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?
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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.

Find and replace stilted words with plain language

Plain language helps everyone understand your message, and it keeps it from sounding like 1970’s stilted business-speak, which does nothing to invite readers in. There are some quick tricks to transform your business writing into a more conversational tone.

Here are some words or phrases to look for and replace in business communications. What others can you think of?

Prior to  = before

Utilize = use

Via = through or by

In the amount of = for

In order to = to

Expedite = speed up

 

Here are more ideas: http://www.plainlanguage.gov/howto/wordsuggestions/simplewords.cfm

You can easily find and replace these words and phrases in Microsoft Word:

On the “home” tab, look above “editing”, then click on “find”:

A dialogue box will appear:

Type in the word you wish to find:

Then, click the “replace” tab within the dialogue box. Type the word you wish to replace.

You can choose to replace the found word throughout the whole document by clicking “replace all”, or specific places throughout the document by clicking “find next”. For small words, change them one at a time in case the smaller word is part of a larger word. You wouldn’t want to change Silvia to Silby.

Or, you can also add a highlight as part of your change so you can do a clean sweep, but still easily locate and check them.

Click the “More” button on the Find and Replace Window. Place your curser in the Replace box (or fill in your replacement word and make sure the curser is still in that box). Then click the Format button at the bottom of the window, and select Highlight. Your replacement word will include the highlight.

 

 

 

 

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.

Edit the fine print

Fine print is everywhere and in every form. We tend to ignore it and yet, it’s some of the most important content in the document. Unfortunately, it’s usually lawyers who write it. When a lawyer hands over the copy, most writers take it and run, believing it to be completely and totally untouchable.

I don’t think they teach readability in law school. Lawyers tend to write in passive voice. They use the company name in the third person. They add so many extra words and redundancies just to drive the point home in a court of law.

Of course, the reader then needs to hire his own lawyer to make sense of the content. How fair is that? So here’s my two cents on writing (or editing) fine print.

https://i0.wp.com/qubcomm.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/mumbo-jumbo-cartoon.jpg

There are two sources of fine print:

  • Disclosures are copy that regulators make companies include to protect the consumer.[Disclose = Reveal]
  • Disclaimers are what the company’s lawyers add to protect the company. [Disclaim = to give up claim to; deny]

Examples of disclosures:

  • The true identity of the company – We are XYZ Company (you know… the same company that was in that big class action lawsuit last year; we just renamed the company to fool you.)
  • The contents of the package – This product contains poison.
  • Information to prevent confusion – This razor sharp knife is not a toy.
  • Warnings to prevent harm – The use of this product may cause your immediate death.

Examples of disclaimers:

  • Warranties for defects – If this computer doesn’t work right during the first 30 days, we’ll take it back. After that, you’re on your own.
  • Responsibility for damage – If your kid drop kicks this computer or bounces it around the yard like a basketball, don’t come crying to us.

Okay, so I took a few liberties for impact. Of course you want to just state the warning simply and clearly.

Disclosures and disclaimers can add up. I’ve seen beautiful brochures do a fine job of selling a product. And then the reader does a complete 180 when he sees the mess of fine print on the back. It’s scary and it negates all the work done by the clever marketing writer.

But, fine print doesn’t have to be sales prevention. You can edit. Just make sure the client’s lawyer approves your changes.

Insert in body copy where appropriate
Try massaging the kernel of the disclaimer right into the body copy. It will show the reader you’re being honest right up front. For example:

Before:
Body Copy: When you enroll in [this insurance plan], you also get access to discounted rates for products from [vendor name].

Fine print added on back cover to support that copy: Discounts provide access to discounted services and are NOT part of an insurance plan or policy. Participants are responsible for the full cost of the discounted product and [company] shall in no event be liable for any payment to a provider accessed under the program.

After:
Body Copy only: As an [insurance plan] member, you can get discounted rates on certain products that the plan doesn’t cover. These discounts are not insurance. That means you won’t need to file a claim and there is nothing for us to reimburse. Just visit [vendor name] and pay the full discounted price right at the register at the time of purchase.

Make it easy to understand
If you must keep something as fine print, write it using the same voice and tone that you used to write the body copy. If the body copy is at a seventh-grade reading level, your fine print should be too. Why should one be easy to understand and the other impossible? Fine print should protect consumers, not endanger them. If the buyer can’t understand the warning, then why bother? If YOU don’t understand the message, ask a lawyer to explain it.

Push back! If it’s a disclosure, it is included because of a regulation. Compliance officers tend to hand over disclosure language exactly as it reads in a regulation. But the truth is, most regulations allow for wordsmithing as long as the meaning is “of similar import.” Challenge the lawyer or compliance specialist to show you the actual legislative text that says, “Thou shalt use these exact words.” Lawyers understand the concept of evidence, so this usually does the trick.

As for disclaimer language, they may have written the copy. But more likely, they probably copied it from another similar document. Here, you may have to convince them that it’s better for the reader if you simplify the statement. In the wake of the 2010 plain language laws, I have found lawyers to be more accepting in this regard.

Here’s my own disclaimer: I’m a corporate editor, not a lawyer. This is not legal advice. It’s my opinion. Never make changes without getting your own, or the client’s, lawyer’s approval.

An FAQ on FAQs

The evolution of FAQs

Q. What is an FAQ?
A. An FAQ is a dumping ground for random information, forced into a set of questions and answers because the writer lacked the creativity to put the content into a more useful format — like a flyer or article (or in some cases, a glossary). The result is a list of questions that have never been asked even once, let alone frequently. FAQs usually begin with the question, “What is…?” It’s a pointless question that should already be answered in the primary marketing flyer, dictionary or glossary.

3d frequently asked questions with blank books

Q. Where did FAQs come from?
A. Once upon a time, companies got smart and decided to organize incoming phone calls in a way that handled of 80% of the work with 20% of the effort. These companies developed a sorting program to handle the most frequent callers for them. Instead of callers reaching an operator, who screened the questions and connected callers to the appropriate business department, callers would instead get: Press 1 for this department, Press 2 for that department, and so on. Only “all other calls” were sent to the operator for sorting.

FAQs on websites were a similar response to such technology — handling 80% of the questions with 20% of the effort. Websites included Frequently Asked Questions to help site visitors find their answers. Then, they discovered better navigation. But, by that time, it was too late. FAQs had become a habit.

My opinion of FAQs

Q. What is your opinion of FAQs?
A. My opinion? I’m glad you asked (so frequently). I believe FAQs are a highly over-rated and sorely abused format of providing useful (and often not-so-useful) information to an assumed audience. Show me an FAQ and I’ll show you a lazy writer (except this one, which was done facetiously).

Q. Why are FAQs the sign of a lazy writer?
A. As a corporate editor, I have seen hundreds of FAQs, if not thousands. Almost every time, I am able to take the random topics and organize a more informative — and better organized —flyer out of the content. It only takes a little bit more effort to construct a flyer than an FAQ. I think anyone who deliberately writes an FAQ isn’t aiming high enough for quality or craftsmanship.

Public demand for FAQs

Q. What if my client demands an FAQ?
A. This has happened to me, too, so I do understand. As a writer, we can’t always be short-order cooks. Sometimes we need to be nutritionists. Show your client a better way. Effective organization and good use of headers and subheads in a flyer or brochure will take care of it. In many cases, the brochures and flyers are already done. Just show your client that all the same information is on the flyer so you don’t need the FAQ. If it’s not already in a flyer or brochure, then show them how it can be.

If your client still insists on an FAQ, and you really don’t want to refuse the job, then make it a useful FAQ. (See below.)

Q. Why do website templates have FAQ pages built right into them?
A. Web developers merely think FAQs are important because no one has told them otherwise. They are responding to old habits. Yes, it’s possible they are also responding to the number of hits that FAQ pages get, but hits to a page do not tell you WHY a site visitor went there. Perhaps they couldn’t find what they wanted in a more obvious place. Just because a developer built an FAQ page in a website doesn’t make it correct. Think about the all the correctly spelled words that Microsoft underlines with a red squiggle (cowriter, for one). That doesn’t mean it is spelled wrong. It just means that no one has informed the technical geeks at Microsoft that the word does not need a hyphen.

If you have a well-organized and informative website, you shouldn’t need an FAQ page. If you DO have an FAQ page, it could be a sign you need to clean up the other parts of your website.

Useful FAQs vs. Poor FAQs

Q. What is a useful FAQ?
A. (If I must…) A useful FAQ is one that contains five to eight questions. A useful FAQ groups the questions into categories and separates them with a subhead so readers can scan and more easily find the information they need. A useful FAQ limits the question to a single line and puts the keyword of the question near the beginning so the reader can decipher the topic fast.

Q. What is a poor FAQ
A poor FAQ has long-winded questions, no organization, no grouping and includes too many questions.

A poor FAQ includes questions that have actually been asked — frequently. If customers really do have so many questions about a particular topic, wouldn’t it be better to fix the problem that’s causing the questions rather than to post it as an FAQ? In this case, it might not be the writer who’s lazy. It could be the product engineer. FAQs of that type are an alert to me that the product may be troublesome or confusing since it prompts so many questions. Consider the kernel of the question and think about how to get fewer people to ask it.

 

Jeanette Juryea gives tips on corporate freelance writing.