What You Need to do to Boost Your Freelance Career
The life of one writer
More and more folks who have spent time in the corporate world are kicking it goodbye in favor of working towards lifelong dreams. It’s especially true of the baby boomers that have become disenchanted and realize they are on the downside of the proverbial hill. The kids are grown; the stress mounted with each step up that corporate ladder – and for what? More stress? Regrets? A lifestyle they can’t afford? Life gone by?
Modern technology has made it possible for workers to save gas, time and leave office politics behind.
The dawning of the freelance entrepreneur is alive and well.
Well, maybe not so well.
Life has changed.
Freelance opportunities abound. However, you now need to be much more than someone who can pen a winning article or book or turn a blank canvas into a masterpiece or produce a song that hits the charts. It takes more than that.
Much more than that.
My friends, life isn’t what it used to be for the creative souls on this Earth. There is so much more to being a freelancer in the 21st century. Digital media has forced us to be an entire company, whereas in days gone by we made our mark through our talents alone. Others marketed for us. Others handled the bookkeeping. Others were responsible for the operating expenses. Others found buyers for our amazing talents.
All we had to do was create.
And we were paid well. Very well.
Welcome to the new age. Many jobs have been eliminated. If you want to make your mark as a freelancer in your art, you have to be so much more than talented – especially if you decide to become a solopreneur.
Sorry to burst your bubble, but it’s true. I learned it the hard way.
I may have learned the hard way, but the mom in me wants to ease your path. Therefore, I share with you lessons learned. I hope you will pay attention because I could charge for this advice, but because I have compassion for those embarking upon the journey to your dreams I want to remove some of the bumps for you.
You’re welcome! Please pay it forward when you can. Those with similar dreams will remember you and thank you.
Without boring you with my history, suffice it to say I had it made as a TV commercial copywriter in the 1980s. After changing my role to mother and falling back on my accounting skills to feed the bottomless pit of motherhood and homeownership, I reclaimed my love for writing and embarked upon a freelance career.
Have you come back to your craft and discovered the environment has changed?
Yes, you can teach an old dog new tricks
Lordy Goshen, what a rude awakening! You can’t always pick up where you left off. You need to dust off the rust, find new contacts and remove the cobwebs from the skills that were parked in the attic of Life.
And learn. Again. Unless you are comfortable with earning $3 for a 500 word article, that is. Holy mackerel! In addition to a $500/week salary in the 1980s (as copywriter) I was earning $50/hour for freelance work.
Hoo doggy, this writer has stepped through a time warp that is advanced and retarded at the same time. No sense fighting. It is what it is.
I now will attempt to save you the shock I went through and the hard knocks that attempted to skin my dream.
This is for you. I thank all who have supported my endeavors, offered advice and provided the education I needed to survive in this Jetson’s world of freelancing.
This is what I’ve learned and what I impart to you, the budding freelancer.
I have not attempted to post these in order of importance; they are all vital to your career. Tackle them as you see fit. Hint: tackle the most daunting tasks first and the rest will come much easier.
Ready? Here we go!
Content mills and bid sites
Unfortunately, many of us get entrapped by the mills and bid sites because, frankly, we don’t know any better. When I first re-entered the world of freelance writing, I no longer had TV or production studio contacts, so I did what I knew best at the time; I Googled. I found Freelancer.com. Shortly thereafter, I was contacted by a client outside of Freelancer and was thrilled. Unfortunately, she paid $1/500 words. I was beside myself. What? Are you kidding me? But I went with it because I was 30 years older and so was the writing world.
I had to beg, borrow and steal to get paid for the first 15 articles I submitted. I did get paid, but by the time I did it was a bonus. I thought I’d lost. (I’d later realize that, even though I got paid, I still lost).
About 6 months later, I started working for a content mill; one that pays more than most. I even had to go thru testing. I was now up to $12/400 words and earned a $50 bonus for each week I submitted 25 approved articles, which I did. I thought I was doing pretty well. I still wasn’t meeting my overhead, but about 90% of it.
I thought I was cool. After all, now I was a professional freelance writer!
Then they lowered the payment, increased the word count and ELIMINATED the bonus program!
I started doing research after this. I could not live on a down-sizing pay scale that was minimal at best.
Then it dawned on me, that I had no rights to my copy. Hell, I didn’t even know where my articles were posted!
How can I prove that I’m a paid writer????
A great alternative to the mills and bid sites are sites such as HubPages. Hang on – hear me out. Sure, you don’t get paid per article on HP but you earn residual income for the life of the article. Not only that, you retain rights to your work and you have a link you can share with prospective employers. Think about it and do the math. Would you rather be paid $10 for an article similar to one you’d post on HP or earn unlimited potential income?
Additionally, you can customize your articles with photos, videos, polls, etc AND you can write about whatever strikes your fancy. You can’t do that when you write for mills or bid sites.
Note: when writing under a pen name, put your real name either at the beginning or end of the article. Clients/editors/publishers will Google your real name. Make sure they can find you.
K. ‘Nuf said. Let’s move on.
Build a website
I can’t stress enough the importance of having a website that showcases your work, appeals to your audience and acts as an online marketing rep for what you have to offer.
Your website is your calling card, board room, show room and meeting space all rolled into one. It is your multi-dimensional online office. And you can have it for free or at a minimal cost.
There are several hosts that offer free websites, however it is recommended you upgrade to your own domain. Many bloggers and entrepreneurs use WordPress as their vehicle. I personally use Weebly. For $59 per year, I have my own domain and don’t have ‘weebly’ in my URL. It’s much more professional looking to not have the host mentioned in your URL, plus you have access to more web-building options when you upgrade. It shows prospective clients that you have taken the extra measure to invest in your career. For $59 a year, it’s worth it. I honestly don’t know what WordPress charges, but the fact that many successful entrepreneurs use it I’d venture to say it’s very affordable.
Create multiple pages on your website, each serving a specific purpose. If you offer services for hire (writing, consulting, photography, etc.) have that be your landing page. Tell your prospective client what you offer and why you are the preferred choice. Include an About Me page (talk about yourself – yeah, it’s okay to talk about yourself!), a Bookstore or Products Page (if applicable), a Blog page, Contact Me page and whatever else you feel is beneficial to those who come to your site. (More on optimizing your website in a future post).
One thing I need to mention: building a website is easier than you may think. I couldn’t afford to hire a webmaster so I built my own. I put if off for weeks because I was terrified. I am the mistress of techno-igno (technological ignorance). However, most web hosts have tutorials you can consult to help you along the way. I am dead serious when I say, “if I can do it anyone can do it”!
Blogging is the perfect format in which to write using your unique voice. Find a niche (very important rather than blithering about this and that and everything in between) and blog regularly. It doesn’t have to be every day or even every week, but you need to bring new content to your site on a regular basis. This will help boost your site’s ratings with Google. (More on that in a future post about website optimization).
Not only do you get practice in writing and finding your voice, but the comments left on your posts will give you food for future posts; will allow you to measure your impact on those who are interested in your niche, and - most importantly – your blog will give you built in clips. When someone is considering hiring you, all you have to do is send them a link to your blog. Two birds with one stone, so to speak.
Gain Internet presence
It’s imperative for Google to know who you are. Okay, you may not like SEO and you may not think ranking with Google is important, but it’s extremely important to your business. Fortunately, keywords are not nearly as important as they once were, but your online profile will make or break you. There are several ways to gain an online presence. Before I get into that, let me show you a screen shot of what comes up when I Google myself: This screen shot doesn’t display the entire page, but I show up exclusively on the first page and all over the second and third page search results. Go ahead, see for yourself. Google Shauna L Bowling, then do the same for yourself.
Okay, so how did I do this?
Create or update your online profiles
It’s beneficial to any freelancer to have profiles and samples on social media sites. LinkedIn and Google+ are frequented by those who may be interested in hiring you. Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest are also popular social media sites. If you haven’t created an account, it’s advisable to do so. If you do have active profiles, give them a look and tweak any that are outdated or don’t give a good idea of who you are and what you have to offer.
Choose a recent professional looking head shot of yourself and add it to all the profiles you have online. It’s important to be consistent so you are easily recognized. Using a pet or cartoon character as your avatar is not recommended nor is it professional.
Another way to increase your online presence and come off as a professional is to list your business with Yelp, Superpages and your local business listing. These are all free and will benefit your business. Go into your city’s website and look for the local business area. This is where you can list your business or services. Upload the same headshot that appears on your social media profile pages.
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Learn from the pros
Subscribe to the blogs and newsletters in your niche that are hosted by high-profile professionals. Learn everything you can from them. If you haven’t decided on a niche, I recommend you become active in blogs and social media groups for writers and marketers. These will give you advice on how to make it as a freelancer by those in the industry who are making a real living at the craft. You will need to know marketing, so make sure you include marketing blogs in your subscription list.
Of the many blogs I’ve been following, I’ve found these to be the most informative:
- Boost Blog Traffic (Jon Morrow)
- Make a Living Writing (Carol Tice)
- The Renegade Writer (Linda Formichelli)
- The Word Chef (Tea Silvestre)
- Lifehack (Francesca Nicasio)
- Firepole Marketing (Danny Iny)
Be active. Leave comments. This will gain recognition with the big guns in the freelance field. The more active you are, the more curious they’ll become and just may check out your website. I know this to be true because I’ve seen traffic from these sites. Many of the blogs that are built with WordPress have a plug in called CommentLuv. This allows you to add a link to your site or blog when you leave a comment. Curiosity brings readers to your site once they’ve seen you commenting regularly.
Many, if not all of the sites I listed above offer free webinars. Take advantage of them and be active there also. Ask questions. Take notes. Now, I have to be honest with you. Most of them will pitch a paid training program at the end of the session. However, they offer enough information in the free webinars that you will gain valuable knowledge.
Once you’ve gained a good education through following the how-to blogs, weed them down to the few you want to keep and start the same recognition process with bloggers in your niche.
This brings me to the next point:
Guest post on my blog
I have a passion for Mother Nature and all her glory. I also have a deep sense of sadness for what mankind is doing to the environment. Technology, greed and the need for instant gratification have led to poisoning our Earth, thereby diminishing - if not destroying - the quality of life.
I know you feel the same or you wouldn't be reading this. Rest assured, you've found the writer who wants to help raise awareness for your cause and bring traffic to your door.
Guest post for blogs within your niche
This is a great way to have a byline on popular blogs, gain traffic and potential clients. Many of the larger blogs pay for guest posts, which is a nice little bonus. Be sure to leave a brief bio at the end of your post. Include a head shot and a link to your site and Google+ account. This will help with your online visibility and will increase your ranking in the search engines.
For every guest post you do, go into your Google+ account and add the link to the contributor section of your profile. This will cross reference with Google searches and increase your ratings.
Add testimonials to your website
When a potential customer comes to your site, reading testimonials from those who have used your services is a huge plus. Consider it a marketing tool. Ask your clients for a testimonial and post them on your site, along with a head shot of the person and the name of their company.
If you don’t yet have paying clients, offer to do a small job in exchange for a testimonial. Chances are very good they will turn into paying customers after the initial barter. I recently edited an e-book for a popular blogger/freelance writer. She was so thrilled with my work, I not only received a glowing testimonial to add to my website, but she posted a recommendation on my LinkedIn profile and will use me for future projects (paid, of course).
I wouldn’t make it a habit of doing free work, but an occasional freebie that benefits you and the client gives you credibility and leads to paid work. That, my friends is a win-win!
Marketing will make or break you
Put it this way: if you don’t market yourself, you might as well stick with your day job or go get one.
In order to make a living at your craft, you must actively seek paying clients. All of the steps I’ve mentioned in this article will help boost your career, but will not ensure a paycheck. That part is up to you. Seek and ye shall find. Now that you have a solid online presence, a beautiful website complete with testimonials and samples of your work, you have the marketing materials to hand over to your prospective client.
Point them in the right direction. Send them to your site, ask them to Google you. Win their trust. Get the gig. And don’t forget to give your new clients your PayPal info!
I know this article is quite lengthy, but I've crammed a year’s worth of knocks, bumps, scrapes, triumphs and growth into a few pages. I hope I’ve saved you some time. I hope I’ve helped clear up any questions you may have regarding how to get a leg up on your freelance career.
All I ask is that you pay it forward.
Shauna L Bowling
Refining, Defining or Rhyming
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© 2014 Shauna L Bowling