By Carol Tice
Writers should assume that many roadblocks stand in the way of them and the good living they want to earn from their craft.
When you reach a roadblock, start thinking about how you’re going to overcome it.
One thing that separates the top-earning writers from the low earners is their attitude.
Mine can be summed up this way: I’m unstoppable.
Again and again, when I talk to my mentees, I hear something like this:
“I found this magazine (or online website) I’d like to write for, but it didn’t have a masthead. So I didn’t know how to contact the editor. So I gave up.”
And right there is the difference between writers who are going to make good money from their words, and those who aren’t.
I say, “You gave up????”
This is a problem I can usually solve in five minutes.
When you turn up editor names, looking for perhaps a managing editor, articles editor, features editor, or an editor for the specific section you want. Executive editor or editor-in-chief is usually too high up.
When you hit a roadblock, remember the answer you need is out there.
Keep sleuthing out those editors’ names. And be unstoppable.
And the good news is I haven’t found it a total waste of time. I’ve picked up a few tips from playing Bejeweled that I feel are helping me in my writing business. Here they are:
1. Keep striving for a fresh perspective. We all tend to get in a rut, and see things only one way. In Bejeweled, if you don’t keep refreshing your attitude and looking again – maybe at the yellow gems you never pay much attention to – you can’t find new sets of gems to connect. In business, we’ve got to keep talking to new people and exploring new ideas to gain insight into the best way forward.
2. Time is precious. There’s only one minute to get it done on Bejeweled Blitz. Isn’t that a metaphor for our lives? We should always remember we only have so many moments…and we don’t know how many. So we need to prioritize ruthlessly to make sure we’re getting the most important stuff done each day…including taking time to refresh and just enjoy this beautiful world.
3. If it’s not working, bag it. One of the best pieces of Bejeweled advice I got was from an online tip sheet. It said, if you’ve hit 30 seconds and nothing much is happening, quit that puzzle and just start a new game. It’s too late for you to end up with a good score, as half the time is already gone. The same with your business – if you’ve been trying one strategy a while and it’s not working, don’t just keep on slogging in the wrong direction until your doors close. It’s time to try something else.
4. If you’re stuck, blow up the model. Sometimes you get a crummy puzzle in Bejeweled where there aren’t a lot of obvious matches…sort of like our crummy current economy. In these cases, the best thing you can do on Bejeweled is manage to match and explode a flame jewel, which will radically rearrange a hunk of your puzzle and hopefully give you easier matches. This works for business too – if your current premise is proving difficult to execute in our new economic reality, it may be time to shake things up – look at new geographic markets, products, or customer segments.
5. Turn the noise down. Bejeweled makes a range of jangly sound effects and vocal comments as you play, including a throbbing sound that begins as you near the end of the minute. The second-best tip I got was to turn my computer’s sound off. It’s too distracting! I was amazed at how much more reliably I could get decent scores without the audio. Likewise, in business, we’ve got to focus on what’s important and screen out distractions to be successful.
6. Embrace change. In Bejeweled, the scenario is constantly changing, and often not in ways you expected. You succeed in forming one set of gems, only to realize that doing so has spoiled your chance to do a few other key moves you had planned. Isn’t that just like our lives? While we’re executing one business strategy, the window of opportunity for another one fades away. We plan for economic good times, only to wake up in the deepest economic downturn of our lifetimes. And the only thing to do is accept it and look at the new reality with an open mind, so we can spot the new opportunities that are out there.
7. “Go for the multiplier!” This is what my teenage son yells at me every time he sees me playing Bejeweled. If you get four jewels lined up in a row instead of three, you get a multiplier gem that increases your score by a factor of 2-6x if you can get it into a jewel set. Evan’s always ragging me that I don’t focus enough on trying to score those multipliers. And you know what – he’s right!
In business, we need to prioritize ways to do two or three times as much in the same amount of time – reach more customers, accomplish more tasks, within the same timeframe and without extra effort. If there’s a class, software tool or marketing technique that allows us to work more efficiently, make using it a top priority.
By Carol Tice
There’s a lot of advice out there about getting started in freelance writing, but I think most books and ebooks skip over one of the fundamental steps to success: Before quitting your job and jumping into freelance writing, a would-be writer would be wise to take an honest look at their personality and history to assess whether they have the skills to be successful.
I’m not talking about “Do you write well?” Many freelance writers string words together beautifully, but they still can’t manage to make more than a few thousand a year with their writing.
Here are some of the other talents, besides writing, that I believe you need to make a good living as a freelance writer:
• Self-discipline. If you were left alone at your house all day, would you research topics, conduct interviews, write articles and turn them in on deadline, or would you watch TV and empty the refrigerator? If you don’t have the drive to focus on your business during your business hours, you will not make a good income.
• Willing to do marketing. Are you willing to write query letters, research markets, respond to job ads, and do in-person and on-line marketing of your business, each and every week? Successful freelancers constantly market themselves. If that makes you feel uncomfortable, it would probably be hard to make freelance writing pay well.
• Willing to deal with rejection. Successful freelancers constantly look for new clients and try to break in with new editors. Even when you’re fully booked, you still look for better clients so you can swap them in and drop poorer-paying ones. That’s how writers progress to where they’re earning really substantial sums. If sending a query letter and not ever getting an answer makes you need to curl up in a ball on your couch and eat a pint of Ben & Jerry’s every time, freelance writing will not make you richer – just fatter. Pros send dozens of queries and resumes a month and know that maybe one of them will pay off, and they’re fine with it. It’s just business.
• Willing to say “no.” Do you have a hard time turning work offers down, no matter how wretched the pay or conditions? If so, you would be in real trouble as a freelance writer, especially in the Web 2.0 era. There are many opportunities to write for almost nothing these days. If you have trouble setting healthy boundaries with people, especially employers, freelance writing won’t end up being lucrative for you.
Woah! That really surprised me.
You see, I’ve never let lack of official qualifications stop me from getting writing assignments.
As a freelance writer who happens to lack a college degree, I routinely apply for jobs that require a B.A. In fact, hardly any job listing I’ve applied for in my career didn’t list some requirement I didn’t have.
I believe that lists of qualifications for writing jobs are highly fungible. The company is basically guessing at what sort of background the person they need would have, what they would have done before and what education level they would have reached.
Probably most of the people who could do it well would have a 4-year degree. But then there’s me. I’m an exception. I let my clips explain to them that I’m the best candidate.
Let me reiterate my longtime philosophy of freelance writing — clients, from magazines to major corporations, don’t really care whether you learned how to write well at an Ivy League university or under a freeway overpass.
Do you have strong clips that fit their niche? Then apply. And in my experience, you will get hired!
I actually would never have ended up with a well-paying writing career if it weren’t for my habit of applying randomly for any job I thought I could do, while disregarding listed requirements. My first full-time writing job I’m quite certain required a B.A. at least. It was business writing, which I’d never done.
But I thought it sounded intriguing and like I could do the work, and my husband’s job was ending and I needed a full-time gig. I’d been reporting on community activists for an alternative paper, and this was for a Park Avenue business trade publication.
They interviewed me, and then I was among 20 people they asked to do a trial assignment. They told me later I was the only one who wrote something they found publishable. From there I got another full-time gig that I’m sure required a B.A.
Requirements for freelance writing, I’ve found, are looser than they are for staff gigs.
I’ve written for a global insurance consultancy and a major national business-information provider. I’ve applied for and gotten many gigs in recent years, all the while ignoring ‘requirements’ and sending my clips.
Here’s the litmus test to tell whether you’re qualified for a freelance writing job:
Do you think you could do it?
Then send your clips over and let them show what you can do.
Myth #1: You can’t get any new accounts right now. Heard frequently: “Everyone’s getting 200 resumes when they post an ad, and I just don’t stand a chance.” It’s just baloney. Personally, I’ve gotten several good corporate clients by answering online ads.
For the most part they’re paying very well, in the $.50-$1 a word neighborhood. People who’re looking to move up from the $15-article ranks should know there are good move-up opportunities for people at the lower-pay levels, too — gigs that pay $50 or $100 an article or blog post.
2. Myth #2: There are no full-time writing jobs. While there may be fewer jobs than there are applicants, there most certainly are full-time job openings in writing. Take a look on MediaBistro or JournalismJobs.com, or at the full-time writer jobs on LinkedIn.
Myth #3: Rates are plummeting, and they’ll never recover. Lots of discussion about this out there. Reality: not only aren’t rates plummeting, in many sectors they are already rising again.
True, some magazines have cut their rates a bit, if ads are down. Some markets have gone kapoof. But many survivors continue to pay $.75-$1 a word. In general, my experience is that rates have stayed much as they were for both the magazine and copywriting work I do. On average, I haven’t had to lower my hourly rates or per-word prices.
It’s just that a whole new economy of low-priced Web content articles and blogs has been created that’s grabbing all the attention. But there’s already a light at the end of that low-pay tunnel. With the changes to how Google ranks websites, many of these low payers are seeing their traffic plummet.
Myth #4: Prospecting is hard, takes too long, and doesn’t pay off. I have to ask: Are you really frightened of standing around an art gallery or bar with a drink and a snack in your hand, meeting new people and finding out about their freelance needs? It’s not torture. I’ll tell you a secret — it’s actually fun! You get out of your computer cave for once and meet people.
You can devote as much or as little time to prospecting and networking as you choose. Make it a half-hour a day on Twitter, send marketing InMails to targeted prospects on LinkedIn, go to a Biznik event every week…it’s up to you. But do it…because it works!
One client I met at a live networking event paid $300 for articles that appear on AOL and Yahoo!, where my tagline is a live link to my Web site. Massive marketing exposure plus half-decent pay, for articles that are fairly easy to find sources for and write.
Another I got through Twitter pays $750 for marketing case studies.
Would you invest a few hours a month in marketing to find clients that would increase your writing income by $20,000 a year or more? In my experience, that’s an easily achievable goal.
To sum up, don’t believe what you hear around chat boards where many posters are dabbling or just getting started. Things just aren’t as bleak out there as they’re made out to be. I’ve earned more each year since 2006, and I’m not the only writer I know who’s continued to see strong earnings straight through the downturn.
And ultimately, I find that’s what it’s about: expectations. What you expect of your career, you make happen. So be a mythbuster and find some good-paying writing assignments! They’re out there.
By Carol Tice
For most freelance writers, earning more means finding a good-paying writing niche.
We all know that thanks to the content sites, articles on general topics like how to remove mold from your bathroom may never pay decently again.
So what does? Specialized types of writing that require specialized knowledge.
So here are five of my favorite good-paying writing niches. These are all niches I’ve worked in myself. Next week, I’ll post about more writing niches that I know pay well.
1. Trade publications. This is the niche where I landed my first full-time writing gig. I still freelance for trade pubs, for around $750 an article. Trade pubs usually can pay decently well even though their readership is usually relatively small, because their ads are expensive as they offer a unique opportunity to reach a particular audience.
There are trade pubs in every imaginable industry niche, and they don’t have to be terrifically technical industries. I’ve written for trade pubs about home improvement, restaurant and retail. In healthcare alone, there are more than 20 trade pubs, including America’s Pharmacist, Biotechnology Healthcare, Modern Physician, Plastic Surgery News, Managed Care, and Southern California Physician.
Have you dabbled in a technical field as a hobby, been a legal secretary, a teacher, an engineer, a medical receptionist, or had an unusual college major? Likely there’s a trade publication that could use your help explaining industry trends to their sophisticated professional audience. In my five years writing full-time for a trade pub, we were never fully staffed.
2. White papers. This is the hottest piece of collateral in marketing right now. It’s sales material that doesn’t feel “sales-y,” and it’s incredibly effective in getting clients — see this study for details. If you’ve written articles, case studies or reports, you can easily learn this niche.
I got approached by a communications firm to write a 6-page white paper in ’08 for a Fortune 50 company, and it paid $2,500 – about $1 a word – for my very first one, which was essentially three brief case studies. More complicated, longer white papers pay much more. Follow the masters, Michael Stelzner and Robert Bly, to learn more about this lucrative area.
3. Corporate web content. While writers moan and wail about ads for cheap Web content, major corporations – particularly ones that do something complicated or technical – are paying handsomely for authoritative, well-researched and expertly written Web content created about their products and services. To get the best rates, think big – Fortune 1000 companies or $1 billion+ private companies, though mid-sizers can pay decently, too.
I connected with one global private company three years ago when they were relaunching their complex Web site and rewriting all the content, and made probably $60,000 in several years, just from one client. I’ve been paid $95 an hour and/or $1 a word for content like this, straight through the downturn.
4. Research reports. Do you enjoy sleuthing around and turning up information? If so, there are a number of good-paying gigs writing research reports. For several years, I did quality-of-management research on CEOs of small public companies for investment firms. I’d find where the CEO used to work, research past news clips on the company, find former coworkers, and interview them about the CEO. Took about a week. I got paid $1,500-$3,500 a project, and I found the work challenging and fun.
5. Blogging and social media. I know what you’re thinking – that all pays $15 a blog, right? Not if you’re blogging for major magazines or corporations. I just finished a rush job of 20 short blogs for a business-services firm that paid nearly $1 a word. They were part of a $10,000 package of Web articles and blogs, mostly at the same rate level.
Because it’s so new, it’s great expertise to have and rates are high. Expert Chris Marlow did some research on people who were combining copywriting with social-media expertise in job bids, and found the typical hourly rate they reported was $350 an hour. Take a minute to absorb that concept!
I believe social media is the hottest new writing opportunity out there. You just need the right kind of clients.
In the last half of ’09, I signed my first few clients where article writing is coupled with social media – blogging for them on other sites and/or tweeting on the company’s behalf. I did a package of $1-a-word articles recently for a major company’s Facebook fan page. If you enjoy social media, the work’s fun. Often, the marketing exposure’s great, too…and I expect this niche to explode in the next few years.
By Carol Tice
Following up on my previous piece on five good writing niches, here are eight more areas that tend to have great pay.
A few of these I’m interested in getting into myself, or I’ve dabbled with them in the past. I’m going to use rate quotes from the Writer’s Market to discuss pay.
1. Technical writing. If you can talk to software engineers and translate what they’ve created into a user manual consumers can understand, you will make a lot of money. Ditto for medical device makers. The biggest problem facing most of the technical writers I’ve met is they can’t kick the habit and write anything else, because this pays so much better. Plenty of this work is still around, despite some offshoring. Writer’s Market says top rates are $125 an hour.
2. Article ghosting. How many times have you pitched a magazine or newspaper editor a company profile, written it, and gotten perhaps $100-200? What if instead, you sussed out when special sections were coming out that might need guest articles written by executives, and approached those busy executives about ghostwriting a really strong article for them. I have a friend who does this, and gets $1,200 an article, including pitching the publication. Brilliant, eh? Great approach to improving your pay.
3. Grant writing. Many of us have a soft spot for good causes. If that’s you, you might explore helping them win grants to support their work. I’ve done a tiny bit of this, and if you can carefully follow instructions and write well, you can do it. Small nonprofits may want you to do it as a volunteer, or for a cut of what they get. Do one sample and then move up. Top rates hit $125 an hour or better.
4. Curriculum design. If you’re an academic type, maybe a former or current teacher, know that there is a vast need out there for people who can write courses in a way that students will find appealing and accessible. E-learning is exploding, and someone has to write each online class. I see listings in the online job ads for this category all the time. $100 an hour is WD’s top rate.
5. Company magazines. Many large companies publish magazines for their employees, customers, or franchisees. They pay like trade pubs from what I’ve seen, $.75-$1 a word. Linda Formichelli recently related to Jennifer Mattern of All Freelance Writing how she broke into better-paying markets freelancing for AKFCF Quarterly, KFC’s magazine for their franchisees. Other company magazine examples: Here’s one Raytheon does for customers and prospects: Defender. And Tractor Supply Co. does one for its mostly-rural customers, Out Here. And of course there’s Costco Connection, which is one of the biggest-circulation magazines in the U.S. of any type. The possibilities are literally endless – look around the next time you’re in a chain store to find more of these opportunities.
6. Airline magazines. Airline mags are one of the best-paying consumer magazine types. Research which airlines pay best, and where they’re based – they love articles about their home or big-hub markets. If you like to write about travel, these are great target markets.
7. Annual reports. If you’ve written about business or nonprofits and feel comfortable around figures, annual reports can be a great niche. Both for-profit and non-profit entities need them. They’re about conveying what a great year the organization had, through stories and numbers. WD says $150 an hour is top rate, or $15,000 a project.
8. Business plans. This is one of the top new niches that I’m targeting for ’10. Every company that seeks funding from a bank or venture-capital firms needs a business plan. While the Internet is full of wannbes who’d like someone to write their plan for $300 or so, there’s another tier of companies that want a quality, intelligent plan done, and they pay much more. These can be $15,000 projects or more.
So I’ve told writers not to write cheapo blog posts, but I write these free blogs. What’s up with that?
I believe blogging for free can be incredibly helpful to the progress of your writing career – or a total waste of your valuable time. It depends on your situation. Here’s why I do it:
1. It’s a marketing tool. I started blogging because I knew I was going to write several ebooks about the writing business, and I wanted to start building an audience for my products. I can say it’s been a big success for that – I’ve built a substantial list of potential ebook buyers by spreading my blogs through social media and attracting more viewers to my Web site. That led to invites to guest-blog on sites such as About Freelance Writing, which brought more leads.
2. I learn. Having the blog has brought me questions and comments that have really shown me what needs to be in my e-book – I learned what writers want to know about how to break in and earn more. So it’s improved my product.
3. It’s increased my productivity. I’m writing more now, and not just writing about surety bonds or venture capital or one of the fascinating business topics at which I make the bulk of my living…I’m getting to write about my own thoughts and feelings about the career of writing. And I’m just plain writing more, which means more time spent honing my craft of playing with words. That’s going to pay off in a million ways I can’t even quantify.
4. It’s awakened my passion. I discovered something about myself doing this blog and the WM blog: I LOVE helping other writers write better and earn more! I’ve been at this for a while, and now realize I really have some expertise to share. And it feels good to know I’m helping other writers navigate this tough marketplace.
5. It helped me write my ebook. Often, as I’m answering a question on my blog, I realize: this needs to be in my ebook! And I go over and add more points to my ebook draft. So the blog has been a way to break down the sort of intimidating task of writing a 50+ page ebook into more manageable chunks. If you’re planning to create information products, your blog can be a great way to write that ebook a bit at a time.
I think ultimately it depends on your writing goals whether a free blog is worth the time. The key question to ask yourself if you’re starting a blog is: Why?
Why are you going to blog for free? What do you hope to accomplish?
Maybe you need to hone your writing style, develop your voice, or explore topics to see what niche you want to write in. A free blog’s good for all that. Or maybe you have a great expertise niche (I gather tattoos rock) and want to put ads with your blog and make money, and become one of those six-figure blogger success stories.
One big exception to my rule against free blogging for others is if you can guest on a blog with a huge readership, you should do it even if it doesn’t pay. The marketing value should make it well worth your time.
I think the dynamic of writing your own free blog is completely different from being radically underpaid to write someone else’s.
The first is your passion project; the second can feel like exploitation.
But have a goal with that free blog, and keep a close eye on the clock. For me, it’s a marketing cost, so I try to make sure it doesn’t eat my whole day, as my primary business is to find lucrative clients and do their assignments.
One other thing I was asked about recently is whether blogging for free for others is “selling out.” I think to “sell out,” you have to be given money! While it’s not selling out, it certainly isn’t a smart career move.
Blogging for others should nearly always be for pay, in my view. Sure, plenty of startups and site operators are out there trying to get someone to blog for free for ‘experience’ on their site. All you have to do is say no.
If you have no clips, maybe do it for a week, or a month for some clips. But then it’s time to get paid.
By Carol Tice
Several writers have commented to me that they make $30-$40 an hour writing four articles an hour for content mills, and that they consider that great pay.
But is it? What is a good rate to shoot for in freelance writing?
My answer, in case you couldn’t tell from the title of this piece, is $100 an hour. That should be your goal.
Let’s do the math to learn why it’s important that your hourly rate be so high.
If you work 35 hours a week, $30 an hour means you’d make $52,500 a year allowing for 2 weeks’ vacation. Sounds good on the face of it, right?
But at $100 an hour, you make $175,000 a year. Wow! Big difference, huh?
I sense that you’re freaking out. Think it’s impossible? Yesterday’s pay rate? Hardly. That’s my own rate goal for my business.
If you’re saying, “I don’t need to make $175,000 a year, so $30 an hour will be OK,” I’d like you to consider these three things:
Your expenses.Costs include paying your own health insurance, which is more costly every year. Paying state, local and federal taxes, and self-employment tax. Paying for equipment, marketing, Web-site development, advertising, heat, light, paper and other supplies. Making $40 an hour at a full-time job where they pay the benefits might pencil out – but the equation changes when you’re on your own. After expenses, that really doesn’t leave much net profit.
Unbillable hours. Then there’s the downtime. You wait for interview calls to start, bill accounts, market the business, tally up your monthly accounts, have a slow week where you aren’t fully booked, and on and on. Not every hour is a billable hour. Track your time for a month to get a sense of how many real, billable hours you’ve got – it’ll probably be eye-opening.
Work/life balance. Didn’t you start freelancing so you could spend more time with family? Many freelancers get into it for the “freedom,” but end up working 12-hour days to keep it going…not that freeing in my view. A lot of us with children find we’ve got only 30-32 real, available work hours in the week unless we want to stick our kids in many hours of child care.
Put these three factors together and you’ll quickly see why your average hourly rate needs to be high in order for you to earn a decent living.
Don’t know what your average hourly rate is now?
Track your billable hours for a month to get a sense of your current rate. Then, set a goal of improving your hourly rate in 2010. You won’t bill $100 an hour overnight if you’re at $20 an hour now. It’ll take time to gradually replace lower-paying accounts with higher ones – but it’ll be worth the effort.
There’s one final reason to aim high, for $100 an hour. We often don’t achieve our goals in life. Maybe one client’s at $100 an hour, but you have another situation where it works out to less, but there’s still a good reason to do the gig — a great editor connection you want to keep, for instance, or great exposure that helps your marketing. So when we shoot for $100, we may end up with $75 overall and still do quite well. Shoot for $30 and you may end up with not enough to buy groceries.
Whatever your rate now, make a plan to increase your hourly rate in the coming year – because better-paying gigs are what truly put the “free” in freelance.
During my wonderfully restful winter break, I realized I’ve given a lot of advice about how to make a living writing without discussing the one rule that’s really made it possible for me to become a successful, well-paid freelance writer.
So I’m going to tell it to you now. Fasten your seatbelts, because this one piece of advice will be the single most powerful thing I will ever tell you. This one has the potential to completely change your life.
Ready? Here it is:
Not ever. I turn off my computer, my phone, my celphone and whatever other devices are around that might lead to working. I am not posting on Twitter, updating my Web site, prospecting for clients, filing articles, or conducting interviews.
Even more radical than not working for 25 hours each week, during that time period I don’t thinkabout work, either. I don’t plan what I’ll do when I get back to the computer. I don’t talk business with friends. I slam the door on my business life and leave it completely behind.
Each and every week, I take a complete vacation from working. It’s called Shabbat, or the Sabbath. And it’s the most amazing tool for personal growth ever invented.
Without that time away to reflect, relax, unplug…we humans tend to just grind along, slowly getting more and more burned out. We don’t progress as fast. We don’t fully realize our potential.
When Stephen Covey made “sharpen the saw” one of his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he was echoing a timeless truth: we need time off to recharge in order to be our best.
There’s a reason we’re not called “human doings” but “human beings.” We need time to just be. To discover who we really are, apart from our ability to earn, meet deadlines, and take meetings. To simply marvel at our good fortune at being alive in this beautiful world.
I’m not trying to convince anyone to practice my religious faith – Jews don’t seek converts. But in today’s real-time culture of 24/7 connectivity, I’m finding it’s more important than ever to carve out a big block of time away from work each week. It’ll save your sanity, refresh you, inspire you, and make you a better friend, sibling, spouse, parent…and writer.
It may sound scary to take one-seventh of your time each week and commit to making it work-free. When people start doing it, they’re often terrified they’ll earn less. But the reality is you’ll probably earn more, because you’ll be so much more effective. Either way, I guarantee you’ll be happier.
Remember, nobody’s tombstone says, “I wish I had spent more time at the office.”
All I can say is try it, you’ll like it! Maybe for you it’ll be Sundays, or Mondays, or it’ll start in the morning, or whenever. However you do it, know that you deserve a day off. Take it, and see what happens.