Here’s How My First “Well-Fed Wednesday” Went (that “Six-Hours-of-Open-Phone-Calling” Thing…)

So, as you might know, I did a pretty cool and fun thing a few Wednesdays ago—my first Well-Fed Wednesday “open-call-free-for-all.” If you missed it, here’s a recap…

Calling it an “energy experiment,” and modeling it after a similar exercise I’d read about (by a master coach), I opened my phone for six hours (10-1, and 3-6) for 10-minute conversations with anyone who called wanting to talk about anything related to commercial writing or self-publishing.

As the 10:00 a.m. starting-bell approached, I had a brief moment of fear: What if no one calls? What if I’m irrelevant? But, alas, that was just my typical “insecure-writer” side talking (part of the DNA of so many of us writers, methinks…). As it turned out, I was yakking for virtually every minute of the six hours…

In those six hours, I took 29 calls, and had a ball. I had no expectations, just an intention to be helpful if I could. A sampling of the calls…

A Bay Area woman looking for help on a tagline for her business

• An author in Vermont looking for tips on landing radio interviews with his book

• A DC-area writer looking into whether expanding into e-books was a viable idea

• A Maryland mom, wanting some tips and encouragement as she revived a once-thriving copywriting practice, abandoned for several years as she fought breast cancer

• A Florida freelancer seeking guidance on pricing trade articles and diplomatically raising rates

• An NYC writer wanting to weigh the pros and cons of writing a book on his writing specialty

• An American writer in New Delhi, India (!) looking for advice on a book she was writing for women wanting to travel to India

• An Atlanta writer with a profitable writing practice based, somewhat precariously, on only two clients, and wanting tips on expanding her client base

• A British woman living in Delaware considering expanding her writing efforts into the commercial realm, and looking for a seasoned perspective

• A copywriter in Cleveland seeking help crafting a snappy title for an annual report

• An Irish writer living in Chicago and looking for ideas for breaking into a specialized field of high-tech marketing writing

• An Arkansas writer with a successful niche, looking for a device in raising rates and branching out to similar clients in other parts of the country

A few observations…

• You can cover a lot in 10 minutes. Few people felt we’d run out of time to soon.

• Everyone was so appreciative and respectful of the 10-minute time limit.

• Given that I couldn’t return calls, I was touched by how many people tried again and again to get through (according to my caller ID log). And, in my very brief lulls, I actually called some of them back.

• Trying to come up with snappy names, titles or headlines is a bit tough to do “on command.” I came through a few times but my best work takes a bit longer…. 😉

• It was really cool to get a small taste of the depth, breadth and variety of writing endeavors people everywhere were engaged in. And I was honored to be privy to the often-moving intersection of those writing ventures and their lives – whether it entailed family issues, raising kids while working, coming back from cancer, living abroad, the big step of trying to leave a job and go freelance, etc.

• Based on the gracious and grateful feedback I received, overall, I apparently delivered some good value.

• I was pretty exhausted at the end of the day.

Thanks to everyone who called, and especially those who didn’t get through. I’m sorry about that, but hopefully, I will catch up with you next time.

And there will be a next time. I’m not sure I have it in me to do it every month, but I’m thinking every other month could work. In fact, I’ll set the next one now, so mark your calendars for November 4th. And, of course, I’ll give you a heads-up as we get closer.

If you managed to get through and talk to me, any comments or feedback?

Any thoughts, comments, questions about this little event?

Want to be a guest blogger on TWFW Blog? I welcome your contribution to the Well-Fed writing community! Check out the guidelines here.

Here’s What Long-Term Freelancers Do to Stay Disciplined. You?

More often than not, when I tell someone (say, at some social or networking event) how long I’ve been a commercial freelancer, people are impressed, often saying, “I could never work for myself; I’m just not disciplined enough.”

Course, my standard answer (somewhere in my book as well) is something like: “Once you get a taste of how great the freelance life is, staying disciplined—at least for me—isn’t all that hard, because you’ll do anything to keep such a sweet gig going.”

Yet, thriving as a freelance commercial writer over the long haul—especially with the numerous economic ups and downs of the past several decades—ain’t easy. So, if you’ve pulled it off, for even the past 5 years (heck, especially the past five years), take a bow. You’ve clearly got strong stuff.

This whole idea of discipline came to mind again as I ran a tip in the November Well-Fed E-PUB last week, from Pittsburgh, PA FLCW Jeff Durosko, about what he does to stay disciplined. Jeff’s in that “strong-stuff” category of folks, having been at it for eight years.

A few of Jeff’s ideas for keeping the rigor in his business life, and most importantly, to treat his business AS a business:

I get up, get dressed (not dressed up, but not in sweats or pajamas either) and get ready just as I did when I worked in the corporate world.

I go to Starbucks after dropping off my daughter at school and head straight back home to my dedicated office where I work through the morning. Having a dedicated office with a door that closes is key to keeping one’s routine. While I may “reopen” that door late at night when the kids are in bed, I don’t let it consume my life.

I must confess, I DO work in my sweats, but then again, I didn’t come from the corporate world, so I’m not trying to emulate that setting. I’m not at my desk at oh-dark-thirty, being more of a 10:00-10:30-ish to 7-ish kind of guy (with a walk or sometimes a bike ride worked into the day somewhere; I intend to enjoy the “free” in “freelance” whenever possible). But, I’m serious about my work, and let my work earn me my breaks.

I could be wrong, but I suspect a lot of folks who say, “I’m just not disciplined enough to run my own business” say that, not because they truly lack discipline (heck, they’ve gotten up every morning and made their way to an office for years, which sure looks like discipline to me, though perhaps it’s just fear…), but because they just haven’t had much practice at it, nor the tools—many of them mental—to stay on track.

Something else I’d say to them: You’ll get used to anything. The idea of freelancing may be new and foreign to you, but once you do it for a while, if you enjoy some success, it’ll quickly ratchet up your belief level in the overall viability of the enterprise—and that’s a HUGE step to transforming that initial success into a more enduring variety. So much of success as a freelancer is mental.

Do you agree (that much of freelance success is mental), and that most people could pull it off if they shifted their thinking?

If you’ve had some long-term freelancing success, what would you tell someone who’s not sure they have the “right stuff,” to make it seem more doable?

When starting out, if you doubted your ability to make it work, but still made it happen, what changed for you?

What strategies, approaches or tips have worked to help keep you on track and thriving over the years?

Want to be a guest blogger on TWFW Blog? I welcome your contribution to the Well-Fed writing community! Check out the guidelines here.

Your Favorite Ideas for Writing Ergonomics, Aesthetics, Functionality, & Work/Life Philosophies, Please…

Got the idea for this post from a picture sent to me by my brother… It was a unique desk arrangement he’d set up for his son. Apparently, my precocious nephew would often wake up in the middle of the night with the compulsion to get online and check this, play that, or research the other. So, to make it optimally easy to have that happen, this setup was born…

Now, he literally has to just roll over in bed, and he’s at his keyboard… Hmmm. Gets you thinking, no? Nah, probably not. We sit on our fat butts enough as it is in what we do. To not even have to get out of bed at all and still be able to do our jobs just seems to be giving entropy more of a helping hand than it really requires… Still.

In any case, I got to thinking about all those cool little ideas we’ve all come across to make our commercial freelancing writing lives a little easier, more comfortable, less stressful, etc.

A few months back in the E-PUB, I talked about (and highly recommended) the Nada-Chair, this nifty thingy I’ve used for years, that makes sitting for long stretches far more comfortable than any expensive chair I’ve ever come across. Looks strange, but it works. Here’s me wearing it…

No smart remarks, please… 😉

Then, a few weeks back, a friend of mine sent me an ingenious idea for keeping all your electronics cables in place and from falling on the floor. No explanation necessary as her picture was truly worth a thousands words…

Smart, eh?

Then there was the “Treadmill Desk” idea one reader sent me. This one has real potential. And this guy is turning it into a cottage industry…

Finally, a few years back, I think I shared a very cool Internet radio station through iTunes called Jet City Lounge, which, for me anyway, makes for wonderful background music. Cool, smooth, nice beat, non-intrusive, and I’m one unbelievably productive commercial writer while it’s running – like now, for instance.

From iTunes, go to Radio, then Ambient, then “Groovera Presents Jet City Lounge”. Or just listen on the web. And if JCL doesn’t float your boat, there are countless others in dozens of channels – all free.

Anyway, so let’s have a little fun here. Send me your ideas (and feel free to include links and pictures). And here are the rules: ONLY stuff like the above; only ideas related to ergonomics, aesthetics, functionality, atmosphere, etc. ONLY stuff related to our physical environment.

NO web-based writing/networking/business resources, software, social media platforms (doesn’t it seem like they multiply like rabbits?), books, etc. Also, I welcome any life philosophies you’ve incorporated into your commercial copywriting work life that have made a big difference for you…

What gadgets and gizmos do you swear by?

What things have you put in place in your physical environment that you just can’t live without?

What fun, cool, smart tips for maximizing your physical productivity, comfort, and office atmosphere have you come across?

What work/lifestyle philosophies have you adopted that “frame” how you approach work, and that improve the quality of your life?

Want to be a guest blogger on TWFW Blog? I welcome your contribution to the Well-Fed writing community! Check out the guidelines here.

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When Does Part-Time Copywriting (vs. Full-Time) Make More Sense? (Guest Post)

Thanks to Emily Suess for contributing this great guest post. While most of us probably think in terms of full-time when it comes to our commercial writing careers, there’s no doubt plenty of folks out there for whom part-time would make more sense. Enjoy!

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Until recently, when people would ask me what I do, I’d have to make a serious decision. Should I define myself by my day job as an administrative assistant for a synagogue and preschool, or should I define myself by my part-time freelance career as a copywriter and editor? The day job got more of my time; the freelancing got more of my devotion.

Then a few months ago, I came home from a particularly mind-numbing eight hours at the day job. I dropped my keys and purse on the dining room table and started assaulting my boyfriend, Dan, with complaints about the woes of being an early childhood administrative assistant.

I could tell he was getting less patient with the increasing frequency of my rants, but somehow he found the grace to let me complain about the broken printer again. I had a headache, I told him. All thanks to the preschoolers listening to those insipid Miley Cyrus songs again.

On a loop. All day long.

To get to my happy place, I took a dry erase marker and wrote on the white board clinging to my freezer door, “I will be a full-time freelance writer by January 1, 2013.” And by God, I meant it. I would be free, I would be my own boss, and answering questions about my vocation would be so much easier.

Now, I don’t want to give you the wrong impression. My nine-to-fiver was a pleasant gig, and I loved my coworkers. But after several years of freelancing on the side, I began to feel the itch.

So it was settled. I would begin the transition, pick up more clients, refine my services, and market myself in earnest. I’d turn my part-time hobby into a full-time, mortgage-paying career.

***

Just two weeks ago, I gave my notice at work. Only I wasn’t going to be my own boss after all. I accepted a corporate gig complete with cubicle and time clock.

I know, I know. But one of my freelance contacts from a local, well-established company told me about an opening they had for an editor, and the next thing I knew I was peeing in a cup for the pre-employment drug screen.

More than once I had to ask myself if I was a sellout. I decided I was not. The opening was truly serendipitous, and, most importantly, it was in my field.

Being a Part-Timer Has Its Advantages
Maybe I’m just rationalizing or maybe it’s a personality thing, but moonlighting is good for me. Here’s why:

• I can still explore topics and genres. Right or wrong, for me specializing has always been synonymous with restricting. Exploring different avenues is less threatening when you’re part-time, and the need to commit to a niche isn’t an imperative.

• I can wait for the clients to come to me. I still make the first move from time to time, but the majority of my clients find me through my website—like magic. I have to spend very little time searching for work, and that eliminates a lot of cold-calling, querying, and rejection.

• I get to be choosy. If a client relationship isn’t a great fit, I can move on to the next project without wondering if I’ll be able to buy groceries next week.

• I still love being a freelancer. Who knows? Maybe after a year of full-time freelancing I’d be burned out and dying a slow and painful creative death. Now I feel like a kid getting paid to eat candy.

Emily’s Unused “Part-Time to Full-Time” Plan
I won’t need this plan for the foreseeable future, but feel free to take my plan and tweak it for your specific needs.

1. Deliberate on potential niches, selecting one that is both marketable and suited to your education and experience.

2. Increase web visibility through more frequent guest posting and press release distribution.

3. Accept more clients, even if the projects seem boring or tedious.

4. Join professional groups and attend at least one professional conference every year for networking purposes. Hermits make poor businesswomen.

5. Hire a virtual assistant and delegate non-writing tasks to keep up with increased workflow—especially while you are still working the day job. Having someone to schedule and format guest posts, address and send direct mail packets, and compile research frees up more time to write.

Are you a part-timer or a full-timer?

If you are thinking of making the switch, what is the one thing you are most worried about?

If you have already made the switch, how did you know it was time? Was it scary?

Do you have any words of advice for those ready to go it alone?

Emily Suess is a freelance copywriter in Indianapolis and a contributor at Small Business Bonfire. On her blog, Suess’s Pieces, she is currently working her way through the series, The ABCs of Freelance Writing. Reach her at emily@emilysuess.com.

Want to be a guest blogger on The Well-Fed Writer Blog? I welcome your contribution! Check out the guidelines here.

What’s a Commercial Freelancer to Do about Health Insurance?

After getting yet another email a few weeks back from a reader, suggesting a post on health insurance for freelancers, figured it was time. I know this is a hot button issue for any commercial freelancer, often looming as one of the key issues giving salaried employees/aspiring commercial writers pause when considering the leap to self-employment.

If you’re single and in good health (like I am on both counts), health insurance really shouldn’t hold you back from the commercial freelancing life – psychologically or logistically. As I see it, there are far bigger boogeymen (usually imaginary if you’ve planned well) facing free agents like us. Will I go broke? Will I lose my house? Will I be reduced to standing on a corner with a “Will Write Copy for Food” sign? Nonetheless, it’s still one more thing to consider.

Since 1997, I’ve used Kaiser Permanente. I rarely step foot in the place (but you’re paying for peace of mind), but over the years, have been pretty impressed with their offering, services and thoroughness.

I’m not crazy about the fact that, like clockwork, my premiums go up every year by roughly 15+ percent, but all in all, I still pay a not-unreasonable $325 a month. Co-pays for doctor visits are $30, and a surprising number of other services are covered or subject to co-pays (as opposed to coming out of pocket to satisfy your deductible).

Women will typically pay more for health insurance than men of the same age, but depending on the plan, and the deductible and co-insurance level chosen, a single person of either gender can generally find a manageable plan out there.

And with some of the new clauses of the healthcare bill, you’ve got more protections than may have been the case in the past. And do NOT try to drag me into a debate on THAT issue; ain’t gonna happen. I will ignore you and delete your comments. No hablo ingles…;)

For those pondering going without – a temptation for singles in good health and feeling bullet-proof, I wouldn’t even consider it. Not worth it. One accident or illness and you’re in deep doo-doo.

And yes, if you have a family, it’s going to cost a good bit more. Not every freelance commercial copywriter has a gainfully employed and benefits-laden spouse to cover that base. But a quick look at Kaiser’s plans turned up plans in the range of $600-800+/month for a family of four, depending on options chosen (don’t take these figures to the bank; that’s Georgia. Your mileage may vary, etc, etc.).

Not great news, but not necessarily a deal-killer, either. Remember, stay in a job you hate, just for the bennies, and your health will likely suffer. Sort of defeats the purpose.

For the uninitiated, here’s a basic overview of an HMO. As a member of Kaiser, getting insurance on my own, I’m put in with a certain group of subscribers. I have no choice in the matter – that’s the nature of the HMO model – and I don’t know who they are (i.e., we don’t catch up for coffee…).

The nice thing about the HMO group model is that individual consumption of services doesn’t directly affect one’s rates. That’s good news and bad news. Good news: if you use a lot of services in a given year, you won’t be singled out for a skyrocketing rate increase. Bad news: even if you don’t use it at all, your rates will still go up every year.

A few resources:

For more information on health insurance (as well as life and disability insurance), click here.

To find a health insurance agent in your area, click here.

For insurance plans for creative folk, click here.

Assuming you don’t have a spouse with benefits, what do you do for health insurance?

If you have a family and had to get insurance on your own, how did you go about finding the best deal?

Any good health insurance resources you’ve come across for the self-employed?

Any strategies you’ve employed to get the most from your health care dollars?