by Jargon Writer

Writing my way to becoming a freelancer

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.

April 9, 2010 Posted by | Freelancing, in practice, writing | 2 Comments

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.

April 8, 2010 Posted by | Freelancing, in practice, writing | , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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 (which will be http://www.jargonwriter.com as soon as I get it 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.

April 7, 2010 Posted by | Freelancing, in practice, writing | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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 http://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).

April 7, 2010 Posted by | Freelancing, in practice, writing | , , , | 5 Comments

On the World Wide Web

You may think I’ve stalled on the Marketing Chapter (Chapter 7) of Parker’s book – and you’d be partially right and partially wrong. Marketing is one of the aspects of small business that fascinates me personally, in a big way–which is good, since what I’m interested in doing is essentially writing marketing materials for small businesses. But chapter 7 is also one of the longest and most diverse chapters in How to Start a Home-Based Writing Business. Therefore, I’m dedicating a significant portion of time to reading through it and beginning to apply the material within.

Well, the next section of the chapter is on setting up a website. In today’s day and age, it is imperative for you to have a website if you’re going to own a small business. It is also likely that you’ll need a twitter account, and there is a good possibility that you’ll want to develop a facebook account also (although I think facebook for a B2B company like mine is fairly useless but that’s a diatribe for another day). But, unless you’re a web developer (which I am not), setting up a website can be confusing.

At first it seems simple enough–build a site in something like dreamweaver, buy a domain name on godaddy.com and get the two hooked up, which will be the birth of a beautiful relationship ending in marriage, 2.5 kids, a car, a dog and fights about the dishes. Not so.

Parker lists 16 steps, which is way too much for one post. So today, I’ll share what I consider “the basics” then ill break down the rest over the next few days, peppering in my own experiences thus far for good measure.

Parker shares that most of the writers she interviewed for the book use their websites mainly as a reference that they can point prospects to; in my experience with the web, that’s probably accurate. It’s rare that I’ll go “looking” for a service and stumble upon a fantastic small business. More often, I’ll hear about a small business and it’s mission and then go look at its website for more information. After all, as Parker writes, “Marketing and selling and usually about going to the prospect, not about waiting for the prospect to come to you.”

That doesn’t mean having a website isn’t important however. It IS essential to have somewhere for potential clients to go for that additional information – to look at your samples, to read about you, and to connect. A website is an instantaneous alternative to mailing out sales kits via snail mail. Which brings us back to setting up a website. How do you create a presence on that thing called the internet?

Parker’s first point discusses needing a “site provider.” In order to create a website you need three things. First, you need a domain name. Second, you need a hosting service. Third, you need to build an actual site.

That makes it seem easy, but unless someone breaks it down for you, understanding how those three work together can be complicated. Essentially, you need to buy a “name” for your website. This is your domain name. One of the best ways for checking to see if a domain name you want to buy is free (in my experience at least) is to look for it on godaddy.com. They have a handy search bar where you can type in any website name and they will look for it for you and, if it’s not available, they will suggest alternatives. Go Daddy also sells domain names, and offers hosting, but more about that in a minute.

Once you’ve found a domain name that is available and that makes you warm and gooey on the inside, you need to find someone to host your site. Essentially, hosting services are people who have lots of memory that is always hooked up to the internet, so that people logging onto the web can find your site at the same “location” all the time, whether you are online or not. A host stores your site for you online. So you must find someone to host your site and link your hosting site to your domain name.

Then comes the fun part–if by fun you mean tied up and being beaten by whips (hey, some people are into that). You have to build a website. This is the part of the process I’m currently at. I’m waffling between buying a wordpress theme (or finding a free one I like a lot) then essentially building a wordpress site, or building my own site from scratch and merely using a wordpress blog as part of the site. As I’ve mentioned before, I am not a techie but I do have some basic knowledge.

Finally, once you build the site you upload it to the host and the host connects it to the server and you’re live. But as I said, what sounds simple is really much more complicated. I’ll break it all down more tomorrow.

April 5, 2010 Posted by | Freelancing, in practice, writing | 2 Comments

How to Unblock Your Creative Block

This is a guest post by Jessica Schanberg, for more about Jessica see below or check out her blog, from Lemons to LLamas.

Everyone has times when they can’t seem to get their creative juices flowing. It’s normal to get stuck sometimes. Here are a few suggestions for ways to motivate you and help you to push through creative blocks. These are techniques that I use when I feel stuck myself.

1. Get Unplugged
First, walk away from your computer and get unplugged. Go outside and take a walk. Take in the scenery with no goal except to experience the life around you.

Enjoy and appreciate real life, people and the scenery around you. I find it helps me to get centered and regain perspective.

2. Move
Do something athletic, physical or fun. Move, dance or take a bike ride. It will do wonders for shaking the cobwebs from your brain. It makes you feel good and it gets your mind off whatever is keeping you stuck in a rut.

3. Focus on others
Volunteer and focus on someone or something besides your own work. It’s very rewarding, at least for me, to know that it’s not all about my work and me.

4. Regroup and recharge
Empty your brain by drawing, writing, or journaling all of your ideas, including any anxieties you may be feeling about your work. I think it is essential to allow yourself to freely express any feelings your having in order to get to the other side of a creative block.

Hopefully these tips will put a large dent in your creative block. They usually do the trick for me.


Jessica
Schanberg is a graphic designer, illustrator, writer and blogger based in Chicago, Illinois. She grew up in Manhattan and was inspired by the graffiti and street art that surrounded her. Check out more of her illustrations and writing at her blog, Lemons to Llamas.

April 3, 2010 Posted by | Freelancing, in practice, writing | , , , | Leave a comment

Procrastination Hurts.

This guest post is by Jay Hepner, a freelance writer, college prep tutor and career coach living in Gaithersburg, MD.

Procrastination.  What is it?   Why does it occur?  Why is it a problem?

Procrastination is putting off until “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” until the would-be actor “struts and frets” several more hours upon the stage than he or she had planned. Probably not planned.

Procrastination occurs because not doing anything is far easier than doing something, particularly something important.  Something important could get botched.  Unimportant stuff doesn’t get procrastinated.

We procrastinate because there’s always something more interesting than what somebody else tells us to do. Or, if we’re self-employed, it’s usually that perfectionist bastard “Resistance” dogging us.

A belief in what Steinbeck has called “the perfectibility of man” — or woman for that matter – tripled with a belief in the perfectibility of the task at hand and a concomitant fear of failure at the task, a fear that the product will be so semi-adequate as to expose the writer for a fraud, begins to brew a potent cauldron of calamity.

“Bubble, bubble / Toil and trouble,” indeed.

The cauldron itself is simply a desire to avoid the unpleasantness of the task.  But the longer one puts it off, the greater the unpleasantness.  The task isn’t forgotten.

On the contrary, it eats away with acid intent, at the same time generating a cosmic mass of worry that weighs ever heavier on the breast and brow of the “to-doer.”  One ends up living yesterday both today and tomorrow. And “tomorrow and tomorrow . . . .”

So, how to attack the procrastination monster?

First, get yourself a copy of David Allen’s Getting Things Done. Learn to CoPORD:  Collect. Process. Organize. Review. Do! The sooner done, the more time for fun.

Next, take pride and joy in productivity.  Revel in the number of different tasks you can complete in a day.  Keep score with yourself.  Play your own game of Beat the Clock.   Make lists everyday of what you want to get done from an elevated, ultimate perspective, down to the next actions you need to take to move yourself towards the achievement of those goals.

As the great basketball coach, Morgan Wooten, said, “Inch by inch, life is a cinch.  Yard by yard, life is hard.” Of course, consider what you will do.  As Shakespeare’s Falstaff put it, “Caution is often better than rash bravery.”

“Plan your work and work your plan,” says former NFL coach, Denny Green.

A little done today will be a lot done tomorrow.

Stop procrastinating. Procrastination hurts.

This guest post was written by Jay Hepner. Jay is a freelance writer, college prep tutor and career coach living in Gaithersburg, MD.

For more from Jay, follow him on Twitter @JHepCat72, or check out his blog, www.copywriterjayhepner.blogspot.com.

April 1, 2010 Posted by | Freelancing, in practice, writing | Leave a comment

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?

March 30, 2010 Posted by | Freelancing, research | 1 Comment

Step Outside Your Comfort Zone

As you may know if you follow me on twitter, I’m out of town this week. I’m attending a conference for my day job – we produce and publish all the show dallies and things for the show, so it gets a bit crazy. As a result, this week I’ll be posting several guest posts for your enjoyment from a variety of fantastic writers / freelancers.

But that’s not really want this post is about.

Instead, this post is about conferences. I love the idea of a conference – probably because they are all about networking. But, generally at a large conference I freeze up. Unless I have a “purpose,” I generally find that I’ve run out of things to say and end up standing awkwardly in silence looking at someone wishing that the perfect brilliant comment would just pop out of my mouth and knowing it won’t. You see, I’m REALLY bad a small talk. Like, catastrophically bad at it. It’s a major problem, because it makes it really hard to meet new people.

For most people, the problem is that they are nervous meeting new people. That’s not really it. Meeting or talking to someone new doesn’t make me nervous, I just never learned how to make good small talk – I never know what to ask to create enough of a conversation to find common ground. And without that common ground, no conversing tends to happen.

I really need to get over this.

I’ve known it’s a weakness of mine for a while and I’ve actively been working to get better at it; I’d even say I’ve succeeded somewhat. Here’s what I’ve done:

1) Be a Copy Cat. My boss is REALLY good at small talk. He can talk to almost anyone about almost anything, in a way that allows him to come across as an attentive listener and an interesting conversationalist. He can ask a question and get right to the heart of the matter, whether it’s a probing question or just casual conversation. So, I pay attention to how he does this whenever I get the chance. Then, I mimic his methods when he’s not around. And, a lot of the time, they even work.

2) Compliment people. When you have no idea what to talk about, give someone a compliment. Flattery is always a great way to start a conversation and it makes the person naturally inclined to like you. Whether it’s complimenting something at an exhibitor’s booth (at a trade show like the one I’m attending) or at an educational conference where you just don’t want to sit alone for lunch, compliments are a great way to start a conversation.

3) Talk about the event. Whether at a party or a conference or something else, discuss the place you both are – it’s something you both clearly have in common. You can ask someone how they heard about the event, if they are enjoying it, or if they have any recommendations for things to see – most of the time they will ask the questions back and you can share your own answers.

4) If all else fails, talk about the weather. Yes its cliche. But it works. I spent an entire cab ride today from the airport to my hotel talking to the cabbie about the difference between the weather in NY and in Fl. He told me he wanted to come up north during the winter and see snow. Was it the most involved conversation I’ve ever had? No. But it was better than a silent ride.

March 24, 2010 Posted by | Freelancing, in practice, writing | Leave a comment

It’s a Small World

I’ve talked about the importance of networking numerous times (like here or here or here). Today, something happened that was a perfect example of the flip side of why networking is a good idea.

You see, I had pitched an article idea to a new website that had listed an ad on Craig’s List. I was interested in the topic – it is targeted at recent college grads and it’s suppose to supply them with information on what to do after college.

When I first started working on my publishing major, I thought I might someday want to start a magazine about exactly that.

So I spent a lot of time coming up with story ideas, thinking about topics of interest, etc. I’m still very interested in the subject matter. A lot of my free reading is career / gen-y related reading.

As a recent grad, I also feel like I have a number of recent life experiences that would be very valuable to that audience. In the last few years I have: found a job in the industry I wanted to be in, set up a professional network, started my own business, found an apartment, moved out of that apartment, found another apartment, moved out of that apartment also and found a third apartment (each with different roommates), learned to cook for myself (beyond pasta), solicited advice from those more experienced and begun talking about taking my relationship to the next level (though we’re SO not going to talk about that) – although not particularly in that order.

So, I came across this ad. And I wrote a pitch letter (which, if I do say so myself, wasn’t half bad…) and sent it off with a story idea and a proposal for a regular feature.

Much to my surprise today I get an email from a writer friend – someone I have yet to meet in person, but who is definitely part of my network. She is one of the editors working on the project; and since she knows the quality of my work, gave me the go-ahead on the first of my story ideas. I had no idea she was working on this project, and sent the pitch out without any idea that she would be the one to read it. Yet that is exactly what happened.

Which goes to show, the writing world is a small one indeed. (I’ll be sure to let you know when she posts my first piece).

March 23, 2010 Posted by | Freelancing, in practice, writing | 5 Comments