I recently was involved in a discussion on LinkedIn about cold calls and how they help your business. I had given an example of the wide variety of businesses that I had written for thanks to cold calls, one of those being a group of daycare centers. Someone asked the question "What kind of writing could a daycare center possibly need?" and my answer to that question was as follows (I actually cut and pasted my response so as not to misquote myself!)

"One of the main services I provide for the daycare sites is a blog. Parents love the blog. They can request issues they'd like to see written about and I post relevant data on child development issues and provide links to online resources that can help parents. It's another advertisement the daycare center can provide to their potential clients and they're more than happy to pay for that. There are always services you can provide by looking at what is NOT currently being offered and then offering to fill that void for a business.

I want to reiterate that thought: there are always services you can provide by looking at what is NOT currently being offered and then offering to fill that void for a business. That is the key to niche marketing. Here is a good assignment to get you started. Go to the website of a local business that you frequent and ask yourself these questions as you peruse:

1. What aspect of the content applies to me, the customer? If the website is full of content but none of it applies to you, the customer, then it isn't relevant content. As a customer, you want a website to answer certain questions for you; if the site isn't providing that service, there is a niche that can be filled. And who better to fill it than you, the customer who also is a writer?

2. Is there something important missing? If you think a blog would benefit the site, explain why. If the site would gain impact by having a calendar of events, let them know.

3. Is the content on point, yet poorly written and grammatically incorrect? This one is a bit of a sticky wicket. You want to point this out to a business owner, knowing full well that he or she may well be the author of the content; therefore, you don't want to insult their intelligence. A good way to begin your conversation would be to find out who writes their web content and then take it from there. If they say they write it themselves, you can always approach it with something like this: "As a small business owner your time is better spent on running your business; I can provide you with high quality, customer-centric web content that will free up your time" etc. The poorly written content need never be mentioned.

Finding the missing link is an imperative part of marketing yourself to a new business customer. Being able to prove you have something of merit to offer is the best way to sell your services to a new client. Give it a try; research a few local businesses, identify their content issues and then make the call. You may be making your first call to a new client!
 
 
There seems to be a few schools of thoughts on the merits of maintaining a blog on your business site. Some writers maintain that if you aren't getting paid to blog then why bother? Others believe that keeping a blog on your business site is unnecessary and a waste of time that could be spent pursuing paying projects. Still others think it is a great idea but they just haven't found the time to get started.

Well, to those writers I say "Hogwash!" Okay, I was going to be a little more extreme in my language usage but I'm trying to maintain a professional tone in this post, so hogwash will have to suffice. Writers who believe it's a waste of time because they aren't being paid are being incredibly short-sighted. Keeping a blog on your business site does a wealth of things for your career.

Blogging on your business site draws visitors

Yes, it is true. I analyze the stats of this website on a weekly basis and one thing has proven true every week: on days I post a blog entry there is a spike in visits to my site. When I create a new post I share it on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and my LinkedIn profile. Many times other writers then share my link on their Facebook pages or Twitter feeds and when that happens, my site traffic is increased dramatically. And let's face it, anything that drives visitors to your business site can only be good for business. Which leads me to point number two:

You will likely get business based on your blog posts

I think there is a twofold reason for this phenomena. I believe that of course, the increased traffic to your site is bound to contain some people in the PR or marketing world who are looking to hire fresh talent. Secondly, your blog posts are a great advertisement for the nuances of your writing on a regular basis. Your posts showcase your current ability much better than old clips do, or at least I've found this to be true. I have gotten some business clients as a result of my blog posts, and their reasons for hiring me have been because they got a great current example of my writing style.

You have a great opportunity to help other writers with your blog posts

I'm all about paying it forward in the writing world. I had some great mentors who really helped me out when I first started, and one of the greatest resources I found online were some of the wonderful blogs that other writers maintain, giving advice to their fellow writers. Two that I especially love, mainly because the women that write the posts are two of my freelance heroines, are www.dollarsanddeadlines.blogspot.com, the great blog and website of author and freelance writer Kelly James-Enger. (If you haven't read her incredible book Writer for Hire: 101 Secrets to Freelance Success you are truly missing out on some incredibly valuable information!) The second is www.therenegadewriter.com, author and freelance guru Linda Formichelli's amazing site. There is a wealth of information on her site, and she posts guest blogs by other writers as well. You certainly have to check these two sites out to see what a mentor blog should look like.

So as you can probably see, I am pretty heavily pro-blog on business sites. I really want to stress the fact that anything that brings visitors to your site and keeps them coming back can only be beneficial to your bottom line. Write posts that you feel good about, that are full of the type of advice you would have loved to have gotten when you were just starting out. Make sure the writing is high-quality and watch for spelling and grammatical errors. Keep the content interesting and watch your site visits increase.
 
 
Think about your audience

To effectively communicate with your audience, you must use plain-language techniques to write web content. One of the most popular plain language myths is that you have to "dumb down" your content so that everyone everywhere can read it. That's not true. The first rule of plain language is: write for your audience. Use language your reader knows and feels comfortable with. Take your audience's current level of knowledge into account. Don't write for an 8th grade class if your audience is composed of PhD candidates, small business owners, working parents or immigrants. Only write for 8th graders if your audience is, in fact, an 8th grade class.

Identify and write for your audience

You have to grab your audience's attention if you want to get your ideas across. Let's face it; people want to know just what applies to them. The best way to grab and hold someone's attention is to figure out who they are and what they want to know. Put yourself in their shoes; it will give you a new perspective.

Tell your audience why the material is important to them. Say, "If you want a research grant, here's what you have to do." Or, "If you want to mine federal coal, here's what you should know." Or, "If you want to know what a medical assistant does, read this."

Identifying your audience will do more than ensure that you write clearly!  It will also help you focus on the audience's needs. Start out by thinking about what your audience knows about the situation now. Then, think about how to guide them (like this article) from their current knowledge to what you need them to know. To help you do this, try answering the following questions:

  • Who is my audience?
  • What does my audience already know about the subject?
  • What does my audience need to know?
  • What questions will my audience have?
  • What's the best outcome for our audience? What do I need to say to get this outcome?

For example, you might say “The target audience of my resource is predominantly 25-35 years old, female, with HS Diploma or GED, having no idea about medical assisting and all that goes with it. She is thinking about what career to enter, is considering medical assistant and wants to know more about what is involved.”  You have effectively answered all of these questions in one short paragraph.

Organization

Organization is key. Start by stating the article's purpose and its bottom line. Eliminate filler and unnecessary content. Put the most important information at the beginning and include background information (when necessary) toward the end.

People read articles and visit websites to get answers. They want to know how to do something or what happens if they don't do something and they want to gain this knowledge quickly. Organize your article to respond to these concerns.

Think through the questions your audience is likely to ask and then organize your material in the order they'd ask them.

Address one person, not a group

Remember that even though your article may affect a thousand or a million people, you are speaking to the one person who is reading it. When your writing reflects this, it's more economical and has a greater impact.

Singular nouns and verbs prevent confusion about whether a requirement applies to individual users or to groups. In the following example, the user might think that each applicant must file applications at several offices.

Confusing plural

Individuals and organizations wishing to apply must file applications with the appropriate offices in a timely manner.

Clearer singular

You must apply at least 30 days before you need the certification.

a.     If you are an individual, apply at the State office in the State where you reside.

b.    If you are an organization, apply at the State office in the State where your headquarters is located.

In addressing a single person, you can avoid awkwardness by using “you” to address the reader directly, rather than using “he or she” or “his or her.”

Confusing plural

The applicant must provide his or her mailing address and his or her identification number.

Clearer singular

You must provide your mailing address and identification number.

Use lots of useful headings

The best-organized article will still be difficult for users to follow if they can't see how it's organized. An effective way to reveal your article's organization is to use lots of useful headings. Headings are also critical for effective web pages. You should use headings liberally on the web to help your user accomplish top tasks.

Question Headings are the most useful type of heading, but only if you know what questions your audience would ask. Most people come to the site or page with certain questions. If you know those questions, use them as headings. They will help the audience find the information they are looking for quickly. Using the question-and-answer format helps your audience scan the article and find specific information.

Example:
Why do we use headings?

Statement Headings are the next best choice because they are still very specific.

Example: Headings help guide a reader

Topic Headings are the most formal. But sometimes they're so vague that they just aren't helpful. Topic Headings such as "General", "Application" and "Scope" are so vague they may confuse the user. For example, "Application" might mean an application to your agency from someone reading your article. But it might as easily mean what it applies to.

Example: Heading

Tip: It's often useful to start writing your article by developing the headings, structuring them to your audience's concerns. This approach can also reveal major groupings of information that you might want to identify.

Write short sections and paragraphs

Short sections break up material so it appears easier to comprehend. Long, dense sections with no white space are visually unappealing, and give the impression your article is difficult to understand. Short sections appear easier to comprehend, and help you organize your writing more effectively.

Short sections also give you more opportunity to insert informative headings in your material. Remember that boldface section headings give your reader the best roadmap to your article. Long sections are impossible to summarize meaningfully in a heading. When you write short sections, each heading can give the reader information about the entire contents of the section.

If you tell your reader what they're going to read about, they're less likely to have to read your paragraph again. Headings help, but they're not enough. Establish a context for your audience before you provide them with the details. If you flood readers with details first, they become impatient and may resist hearing your message. A good topic sentence draws the audience into your paragraph. Don't make readers hold a lot of information in their heads before they get to your point.

Also, busy readers want to skim your article, stopping only for what they want or need to know. You can help them by giving each a paragraph a good introduction. Readers should be able to get good general understanding of your article by skimming your topic sentences.

A topic sentence may provide a transition from one paragraph to another. But a transition word or phrase (usually in the topic sentence) clearly tells the audience whether the paragraph expands on the paragraph before, contrasts with it, or takes a completely different direction.

One clue that your writing needs to get better is if you find that you can cut and paste paragraphs from one section to another without doing substantial rewriting. If making such rearrangements is easy, then you have not been linking your paragraphs into a coherent whole that reads well from start to finish.

Use the right words

With a relatively small amount of effort and in a relatively short amount of time, you can significantly improve traditionally–written material.

Words matter. They are the most basic building blocks of written and spoken communication. Choose your words carefully – be precise and concise.

The simplest and strongest form of a verb is present tense. A text written in the present tense is more immediate and less complicated. Using the present tense makes your article more direct and forceful. The more you use conditional or future tense, the harder your audience has to work to understand your meaning. Writing entirely in the present tense saves your audience work and helps make your point clearly.

Don’t say

Applicants who were Federal employees at the time that the injury was sustained should have filed a compensation request at that time. Failure to do so could have an effect on the degree to which the applicant can be covered under this part.

Say

You may not be covered under this part if:

a.     You were a Federal employee at the time of the injury; and

b.    You did not file a claim at that time.

Be concise – leave out unnecessary words. Don't use jargon or technical terms when every day words have the same meaning.

What to avoid:

There is no escaping the fact that it is considered very important to note that a number of various available applicable studies ipso facto have generally identified the fact that additional appropriate nocturnal employment could usually keep juvenile adolescents off thoroughfares during the night hours, including but not limited to the time prior to midnight on weeknights and/or 2 a.m. on weekends.

And the original, using stronger, simpler words:

More night jobs would keep youths off the streets.

Choose your words carefully. Start with your main idea – don't start with an exception. Word order does matter, so place your words carefully.

Express only one idea in each sentence. Long, complicated sentences often mean that you aren't sure about what you want to say. Shorter sentences are also better for conveying complex information; they break the information up into smaller, easier-to-process units.

Sentences loaded with dependent clauses and exceptions confuse the audience by losing the main point in a forest of words. Resist the temptation to put everything in one sentence; break up your idea into its parts and make each one the subject of its own sentence.

Don’t say

If you take less than your entitled share of production for any month, but you pay royalties on the full volume of your entitled share in accordance with the provisions of this section, you will owe no additional royalty for that lease for prior periods when you later take more than your entitled share to balance your account. This also applies when the other participants pay you money to balance your account.

Say

Suppose that one month you pay royalties on your full share of production but take less than your entitled share. In this case, you may balance your account in one of the following ways without having to pay more royalty. You may either:

a.     Take more than your entitled share in the future; or

b.    Accept payment from other participants.

Following these basic rules will make your articles shine.  It is never a waste of time or energy to put your best work on the page.  Your readers, your editors, and your bottom line, will thank you for the exceptional effort.

 
 
I’m a yes-person.  If someone at my kids’ schools asks me to chair a committee I ask when I need to begin. If they want me to chaperone a dance, I’m there with a smile and the embarrassing dance moves that make my son threaten to stay home.  If they need me to bake 5,000 cupcakes for the teacher’s semi-annual appreciation luncheon committee meeting and fly-fishing tournament, I’ll get up at 2 AM and begin baking with a vengeance.  As you can see, saying no is not the easiest task in the world for me, even though the majority of my time is stretched pretty thinly to begin with.

However, if you want to be a successful home worker, you are going to have to become comfortable with “NO”.  Repeat it over and again if you must.  Practice in the mirror with a firm, serious look on your face.  Don’t be afraid to master the head shake along with the finger point and stern gaze combo that seems to work really well.

There are going to be people in your own corner of the world who know you freelance, they know you are serious about freelancing and they know you are working very hard to be successful at your freelance business.  Yet these same people who can be so patient and supportive are often the first people to play the “but you’re home all day” card. 

Case in point; my mother is a lovely woman in her late sixties who is retired yet still very active.  She used to call me up a minimum of at least three times a week wanting me to have lunch with her or take her somewhere to run errands.  (She can’t drive as her eyesight has greatly diminished).  Now, I have a lot of difficulty saying no to my mother.  She gave me life and made all kinds of sacrifices for me when I was growing up.  But my business will suffer greatly if I am constantly taking her places every day, and I am trying to earn a living and help support a family.

So she and I struck a bargain.  She has one afternoon a week where I am truly at her disposal.  We go out to a local deli or pack a picnic and sit among the shade trees in the park, talking and watching squirrels. Then I take her to run all of her errands and do her shopping for the week.  She is happy with this arrangement because now she is getting the attention and assistance she deserves from me and I still have four full weekdays to run my business and keep all of my ducks in a row.  Now that’s what I call a win-win for everyone.

 
 
Working as a freelance writer can be a lonely job.  You spend hours of the day alone, just you and your keyboard.  Sometimes it seems as though you are the only person on the face of the earth.  I've been known to head to the mall and walk around just to be with other living, breathing human beings - and I HATE the mall!

But working solo doesn't have to be a way of life.  There are many ways to network with other writers, and the more connected you are with them the bigger your freelancer support system will be.  I have found that staying connected through social media has been most helpful.

When I joined LinkedIn, I immediately joined a number of freelance writer forums.  There I have connected with some amazing individuals.  We have shared tips, tricks of the trade, celebrated each others' ups and commiserated with the downs.  As the town I live in does not have a large network of freelancers, or any writing groups for that matter, I find these exchanges and the camaraderie I get in these forum discussions to be vital to my well-being as a writer. 

Being a freelancer is a career I have chosen and I've never been sorry.  Learning to network and communicate with other writers has enhanced that career and has introduced me to opportunities that I would never have had otherwise.  Reaching out to other writers was difficult for me initially; what if I was bothering them?  Would they even want to talk to me?  They seemed such a tight-knit group.  But they welcomed me with open arms and now I do the same with new writers in the group.  Do not be afraid to make these connections.  You will be so grateful that you decided to join a very supportive family unit.

 
 
I have been writing my entire life.  When I was a kid I wrote poems and short stories; one of my poems even won a local poetry contest.  When I was in my teens and twenties I kept a journal chronicling the ups and downs of my life, problems with my family and friends and all my hopes and dreams.  As a young adult, I continued to journal and sat down on several occasions to try and start a novel, which usually ended up with me writing an outline and first chapter and then getting distracted by life.

But through all that writing it never occurred to me that I could be a writer for a living.  I never envisioned myself making any money for what I considered to be a hobby.  Then one late November day I found myself laid off from a job that I loved, a victim of the downturn in the economy.  As I sat at home in the first few weeks of my unemployment I boned up my resume, sent out hundreds of copies, had one less-than-stellar interview and grew really downhearted about my future prospects.

I was on the computer one day, checking job sites, when I saw an ad for a freelance writer on Craigslist.  I sent in a very poorly constructed letter of interest (or LOI) and waited.  I ended up landing the job after sending a couple of clips that I'd written for a friends' blog and having a great Skype interview with the client.  While I no longer write for that client, that one communication led to a whole new career, one I never could have envisioned from the four walls of my small office in a mom-and-pop business. 

Is my career perfect?  Far from it.  I am still fine-tuning my marketing skills (an entire area that I never considered important when I first started but now appreciate for it's importance) and I am still attempting to grow my client roster, though that is beginning to happen; I've gotten a handful of steady clients amid the one-off jobs.  I continue to network through social media and conferences and I have been sending LOI's to several local businesses.  Writing every day is something that I love doing.  Getting paid to do so is just the icing on the cake.
 
 
Okay, I'm being a bit facetious with the title.  I don't know many writers who love cold calling potential clients.  I mean, we got into writing to WRITE!  But it is an important part of marketing and growing our freelance businesses, so we must get comfortable with the concept.

In an informal survey of some of my fellow freelancers I can tell you that the biggest issue most writers take with cold calls is the idea that they're pestering the person on the other end of the line.  First off, let's dispel that myth straight away.  Anyone in the business world is more than used to getting calls from various businesses and organizations trying to get them to use the goods or services they have to offer.  When you truly think of yourself as a business with a valuable service to offer, it becomes nothing more than a run-of-the-mill business call.  No pestering whatsoever!

Another problem is fear; fear of rejection, fear of making someone "angry", fear of someone leaping through the phone and strangling them to death.  I can assure you, the last example certainly won't happen (although it's a killing move I've never seen before in a horror movie; maybe I should write that down!)  The second is highly unlikely to occur unless you've truly caught someone on the absolute worst day of their life, in which case it's not about you anyway.  As for the first, yes, there is a chance that the person on the other end of the line might say no.  If that happens, be gracious.  Send them an email afterward thanking them for their time and reiterating the services you offered over the telephone; this will leave a positive impression on them and you might be surprised when you get a call from them in the future requesting your services.

And another tip that I've heard; don't think of them as "cold" calls.  Warm them up by mentioning a friend in common or a LinkedIn connection.  Tell them you follow their business on Twitter or Facebook.  Just be friendly, be yourself and be confident that you have something they need.  You might just be surprised as you watch your client roster grow.
 
 
I belong to many different LinkedIn groups for writers.  There has been a lot of discussion recently in the forums regarding content mills and the definition of a fair price for services rendered.  Fair price is another post for another day, but let's discuss several postings on job sites such as Elance, oDesk and Freelancer.

If you're not aware of how these job sites work, let me break it down for you.  Writers (or other types of freelancers, such as designers, administrative professionals, etc) will post a profile on these sites, listing their experience, background and how much per hour you prefer to earn.  You receive a certain amount of "connections" per month for free; the number varies per website.  You use these connections to submit proposals for jobs that you select from a job board.  If you want additional connections you must pay a fee (starting at $10 per month and up, depending on the site) and you can receive as many as you're willing to pay for.  Most jobs require one to three connections depending on how much the pay for the project is.  The higher the pay, the more connections required.  Sometimes clients will invite you to submit a proposal; when this happens, you aren't charged any of your connections for your submission.

There are legitimately good opportunities available on some of these sites; you just have to learn how to read between the lines.  For the most part however the projects available on these sites are extremely low paying.  You will see entries such as "50 articles for $20" or even worse.  These project posters are not looking for real writing; they are looking for anyone with a computer who can string a few words together and stuff them with keywords.  Real honest high quality clients understand and appreciate the job that we do.  They are willing to pay accordingly for quality writing.

The other issue that I have with content mills is that, as long as there are writers who are willing to write for pennies, the more clients will assume that is the norm and prices will stay low.  This affects all freelancers.  If you are a hobby writer -- someone doing this for fun and a few extra bucks -- then by all means, accept that kind of work if you so choose.  But if you are truly trying to market yourself as a business, steer clear of content mills.  Your bottom line will thank you!
 
 
As a freelancer, it's really important that you stay on top of your marketing plan.  Years ago this meant taking out advertising in print publications, attending conferences and networking with editors, publishers and other freelance writers.  But that's all changed now.  While those methods are still good ways to draw attention to your business and to the services you provide, they have almost completely taken a backseat to having a social media presence.

As WildWordz is fairly new, I've been spending more time than I will a year from now working on my social media platform.  I am on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and I am trying to master Google+ although that is turning out to be a bit more complicated than I originally anticipated.  I am going to keep at it though, because harnessing social media is an undeniable benefit to anyone in business for themselves. 

Edison Research, a business/government/media research firm located in Somerset, NJ,  has done a comprehensive study of social media trends for the last several years.  They have found some surprising statistics: 

  • Twitter has grown by 76% in the last year alone, attracting over 12 million new tweeters, almost all of which post status updates regularly.
  • Facebook is the most popular social media, with most Facebookers checking their pages or feeds an average of five times each day.
  • Users who follow brands or businesses on social media has increased 106% in the last year.
  • The fastest growing segment of new social media followers are professional adults between the ages of 45-54.

It cannot be stressed enough how vital social media is to your bottom line.  But using social media for business purposes means using it responsibly.  One freelancer friend of mine suggested that once a month or so we Google our own name and see if anything "embarrassing" to us pops up.  A friend-of-a-friend was trying to gain employment in a very conservative field and the HR Director who was to interview him Googled his name.  There was a seven-year-old post in a forum about "how to scam chicks at bars".  Sadly, he was declined for the position he so coveted. 

It just makes good business sense to maintain your professional code of conduct when using social media to increase your client roster.  Don't post anything that is controversial, be it political, religious in nature or anything that is considered inappropriate sexual content.  Watch what forums you post to regularly and stay away from any that might cause you humiliation or cost you a client; a good rule of thumb is to ask yourself "Would I be embarrassed if my kids or my parents (or your pastor, for those churchgoers in the crowd) saw what I posted online?"  If the answer is yes, hit that delete key!

Social media is booming right now and it promises to get even bigger.  Just use it responsibly, keep your most controversial thoughts to yourself, and watch your business grow by leaps and bounds.  Your bottom line will thank you!





 
 
Many times the only thing keeping a freelancer from getting a project for which they are qualified is the proposal they’ve submitted.  You can have the skills and the expertise; it matters not a bit if your proposal is vague, sloppy or just completely off the mark.  The following are some of the most commonly made proposal mistakes.

Misspelled words or poor grammar

As a writer, I find it offensive to see other writers’ profiles or proposals that are full of misspellings or grammatical errors.  You’re selling your ability to write in your proposal, yet you don’t care enough to make sure it’s constructed according to the correct rules of grammar.  If this isn’t your strong suit or you are a freelancer in another area besides writing, there are some great English grammar guides that will help you construct your proposal properly.  My favorite as a writer is Merriam-Webster’s Guide to Punctuation and Style.  This guide is easy-to-read and understand and is available at any bookstore or on Amazon.

Undefined proposals

When submitting a proposal to a prospective client it is important for you to show that you fully comprehend the scope of the project.  Writing a proposal that is vague, generic and not tailored to the client’s specific needs is a surefire way to get a rejection.  While it is okay to keep a “proposal template” that states your qualifications, that template should never be submitted as-is to the client.  You need to ensure the client knows you understand the project and that you are able to concisely state in your proposal why you are the right contractor for the project.

“Pointless” proposals

Submitting a proposal for a project in which you have no experience or background is what I call a “pointless” proposal.  I write; I don’t design websites or write programming code.  Therefore, I’m going to submit proposals to clients who are looking for a writer.  I would never write a proposal for something that I’m completely ill-suited.  What happens if for some reason your complete lack of experience is overlooked by the client and you land the project?  You will end up looking foolish and the client will be unhappy at the least; at worst, you’ll get a reputation as being a contractor who bites off more than you can chew and you may find the offers are coming fewer and farther between.