12 Ways to Spend Downtime between Freelance Assignments

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Busy freelancers don’t always enjoy a lot of downtime between assignments. When those down times do occur, however you may breathe a sigh of relief, then wonder, “What’s next?” It could be a few days or a few weeks before the next assignment drops in your lap. So what do you do in the meantime? Here are a few ideas to keep you busy until the next assignment comes along.

  • Research new potential clients. A freelancer’s job is never done, even after you’ve submitted the most recent assignment. You always have to look ahead for the next publication to write for. You can’t always depend on current clients for a steady stream of work. Down time is perfect for exploring your options. Read publications that you’d like to write for, review the editorial guidelines if there are any, find out if they accept submissions or if all writing is done in house. Even if it is, the editor might accept a freelanced submission if it fits their audience.

  • Take care of your billing and invoicing. If you’ve fallen behind on invoicing because you were too busy writing, it’s time to play catch up. Those invoices are vital to keeping the money flowing into your bank account. You don’t want to miss a single payment.

  • Update your website. Freshen up the content. Add links to the newest articles you’ve written. Update photos. Contribute an article or two to your blog. An updated website can entice visitors keep coming back. Don’t overlook your social media profiles either. As you gain new clients or complete assignments, be sure to add those accomplishments to your sites so readers can appreciate them.

  • Practice writing outside your usual style. If all you write are magazine features, use the down time to try your hand at writing poetry, an essay, or a short story. Experimenting with different writing styles can freshen up your own writing.

  • Take a day off (or two). If you’ve been working hard to meet deadlines and haven’t taken time for yourself, then you owe it to yourself to take a few days off. Don’t think about work. Instead, hit the beach or spend a day at the museum, or go hiking at a local forest preserve. Time away from the job can give a fresh perspective and renewed energy. Then when the next assignment or client comes calling, you’ll be ready to go.

  • Reach out to your network. Down time is perfect for catching up with your network or expanding it. This could be as simple as sending out an email to a friend or client to say hello, or meeting a former colleague for lunch. You never know if any of those casual contacts will produce a hot lead on another assignment.

  • Assess your office supply needs. Make sure you have working pens, pads of paper, ink cartridges for your printer and anything else you need to keep your writing business going. It might also be a good idea to assess your computer equipment needs. Is it time to upgrade your laptop or printer? Do you need update your security software? You don’t want to run out of supplies during the next assignment, so make sure you have everything you need.

  • Take a quickie online course or webinar. As writers, it’s important to keep up with professional development. There’s always something new to learn about the industry. There are plenty of self-study courses at Writer’s Digest University, Media Bistro, or try a more general business c course on Udemy or Coursera. Even learning one new thing can help you serve clients better.

  • Catch up on housekeeping chores. If writing has taken you away from household chores and the dishes are piling up in the sink, then down time gives you a chance to clear the space. Clear out a closet, declutter your bookshelf of books you’ve already read, or clear out old client files, whether in file drawers or in your digital work space. Unloading stuff somehow makes you feel lighter and freer.

  • Spend time with family and friends. Make time for the people who mean the most to you. Enjoy a picnic lunch, go see a movie with them, or just hang out over coffee. Sometimes writers can get so caught up in the day-to-day obligations of their writing business that we forget we have friends. When downtime hits, spending time with them can make you feel grounded again.

  • Catch up on sleep. In my opinion, you can never get enough sleep. Sleep is what gives you energy to get you through the day, especially the rough ones with difficult assignments and demanding clients. Without proper sleep, you can’t always do your best creative work. So indulge yourself. Sleep in.

  • Immerse yourself in a good book. There’s nothing like a novel from a favorite author to make you forget your work problems – at least for a while. Books are the perfect escape, no matter if it is cloaked in romance, mystery or fantasy. On the other hand, reading up on writing craft, marketing or social media can be just as beneficial.

If all you have is a few days between freelance projects, there’s always something else you can do to stay busy and stay motivated with your writing career.

Helpful Resources for Freelance Writers

Like most professionals, freelance writers don’t work in a vacuum. They have to surround themselves with a supporting cast to help them succeed. They also have to arm themselves with knowledge and skills to win new client business.

In my freelancing journey, I’ve relied on several helpful resources to refine my craft and stay motivated, especially when I feel stuck or discouraged or filled with self-doubt about the wisdom of my career path. Here are my go-to places for inspiration and skills development.

Websites/Blogs:

Funds for Writers – If you have ever wondered how to earn a living from a writing career, check out this site by mystery writer Hope C. Clark who shares tips and advice for finding sources of income. In her weekly e-newsletter, she compiles lists of writing contests, literary agencies, freelance opportunities, writers’ retreats, grants and fellowships, and more. There’s plenty to read and learn from her site, and you’ll walk away feeling inspired.

Make a Living Writing – Carol Tice’s site is a go-to place for writers of all levels of experience. The blog covers tips and advice for getting published, how to find good-paying writing gigs and how to avoid  content farms. You can download a free e-book about how to avoid scams and browse lists of freelance writing jobs.

The Muse – While The Muse is primarily for job seekers, freelancers can find helpful tips for working with clients or finding career opportunities if the freelance life isn’t working out. Sign up for the news alerts about companies that are hiring, get insights from people who work at these companies, and get advice on how to approach a hiring manager.

Media Bistro – I’ve taken several of the online courses from Media Bistro, and they are well-paced, detailed and practical, covering everything from social media, advertising and copywriting to marketing communications and journalism. There’s also a job board for full-time gigs and a freelancer marketplace called Freelancer Connect where you can look for contract opportunities.

Writer’s Digest magazine – Whether you freelance for businesses or write fiction, Writer’s Digest offers the most comprehensive information, no matter what kind of writing you do. Find out about writers’ conferences, read interviews from successful authors, or take any one of hundreds of online courses. If you get writer’s block, they also offer writing prompts to get unstuck.

Jane Friedman – Friedman, a former editor at Writer’s Digest, has developed a loyal following among creative types who want to know how to get published. While Friedman reports on the publishing industry, she also shares guest posts from successful authors and editors who discuss everything from starting an author platform and how to pitch to a literary agent to how to start a blog and how to find beta readers for your novel. The online workshops are inexpensive too – about $25 for a 90-minute presentation.

Kat Boogaard – Boogaard is a successful freelancer who offers helpful resources to writers of all levels of experience, whether you’re a beginning freelancer or an established professional. Her weekly e-newsletter written in a cozy, conversational way, gives readers a peek into what it’s like to be a freelancer. She also shares freelance opportunities that she’s gleaned from social media. Check out her site at www.katboogaard.com.

Reynolds Center for Business Journalism – I recently came across this site while doing some random research about a topic I was writing about. The weekly e-newsletter called Tuesday’s 2-Minute Tip  provides ideas and advice about covering business topics, such as politics, cyber security, and supply chain businesses. Each article shares resources on where to find key data for business stories, statistics, and industry research.

Reedsy – Reedsy is an online marketplace for creative professionals who help businesses and individuals write and publish books. Reedsy also offers free online workshops via YouTube about the writing craft. You might find workshops about character development, working with an editor, or creating tension in  stories. If you’re interested in self-publishing, Reedsy offers a platform to help bring your story to life.  

Networking:

American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE) Monthly Freelancer Networking Group – Each month, freelancers meet online to talk shop. In addition, ASBPE lists job openings and news about writing for business trade publications. If you write long form articles for the business trade, this group is for you. Best of all, membership is free.

Freelancers Union – Your business is more than writing; you need to understand the financial side too. At the Freelancers Union, you’ll find numerous resources to help you operate your writing business as a business. Create contracts for your clients or learn how to manage your invoicing. There’s also an insurance marketplace for health, term life and liability insurance (among others) because well, writers need insurance too. Sign up for alerts to stay abreast of developments on laws that can affect writers. The Union may not be the most glamourous of writers’ sites to know, but it is probably the most important one.
 
Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) – As writers of fiction and/or nonfiction, there will be a point when you need to hire an editor. One of the best places to find one is the EFA. You can post a job or browse the member directory to find a match. Also check out the editorial rates page to know what you can expect to pay a freelance editor, or if you’re a freelancers, what to charge a client. There are numerous chapters throughout the country, so you can be sure to connect with other freelance editors wherever you are, and many of their events are online.

Books:
In addition, I have found the following books to be not only helpful but essential for developing my writing business.

  • Arts & Numbers: A Financial Guide for Artists, Writers, Performers and Other Members of the Creative Class by Elaine Grogan Luttrull
  • The Ultimate Guide to Marketing Your Freelance Writing by Linda Formichelli
  • A Step-by-Step Guide to Freelance Writing Success by Laura Spencer and Carol Tice

No matter where you are in your writing journey, whether you write for business clients or write fiction, these resources will help you stay on the leading edge of industry trends.

Six Steps to Writing Compelling Profile Stories

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While most writers seem to specialize on one form of writing over others, such as short stories or marketing, there’s a lesser known type of business writing that’s worth looking into. That’s the personal profile.

A profile is a written portrait of a person. The profile is gleaned from research and interviews with the subject and perhaps other people who know that person well. It can be as long as 2,000 words or as brief as 500 words.

You’ve likely seen profiles in newspapers, magazines and websites, usually has a narrative non-fiction piece. I find profiles to be one of the most interesting things to read – and to write. People make interesting subjects because every person has a story to tell. That story can be about their time serving in the military, or going through a divorce or overcoming cancer. You can learn about their hopes, dreams, successes and failures. You can find out what they believe and what they value, and how they see the world.

The subject doesn’t have to be a celebrity or VIP either. They can be a parent who is fighting the city to save the local library from demolition. It could be a doctor who has decided to set up a clinic in an underserved community, or a formerly incarcerated woman who is starting her own business.

Profiles are one of the most enjoyable pieces I’ve written in my career. Most of the ones I’ve done required me to interview only the subject individual. Other lengthier, more detailed profiles include interviews with people who know the profile person well.

There are four things I learned from writing profiles:

  • Everyone has a story to share, something they’ve gone through that molded them into who they are today.
  • Profile subjects can inspire others to follow in their footsteps, or take their own leap of faith.
  • Profiles put you in touch with outstanding individuals who have achieved great things, sometimes against all odds.
  • There is a market for these types of stories. Sometimes entire magazines are devoted to profiles.

At first glance, profiles may seem simple to do, but the key is to create a clear, accurate picture of the person. Getting to the heart of their story isn’t always easy, but necessary. Here are the steps I take to write a profile. You can find other tips on Masterclass and The Write Life.

Step 1: Do research. Gather as much background information as you can about the person. Check their LinkedIn profile or other social media, read any articles that were written about them, and visit their website, which usually has an About Me page. Make notes of the key events in their life that you might want to include in the profile.

Step 2: Find an angle. As you sort through the background information and articles, notice if there’s a recurring trend. Or alternately, notice if an event has been glossed over. I recently worked on a profile about a quadriplegic fashion model. While most articles focused on her accident and her rise in the fashion world, I noticed the initiatives she was involved in that opened doors for other young women in wheelchairs to enjoy a career in fashion. That became the focus of my profile of her. The focus of the profile can be anything from their career, family life or contributions to the community.

Step 3: Draft an outline. Once you know what you want to focus on, draft an outline for the profile. The outline can help you determine what types of questions you need to ask. Then create a short list of questions to prepare for the interview.

Step 4: Schedule the interview. Some people are nervous about being interviewed, so make sure you put them at ease. It might help to make small talk at first so they feel more comfortable talking to you. I usually try to keep the interview brief, no more than 30 minutes, especially if it’s a short piece. It might also help to record the interview so you can go back to listen to it later in case you missed an important detail.  

Step 5: Draft the profile article. Integrate interview notes with the rest of your research material and begin writing. When the first draft is complete, let it rest for a few hours. Then begin editing and rewriting until it is clear and cohesive.

Step 6: Send the profile to the individual to review. I believe this step is especially helpful to make sure you’ve quoted the person accurately and the story is true. This way the person knows what the story will look like, and you get their approval before it gets published.

Once you get the person’s approval, make whatever changes they request, then submit it to the editor.

Writing personal profiles is one of the most enjoyable aspects of being a freelancer. It’s a satisfying feeling when you know that you’re helping people tell their stories.

Tips for Working with New Freelance Writing Clients

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I’ve started working with several new clients recently, and with each one, I hope to develop long-term relationships with the promise of ongoing assignments. While I’m excited about these new developments, I’m also nervous about starting something new.

Several questions keep stirring inside my head: Will I make a strong first impression? Will they like my work? Will they hire me for more than one assignment? If the client is pleased with our work, three things may possibly happen:

* a productive, working relationship for the long term
* more assignments from the same client (repeat business)
* potential referrals to new clients

Fortunately, there are things you can do to improve your standing with a new client so they will come back to you again and again. If they know they can count on you to produce quality, well-researched feature articles for their publication, they will keep inviting you to write for them.

Here are my tips and suggestions for breaking in with a new client.

1. Get details in writing about the assignment. More often than not, they will send you a writing sheet that describes the assignment in detail, including word count, due date, maybe even other articles written about the topic. The writing sheet (sometimes called writer’s guidelines) may also include sources to interview, especially if it’s a trade publication. If the client does not provide anything like this, ask them for the details in writing, even if it comes in an email. I like getting these details in writing so I know what is expected of me.

2. Follow the writer’s guidelines. The client may have specific formatting requirements, such as capitalizing subheads or spelling out acronyms at first mention. They may ask for headshots of the people you interview. Make sure you follow these instructions. Freelancers can lose a client simply because they didn’t follow instructions. The client wants to work with someone they can count on to do the work that’s asked of them.

3. Meet your deadlines. I can’t stress this enough. If you can’t meet a deadline because you can’t reach a source, for example, contact the editor and let them know. Or maybe the source had a change in their schedule and couldn’t do the interview anymore, and you need to find another source. Contact the editor and ask if they have a source you can interview and/or if they are willing to extend the deadline. Sometimes they may have some wiggle room in their production schedule.

4. Keep the lines of communication open. Just as I alluded to above, if anything goes wrong with the assignment, let the editor know immediately. They may have suggestions on how to resolve the problem. Ask the client if they need additional information, such as images for the article or if they want you to send the article to sources for their review. These are small things you can do to make your editor’s job easier.

5. Proof your work before submitting it. While errors can slip by, you want to make sure there are as few as possible before you submit your final copy. When your work is clean, it shows you are conscientious about your work and it saves the client’s editorial team from having to fix it. Anything you can do at your end that helps the client is a huge bonus in your favor.

6. Be courteous, even if you disagree about something. If, during the editing process, the editor suggests changes to your article or they have questions about something you wrote, respond promptly and politely. Don’t get angry because they didn’t like your clever phrasing. Understand that they have a job to do.

7. Be sure to thank them. Whether they’ve given you a new assignment, made revisions to your story, or sent you a new referral, be sure to show your gratitude. Don’t be shy about asking for future assignments or referrals. It’s okay to say, “Please keep me in mind for future assignments or send my name along to another editor who might need writing help.”

While it’s exciting when an editor reaches out to you for a new assignment, it’s even more flattering when they pass along your name to another editor at a different publication. By following these tips, you can put yourself in the best position possible to earn new assignments and referrals to new clients. That can make your freelancing life a whole lot easier.

The Best Fall Education Conferences for Creative Writers, Freelancers and Content Marketers

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With the turn of the calendar to September and cooler weather approaching, my thoughts often shift to school at this time of year. Continuous learning is the name of the game for many professional writers and content marketers. Even attending one conference or training course each year can help you stay abreast of the latest trends in your industry.

As part of this education theme, over the next few weeks, I’ll be covering different ways to boost your education. Last week, I shared tips about how to build your vocabulary. In case you missed it, you can find it here.

This week, I’m sharing a list of upcoming conferences taking place this fall. The early bird registration may have passed on some of these events, but all the same, they may be worth exploring.

Some events are higher in costs than others, mainly because they’re in-person. But even if you walk away from the event learning one or two new things you didn’t know before, it’s worth your while. And because we’re still experiencing a pandemic, most of these conferences are being presented virtually, which means you can attend a conference in New York City without leaving your home in Texas.

So whether you want to publish a novel, begin a freelance writing business, or learn about content marketing, there are plenty of conferences to get you going.

Editor’s note: Most conferences occur in the spring and summer, so look for an updated schedule in January.

Writers’ Conferences

Genre-LA Creative Writers Conference
Los Angeles
October 1-3, 2021   (hybrid/virtual/in-person event)

Women Writing the West Conference
October 7-9, 2021 (virtual)

2021 Online Agent Fest
Midwest Writers Workshop
October 13-16, 2021

Gotham Writers Conference (virtual)
October 15-17, 2021

Writer’s Digest Novel Writing Conference
Pasadena, California
October 21-24, 2021  (in person)

National Black Book Festival
October 21-23, 2021 (virtual)

F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Festival
October 30, 2021 (virtual)

Genre Writing Conferences

Fall in Love New England Where Authors Meet Readers
Boxborough, Massachusetts
October 15-16, 2021

World Fantasy Convention 2021
Montreal, Quebec Canada
November 4-7, 2021

New England Crime Bake Mystery Conference
Boston, MA (in person)
November 12-14, 2021

DisCon World Science Fiction Convention
Washington, DC (in person)
December 15-19, 2021

Freelance Writing

Society of American Travel Writers Convention
Milwaukee, Wisconsin
October 3-7, 2021

FreeCon, Freelancers Conference (virtual) (Registration opens Sept. 15)
November 1-2, 2021

Medical Writing and Communications Conference
American Medical Writers Association
October 27-30, 2021 (virtual)

Content Marketing

Content Marketing World Conference & Expo
Cleveland, Ohio and virtual
September 28 – October 1, 2021

CopyCon Copywriting Conference
International Festival of Copywriting
October 8, 2021 (virtual)

Marketing Profs B2B Forum (virtual)
October 13-14, 2021LavaCon Content Strategy Conference
October 24-27, 2021 (virtual)

Digital Summit Chicago (in person)
Chicago, Illinois
October 27-28, 2021

As writers, freelancers and content professionals, these events not only keep you updated on the latest trends and practices in your niche, it gives you a chance to network with your peers, perhaps meet agents and editors who can help your career.

What about you? Do you attend conferences or workshops in your area? What is your favorite part about attending them?.

Tips for Creating Work-Life Balance as a Freelancer

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Editor’s note: I’m busy with a personal writing project, so I am reposting this article from 2019. I think the information is as pertinent now as it was then. Also, remember to check out the weekly writing prompt on my website!

When you work as a freelancer or independent contractor, you are your own boss. You can set your own schedule, goals and priorities. You can take time off when you want to. You have more freedom. 

Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it?

But the fantasy rarely lives up to reality. More often than not, that self-imposed schedule and responsibility can get out of hand if you’re not careful. While it doesn’t happen often, freelance work can result in forty-hour plus workweeks — or longer. For many freelancers, the opposite is true. There isn’t enough work and they’re scrambling to find new clients. Constant fear and worry can nag at you about making ends meet or getting clients to pay on a timely basis.

When you work for yourself, it’s easy to focus more on your clients than your own family. Even more than your own well-being. It’s easy to lose track of your schedule. It’s easy to forget that you have a social life.

But take heart. There is hope for all freelancers. According to the 2018 freelancer survey by Upwork, 77 percent of full-time freelancers reported having a better work-life balance since becoming self-employed. It is possible to achieve that balance. But like everything else, you have to work at it. Most important, you have to plan for it.

Having work-life balance is critical for your well-being for several reasons. It helps prevent burnout so you won’t feel overwhelmed by all your responsibilities. It helps you feel more energized and refreshed so you can face each new challenge. It removes needless stress from your life so you can think more clearly.

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Once you decide to begin working for yourself, it’s important to establish work-life balance early on in your freelance career. When you shift from a full-time job with a fairly set schedule to not having a set schedule at all, it can be easy to lose your sense of balance. As your own boss, it’s up to you set create that balance. Make it a part of your business planning. But how do you do it?

Here are a few ideas to help you create more work-life balance in your freelance career:

1. Set a regular work schedule. Establish consistent work hours and stick to them. If you worked a nine-to-five job previously, establish a similar type of schedule when you first start out. Make sure you give yourself two days off each week. Setting up a regular schedule with two off days keeps you in a routine that you can sustain.

2. Stay connected with family and friends. When you work for yourself, it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing you are alone. That’s not true. No matter how busy you are setting up your business and pursuing new clients, don’t forget about your family and friends. They are your support system, and they can give you proper perspective when business gets too hectic or if things don’t go as smoothly as you planned.

3. Don’t be afraid to say no. No to assignments that would be a waste of your talents, no to outside obligations until you meet your deadline, no to clients who don’t pay on time or change their requirements. Know your limits. Know when you have too much on your plate. It’ okay to pass on the assignment or refer it to another professional. Or hire a subcontractor to help you meet the deadline.

4. Keep your calendar organized. Keep all appointments in one place, both personal and professional so you don’t accidentally overbook yourself. Also set clear goals and priorities and list them in your calendar as a quick reminder of your obligations.

5. Detach and disconnect from devices. Information comes at us 24/7 via our devices, social media, computers and TV screens. It can be difficult to shut it out. It’s up to you to do that. Set aside a day or a weekend to do a digital detox. It might be helpful to put those detox dates in your calendar too as a reminder to stay balanced.

6. Set up a “fun” account. Small Business Trends, an online publication about small business practices, suggests setting up a separate bank account to be used solely for fun activities. As you get paid from clients, set aside a small amount into this fun account so you have money to splurge on that weekend spa getaway or ski trip you’ve had your eye on.

7. Practice self-care. To be your best for clients, you need to live healthily, suggests experts at FilterGrade.com. Eat properly, get proper sleep, practice meditation and yoga, or take long walks. Do anything you can to clear your mind and center yourself.

8. Keep up with personal interests. Maintain your hobbies, whether that’s playing tennis, reading the latest best-seller or attending concerts. Volunteer with your favorite cause. Sometimes when you spend time with those less fortunate, it puts your own troubles into perspective.

Whether you’ve been freelancing for for some time or are just starting on your journey, setting aside time for yourself is as critical to your success as helping your clients. When you work for yourself, it’s up to you to make work-life balance a priority.

Related Articles
7 Strategies for a Better Work-Life Balance in the Freelance Economy, Forbes
Here’s Why the Freelance Economy is On The Rise, Fast Company

Tips for Creating an Online Portfolio for Your Writing Business

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Whether you’re beginning your career as a writer or you’ve been writing professionally for a while, you’ll want to show off your best work. That’s where an online portfolio can help you present your best pieces.

According to The Free Dictionary, a portfolio is a collection of works or documents that are representative of a person’s skills and accomplishments. It’s one of the most important marketing tools you have to demonstrate the type of work you can do for potential clients. It’s in your professional interest to make your online portfolio look as clean and compelling as you can.

If you’ve never had a portfolio, you might feel unsure about how to create one. Or perhaps you have one but it hasn’t been updated in several years. Consider this a primer on portfolio management.

Basic tips for creating your portfolio

The following tips from The Vault and Make a Living Writing can help you get started.

  1. Understand the purpose of your portfolio. What do you want to achieve with it? Are you using it to look for a job or to apply to graduate school? Are you trying to build your brand and find new freelance clients? Whatever the purpose you decide will determine what types of samples you should include in your online portfolio.
  2. Know your audience. If your audience is comprised of non-profit groups, you may want to include a few samples of work you’ve done for other non-profit organizations. If your audience is made up of professionals, such as insurance agents, CPAs and attorneys, you’ll want to include samples that contain content for those groups. Know who your audience is and what they are looking for. Then tailor your portfolio to your specific niche or ideal client.
  3. Curate the best and most relevant samples. Make sure your samples you choose represent the best quality work you’ve done. Your collection should also showcase the type of work you’d like to do in the future. The best quality projects will speak for themselves with little or no introduction from you.
  4. Include a brief introduction to each sample. The intro may be helpful so visitors understand the why of the project. Not everyone will get it with just a visual link alone. Besides, the introduction gives you a chance to show of your copywriting skills.
  5. Don’t overcrowd the portfolio. Keep the site neat and tidy so it’s easy to see the samples. Focus on quality, not quantity. Ten high-quality pieces may be more appealing to potential clients than 30 that are mediocre.
  6. Use thumbnail sized images. Smaller images take up less space on your site, making it appear more neat and clean, and more appealing to visitors. While having a list of links, (which many writers maintain for its simplicity, including yours truly), providing images adds visual interest. 
  7. Make sure you keep your portfolio updated. As you complete projects and get fresh clips, you’ll want to add them to your portfolio. In addition, you’ll want to review your portfolio every six months to one year to make sure it’s current.

But what if I’m starting out and don’t have many clips to show?

If you’re new to copywriting or freelancing and don’t have many clips, start with the few you do have and slowly build from there. Experts suggest beginners create a few samples of their own, such as a newsletter or blog post. Another possible suggestion is to offer copywriting services to local businesses, such as revamping their website with fresh copy or creating a newsletter for a non-profit group. Yet another strategy is to pitch stories to websites you’d like to write for to add to your portfolio once they’re published.

For some outstanding examples of online portfolios, check out these on portfolio site Format.com.

Your portfolio can be created on your own website, which most writers I know prefer to do. Sites like Squarespace and WordPress offer a portfolio layout. You can also check out the various external portfolio sites, such as clippings.me, pressfolios.com or Contently.com.

When you’re done creating your online portfolio, remember to promote it everywhere you have a profile. Include a link on your LinkedIn profile, on your emails underneath your signature and on your business card, if you have one.

When you’re building your writing business, your portfolio will reveal much about your experience and capabilities. So make sure your portfolio look its best.  

For more suggestions about setting up your online portfolio, check out these articles:

The Muse: 4 Secrets to Building a Portfolio That’ll Make Everyone Want to Hire You
The Balance: Your Writing Portfolio

Is Self-employment Right for You? First, Ask Yourself These Questions

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Remember to check out this week’s writing prompt on my home page.

Many of us have dreams of hanging out our own shingle and taking charge of our livelihoods. For most of us, that’s all it is – a dream.

Many people who have started a business often wind up closing up shop within a year or two. They had difficulty finding clients or lost money before deciding that they weren’t as prepared for the solo gig as they thought. So they went back to working for someone else, preferring the stability of a steady gig and paycheck.

Working for yourself is hard work. Harder than most people expect when they start out.  The fact is, not everyone is cut out to own their own business. It’s more than the financial support and resources that can keep the business going; it’s your own mental and emotional make-up that can put a kink in your plans. Some people simply don’t have the fortitude, organizational skills and network to make the business work. Others don’t like the uncertainty about the future or fear rejection.

I fell into my solo writing career accidentally. I had left a job to manage a small business part time, but I was miserable. I quickly realized that this was not what I wanted to do. My former boss reached out to me to do a writing assignment for him, which led to other assignments. At the time, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do (although I knew I wanted to get out of the business management gig). Did I want to freelance full time, or were these writing assignments just a temporary fix until I could figure things out? Seven years later, I’m still trying to answer that question.

Looking back at that period of my career, I wish I had taken more time to think things through. I would have liked to have had a handbook or a self-assessment worksheet to help me figure out whether going solo was the right path for me.

The folks at the career site Vault have put together a really nice infographic that outlines a number of questions to ask yourself before deciding if freelancing is right for you.

Below are some questions taken from this infographic as well as a few of my own I wish I had asked myself. Hope these questions help you decide whether you’re ready for a solo career or not.

  1. Why do you want to work for yourself? Knowing why you want to work for yourself can help you feel grounded, especially when things don’t go as smoothly as you hope. Whenever you feel lost on your solo journey, come back to your why. It will help you refocus on your career goal.
  2. Do you have an established network and support system in place? Just because you decide to go solo doesn’t mean you work alone. You still have a support team around you, such as an attorney and/or accountant, a marketing person if you don’t plan to do it yourself, maybe someone to handle social media. Then there is your personal support team – your spouse, friends and family, and former colleagues who can pitch in when you need help.
  3. Do you enjoy working for yourself? Some people love working alone and have no trouble being in quiet surroundings. Others need to bounce ideas off other people. They’re more productive working in a collaborative environment. If you need to be surrounded by people in order to be productive, you may struggle working on your own. Then again, there are always libraries and coffee shops to make you feel you are surrounded by “co-workers.”
  4. How much of a financial foundation do you have? Most financial experts suggest having a nest egg of six months for living expenses while you launch your business. I would suggest more than six months, at least a year. For one thing, things are more expensive than you realize. Second, you’ll need cash on hand in case of emergencies, like a root canal or household emergencies.
  5. Do you have your first client or project to start? It might help your solo venture if you already have a client or two in place. They’ll provide the moral and financial support you need to build on for the future.
  6. How do you respond to uncertainty? Once you’re on your own, you’ll no longer have a steady paycheck, which means the future is very uncertain. That uncertainty can be too scary for some people. If you prefer the steadiness of a routine paycheck, then working solo may not be right for you.
  7. How are your time management skills? When working on your own, you won’t have to follow someone else’s schedule. You’ll be in charge of your own, or that of your client’s. In fact, if you have multiple clients, you’ll have to juggle priorities and that means having solid time management and organizational skills to keep track of them all.
  8. How much of a risk taker are you? This question might be easier to answer on a spectrum of one to 10, one being not much of a risk taker at all and 10 being “bring it on.” Knowing your comfort level with risk can help you determine what you’re willing to put up with as a solo artist – and for how long. Taking the leap into your own business is a huge risk, one that not many people are willing to take.
  9. How long are you prepared to go it alone? Experts say that most businesses don’t last longer than one year. One year is the barometer to decide if a solo venture is going to work out or not. For others, they simply run out of money or they lose heart in the project after six months to a year. If you’re in it for the long haul, then going solo may work out for you.
  10. How much experience do you bring from your chose field? Someone with only five years’ experience may not find as much success on their own as someone who has done the same work for more than fifteen years.
  11. How do you respond to new challenges? Some people welcome new challenges, and in fact, actively seek them out to spice up their lives. These people are more likely to succeed as solo business owners.
  12. How do you deal with rejection? Rejection is part of business. The most successful business owners will likely let the rejection slide off their backs or use it to fuel their next venture. They don’t give up. If you are easily discouraged by rejection, then working for yourself may not be right for you.
  13. How confident do you feel about your skills and prospects for success? The more confident you feel about yourself, the more positive impression you will make on clients and customers.
  14. How resilient are you? This question goes along with the rejection question. Are you able to bounce back after disappointment, such as a lost client or failed sales call? Most successful people working on their own are able to bounce back more easily because they understand that it’s only a temporary setback.
  15. Are you comfortable wearing many hats? Working on your own means doing a variety of tasks, everything from accounting, marketing, recruiting, even housekeeping. All of this in addition to your own unique skill, whether that’s copywriting, graphic design or pet care. You might be good at what you do and the reason you want to work for yourself, but you may not feel comfortable or have the skills to do the other tasks. You’ll have to figure out what you are willing to do and what you should outsource.

As you can see, working for yourself requires more than just basic business skills. It requires emotional and psychological strength to withstand the challenges of business ownership. By answering these questions honestly, you can decide if working for yourself is the right career path for you.

Keys to a Successful Writer-Editor Relationship

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Writing has been part of my professional life for several decades. I’ve worked on both sides of the table as both an editor and a writer (staff writer and freelance). So I’ve had the benefit of experience to talk about the writer-editor relationship. A good writer will make an editor’s job easier, and a good editor will make a writer’s work really shine.

“Writer-editor relationships walk a fine line between familiar and professional,” writes Chels Knorr at Clear Voice, a content agency. “They’re built on mutual respect. They’re transactional, but also because they involve something subjective as writing, deeply personal. The writer must trust the editor’s fresh eyes and insight. The editor must trust the writer’s voice on a deadline.”

Like any relationship, they bring different strengths into the mix. Each has certain responsibilities to make the relationship work. Here’s what writers and editors can do to maintain a strong working relationship.

For writers:

* Be reliable. Meet your deadlines, and follow instructions and style guidelines. When working for an editor at a publication, pay attention to their instructions. Is there a certain format you need to follow? Then follow it. Are there certain phrases and terms that must be included in your piece? Be sure they’re in there. If the publication editor asks for something specific, be sure to do it. Doing so establishes your credibility in the editor’s eyes, and improves your chances that they will want to work with you again. And of course, make sure you turn your work on time, which proves to editors that you are reliable and take your work seriously.

* Be thorough and conscientious in your work. Proof your work before submitting it to the editor. If you don’t know how to proofread, take a class. Also be your own fact checker. Confirm quotes with your sources. Look up statistics to make sure they’re accurate and the most current. When you submit work that is clean and accurate with few errors, it saves the editor time and effort to correct them for you. Editors will love you for it.

* Don’t phone it in. Give each assignment your all, even if you don’t feel well or have too much on your plate. Treat clients as if they’re the only client you have and end the message that you’d like to work with them for the long-term by giving them a strong representations of your skill. If you really are too busy to take on an assignment, say so. Honesty is better than doing a crappy job.

* Develop a tough skin. It can be demoralizing to receive a piece back from an editor with a ton of red marks on it. Learn to accept feedback with grace and an open mind. Try to look past snarky comments, which isn’t always easy to do. Whatever feedback you receive is meant to help you become a stronger, better writer.

For editors:

* Communicate expectations clearly. Most editors and publications I’ve worked for/with have a source sheet that outlines what the assignment is and what the editor is looking for. However, there have been times when even those instructions were vague. Make sure you are clear about what you want the writer to do. Even if it seems clear to you, it may not be clear to them. If you aren’t clear, the writer may submit something that was not what you expected, which means more work for the writer to fix it.

* Respect the writer’s time and expertise. Be kind to your writers, writes Sarah Gilman at the Columbia Journalism Review. They’re providing you with a valuable service, and most of them are professionals with a history of success. Treat them as professional colleagues and remember that they’re human beings too. Remember they have personal lives and go through rough times too. A messy divorce or a sudden illness, for example, might disrupt their work. Be kind to them, just as you would want another editor to be kind to you.

* Provide helpful, constructive feedback. Avoid hurtful criticism and personal attacks that can be demoralizing to writers. Stick to the work at hand. Explain what needs to be changed. Sometimes explaining why helps writers understand what is expected for future assignments.

* Pay writers on a timely basis – and pay them WELL. Most freelance writers have sporadic incomes, often getting paid at publication time, not upon acceptance. That can put them in precarious financial circumstances. Paying on a timely basis shows your commitment to them. It earns their trust in your publication so they will want to continue working with you. If payments are delayed, it sends the message that you either don’t care or have cash flow problems – a red flag for freelancers who depend on you for income.

More important, pay writers well. A well-paid writer is a happy writer, and they’ll be more apt to turn in their best quality work to your publication to show they are worth the investment. Underpaid writers feel undervalued and unappreciated. If your fledgling publication or content agency pays peanuts for the people who write for you, expect the submitted work to be subpar and you might have to continually replace freelancers who leave for higher-paying gigs. For information about writers’ rates, check out the Editorial Freelancers Association and Writer’s Digest, which both provide updated rates for freelancing services.

When both writers and editors understand the needs and expectations of the other party, they can look forward to a long, productive relationship.

Know the Pros and Cons of Ghostwriting

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October theme: Scary, ghostly things related to writing

As a writer, there are numerous paths to take in your career and different ways to specialize. Ghostwriting is one of them.

According to content marketing platform CrowdContent.com, ghostwriters are “professional writers who craft material for others, taking a client’s vision, story or idea and creating a polished, publication-quality product that the client can attach his name to and call his own.”

You likely equate ghostwriting with celebrity memoirs, autobiographies, novel series and nonfiction e-books, but ghostwriting can be done for business writing too, such as press releases, blog posts, opinion pieces and speeches. You might have done a few ghostwriting assignments without recognizing it as such. Maybe you wrote a speech for a community leader or a VIP at your job. Or maybe you wrote a letter to the editor on behalf of someone else. Ghostwriting is just one more service to offer clients.

But breaking into ghostwriting isn’t easy and assignments are difficult to find, which can deter novice freelancers from entering the field. But there are advantages to writing for others too. Below is a brief breakdown of the pros and cons of becoming a ghostwriter.

Pros

1. Ghostwriters can earn income while pursuing your own projects. While you give up the byline, you get paid for your efforts. Plus in between ghostwriting assignments, you have time to work on your own projects.

2. Assignments can cover almost every topic under the sun. You may be assigned to write about anything whether it’s a self-help book, the Vietnam War or home decorating, you can learn plenty along the way. If you love to do research and are open to learning about different topics, ghostwriting might be the right gig for you.

3. You don’t need special credentials to enter the field. According to Careermetris.com, Advanced degrees and special certifications aren’t required to become a ghostwriter.
As long as you can write well, listen to your author carefully and take copious notes, you can succeed as a ghostwriter. As writer Jon Reiner writes, “A successful ghostwriter is first a good listener, and then a good writer.”

4. You are responsible only for writing, nothing more. Once the project ends, your responsibilities end too. You aren’t involved in other aspects of the project, such as production and marketing. Writers don’t need to be concerned with making public appearances and interviews to promote the book either since that will be the author’s job.

5. Once established in the field, ghostwriting can be lucrative. According to Fast Company, less experienced ghostwriters can earn $20,000 to $30,000 per project while intermediate level writers can earn more than $50,000. Once established, early assignments can lead to bigger and better paying ghostwriting gigs.

Cons

1. Ghostwriting is a competitive field. There are few opportunities available, and few of them are openly advertised on job boards. Assignment lead can be difficult to find and it can be painstakingly slow to develop contacts to find potential leads. Patience and persistence are needed to find that first assignment.

2. You have to give up a byline. Your name usually does not appear on the finished product. You do all the work but not the credit, though you do get paid.

3. You have to work for someone else. That person makes the decisions, which you may not agree with. You have to set aside your ego to work with them, and you will have little control over the project outcome.

4. There may be strict deadlines and fast turnaround times. According to CareerMetris.com, you might be required to work longer hours to meet a deadline because the author wants to publish a book to respond to current events.

5. The work may not be very interesting. Despite the fact that ghostwriters might cover a myriad of topics, you may find those topics boring or beyond your expertise.

Before specializing as a ghostwriter, consider the pros and cons. Which of these conditions can you live with, and which of them are deal breakers?

It might be helpful to talk to a few established ghostwriters to learn about their experience. Check out the Association of Ghostwriters to learn more about this niche.  

Despite the potential downsides, ghostwriting for others can be a satisfying way to earn an income while pursuing your own passions.