Our last session of the day is Freelance Writing for Profit with Roo Ciambriello and Denene Millner. I do this for a living, but all of my work comes through word of mouth, and I could really use some tips on finding new clients.
We’re going to learn how to “make it rain” with freelance writing dollars. Denene is a NY Times bestselling author who started out as a political reporter for the AP, then moved on through other newspapers and magazines and other publications. She has written 22 books. Roo is a copywriter and has written no books. (Laughter.) Her first copywriting gig was writing fun copy for baby food packaging. She won awards from that, and then she started getting other offers for package copywriting.
- Being friendly is cool.
- Networking is cool.
- Sending appropriately timed emails is cool.
- Stalking is not cool.
One of the last things an editor wants is 40 phone calls or 40 followup emails. “Did you get that? Did you like that?” If you ever get an editor on the phone, go play the lottery. Editors write emails, and they write emails if they like your query. Not hearing back from an editor is not a rejection, it’s just “not right, not now.”
Do your homework. Make sure your pitch is new, fresh, and hasn’t been seen before. Make sure your topic wasn’t already covered two months ago. Wow an editor with originality.
Look for opportunities that match your voice and your approach. Roo and Woot would have been a great fit for each other, but there were legal issues involving her previous work with another brand that Woot hates. They had a policy that said they couldn’t hire anyone who had worked with that other brand, but they made sure to let her know they would have loved to have hired her.
- Your blog’s about page
- Online portfolio
Any part of your public face can be used to make a hiring decision by someone you want to work for. Be mindful of what you post on your Facebook wall, etc. Find a way to meld your different audiences on different platforms.
Voice, Professionalism, and Presentation
- Voice is everything.
- Professionalism is underrated.
- LOL OMG BBQ
Depending on the type of writing you do, you can alter your voice to cater to the client. But people may come to you because you are your voice. Sit down and practice using your voice so you can be consistent. Know how to approach each story with your own unique voice. Look at writing as paying yourself. Make every word count. If you want to get paid for this, you need your passion, and you need to be able to grow.
Your clients will have a voice, too. You will be writing for a specific audience, so have to focus on who you are marketing to.
Schedules, Balance, and Saying No
- Boundaries with clients are essential.
- Working at home means I’m working, Angela, stop calling me, dayummmm. (Roo says you can tell she wrote this slide. This is her voice.)
- Create work hours. Quit when they’re over.
- If your family stops liking you, you’re probably doing something wrong.
Have a standard turnaround time, and if a client wants something sooner than that, make sure to charge them a rush fee so they don’t come to expect that every time. (I do this. It’s very effective.)
Get it right. Make sure you know exactly what the client wants before you get started. Be very clear what it is that your editor wants, and what you want. Denene advocates for the use of outlines to plan your work. There’s a fine line to walk when the work you agreed upon becomes something where the editor wants something more or different. Except in very select circumstances, do not agree to write something completely different without additional compensation.
Making that $$$
- Pricing your work: by the hour or by the project? Roo doesn’t do hourly. Conceptual work is really hard to quantify. Even if you’re not actively sitting at your desk, you’re thinking about the project. But simple article-writing, that can be billed hourly. Denene charges by the word.
- Freelancing: feast or famine.
- What to do when someone else quotes a potential client for 40% less.( Roo doesn’t change her rates. You know what you’re worth. Don’t devalue yourself. If you do it cheaper once, they will not pay you your standard rate.)
- The gentle art of haggling. (Roo says a man will haggle with her, but women will agree to a higher rate without further bargaining.)
- DO NOT WRITE FOR FREE. (Denene only writes for free if it’s for someone who has already paid her for a project and hooked her up.) Do not write for traffic. You will never get that promised traffic. If they really want you to write for them, they will find the budget.