May 3 (Bloomberg) — Sara Horowitz, Executive Director at Freelancers Union, discusses the changing nature of permanent work. She speaks on Bloomberg Television’s “Bloomberg Surveillance.” (Source: Bloomberg).
Your level of writing success has a lot to do with how your readers react to your copy. People connect with the product or service because they relate to what you’re saying to them. They want to feel that your copy is specifically crafted with their interests and needs in mind. In other words, it should feel personal. Following are three ways to help your readers identify and connect with your message:
When you understand who you are, your writing is more inclined to genuinely fuse with the product’s message. When you are an unsure writer, it’s harder to trust your own belief in the message you are writing about the product. You can create a stronger and more compelling message if you start with you first, then tackle the project. It’s easier to bring out the brand when you know yourself. Your confidence comes through your writing making your copy more engaging because your insecurities aren’t getting in the way of the flow of the message.
Many writers make the mistake of trying to be something or someone they admire. It’s okay if someone’s influence shows through your writing. However, because it’s not your authentic voice, when writers blatantly and repeatedly attempt to mimic the voice of another, it sounds scripted and unnatural.
Every writer has his or her own signature rhythm, traits and mannerisms. Yes, that includes you. Find and leverage your own self-expression. Success is easier to repeat when you already own its source and it’s not borrowed from somebody else. I’ll add that, in the quest to find your own voice, it’s okay to emulate someone you admire when you start out, but don’t try to be them.
Imagine that your reader is a personal friend of yours and that you are engaged in a real conversation. What would you tell her about the product or service? Explain its benefits in the same way do when you are trying to convince a reasonably intelligent friend to make a purchase of a particular item. You want the flow of information to feel and sound real.
I’m sure you have a checklist of your own and you’re ahead of the game if you do. But, if you don’t, once your copy is written, at the very least, before turning it in, check to see that you’ve got these three keys covered.
The online freelance copywriting industry is growing by leaps and bounds. More and more copywriters are realizing that finding online jobs is a lot easier than finding offline gigs. This, however, means more copywriters will be vying for the same jobs. The competition is getting stiffer, so your overall work ethic, attention to detail and work habits must be fine-tuned.
Still, there is this sense that online commitments don’t have to be taken as seriously as in-person pledges. Don’t make that mistake. Copywriting projects are taken just as seriously by online employers as they are by offline employers
On that note, there are certain chinks in the armor of some freelance copywriters that turn employers off and which may be the deciding factor for rehiring you or recommending you over an equally qualified and similarly priced copywriter. Those bad practices include the following:
•You ask questions when the answers have already been laid out in the job posting
Read the job description and comments carefully before you ask the employer questions. If it’s unclear or can conceivably have more than one meaning, then ask away.
•You ask for an extension at the last minute
Stuff that we can’t control happens to all of us. However, if you find that needing an extension has happened to you more than twice, forgo the gigs where the time constraint is likely to be an issue. You hurt the employer and you’ll begin to chip away at your reputation in the freelance arena.
•Offer to email an assignment long before a deadline to impress an employer, and then renege on that promise because the contract said you had more time.
If you want to complete the assignment early, then do so, but don’t say you will unless you are going to follow-through. If your employer takes you at your word and schedules something based on that promise, you may be putting him in a bad position. Yes, contractually, you have until the written deadline, but ethically, you’re wrong. You don’t want that to be what an employer remembers about you. The same way freelancers discuss employers; employers compare notes when it comes to recommending freelance copywriters.
•Ask for half up front, do part one, then slack off for part two
Every leg of your project must be your best work. Some freelancers have been known to put their best foot forward, initially, get paid, then slack off for the remainder of the project. Remember, the entire project represents your freelance brand.
•Ask basic questions that someone of your claimed expertise and skill set should know
If you hold yourself out to be a Tweet copywriter, then you should be very familiar with how Twitter works and with Twitter stuff. Asking what he means by “hashtag” is not a good look.
•Hand in well-written fluff work product with filler phrases
Don’t use fluff, well-chosen words filler words and esoteric turns of phrase to meet a word count requirement because you don’t feel like exerting the energy to come up with something of substance. Don’t kid yourself into thinking that just because you’ve included some and a few esoteric phrases, an employer won’t see through it. She may not say anything to you about it, but in her mind, she’s saying, “never again.”
•Request to be rated when your employer seemed dissatisfied
If your employer has demonstrated that you’ve disappointed him, especially more than once, don’t bug him to give you an online review or rating. What he has to say about you may do more harm than good. However, you have to clean up your act so that such work habits don’t become a permanent part of your routine.
Employers come to us because they can’t do it themselves or because they don’t have the time. Let’s not disappoint them and risk our reputations by providing substandard work or by not living up to reasonable expectations. Even if it is a pro bono assignment or an assignment for which you now feel underpaid (after contract), excellence is all you should be thinking and giving . . . nothing less.
You never know where that gem, that hook is going to come from, which is exactly why what Brignull says is invaluable. This is the copywriting process at its best.
In June and July of 2006 I committed to doing three things: (1) buy and read Bob Bly’s book The Copywriter’s Handbook, Third Edition: A Step-By-Step Guide To Writing Copy That Sells; (2) buy and read Steven Slaunwhite’s book Start& Run a Copywriting Business; and (3) start a freelance copywriting business by September 2006.
And I did. Starting my own freelance copywriting business was easier than starting a small business typically is because I started off right – emotionally and managerially. I quickly embraced my new reality – that launching and running this copywriting business was going to be a fun and challenging experience, but that starting off right meant, I needed to fix my mind-set. Although this business was going to be a big and important part of my life, it was going to have a life of its own; it would be my freelance copywriting life, and I needed to be prepared for everything that promised to come with it (you know, the highs and the lows: the first huge client payment of $2,500.00; then the frozen computer on the day of a “can’t miss” deadline; the ecstatic customer with the glowing testimonial about your work and who sings your praises to powerful decision makers; then the late arrival of your business cards before your meeting with JP Morgan Chase’s marketing team . . . and you have none left – you know that stuff).
So there. Strapped with my borrowed, yet reliable mantra “Just do it” and these few tidbits, I stepped out on faith:
•Don’t let poisonous folks whisper in my ear, even the well-meaning ones;
•Develop and follow a simple strategy and stay focused;
•Don’t let things get overly complicated and stay focused;
•Allow only one captain to steer the ship – me – and stay focused;
•Keep tweaking things along the way when they need modifying;
•Launch this thing, and learn the rest along the way . . . WHILE STAYING FOCUSED.
And I did. And I still am.
Following are practical business reminders I learned that helped me tremendously in starting my freelance copywriting life off right and keeping it right, and I am confident you will find them helpful too:
Your Passion . . . Not!
Don’t wait for that mythical fixation called “your passion.” Some of the most happily successful people have found it. Most happily successful people, it’s safe to say, have not. What the two groups of happily successful folks have in common, however, is: they have a knack for what they do and they find enjoyment in some aspect of what they do. If you wait for this passion thing to materialize, you may never get that freelance copywriting business off the ground.
Perseverance and the Threat of Rejection
One of the most common hindrances to perseverance is fear of rejection. I don’t like guarantees, but this one is unmistakable, so I’m going to share it. You will experience rejection in one form or another. If dealing with rejection is a challenge for you, then from the outset, you have to find a mechanism to help you cope with it. It could be anything from Yoga to meditation, from training for a 5K to venting in a supportive online community. Whatever you choose, just monitor the strategy, because if it’s not working, you need to tweak that plan. And, speaking of supportive online communities – there are loads of them out there for copywriters and freelance copywriters from linkedin copywriting groups to warriorforum copywriting threads. It behooves you to join one or more. Besides being comforting, they can be quite informative, and great places to get educated feedback on copy drafts you’ve done, or to simply hang out, “coffee clutch” or network.
Make Good Habits a Habit
Unless you are crafting a flyer for your grandmother’s church picnic, use a contract. An elaborate contract is the safest bet, but a simple contract can work also, provided all of your bases are covered. Heck, if her church has a board of directors, you may want to use a contract for that church picnic flyer too. Nothing personal grandma!
At the very least, your contract or agreement should contain:
♦the date of the agreement;
♦your name and address, the name and address of the business hiring you and the signer’s name;
♦a detailed description of the project, including the medium and format of the work;
♦the number of pages, if it’s a print document;
♦the various parts and stages of the project;
♦the number of edits and revisions you will allow;
♦the dates of delivery for each stage of the project, if more than one stage;
♦your fee and its due date(s);
♦a list of terms and conditions; and
♦both parties’ signatures.
Keeping Records – Phone Calls
No one remembers everything, especially when you are busy. When you speak to a client, particularly if you verbally agree to do or not to do something, it is a very good idea to memorialize the phone conversation in a follow-up email. This serves a number of different purposes. It jogs yours and your client’s memory. It solidifies what was said. It helps you recall what you said you’d do or not do. It creates a paper trail in the event something happens and you need proof.
Keeping Records – Billing
If you do nothing else, spare yourself some stress by having some place to drop your receipts and records of incoming payments. If this is too much of a hassle for you and the thought of even doing this much organizing stresses you out, then use as few ways to make purchases as possible. For example use one credit card and one Intuit Merchant or Paypal account. This way, when it’s time to sit down with your accountant, all of your financial information is in only one or two places. The ideal solution is to keep your files organized in off-line or online folders, categorize them and use one of the gazillion simple accounting software programs out there like Lessaccounting.
Networking and Marketing
Yes, I used to hate this too – networking. But, I soon learned that I was really good at it. I still don’t love it, but it works wonders and brings me in a lot of business, sometimes more than I can handle alone. Whether you do it online or off-line, marketing your business is a must. And don’t be fooled into thinking you only need to market when business is slow. Any self-respecting freelance copywriter will tell you that the optimal time to market your business is when you have customers coming in the door. This way, you are more likely have steadier stream of income. And, by the way, marketing your freelance copywriting business needs to be a big percentage of the time you spend on your business – around 35% of the time.
In addition to networking, there are myriad ways to market your business:
-Article marketing. Write and publish a few articles on sites like ezinearticles.com or goarticles.com. Include your URL in your resource box. The resource box is a section at the end of published online articles where you get to promote yourself and your business;
-Bartering. You can, for example, offer to consult with a business that agrees to plug your freelance business in their newsletter;
-Cross-promotions. You promote a local business on your site in exchange for them promoting yours;
-Distribute a press release on a few free press release directories like Press Method (www.pressmethod.com); Free Press Release Centre (http://www.free-press-release-center.info/); SB Wire (www.sbwire.com); or PR.com (www.pr.com), just to name a few;
-Free classifieds (e.g., craigslist); and
Take your eyes of the marketing media road for more than a month and you may feel completely lost when you turn your attention to the trends again. Between social media, mobile media, cloud this and cloud that, the marketing media environment is growing by leaps and bounds! It’s imperative that you keep learning. As a part of your routine, subscribe to (and read), a few newsletters or blogs that keep up with the trends of copywriting, freelancing and best small businesses practices. To keep on top of what’s trending, you can monitor Twitter hashtags like #smallbusiness using any number of free tools like Hootsuite.
Check your site and make sure your information is still relevant. Make sure your links all work. Sometimes, unbeknownst to you and for a number of reasons, a link will suddenly die. This happens with WordPress blogs on occasion, so check them periodically just to be sure everything’s in working order.
Check your online business image. Make sure you’re not tagged in that photo you took at your cousin’s wedding with the chandelier on your head where you’re drunk and dressed only in your bra or boxers. Put security limits on the accessibility of your personal Facebook page(s) so that only folks you want looking at it can see it. Business people will definitely go searching for your personal Facebook page. So, if you’re doing anything on your personal social media page that could offend your customers and make them go elsewhere in search of a different copywriter, put some blocks in place.
Part of checking yourself, includes checking your competitors. You want to stay a step ahead of them or appear to anyway. There is competition out there for almost every copywriter, but particularly for narrowly niched ones. If you are one of 10 copywriters in your niche, definitely keep your eyes on your competition. One way to legally spy on them is by using Google alerts and Twitter alerts by signing up with sites like Tweetbeep. You can use these sites to have emails sent to you when Google or Twitter finds things like web pages, news articles, blog posts,etc. that match your search item (i.e, your competitor’s name and the name of their business). It only takes about 3 minutes to set each of them up initially, and they’re both free.
Oh yeah, and do this: Unfollow small fries who aren’t following you back on Twitter. Don’t look socially desperate. If they don’t respect you enough to follow you back, unfollow them. You don’t want to be one of those Twitter members who is following 500 people, but who only has 90 people following them back. Businesswise, that’s not a good look.
Even with its ups and downs, the freelance life, as so many people will testify, can be a great experience, and the best way to do that is to start out right. Go in with the proper mind-set and with realistic expectations. Decide you are going to give it your all, but that you are not going to lose yourself in it. Whether you choose to do it full-time or part-time, if you have the knack for it and enjoy copywriting and want the freedom that comes with self-employment, get your mind-set, make sure you have a plan you can live with . . . then JUST DO IT!
P.S. Some of the blogs and websites that keep up with the trends of copywriting or freelancing or small business best practices are as follows:
Have you been wondering whether or not you should become a part-time freelance writer while you look for full-time permanent employment? Or, perhaps you’ve been thinking about pursuing freelance writing jobs on a full-time basis. To be effective at either option, you will need some guidance. Before you make such a serious commitment, you’ll want to explore the field and see if, in fact, it’s the right decision for you and your family. The 2012 Freelance Industry Report is just the guidance you need to answer probably the vast majority of the questions you’ll have.
The study surveyed 1,491 freelancers to grasp who freelancers truly are. You can use the information in this report in a variety of ways, including to see how you stack up against your colleagues and learn what areas you need to work on.
As stated in the 2012 Freelance Industry Report, when you read this report you will find:
• The most common professions for freelance work.
• Key demographics such as age, gender, location, experience and work status.
• The biggest challenges freelancers face and how those challenges differ by
profession, location, experience and other factors.
• Attitudes toward freelancing, self-employment, running a solo business and the
economy, as well as freelancers’ business outlook for the next 12 months.
• Income trends, hourly rates, billable time, how different freelancers price their services
and structure their fees, and the impact of the economic downturn on those fees and
• Lifestyle choices, including average number of hours worked, the importance of free
time and flexibility, and attitudes toward reentering the traditional workforce.
• How freelancers attract clients today, how much time they spend promoting their
services and what marketing strategies they’re planning to implement over the next
• An analysis of displaced workers who have given up their job search in favor of the
freelance path: what challenges they face, how they feel about self-employment, their
lifestyle changes and their likelihood to remain self-employed.
Whatever you decide in the end, after reading this report, you will certainly walk away with a better idea about the freelancing field and whether or not it is the style of employment that fits you.
If you asked freelance copywriters, even some new ones, to name the blogs that give them the most value in terms of their freelance professions, they’d probably name the blogs of the usual suspects: Seth Godin, Chris Brogan, Brian Clark, Brian Solis, Ann Handley, Darren Rowse . . . You know – some of the most influential marketing professionals on the Internet. And I should know, because I follow all of them and then some! And, to be perfectly candid, I highly recommend you read those guys as well.
But I also want to let you in on a little secret: THEY ARE NOT THE ONLY ONES OUT THERE who can provide extremely valuable information for freelance copywriters.
While perusing Alltop.com, I discovered 15 different blogs, all of which I visited before adding them to this list. These blogs all offer resources that freelance copywriters need and are usually looking for – tips, job information, advice, freebies, news, you name it. They also offer stuff you don’t even know you need, but you’ll be glad you found out.
Oh, wait, you don’t know about Alltop.com? Oh, well, you’re in for a real treat. Simply put, you know how you wish you had everything you need to know located all in one place. That’s Alltop. Alltop aggregates and organizes content on EVERY subject imaginable from the leading blogs and websites around the Internet that cover that topic. Their subjects run from adoption to zoology with photographs, food, science, religion, celebrities, fashion, gaming, sports, politics, automobiles, Macintosh and hundreds of other subjects in-between and beyond. Want to know what’s happening in North Korea? Yes, I said “North,” not “South.” Alltop’s got that too. Who knew!
Now for that list of blogs that freelance copywriters need to add to their feeds or at least check out regularly to keep abreast of their professions:
I recommend creating a myalltop – your own personal magazine rack of your favorite blogs and sites. The beauty of Alltop for copywriters is that, not only will you always have quick access to all the freelance-related resources you need, but you’ll know what’s happening in an array of subjects any time you need to know it. Copywriters must be well-read and stay on top of what’s happening in so many areas in order to continually come up with compelling ads and brand messages and be able to write in a variety of styles. Alltop makes that achievable, giving you the writings dispensed by leaders of every industry at your finger tips without you having to do any extensive searching.
How’s that for convenience?
As a freelancer, and as with almost any kind of business ownership, there may come times when business is slow. If you experience a down-swing in your freelance business cycle, there are measures you can take to get through it. Below are three activities you can engage in to pay the bills and stave off the pangs until business starts rolling in again, all while staying in touch with your market:
1. Look for employment with temporary staffing agencies that specialize in the field or industry of your copywriting niche. There are temping opportunities for almost every occupation. Most companies use temp agencies. This is also a great way to see your niche from the inside, from a different prospective. There are myriad ways this can help you hone your crafting skills for your niche. You will be privy to valuable experiences that you could never get from research. And think of all the contacts you stand to make as a result of working in such an environment, perhaps answering phones, making calls, meeting or greeting customers, affiliates and your employer’s colleagues, and attending external office meetings (if any), etc.
2. Write, market and sell an ebook or 25-page special report to your existing and potential new customers. You’d be amazed how many of your customers would like a DYI manual on certain hot topics that you, their niche expert writer, can help them with. Of course, you are not going to share all your secrets, just a select few. Think about it like an informative, easy-to-follow book report about marketing or blogging or Tweeting or Facebooking in their area of expertise. To promote your ebook or report, you can do some basic marketing: write and publish (at no cost to you on several press release directories); you can launch a Twitter and Facebook campaign if you have business related accounts; you can do a 2-minute youtube intro and lead listeners to the webpage that houses your ebook; you can sell your book on sites like Clickbank or E-junkie, etc. You can also offer other small business a percentage to sell your book on their websites or blogs.
3. Are small business owners your clients? Offer to write an e-newsletter for their companies. With sites like Aweber.com, you can very easily set up an e-newsletter for your client’s small business. A newsletter is a valuable tool your clients can use to inexpensively collect real-time, unrestricted feedback from their customers and prospects in order to build profitable relationships. A newsletter can enhance your client’s reputation, increases lead generation and provides instantaneous trackable results. In addition, a newsletter presents an opportunity for your clients’ customers to effortlessly interact with them.
Watch this video and get a real feel for the advantages of using sites like Aweber:
These are just a few of the things freelancers can apply to earn extra money during slow moments. But the best weapon, however, is to regularly market your business, especially during the feast periods.
Some freelancers have said that a number of their biggest contracts have come through Twitter. It’s certainly the lucrative flavor of the day in marketing for numerous businesses (big and small), so I recommend you work it into your freelance copywriting business model. This list is by no means completely exhaustive, but it will undoubtedly steer you in a direction that can bring first-rate results to your freelance copywriting business.
Sign up for sites like Twellow, which lists its users by categories. You can simply add your twitter handle to a few of the categories you’re interested in. If you want to do copywriting for recreation and sports entities, you can follow people and businesses in that category. Other members can find you through a keyword search. People will begin to follow you back and read your tweets!
Twitter is about socializing and building relationships. It’s not a platform for you to bombard your followers with sales pitches and the like.
Share your take on last night’s game or Apple’s latest gadget; however, don’t forget, this Twitter profile is connected to your business, so you do want to post tweets that are business-related. You can do things like inform your followers of a current event in the industry (news that, of course, would interest them) or share a quick anecdote or light humor or link to an article or blog post you’ve read. If you have a business blog, you can share the blog post title and the link and ask your followers to check it out.
Also, keep an eye out for followers who retweet your posts. Don’t forget to give them a shout-out, a “thank you.” Take a few minutes each day to comment on others’ tweets and to retweet ones you feel are worthy of sharing.
And yes, if you have an offer, you can let your followers know, but don’t overdo it; it’s a turn-off and will negatively impact your business.
I recommend these three times of day, because you stand a better chance of reaching folks during optimal Twitter reading periods who are in different time zones. This does not have to be as time-consuming and overwhelming as it sounds. In fact, this can be accomplished in under an hour. Solo practitioners have mastered the art of tweeting regularly. Sign up for a free service like Hootsuite.com. Pick one hour a week to write 15 tweets (3 for each business day of the week). Use online trade blogs and magazines, tips found in interesting blog posts (your own or someone else’s) to help you come up with ideas for tweets. Load them and schedule them on Hootsuite.com, and you’re done sending out tweets – for the whole week.
People love free, useful content. Every now and then, take some time and write a short 7-10 page report about something likely to interest your Twitter followers. Sign up for an email marketing service like Aweber or Constant Contact so that your report can automatically be sent to an interested party, i.e., a subscriber. You can also go on elance.com or guru.com and hire someone else to write it if you don’t have the time to write it yourself.
If you have some free stuff you can offer to site visitors, load it to one page, a Resource page. You come across as more of an authority when you have valuable, downloadable content. Never use your Home page unless you have a specific reason for sending readers to your Home page. Send them where they are more likely to stick around. People go to departments stores to look for useful departments; they don’t hang out in the lobby or the entrance way, because… well, what would be the point.
So, go ahead, try it. Now that businesses are starting to “get it” they are coming up with countless methods for leveraging this dynamic tool. You can too.
P.S. You may want to try these other helpful Twitter tools.
P.P.S. Read more on steps for writing great tweets for yourself or your clients.