Category Archives: Getting started

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.

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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.

Got a niche?

In the publishing industry, you’ll never sell a book if your target audience is “everyone.” Likewise, you won’t get many large corporate customers if you claim you can write about “anything.” Even if it’s true — you’re ready, willing and able to write about any topic as long as someone is ready, willing and able to pay you to do so — it’s not the best approach to getting corporate clients.

Write what you know. You’ve heard that one before, right? It’s true! And, instead of limiting you, it will actually help you get clients.

Here’s an exercise for you. Do a Google search on “freelance writer.” How many hits did you get? A lot, right? About 14 million! If you had a website, where would it land in that list? Now Google: [a topic you know about] + “writer”. For my niche, that number drops incredibly and, more importantly, my website shows up on page one!

Here’s another reason: you can turn work around much faster when you know the subject well. You’ll spend less time researching and more time writing. Which opens up your time to take on more work. And that, my friends, can help you make even more money.

You can have more than one niche topic, but be careful about spreading yourself too thin. You will dilute the power of your niche and its ability to draw clients straight to your door.

So what’s your niche? This exercise can help you find out.

  • Who is your present employer? What is the industry?
  • For which industries have you worked in the past?
  • On which topics have you been published in the past?
  • Do you have an educational background or skill in something other than writing?
  • What are your hobbies? Do you have any special interests or fascinations in which you would find enjoyment as a writer?
  • Are there any topics that you know more about than the average person? Do people tend to ask for your advice in certain areas?
  • If you were to write a “How to” book, what would it be about?

Yes you CAN quit the day job to become a full time freelancer

Corporate freelancing is not only a business, it’s a career choice. You cannot “dabble” or do this as a hobby. When I hire freelancers to subcontract for me, I only work with full-timers. That’s because if I need your help, I need hours, days, weeks, even months of commitment. In other words, your day job gets in my way.

By the same token, corporate clients are not interested in working with a writer whose business is not writing. Your day job gets in their way too. The people who engage your services are not the CEOs, business owners or even executives. They are low- to mid-level managers who work nine to five like everyone else. They will want to contact you during those same work hours. They’ll email, IM and call you. They’ll expect to reach you. And they’ll expect the same professionalism they would get from any other vendor.

I can’t tell you how many times I heard freelancers admonish others not to quit their day jobs. I say you CAN quit you day job. In fact I believe you must quit your day job in order to be a corporate freelancer.

Your freelance business must become your day job.

But, before you hand over your two weeks notice, you’ll need a couple safety nets — just in case your business gets off to a slow start. This is good advice for any would-be entrepreneur. In fact, when I fist started thinking about becoming a freelancer back in 2007, I bought a book about how to quit the day job, which is where I learned how to do this. (Sorry, I have long since lent out the book and cannot remember the title or author, but I’m sure there are plenty such books available today.)

DO NOT, under any circumstances, quit your day job until all three safety nets are in place. It took me six months to prepare these safety nets. It might take you longer or shorter, depending on your present financial situation.

The safety nets are:

1. Rearrange your finances to minimize your monthly expenses

The point being that the less you need to earn, the safer you’ll be once you quit your job. Look over your bank statement to see where your money goes now. Try to account for every penny you spend. You might have to do this for several weeks or months to get a real feel for how you spend money. Most people don’t realize their own waste until they put a spotlight on it. Then see how you can save. (How low can you go?)

  • Can you consolidate or payoff any debt?
  • Ask credit card companies to lower your interest rates.
  • Are you wasting energy or water? Do you have leaky toilets or drafty walls?
  • Do you absolutely need the presidential package on your cable? Can you find a better cell phone plan?
  • What’s your car insurance deductible?
  • Other ideas?

Think also about expenses you’ll no longer have once your not working (transportation, parking, gas, lunches) AND think about new expenses you’ll have once you do quit (switch to your spouses health insurance, or buy health insurance). Do not drop your babysitter or day care. You home-based business is still a day job and you can’t have kids around needing your attention.

2. Build up a savings account with 6 to 12 months of income

As your monthly expenses go down, begin building your savings account right away. Based on your reduced monthly goal, how much will you need to earn each month? Multiply that by the number of months of income you plan to keep in savings. I recommend no less than six months. Many financial experts recommend 12 months. Make this your savings account goal. Keep track and celebrate milestones. This will encourage you to stay the course.

Find extra cash to stash

Can you speed up your savings goal with big chucks of money?

  • Cash in poor-performing investments?
  • Sell any big ticket items (Jewelry, treasures in the attic, the boat you haven’t used in three years, do you need that second car?)
  • Does anyone owe you money?
  • Can you get a part-time job to help build up your savings?

Don’t even think about touching your retirement money! That’s for your retirement.

3. Line up your first client before you quit your day job
Once you have your first and second safety nets in place, you’re almost ready to take the plunge. But, don’t do it yet! Line up your first mega corporate client AND your first major gig — not a small one-day job, but something big. That way, you can hit the ground running when you do quit your day job.

How to get mega corporate clients is a whole different blog, which I’ll get to soon. Meanwhile, you can get started on your first two safety nets.  Good luck!

SIZE MATTERS!

As a corporate freelancer, your clients are big corporations, not smaller businesses. I suppose the term “small” is relative — what’s small to some may be large to others. Let’s say, for the purpose of this discussion, that a small company has only one decision-maker when it comes to hiring a freelance writer.

Large companies have multiple cost-center owners, and multiple decision makers. Here’s why it’s important to choose large corporations as your clients:

Big corporations

Small businesses pay faster
Yes, you can ask a small business owner for payment in 30, 15 or even 7 days. Big corporations may make you wait 60 days for payment. But, would you rather have $1,500 in 15 days. Or $15,000 in 60 days?

Remember, big corporations have bigger budgets, bigger projects and multiple clients. They can bring you a constant stream of work, which translates to a constant stream of income. So what if the paycheck you receive today is from the work you did two months ago? You’ll get paid next month from the work you did last month. And you’ll get paid two months from now for the work you do today. You’re constantly in the pipeline.

The larger the company, the more clients you can get
You can get dozens of repeat clients from a single company. Each department operates its own cost center and budget independently of the others. So if one department pulls the plug on its freelance budget, the others are neither influenced, nor impacted, by that.

And there’s more good news; you’re not stuck working for one corporation exclusively. You can take on as many clients as you can handle — although one single company can easily fill up a 40-hour work week.

Give yourself a raise without raising your rates

Corporate freelance writers should charge flat rates

There are many pricing possibilities for writers. Magazines often pay by the word. Some corporate projects may also, such as SEO article writing or blogging. You can also charge an hourly rate. I prefer to charge a flat rate based on the project. Here’s why:

Keep in mind that large corporations are good for repeat business. The more you write for a particular company, and the more you get to know their products and preferences, the easier — and faster — the job becomes. With a flat rate, as the job gets easier and faster, you’re still charging the same rate as when it was difficult and slow.

For example, let’s say you charge $500 for a 4-page brochure. The first time you write one, you might put ten hours of research and hard work into the brochure. That’s $50 per hour.

After writing on the same topic over and over for the same company, you’ll soon whip out a page of copy every half hour. You may even be able to recycle content from a previously written piece to make it an assemble-and-edit job. You’re still charging the same $500 for the job, but now it only takes you two hours. That’s $250 per hour!

Let’s look at the opposite of that. You start out charging $50 per hour. So, after your first ten-hour project, you charge $500 for the brochure. Fast forward a year and now you know the products and can piece together a brochure in only two hours. With the same hourly rate, you’ll only earn $100 instead of the $500 you earned a year ago. To fix that, you’d have to inform your client that you’ve raised your rates to $250 per hour. <gasp!> Your client will drop you like a hot potato.

That’s the beauty of flat rates. You can give yourself a raise without raising your rates. Your clients may balk if you tell them your rate is $250 per hour. After all, the employee who hired you on behalf of his company probably earns about $30 per hour. But, he’ll gladly authorize $500 for a four-page brochure. He doesn’t need to know it only took you two hours to write it.