Are You Scared of Spending Money?

http://www.freelancewritinggigs.com/2009/04/scared-of-spending/

Do you hang onto your money? That can be good – and bad, especially for your freelance writing success.

The saying goes that you have to spend a dollar to make a dollar. That’s doubly true when it comes to business, and your business is freelance writing. Basically, if you want to do better than you are now, you need to let go a little of what you have.

You don’t have to spend a fortune to reach success. But you shouldn’t limit your potential success and returns because you don’t want to part with your dollars. It’s a beginner’s mistake, and one you can correct immediately.

Spending money to make more is an oft-ignored strategy to reach better success. Some people don’t see the value. Some freelance writers aren’t making much money as it is. Some are struggling to stay afloat. Parting with even $25 might hurt.

These people put their heads down. They keep a close eye on their money. They forget to look up at the future – their future.

What if spending just $25 now brought back $100 in a month? What if it brought $100 the next month and the month after that? Wouldn’t that be a worthwhile expense? Wouldn’t that be good enough reason to let go a little?

A small, one-time investment can make a big difference in your success. A good expense can help you earn more money. Work less. Increase your client base. Boost sales. Improve Traffic. Investing in you can help you be more successful – even if you’re doing okay as is.

That’s another common mistake freelancers make. They’re doing just fine, supporting their families, so they don’t feel the need to invest at all. Why bother spending if the work and the money is coming in?

You should bother because you could bring in more money, often for the same amount of work, time or effort – and sometimes even for less.

Think about how you’d feel if you could earn twice the money you’re making now. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Don’t be stupid about spending, though. The brand-new whatever that just launched may be tempting. Everyone’s excited to buy. You might be too, but don’t hop on the bandwagon. Think carefully first.

Analyze what you’ll get from spending. Think about the potential returns for what you want to accomplish. Determine your goals, and weigh the options that will help you get there. Look at the cost and potential return.

For example, learning about Adwords may help your direct sales, but advertising may help you earn more clients. An ebook might seem low-cost, but if it isn’t going to pay for itself, it’s a poor investment. Likewise, a $397 course might seem expensive, but if it helps you earn $500 a month for a full year, then it’s a great investment.

$500 a month for a year. I’ll take that. Would you?

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Comments

  1. Not sure I understand this… yes, advertising COULD make you some money, but direct person to person marketing is MORE likely to do so… and it’s free. And there’s no good way to know whether a course or a book will or won’t help you make extra cash… no guarantees out there!

    Bottom line: I’d say hang onto your cash as much as possible, focusing as much as possible on low cost and free marketing options.

    Lisa

  2. @ Lisa – That’s actually an incorrect line of thinking. Examine the time you spend in that style of marketing. Your time is worth money – if you’re spending 10 hours to get one client, those ten hours could have been better spent earning money. One ad that costs $25 could have brought in that client.

    See what I mean? Don’t be so sure that the ways you invest are the good ones, when everything’s taken into account.

  3. but it’s not that simple!

    You suggest that the time I spend building relationships COULD have been spent making money. But that’s only true if (1) I turn away paying clients to market for other paying clients – something that I’d never do! – and (2) I have so many paying clients that there’s no unbillable time left in which to do person to person or online marketing. Even if I’m very busy, there are still a few minutes here and there in any day when I can send out an email, answer an online ad, or otherwise make a personal connection.

    I’ve spent hundred on ads – online, in print, even in the yellow pages – with zero outcome. It looked reasonable. It sounded reasonable. But the net outcome was money spent for bupkus.

    Meanwhile, maintaining positive relationships with clients and potential clients over time has turned into tens of thousands of dollars… and answering online ads, ditto. These require no cash outlay – and quite honestly there’s no way that ANYONE is working so many billable hours that they can’t find half an hour a day to focus on reaching out to potential clients!

    Lisa

  4. one other point: where could you possibly place a single $25 ad that is likely to bring in serious money from a serious client?? it costs hundreds to put one print ad into the local paper… and you can easily spend $25, $50, $100 on Google ads with nothing to show for it but a handful of people clicking on your site and then leaving…

  5. I do agree with spending money to make money.

    I may not advertise my services anywhere, but I definitely invest in my skills. Books, tutorials, and trainings are just a few things that are going to make me a better, more efficient writer with a larger base of knowledge. This investment is definitely worth it.

  6. @ Lisa – I hear what you’re saying. A couple of thoughts of my own.

    Do you feel that “making money” only includes the actual immediate work that offers short term results? IE, write an article, get paid? When I refer to “making money”, I see much farther – 10 hours spent writing an ebook that could be sold over and over to provide long term income is making money.

    Do you feel that turning away a paying client is always a bad thing? There are clients who offer $25 – there are clients who offer $250. I’d rather invest 5 hours marketing to the client who has more money and make that one a paying client versus working for the one who offers me $25 now.

    Not everything we try provides results. I’d be loathe to use Yellow Pages advertising in my area, because I know the investment wouldn’t pay off. But I know that four well-placed banner ads on the ‘net is definitely worth it (because I tested with one and analyzed the results). So it’s a bit of spend and try, then hone in.

    I think too that you mention other issues with your marketing strategies – you note that you have placed advertising and that people do come to your site… but they leave. That’s not a fault in advertising, that would indicate that there’s something about your site that turns people away. The design, the copy, ads that don’t deliver what they promise…

    It’s important to take a look at the results of efforts and see where the problems are as much as it is important to try to figure out the best investments ahead of time.

    But your comments go on to suggest that you do indeed spend money to make money – you’re investing your time and energy into marketing, responding to ads, etc. I’m glad it’s worked out for you!

    @ Jessica – I am very, very big on self-improvement – books, courses, education, learning opportunities… anything that keeps me getting better (no matter how successful I am now) is priceless.

  7. I’m all for low cost and free marketing options until I get more established; but I don’t want to look or sound cheap either. I’m still learning how to market and advertise which still seems a bit scary. It’s like being out in the big choppy ocean with only a small canoe. First thing I thought of.

  8. I guess I don’t think of it in terms of the straight spending of money.

    I would say that I am concerned about wasting money.

    Advertising and marketing, when done correctly, are an investment in my business… I am definitely not scared of investing money.

  9. I think both arguments have some truth, so I try to find a balance. I’m willing to spend money to make money (ie. buy an educational book to learn a new skill, spend money on my website, vamp up my marketing) if it’s very likely that it will bring in returns – but if I can’t see that happening in any logical way, then I’ll hold on to my wallet.

    I also see Lisa’s point – yes my time is worth money, but often I have more than enough time to spend and not more than enough money to spend. There are certain times of the year when I have several hours in a day to dedicate to person-to-person marketing and no extra cash to invest in better marketing strategies; but if I’m busy and don’t have that time, I’ll be willing to throw down some money to earn business in the future.

  10. A couple well-worn maxims seem appropriate:

    1. It takes money to make money.
    2. don’t be penny-wise, but pound foolish.

    Examine the cost-benefit relationship of any potential purchase. If a $7/month subscription to a job board earns you a $2000/month gig, the money was worth it.

    Don’t hang onto money if it will free you up to earn money. For instance, a $200 laser printer will print my research faster than an inkjet, resulting in getting back to my writing sooner. Another choice: do you spend 30 minutes to chase down a free version of a Wall Street Journal story, or pay $10/mo and get the WSJ piece in seconds.

  11. I completely agree when it comes to equipment. And if you use a research tool regularly, of course it makes sense to subscribe.

    But there’s absolutely no way to know whether a subscription to a particular job board, an ad, or a conference will lead to work. I’ve spent thousands traveling to and participating in conferences that led to nothing… and spent nothing on cultivating relationships that led to thousands.

    This reminds me of business plans which assume “I’ll sell 500 units in six months, which will lead to a net profit of $10,000.” Sounds good, but the number of units sold depends on so many factors that the 500 number is really just a guess.

    My feeling is that spending money on marketing/sales is chancey. If you have the cash, that’s great! If your $ is limited, I’d absolutely suggest spending first on equipment, business cards and a solid website (if you have clips to show off on the site). Only after all that’s in place (along with the rent and money for food) would I suggest spending anything more than a few bucks on subscriptions, ads, conferences and the like.

    Lisa

  12. Spending some money is a given – supplies, domain name, hosting, etc. But I’ve never agreed with having to spend money (advertising-wise) to make money. Perhaps that’s because I come from a PR background, where advertising can almost be “the enemy.” In other words, I already have the knowledge and ability to build exposure, visibility, and relationships within my target audience without spending a cent on advertising. So why on earth would I do it? I don’t.

    I think that’s the key though – you have to have one or the other. You either need the skills to effectively find work that maxes out your potential without advertising, or you need to spend a few bucks to make up for what you’re lacking.

    Like others have mentioned, plenty of us already have our billable hours maxed out regularly (with high paying gigs at that, so we’re not talking $25 vs advertising for a $250 gig), so paying for advertisements would amount to a waste.

  13. I reinvest some earnings into hardware and software purchases that I use for my freelance business. I always purchase early on so I can turn that purchase in to earnings. For example when Vista was on pre-order I dropped the funds to buy Premium copies for 3 computers. Yes I wanted this for the home office, but I was pretty sure I could find a market for reviews and Vista networking tip articles. I try to do this is much as possible so the purchase pays for itself.

    I’m not scared to spend money on business cards, and to pay for domain names and hosting. Other than that I can’t say that I spend much money on my business.

    I have never advertised. I’m with Lisa on this one — how do you evaluate the advertising channel and payoff in advance? As above, I was ‘pretty sure’ I’d get the pay off from buying the software, but I’m not ‘pretty sure’ I’ll profit from advertising. Truthfully, I’m too chicken to take the chance and possibly waste the money that could be used to profit in other ways that I am more sure of. :)

  14. My big money-spend fear was HELP! Now that I finally have an assistant and some contractors I give work to I have a whole different perspective. Money for nothing? Almost. Sure I do some editing, but it’s not that much.

    Best investment I ever made was paying someone else to do it for me.

    As for advertising vs. networking – it depends on what you want to do and who you want to do it for. I work for a company that would never, ever hire based on an advertisement. I wouldn’t want to work for someone that hired me without knowing me. Who I am is so much a part of what I do – plus I want to screen potential clients without them knowing I’m screening them.

    I think to consider advertising over networking is very short sighted. To only think of the people you meet at events as potential clients – I’ve met people at networking events that, because they know me, have given me discounts on goods and services and helped me find great babysitters. Especially if you are in a more densely populated area networking is essential to get big contracts more easily while improving your overall quality of life by knowing people that can help you in almost any kind of a pinch.

    People working in agencies looking to make a great impression love to say, “I have a person.” My goal has always been to be that person.

  15. @ Aurora – Common sense is a good place to start. For example, I see many freelancers hold back on advertising, period. Well, you can’t know if you’ll get returns if you don’t try.

    Then I see them making poor choices of where to advertise. They select a blog with a low readership, for example, and spend $25 for a month. That puts the ad in front of maybe 500 people. Spend $100 and get the ad on a site that has 3,000 readers or more.

    I see people advertising in the Yellow pages. What’s the point in paying money to be stuck in some big directory that people only leaf through from time to time? Get an ad on a site where people are more likely to see you and where you’re not lost in a sea of yellow.

    Then I see people advertising on sites that are competition. If you offer freelance writing services, don’t advertise on a freelance writing site – the readers will be writers, and they won’t need your services. Advertise on a marketing site, or a make-money-blogging site – these are readers who don’t have writing skills, in many cases.

    I see people who advertise and who don’t track response. Did you get clicks? How many? How long did they stay on the page? One Stumble on a blog post can bring 2k people, and they’re gone in seconds. One ad on a site can bring 30 people, and they stay for 5 minutes. Which would you choose?

    You have to use your noggin first and foremost, and then you have to test and analyze results. There is no such thing as waste – everything is a learning experience that lets you get smarter, get savvier and get more successful.

    (Plus, it’s all tax deductible!)

  16. @James
    You make some very good points, especially about ad placement. Many people don’t draw the line connecting who their customers or prospective clients are and where they should advertise to get their name and link in front of them.

  17. @ Jennifer and Jen – Please note that while the comment section discusses advertising, the post itself wasn’t about spending money on advertising per se. It was about self improvement and learning to invest in you and your company.

    If you don’t feel the need to advertise, great! Maybe a new site design (Jennifer, I know your site was changed in the past few months). Maybe a course. Maybe better software or a faster computer.

    Also, keep in mind that many writers say their billable hours are maxed out – that doesn’t mean the amounts they’re billing couldn’t be improved.

    Cheers!

  18. I actually do all design changes on my sites and blogs on my own, usually with template edits (although I know how to design and hard code a decent site from scratch as well). It goes back to what I said about advertising: you don’t need money, but if you don’t want to spend, then you’d better have the skills.

    As for education, that goes back to what I mentioned regarding hours – if someone has those hours maxed out earning their target rates, they have no need to invest money in education if they don’t want to. There are plenty of opportunities to learn and better yourself as a writer (of any type) without buying a lot of books or taking formal courses that could cost a good bit. It’s a choice; not a necessity to succeed (and definitely not a case of being “scared” to spend the money).

    You rarely have to spend money to succeed as a freelance writer. I’ve made a point to spend as little as possible just because I never bought into the argument of having to spend money to make money, and over the past decade I’d say I’ve built a pretty nice career out of it. In that time, the only expenses I’ve found to be absolute requirements are a computer with Internet access, a phone line, basic office expenses, and domains and hosting (only because I don’t believe in using free hosting or free blog platforms in building a professional presence). Anything else has generally been more of a luxury, and added little extra benefit.

  19. @ Jen – I don’t disagree with you, but I’m a bit puzzled. Do you not see investing your personal time as “spending”?

  20. In the case of design work, absolutely not in my case. I know how to keep my billable time separate from any other time in business, and I never sacrifice any of that for design changes or anything else. As every freelancer should, I have my billable hours, my admin hours, and my marketing hours. Design work, other site improvements, copy updates, blog commenting, forum posting, etc. are all worked into my marketing time. If there’s not enough time to do it all, then it doesn’t get done, and I spend that time in whatever way is going to bring the best long-term ROI. All of that is basic marketing, and no, I don’t consider spending time on marketing to be an investment equal to spending money when it doesn’t interfere with earnings in any way. If I had to give up billable hours to do those things, then that would be true – It would be costing me what I should have been earning. But a bit of planning makes that easy to avoid.

  21. And remember, spending money doesn’t equal no time invested either. I’ve hired designers, other writers, etc. in the past, taken courses and seminars, etc. There’s always a time investment, whether consulting with those contractors or spending time in the seminar. If I can do or learn the same things in other ways where there’s only a time investment, it’s simply the smarter business decision.

  22. @ Jennifer – Ahh, there’s where we do disagree (which is quite fine and cool). It’s a common mistake to discredit the value of our personal time, because it does have a value attached. Any accountant worth his salt will put a dollar value on every hour worked, including the business owner’s. It’s part of the Cost of Goods Sold and it carries a price tag.

    So let’s say that you decide you’ll spend 10 hours on your business doing odd jobs and admin tasks. You’ll spend 10 hours working for clients, and you charge $250 per hour (or $25, or $150 or whatever.)

    That means your time is worth $250 an hour. The ten hours you just invested on the odd jobs and admin tasks is worth $2,500.

    $2,500 for 10 hours. That’s money *lost*, not money gained.

    That’s a poor investment. It’s a smarter choice to analyze the cost of a VA or a bookkeeper or a web designer.

    A VA costs around $50 an hour. So paying a VA $500 for 10 hours of work to get those odd jobs and admin tasks done while you earn $2,500 (ten hours at $250) is a smart thing to do. You just earned a profit of $2,000 instead of creating a loss of $2,500.

    Like I mentioned above, it’s a common mistake, often one created by a fear of spending and trying to save money doing everything on your own.

  23. James, I think you’re confusing a business-school model of running a business with freelancing – which is quite different, IMHO. This is similar to what happens when an MBA with a business background is hired to run a non-profit because after all “business is business.”

    The reality is that a sole-proprietorship (again, IMHO) is distinct from “business” in the MBA sense in two ways.

    First: it’s fine to say that one should invest one’s money rather than one’s time – but in a sole proprietorship, there is very rarely money available to spend on much outside of the basics of business – plus the basics of life. “Should” there be? Sure, we should all be making enough, reliably to “pay ourselves” out of a separate account and still have thousands left to invest in our business. But that’s just not realistic.

    Second: as with nonprofits, there is a personal passion element to the work that is different from, say, working for State Farm. People who work in museums or environmental non profits don’t do it because they’ll make the most money in the least amount of time – they do it because they WANT to work in those places and they ENJOY doing the work they do. As a result, the idea of doing “extra” work is often seen as an opportunity, not a grind.

    As freelancers, we do this (most of us) because we can’t imagine doing anything else that we’d enjoy as much. Putting extra hours in isn’t a matter of “gee, that hour was worth $50, so better I should hire another writer and go watch Wheel.”

    Most of us actually ENJOY the process – and while a few extra leisure hours would be great, we don’t have the cash to lay out, nor do we really want to hand over the pleasure of the work we love to someone else on the basis of a calculation. (Of course, accounting is a whole other barrel of monkeys!!)

    Lisa

  24. @ Lisa – Great comments, and here are my thoughts:

    Freelancing is a business. You own a business that makes money, and the employee is you. Operations are almost identical to any other business out there, save that you have more freedom to decide what you’d like to do for yourself.

    In a sole proprietorship (Men with Pens is one of those), there is as much money available as you can earn. My sole proprietorship brings in more than a couple of six figures a year, so there’s no reason for freelancers to feel that they should be poor and strapped for cash. What you do and how you treat your business affects your income and success. Why limit that by saying, “Sole proprietors never have money?”

    And I do agree with you that freelancers can choose to work on what they love. I disagree that most enjoy the odd jobs and admin tasks because this is not the common opinion out there based on my experience – we receive MANY emails and comments from freelancers, readers and entrepreneurs that just want to get back to their core creative talent. They typically HATE the business aspect of freelancing. (Which is often why team businesses work – everyone does what they love most and put it together.)

    I suggest you take a look at The Ultimate Freelancer. It covers much of the common mistakes and perceptions brought up here and shows how these thoughts can be restrictive, limiting and end up costing freelancers more money than they make.

  25. It’s not a mistake at all. I’m well aware of billable hours vs working hours and what each entails. I coach new writers in the issue all the time when it comes to setting their rates. It’s also another discussion entirely separate from being “scared of spending money,” but regardless is already covered in my last comment – if it costs you less to do it yourself (as in you would lose less in time doing something you’re skilled in than you would in dealing with outsourcing it), then the smart business decision is to do it yourself. I actually find it quite offensive to imply that thriving professionals “fear” spending just because they understand how to measure return and have found more efficient ways of doing things by learning how to help themselves.

    But thanks for the thoughts. I’ll share my own later today on All Freelance Writing regarding the real value of those added skills, and why I find that “fear” assumption to be greatly misplaced – it’s far too long for a comment.

  26. Coolness. Drop the link here and I’ll go have a read.

  27. What an interesting turn of comments overnight. Great morning coffee read! I do agree that freelance writing is a business. That is why as a freelance writer I am able to write-off expenses, invoice clients, and I know when I file my year-end taxes I sure as heck am considered a business. Most of what James’ article said really made sense to me. There are some things I do that I probably should hire out for and things I would like to invest in — but like some others I think it is probably easier or better just to do it myself even if it means I may be losing money (once you do the math that is). Lots of food for thought in this comment page. :)

  28. I think we’ve touched a hot-button for freelance writers: how do you mix creativity and business while not short-changing either. As sole proprietors, we constantly run into this issue. Normally, a business is split into the creative folks who produce a product and the bean-counters that keep the books, chase advertising and handle billable items. For one-person shops, wearing both ‘hats’ may require greater networking with others. Your time is your money, whether it is billed to a client or yourself. While I don’t think we can all ‘invest’ in outsourcing all routine management tasks, it might be a good goal to start thinking about how to offload some of them to fellow freelancers.

  29. “Freelancing is a business. You own a business that makes money, and the employee is you. Operations are almost identical to any other business out there, save that you have more freedom to decide what you’d like to do for yourself.”

    hmmmm… I think your perceptions and mine are a bit different here, but perhaps that’s because I don’t have a business background.

    For example… we (my husband and I) are members of the local Chamber of Commerce. To attend Chamber events together, we have to hire a babysitter. A babysitter can cost as much as $7 per hour – which is a fairly hefty per-hour charge just to allow us to walk out the door. BUT – we are able to combine Chamber events (which involve cocktails and nibbles) with a date night.

    So… is the cost of the sitter appropriate from a business perspective? Maybe…but there’s no good reason why just one of us couldn’t attend the Chamber event while the other stayed home. In fact, the only reason why we spend money on the sitter is PERSONAL – eg, combining business with pleasure.

    Another topic not yet discussed here is barter. We can offer services of value (photography, videography, grant writing, marketing writing) – and in our area right now, most small businesses have more time and product than they have money. Our time may be worth X to us, while another business’s products/services may be worth X+1 TO US. So we are finding that barter trades are often well worth the trade TO US – even if we are working during hours otherwise set aside for leisure.

    And yet another topic – volunteerism. I work for many non-profits where volunteers do a lot of the grunt work (as well as some of the creative work). At one point (very early in my career), I offered to do some museum writing for free as a way to build my credentials. I was turned down flat – NOT because of my experience, but because the FUN of working for a planetarium is getting to write the scripts – and who would want to turn that over to a volunteer (even if the scriptwriting means staying late and working weekends)??

    Lisa

  30. @ Lisa – Actually, your comment is the perfect example of cost analysis. You make an expense (babysitter) that provides you value and benefits (the Chamber event), and the expense is worth the price tag.

    Barter is a great way to work as well (though note that it’s also considered taxable, so it’s important to be careful). It may be fast and easy for us to write website content in exchange for a few hours of marketing services, for example. Well worth the trade indeed.

    Volunteerism is another trade off worth analyzing. By volunteering, you can increase your skills, learn something new, network and gain clients, etc etc. Even the break you get from your usual work can be a benefit, as you pointed out.

    So that’s all falling into what the post suggests – analyzing an expense (whether time or money) and the potential returns, and then making a decision based on that.

    @ Ed and Aurora – Hot topic indeed, and it’s a great discussion. I’m enjoying all the different perspectives and views happening here!

  31. James – I need a little more info re your last, because I expected you to say that the sitter was NOT worth the money because frankly we could represent our business without putting out the money… and business and pleasure should be considered separately.

    So now I’m confused!

    Assuming that it’s worthwhile paying for the Chamber membership because it’s a great way to build business (and it has more than paid for itself), why exactly from a cost/benefit perspective is it worth spending the money on a sitter? After all, my husband does a great job of networking without me on his arm, so I can look after the kids without losing the business opportunities.

    From my point of view, the sitter is worth it because we can combine business and pleasure – but I’m morally certain we can’t deduct the cost of a babysitter while we go out and schmooze!

    Lisa

  32. @ Lisa – Sorry to be confusing. It happens, and I try to drink more coffee to compensate ;)

    First, the cost of babysitting is entirely deductible, and even morally so. Having the kids watched so that you can both do business and enjoy some personal time benefits their lives. You earn more clients, network and get more successful, which in turn brings in more money for their needs, both now and in the future. Also, the pleasure time means that you feel better and more balanced, are happier and have had a rest so that you can deal with their needs with better attitude.

    Just ask any 24/7 parent who hasn’t had a break for six months how well they cope when a toddler starts screaming. I’m sure you’ll see that playtime for parents is worth the expense.

    Also, by participating in your husband’s Chamber events (or vice versa), you double the networking efforts. You’ll naturally mention your business to the people you meet, supporting his efforts. You’ll also be able to talk to other participants that he may not have the time to do in one night, increasing the pre-customer experience positively.

    You also increase your knowledge by learning more about other people and their needs or their problems, which you can bring back to your husband and business to provide solutions geared specifically to your target market.

    Oh, and on a side note, you can also deduct your clothing purchases for the events, your gas to get there, any fees, donations or membership expenses, some vehicle maintenance and the business cards you pass out.

    So the $35 investment in babysitting for a five-hour event clearly can impact the returns in a high-level way. Make sense?

  33. whoa – hiring a babysitter to attend a meeting is tax deductible?? I had no idea – need to talk with our accountant about this!!

    Lisa

  34. I’ve been writing off childcare as a business expense for ten years now — but only when that fee is paid out for me to conduct business. I’m in Canada, not the US, but for preschool/daycare I simply retain the receipts. If it is a babysitter (individual person) I must provide the social insurance number, name, address, and phone number of the babysitter (along with the exact hours worked and payment) for it to be legitimately tax-deductable.

    It is a blessing, because it adds up over a year. And… yes I do make more money by spending on part-time and occasional childcare. This is a business expense that makes sense!

  35. Wow lots said here. I’m going to ask questions aimed at Jen and James. Why is it that people don’t see using free hosting as professional? Don’t people like getting or using free things? What if writer x and writer y have similar writing styles, similar sites, rates, etc. but one is a free host and one is a paid host; how would one choose? What would be the determining factor? I think just because something is free doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be used or tried, or is unprofessional. I think it was James who had written about the grocery store and the free samples.

  36. Hey Michelle,

    Good question. The reason is that people perceive value, quality and authority based on any visual clues they can get. One of those clues is free hosting.

    Take for example, this situation. You’re researching literacy rates in the U.S. So you Google, see a likely link-… Oh, wait, that’s just a blogspot link. Just some hobbyist.

    Okay, so you try again and there’s a lin-… Oh. WordPress.com Darn.

    You try again and find Literacyrates.com Your immediate thought will be, “Ah, an authority site.” That site could be run by anyone, really, but we perceive .com addresses as being more authoritative resources. Also, no evidence of a free service, so it *has* to be a good place…

    (No one ever said people were logical.)

    Is a free service better than no service? Hands down, and I suggested that somewhere on this site. (My last post, I believe, in the comment section.) Is a self-hosted site better? Again, hands down yes, because the perception will be that of authority, resource, higher-quality.

    By all means, try free stuff if you can. But be aware of consumer perception when you do.

    Make sense?

  37. Lisa, I don’t have a business background either. I have an Administrative Assistant certificate and I am taking a Creative Writing course at the moment. I don’t think a business background has anything to do with succeeding or what ever as long as the person is determined and willing to learn.

    Yes Freelancing is a business.

    I am a virtual volunteer and I can give you an addy that has lots of volunteer ops. Lisa if you’re not interested, pass along the link if you know of anyone else who could benefit or help. It is at VolunteerMatch http://www.volunteermatch.org/ It is non-profit. There are ops. for web design, writing, etc.

  38. Oh I see now. Thank you James.

  39. Actually, the issue of professionalism goes beyond that.

    1. As a professional, you can’t brand a blogspot.com domain the way you can with your own domain (.com or not) – talking about professional sites and not straight-up bloggers.

    2. A particular problem is with Web copywriters – if you can’t manage the backend of your own site, why should a client take you seriously (where you’re often expected to know what you’re doing to update theirs, run side-by-side tests, evaluate various types of stats, etc.)?

    3. Many free hosts require you to put advertisements (of their choosing) on your site somewhere – that screams “amateur” to a lot of clients. You shouldn’t have advertisements on a site with a primary mission of converting visitors into buyers (unless you’re trying to advertise something of your own – many of the required ads are contextual, meaning they may very well send your visitors to competitors).

    4. You don’t have full control over your content. Whether used as a blog or professional site, if you’re not using your own domain name, chances are good that you won’t have redirect capabilities if you later move to your own host as things grow and you want more control over designs, monetization, etc. What that means is if you make the mistake of going with blogspot, and later want to move to a unique domain and more feature-packed hosting, you may have to give up all of the SERPs placements, backlinks, and natural traffic you’ve already built for months (or even years), setting you back when you make the move.

    5. For many writers, their website is their public face. It needs to be brandable, memorable, marketable. If you can’t spend the $6 – 10 per year it would take to get a domain name of your own, what does that say to prospective clients? To me it says I may not be able to count on you being around in a few months’ time. With all of the lousy “writers” out there on the Web these days who take the money and run (usually within the lower-end Web content markets), there’s no good excuse not to do something as simple as getting a domain which shows that you’re in some way committed. Does it actually mean you’ll stick around? Not at all. But it can say that to potential clients, and a part of the job is to build trust. Little things help to do that.

    At an absolutely minimum, get a domain name of your own, and tie it to free hosting. It’s still not ideal, but if you don’t know how to use advanced features anyway, keep regular backups in case you later want to move it, etc., at least you’ll retain control over the domain and all past marketing efforts you’ve put into it.

    So while, yes, image among potential buyers can be a factor, it’s far from the only one to consider – and you really need to consider the pros and cons fully before committing to setting up a site under either model.

  40. I’m glad you added that, Jen (and had the time to come point out what I didn’t mention). Those are all good extra reasons and the same that I counsel my clients.

  41. Eeek! Now I have more questions only three though. First, how do I self-host? Second, how do I find out what domain hosters are best to use? Third, do you have any links with good info. or should I type domain ??? into Google. My knowledge of domain stuff is very limited.

    Thanks for any help.

  42. @ Michelle – Questions are good :)

    Self-hosting means that you buy a domain name and sign up with a host server. The host server provides you with the space to store and display your files online – ie, your website or blog (or both).

    There are many, many registrars out there as there are hosts. We’ve been working with In Motion Hosting for over 8 years now (http://www.inmotionhosting.com/domains.php), and you can get both a domain name and sign up for hosting there. Top service, fast support, great guys. Other people like GoDaddy, thought their website is a virtual nightmare.

    Make sure your host has Fantastico.

    If you’re located in Canada, we recommed Netfirms.ca

    Visit either In Motion, GoDaddy or Netfirms (or other) to do some domain name searching – you don’t have to buy your domain name there, but you can use their search tools. Start typing in names, and away you go.

    The best domain names are short, snappy, easy to remember, easily pronounced out loud and easy to type. Keep them relevant to your services, too!

  43. It’s generally a better idea to register your domain names with a different company than you’re hosting with. While not all companies are dishonest, there have been very many cases (even with otherwise reputable hosts including one James mentioned here) where if you go with them for both, they’ll essentially hijack the domain name so you can’t change hosts later (by either not letting you move the domain to a new registrar or not letting you change domain name servers.

    As James said, look for a host with Fantastico. If you plan to host several sites, Hostgator.com is an excellent option (for shared plans – they’re not known for great dedicated servers). Godaddy is fine for registering domains, but Netfirms is a better option (usually a bit less, but they also give you free privacy protection if you choose to enable it, which many other hosts charge another $10 per year or so for – to keep your name, address, and telephone number out of the public WHOIS databases).

    Even if the host you want doesn’t have Fantastico, some others offer one-click WordPress installations if you’re looking to host a blog rather than a more traditional static website – Fantastico simply makes it easy to install a variety of scripts (blogging platforms, forums, content management systems, etc., without having to manually upload and install the scripts to run those things).

  44. If you need help looking for a keyword-rich domain name (a good idea for many types of blogs or content sites even if not always for a professional site), here’s a tool I love that may be helpful:

    http://www.pcnames.com/tools/

    Go there and click on “word search.”

    It starts off by giving you a list of random domain names that are available.

    Then type in a keyword (let’s say “writer”) in the search bar. You can then choose the “advanced search” option next to the search button. There you can say which TLDs you’re interested in (.com, .net, .biz, .org, etc.) and you can say whether you want that keyword to start or end the domain name (or let it search anywhere in the domain).

    Every now and then some domains are taken and not removed from the list quickly enough, so I always double check with a registrar.

    For example, some that show up are:

    MagsWriter.com (if you ran a blog about magazine writing, that might appeal to you)

    GuyWriters.com (if you run an all-guy writing team, you may find that brandable)

    WriterInYou.com (could be a brandable domain for a blog on writing itself)

    EarthWriters.com (if you work with a team writing on green issues)

    TravelsWriter.com (if you write about traveling / trips perhaps)

    There are a lot of interesting things that pop up. Like I said though, double-check before getting your hopes up – just run it through a registrar search on GoDaddy.com or another registrar’s site. It’s an addictive little tool, but has turned up some pretty decent domains I’ve been able to build on in the past. Have some fun with it. :)

  45. Thanks so much both of you for all the rich new info. to look at and ponder over. Yes I’m in Canada, lower Manitoba.

    Cheers and happy Easter weekend!

  46. James, something tells me you’ve read this book before. :)

  47. @ Carly – I have indeed! However, I was already building my business and working with other people before doing so, which means the book was more of a curiosity thing for me.

    I also don’t agree with much of it. I don’t advocate much of what Tim suggests and promotes. There’s value in much of it, yes indeed. There’s also a lot of extremism, so… yeah.

  48. @Jennifer Mattern I agree with you, and will proably vote that way as well…well said!

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