It would be wonderful if your freelance writing business rolled along smoothly, wouldn’t it? (You got all the gigs you applied for, you always got paid on time, and all of your clients loved you.) It sounds great, I know. Hopefully, most of the time all of these things happen for you.
When you’re starting up a business or establishing yourself as a freelancer, it’s easy to think that all potential clients are good clients. The customer is always right, after all.
This isn’t always the case. Sometimes you may not be a fit for a project. All freelancers will run into that at some point, and that’s not a big deal. There are also clients that will make your life a living hell. [Read more…]
Approaching a client with an idea for a writing gig might seem intimidating – especially if you’re new to freelancing – but don’t let that stand in your way. Your services are sought after and offer a lot of value to potential clients. Having a professional setup and some strong portfolio pieces are essential to making that connection and starting a business relationship that pays off for both people.
While this article gives tips on how to create pitches clients can’t refuse, it’s important to do some ground work first, so let’s look at some things you need to do in order to build a strong foundation.
In the spirit of the Halloween season, talking about some of the horrific experiences of freelance writers – in other words, our horror stories. Difficult clients, scope creeps, non-paying clients, scammers, and technical issues are just some of them.
Jodee recently wrote about scope creeps and how to deal with them. She explains that when you “start working on a project that you think is going to encompass one set of parameters and then what is expected of you starts growing beyond your original understanding”, you’re probably working with a scope creep.
We actually got feedback from one of you, which is a rather horrific experience. Deborah Boerema shares her horror story:
…a gig for China Education Publishing House Group Limited (CEPHG) that involved rewriting some classic children’s fairy tales and developing practice exercises to go with them. The finished project was intended to help Chinese children prepare for the Cambridge English Young Learners exam.
After writing and revising several rounds of samples for CEPHG, I was offered a contract in mid-February. The payment of $700 per fairy tale sounded better than many other freelance gigs. My contract was for three fairy tales, so I was pleased that I would be earning over $2000.
Like many writing projects, this turned into a lot more work and required much more time than originally expected. Each fairy tale had to be expanded into nine chapters, and each chapter had to have six accompanying practice exercises. Specific vocabulary had to be included in the stories, and specific grammar skills had to be covered in the exercises. The language barrier made it challenging to always understand what CEPHG wanted. However, I finally completed and submitted all the stories and exercises to them. I estimate I ended up earning under $3 per hour by the time I was finished.
I received payment for 70% of the amount due to me in mid-July. I have been told I will not receive the remaining 30% of the amount due to me until after their illustrators complete their work. Apparently, I will be asked to proofread the books after they are illustrated. I found out this morning that other projects have postponed the illustrations until the end of this month.
She ends with some advice for other freelance writers:
I thought some of the other freelance writers who use your site might benefit from my experience when considering whether to work with a foreign contractor. You might also want to consider my experience before accepting gig posts from foreign contractors.
What’s a difficult client, exactly?
The description probably varies, but in my opinion, a difficult client can be a scope creep (although not in the degree that Deborah experienced). This client will keep on asking for revisions, many of them unnecessary.
A difficult client can also be one who gives specific feedback, even specific sentences/paragraphs, to use in the article. However, when you send the revised version, the client complains and wants changes – even those he himself provided! This is not only frustrating, but can turn out to be a huge loss due to the time you spend revising.
Yes. Been there. Done that. Definitely one of the horrific experiences a freelance writer will encounter at some point.
A client can also be difficult if he keeps bugging you via email or chat, even at odd hours, expecting immediate replies. Here are a few of things you can do to avoid this:
- Set expectations from the get go. Inform your client about your work hours, what time/s you can be on chat, and your email response time.
- Avoid giving your phone number. Imagine receiving an “urgent” call from a client during dinner!
- Use a different email/chat account for clients. This way, you can implement the first suggestion more easily.
Long ago, when I first started freelance writing, I had this one client who sent work in batches. The arrangement was she would pay at the end of every month when I sent the invoice. No problem, right? This is what the arrangements are in most cases anyway.
The problem is that after a couple of months of paying on time, she started paying late. At first, I was okay with it, thinking that perhaps she was waiting for money to come in as well. The next month, however, she just disappeared off the face of the planet. I sent follow up emails and hit her up on chat (I could see she was online) several times, to no avail. At the end of the day, I didn’t get paid.
So what could I have done? Here are some resources to help you:
Which of these horrific experiences have you encountered? What other experiences do you have that you can share with the community so we can all learn from them? Feel free to share your story in the comments!
I could be wrong, but many of you probably have regular clients that bring in most of your income. You’ve worked with these clients for a long time, and you know that you will get steady work from them. It might even be that you know their needs and preferences by heart that you can write for them in your sleep.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, but there is also something important about reaching out to get new clients from time to time – even if you already have enough regular clients.
Today, I’d like to share the reasons behind this thinking.
You expand your client base.
There is a high degree of uncertainty in our chosen field. While we may have enough regular clients, who’s to say that next month, one or two might need to cut back on their expenses? What if we suddenly lose a client (or more)?
It is thus important to get new clients to expand your network. In case you find yourself losing a client or two, you will have those new clients to make up for it.
Of course, it is also imperative to make sure that you can handle your regular work plus the new client’s demands. Before you get new clients and agree to do work for them, make sure that you have enough time and resources to meet everyone’s needs.
You’re faced with new challenges.
Another reason it is important to get new clients is the idea that “new” can also mean “challenging”. As I said earlier, with regular clients, you know each other so well that you may sometimes operate on autopilot.
As a writer, it is important to be challenged and do new things. This helps you be more creative and flex different writing muscles.
With a new client, you also want to make sure you impress in the hopes of creating recurring work. This means that you also challenge yourself at every turn to ensure that your work is of even better quality than usual. (Not that this should not be the case for everything you do…)
New challenges that may come when you get new clients:
- You need to learn a different writing style.
- You need to learn about a new topic.
- You need to learn how to deal with different personalities.
You learn something new.
The main thing about facing new challenges when you get new clients is that you are bound to learn a thing or two. As a freelance writer, you probably have your specialization, which I think should be the case. This is the area/niche which you are most knowledgeable in and comfortable with.
But if you stay in that zone forever, then you might stagnate. If you get new clients that require learning about an unfamiliar niche or writing style, then it is your chance to professionally improve yourself. And, I don’t know about you, but it is quite an important thing.
Back to you
How often do you get new clients pro-actively? What other benefits does it bring?
This post was written by Jennifer Parris, career writer at FlexJobs, the award-winning site for telecommuting and flexible job listings. FlexJobs lists thousands of pre-screened, legitimate, and professional-level work-from-home jobs and other types of flexibility like part-time positions, freelancing, and flexible schedules. Jennifer provides career and job search advice through the FlexJobs Blog and social media. Learn more at www.FlexJobs.com.
You land a plum writing assignment from your favorite magazine/newspaper/website. You do your research, go through several drafts, and craft what you consider to be a masterpiece. (In other words, you nailed the story.) You submit the piece to your editor, who sings your praises and thanks you for your hard work—and for also handing the story in on time, too. He promises that you’ll receive payment ASAP.
And then, nothing.
You wait, and wait, and wait. Days roll into weeks, which then turn into months, and you still haven’t gotten paid. Sadly, this is a fairly common occurrence for freelance writers. While it shouldn’t discourage you from continuing your freelance writing career, there are ways to protect yourself from clients who take forever to fork over the cash. Here’s how to make sure that you get paid as a freelance writer.
Get it in writing.
The single best way to protect yourself (and your work) is to have a contract between you and your contact. In the contract, it should include the story title, story tips, word count, the deadline, a kill fee should the article be rejected, the amount due to you, and most importantly, when you can expect payment. Magazines might not pay until they publish your article, and if the magazine has a long lead time, that may mean you’ll be waiting months to receive a check.
Connect with your contact.
Let’s say that you only had a verbal agreement with your editor, or you simply don’t have a contract in place. While a verbal agreement can be harder to prove in court, it doesn’t mean that you’ll necessarily lose your earnings, either. It may simply be that your editor forgot to process your payment. After all, you don’t want to threaten legal action when it could have simply been an oversight. So before you panic, reach out to him by email first. This way, you are establishing a traceable history of trying to recoup your payment. In your email, you should be nice, courteous, and above all, professional. You can say how much you enjoyed working on the story (and working with your editor), and mention that you haven’t received payment yet. You should then ask when you can expect it, and then follow up with a phone call a few days later if you don’t receive a response.
If a week or two has gone by since your initial email/phone call reminder and you haven’t heard anything, it’s time to send a second invoice. Be sure to write “second invoice” on the invoice to show that this isn’t the first time you sent in an invoice. In addition to the invoice, you should write a letter to your editor as well. You should mention that you sent an email on X date and followed up with a phone call on X date, and haven’t heard back. State that while you liked writing the story, you really need to know when you may expect the payment, since it has been X number of weeks/months since the article was submitted. If time has passed since your second invoice (about a month or so), you should definitely call again to find out what’s going on. If there is a business manager on staff, you can reach out to him directly to see if he has received your invoice.
If you still don’t hear back from your editor—or feel that you’re getting the runaround—it’s time to prepare for battle, er, a potential lawsuit. Remember the invoices you’ve emailed? That was the beginning of creating a paper trail that you could potentially use if you needed to in court. Now, it’s time to get real. Send a final invoice/notice via certified mail stating that if you don’t hear back from your editor by a certain date, you’ll be forced to take legal action against them and file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. Your final date should be approximately two weeks from the date that you send out your certified letter. In some cases, the threat of legal action can be enough to prompt a client to cough up the cash.
Make a decision.
At this point, it’s been months since you submitted your story and you haven’t received payment. In some cases, the editor may have even had the audacity to publish it, which will irk you all the more. While you’ve taken the necessary steps to file a complaint against him, you have to decide if it’s worth it to you—literally. A small claims case may take months to get through the system and even longer for you to get a court date. At this stage, you probably won’t work for this company again, but you should still try to leave the freelance writing gig tactfully.
That’s why you have to weigh if all of this effort, stress, and energy are worth it for whatever amount you were to receive for your story. Even if you are able to prove your case and win, there’s never a guarantee that you’ll receive your payment. Most people who plan to sue at this point do it more for the principle than anything else, and you may be successful and receive what’s due to you. Ultimately, it’s up to you to determine how much more of your time you want to invest in this issue.
Many freelancers face the issue of nonpayment from their clients at one point or another in their writing career. While freelancing might be the right career for you, be sure to work with reputable companies and always get a contract, no matter how big (or small) the article will be. Sometimes those simple steps can prevent a lot of unnecessary stress and will ensure that you’ll be paid for your work—every time.
If you have transitioned from a company job to a freelance lifestyle, you suddenly lose the support of public relations and marketing departments – teams that were dedicated to raising awareness of your work within an organization. These departments handled the business of contacting prospective clients, reaching out into industry communities, and having extended conversations about a company’s products and services. As a freelancer, these outreach tasks and responsibilities now fall to you. Many new writers struggle with approaching strangers, which can greatly hamper their ability to pick up contract jobs, find information resources, and meet new mentors. [Read more…]
As a freelancer, I always feel like I’m the one being interviewed. I present proposals, provide estimates or bids, and generally answer every question a client has with honesty, integrity, and the hope of landing the job. Over the years, I’ve learned a valuable lesson: I’m not the only one who should be evaluated for appropriateness for a job; I need to evaluate the client.
Early on in my career, I accepted a job writing stories. I was pretty naïve and didn’t really ask much. I mean, the client told me how many words and gave me specific guidelines for content and asked me to be creative. The stories were to be about women who wore high heels despite bunion discomfort. I didn’t ask any questions. I honestly thought it was for a podiatry office or a new product for making shoes more comfortable. I submitted the first story about a woman at a conference, on her feet, preoccupied with bunion pain. She returned to her hotel room, soaked her feet and put them up. That was it. And then the client admitted he was a foot fetishist and needed these stories to… you know. After I washed my hands and sterilized my keyboard, I tried to cut him loose. He kept asking for more stories and pictures of my feet. Obviously, I have blocked him from communicating further.
How could I have prevented this uncomfortable situation? I should have asked questions. There are writers out there who would have gladly written his shoe stories, but I wasn’t one of them. If I had only asked the audience for the stories, perhaps I would have come to the realization that this wasn’t the client for me.
I have avoided requests for erotica or content that I wouldn’t want on my professional resume. If that’s your niche, then go for it. For me, I was interested in a more broad range of other professional topics.
That’s when I was asked to write a book about relationships.
The specific job was to write a book aimed at men who want to rekindle a relationship that has gone stale over time. I started out with a discussion of the psychology of a long term relationship and worked my way into what is necessary for “upkeep”. I submitted this chapter and was told that I needed to get to the nitty-gritty physical side of things. I questioned my client and said, “I don’t write porn”, and was assured that he only wanted to explore the physical part of improving a relationship. Okay, I can do physical. With the aid of photos from Gray’s Anatomy, I explained the female genitalia. I pointed out that foreplay is a good thing as is setting the mood.
You can probably guess how this was received by my client. He wanted me to “be more graphic”. I tried to explain sexting and gave examples and just as I was about to move on to more about creating excitement and anticipation, he sent me the proposed title. It contained the words “wet” and “begging”. I refunded the money he had paid for the first chapters, told him not to use my content, and told him that I had clearly stated that I would not write porn. He tried several times to get me to reconsider and offered to change the title, but what he wanted me to write wasn’t what I signed up for. It hurt to refund his money because I had earned it, but I was working through a bidding site and didn’t want my reputation to take a hit, so I did it.
And then there was Mary (not her real name). I met her in a Linkedin group for Professional Women. She wanted a collaborator for a white paper. At least that’s what she said. We spoke on the telephone and we clearly discussed what she wanted and agreed that I would provide portions of content for her review and we could discuss any changes.
I posted on Linkedin that I was taking on new clients and to contact me via message or my website. Mary got very upset. Apparently she thought I could only work one job at a time. Then she was angry with the content I presented to her, though it was exactly what we had discussed. I was working from her notes. She sent me terrible notes, calling me names. Apparently, all she really wanted was a proofreader for her own version of her white paper, but this was NOT what she had said. And I didn’t have it in writing. She refused to pay me for the work and research that I had already done. I was shocked. Such unprofessional behavior from someone who appeared to be professional from her profile was definitely unexpected. And her white paper? It wasn’t a white paper at all. It was just a sales article.
These are my biggest mistakes. I’ve made others, for sure, but these offered the most learning. Save yourself some aggravation and learn from my mistakes:
- Ask questions. Find out exactly who your client is and what they want. If the job is unusual, don’t be afraid to ask what it is for or who the intended audience will be.
- If the scope of a project changes, don’t be afraid to discuss this with your client and try to come to a compromise. If the project is something that goes against your morals or is not what you signed up for, quitting is not a bad thing. Having to work on something that really bothers you IS a bad thing.
- Get everything in writing. Use a contract. Make sure there is a clause stating that the client owes you for any work done, even if the job is cancelled partway through. You need this to protect yourself from people who don’t know what they want and will try to get free work or simply stiff you for your fee. I also use a recorder for Skype conversations and send follow up emails with notes from the conversations.
Yes, as a freelancer I’m used to being interviewed to make sure I’m a good fit for a job. Now I know that as a freelancer I have to interview the client to make sure they are a good fit for me.
Freelancing is a skill that takes some honing. While someone who has a knack for networking will find it easier than others, there are still challenges that you just have to work through. Much of it, in fact, is a matter of learning the hard way, and we all have our horror stories.
Of course, the risks and difficulties become more pronounced when working with people from countries other than our own. All communication is done via email or instant messenger, though some might occasionally ask for Skype. There is no real legal recourse when things go wrong. All in all, you have to rely on clients’ integrity, and they face the same problem with having to count on yours.
But despite that, the risk usually pays off. Working with a client from another country – or even continent – can be a rewarding and positive experience that you won’t want to miss. To make things a little less choppy, try following these guidelines for working with international prospects. [Read more…]
Last week I wrote a post critical of revenue sharing sites. I maintained that, generally speaking, writing for sites like Associated Content, Bukisa, ListMyFive, Infobarrel and the like yielded a poor return on a writer’s investment of time and energy.
Some commenters argued that revshare sites were a credible “first step” for new freelancers. A few maintained that it was possible to generate a sizeable passive revenue stream via revshare contributions. I’m still convinced that my position is correct in most cases and I may eventually get around to answering some elements of those objections in future posts.
This post, however, will address another set of comments. More than one reader remarked that it would be nice to hear about some alternatives to revshare operations. I thought that was a more than valid request. While a pure critique may have value, it’s almost always better to combine one’s attack on one option with a workable alternative.
So, if you think I might just be right about the limited utility of revenue sharing sites, here are a few things you might want to do instead. Consider these options the next time you’re about to tap out another article in hopes of capturing a percentage of someone else’s ad revenue.
Build and Improve Your Own Writing Property
If you don’t have your own website, you should. If you’re serious about establishing yourself as a credible freelancer, you should have some presence on the web. Obviously, the quality and scope of that presence will be even more important if you plan to focus on ‘Net-based markets. Your site is a means by which people can find you, learn more about you, discover your skills and contact you. It’s important.
Consider spending some of the time you’d otherwise dedicate to revshare contributions to building or improving your existing website and related elements of your online presence. Admittedly, these efforts don’t directly generate revenue. However, they do create the foundation you need to secure better gigs. In the longer term, it’s a much better investment than revshare work.
Build and Improve Your Own Other Properties
Instead of funneling your awesome articles to a non-appreciative revenue sharing site, keep ’em for yourself. Build a site or blog dedicated to whatever non-writing topic that happens to trip your trigger or in which you have expertise. If you’d love to be a subject matter writing specialist, hone in on that subject area.
You can buy a domain for under ten bucks. You can get hosting for under five bucks per month. It’s free to install and use WordPress if you’d like. It’s a teeny tiny investment that can really pay off. Even if you’re not interested in aggressively promoting and monetizing the site, you can still point potential clients to your work, making it a showcase for your writing skills and knowledge base. If you do put forth a little effort, you can probably start earning just as much from your posts to your own site as you can with your revshare submissions.
Spend the Time Marketing Yourself or Pursuing Paying Gigs
Tom Chandler, the head honcho at The Copywriter Underground, recently commented on a post at my site. The rant in question objected to the way people automatically tend to make assumptions about one’s position on all freelance writing issues based on one’s position with respect to a single topic. I illustrated my complaint by referencing some of the comments left at my anti-revshare post. In his comment, Tom made a point about the world of lower-paying gigs that certainly applies to writing for revenue sharing outlets:
I firmly believe that investing the same time spent writing $10 articles in new biz development (cold calls, client searches, etc) offers better ROI down the road.
He’s right, too. In most cases, the return on smart self-marketing has the potential swamp the value of revshare contributions other lower paying gigs. If you’re ready to give up on collecting fractions of Adsense clicks, you might want to spend your time working to secure more substantial opportunities.
Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I think lower-paying options are a mistake for all people under all circumstances. That will probably become clear as I keep moving through my list, but I just wanted to point that out.
Take a Crappy Writing Job or Two
The alternatives presented thus far don’t directly put cash in the coffers and I know that’s an issue for many people. If you’re ready to give up on the revshare game but aren’t ready to wait to bring in at least some cash, reach out and take a few gigs that don’t pay particularly well.
If you do, you’ll make some money. Not much, but it will be as much as you’d make with revenue sharing contributions in the short run (actually, it will actually be a little more). Plus, it will give you something you don’t get by writing for the revshare sites–a real human contact on the other end of the transaction.
If you’re completely new to the game, the process of working with an individual will help you get experience with client communication, invoicing and all of the other processes that will become a part of your freelance writing business. That low payer may be willing to spend more money with you when he or she sees how damn awesome you are. He or she may spread the word to others who could use a writer. He or she can certainly write a positive review or testimonial you can use in your own marketing efforts. The nickel and dime material you write will show up somewhere, and you’ll be able to point future prospective clients in its direction. And trust me–those articles will carry as much, if not more cache, with future potential clients than something tossed up at AC or Infobarrel.
A few el cheapo gigs can put a foot in the door while dropping a little change in your pocket. The gigs at the shallow end of the rate pool may not be what you want in the long run, but if you need a few quick bucks and something that passes for experience, they’re probably better than an article at Bukisa.
Those low-pay gigs aren’t hard to find. If anything, they might be too easy to find. The Internet marketing forums are crawling with potential clients and Craigslist is overflowing with “I need ten articles about _____”-style clients.
Work for a Slightly Better Mill
Instead of writing revshare articles, you could always write for a content mill that pays you a little more than the potential of future money. It will only take you about thirty seconds to find a year’s supply of articles and blog posts decrying sites like Demand Studios and other pay-per-piece content mills. I’m not interested in answering the complaints. I’m not interested in defending this option, either.
This option and snagging a few lower-paying gigs may not be great ideas for everyone. Some folks may benefit more from some of the other ideas. I’m just saying that it makes more sense than writing for most of the revenue sharing sites.
Volunteer Your Talents
If your goal is experience and an opportunity to create materials you can use to prove your competency to others, consider volunteering your writing talents to make the world a better place. Offer someone engaged in a charitable pursuit a little pro bono copy.
No, it doesn’t pay. Then again, revshare doesn’t usually pay much. You’ll be trading a little hunk of dough for a much heftier hunk of feeling good, I guess. Oh, and pointing others toward this material will undoubtedly work better than showing them your ListMyFive posts.
I was going to put “Try Your Hand at Affiliate Marketing” on the list, but decided it wasn’t a great fit. Even stripped down versions of so-called “bum” article marketing strategies require a great deal of non-writing work. It’s a credible option for those who want to learn how to make it work, but it just didn’t feel like it was part of the same world, so to speak. That applies to a few other online moneymaking plans that involve content production, as well.
Well, there you have ‘em–a few alternatives to writing for revshare sites for new writers. I think they’re all credible alternatives to using your professional skills to supply user-generated content to sites willing to pay you only a fraction of the ad revenue they generate and that have so many other shortcomings.