Freelance Writer Guide Chapter 2 – The Five Tools

A black and yellow plastic toolbox.

The 5 Tools Every Freelancer Needs

These are five important tools that every freelancer should have. This is not a comprehensive list, but rather a Cliff’s Notes version to get you started on the right foot.

  • A paypal account. If you’re planning on freelancing, this is a must-have. Yes, paypal can be a hassle and charges a 3% fee on incoming payments, but it’s a necessary evil. It’s the internet version of a bank account, and you’ll be -very- hard pressed to find employers or sites that will let you work without one. Once your account is active, you can sign up for aPaypal Debit Mastercard – this is NOT a credit card, just the same as a bank debit card is not. It’s simple a plastic card that can be used to purchase things wherever Mastercard is accepted, or at an ATM to pull out money from your paypal account directly. You don’t pay to use the card, though there is a $1 fee to pull money out at an ATM. You can circumvent this by getting cash back at a store, or offset the fee by getting enrolled in their debit card’s 1% cash back program.
  • A gmail account with an appropriate name. Don’t use, say, “KittyKatLvr” or “SexyBeast4U” as your gmail – if you manage to have contact with clients outside of a freelancing site, this will only reflect poorly on your professionalism. Having a separate account allows you to know, at a glance, what emails are for work without filtering through chain emails, spam and sales flyers in your personal account. A first initial and last name is the generally appropriate default, or, ideally, you can start building your brand with a catchy name here – “ThatWordChick”, for instance. It’s simple and short, easy to remember, with no words that are hard to spell (remember, you might have been hired because the client isn’t great with words/grammar/spelling to begin with). This gets an idea into the client’s head about you and what you can do for them…they’re going to remember a “PerfectPenWriter@gmail.com” long before a “JMoscowitz3465@gmail.com”.

Why Gmail? It’s free, powerful, and generally will not cause issues with attachments or mislabel important things as spam. Google docs is an easy-to-access component of gmail which acts as a live Microsoft Excel-like       spreadsheet, enabling writers and clients to keep track of larger projects in realtime. There’s also a feature in the Labs section of gmail that can be turned on to alert you when you mention attaching something in an email but forget to actually do so – it’s saved many an absent-minded writer! There are a lot of filtering options, and the capacity of emails you can keep archived is pretty darn big.

Gmail is also excellent for storing portfolio work. Whenever you write anything, for anyone, simply email a copy of it to yourself with the words “Portfolio Article” in the subject line. This way, if you ever want a comprehensive list of everything you’ve done, all you’ll have to do is search those words and you’ll have a chronological list. This is invaluable for situations where you want to show a piece of your writing to a new client, but have no idea where that word document got to. Gmail is also on every internet-enabled computer or device because it’s browser based, which means you’ll have access to that work no matter where you happen to be. A fantastic article sitting on a home computer won’t do you any good when you’re sending a client a response on a cell phone, after all.

  • Patience. Likely the most important tool in a writer’s arsenal, patience is the fuel that will keep you going in the long term. Be prepared to tangle with difficult clients, fast-approaching deadlines and micromanaging editors – stay long enough in the freelance biz and you’ll deal with all three. In addition to patience with other people, be sure to be patient with yourself – if an overzealous editor knocks you down a work level, or there are slim pickings in the usual order lists, don’t despair. Like any non-conventional job, freelancing is subject to the laws of supply and demand, as well as the interpretations of editors. Use each stumble as a learning opportunity and let it steel you to do better during your next go-around.
  • Dedicated time. As you get better at freelancing, this can be relaxed a bit, but in the beginning you’ll need to block off time to really see results. The best results will come from the willingness to diversify your efforts, which will mean spending a little time on each of your ‘home sites’ every day. Keeping your portfolio current, checking the forums for news, advertising your services and following up with clients are all necessary activities that will demand your time as much as the writing itself.
  • A Little Shameless Self-Promotion. Don’t be afraid to talk about what you do and get the word out. Pick up some free business cards from Vistaprint.com, Moo.com (higher quality cards) or another free sample printing site and hand them out to prospective clients. Go to your local chamber of commerce mixers, and reach out to businesses you already know and frequent – all writing has to come from somewhere, so it might as well be you! Want to separate personal life and business life but still hand over a phone number? Get free digits at Google Voice and keep a professional-sounding voicemail box online or link to a cell phone – this last step isn’t necessary, but it is kind of neat.

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Freelance Writer Guide Chapter 1 – Writing for Money

“Writing is easy. You only need to stare at a piece of blank paper until your forehead bleeds.”

– Douglas Adams

 

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Professional writing in the capacity of many clients to one writer is, for the purposes of this guide, called Freelance Writing. This essentially means that the writer takes projects, completes them and receives payment once they are done. There are no uniform hours, pay rates or even experiences – freelance writing is essentially what you make of it, which means it’s a great job or supplemental option for those that don’t mind a little hard work on their own terms.

That being said, it is important to note that not everyone can write in a professional capacity. If you try it out and feel uncomfortable or frustrated with the experience, it’s entirely possible it’s not a good fit for you. Everyone has different skill sets – some people are athletic, others are quick-witted, and still others are skilled with the written word. If writing isn’t your forte, it doesn’t mean that you aren’t talented elsewhere.

For the purposes of this guide, we’ll be discussing writing of the marketing variety – articles about corporations, sales copy for services, product descriptions and other pieces of wordwork that go into making a company attractive to customers. What we will NOT cover are pieces such as novels, short stories, poems and other creative written endeavors. While marketing writing does take creativity and there are some shared characteristics, these two art forms are very different. Finding professional writing projects for creative forms is often considerably more difficult than marketing ones, and so new writers would do better to focus on the more plentiful option.

Why do Companies Pay For Writing?

Understanding why a company hands over money for words in the first place helps a beginning writer better understand why his or her efforts are so sought after. The reasons usually fall into a mix of two “camps”: the customer side and the technical side.

The customer must be spoken to clearly and concisely – they need to be informed about the product so they know why they ought to buy or consider it. The written word has an advantage over in-person salespeople: it can reach millions of people that aren’t in the store, and it can be carefully written beforehand, where spoken discussions must be quickly created on the spot. Projects written for the customer side are intended to appeal directly to the reader, coaxing them to perform an action like purchasing an item.

The technical side, as you may imagine, is a little bit more complex. Companies want search engines, Google being the main and most well-known, to notice them on the internet. Good notice equates to higher placement in the Search Engine Results Pages or SERPS, a fancy name for the screen you see after you search for a term on the engine’s website. Most potential customers will click a link high up on the first page of results because it’s easy, and may not even wander to page 2 for additional options. This makes it vital for a company to have high placement, which can be worked towards by having lots of relevant information about their products or services on the company webpage. A website selling kites, for instance, can take steps towards improving their placement by adding articles about kite history, or good materials for kites right onto their site. This will gain them a little notice in Google, and may even drive some customers to the store section of their site to buy a kite as well. These two articles reflect the items they sell, and also show Google that they want to inform their customers as much as encourage them to buy.

In this example, you would be the writer that makes these two articles for the company. This is an example of marketing writing used to improve a company, and keeping this mutually beneficial model in mind will help you keep motivated in your writing endeavors.

Why Don’t Companies Write For Themselves?

It may seem puzzling to some that a company doesn’t just hand an employee a pad and pen and tell them to get to work. The reason at least smart companies don’t is that specialization is important in all components of a business. Managers don’t pull warehouse employees away from moving pallets to work on the sales floor, and restaurants don’t expect wait staff to come into the kitchen to cook. The best results come from putting employees where they do the best work, and smaller companies don’t have the money to keep a writer on staff.

Some projects may even involve cleaning up the mess left behind when companies take a shot at writing without the proper skills. The results they turn out often have the exact opposite effect of their intended one, with customers failing to respond to “loud” sales copy, poor spelling and less-than-ideal grammar created at the hands of an owner or well-meaning employee. These companies seldom make the same mistake twice, and will usually gladly hand off the task to professionals after seeing their own lackluster results.

Why YOU Should Write For Money

Writing for money is a rewarding career that can be taken up by anyone that can manage the right tone and work ethic to succeed. It doesn’t require a college degree, a stumbling block that has forced many people into jobs they hate for the sake of getting by financially. It is not a “scheme” that requires hours upon hours of unpaid training, an expensive “start-up kit”, or even a job that requires you to leave the home. It’s an excellent way to make some money to pay for groceries or gas, and it requires minimal, if any, childcare if you have a family.

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