10 Ways to Add Value to Your Writing

writers need to add value to their servicesIf you are or want to be a freelance writer, you are in business. One of the quickest ways to go out of business is to start thinking of yourself as an artist, living a sort of interesting but highly flexible, self-focused life, and stop thinking about yourself as a business person. Writers start to succeed when they realize writing is a business.

Business is all about adding value. You sell something of value–everyone in business does, whether it’s a plate of Mexican food or fiber optic cables or, in our case, specialized writing services. But your business has to be more than that. You have to all sell things that your customers want associated with what they’re buying. For instance, if you sell Mexican food, you should probably invest in plates. You should have a pleasant place for people to come and sit down to eat their food. You should hire some folks to serve people and make sure that service is prompt and polite. The local Mexican restaurant in my town recently installed a soft-serve ice cream machine on the way out — and invites patrons who have had a meal to have an ice cream cone for dessert at no charge. These are ways to add value.

As writers in business, we need to add value to our writing services. This is not as hard as you think. Here are 10 ways you can add value to your writing services (and get clients to value your services):

  1. Maintain office hours and make them similar to normal business hours in your community. Better yet, extend them a bit. A writing business should be open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays because that is when people who buy writing services are at work. Work all night if you want to, but maintain an office presence during normal hours.
  2. Invest in a land-line phone that gets answered during business hours. Now I am not against cell phones, but they sound different and if you take your cell phone around as you pick your kids up from day care or go to the grocery store or the Little League game, people know. Plus cell phones can be finicky about providing good clear voice service. If your client calls you at 10 a.m. on Monday and can tell from background noise that you’re at the mall–and the phone goes in and out–you come across as a flake. Serious business people are about serious business at 10 a.m. on Monday–if you’re the kind of person who is not at work then, maybe you’re not really in business (that’s what your client will think!)
  3. Check your email at least twice a day and respond to all emails within one business day, even if your response is simply, “I will look into this and get back to you later today.” Hyper-responsiveness is a way to make yourself more valuable. Business clients and media outlets who hire writers are worried about their own deadlines. They can’t wait for a day or two for you to get around to replying to an email. I once had a very fine freelancer want to work with me, but she admitted she only looked at her email every three or four days, so could I just call if I had work for her? I know the freelance mindset so I did not write her off–but most of your business and media clients will drop you quickly if you say something like that.
  4. Resist the urge to tell your clients how busy you are or are not or anything about other clients. If you freelance, your clients know you have other clients. But it’s like having two boyfriends at the same time–even if they know about each other, they don’t want to hear about each other. Your clients are not there to be your therapist. You are there to serve them. Listen to them talk about how busy they are, but only share the briefest, most cheerful information you can about yourself.
  5. No matter how frazzled you are or how exasperating a client is, be cheerful and polite. Be professional. You can always fire a client but never fire anybody, especially a client, in the heat of battle. You need to be relaxed, well-rested, and absolutely dispassionate when you fire a client. As long as you’re working on a project, be upbeat.
  6. Do not disappear without telling your clients in advance. I once had a major project in the hands of a freelancer whom I knew very well; we had worked together for years. I was on the corporate side in this scenario and I had given him a big project on a tight deadline. I did not hear from him for a while and every time I called him, there was no answer. Same thing with email. No response. Three long weeks passed. We had not passed my deadline but I was literally in the process of hiring a new freelancer when I got a call from the original guy. He actually did the work and completed it by our deadline. But why did he go “radio silent” for three weeks? He told me, “I went fishing. I had a chance to go out of town and spend some time with some buddies, so I took it. I figured, why not?” Here’s why not: you left a good client stranded. Even though the work was done properly and by the deadline, for three weeks I had no clue what was going on. Always tell your clients if you are going to be out of the office even if you are not working on any active jobs. And if you do have an active job, absolutely tell the client twice, once in writing (email is fine) and once in person or by phone. This event so traumatized me that I never used this freelancer again, although he did super work.
  7. Never call a client at home or at odd hours. I remember spending one Sunday afternoon on the phone with a hyper-caffeinated freelance writer who was talking to me about a project that was due Monday morning. She had the project for over a week, but as she told me at great length, she had taken her kids to gymnastics and made a cake for a bridal shower, plus she went shopping for her mom’s birthday, and she was finally getting to my work and needed a lot of input. After regaling me with her adventures for the week (which sounded good to me–I spent that week behind a desk) she then demanded that I spend the next hour or so explaining concepts to her and helping her meet her Monday morning deadline. When I told her that it was not fair for her to deprive me of my weekend, she snapped back, “Do you want your project done or not?” I didn’t think her service was very valuable at that moment.
  8. Do some marketing. You don’t have to break the bank, but it’s nice to have a simple website, real stationery, and maybe a logo. You should also have a business name. If you don’t have that stuff, you’re just another would-be writer working from the kitchen table. Nobody in business with a big project wants to trust his work to somebody who isn’t serious about her work.
  9. Rent an office or make it absolutely impossible for others to determine that you are not in an office. I know lots of people like to work at home. Lots of people like to sleep till noon and watch TV all day, too, that does not mean I want to work with them. If you can afford to rent an office, even a small one, do it. It gives you a business office and it totally resets your attitude when you step into your real office. A virtual office usually turns into an extension of your home; most stay-at-home writers I know do the laundry and cook dinner as they work and eventually their business fails. (What a surprise.) If you cannot afford this, you must make sure that if a client calls you, the TV or radio is not on and you must make sure a toddler never answers the phone. Also make sure that anyone who answers your phone answers it with your business name and knows you’re in business. I once called a translator when I was the client and talked to a very nice man who assured me that his daughter was not a translator and not in business. It turns out she was–but it wasted my time because I had to wait till the next day to call her back. Her reply was to laugh it off. People lose clients over this kind of thing. Never let anyone near your business phone who cannot field the client’s question for you. What if the call that came in was not me but a business person looking for a translator for a $100,000 project? That guy would hang up and never call back. Are you ready to risk that?
  10. Always do more and better than expected. Sometimes this is hard to measure but I say as a writer that we should always do our best. Proof that article one more time. Look up that word. Double-check those footnotes. Deliver work on time or sooner. This is the most value you can add to your services and it is what will get you referrals.





How Does a Writer Get Work? Seven Tips for Would-Be Writers

Writers want work and freak out when it's not thereYou’re a writer. So where’s the work? Getting work is an ongoing task for freelance or self-employed writers. While most corporate wage-slaves only have to worry about getting five or six jobs over a lifetime, a successful self-employed writer has to get that many jobs in a month … or a week. So how do you do it?

First of all, you have to know who’s buying. If you are not aware of places that buy writing, you need to learn it quick. Magazines and newspapers buy writing, but so do businesses, websites, and even professionals. Over the years, I have sold writing to magazines (tough to sell to, good pay), newspapers (easier to sell to, poor pay), blogs and websites (lots of work out there, not high dollar), and doctors (articles), corporate people (resumes), and individuals (letters, reports).

Second, you have to have contacts. You can try to go “cold,” say, approaching a business online or using sites like Guru.com or Elance, but you increase your chances exponentially if you know the buyer. This does not mean you have to be best friends (in fact, close friends are usually not good for business–but what I call “third tier” friends are–these are folks you know but not all that well). If you have had jobs, contact your old company and your old colleagues. Use social media to locate former classmates, colleagues, neighbors, and friends. Tell them about your writing business.

Third, write for free if it is worth the work. For example, let’s say you want to get recognized for writing about gardening. It is not a bad idea to volunteer to write something for the paper (or just write it and send it in on spec) or a local gardening club newsletter or a gardening blog. This build your clip file. But otherwise, I’m not a big proponent of doing freebies. Only work for nothing if it is of value to you to get the clip. (And, yes, I’ve done a lot of free writing over the years.)

Fourth, be business-like. Despite what self-help gurus tell you, you look ridiculous when you are “passionate” about your work. Don’t gush over the editor or go to a business chirping that this is your first big break. Professional writers may love what they do and they are often driven, focused, competent, and even cheerful (well, some of us) but we aren’t giddy. Giddiness, silliness, or acts of “I can’t believe I got this job!” will make you look like an amateur. So sober up, even when approaching clients. This is your work, take it seriously.

Fifth, maintain business hours. A lot of freelancers want flexibility in their career, but you need to be accessible during business hours if you want business clients.

Sixth, get referrals. If you can land one client, it is possible you can get some of his or her friends as clients, too. To get referrals (and that is the mainstay of the business of most professional writers), you must deliver top-notch work, on time, with no excuses and you must be business like and pleasant. People will only refer you to a colleague if they are sure you are not going to embarrass them. And don’t be afraid to ask for a referral by asking a client to give you a recommendation or even asking if he or she has colleagues who might also need writing work.

Seventh, social media for professional writers is LinkedIn, not Facebook. Get a solid LinkedIn profile going (and ask clients to “recommend you” there) and use this to help bolster your credibility. Most business people consider Facebook to be juvenile and frivolous. You can keep your Facebook presence, if you want, but keep it strictly social–don’t make it your writer’s site.

And finally–never get discouraged. Keep calling. Keep emailing. Keep talking. Scour the web for opportunities. It can take a long time for a door to open, but once they start opening, they will start opening.


Can You Make Money on Elance? Six Strategies That Work Better Than You Think!

elance and the working writerIf you don’t know Elance, you should. Elance is a vast “match-making” website but instead of pairing would-be lovers, it tries to match people who want work done with people looking to grab some freelance work. Elance has lots of writing, translating, design, and other types of jobs and most freelance writers and artists I know have at least some familiarity with the site. Mostly it has been an exercise in frustration, because would-be employers post their expectations, including pay (stated as a sum or a range).

It is often sad to see what people think writing is worth. I once saw a listing there seeking some medical articles to be written by an M.D. (that is, a physician) and the pay being offered was $10/hour. I have seen other people try to entice writers into delivering 100 articles for $2 each. Most Elance jobs also have crazy deadlines (“I need 25 articles on hummingbirds to be delivered tomorrow and I can pay $50.”)

Added to that is a sometimes creepy and offensive tone taken by those doing the hiring. My favorite–and many folks copy this–is something like this: “This is a very easy job for somebody who knows what they’re doing.” In other words, the buyer is challenging you that if you think this job is anything but a cake-walk, you must be incompetent.

That being said, is there any good at all for writers from Elance? Elance clients would like to tell you that you should do their work free because it is good for your portfolio or it might be a good skill to learn. In such cases, they are practically saying, “I’m a big fat cheapskate.” But can anybody actually make money on Elance?

First, let’s look at what Elance does right. Elance sets up the site so that all communication has to go through the site. Elance gets a commission on all projects, but do not begrudge them their money. They also act as arbitrators. Everything you and the client say to each other, the work delivered, the dates, and the payments are all recorded. Your new client cannot cheat you. By the same token, you have to deliver what you said you’d deliver. Resist the urge to go off Elance and work independently, because in my opinion one of the best things Elance offers is this security. You won’t get cheated or, let me put that another way, you won’t get cheated without knowing it. You may agree to write an article for $2, but if you write the article, you’ll get your money.

Second, Elance opens up lots of work that you would never ordinarily see. It’s a giant marketplace and if you struggle to scare up writing jobs, let me assure you, there are tons of Elance.

The problem is that Elance does not pay or at least it does not pay that well. Furthermore, the better-paying Elance gigs attract lots of bidders (you have to bid for work) so you do not always get your shot. If you think that Elance is for you, there are some strategies you can use to set yourself apart.

1. Specialize. I know, everybody thinks that being a generalist writer is the key to riches, but specialization is how you make money. Find a specialty. It should be broad enough that it encompasses a lot of different subjects but narrow enough that you can look like an expert. Medical writing, educational topics, fitness writing, cooking, lifestyle, and business are all good specialties.

2. Trick out your Elance profile. Get a logo, pictures, and make sure your profile emphasizes your specialization.

3. Get a blog going and make sure that folks can see your blog, which, again, emphasizes your specialty. Don’t just be a writer, be a business writer. Link from your Elance profile to the blog. The blog should have examples of your business writing. Don’t do a blog about “how to be a business writer.” Make it a bunch of business articles so your prospective clients know you’re not blowing smoke.

4. Be selective. Again, counter-intuitive, but if you bid on every project, you look like somebody trying to scare up any kind of work at any price. Bid on work that matches your specialty. Don’t bid on work that is a misfit. The thing here is that if 10 writers all bid on an Elance writing project for a book on the topic of  “how to start your own restaurant,” and 9 of those writers are generalists … who gets the job? By being selective you refuse to compete in any arena where you are just one of the pack and choose only to compete where you stand out.

5. Bid what you want. While clients on Elance post what they want to pay, you know that people do not always get what they want. You are perfectly free to bid way above what they post. A person can ask you to write a book entitled  “how to start your own restaurant” for $100 but you can turn around and ask $5,000 for it. Now with that kind of differential, you’re bidding yourself out of the running, but I’m making a point. You can bid whatever you want. Now if you really want this job but can’t see that it’s worth your time for under $1,000, why not bid $1,000?Think this doesn’t work? Try it. But the point is you have to be very specialized to make this work. A generalist can’t get away with it.

6. Don’t be afraid to load your blog up with articles on-point. If I’m trying to get the book job on starting a new restaurant, I could post on my blog some links to short articles I’ve written like “10 Pitfalls to Starting a New Restaurant” or “Designing Your Restaurant Menu Without Breaking the Bank.” If you bid on the job or communicate with the client before the writer is chosen, you can forward those links. Voila, instant expert.And everybody knows, experts are expensive.

One last tip to working with Elance. I would hesitate to take on any big project even with Elance until I knew the client. As you may know, some clients are crazy. A short project is usually the best way to get to know the client and to let the client get to know you. You can often negotiate better prices when the client specifically asks for you to bid on his or her Elance project (clients can request bids on specific writers).