Make the Business Side of Freelance Writing More Pleasure than Pain

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Writers have a driving need to describe, explain, and express. The change of seasons intoxicates. The vibrancy of fall leaf colors attracts and the irony of such beauty coming at the end of the growing season causes inner contemplation. The creative soul could at times exist and thrive in the world of individual and craft; however, for most self-employed writers the creative process must also pay the bills.

Enter Dr. Victor Vroom’s Expectancy Theory of Motivation. Dr. Vroom’s theory works on the principle of maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain. Within this work management theory a writer can find a financially rewarding balance between the creative and the mundane.

Simply put Expectancy Theory asks what you expect the outcome of your tasks will be and offers a formula for how well you will succeed based on your mindset. How well you expect the task to proceed will affect your motivation to begin and complete the task. For example, you pitch an article idea but have heard this editor is slow to respond and is even slower to pay after the article is filed or you have worked with this editor before and have firsthand experience of this fact. The creative part of you loves researching and writing on the topic this magazine covers, but what will be the outcome of the task knowing there may be hazards ahead? By using Dr. Vroom’s Theory, you can work through the emotional part of taking this assignment based on how motivated you will be to begin and finish. Motivation has a distinct effect on your bottom line.

The Theory’s three factors grant insight into how you see an assignment from past experiences and if you perceive the outcome to be rewarding or unsatisfying. Do you see the project as producing pleasure or pain? The factors are: Expectancy, Valence, and Instrumentality.

Expectancy: You have the assignment. It is penciled in on your calendar but the closer it gets to the time to contact sources to set up interviews the more you dread getting started. Why? What’s causing your hesitation? Check your motivation so that before you pitch this market again you will know whether it is worth your time. Ask yourself is the pain worth the pleasure. Figure your hourly rate and consider time lost due to procrastinating.

Valency: What is your reward for completing this article? If the subject matter is not your specialty and in fact you find it boring, think through what will make completing the article more pleasurable to you. Will you be compensated well, help others with the information in the article, or will writing the article have long-term positive effects on your career.

Instrumentality: After thinking through your motivation for pitching and completing the project now measure the probability of obtaining the desired outcome which is your project will be more pleasure than pain. Use the following equation:

Force (Motivation) = Valence x Expectancy

The Force or motivation you apply to the project is a direct result of the outcome you want (Valence) multiplied by how you fared previously producing the project or a similar project. For example:

1) If you feel the outcome of this project will reward you in ways that will help your career the Valence rate will be high. The same is true of the Expectancy rate. 2) If you do not believe payment for the project is sufficient and completing a similar project was previously unsatisfying then both rates will be low. 3) One rating can also be higher than the other i.e., you feel the Valency of doing the job is low but did have a good experience previously then the rates will vary. The expectancy rate can be high with a low valency rate, as well.

1) Force (64) = .8 (V) x .7 (E)
2) Force (16) = .2 (V) x .1 (E)
3) Force (36) = .6 (V) x .2 (E)

Force in each of these equations measures your motivation to do a job and can help you make a conscious business decision of whether to accept a project. As usual, you will initially figure your hourly rate for a project but factoring in previous outcomes can keep you from taking a project that will become a time drain. Ask yourself is the pleasure worth the pain as a freelance writer. If not, find a project you are better suited doing. You will, at times, have to take projects you are not excited about, but if the outcome is rewarding then you know you have made the right decision and knowing that will produce a positive attitude toward the project.

5 Essential Marketing Tools for Freelance Writers

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Whether you like it or not, freelance writing is all about marketing. You need to not only market your services, but also market the idea of who you are and what makes you different than the millions of other freelancers out there. Writer Leo Babauta ruminates on the 10 Essential Marketing Skills For Freelancers in blog post for Freelance Switch: “As a freelancer (or potential freelancer), you live and die by your ability to sell your services. And unless you’ve got some kind of agent or marketing firm doing your marketing for you, you’ve got to be your own marketer. If you’re like me, that doesn’t come naturally.” Babauta has a point. Freelancing is all about doing-it-yourself, so if you want to push your career to the next level, here are 5 tips on how to market DIY style:

Blog. It’s been said many times before, but the blog is the new resume. If you don’t have a blog, learn how to start one up. And don’t just rant about politics and talk about your cat. Make your blog look professional, write about things that would look good to potential clients, and offer your services to others (with contact info, of course). If you are a designer, be sure that the design is clean and creative. If you are a photographer, the photos should knock them out. If you’re a writer, have only your best writing on your blog. In all cases, have a simple, clean layout with well-written words. If you’re not good at this yet, constantly learn and refine. Look at other professional blogs for inspiration, then tweak. Then edit some more.

Collaboration. One of the best ways to market yourself  as a freelance writer is to collaborate with others. Instead of only working by yourself, offer your talents on a project. If you’re a writer, offer to collaborate with other bloggers — if you give them some free writing (do a guest post), you have just reached a wider audience, and you’ve developed a relationship with another blogger. You can do the same with whatever service you offer — offer it up for free (or at a discounted rate) so you can develop relationships and reach a wider audience.

Listings. Be sure that you’re on all the freelance job sites, or at least the ones that apply most to the service you offer or the market you’re aiming for. You don’t have many words to make a pitch, so offer a few words to differentiate yourself and a link to your blog if possible.

Business card. Don’t go with anything tacky or overly complicated. Keep it simple, professional. The fewer items on your card, the better. Really, all you need is your name, your service and your email address, but you can put a slogan or logo if that works for you. Also, some have argued that the new business card is to simply say “Google me”. If so, be sure that you’ve researched your Google results thoroughly.

Email skills. This is how I do most of my marketing, in combination with the blog and collaboration ideas listed above. I’ll simply email someone to see if they’re interested. I’ll do a short pitch about myself and my services (a short paragraph) and make them an offer. If they write back, great. If not, you can either follow up or move on to the next one. Don’t be too pushy. Again, be professional, and offer a link or two to show samples of your work. People don’t have a lot of time to read emails, so be sure to keep it short. Be friendly and professional. And make them an offer they can’t refuse (not a “Godfather”-style offer, though).

To read the other 5 of Babauta’s tips, check out the full article at Freelance Switch.

How do you market yourself as a freelance writer? Any successes? Any failures? Let us know in the comments!

Best Foot Forward: How Freelance Writers Can Make Unforgettable Introductions to Editors

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As a new freelancer, you may be more concerned with getting your first clips than developing ongoing relationships with editors. Just keep in mind that everything you do from your first contact with an editor will make an impression, good or bad. While editors don’t remember every sloppy query, from the time a pitch catches her interest, you have a relationship going.

For example, early in my freelance career, I pitched a number of ideas to Marie Claire, a market I really wanted to write for. After collecting several rejection slips, an editorial assistant called. “I just wanted to let you know that we can’t use the story you pitched, but my boss likes your ideas and wants you to keep pitching,” she said. I polished another query, and sent it—and this time, the editor herself called to assign a story.  My persistence in pitching ideas paid off—and led to additional assignments from the same editor.

How else can you make a positive first impression with a market that’s new to you?

Pitch the right person. Not sure which editor handles a section of the market you’re querying? Call or email the publication and find out. Double-check the spelling of her name, and get her title correct. You’re already ahead of the writers pitching “Dear Editor” or emailing the wrong person.

Demonstrate your expertise. Every query you send should show the editor that you’ve done some background research on the topic. Don’t just pitch an idea on the link between laughter and health; mention a recent study that suggests a connection. Suggesting a profile? Do a quick interview with the person so you can include some live quotes in your query. You want the editor to think you’re smart, informed, and a tireless researcher—which I am hoping you are.

Strut your stuff.
Don’t just explain your idea and how you plan to approach it. Tell the editor why’re you’re qualified to write the piece. Freelancers almost always undersell themselves in queries. Don’t make this mistake. Highlight your relevant background and experience when you pitch an idea and make a compelling case for why the editor should assign the story to you. (That doesn’t mean you won’t rely on experts and/or anecdotal sources to write the piece, but all things being equal, personal experience with a subject is likely to get you an assignment over a writer who knows nothing about the topic.)
Reveal you “get” her market. I always tell writers to suggest what section the story they’re pitching belongs in. (For example, “Interested in this piece for your ‘Healthy You’ section?”) This tells the editor you’ve read her magazine—you wouldn’t believe how many freelancers pitch “blind,” or without ever looking at the publication they want to write for. Better yet? Mention a recent article or two, especially if they’re the same type of stories you’re pitching—and don’t be afraid to compliment a story. Editors like praise like anyone else.

Ask questions. If you have the opportunity to have a one-on-one with an editor at a writers’ conference or other event, consider it a conversation, not a pitch. Yes, you can share your great ideas with him; that’s why you’re there. But make sure you ask the editor about his vision for the magazine, what types of ideas he’s looking for, or what he loves to see in a story. You’ll impress him with your desire to give him what he wants, and will come away with the meeting with invaluable information for future pitches.

As the saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Make a positive one every time, and you’ll be more likely to get as assignment, even if your first pitch doesn’t sell.

What are your tips for making a good first impression with an editor? Have you ever had a first introduction nightmare? Let us know in the comments!

5 Tips for Freelance Writers to Break into New Markets and Connect with Editors

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Successful freelance writers share common work habits. Two of the most important are: They’re always busy. They’re obsessively searching for new markets.

Juggling these two activities is not easy, especially when the writer is immersed in difficult assignments or facing tight deadlines. Relying on one market, no matter how lucrative and steady, is ultimately dangerous. To cite the old cliché, nothing lasts forever. This is a fact of life experienced freelance writers learn early in the game. Writing outlets dry up for a variety of reasons. The company goes out of business or is merged or acquired. A new editor takes the helm and almost always brings in his own stable of writers he’s been working with for years.

This is reason enough to be constantly working at breaking into new markets. Forging new relationships with editors can be frustrating, especially in the beginning. It requires strategy, time, discipline and persistence. Here are five tips that can help you do it:

1. Identify passions, hobbies and interests
Most people have untapped talents and subjects they’re intensely interested in. Freelance writers have hobbies that could be turned into viable markets. Many DIY writers were hobbyists first. They discovered they could earn substantial money writing about the crafts they’ve mastered – teaching others who are good with their hands and mechanically inclined how to save thousands of dollars by doing household repairs themselves. It’s a lot easier and fun pursuing markets where there is already a strong affinity and a body of knowledge. And they’re already familiar with many of the writing outlets.

2. Network, network, network
One of the best ways to uncover new markets is by tapping your freelancing network. Plug into writer-association events (American Association of Journalists and Authors, Editorial Freelancers Association, National Writers Union), check out freelance writers’ blogs and Web sites, and attend media events.

3. Identify three to five markets you’d like to write for
Familiarize yourself with each one’s editorial approach and philosophy: demographics, stories, writing style, focus, audience and writers and editors (don’t be surprised if you find one or two freelancers you know or have met). Then prioritize the new markets, identifying ones you want to pitch first.

4. Build one market at a time
Avoid a shotgun approach. Conquering a new market is a time- and energy- consuming effort. Pay special attention in developing terse, selling-pitch letters. The pitch letter is a sample of your writing, so each one must be extraordinary. Remember: You’re the new guy on the block, and you are competing with an established stable of writers for the editor’s attention. Your queries are likely to find themselves on the bottom of the query heap. Be prepared to make discrete follow-up calls eight to 10 days after e-mailing a query. But don’t be a pest. E-mail first. If you don’t get a response in 24 hours, follow up with a phone call. Diplomatic persistence is the best approach.

5. Never get too comfortable
Even though you have two or three reliable markets that provide a steady flow of work, never stop beating the bushes for new ones. That not only helps you build a secure market base, but also keeps you sharp and provides constant challenge, change, and last but not least – excitement.

6 Tips to Create Regular Freelance Writing Clients

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Have you heard of the 80/20 rule? It’s a business axiom that means that 80 percent of your work and your income is produced by just 20 percent of your clients. The remainder of your money comes from the rest of them.

Regular clients, or “regulars,” are the successful freelancer’s key to success. So, how do you transform a one-time client into a steady one–or nab more assignments from editors you’ve written for in the past? By making their lives easy with these six simple strategies:

Start at the beginning. Everything you do from your first contact with an editor on will make an impression, good or bad. Just because you don’t get a response from an editor doesn’t mean he or she didn’t read your pitch–and have an opinion about it. So, every query you send should be well-written, detailed, and demonstrate your knowledge of the subject. Let the editor know you’re read her publication by suggesting the section of it that your story belongs in, or mentioning a recent article or piece. Editors want to work with content writers who “get” their magazines and their readers.

Give the editor what she wants
. Mastering the art of the query is the first step to creating a relationship. The next is to simply do what you say you will—in other words, deliver. That means meeting your deadline, following the assignment she gave you, sticking to word count, and basically writing what the two of you agreed to. You needn’t bother your editor unless a problem develops that she needs to know about. Better to give you editor a heads-up, say, that you can’t find get in touch with a critical source than to wait until deadline and drop that bomb.

Be pleasant. Your editor requests revisions? Don’t complain. Make sure you understand what he wants, and deliver the rewrite without bemoaning the extra work. (You can do that to your partner or your best friend.) Rewrites are part of freelancing; doing them without drama will endear you to editors.

Pitch regularly—within reason. Within a week or completing your first piece for an editor, pitch a new one. Querying keeps your name in front of an editor and can help cement a relationship, and increases your chances of getting more work. At the same time, don’t inundate an editor with queries. She only has so much work to assign, and keeping up on email isn’t likely to be her highest priority.

Gather information. Turning a one-time assignment into an ongoing relationship means gathering information about the editor in question—her likes, dislikes, and her vision of her magazine and the direction she wants to take it. I keep notes on the publications I write for so I know what kind of pitches they’re looking for, such as if they’re planning a special issue or are looking for more true-life features or service pieces.

Stay on her radar. Remember that querying isn’t the only way to keep your name to get work from an editor—or to keep your name in front of her. If you see a news release or article she’d be interested, send it along. If you’ve written for her frequently, ask about becoming a regular contributor, or “contributing editor.” Editors tend to assign to their CEs before other freelancers, and being listed on the masthead can boost your visibility as a freelancer as well.

These six strategies will help you develop long-term relationships with your editors. Think like your editors, give them what they want, and keep you name in front of them and you can turn “one-shot” editors into regular clients.

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