freelance writing

When It's Time to Let Go: Dropping a Content Marketing Client


Clients come and go. That's just the nature of the beast of freelance writing, and business in general. The client runs out of work, or runs out of money, or decides to switch gears with its business or marketing plan. But, there are times when you simply have to let a client go.

I don't mean turning down a client if he or she asks you to work for them again. I mean severing business ties, although politely and professionally. There are clients, no matter how green their money is and no matter how much they are willing to work with you, who simply aren't worth the time and effort.

I understand that it's a difficult notion to face. No one likes to say "no," especially when it's a "no" to paying work and valuable experience. But, if you have that gut feeling that the business relationship just isn't right, find an appropriate time to cut off relations, once and for all. Here are a few instances to help solidify that gut feeling, if you're on the fence about a client or two.

  1. Outside Your Niche or Expertise - I had a blogging gig that lasted about six months. It was for a social network for scientists and researchers called iAMscientist. The blog involved topics such as science news and science recruiting, you know, things relevant to that community. I agreed to the gig in the first place because the network was one of my first clients, and I really needed to get my feet off the ground. But, I terminated the gig because even after six months, the blogging never got any easier. I don't have any degree or background in the hard sciences. It was tough from week to week to come up with ideas, since there were topics that I didn't have the skill set to write about and very few in this area that I did. So, I quit to open up that time to gigs for which I was better suited.
  2. Disappearing Acts - I've had a few clients who promised me ongoing, regular work, assigned me a few things, and then disappeared for weeks. No work. No responses to any emails or phone calls. Nothing. After a while, I stop chasing. Why waste my time chasing when I can spend that time working with clients that actually have the time of day to respond to my emails and calls, or who trust me enough to assign responsibilities so I can work without their tutelage? After all, when you finally do hear from those magician clients, they expect you to pick up the same workload that you could afford six weeks ago. Umm... things change in six weeks. I still have to make money and pay my bills. Do they really expect you to be waiting around for them? After two disappearing acts, I call it quits, because I certainly won't wait around.
  3. The Point of Contact - Drop these clients as quickly as possible. These are the clients that appoint someone as a point of contact for them. I don't mean someone who's representative of a company or a department. I mean when Joe is the point of contact for Sally, and Sally is the true representative of the company or department. In my experience, Joe doesn't quite know what Sally wants, has little decision making power himself over the project, and often has to defer to Sally anyway for just about everything. Essentially, Joe is a middleman, and a poor one at best. These sorts of clients waste time and create headaches for a return that just isn't worth it.
  4. Pay is Too Low - Not that I only care about the money, but as freelancers we're businesspeople who need to think about the bottom line. I just terminated business with a client because the publication slashed its article rates in HALF. The full price was already a little lower than what I would like, but it provided a chance to develop a niche that I wasn't developing elsewhere. But, the new rate would put me below minimum wage for the amount of time it takes to do one article. If I can make more money working at McDonald's for the same amount of time, then it's simply not worth it anymore.
  5. Credit Where Credit is Due - Get the feeling that your client is treating you like trained monkey instead of a paid professional with ideas and expertise? Yeah, I've gotten that feeling too. This client leaves little room for your questions and input. He or she simply tells you what to do, with the expectation that you won't do anything more than that. I have a client like this (who's also a #2 by the way), who steps on the gas pedal during our Skype conversations and doesn't let up til he's done and is ready to get off the call. He doesn't ask what I think about things of if I have any ideas on the project. He rambles about his ideas, asks every now and then if I'm following along and that's it. Since he's a #2, I'm chucking him the next time he disappears. If I'm not going to be given the chance to be invested in the project by actually contributing, instead of just following orders, then I won't be invested. I'll find someone else who wants me to be invested.

It's not fun to terminate business with a client, especially if the client may not see it coming. It may be particularly hard to find a good moment to do it, and to develop an explanation that's more polite and professional than "you're a horrible client and I just don't want to deal with you no more." But, there are times when it has to be done. It's better for you in the long run, and it's probably better for the client too.

Freelance Writing Tech Tool of the Week: Freshbooks

One of my niches is technology. I didn't start out my freelance writing career with the intention to specialize in technology. Sort of just happened that way. One of my early gigs, a blog that I still write for by the way, focused on startups and new technology. I've used that gig as a springboard to new gigs, and it seems that technology is a topic that works for me.

Anyway, freelancers, like many other business people, can use technology to increase productivity, to improve efficiency, and to make life easier. So this week's tech tool of the week, of which I recommend to all freelancers is the online expense management program Freshbooks.

I found out about Freshbooks from an ad I saw on a web page. Prior to using Freshbooks, all my invoices were word documents, where with each new invoice I had to go through and change every line item, do my own math, then send it as an attachment. If I was creating an invoice for a new client, I had to change all the personal information myself as well.

With Freshbooks, for just a monthly $20 fee, I get professional-looking invoices that I can choose to send via email or snail mail, and the program does the work for me. The program also saves every line item I've ever used, which is handy for my clients that only pay for me to write blog posts. I don't have to go through and type in everything myself, or change anything from an old invoice to keep formatting consistent. I just have each line item as a blog post, which I pick from a drop down menu, put in all the other information, and it's done. When the client pays the invoice, I can mark off that as well, keeping track of how much the client paid and which method the client used to pay.

Freshbooks also comes with a time tracking feature, which is useful for clients who bill hourly. I haven't had any need for this feature, but it certainly is a better alternative than keeping track of time yourself. It also comes with the ability to do your own bookkeeping online. This is handy if you do all your invoicing through Facebook, but I do have a few clients who use ElanceoDesk, or their own methods for invoicing, so for the time being it's easier for me to use a separate program for bookkeeping.

I would highly recommend Freshbooks if you aren't yet using any time and billing management software for your work. For $20, you can have up to 25 clients on your account. There is a free version, which only allows you to have up to three clients. You can also create custom login pages for certain clients, if necessary.

Navigating Job Posts as a Freelance Writer

With the rise of the Internet and various freelancing jobs sites like Elance and oDesk comes the need to sort through job postings and job boards to find a gig that's worth applying for. Especially if you're new to freelancing and are in desperate need of work, it can be tempting to apply to any job posting that's remotely close to something you can do or are interested in doing.But, doing that will only lead to the grief of bad clients, poor pay rates, and overall disappointment. Just like how a hiring manager is thorough and particular in the search for candidates to interview, and eventually, hire, you need to be equally thorough and particular in choosing the jobs you'd like to apply for. Essentially, there are three things that ought to be answered, and answered "correctly", in order to make a job posting worth the time and effort.

  1. Budget - This is the most obvious one. How much does this job pay? If it's not listed, or if the job poster demonstrates that he/she isn't sure about the budget, then run away as fast as you can. You're freelancing as a business and you need to make a living. Don't waste time dealing with someone who has little or no budget, especially if it's below what your willing to work for. A few examples of when to run are when the budget/compensation says things like: Yes, $$$, cash, not sure, percentage of profit, per article, to be discussed later. All of those answers are just too vague for anyone to adequately gauge if the gig is worth the time. So, don't waste time trying to gauge it.
  2. Topic - What are you going to be writing about? If it's unclear, or if it's something where you'll be writing about all kinds of things, then avoid the project. In freelancing, it's important to develop niches, or specific topics of expertise. By developing niches, it's a lot easier to make money as you are developing your knowledge base on a few select topics, positioning yourself as someone who has experience and expertise. It may seem fun at first to write about a variety of things, but it only gets easier down the road if you spend your time on a few topics. Research gets easier as well as you will spend less time on it.
  3. Workload - How much work is expected of you? This is incredibly important to consider as knowing the workload will help you to determine if you can actually take on the project and if it's worth the money offered. There are jobs out there where its expected that you do 20 articles a week, or 10 articles per day. I don't even think I could do either of those if this client was my only client, let alone with the work of my other clients. If I don't know how much work is expected of me, it's possible the job poster doesn't either. And I don't want to work with a client who isn't sure of what they want.

Here's a posting from the St. Louis Craigslist that meets all of these criteria:

I am the Sports Editor for, and manage the sports content for the 24 web sites that we have in the St. Louis area. As we prepare to cover the new high school sports season, we are looking for sports writers to help cover high school games, events and also write feature stories.

We also cover anything of relevance to the communities we cover, so not all of our sports coverage is prep sports. We cover everything from Little League sports, to features on MLB, NBA, NHL and NFL players that are from the St. Louis area. We also cover area college athletics. Patch is leading the developing news model for combining digital journalism with community-oriented news, and we are also a very fun, innovative and rapidly growing company. Please drop us a line, and we'll get you to work right away on the stories that YOU are interested in writing! 

I'm happy to answer any questions you may have. 

  • Location: St. Louis
  • Compensation: We typically pay between $50 and $75 per story.

As you can see, this posting addresses all of the questions a freelancer ought to be asking before applying. We know the compensation/budget. We know the topic(s). We have some understanding of workload, as we know the type of the publication this job is for. Since this is an online news publication, we can wager that the workload is something of one to three articles per week. If I wrote about sports professionally, then this would be something I would apply to. But, I don't, so I won't bother.

Here's an example of a bad job posting that screams "Run Away!":

I need someone to write two papers for me. Please let me know if you are interested. College grad, or college student wanted. 

  • Location: St. Louis
  • it's NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests
  • Compensation: Good pay with discuss if interested

This posting doesn't answer any of the questions adequately. There's no specification on budget, topic, or workload. Yes, the posting says "two papers", but how long are these two papers? What kind of papers are they? Are they personal essays or are they research papers that would require research and a bibliography? Another reason to run away is that this job posting is for someone to do this person's schoolwork. Now, I don't know about your ethics, but this person crosses the line. I will write about drawing boundaries in freelancing, determining what you do and don't do as a freelance writer, in a later post.

Is there anything that I missed, or anything that you'd like to ad about navigating want ads and determining if it's worth a shot? Then, please, comment below!

Have a Contract. Your Content Marketing Business Depends On It.

Courtesy of Clients from Hell:

Me: Right, I’ll send through your invoice now.

Client: Oh, don’t worry about that - I’ve already sent it. Check your email.

Confused, I check my inbox to find an email with a text document attached charging me £800 - the amount I quoted the client.

Me: I still I think I better send an official invoice to you…

Client: What are you talking about? Why would you possibly want to charge me? I’m the one that has put time and effort into managing this project plus I allowed you to design AND code it all - you should feel privileged!

Me: But…

Client: I expect payment within 30 working days.

*Phone cuts off*

Now, if you had a signed contract with this client from hell, you could avoid a situation like this. Well, maybe not avoid, but you could put yourself in a position to be able to hold this client accountable, or to let the client know of the possible legal repercussions of breaching the contract. Obviously, you wouldn't be signing a contract where the client is charging you for services, instead of the other way around.

But, a situation like this highlights why it's so important for independent contractors and the self-employed to have contracts with their clients, and to insist on them with potential clients. A contract is there so either party can hold the other accountable for their side of the contract. Hopefully, it doesn't have to come to going to small claims court and hiring a lawyer. But, you don't want a client like this client from hell to get away with that behavior because you didn't have a contract set up in the first place.

If you're in a situation where a client is breaching contract because he or she hasn't paid, then Kelly James-Enger has an effective "pay-or-die" letter that applies the necessary pressure to get your client to take action. It may not be an action you like, but it's certainly better than having the client ignore your calls and emails as you try to get things settled. I actually used the letter recently with a client, which prompted him to get back to me after several attempts to get in touch in order to clear up the issue.

The moral of the story is: have a contract. If you don't have a legal background or access to an attorney to put one together, you can easily make one yourself by finding quality templates online and using those as models and examples. It doesn't have to be fancy and full of legal jargon. A contract is essentially meant to put your business agreements in written form. In business, it's best to put it on paper, and not to rely on a he said/she said.

The Importance of Niches in Content Marketing

I just finished a 40-page manuscript about wine for a freelance writing client. I don't even like wine, let alone drink it. It was an excruciating assignment, one that I shouldn't have taken. I didn't, and still don't, have any remote interest in writing about wine, or about food and drink for that matter. I cross my fingers that I don't have to do any revisions or additions to this manuscript. Since food and drink isn't one of niches, I should have turned down the assignment and asked for another. It was the first assignment for this client, and I didn't want to appear picky. But, considering the stress and pain I went through to complete this assignment, appearing picky would have been a far less worse consequence.

This experience highlights the importance of niches, or in specializing on a few select topics, as a freelance writer. It may seem more fun to try all kinds of topics, but freelancing is only easier if you narrow yourself of a few topics. Developing expertise makes you more marketable, and makes writing about those topics easier. It also makes it easier to land gigs involving those topics. One of my niches is technology, and I've already nabbed two new clients this month writing about it. Sounds good to me.

Of course, this doesn't mean that you never expand yourself from what you already know and dive into new topics. I didn't know a whole lot about technology going into freelancing. It's just where my cards fell. I would still say that many aspects of technology still elude me, like digital cameras, iPhone apps, and tablets, just to name a few. Nonetheless, I'm pretty good at covering the convergence of technology and business.

I would recommend coming up with a few niches over being a generalist. Freelancing gets easier in the long run as you do so, as in time you rely more and more on your brain instead of doing tons of preliminary research to find the basic information you need to get started. Essentially, you get to do more writing. And that's worth toasting a glass of wine to.

When a Freelance Writing Gig Pulls the Rug Out From Under You

A client of mine runs a series of social sites meant to spark debate and to build a community around a specific topic. They use the Ning platform, which is a great social website platform that can turn your community and passion into a business if you do it right. But, I digress. This particular client notified me that, effective TODAY, mine and another nine of their social sites would be closed, and that they wouldn't need any more articles from me at this time. These sites in particular were not getting as they had hoped. I was shocked. Not because I'm losing some good, money-earning, work for a little while, but because I was in the bottom half of their social sites. My topic was Hawaii (hence the picture) and I thought I was doing a good job with the site. I'm now stressed and panicky because I'm wondering what I've done wrong and what I could have done better.

The client also said that they will be replacing those 10 sites with another 10 sites on different topics, so once those topics are decided, I would have the opportunity to write for them again. I hope one of those 10 is something that I can do. Hawaii was such as good fit since I am from Hawaii. But, alas, I must move on for the meantime.

This serves as a good lesson as to why, as a freelance writer, you should always be marketing and on the look our for new markets and new clients for which to write. You just never know when a job will dry up, as mine did today. It may seem like job insecurity, but if you are always marketing and always on the hunt, a situation like this easily becomes job security. I'm not out of job, nor have a taken a significant cut in my freelance pay. It's a bummer to have lost the site, but I'm not up the creek without a paddle. I can easily bounce back, find something new to cover my losses. And, as I had mentioned, I have a strong possibility of retaining this client and working from them again in the near future. So, I might not have that much of a loss after all.

Perhaps I just might need a good squeeze from Lilo.

How a Freelance Writer Can Overcoming Writer's Block

Writer's block is no fun. And in my line of work, I can't use it as an excuse! It may be hard to believe, but even professional writers get stuck from time to time. Here are a few tricks that I use as a freelance web writer to overcome writer's block:

    1. Mundane Activity - Sometimes, I need to do something thoughtless in order to do something thoughtful. A task such as collecting contact info, putting together tomorrow's To Do list, or washing the dishes at Saint Louis Coworking, is usually enough to get the gears turning again.
    2. Physical Activity - Going for a walk works fro me, but anything that involves getting out of your chair and moving around should to do the trick. For me, I take the time to go to the bank, pick up a few things from the store, or send some mail at the post office
    3. Reward - If I know I have writer's block because I really don't want to work on that specific article or project, I reward myself with a treat in order to get to work. Rewards that are particularly effective for me include playing a game, lunch break, Starbucks, or leaving work early. Whether I give myself the reward before or after work usually depends on the time of day and the type of reward.
    4. A Short Conversation - Without giving away the details (I do sign non disclosure agreements with a clients), I talk to a coworker or friend about the project and ask for their input. Sometimes, the advice I'm given is helpful, but it's the active discussion that gets me thinking about the project. A good idea comes along eventually.
    5. Switching Gears - Why waste time banging your head against a brick wall? Just like how a teacher suggests moving on to the next question when stuck on a problem, it's sometimes best to do something different entirely. If anything, i don't lose any more time and productivity.

That's it from me! I'd love to hear some of your techniques on getting rid of writer's block, or if you have any improvements to the methods I suggested.