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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.

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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.

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What’re Your Grammatical Pet Peeves (OR “Gee-Whiz” Facts…)?

Okay, time for a little levity. No sticky situations, anxious anecdotes or dicey dilemmas from the commercial writing world. Just some good old-fashioned griping – about grammar. Got the idea for this post a few weeks back when I managed to run afoul of a friend’s pet peeve by writing, “I’ll try and do _____.” Ouch.

Well. He wrote back, deservedly taking me to task, explaining in exquisite detail:

“I must say — with all due respect — I HATE when writers and others say ‘try and’ (as you’ve done here) rather than the more accurate and appropriate, ‘try to.’ ‘Try and’ suggests TWO different acts: trying something, and then something else (e.g., ‘Try and be a better person.’ So you’re saying, ‘try’ (whatever) AND ‘be a better person,’ too. Whereas ‘try to be a better person’ says precisely what you’re meaning: try to be better.”

Just getting warmed up, he continued, “Almost as bad as when 99.9% of people say ‘could’ care less, when they really mean, and should be saying ‘couldn’t’ care less.”

Voila! Blog fodder. My pet peeves? Beyond the ubiquitous “you’re/your,” “it’s/its” and “compliment/complement”? Well, I’ll let you guys tell yours, and perhaps delve a little deeper while we’re at, and maybe we’ll teach each other something new in the process.

I’ll leave you with this…

Knock-knock.

Who’s there?

To.

To who?

To whom.

What’s one of your grammatical pet peeves (one at a time, please, so we can encourage more contributions from more of you…)?

If you’re an English purist, what are your “grammatical grudges”: those things that have been accepted into the vernacular, but IYHO, should never have been?

What are some obscure/esoteric points of grammar that so many people get consistently wrong, but you know better? 😉

Any fascinating grammatical/linguistic trivia you care to share (word origins, evolution of expressions, etc.)?

Are You Guilty of “Esoterrorism”?

Got this great guest post from Wisconsin FLCW Clayton Grow. Great message certainly for all the commercial freelancers writing for technical clients, but really applicable to ANY of us. Every industry has its jargon and corporate-speak, and even if it’s not technical, it can still be just as incoherent to an uninitiated reader. And that’s the key – always know who the audiences are – all of them. Many may be fine with “inside” language, but if others will be reading it who aren’t, you need to factor that in. After all, the whole point is to make things clearer, not muddier. Or as the tongue-in-cheek saying reminds, “Eschew Obfuscation.” 😉 Enjoy!

Winning the War on Esoterrorism:
One Writer’s Efforts to Stamp Out Excessive Cleverness

When I suggested adding a sentence to a press release to explain why boiler short-cycling is such a bad thing for a hot water heating system, my commercial writing client looked at me a little dumbfounded. He said that any HVAC technician would know exactly why it’s a bad thing, so why should we waste our word count? Then we talked about how the readers of these press releases aren’t exclusively HVAC techs; they are also building owners and building operations committees. We agreed that all parties involved in the equipment purchasing process should be educated (or re-educated) on the urgency of installing equipment to prevent boiler short-cycling.

Engineers pride themselves on their ability to use appropriate jargon. If you’ve ever walked into a conversation between two engineers working in the same field, you might get the sense that they’re from a different planet. They use terms like “modulus of elasticity” and “liquid desiccant dehumidification” in places where most people would use words like “bendy” and “deodorant.”

This esoteric style of communication (a.k.a. “esoterrorism”) directed towards those “in the know” worked well for me as full-time engineer. But when I became a freelance copywriter, I quickly came to the realization—with the help of our very own Peter Bowerman—that most people that read my stuff don’t care how many fifty-dollar engineering terms I know. They need to grasp the details of my piece quickly and clearly, without having to pull out their engineering pocket reference guide.

So I made a personal pact to obliterate the obscure references in my work and directly demonstrate my intentions using clear, concise, reader-friendly language. To remind myself of my new resolve, I made myself a little motivational sign at my work station.*

This sign has helped me put myself in my readers’ shoes and stop trying to be the cleverest cat in the room. I write mainly for the engineering and construction industries, so my audience consists of building owners, contractors, developers and city officials, as well as engineers. It’s safe to say that a large majority of my audience is better off without the jargon and engineering humor, so the more I strive for clarity, the more effective I am as a writer.

Esoterrorism may not be a problem for most freelance writers, but I’m certain there are many writing for technical fields that may benefit from being constantly reminded to “be clear, not clever.” This new labor for limpidity has helped me to come up with new ways to improve my clients’ more technically dense material. When working on technical documents, I’ve suggested brief definitions to accompany some of the lesser-known terminology, and these suggestions have been welcomed and widely implemented.

In a proposal I edited and re-wrote for a wind farm contractor, one of the steps needed to attach the wind turbine base to the foundation read simply “torqueing and tensioning.” Because the gentlemen who provided me with this section of text had been erecting wind turbines for many years, he, of course, knew exactly what “torqueing and tensioning” meant, and felt no need to explain it further on the proposal.

But then we talked a little more about it and concluded that not everyone reviewing this proposal has witnessed the entire construction process of a wind turbine, and may have no idea what “torqueing and tensioning” is. So, I added a sentence explaining that proper torqueing and tensioning of the anchor bolts was critical to ensuring the concrete base didn’t crack under too much tensile stress. It didn’t make the proposal any more interesting, but it conveyed the contractor’s thorough understanding of wind turbine technology to the developer.

People working in specialized fields often forget that their knowledge is unique, and often needs to be explicitly explained to many of their readers. These readers are potential customers, who will be grateful for the information we impart.

*I actually put this sign up well before the recent news of events overseas, but I figured I’d jump at the chance to blend current events with some writing advice.

What are some examples of clarity you’ve suggested to your clients?

Do you have a unique way to remind yourself to be clear?

Has anyone personally thanked you for clarifying a challenging concept in a piece you’ve written?

Have you been guilty of “esoterrorism” in your writing?

About the author:
Clayton Grow put his engineering stamp in the drawer to help explain the world of engineering and construction to engineers and non-engineers alike. More info about this freelancer’s fight against esoterrorism at www.TheWritingEngineer.com.

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

This Writer’s Clients Give Him a Check Every Month (Thanks to a Tough Economy…)

So, a few months back, in the April 2011 Well-Fed E-PUB, I ran the following Main Course about retainers from Visalia, CA commercial freelancer Tim Lewis (tim@tlcopy.com, http://www.tlcopy.com).

Retainers – essentially a guaranteed monthly income from a commercial writing client – can be wonderful things. Not to mention especially welcome in a tough economy – and as you’ll see in Tim’s account, they’ll not only benefit us, but our clients as well.

Tim’s had some solid success with this strategy in building his own commercial freelancing business, and generously shared his experiences. Then it hit me that it’d make an ideal blog post – perfect for gathering input and experiences from all of you.

Frankly, I haven’t had much firsthand experience with retainers in my commercial copywriting practice, but if you have, I hope you’ll weigh in! Take it away, Tim…

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Being a commercial freelancer can be more than just “per project” work. There’s a way to enjoy our fabulous lifestyle without worrying where your next check will come from. Setting up retainer-based agreements with clients is a great way to ensure consistent freelance copywriting income.

This is exactly what I did a few years ago when I said goodbye to the corporate world. Instead of hurling myself into the freelancing abyss without a safety net, I approached my boss with a unique proposition: I would resign my position as a hospital marketing director, but stay on as a consultant to help groom my replacement (my assistant). This way, she could learn the ropes and I could have the time I needed to build my copywriting practice.

It was a win-win for both parties. We agreed on a three-month contract that paid me roughly the same as I was making full-time. I had plenty of time to build a healthy business base while spending a few hours each week training my replacement and writing all of the communications pieces for the hospital. Plus, I could still pay all of my bills! The arrangement worked so well, I decided to approach some of my recurring clients with a similar proposal.

The response was tremendous. Because of the economy, many of my prospects (large hospitals) had laid off much of their marketing and communications staff. Since the work still needed to be done, they jumped at the chance to bring in an experienced hospital marketer/communications writer to help them get through this economic downturn.

As things start to pick up, many of my clients are realizing that my services fill all of their marketing needs, and at a fraction of the costs associated with bringing someone in full-time. Though I still do some one-off project work, my most productive partnerships are retainer-based consultant gigs.

How to get a client to agree to a retainer? Here’s how I approach it:

1) Every long-term relationship starts with a single project. Once you land it, knock it out of the park. Exceed your client’s expectations.

2) Once you’ve floored them with your talents and professionalism, follow up with a phone call. If they’re local, take them out to lunch. Ask if they have an ongoing need for writers. If so, pitch yourself as the solution.

3) If they’re interested, find out what their needs are, and what their budget is. From that info, craft a proposal detailing the services you’ll provide (e.g., blogging, web management, e-newsletters, etc.), the hours you can dedicate to them, and your monthly rate. The proposal doesn’t need to be some extensive legal document; one or two pages will suffice. If it’s a large company, they’ll most likely have you sign a legally binding vendor agreement. Read it carefully.

Make sure to include language in your proposal stating what will happen if you exceed—or don’t reach—the hours you’ve agreed upon. When the client has a light workload one month, I still ask to be paid in full (that’s the beauty of a retainer).

On the flip side, during busier months, I reserve the right to charge my hourly rate for excessive overages. Now, I have strong relationships with my retainer clients. As such, I will often not charge for a few extra hours here and there. However, when there’s an unusually heavy workload, I will let my client know that I’m approaching the cut-off and there might be some extra fees involved. That way, they can plan accordingly and either give me the go-ahead to move forward or hold off.

Also, revisions to your proposal should be expected while negotiating the agreement. Be prepared to be somewhat flexible with your rates and the hours you commit to. You may also want to start with a one-month contract to see how the partnership works, then make changes to the agreement down the road.

If negotiations aren’t as smooth as you’d like, be patient. Remember that this is a mutually beneficial situation––you’re guaranteed consistent income for an extended period of time and they’ll have dependable access to an expert in their industry.

If you’ve had experience with retainers, how did yours unfold at the outset?

How did you structure them?

Has the tougher economy opened doors to possible retainer scenarios?

Have you had retainers that didn’t work out well, and if so, what would you have done differently?

If you haven’t done any retainers, do you have some clients who might be a good candidate for such an arrangement?

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

Have You Tried the “Reluctant Rock Star Close” to Deal With Waffling Prospects?

Was on the phone the other day with a commercial writing coaching client. She has an established commercial freelancing business with a number of solid, longtime clients that call on her regularly. AND, she wanted to land a few new ones, feeling she needed to broaden her base a bit.

Well, seems the prospecting process has been a tad frustrating of late, as most of what she’s getting are indecisive tire-kickers. People initially acting all interested in her copywriting services but then dragging their feet endlessly. A typical prospect was a woman who’s driving her nuts with request after request to the point where she’s about to give her the old heave-ho.

One day it’s, I love your writing much better than any of the other writers I’ve spoken with, but you’re too expensive. (Pause) Um…here’s a crazy thought, I know… But, uh, maybe you like me better than all the other writers, because, well, I’m a Better Writer. And uh… (slow here, don’t want her to miss this one….) that’s why I’m more expensive. Gasp.

But, then that’s the first and last time the prospect talks about money. Next, it’s, do you have this or that kind of copywriting sample? And then she wants to revisit a sample my client’s already discussed with her. Listening to all this, I harken back to my sales days, and tell her: When a prospect is all over the map with their objections, best thing to do is simply ignore what they’re saying, since it really has little to do with what’s actually going on.

Sure, she could outright ask, “Ms. Prospect, you seem to be interested, and I could be wrong about this, but it just feels like something else is going on that’s keeping you from moving forward. Could I ask what it is?” And that approach is worth a shot. Though, the prospect might tell her, might not, and might freak out that she’s been busted for being so transparent. But my client and I both agreed an even better strategy might be to step back, and as you walk away, leave them with this:

“Ms. Waffler, I’d really love to work with you, and I think, on some level, you feel the same. But, truth is, and I really don’t mean to sound like a rock star or something, but my schedule is filling up pretty fast for the next few months.

“So, if you’ve got some specific projects you want to move forward on, I’d love to discuss them, along with timetables, of course. I want to make sure I have the time to provide the high quality work I’m committed to delivering, and that my clients have come to expect from me. If you’re not ready to get going, no problem at all, but I just won’t be able to promise a quick turnaround if we get started in a few weeks…”

Or some reasonable facsimile thereof…

And here’s the funny part. She was hesitant to say the above to this prospect, despite the fact that, it was, in fact, completely true. She really was that busy (but is a veeeery smart commercial freelancer who looks ahead and tries to ward off the slow periods by continuing to build her client base – even when she IS busy).

She didn’t feel comfortable sounding like she was all that, even though, if you asked her clients, she was just that to them. And I can’t fault her for being modest. I’m not comfortable talking like that, either, but if it’s true, you’ve got nothing to apologize for. And more to the point, if it takes The Reluctant Rock Star Close to light a fire under an indecisive prospect’s behind, then rock on…

Hmmm…as a matter of fact, now that I think about it, who says it’s even got to be true to say it? We’ve all heard the admonition to “fake it till you make it,” right? Here’s Exhibit A of that strategy. Not something to use on every prospect, but if you’ve got a few whose middle names are, “Noodle,” “Mull” or “One More Thing…” and you find yourself gnashing your teeth loud enough for them to hear while you’re talking to them, maybe it’s worth a shot. What have you got to lose?

In addition to being good practice for being bold (which is a muscle like any other: it gets stronger the more you use it), it just sounds like a really fun way to startle the lost causes out of their torpor. And who knows? You might just learn how motivating Perceived Scarcity can be.

Have you ever used this approach (either when it was true or wasn’t) as a way to spur a prospect to action? (or perhaps, because you simply didn’t care anymore…)

Have you encountered more waffling-type clients of late, and if so, how have you dealt with it?

What other strategies have you employed over the years to motivate prospects to pull the trigger on projects?

Any other reflections on the Law of Scarcity?

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