How many times have you gotten the job because you followed up at just the right time? Do you have a good system in place to remember all of those people who you needed to circle back with? If not, consider a CRM application.
What Is a CRM Application?
CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management. To put it shortly, it's an application that helps you manage your current and potential customer base. You can use it to manage your marketing efforts, your relationships, your conversion data, your contact information, and even your internal team and how they distribute work.
Why Should I Use One?
CRM applications are typically used by sales teams in established businesses and organizations to work their pipeline, maintain connections with prospects, and track conversions. They also use them to report out data as needed.
But I believe a sole proprietor or small business needs the same level of efficiency and organization if they want to be successful. The great part about a CRM tool is that you don't have to purchase all the parts you don't need. And it doesn't have to be expensive.
I have had great success with Salesforce.com, so I'll be touting that one in particular here. For only $5/month I get functionality that lets me manage all of my new and prospective clients, make notes on marketing efforts, schedule follow-up activities, document projects, and run reports. And it's all stored on the cloud. So if my computer dies, my contacts (and the lifeblood of my business) live on.
A Day in the Life of a CRM'd Sole Proprietor
So how do I put my CRM application to use? For every new person I interact with that is either providing me business or could provide it in the future, I create an account that links that contact with any others related to it. I enter their job title, email, phone, cell phone, address, website, you name it. I then create a note about our interaction, and copy any relevant email text into the record that I might want to remember.
Once that's done, I set tasks for myself. And I do this everyday for both new and existing contacts depending on what happens in my business.
The beauty is that when when I log in everyday, all of my tasks are conveniently listed for me by date without me having to think about anything. Everything I need to do for that day is right there, and I can click on it to view more details and review the history on the account. It's like an instant refresher, and it allows me to follow up in a more personal way.
Where to Get a CRM
I highly recommend Salesforce.com. For contact management for up to 5 users it's only $5/month. Plus it's web-based, easy to use, and has just enough functionality to help you manage your clients. If you want a little more functionality you can go up to the $25/month package. It goes up from there depending on your needs and how many people you want to be able to use it.
Sound good? It works well for me. Click here to view Salesforce.com's pricing information, and welcome to the world of CRMs!
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.
There are millions of professional freelance writers across the globe. These are people who make their careers out of writing words for a living and selling those words to others. And to anyone working seriously in the writing profession, I would pose this question: Do you want to be valued as a professional, or do you want to be a commodity?
Content mills have portrayed writing as a laughable field requiring few skills, and only the basic ability to complete a sentence. The consequence of these mills is the perpetuation of the idea that writing is not worth paying for, and the false belief that it can be done by anyone who speaks English. If you don't believe me do a quick search on a site like Elance or Craigslist. You will find people offering (and expecting) to pay a measly $10 for a 500 word article, or maybe $100 for a 20,000 word manuscript. Or people who expect a robust, SEO optimized website with 20+ pages of content for the "fair" rate of $300 for the project.
Do the math on this (as all freelance writers have) and you will find that it's less than minimum wage. In fact, in some cases you're talking about making a dollar or two an hour. What's worse is you will find people actually accepting this pittance and performing the work, but then struggling to buy a loaf of bread and then bemoaning their circumstances.
Do you have to work for those rates in order to survive and thrive in a freelance marketplace? Is this the only way to compete? Many newbie (and some established) freelancers come from a place of fear. Fear that nobody will hire them, fear that they can't compete, or fear that their skills aren't good enough. And their answer to this question would likely be, "Well that's what I see out there, so that's what I have to take."
My answer is an emphatic and forceful, "No."
Knowing your worth as a writer means running your operation like the professional business that it is. You are offering a service to a person or company, and that service is often worth substantial money once it is put into place. The return can be enormous. And when you run your writing operation like a business - maintaining top notch customer service, providing error-free copy that meets deadlines, and really partnering with your clients to meet their needs - for you to not insist that those businesses pass a fair share of that ROI onto you is devaluing your profession. And yourself. Because the fact is, good writing makes businesses money. Period.
Knowing your worth as a writer means being firm with your rates and demanding compensation that is fair. It means requiring that potential clients pay you as the professional you are. Will it be harder to find work this way? Yes. But which would you rather be? The content writer working 10 hours a day, churning out lackluster content (because you simply don't have time to make it good), struggling to buy groceries, and building a portfolio of lackluster samples? Or the professional writer spending 4 hours a day with a handful of clients, writing stellar content that pays your bills and brings in hard cash for their business, and building your network and future opportunities in the time you aren't wasting writing for $2/hour?
Always remember that serious clients will recognize the value you provide and will pay you accordingly. You choose what type of writer you want to be. It's all up to you. I choose to be a professional. What's your choice?
I was recently negotiating with a prospect who was trying to start a company and he wanted some web copy created. His first request was this: "I want you to write a 200 word marketing piece for me based on the product description I give you." If you got that request from a prospect, how would you respond?
Well, here is how I responded. I politely said that I do not do work for free, although I do provide a free 30 minute consultation and I will happily send him some proprietary writing samples that are very similar to what he is wanting. I said that I also have testimonials and an extensive portfolio, and that this was all I could offer. I said that if he wanted a free writing sample then it would be best to look elsewhere, as I have sufficient samples to more than showcase my abilities.
He accepted the samples and agreed to continue with the consultation, during which he asked me to include in the project quote two random web pages with an undetermined definition or scope. I said that because those pages were undefined, how about we work with the pages that are defined and I can give him a quote, and once he defines the other two pages we can go from there.
He agreed, I created a quote that clearly outlined the 6 pages of content and how many revisions were included, and sent it off. The next day he declined the quote and said that he was uninterested, as the price was fine but in his opinion I was not willing to work with him. Was I surprised? Not really.
So I sat back and thought about these types of requests and what they mean, because honestly most of my prospects are large clients and do not conduct business this way. And what everything boiled down to was this: because I didn't provide free work or agree to a set price for work that had not been scoped yet, I was labeled as a bad businessperson.
And what I would say to that accusation is that it's actually the opposite. If you're a good businessperson, you value your time. You have sufficient samples to show your skills and you have people to vouch for the quality of your work. And you don't work for free. And similarly, you don't expect others to work for free.
That would be like going to a job interview where they tell you that while they appreciate that you have great experience and samples, they want you to create some marketing collateral for them before they will consider hiring you. And it's on some products that currently do not have any marketing content. So this honestly means that they can turn around and sell the free work you perform for them. And if they were really shady, they could bring people in for "interviews" and slowly get all of their marketing work done this way for free.
That doesn't sound ethical to me. Does it sound ethical to you? So why expect a freelancer or consultant to do the same thing?
Which brings me to my final thought on the subject, which is whether or not there are any situations where I would write for free. The answer? Maybe. Working on spec is much more normal for publications and books. And if I had a prospect that I was really interested in and I didn't have relevant work samples that fairly illustrated my abilities, then yes maybe I'd write something. But it would only be a few sentences or a paragraph. I'm not going to write a 200-300 word document for them. If I was being considered for an instructional design project, and they asked me to provide feedback on some scenarios and how I would design them (and it was clearly a "test" and not materials yet to be developed), yes I would do that to an extent. But beyond those things, my working for free stops there.
So let me ask you. Do you write for free? What are your thoughts on the subject?
When you hear the word "technical writer" what comes to mind? Computers? Engineering? Complicated subjects? I want to challenge the writing world: have you considered the idea that a technical writer can be the best resource for all of your communications projects? Let me explain why.
Technical writers are skilled at creating clear, concise text that translates complicated ideas into simple ones. This skill is great for areas like computer software, manuals, engineering documents, and other communications that need to be clear and to the point. This is a given.
But what it's also great for is a wide range of communications, the most obvious of which is training materials. Training is a close cousin to end user documentation; it's just a different format. Really good training materials have not only stellar instructional design behind them, but also clear language. What if your design and ideas are great but your text comes out muddy? How will that affect your learners? Wouldn't technical writing skills be helpful in this scenario?
So let's take this a step further. Would you hire a technical writer to create your marketing or web communications? Maybe? Maybe not?
It may seem counter-intuitive to put a technical writer in this role, but in order for marketing or web copy to sell it has to grab attention quickly. This means not rambling. This means making sense to a wide audience. This means getting to the point, but in a creative and catchy way.
Now here's where things get squishy.
Have you ever seen marketing text with a bunch of flowing, embellished words that honestly aren't coherent and don't really get to the point? This is a classic case of "attempting to be creative and catchy, but in the process completely erasing any semblance of quality content" syndrome. When I was employed as a technical writer, I would often fix the work of the marketing communications person for this very reason. And honestly in the end I wound up completely taking over, because as a technical writer I was just able to create something much more effective.
So when you're looking around for writing help, think about the technical writer. And not just for technical projects - but for a wide range of projects. Their unique skills can sometimes be advantageous to your communications endeavors, if you just take the time to find one who has a bit of a creative bug in their arsenal.
In an age of fast moving technology and an audience ever hungry for the next "cool" thing, logically companies want their training to be perceived as snazzy and modern by their employees. And while we need to address that hunger, we also need to make sure we don't sacrifice effectiveness for the sake of appearances.
Have you ever picked up a magazine and found what looked like a cool article, but then you started reading it and quickly realized it was completely uninteresting and not at all what you thought it would be?
Have you ever visited a website that looked really modern and impressive, with Flash animation and stunning graphic design, only to find that it didn't answer your questions or give you enough information about the product or service?
Herein lies the problem with training.
I've seen programs where instructional designers insert, for example, a game just for the sake of having a game. And mostly because they feel like they need to have one. But when I look at the game, I can't figure out how it is furthering the educational objectives of the class. The game is often irrelevant to the material being covered, or covers material that doesn't matter according to the learning objectives, or is simply there just to take up time or to be "fun".
I've also seen programs that look beautiful (e-learning for example), but that have no substance to the content. Think about opening a snazzy e-learning course, with a professional template and interactive elements, and then finding that at the end of the course you didn't learn a thing. Why? Because all of the resources went into the look and feel - not the training design.
I'm all for having engaging training. But I think as course developers and as companies we have to stop and realize that glitz does not equal effective. Glitz is sort of the icing on the cake; your first priority should be to get solid instructional design in place. Because what I have found is that what makes an effective, engaging learning experience is not how glitzy it looks. But rather, it is how effectively it is designed. Meaning how well it meets adult learning needs and the learning objectives, with elements like making it relevant, having engaging conversations and activities, and incorporating all of the learning styles.
Are you sacrificing effectiveness for glitz? Make sure that any element of "glitz" or "fun" in your training is in fact a step forward in the learning process - not just a random experience to add perceived value.
So it's been a while since I wrote a blog. Today I wanted to talk about the benefits of hiring an independent professional, because we all need to know why we're doing what we're doing, right? If you find a good one, you'll reap some serious benefits and set up a mutually satisfying long-term relationship. And in time, that relationship will help your business continue to grow at a lower cost than you may have thought possible.
So think about this:
You need some communications work done. Or maybe you need some training programs developed and rolled out. Or maybe you need a help system built, or some media work completed like press releases, blogs, articles, and social media content. Or maybe you're not quite sure if your website is working.
You have three options at this point:
So where am I going with this? Well, I'm going straight to this message:
A skilled consultant/freelancer can provide professional quality work for a fraction of the overall cost, and can dramatically increase your business and profits through an as-needed expense rather than a daily one.
Think about the thousands, or hundreds of thousands, of dollars you could save and re-invest in your business. It's all about return on investment. Pay for what you need, when you need it, knowing you will get the same professional quality you would get if you hired a full-time employee. And pocket that money you would have paid on a salary, taxes, benefits, bonus structure, computer software, training...the list goes on.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Welcome to my blog. Please use the Category links below to find topics of interest to you, or just scroll through current postings.
Receive new postings via email: