I was recently spammed by someone who accidentally revealed the email addresses of every freelancer on the spam list. What did I notice? That less than five of those people had a business email (most had Gmail or Yahoo accounts). Cringe! Here's why you, the business owner, don't need to be in that crowd.
Even a sole proprietorship needs a professional email address in order to be taken seriously. I recently saw a start-up company searching for a blogger on Problogger.net, and they asked prospective writers to respond to a Gmail address rather than an address with the company's domain. Need I ask what your impression of that post might be? I know what mine was. And I didn't respond to it.
Here are my top three reasons for investing in a business email address.
So if I've successfully convinced you to get a new business email address, let's talk about how you can do it.
Where To Get a Business Email
Business email addresses can be purchased through your website host (think GoDaddy or Weebly) or can run outside of it. So if you like bundling your costs into one payment, check with your hosting service to see if they offer email as an option that you can pay for every year at renewal time. You can then ask if it can be configured to run through Outlook (if you want to use it that way) or if it is available on the web only.
If email isn't offered through your web host or if you want another option, you can get a business email through Google or a similar provider. The service runs in the background, but you get to customize the email address and the domain name. So in the example above, Dave Smith logs into Gmail to access his firstname.lastname@example.org email, but nobody else sees that it's a Gmail account. Any outgoing emails use his marketingbeat.com domain rather than gmail.com.
I have had good luck using Google to run my business email and I can view it on my cell phone as well. The best part is it works seamlessly with Microsoft Outlook even if you choose to use it on the web (like I do). So if someone sends me an Outlook meeting invite, I can accept it and it will not only send the acceptance to the sender, but it will also sync with my Google calendar automatically.
If you need web-based email hosting, here are a few links to some good business email options:
Google business email
Yahoo business email
Microsoft business email
Take a look at the different costs and what each has to offer, and decide what's best for you.
One final piece of food for thought. Did you know you can't get a LinkedIn page for your company without a business email address? Just one more reason to get one, even if your business is a party of one!
Those of us who work as freelance writers know the effort it takes to produce quality copy. It's not just splatting words on a page. It's actually quite a bit of effort to craft effective copy and to maintain a business to boot. So I'd like to share how I deliver top notch service to my clients. I don't outsource, I don't have assistants...it's just me.
I wake up everyday to emails in my inbox just like every other professional. I also have a calendar of scheduled work to do, just like every other professional. If I wanted to break down my day it would look something like this:
When you hire a professional writer, you aren't just hiring a hobbyist who throws something together quickly (because they aren't being paid much). Professionals - whether moonlighting or writing full-time - take the time to properly target, research and edit your copy so that it is exceptionally effective. This is what you are paying for when you hire a professional (for a professional rate) rather than "Writer Extraordinaire John Doe" at the content mill who will write it for $10.
Think about the value and ROI of using a proven professional. Words last a long time; years, or decades even. If your copy is good, how will that positively impact your business long-term? How much more traffic will your website get? How much better will it rank with search engines? How many more conversions will you get from a marketing campaign?
And if it's bad...well, you can see where I'm going. Websites can completely tank and even be dropped from search engines from mediocre or bad copy. Marketing campaigns can fall flat on their face because the reader immediately trashes or deletes the material after a lackluster headline and ineffective intro.
Professional writers are not only writing exceptional copy to help you grow your business, but they are running an effective business themselves. So they understand the importance of targeted content for your potential customers. And this is true whether it be in a blog format or a newsletter or a marketing brochure.
So the next time you are looking to hire a freelancer, see if they conduct themselves as a professional. Do they properly scope the work? Do they meet deadlines? Do they follow up on projects and check in with you from time to time? Do they invoice your promptly? Do they provide a contract if you don't have one in place?
This is what I do for my clients, and I have a very satisfied clientele. If you need your words to do the same for your customers, shoot me an email at email@example.com and let's get started.
Suppose you're writing a blog or creating some marketing materials, and you need some images to embed in your copy. Always make sure your images are free for commercial use. The last thing your business needs is a lawsuit! Here are some good resources for images:
Free Photo Bank
Microsoft Clip Art
U.S. National Library of Medicine
U.S. Department of Agricultural Research Service
Science Photo Library
My favorite inexpensive (but not free) site is:
Any other good resources I've missed?
Being great at what you do doesn’t always equal success as a freelance writer. In fact, good writing is only part of the formula. Today I want to share what I feel makes a freelance writer successful as a business owner - meaning steady work, happy clients, and a comfortable income.
Maybe you already know how to write, but do you know how to work as a freelance writer? Do you know how to manage your clients, report your taxes, and invoice properly? Do you understand how to write for websites and to optimize content for search engines? Do you know how to format a press release?
Step one is to educate yourself. I highly recommend reading some books on the business of writing, my favorite of which is The Well Fed Writer by Peter Bowerman. You can visit his website here. Other good reads are The Anti 9-5 Guide by Michelle Goodman and An Insider’s Guide to Building a Successful Consulting Practice by Bruce L. Katcher, Ph.D. Any techniques that you are unfamiliar with, like SEO or press releases, can be learned via the internet. Just do a quick Google search and you will be ready to meet the needs of all of your potential clients.
If you want to be successful, you have to stay organized. Find a way to manage your work and clients that meshes well with you. I personally rely heavily on a CRM tool (I chose Salesforce.com) to manage my clients and marketing efforts, as well as a physical day planner, an electronic calendar, and Excel.
It’s also a good idea to get a filing system in place so you can organize your projects while you work on them. I have a manila folder for each client or project, and two separate filing spaces – one for current projects, one for completed projects. Successful businesses of all sizes have processes in place, and your writing business should be the same way.
Have a Portfolio
Every writer needs a portfolio even if it’s a small one. If you don’t have samples, get some. Today. Well, yesterday! One sample of each type of writing you want to do is enough. Remember that if you’ve done it once, you can do it. Sites like Elance, Freelancer or Guru are good starting points if you just need to get something published, but I wouldn't stay here long. You can't live off what they pay on those sites.
I find that online portfolios are used 99.9% of the time. I have mine on a tab on my website, but you can also build a portfolio using a number of websites. One example is Contently. Personally I like to have my portfolio available right there on my website so potential clients can see everything in one place. Do you need a physical portfolio? Yes, for those just-in-case scenarios. I have used mine only once, but I sometimes bring it to meetings with new potential clients. It should be professional, but doesn’t have to be expensive. I simply printed text on really nice letterhead, put them in paper protectors, and assembled them in a matching binder. Instant portfolio.
That whole “you snooze, you lose” concept really applies in the freelance world. You have a lot of competition so if someone reaches out to you via phone or email, respond promptly if you want to win the job. Very few businesses have the patience to deal with a writer who is unresponsive or hard to get a hold of. So when that phone rings, answer. Because that may be your one shot at the project.
So if I had to list out my rules of availability, the first rule would be to answer emails quickly. I try to respond within 2 hours during regular business hours, and sooner if possible. Second, pick up the phone when it rings. Answer even if you don’t feel like talking, because they might not call back. Third, be responsive. Don’t let clients ever feel like you are a black hole reincarnated on the earth. And finally, provide good customer service. This means being available to answer questions, being on time for calls and meetings, and proactively updating clients on status.
Market Yourself – Constantly
Many writers dread the idea of marketing because so many of us are introverted by nature. But the deal is, if you want to get clients (and eat and have electricity) you have to go find them. And this means marketing.
Do you have to do cold calls? No. So if this doesn’t appeal to you, don’t do it. But you do have to reach out somehow, whether it’s through emails, direct mailings, networking on sites like LinkedIn, or applying to freelance postings. You can’t just sit back and expect projects to drop into your lap. The books I mentioned above provide some good tips on marketing yourself and finding new clients. So check them out, and do some research. Find what works for you.
Find a Niche
Yes you can be a jack of all trades writer. And maybe you are. But it’s to your benefit to find some sort of niche and try to develop clientele there. You will be able to command higher fees for something you specialize in, and eventually your network will broaden because like-minded individuals like to collaborate. And part of that collaboration might just be passing your name along to a colleague.
I don’t think you have to limit yourself if you truly enjoy writing about lots of things (like I do), but I do think you should find a niche to serve as your primary source of income. Then you can supplement as you want with interesting projects. So for example, my specialty is commercial writing. My niche within commercial writing is IT. But I also have a consumer magazine I write for, and a dental chain. So I don’t limit myself but I do try to focus most of my work.
Have a Contract and Deposit
Nobody wants to be the writer who is staring at their mailbox waiting for an overdue payment. The solution? Have a contract. You are a business so treat yourself like one. You can likely find samples of contracts online (this is what I did) and then tweak your favorite one to your liking.
Always get 50% payment up front and have stipulations around meeting cancellations, project cancellations, and overdue payments. It’s not being tough, it’s just a fair business practice. Will this prevent all unpaid invoices? No. But at least you’ll get some of your money by requiring a percentage up front, and will have some recourse if you need to take the client to small claims court.
Speak professionally, interact professionally, but don’t be afraid to have some fun with those clients who have a sense of humor. Be real. You are a human and so are they. Bringing humanity and a personal touch to the job will help set you apart from the rest of the writing masses.
Is Your Freelance Business Ready?
Once you have properly established your business, if you can produce exceptional work (on time!) then your client list will flourish and your income will grow. Great writing is essential, but running your operation as a business is the key to success.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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