All posts by Jeanette Juryea

Corporate freelance writer, editor and teacher; President of QubComm; middle-grade novelist. Visit me at: www.jeanettejuryea.com, www.qubcomm.com

Snag the biggest client of them all

The United States government is the largest procurer of outside vendors in the world. And they hire freelance writers! Just think of it as another potential major corporate client. Except this client has multi-year freelance writing jobs.

What kind of projects are they? It depends on the government entity that’s doing the hiring. Remember, size matters. You can get small jobs with small governments, like a city or county. You might find larger contracts with state governments. But I look to national entities for jobs that don’t require repetitive bidding. That’s the whole point to market-less marketing. Finding clients that keep on giving.

You might get a five-year contract to develop a library of educational materials at $50,000 a year. Or perhaps a three-year contract budgeted at $710,000 for four full-time writers (about $60,000 a year each) to develop much more than just a single library. These are real examples, by the way. Land one of these and you won’t have to worry about finding work for a long time.

Now check out the qualifications needed for the three-year contract:

  • At least five years writing about consumer financial issues
  • At least five years of professional writing and/or editing experience (I suppose this can be the same five years as above)
  • Working knowledge and experience with The Associated Press (AP) style guide
  • Able to write for various media formats

Look at the first bullet and the fourth bullet. Do you see how having a writing niche while being a media generalists makes corporate freelancers perfect for jobs such as these? (Read Chapter 3 if you haven’t already.)

It’s a simple process – NOT!

Here’s how to become a government contractor:

  1. Create a profile on the System for Award Management (SAM) at http://www.sam.gov.
  2. Log in at FedBizOps website (fbo.gov) to find a job that fits your skills.
  3. Send in your bid.
  4. <snap!> You’re a government contractor!

Okay, I lie. The process, in theory, is that simple. In reality, there are many, many hoops to jump through along the way and it can take months – even years before you land your first contract. But it’s far worth the effort, so don’t let me deter you from trying.

For best results, let an expert help you. Contact your local Small Business Administration (SBA) and ask to be connected with the person or department that helps businesses get set up for government contracting. They actually have folks who do nothing by help in this area, so you can be sure you’ll get an expert. And best of all, their service is free.

They can help you with all three steps:

  1. Create your SAM profile.
  2. Find jobs that fit your niche and experience.
  3. Create a proposal for your bid.

They won’t do the work for you, but they will break the process down into bite sized chunks to make it much less daunting for you. They can also clarify any confusing aspects of the process — a process, which, by the way, was written by someone vastly in need of your help. It won’t be easy to understand without a knowledgeable person to help you.

Warning: Once you create a profile in SAM, you’ll get an onslaught of advertisements from organizations who claim they can help you get government jobs. Some will offer (for a fee) to put you on their search list, claiming governments use that list to hire vendors. IGNORE THEM! IT’S NOT TRUE! RUN FAST IN THE OTHER DIRECTION! And be wary of any website boasting government jobs where the website URL doesn’t end in .gov. You do not need to pay for help getting government contracts; the SBA will help you for free.

Good luck!

JJ

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Rate rant: Don’t undervalue your work. It’s hurts the rest of us.

I saw this posted on Elance this morning: [Yes, I belong to several job boards. No I don’t actually use them unless I see something truly worthwhile, which is rare. I simply monitor them so I can write about them. Here’s one of those moments…]

Writer for Online Holistic Technology Business
Hourly: $9.99 / hr or less | Web Content
“…this is an intense interview process. If you are TRULY committed to following through, paying attention to details, and really want this job – then apply. If not, don’t waste our time…”

Intense interview process? At less than 10 bucks an hour? Who’s wasting whose time?

If you’re an American, you should be charging at least $50 per hour for writing services. Anything less and you’re undervaluing yourself – AND hurting the rest of us. Even $50 per hour is low if you’re a corporate writer, but it’s not so low that it’s an insult. Major corporations will easily pay $100 and more per hour to quality writers who have proven their worth. But, I promise there’s a reason I state $50 as the bargain basement pricing. Read on…

A copy writer at a major corporation earns about $45,000 a year. (And that person usually has to have at least an Associate’s Degree if not Bachelor’s! Imagine going to college just so you can earn a whopping $10 per hour!) Anyway, let’s say, as a self-employed copy writer, you want to earn $45,000 a year.

When you’re in business for yourself, you have other overhead to consider:

  • Health, dental, life & disability insurance
  • Payroll taxes
  • Business insurances
  • Home office expense
  • Phone
  • Office equipment and supplies
  • Website maintenance, software and other IT costs
  • Books, subscriptions, memberships
  • Travel (Oh yes you will! You’re a writer, you probably go to writer’s conferences, etc.)
  • Bank fees and interest expenses

So let’s start with the $45,000 employee’s NET pay ($35,888.58) and add in the above expenses (based on what I actually paid out in 2014). That comes to $77,475.85. Notice I did NOT include marketing costs in my list. That’s because I do business in such a way that doesn’t require marketing. But many writers do market their services so add that in if you’re one of them.

Next, let’s break that total down into hours:
$77,475.85 ÷ 52 weeks ÷ 40 hours a week = $37.24 per hour.
Will you actually get 40 hours’ worth of billable work each week? Let’s say you average 30 billable hours each week. Now you’re hourly total is $49.66. Round that up and you get $50 per hour.

That’s why I say if you’re not charging a MINIMUM of $50 per hour, you’re selling yourself short and making it impossible for the rest of us who have to compete with substandard rates.

Look at it this way: If you went to any store to purchase merchandise, would you expect an 80% discount on every item? That’s what’s happening when you accept $10 per hour on writing jobs. Just say no! There are waayy better ways to make a decent living as a writer.

Naming your business

I didn’t decide to give my company a name until about four years in when I incorporated. But I realize now that was a mistake. So, whether you plan to incorporate your business immediately, or consider it later, I recommend that you name your company right away to whatever you will use when/if you do incorporate. Here’s why:

I started out as an individual using my natural name as my business name. When I incorporated, I came up with a name that reflected what I do instead of who I am. This shift caused quite a fiasco with my clients. I had to get a new vendor number, sign new agreements, and jump all the original hoops as if I was a brand new vendor.

In fact, I had a client-issued laptop to use for anything I did for that particular client. But, the company didn’t allow me to save anything to the laptop’s hard drive, so all of my files, emails, address book — everything — was on the company’s network.

When I changed my business name, they assigned me a new user name and I lost access to my old user name’s network information. That included works in progress. They even assigned me a new email address, so my familiar contacts could no longer find me. My clients at that company were completely baffled and some were angry. I didn’t lose any work over it; I quickly explained the situation and got everyone back on track. But, it was a headache that could have been prevented.

Take your time thinking of a nameFeather's Graph Logo
Don’t decide your business name in a rush. Spend some quality time thinking about it. Share your ideas for names with colleagues and friends and listen to their feedback. The worst thing you can do is rush into an idea, incorporate and tell the world, and then a week later come up with something better or realize your business name was a bad idea.

You can contact your local Chamber of Commerce, Small Business Administration, or SCORE chapter to find someone who can help you come up with a winner.

Be accessible to your clients

When you work for corporate clients, it’s important to be as accessible as any employee of the corporation. Make your clients think you’re just over the wall in the cubicle next door. Keep steady hours so your clients know when they can reach you. Then, monitor your email and answer your phone so they actually can reach you.

You should also remind your family and friends that, just because you work from home, doesn’t mean you don’t work. No, you cannot babysit. Your freelance career is your day job. Would they be asking if you had a job outside the home?

This doesn’t mean you have to be chained to your desk for eight hours every day. If you want to have Thursday lunch with the girls, go for it. You could do the same if you were employed. Just remember that you must get back to your “job.”

If you have to run an errand during the work day, go ahead if you have the time to do so. But, a pressing deadline must always take priority. If you’re working closely with a particular client on a project, but the ball isn’t presently in your court (for example, you’re waiting for supporting information), don’t hesitate to run your errand. Let active clients know you’ll be away from your desk for a little while, and when you expect to return — just like you would at any other day job.

Communicate any personal and vacation days with your active clients so they can plan projects around your absence. Give them sufficient advance notice so that, if they do have upcoming projects for you, they’ll have the opportunity to fit the writing portion into the schedule either before you leave or after you get back. That way, you won’t come home from a well-deserved vacation to learn your steady clients were forced to find a new vendor.

Being accessible also means accepting “rush” jobs when your schedule allows. It’s a big part of being a go-to person, which is how you can get steady clients to come back to you. Rush jobs tend to be seasonal and may differ based on your niche industry. But they can also happen year round. If you have working experience within your niche, you’ll have a feel for your rush season. If not, you’ll find out soon enough. Other than the anticipated seasonal period, I haven’t found rush jobs to be a problem. They’re a good source of income and they help keep my clients happy.

By the way, it’s okay to charge an added premium for rush jobs. Just make sure your client knows how much you’ll add to your usual rate.

Laptop vs desktop computer

I prefer a laptop over a desktop computer because my electricity tends to go out whenever anyone sneezes on the electric lines in my neighborhood. Thus, I sometimes have to drag my pajama’d carcass to the nearest library, book store or Internet cafe to get back in business. When you’re dealing with corporate professionals, you must keep your customers happy at all times. You must be ready with a Plan B when something goes wrong. Being mobile helps.

You’ll also be able to take your business with you when you travel. When my friend was in a terrible car accident, I stayed with her during her first week out of the hospital. With my laptop along, I was able to make money and help her at the same time. I once wrote an entire website for a corporate client while on vacation in Hawaii. I know, it seems a sad way to spend a vacation in such an amazing place, but the client was desperate and the money was too good to pass up. I only worked in the mornings and that single project more than paid for the vacation! I couldn’t have done that with a desktop.

No experience necessary to be a corporate freelancer

I can honestly say that millions of people have read my writing. Yet, no one has ever heard of me. That’s the bad news; corporate freelancing is a form of ghost writing. There are no bylines. Your corporate clients own the final documents and your name will not appear — anywhere.

But, there’s good news too; you don’t need bylines to be a corporate freelancer. And corporate clients may buy your writing even if no one else has yet. Unlike traditional publishers, corporations are more interested in your skill than your sales history.

No experience necessary
Your initial contact with the client company is with the procurement representative, who wouldn’t know a good writing sample from a bad one. They’re more interested in your resume to see if you have industry knowledge along with your writing skill.

If you have bylines, awards or sales success numbers, by all means share that information. But don’t despair if you have nothing. The fact that you have no corporate writing experience won’t matter to landing a big client. Your knowledge of your niche industry will.

It’s okay to make up writing samples
Even though you don’t need past experience, you should, however, be able to demonstrate that you can write. While the procurement representative may not be interested in your writing samples, project managers who will become your clients may. If someone asks for a writing sample and your arsenal is empty, make one up. It’s okay to demonstrate what you can do for your target client, rather than what you have done in a completely unrelated industry.

Do your homework before sending writing samples
Whether you make up a sample or send a previously written sample, do your homework first. When I hire subcontractors, I do ask for writing samples. Almost every time, the writer tries to impress me by sending what he thinks is his best writing. But it’s rarely what I want, and it’s not what my clients want either.

Mega corporations have strong brand recognition. That’s how they got to be a mega corporation in the first place. Part of having a strong brand means having a consistent voice and tone in their written materials. Once you’ve chosen a client, pick up some brochures and check out their website to get to know that company’s voice. Then, show them you can deliver that same voice.

If they like short, punchy, easy-to-read communications, don’t send an example of your fanciest prose or most complicated technical writing. This is about their writing style, not your impressive command of vocabulary. By showing potential clients you understand their writing voice, you further solidify your niche and your value to them as a writer.

Make your business card a magnet

People in corporations work in cubicles. Cubicles have metal edges. Thus, people in cubicles like magnets. If your business card is a magnet, it will hang on your clients’ walls as a constant reminder that you’re available. It won’t be lost in a Rolodex or worse, used as a toothpick and then discarded.

You can get a box of 500 magnetic business cards for under $100 at most printers. Do a Google search on “magnetic business cards” to find a vendor you like.

Here’s another tip. Always give your clients two business cards so they can share one with a colleague or coworker. The more eyes within the company that see your name, the faster your business will grow.