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ABCs of Freelance Writing: V is for Volunteer

As a woman who pays her bills with actual money and not goodwill, I am hesitant to recommend volunteering as a way of breaking into the business as a freelance writer. But, as a woman who believes that good things happen when people stop being selfish, part of me also wants to urge you to volunteer your writing services because words have the power to make the world a better place.

I guess I’m a little conflicted.

I firmly believe that all work should be adequately compensated, and that you should never feel guilty about earning a fair wage for your labor. Yes, even if you enjoy writing.

volunteerNonetheless I understand that volunteering can help you gain the confidence of potential clients and make it possible for you to start or enhance your portfolio. I also understand that like the teenager lectured on the wonders of abstinence, many new writers will be so eager to pen anything at all they’ll volunteer anyway. So let me say this: if you’re going to be a volunteer, at the very least protect yourself.

I offer you two rules to live by.

Always Volunteer on Your Terms

Let me tell you a little story. Last September a local business owner found me on a search for Indianapolis freelance writers. He emailed me about his pet project, he left comments on my blog about it, and he left posts on my Facebook page begging me to write a story about his non-profit (which, by the way, seemed a whole lot like a for-profit to me to me). Anyway, his “non-profit” was so awesome and had such a fantastic mission that he was sure I’d want to write about it for free.

I assure you, I didn’t. So I emailed him back, saying:

Thanks for getting in touch. I’m sorry, but at this time I am unable to take on another project. As you may have seen on my website, I’m running Writers’ Week along with a writing contest and working diligently to maintain the Suess’s Pieces blog. I also work a full-time day job and freelance part-time for other clients. And at some point I just have to say no. Not because I don’t like helping out, but because there just isn’t enough time in the day.

See how I was trying to be diplomatic?

Honestly, if he’d taken two minutes to read a couple of my blog posts, he’d have probably realized that his mission and my personal convictions were a mismatch at best. But he didn’t. He just kept harassing me.

Truth be told, maybe I was overly diplomatic with my email response, because he didn’t let up. He left me another comment, and I reminded him about how I’d already said no. I ended up revoking his permissions to make posts on my Facebook page. It got that bad.

The point is, don’t ever let someone badger you into writing for free. And permanently blacklist anyone that doesn’t respect you the first time you say no. Writing on a volunteer basis requires mutual respect. That’s why I recommend you proactively volunteer for causes that interest you. If someone comes to you asking for free copy, odds are his expectations aren’t anywhere close to reasonable.

Make Sure the Project is a Good Match

You may love the organization you’ve volunteered to write for, but be wary of taking on work-for-free assignments if the assignment seems tedious to you or you’re unfamiliar and uncomfortable with the scope and responsibilities. Botch a project because you’re bored or incapable, and you might as well hand out a business card that says, “I produce mediocre work.”

When you express interest in writing for someone on a volunteer basis, use plenty of qualifiers. Be specific about how much time you can devote to the assignment and what jobs you are volunteering to help with.

ABCs of Freelance Writing: U is for Upfront Payment

I’ve written about the sticky subject of collecting money from difficult clients before. In an article I wrote for Small Business Bonfire, I shared some ideas I had for getting deadbeat clients to pay up. But today I’d like to talk about one way you, as a freelance writer, can avoid dealing with deadbeats entirely.

It’s called an upfront payment.

And it’s glorious.

Tips for Collecting Upfront Payments

Create a fee schedule for your most popular services.

Online freelance writing payment

First things first, establish freelance writing fees so you’re not wasting time debating what to charge. Most of my pre-pay clients are in a hurry to get a job done, and having a rate sheet expedites the process.

Choose between full and partial upfront payments.

When it comes down to it, you have a couple of pre-pay options: you can bill for a fraction of the invoice upfront, or you can bill for the entire cost of services. I’ve done both, but I tend not to split invoices under $200.

Explain your upfront payment policy.

New clients may need to be reassured that you’re not going to leave them high and dry after you’ve got their money. Explain your entire process in writing (preferably in a contract) before any money changes hands. Confirm your commitment to the deadline and be clear about what happens if the customer is not satisfied with the work or requests revisions.

Offer immediate Payment processing.

FreshBooksI bill with Freshbooks because it enables me to send invoices and statements immediately via email. I can collect payments through my PayPal account, making it possible for me to accept a job, bill the client, receive payment, and begin work on a project in a matter of minutes. Freshbooks even has an arrangement with PayPal where you can opt to waive the standard PayPal fees and select a flat rate fee per transaction for $.50. That’s pretty sweet, because those percentage-based PayPal fees can seriously eat into your profits if you use it a lot.

Never miss a deadline.

The thing about charging for work upfront is that you have to be able to deliver consistently. If you aren’t committed to delivering the finished product when promised, you’ll have a hard time maintaining a solid business relationship with your clients.

Deliver your best work.

Think of the upfront payment scenario like a transaction at your local electronics store. As a customer, you expect to walk away with a solid product that lives up to the claims on the packaging. Your clients feel the same way about your writing. When a client pays upfront, there’s a greater expectation for you to get the job done right the first time.


ABCs of Freelance Writing: T is for Trade

tTrading (or bartering) is a legitimate way to do business for some freelance writers. Instead of working for money, you can do work in exchange for things you need to grow your business.

For example, I once made an arrangement to write several blog posts in exchange for some behind-the-scenes work on an old blog template that was giving me fits. The miracle worker I worked with got some great content, and I got a more functional site. It was a total win-win situation.

The more veteran the freelance writer, the less likely she is to rely on trading or bartering services. However, it still works out from time to time, and it’s a great way to build relationships with other small business owners. Before you barter though, beware!

Tips for Trading or Bartering

  • Work with someone you trust. I don’t suggest finding a barter partner by posting anonymous ads or anything. Work with people who have a solid reputation in their field—whether they’ve established their reputation online or through real-life professional networks.
  • Agree to the terms before the work gets started. It can be a little tricky trying to determine what’s a fair trade. Is writing worth more per hour than logo designing? It’s not always cut and dry, particularly when you consider the differences in experience levels. Work out the details of your arrangement before anyone starts work. No one wants to feel like they’ve become an indentured servant.
  • Don’t trade for things you don’t need. Remember that your small business is supposed to make money. Politely decline an offer that doesn’t make good business sense. Trading limits you because you can’t, for example, pay the light bill with a new blog template. When money is what you need, take bartering options off the table.
  • Know your worth. The most important part of setting up a trade for services is to understand what your services are worth. Stand your ground, because trading is a lot like negotiating. There are plenty of people out there looking to get something for nothing.

 

 

[stextbox id="grey" caption="About Word Carnivals"]This post is part of the January Word Carnival — a monthly group blogging event specifically for small business owners. (It’s the most fun you’ll have all month!) Check out the rest of the fabulous carney work here. [/stextbox]


ABCs of Freelance Writing: S is for Self-Discipline

Work to do Sometimes when I tell someone I’m a freelance writer, she’ll respond, “Oh, I could never work freelance. I just don’t have the self-discipline for it. I’d want to goof off all the time.”

I usually respond by saying that she’d be surprised how much she could accomplish—if only her next meal depended on it.

It never fails to get a chuckle, but it’s true. Some of the most free-spirited, schedule-hating people I know are fantastic freelancers because they know that buckling down for a few hours every day will get the bills paid. And acting like they’re self-disciplined for a while is usually more appealing to them than bending over backwards for The Man.

How to Master the Art of Self-Discipline

(Or better yet, how to wing it and get the same results.)

  1. Know your strengths and weaknesses. When you know what you’re bad at, you can beat yourself up about it compensate for it.
  2. Understand that creative time equals work time. Don’t mistakenly think that watching a cartoon can’t qualify as work. Sometimes it’s not so much about self-discipline as it is seeking out projects you are sure to enjoy. If the next article you write requires you to know Bugs Bunny inside and out, awesome! Put “watch cartoons” on your day planner.
  3. Use lists. Know what you need to get done every day, write those things down, and then start knocking them out one by one. You don’t have to tackle the list in order. You don’t have to finish all the tasks in one  sitting. And you don’t have to tell your client that you played Skyrim for 30 minutes before you did the final edits on his web copy. You just have to get your taks done  (and done well) when it counts.
  4. Have a mantra. My personal favorite is, “If I don’t work, I can’t buy things.”
  5. Have a plan. If you do goof off every once in a while or veer off course a little, it’s nice to have a plan to reference and get you back on track. Whether it’s a business plan or a list of goals write ‘em down’, type ‘em up, or tell your digital recorder all about it.

Are you a freelancer? What tips and tricks do you use to help you stay on task?