never mind. Select something that you would like to write on; preferably not something you are extremely conversant with.

-Do a 10 minute freewriting exercise on this topic. Don't stop till the timer you've set (or alternatively, keep a clock besides you) has gone off.

-I prefer typing with my eyes shut. This minimizes any distractions that may crop up (such as actually viewing spelling typos). You can do it with your eyes shut or open- just don't stop to make any changes.

-At the end of the exercise, read through it and see what key points come up.

Practise freewriting for at least 7 consecutive days and at the end of it, you'll find that your thoughts wander less often and your mind comes up with wonderful ideas on the subject at hand.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Saying goodbye to a client


Saying goodbye to a client can be one of the most difficult things you may need to do in your business. More difficult in fact than finding a good client.

We often take up clients because we ‘have to’. We are new to the business, we have no clients, we are thrilled that someone has said yes, it’s recession and we need the money. The fact remains, taking on a client who is known to be difficult from the start, is a poor business decision. Having said this, once you do have a client, he/she can turn out to be a rogue client- poor payment habits, avoiding phone calls, not returning messages and demanding much more than the service outlined- we’ve seen these kind of clients too. And they can be damaging for your business, not to mention, pocket.

So the question is, how does one end such a relationship? With great care! Excellent customer service extends even after it’s time to close the door on a client-provider relationship. The following tips may help you say no more, without the stress and anxiety that is normally associated with doing so; and more importantly, without it effecting your business adversely.

Never attack a client- verbally or in print. Even if you are owed large sums of money, always keep calm and use a sensible legal approach to collecting your outstanding fees.

Keep it short: If you need to apologise, then do so. But keep all explanations short and to the point. No long winded excuses needed at this stage- just a proper explanation and a time frame within which you must end the relationship.
Be clear: Don’t let the client misunderstand you; that could be very embarrassing for both of you. State exactly the reasons why you feel the relationship must end, and make it clear that it is indeed the end.

Never leave a project unfinished: That would be a very unprofessional thing to do, and completely unfair to the client. If you’ve agreed to do something, then go ahead and finish it before you say goodbye. If you can give you client notice, then do so, so he has time to make other arrangements.

Never second guess your decision: there are certain times when second guessing is good. Now is not one of them. If you’ve decided to say no, then stick to your guns; and don’t let anyone, certainly not the client, sway your decision. Going back after you’ve decided to quit shows a lack of strength and unprofessionalism, and this will certainly be taken advantage of.

Ending a relationship is never an easy choice to make, so ensure you are completely sure of why you’ll be doing it, before you actually go ahead and do it.

How to create the perfect newsletter


I’ve just added a newsletter to my blog, and while I’m waiting for people to actually subscribe to it; here’s what I’ve learnt by creating newsletters for clients (who incidentally do have people subscribing to theirs).

Keep articles short: A 300-400 word article is ideal to capture your audience’s interest, and keep it. Anything too long and minds tend to wander. While graphics are a nice touch, too many and it either makes downloading difficult, or takes up valuable writing space. Always provide top notch information and add the graphics later.

Your subject line is important: This is probably one of the most important things in a newsletter. This is what grabs your reader’s attention even before the newsletter is scanned. So make it catchy and reader friendly.

Include a tip: Give all your subscribers a tip. People love receiving free information and a free tip has immense value. Include some helpful information, which your clients can actually use.

Deliver: If you promise something, ensure that you deliver on your promise. If your newsletter promises 5 ways to burn fat at home; then make sure you cover all 5 points- in detail and with facts/figures thrown in if possible. This is the best way of making sure your readers come back for more.

Diversify: As your newsletter base grows, diversify if necessary to ensure you capture your correct target; each time. If you are producing a newsletter for a health product/service; then make sure you address those looking to lose weight, tone up and get fit and if you have it, then advice for pregnant women, elderly clients etc.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

5 top things a freelance writer must do

If you've decided on embarking on a new career as a freelance writer, but are stuck as to what you should really do, then the following points should give you some idea. These are what the serious writers recommend.

Get Serious: If you really want to start your own business, and this applies to any field, then you need to get serious about it. Freelance writing can be a very lucrative business, if you set your mind to it. If you’re dreaming of a career where you can get up at 10am, and yet put big monies into your pocket, then it’s time to wake up. The only way to run a successful business is by working hard. If money is not an issue, then you can write just about anything you want to. But if like the most of us, you are in it to make some grand cash; then think twice before accepting low paying jobs that take the entire week to complete, and instead, set yourself up to finding some good paying jobs.

Have realistic goals: Create for yourself daily, weekly and monthly goals and stick to them. If you plan to make $200 a day, then you will need to apply yourself to finding jobs that will pay you a decent sum. You can do 2 articles and earn that money, or 10 blogs. It’s all achievable; depending on what you enjoy writing and where your skills lie. As you get better at what you do, increase your goals and your charges too.

Put a value to your time: Most of us pick a figure we feel comfortable with – say, $30 or $ 50 an hour, and we stick with it; irrespective of how long we’ve been writing. In fact, novice writers often forget their hourly value and charge low fees per project. Say you charge $ 50 per article for a magazine, and it takes you 3 hours to research, write and revise it. You’re per hour rate has already fallen to 1/3 your value. Time is money and you need to invest in it wisely.

Don’t undersell yourself
: This connects with the earlier point. Don’t reduce your worth or value, just to get a job. It’s always harder in the beginning to build a client base, but stick with it and you’ll see results. It’s never easy to command a higher amount from a client, once you’ve valued yourself at a very low figure. I’ve done this once, and luckily, my client was very understanding when I said I needed to increase my rates. I did lose him as a client, but because I was honest about it, he gave me an excellent recommendation and we parted in a nice manner. You may not have such luck with all your clients and trying to increase rates half-way through a working relationship may backfire badly for you. So place a value on work and don’t go below it.

Keep busy:
If you are to make a decent living as a freelance writer, you need to be busy, constantly. One way to do this is to take on a variety of jobs – newsletters can provide a steady stream of income. Web page writing can be lucrative as can writing for larger publications such as magazines and newspapers. Another way to do this is to specialize. Become really good at one or two things and you’ll always be in demand.

And finally, as a BONUS point- always invest in excellent customer service. Say thank you to clients who’ve hired you, as well as those who’ve decided to give you a miss. I’ve got a lot of clients who initially declined my bids, but then came back to me, just because I took the time to thank them for viewing my work. Go the extra mile- that’s what will put you way ahead of the competition.

Consider subscribing to my newsletter for more tips and articles such as this one.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Ways to lose money!


While there are a number of ways in which to earn money as a freelance writer; there are an equal number of ways to lose money trying to become one. Hands up whoever has paid money to 'writing gurus' who promise you'll be earning fantastic sums of money shortly after you sign up for their course, seminar, buy their ebook etc. And the desire to make it rich, quick, is usually so strong within all of us, that we are suckers for schemes such as these.

What if I told you there was indeed a formula, that all successful people use, to strike it rich? How much would you pay me? I'm not asking for money (though maybe I should ;), but read the post and you'll see what it takes to lose money, and your own personal formula to make money.

4 Easy Ways To Lose Money:

1. E-books: I write ebooks for clients, and this is a great way to make money. Select your area of expertise or topics which interest you, as you'll need to spend some time researching them. And then apply for jobs to 'ghostwrite' ebooks. A good writer can make around $10 per page, which would translate as $800 for an 80 page ebook. A well established ebook writer can command more per page; so be ready with all your client testimonials and samples if you have any.

What is easy to lose money on is writing an ebook and then trying to sell it. Sure, you may have the knowledge and expertise to write a book, but by the time you've finished producing it and promoting it, you've not only cut into time that could have been spent earning money, but you've also probably put you hand into your pocket for up to $2000 if not more; just to get it out there. There's a lot of competition folks, and your idea is not necessarily the only 'original' gold mine out there.

2. Writing Gurus and Get Rich Quick schemes
: You can become a writing guru and make a lot of money (assuming you have followers). But you can also follow a so called expert's advice and lose a lot of your own. Always research any site which asks you to pay for expert advice. And if you can't verify any of the client testimonials posted; then don't bother bringing out your credit card.

3. Blogging
: There are blog sites upon blog sites which will tell you how much money you can earn just by setting up your blog and promoting it. But it's very rare to make a lot of money through a blog. Not to say it can't be done, but it take a lot of time and a huge following to get the amount of money most blog experts will tell you you can. A blog however is a great way of getting starting and building up a following.

4. Writing a bestseller
: We can all dream (and we should). But the truth is, writing a novel is no easy feat. And producing a bestselling novel is quite a task. You need to be determined, prepared for setbacks and rejections and have some amount of spare time to devote to it. Quitting your day job (even if it's one as a freelance writer) to write the next bestselling novel is not an option for everyone. If you do want to give novel writing a go, visit http://www.nanowrimo.org - The National Novel Writing Month. You'll be forced to write a novel within one month and that should give you an idea if you're writer material.

So, as promised. How do you get rich? Hard work, dedication, patience and commitment. Add motivation and mentoring into the mix and you've got your formula for success!

Happy writing!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Revising


If you don't have to revise an article, then it all truth, you've probably got it wrong. Or maybe you have it all put down correctly, but it could be improved on.

Most writers will spend up to 50% of their time revising what they have written. Revision itself comes from two words - re and vision, or to re-look at what you've accomplished.

While there are many ways to revise a document, the most popular one is to begin by checking it for accuracy. Once that's done, then look at it from the audience's point of view and ask yourself if you've answered all possible questions. Next, check to see that the language and paragraphs 'flow' smoothly. Make any adjustments necessary to get the document to read easily. And finally, do your spell check and revise for any grammatical errors.

When revising a document, it's always wise to print it out and read it, rather than read it online. This way, you'll be sure to catch the smallest of mistakes which otherwise will go unnoticed.

Drafting


Drafting is usually the most time consuming part of the process when it comes to writing. But, if we generate ideas before we draft and leave revision till we complete it, then the actual process is shortened considerably!

The most important piece of advice when it comes to drafting, is to ‘listen to our inner creative voice’ without stopping to criticize it. One exercise that really helps and which I have personally found to be extremely useful is freewriting. More on freewriting later, but what it essentially means is that you write non-stop for 10 or more minutes, about the topic in hand. Once you get into the habit of freewriting, you’ll see how wonderfully simple it is to invent points, which you then use to create your draft.

If you can complete your draft without stopping to criticize your tone, correct your grammar or rewrite your sentences, you’ll have a piece that can then be worked on in your revising/editing stages. And in allowing your creative voice to come through, you’ll find that you have more on paper (or on screen) than you possibly intended. After that, it becomes really easy to pare it down to the essential points you've been trying to make.

Invention


Most people begin writing without much thought put into it. Sure, they may have done some research, but a copy and paste job is really not the same as writing from scratch, is it? And yet, that's what a lot of writers believe needs to be done to meet their project deadline.

One of the simplest ways to get started when writing a piece: corporate literature, creative writing- it doesn’t really matter; is to begin with ‘invention’.

Invention as the name suggests is generating material for your draft. It helps you get started and avoid what is a writer’s most common fear- confronting a screen and drawing a blank (and maybe procrastination, which comes a close second).

Invention also gives you a chance to get your thoughts down on paper, before you have to think of structure and form.

And finally, it answers the most important question of all- what message do I want to convey in this piece?

We invent through our entire writing process- drafting, revising and even editing requires us to invent, and re-invent when something has already be said, or a word already used.

When inventing, it’s useful to ask the following questions:

- Who is my audience?

- What is the context in which I’m writing this piece?

- What is the reason or purpose of this piece?

- And, what form is my writing going to take? Would it be an email, a proposal, report etc?

Common writing mistakes to avoid


We all have our own writing styles, either learnt from school or developed over the years. But when it comes to business writing, our approach often changes. We forget the basic in favor of what we believe is a more professional style of writing. Long winded sentences and pompous sounding phrases do not make for a more professional style. In fact, quite often, the opposite holds true. Here are some of the things that need to be avoided when it comes to correct business writing:

Mean what you say and say what you mean- Do not use phrases or words whose meaning you do not completely understand. It may sound okay to you in your sentence, but it could be completely wrong in the context in which it was written.

Use everyday words- The average person would prefer to read at a simpler level. Long winded sentences and words that require the reader to have a dictionary besides them, can be quite annoying and not in the least bit useful. As Albert Einstein advised: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” A long word is the right word, but only if it’s the best word.

Avoid euphemisms- A euphemism is when a person is trying to skirt around the issue by not naming the subject. An example is ‘House of ill repute’ for a Brothel. A euphemism is “the substitution of a more mild, indirect, or vague expression”. In politics and public relations, a euphemism is often referred to as ‘doublespeak’. We use euphemisms everyday and because of that, it often gets incorporated into our writing. They can be positive- You may use it to add a note of humor to a speech or by way of important sounding job titles- e.g. Health care professional for a nurse. Or negative- you may use it to disguise an unpleasant task in an email, such as firing an employee. However, either way, euphemisms can get in the way of effective communication. So use them with caution.

Some common business euphemisms are:

• Administrative Assistant - an important sounding name for secretary
• take under advisement - consider
• consultant - an advisor
• downward adjustment - corporate double talk for a reduction
• erroneous report – corporate double talk for a lie
• prevaricate - to lie
• reverse engineering - corporate double talk for copy
• slack fill - corporate double talk for partially empty

Avoid tautologies- Tautologies are usually two or three words in a sentence that say the same thing twice. An example could be new innovation or advance planning.

Some other common business tautologies to avoid are:

• Very unique
• To reiterate again
• First priority
• Close proximity
• In my opinion, I think that...
• The reason is because
• Joint cooperation
• One after the other in succession
• Necessary requirement

Correct spelling and punctuation- 2

Colon (:)
The colon is used to mark the start of a list, but also to separate two parts of a sentence, where the second half illustrates a statement made in the first half.
'The country remains divided: rich and poor, the employed and the unemployed.'

Apostrophe (')

Used to indicate the possessive or show that some letters have been omitted.
'It's Angela's turn to wash the dishes.'
See how the apostrophe is used in two different ways - as 'it is' and to denote that it's Angela whose turn it is.
Common mistake:
Its - Belonging to it.
It's - It is.

Inverted commas (' ') and Quotation Marks (" ")
Inverted commas are used to show that a word is used to mean something slightly different from the usual -'so called'.

Quotation marks are used to indicate a quote.

Correct spelling and punctuation-1

If you get confused as to when to use a comma and when to use a semi-colon, then this post is for you.

Correct spelling and punctuation are the tools to be used when producing any kind of writing. In business, it’s a reflection of a person’s efficiency and reliability. Yet, many writers struggle with the basics. In this article, we’ll see what punctuation to use when, and how to improve on your spelling.

Full Stop (.)
The full stop is used to mark the end of a sentence. It is also used to show that a word has been abbreviated. Abbreviations are words that have been shortened to exclude the last letter of the word. Contractions on the other hand, do contain the last letter of the word. Contractions do not need a full stop.
Dr – Doctor / contraction, so no full stop
Mr – Mister / contraction, so no full stop
Mrs – Mistress / contraction, so no full stop
p.m. – post meridiem / abbreviation, so use full stop
P.O. – Post office/ abbreviation, so use full stop

Comma (,)

A comma is used to separate one part of the sentence from another. It marks a short pause for breath.
‘Although we have not yet received the parcel, we are expecting it shortly.’
Commas are also used to separate a list.

‘I will have the apples, oranges and lemons please.’

Semi colon (;)
This is used to mark a pause that is not quite long as a full stop. The two parts of a sentence are usually linked in some way.

‘The day-shift workers start at 9am; the night shift workers leave at the same time.’

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sharpen your business writing skills


In today's fast paced lifestyle, writing something that can be read and understood in seconds is of prime importance. To ensure your correspondence does not get stuck in a pile of unread letters or unopened emails, make sure you stick to the following guidelines.

1. Keep each sentence short. Using long sentences and intellectual sounding passages does not make us more intelligent. A concise report saves reading and writing time. A good trick is to read the report out aloud. If you've run out of breath at the end of any sentence, it's too long and should be modified.

2. Be specific. Use specific and concrete words. Do not make your readers guess about the context of the material. If needed, included specific dates, times and venues.

3. Use the active voice. A sentence written in the active voice is straightforward and to the point. A simple example of an active voiced sentence is 'The CEO gave a speech to his shareholders'. In a passive voice, this would be 'A speech was given by the CEO to his shareholders'. See the difference?

When writing, avoid if possible the following words, which signify the passive voice:
is
is being
were
was
are
has been
have been
had been

4. Organize your ideas. Put them down on a sheet of paper before starting to write. Make sure you get to the point straight away. All similar thoughts should be grouped together to make for easy understanding. Using headings, numbers and bullet points will ensure that the reader can remember your points and can refer back to them easily.

5. Write as you wish to be seen. If you use long winded pompous sentences, that is how you will come across as a person, to your readers. Similarly, if your tone is too friendly and confidential, you may not be looked upon as someone to be taken seriously. Use positive words and avoid stuffy clich├ęd business phrases.

6. Edit and spell check your document. Make sure it's grammatically correct and use a spell check before sending it out. There is nothing more unprofessional than receiving a poorly spelt document. Remember though, that most computer programs are tailor made to catch poor spelling mistakes, not poorly constructed sentences. If possible, get someone else to look through your document.

A well written document not only saves time, but also positions you as a figure of authority. A poorly written piece may even cost you your business. Investing a little time and energy in proper written presentation will surely increase the positive results you'll get.