by Jargon Writer

Writing my way to becoming a freelancer

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

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.

March 31, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

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

Part III: Q&A With Ty Unglebower

This is part 3, the final part, of a multi-part Q&A with Ty Unglebower. See Part 1 to find out how Ty got his start freelancing and a little about the kinds of projects he works on, or part 2 to hear what drew him to freelancing and a little about his experiences.

Jargon Writer: Do you set writing goals for yourself? What goals are you working toward currently? If not, why not?

Ty Unglebower: I cannot control the market directly, and therefore outside of my regular weekly or bi-monthly gigs I don’t suppose I can set a goal as to what business I will or won’t have in thus and such amount of time­–That’s determined by the other people.

But as for writing goals in general, I do have them. I want to make sure I have written 5 pages in some form, at least, daily. It can be accumulative from several different sources of writing throughout the day (correspondence not included), but I like it to be about 5 pages average. So I make sure if I don’t have a column due, I am working on my new article. If it isn’t time for that, I will post to one of the blogs, or work on my novel.

The novel is a one goal I am working toward. I do have a goal to have a first draft of that complete before the end of summer. It’s just under halfway finished now. I also have a standing goal to write three times in the blogs a week, in any combination.

Finally, by the end of 2010, I hope to have published one single thing in one new publication that I have not written anything for yet. That will be the toughest one.

JW: How successful do you feel you’ve been as a freelance thus far? Why?

Ty: I would say I have met with moderate to high levels of success. I’ve been doing this officially for just over a year, and in that time, in addition to some private clients, I have become a regular contributor to a website and a weekly newspaper. Plus I have a magazine piece coming out in April, with an invitation to pitch something for the summer issue of same. I am not location independent or out of debt just now, but for someone who has only had his business card and portfolio printed up in the last year, I’d say I have nothing to be ashamed of.

Ty is a 32-year-old freelance writer living alone in Frederick County Maryland. In addition to keeping his own blogs he is a regular contributor to Showbizradio.net and The Brunswick Citizen. He has also contributed recently to FiND iT FREDERiCK Magazine’s Spring 2010 issue. When not contributing to those publications, he is searching out others to which he may contribute his work, creating ghost-copy for private clients, or engaging in writing his novel. When he is actually not writing, Ty spends most of his free time making use of his Minor from Marietta College by performing as an amateur actor on various local community stages. He has thus far made no direct use of his bachelor’s degree, which was in political science.

For more about Ty, check out his blogs, Always Off Book and Too XYZ.

March 28, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

To free or not to free. . .

This is a Guest Post from Danielle Bullen – for more about Danielle see below or check out her site.

For the past couple years, I’ve been building my freelance writing portfolio. Writing has always been a passion of mine, so I’m more than happy to do it for free. But is that a good business practice? Does contributing to publications, mainly websites, that don’t pay their writers hurt one’s freelance writing career?

Freelancing is not my primary job, it is a side gig. Of course, if it were my main source of income, I wouldn’t even be having this debate.  Even so, being compensated for my work is something I appreciate. But, there are types of compensation other than money.

Writing is a symbiotic relationship between editors and writers. Editors need fresh content. Writers need exposure. Let’s face it, no one starts at the top.  In order to land paying freelance gigs, writers need clips. In my experience, I’ve found that media outlets that don’t pay are more willing to let novice writers sink their teeth in. With each article I contribute, my research, interviewing, and writing skills get kicked up a notch. Then, when I present myself to paying publications, I have published clips.

Besides the holy grail of clips, writing for free has other benefits. I contributed monthly articles to a now-defunct online woman’s magazine, whose content was created entirely by volunteers. I came up with each article’s topic and sources, so I learned a lot about interviewing and thinking outside the box; “priceless” skills.

I write for a book review site and am “paid” in books, sometimes pre-publication advance reader copies. For a book-lover like myself, it is a pretty sweet deal!

But, the biggest benefit to “pro-bono” freelancing is the relationships I’ve formed. I wrote blog posts for a web site dedicated to green small business practices. When my editor and her business partner launched a different site, she knew I was a trusted contributor and asked me to write for it. This second site has a completely different focus and audience–college students seeking internship advice. I jumped at the chance, because it would let me expand my portfolio in terms of what I can write about. My editor there, and actually, several of my freelance editors, wrote lovely recommendations for me on LinkedIn.

I have written for a few places that pay and of course, I would love to be compensated monetarily for more of my work. I’ve begun to send more queries out to places that do pay. Hopefully, the effort I’ve put into building my writing brand will be rewarded.

So, the rather complicated answer is no, I don’t think writing for free dilutes your brand. Poor writing dilutes your brand. The important thing is to treat each client with the same respect and give energy to all your outlets.

Danielle is a marketing professional and writer from the greater Philadelphia area. You can read her writing at www.daniellebullenwriting.weebly.com and follow her on Twitter @daniellewriter.

March 26, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Freelancers: if you don’t know, say so

This is a Guest Post from Tom Albrighton, founder and principal consultant at ABC Copywriting– for more about Tom see below or check out his blog.

‘To know what you know, and know what you don’t know, is the characteristic of one who knows.’ Confucius

A while ago, I carried out some SEO work for a client. The work included all the key elements of SEO – on-page changes, directory submissions, article marketing, PPC – but in a fairly shallow, small-scale way. Essentially, I was replicating the SEO I’d done on my own behalf for my client. That suited them, because they wanted to learn about SEO rather than simply outsourcing it; to some extent, we could learn hand in hand while building up their search profile at the same time.

After a while, we arrived at the limits of my knowledge. There were problems with their search profile that I couldn’t fix. I’d overcome them on my own site, but I couldn’t honestly say how. (SEO is often like this – you’re pursuing a number of tactics in parallel, and there’s no way to confirm which has been effective.)

I probably could have carried on bluffing it – claiming to know best while trying out random tactics in the hope that one of them would bear fruit. But since I’m essentially a copywriter, and the bulk of my work is content creation, there didn’t seem to be a great deal of benefit in chasing work where I could add little value. And I also wanted to keep the relationship simple – as Mark Twain said, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”

So I decided to admit that I couldn’t take the client any further, and suggest that they contact an SEO expert.

In fact, they decided to continue with me. I guess they valued the working relationship more than the actual expertise being offered – a strange position in a way, but in another it makes perfect sense.

Because a supplier who’s genuinely on your side is somebody worth keeping around.

For a consultant, suggesting that the client needs to buy more consultancy from you is always slightly suspect. Even if it’s actually the right course of action, it can seem self-serving. After all, it could be a cheap ‘all or nothing’ shot at getting more work or, failing that, letting the relationship go.

But suggesting that the client use someone else is not cheap. It’s potentially very expensive, if they take the advice. And that counts for something. It indicates to a client that, yes, you always tell the truth – even when it doesn’t benefit you. It’s the ultimate honesty.

I’m not saying all this to blow my own trumpet. I probably shouldn’t have got myself into such a position in the first place. I’m simply observing how powerful those three little words can be: ‘I don’t know.’

Summary: If you’re a freelancer, admitting you can’t help the client might seem like madness. But it’s also the best possible way to build trust.

Tom Albrighton has over fifteen years’ experience in writing, editing and project management, including work for Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, London Business School and Dorling Kindersley.

Tom is founder and principal consultant at ABC Copywriting, which provides writing and editing services to businesses, organizations and academic institutions in the UK and around the world. He writes regularly on copywriting issues for the ABC Copywriting blog, which is read and commented by many leading copywriters.

March 25, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 4 Comments

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

What’s it Worth?

One of the things freelancers just starting out commonly ask about is pricing. How do you set a fair price?

One of the few shows I watch fairly frequently (I don’t have cable – I use Hulu.com for all my Tv needs) is House. In a recent episode (5 to 9 – though it expires soon) Dr. Cuddy renegotiated the hospitals terms with a leading insurance company. And the main question in the episode boils down to “What’s it worth?” What is your clients’ business worth to you, and what are your services worth to them?

On House, Dr. Gregory House offered Dr. Cuddy (his boss) this word of advice when she doubted she was in the right to demand better payment for the hospital – he told her to crunch the numbers.

In order to figure out what you should be charging for your services, the first step is to do the math. What must you be making on a monthly basis in order to make ends meet? If you have a partner or someone else who can temporarily help out great – but figure in your share of the bills, so your final number makes sense.

Add together all your miscellaneous bills – your cell phone, rent, food costs, child care – whatever bills you have to pay on a monthly basis. If you’re going to continue working at another job, part-time or full time, you can deduct the amount that you make there from you total. The number you are left with is the amount of money you will NEED to make on a monthly basis, if freelancing is going to be feasible for you.

So: Rent + Cell phone bill + rent or mortgage payment + Food Bill + Cable & Internet + any other bills – stable monthly income = amount needed per month from freelancing.

Now, figure about how many hours a week you’ll be able to dedicate to your freelance business. For me, it’s a few hours a day (ab. 15-20 hours / week). Figure that you’ll spend about 80% of your time marketing and looking for work and about 20% of that time actually working. So, for my 20 hours / week, I’d spend 4 hours working on paying gigs (this percentage will likely change as you become established in your market, but that’s about right for a start-up).

For those who don’t remember how to do that math (it’s been a while since grade school) :

MULTIPLY the number of hours you will work by 20, then divide by 100 for the number of PAID hours you will have.
20 x 20 / 100 = 4 hours.

That is the number of hours in a month that you will (likely) be working on paid work. Now, divide your original number (the amount of money you need to earn per month) by that figure. My eventual goal is to make $500 per month freelancing part-time but my start-up goal is $400 (since I work full-time this is my goal vs. the amount of money I NEED to be making). $400 / 16 =  $25 <— this is what I charge as an hourly rate.

Once you have determined the minimum you need to charge hourly in order to pay your bills, it’s time to see if the market will bear that price. One of the things I discussed last week was conducting market research; in my survey questions, I included one that asks small business owners (my client base) what price they believe is fair. If someone responds that they don’t know, have numbers ready and ask them if they would pay x amount (the amount you came up with above) for those services. If you’re number is a weird one (25.68 or something) feel free to round-up for the survey – who knows? Maybe you’ll find the market will bear much higher than the minimum you need to charge.

If every person you talk to says, yes, they’d pay your asking price, your price is probably too low. If no one will pay it, it’s too high. Ideally, approximately half the clients you talk to should consider it a fair price (note: I made that part up; that’s my own personal belief).

NOTE: There are a lot of factors that go into whether or not you will actually be able to make that amount per month. I’m basing this off of my own experience and the experience of freelancers I know and trust. If you have no experience or very, very, little the 80/20 ratio may be a bit off for you – you may have to do even MORE marketing to land those first few gigs. If you are particularly poor at marketing, it may take longer to achieve these numbers.  By no means is this formula an absolute, and I ALWAYS recommend before you understand freelancing as a career choice that you have enough money set aside to pay all your bills for at least 3-6 months.

March 22, 2010 Posted by | Freelancing, in practice, writing | , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments