Tag Archives: so you wanna be a writer

SO YOU WANNA BE A WRITER…STEP 9: KNOW WHEN TO FIRE A CLIENT (AND HOW)

You’re trying to grow your freelance business. You’ve been taking every writing job that comes along just to get experience and put money in your bank account. You’re feeling fortunate to have cobbled together enough writing jobs to pay the bills and start a portfolio.

But…

There’s this one job that you hate. (Maybe hate is a strong word—but it might be close.) You were grateful when you landed the opportunity, but things have gone south since you started. Maybe the subject doesn’t interest you. Or maybe the customer grates on your nerves. For whatever reason, you simply don’t want to work with that client any more.

What should you do? In the midst of trying to make it as a writer, is there ever a time to say no to a job? Is it ever ok to “fire” a client? Will you be considered a quitter if you give up on this project?

In Step 4, I covered when it’s ok to “just say no” to taking a job, but this situation is different. You’ve been working with the client for a while, but you don’t have any desire to continue that relationship.

I have good news for you: Yes, there is a time when you can say “enough.” If you’ve been following these steps to develop your business, you should be in a position that you can let go of that dreaded job.

No, this isn’t a free pass to just quit as soon as a project or a client becomes challenging. But I believe there are legitimate reasons to move on from a particular opportunity. Here are four:

1. When the work doesn’t meet your goals

Keep in mind why you started down this unconventional path in the first place. Was it for flexibility? An excitement for the craft? The freedom of being your own boss? Maybe you wanted to become a world-renowned cat blogger.

Whatever they are, examine your motivations and the goals you’ve set for yourself and your writing. Then, take a good look at the job in question. Does it meet these goals? Or at least move you toward them? If it’s taking you in the wrong direction, it might be time to turn around.

Several years ago, I was working with a resume company. I was receiving steady assignments, and they were happy with my work. I could have gotten more jobs from them if I wanted them. The problem: The work involved setting up multiple appointments with the people who were requesting resumes—and they often didn’t keep those appointments. I found myself arranging entire days around phone calls to gather information or review a completed resume, and the people didn’t bother to show up for our meetings.

This might not bother you as much as it did me. But when I looked at this situation, I realized this job was not meeting my goal of working a flexible schedule. I was missing out on doing other things because I was tied to a lot of set appointment times—that weren’t even being honored. I felt like I was wasting time, and the work had become more frustrating than rewarding. The result: I quit that job.

2. When the client doesn’t communicate

I’m familiar with the old adage that the customer is always right, but I don’t believe that fairy tale. Good service is important, but there are lines clients can cross. If they do, it’s time to part ways.

Communication is one of those lines. Remember when I discussed the importance of being responsive to clients? It’s important for clients to have that same quality, too (at least to some extent). If you’re unable to get clear direction from a client, if they won’t get back to you if you have questions, if they expect you to meet deadlines without providing the information you need – this communication breakdown makes it impossible to do your job.

Case in point: You have a client who is extremely hard to reach via phone. That’s fine – you can simply email. But the client’s emails are abrupt and unclear. They rarely answer the questions you asked in your previous email. Many times, the client doesn’t respond at all, leaving you waiting and wondering if they want you to start the next article or not.

I experienced this scenario. I finally decided it was not worth the hassle and let the client know via email that I would no longer be able to work with him. I knew I had made the right call when I received an email from him three weeks later, asking if I was ready to start the next article.

3. When the money doesn’t arrive

There are times when you’re just starting out as a writer that you might feel like a starving artist. This doesn’t mean you have to work for free. If a client doesn’t pay, don’t keep cranking out the content.

This might sound obvious, but it can be all too easy to work and work and never get paid. They tell you the check is in the mail. They’re consistently late with payment. You never know when the money might hit your account.

This isn’t acceptable, even for a newbie. Set certain parameters for payment, then stick to them. It’s ok to charge a fee for late payment, and it’s ok to refuse to do any more work until the account is current. That’s just good business sense. If a client gets offended that you actually expect to be paid for your work, is that really someone you want to rely on for your paycheck?

Of course, this requires clear expectations. Set these at the start of your working relationship. How will they make payments and when? Include due dates and other payment terms on your invoices (and communicate them with your clients when you first establish your rates).

All of my invoices include this note at the bottom: Payments received after 30 days of invoice date are subject to a $15.00 late fee.

Yes, I have waived this fee a couple of times when a long-standing client was late with payment (and I knew it was on its way). The goal isn’t to set strict boundaries that give you an excuse to quit if someone crosses the line. The point is to protect yourself and the client by presenting clear expectations, then sticking to them.

4. When the bank account allows it 

I realize it’s one thing to believe it’s time to quit, and quite another to pull the trigger. There are times when you simply can’t. Even if you don’t like the job. Even if the client drives you crazy.

If they are paying their bills and sending you steady work, you might look at your budget and realize that it’s not wise to quit this job. This is particularly important if others, such as a spouse or children, are relying on your income, too.

In this situation, your best bet is to try to stick it out while you continue to pursue other opportunities. In other words, don’t quit until you have something to replace it. Develop a plan to replace the income first, then you’ll be free to move on (without missing a mortgage payment).

When It’s Time to Say Goodbye

If you decide a job falls into one of the categories above, it’s important to take appropriate next steps. While it might be tempting to simply text an “I quit” GIF, followed by a , I don’t recommend it.

Instead, try these steps:

Finish the current job. If at all possible, finish the current project. Whatever you are working on for them, complete it (unless your reason is #3). This ends things on a more positive note, rather than leaving the client high and dry without someone to finish their project. You’ve committed to it, so finish it. Afterwards, let them know you won’t be able to take on any further projects with them.

Don’t burn bridges. Keep in mind that your reputation is on the line. Even if you no longer want to work with a particular person or business, this doesn’t mean you don’t want them to recommend you to others. If you end things as positively as possible, you can maintain a good relationship that could lead to other opportunities in the future.

Be professional. To avoid burning bridges, part ways professionally. Here’s an example of a professional “I quit” email:

I have accepted new writing opportunities and will no longer be available to write for your blog. Thank you for the opportunity to work with you. I wish you all the best with your business.

Depending on the relationship with the client, you may need to add more details, or you may need to call instead of write, but this is a good starting point for a conversation or email. Keep it simple, positive, and polite.

But what if reason #4 above is preventing you from saying goodbye? If so, it’s time to consider my last step. Watch for:

So you wanna be a writer…Step 10: When the Honeymoon is Over…Persevere

SO YOU WANNA BE A WRITER…STEP 8: GET ORGANIZED

I love restoring order from chaos. I don’t enjoy the chaos part, but I like to organize. It’s what helped me keep my toy department neat during my brief Kmart career, and I think it’s why I don’t mind cleaning up the kitchen after a party or dinner. I’m a big believer in “a place for everything and everything in its place” – and I enjoy putting those things in their places. 

I believe this trait has been an asset for Nenn Pen, Ink. My need for order and my ability to organize have helped as I set up my writing business. After all, it requires more than a little organization to stay on top of assignments and requests from multiple clients, meet various deadlines and work with a fluctuating income. (This variety is what I was looking for when I started, though, and I enjoy the process.)

– If this sounds less fun for you than it does for me…don’t say I didn’t warn you.

– If you’re not scared off by a bit of organizational effort, then you should be ok pursuing this career. (Or, maybe you can afford to hire an assistant – but that requires some organization, too!)

– If you don’t mind a little work (or a lot, if you’re not naturally organized), you should be fine.

This aspect of the job simply comes easier for some than others. For those of you who don’t naturally color-code your sock drawer, I’ve put together the following tips. These four areas cover the basics you need to get your business organized.

Deadlines

Let’s start this section with a confession. I had originally planned to write this post weeks ago.

I’ll give you a minute to stew in the irony…

Ok – moving on to what we can learn from this…

I’m typically very dedicated to meeting deadlines. The problem with this one was two-fold: I had no accountability, and I had no income riding on it (which is actually another aspect of accountability).

If you’re setting your own deadlines (to publish a blog, release a book, etc.), it helps immensely to have accountability. If you’re trying to finish paid projects, this helps as well. There are three main types of accountability to consider for your business and writing goals.

 

  • Individual accountability: Put the deadline on your calendar. Yes, it’s self-imposed, but it’s still a deadline. If you put it in writing, it carries more weight. Plan a reward for yourself when you make the deadline.
  • Personal accountability: Choose a person or some people in your life (up to four) that can help hold you accountable to your personal deadlines. These are good friends who will ask you how things are going and encourage you to meet your goals. You know they’re going to ask you this weekend if you entered that writing contest or worked on your new book. This spurs you on to make the effort so you can say, “Yes, I did!”
  • Professional accountability: This naturally occurs when you have a deadline to meet for a client. Let them know when you will complete the work, then deliver the finished product on time (early is even better).  If you miss your deadline, you have an unhappy client, you might not get paid, and you lose future business. Hopefully, this is motivating enough to keep you on track with client deadlines.

Once you get some accountability in place, you also need a system to stay organized. As with personalizing other aspects of your business, myriad options exist for a deadline system. I simply use a couple of Excel spreadsheets. One is titled “Open Projects.” It lists current projects and their deadlines. The second is my weekly calendar, on which I assign myself work each day based on what is due when.

I am sure there are hundreds of apps out there to organize a calendar, so you simply need to find one that works for you. The important thing is to get in the habit of scheduling your days and weeks so you complete each task on time. Break down large projects into manageable chunks and schedule a realistic amount of work for each day.

Remember, your deadline for a client is likely one in a domino-set of deadlines for their own projects and clients, so missing it causes fallout all the way down the line.

Hint: It’s much less stressful if you avoid both procrastination and overbooking – and your work will generally be better quality.

Follow-up

How often have you contacted someone, and they failed to get back to you? Or, maybe they did get back to you, but it was days or weeks later. How did you feel? Did you want to contact that person again? Did you wait around for them, or did you take your business elsewhere?

Get back to people ASAP. Don’t keep people waiting. Remember, if someone contacts you about a job, they may be contacting several other potential sources, too. Be the first to get back to them so you get the business. Let them know they are important to you.

Hint: Set boundaries as you start. Being responsive doesn’t mean you have to answer emails at 2 am or work through the Sabbath. Either post your hours and stick to them, or let people know what to expect when you start working with them. (For example, if you receive an email on Friday after 6 pm, clients know you will respond first thing Monday morning – not before.)

Appointments

Depending on what types of writing projects you complete, you may need to set phone or in-person appointments. You may interview a source, gather information for a project, or conference-call with a client team. Part of staying organized means making these appointments.

Set reminders, then make the calls or meetings on time. Make it a habit to be reliable when it comes to scheduling and follow-up. This quality is rarer than you might think. It will make you stand out above the competition. On the flip side, missing appointments will sink your business.

Use your calendar, phone reminders, or whatever system works for you (just be sure to have a system). Do what it takes to ensure you never miss an appointment and are always on time.

Finances

We’ve already discussed the challenges of living on a variable income. The aspect I’d like to cover here is the logistics of your finances. Here’s what I recommend as you start your writing business.

Keep ‘em separated: You’ll get this same advice from just about every business professional. You need a separate financial account for your writing income. Create a checking account for your business. Deposit all payments you receive for writing here. The only funds that go in this account are ones you earn from writing jobs. Any expenses you incur related to your writing business come out of this account, and only expenses related to writing are taken from here.

Schedule payday: Pay yourself regularly from your business account. Budgeting is easier if you space this out as if you worked a “normal” job. Pick a pay period you like and stick to it. Maybe you pay yourself every Friday or every other Thursday. When payday arrives, simply transfer the money you have earned since the previous payday into your regular (non-business) account. This is your earnings to spend on bills, a date night, or a new toy for your cat.

Don’t forget S.E.T.: It might be tempting to transfer all your earnings on payday. Don’t do it. When tax time comes, you’ll be one unhappy writer. Set aside a portion of your income to pay taxes when they are due. The amount varies depending on your tax bracket and your state of residence, but 25% of your earnings is a good figure to use for federal taxes. This covers regular taxes plus your self-employment tax (S.E.T.). In Illinois, you’ll need another 3.75% for state income tax.

That means, on payday, you’ll only transfer 75% of that pay period’s earnings into your checking account (or 71.25% – whatever the total is with your state tax added in). The rest will remain in your business account to use for quarterly estimated tax payments. Don’t forget to put these tax due dates on your calendar and set reminders to pay them. They are typically April 15, June 15, September 15 and January 15.

Ready…Set…Organize!

Are you feeling empowered to organize your efforts for a successful writing career? If “overwhelmed” is a better description, don’t despair. Keep in mind, you’re free to try different systems of organization until you find one that matches your personality and needs. Don’t give up. If you “whiff” on a deadline or a phone call, that’s not cause to call it quits. Learn from the situation and add to your organizational system for the next time.

That brings us to the next question: When should you call it quits? Is there ever a time to say no? Watch for answers in the next post…

So you wanna be a writer…Step 9: Know When to Fire a Client (and How)

So you wanna be a writer…Step 3: Puttin’ on the Blitz

No…I said BLITZ

Blitz: 1. an intensive or sudden military attack. 2. a sudden, energetic, and concerted effort, typically on a specific task

We don’t need to involve tanks or bombers, so let’s focus on definition #2. Although, I do like the word “attack.” It’s really what I’m recommending you do next: Attack job opportunities with ferocious effort. So really, that first description of your blitz is fairly accurate.

To secure your first jobs as a freelance writer, you should complete an application blitz. You’ll develop a plan of attack, then execute it. If you aren’t a military strategist, that’s ok. You don’t need evasive maneuvers or heavy defenses. What you do need is energy, effort and perseverance.

My Recipe: The Spaghetti Toss

Keep in mind, if you do a search for job-hunting tips, you’ll get a plethora of results. Many will disagree with what I’m suggesting. Many will say that you should remain very focused in your job applications, spending time applying only to the ones with an ideal fit. “Don’t waste your time applying to dozens and dozens of jobs.” “Focus on networking rather than anonymous online applications.” “Don’t bother with a cover letter.” And on and on.

In certain situations, each of these might be good advice. But…these ideas didn’t fit with my plan, and they might not work with yours either.

My approach was an all-out freelancing blitz to get my name and portfolio in front of as many people as possible – in hopes to get a few things to stick. You might say I prayerfully played the odds – figuring for every dozen or so jobs I applied to I might find someone interested in giving me a shot. With very little experience, I hoped to find a few among the potential clients who would let me prove my writing talent to them. And…it worked. God answered those prayers.

The main reason my job search looked different from others was my end goal. I wasn’t trying to secure one 40-hour-a-week job. My goal was essentially several part-time jobs. I hoped to put together enough writing gigs, working with many clients, to create full-time income. I didn’t want to rely on one company to supply all of my pay, and I also wanted to ultimately work for myself. I only wanted jobs that allowed me to work from home, on my own schedule. I would decide what hours to work, what rate to charge and what jobs to accept.

Of course, I didn’t get all of these things at once. When you’re initially looking to establish yourself, you have less freedom in what you can turn down. You may have to start with lower pay than you want, and accept jobs that aren’t your favorite, just to get some writing under your pen. But, my point is, I wanted variety. I wanted lots of jobs.

So, I had to apply to a lot of postings, in a variety of fields and formats. That meant an application blitz.

What does an application blitz look like?

I’m glad you asked. Here’s what mine involved.

1. Search for job sources.

Here’s a few that I came up with:

craigslist: This was a top source for my blitz. It was time consuming to set up, but I’m still reaping benefits from it. I hopped on craigslist, chose a major US city, clicked “writing/editing” under the jobs section, checked off “telecommute” and saved the search. Under my saved searches, I turned on alerts, so I would receive an email notification any time someone posted a new writing/editing position. I did this for pretty much every major US city (since I can write from anywhere).

Of course, I started by applying to the opportunities that come up in my original search. But, once you’ve applied to all current jobs that interest you, you can continue to apply as new notices arrive in your inbox. Two years after setting up this search, I still receive alerts and occasionally find something that peaks my interest and results in a new opportunity.

Job boards: I didn’t find these helpful. I tried saving my search as I did with craigslist, but I quickly discovered I received many jobs that didn’t match my criteria (despite the selections I made when saving the search). I also become the target of recruiters for jobs in which I had no interest, like insurance sales. Ugh. I eventually turned off all these alerts (Indeed, Monster, CareerBuilder). Maybe you’ll have better luck and want to include them in your initial blitz, but I don’t recommend them for freelance writing job searches. 

Freelance sites: I have found these to be hit or miss. In my experience, the people who use these sites to find freelancers are often expecting to get writing done dirt cheap. They expect to pay little to nothing for work, offering way less than market value for your skills. But…if you have very little experience, taking on a few of these tasks might be worthwhile to get some things on your portfolio. These sites include:

A quick Google search for freelance writing sites yields a host of results. To get started with each, you typically complete a profile that others can view as they search for freelancers. If they like what they see, they will contact you. You can also search posted opportunities and, on some sites, put in bids for specific jobs. Some are more user friendly than others. Again, I’ve found these only marginally helpful.

Newsletters: Why search for writing jobs when someone else can do it for you? I signed up for a couple of free newsletters which the creators are kind enough to compose and send out to job seekers. They include daily postings from across the world wide web of opportunities. Here’s a couple I’ve found helpful.

Shhh…Hidden jobs: Did you know a majority of jobs aren’t actually posted online or advertised in any way? This makes two things important. Networking and fishing.

You probably know what I mean by networking. Get your LinkedIn profile complete. Make good connections to get your name out there. Yadda yadda yadda. I’m personally sick of the term and hate the “schmoozing” sound of it. But, it is effective.

As far as fishing goes…I’ve found this to be just as effective as networking when I was first starting out. By “fishing,” I mean applying when there’s no job posted. As far as you know, the company isn’t even hiring. But, you’d like to work for them, so you inquire anyway.

Perhaps you’d love to write newsletter articles. So, you search for newsletter companies and send a cover letter and resume to a slew of them, introducing yourself and letting them know you are available for any opportunities they might have. The same goes for magazines or other media. To some, this may sound like a waste of time, but I actually got one of my best on-going writing gigs this way. Just sayin’.

2. Blast away, blitzer

Once you’ve assembled your list of job sources and have new job notices coming in regularly, you can blitz. Apply like crazy. When I was starting to build my business with the goal of writing full-time, I applied to dozens of jobs each week. Initially, it was dozens per day.

3. Get organized

It’s important to stay organized in this process. Track everything you apply to. Start a spreadsheet, or a journal (if you like low-tech options) or save each job posting/application in a “Freelance Jobs Applied To” folder in your email. These will be helpful to reference if someone gets back to you regarding one of the zillion jobs you’ve applied to, since they all start to run together eventually.

Why don’t you go…where writing fits…

Cast a wide net. Explore new possibilities. Apply. Apply. Apply. Eventually, you’ll find some things that stick. From there, you can find a few more. With experience, you can become more selective in your applications and job selections.

For now, your goal is simply experience. To find what fits…we’re puttin’ on a blitz.

Up next: So you wanna be a writer…Step 4: Check the Price Tag on Your Soul

 

So you wanna be a writer…Step 2: Get Yourself on the Interweb

Ask any of my high-tech friends, and they will tell you I’m pretty low-tech. I was one of the last people on the planet to start texting. I’m just not into the latest gadgets or apps. I’m not anti-computer or tech illiterate. After all, I am using this , not this 

I’m pretty savvy at learning new programs when I need to. I’m just a bit old school and prefer to keep things simple.

And yet, if my dad were here, he’d be blown away by my tech skills and all the technology I use every day. I guess it’s all about perspective.

Whatever viewpoint you come from, the reality is this: Whether you like it or not, writers today need an online presence. Exactly what this looks like will vary based on your goals, but you at least need a website. 

Don’t panic. You don’t need to be a programmer. You don’t even need to know HTML (and if you don’t know what that is yet, that’s ok too!)

What you do need to do is use a simple system like WordPress to establish a home for yourself on, what I like to call, the interweb. (Just ‘cuz it’s fun to say.)

Setting Up Shop

There are many free or cheap options to choose from to create a simple site. I chose WordPress. I’ve been happy with it. You’ll eventually want to have your own domain, be ad-free, and enjoy the ability to customize your site. These all involve cost. (All totaled, I pay about $100 a year for these privileges.) If you’re just starting out and have zero to invest, just go with the free stuff to get started. This site used to be nennpen.wordpress.com, and I eventually forked over the cash for the domain so it could be nennpen.com.

What should you include on your site? Again, my motto is keep it simple. If you don’t have any freelance clients yet, you simply want a place for prospective clients/employers to go. Even a one-page site with your general info is a place to start.

Here’s the essentials:

A site people can find. Choose the name carefully. The simplest solution is to use your name. If you wanna get a bit creative, go for it (I’m pretty proud of the Nenn Pen, Ink name). But, don’t get so crazy that people won’t remember it or associate it with you.

General info. If the goal is to get people to contact you about job opportunities, then…make it easy to contact you. Include an email address on your site (and make it prominent/easy to find on the site) and include a contact form. Don’t worry, the contact form is a built-in feature you can simply select and insert into your site when you set it up.

Include a blurb about what you offer as a writer. A good rule of thumb is to emphasize three traits. Establish what you want to be known for. This is a good tactic for any type of job hunt. Nail down three things you can quickly rattle off as your strengths, that will make a solid impression on employers. Be ready to back up each trait with a sentence or two that explains what each means or what makes it true about you. Think of them as your super powers. For example, when you read: Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound…who comes to mind?

You’ll see from my home page that I am creative, concise and consistent. What are you?

Portfolio. This one’s the biggie. Everyone is going to want to see writing samples. You need an online portfolio you can point people to. In fact, this is really the initial reason for your site. Every application/resume/cover letter you submit should include “For samples of my work, please view my portfolio.”

Don’t have any samples yet? That’s a tough one. It’s the vicious need-experience-to-get-experience cycle. If no one has hired you to do any work yet, you may have to create your own samples to feature. Pick a topic and write about it. Interview a friend who has an interesting job or life story and write it up. Find a writing contest and enter it, then include your submission in your portfolio. Do a search for writing prompts and create a sample that way. The goal is to provide proof that you can write – and, that you can write in different voices and styles. I promise it gets easier. As soon as you have a job or two, you should have some additional content you can upload to your page, or live content you can link to. 

Better done than perfect. This one is extremely hard for me to remember. If you’re anything like me, you might get frozen in this process. You want to tweak, and edit, and change designs, and continue perfecting…and your site never goes live. Just accept up front that it won’t be perfect. Give yourself some grace. Put it out there, and you can always make changes as you go. Don’t let perfectionism or fear hold you back.

On your mark…

Ready to get started? The interweb isn’t going to write itself! Find a WordPress theme that suits your personality and get set!

Get yourself out there!

Go!

Up next: So you wanna be a writer…Step 3: Puttin’ on the Blitz

So you wanna be a writer…Step 1: Face the 7 Deadlies

No, I’m not an expert. I don’t have a degree in writing. In fact, I majored in social work because I wanted to help people. Turns out, that wasn’t a good fit. Now I’m a writer (which is really what I wanted to be all along) – and I still want to help people. So, here goes.

I’m going to share my journey that took me from retail, to real estate, to writing, and lots of other things along the way. Mostly, though, I’m going to share what has worked and what has crashed and burned as I’ve been on this path.

Sound interesting? Great! Keep reading…

My goal is to help others who, like me, dream of being a writer but aren’t sure how to get there. Do I have all the answers? Heck no. But, I’ve learned a few things, and I am currently making a living as a freelancer. I’m hoping that means I have a few helpful tips to pass along.

Two years ago today I was in the midst of trying to decide if I could really “make it” writing full time. Now, I’ve been doing just that since November of 2015. Praise God for helping me achieve the dream I’ve had since old enough to wield a pen!

I am certainly far from reaching many of my goals, but I am excited about where I am on this journey and the progress I’ve made so far. My plan is to share the many small steps I’ve taken to get to this point. This series will be writer-focused, but much of it will be applicable for anyone wanting to forge out on their own in any kind of business – from freelance writer to furniture maker to farmer (or even other careers that aren’t alliterative)!

I pray you’ll be encouraged and inspired by my tidbits and tips. I’d love to hear the experiences from your own journey, too. May we all spur one another on toward love and good deeds in whatever we’re pursuing.

Where to begin…

I’ve decided the only place I can start this series is where I started: facing down the 7 deadly sins for writers. If you can’t overcome at least Sin #1, you’re stuck before you even start.

I wrote these up in a previous blog series, if you want to check out those posts. I’ve also crafted them into a FREE ebook. It’s my gift to you for joining me on this writing adventure.

If those sins don’t scare you away from the craft, watch for the next step:

So you wanna be a writer…Step 2: Get yourself on the interweb