March 4, 2014 at 12:12 am #24759
Recently on the blog (in two separate posts), I answered several reader questions about getting started as a freelance writer. But now I want to ask you:
What were your biggest questions about starting your writing business — no matter what kind of writing business you’re in?
- Were you concerned about business structures?
- Business finances and taxes?
- Legal issues?
Or, if you’re just getting started, what are your big questions now?
I came into running a business after having studied it formally, so I didn’t have a lot of the questions that new writers I meet have. But the business structure one had to be my biggest. When I first launched (as a PR firm then), I really struggled with the decision of whether or not to incorporate. I chose not to. I don’t regret that decision. And this is something I’m still learning new things about today (like when I recently dived into the topic of LLCs and asset protection; I didn’t cover it just because other freelancers had common misconceptions about the structure, but because so did I before doing more extensive research on the topic).
So have at it. Share some of your questions — either ones you still have or ones that plagued you as a new writer. Maybe together we can find some answers. 🙂March 5, 2014 at 9:16 am #24778
My biggest concern (and I’m still somewhat confused about it) is how to find clients. I have enough clients to maintain a steady stream of work, but I’ve been fighting for several months to get higher paying clients, and I’m not having much luck. I’ve read up on it and I’m taking a class on hunting down good clients, but it’s all still confusing to me about how people actually succeed with these techniques. Most of my clients have come through applying for job ads and I have one client who I know through a company we both worked with at one point. But I still don’t quite understand the idea of getting clients through LinkedIn or hunting them down on my own and sending a LOI to get an unlisted gig. I’m still working on my SEO for my website, so I haven’t got any referrals through that. I think my biggest problem is that I’m not very good at marketing.March 5, 2014 at 5:37 pm #24783
I think LinkedIn can vary a lot depending on your specialty. I know writers who regularly make new connections there that lead to gigs, and I know others who haven’t had much luck.
I don’t use LinkedIn to actively recruit clients, but I did use it to help my husband kick off his social media efforts (he’s a developer). It worked out very well for him, with clients contacting him through the site within hours. From what I’ve seen it seems to be a better tool for people specializing in technical and high-level business areas (like internal corporate communications more than writing for publications). I’m sure there are exceptions though. How are you using it so far?
Lori Widmer is a great person to talk to about LOIs. I rarely take the direct marketing approach, so I won’t speak to that. But if you can give me an idea of the kind of clients you would like to work for (in an ideal situation), I can try to help you figure out where to find prospects to pitch or give you options for narrowing specialty areas down to specific client types.
I wouldn’t worry too much about SEO beyond the absolute basics to start. Your site is run on WordPress, right? If so, let me know and I’ll give you a few suggestions for improving things with an SEO plugin. Don’t get caught up with any excessive link-building or anything like that. It can work for a while, but it’s ultimately how people get in trouble. If it looks like you’re doing something to manipulate rankings, you risk being penalized in Google. They seem to consider almost everything link spam these days.
Your best bet is to keep focusing on high quality content on your site, being active on social networks to attract new readers and diversify traffic sources, and give people a reason to link to you and keep coming back. The search rankings that stick come from a solid history of those things. Anything else can disappear overnight with an algorithm change — not worth it.
And believe me. I know how frustrating it can be. This site, under its old name, ranked extremely well in search engines for pretty much every keyword phrase wanted it to rank for. Changing domains and some of the copy to reach the new, broader audience was big risk. I knew a hit in rankings was likely. It happened. And it can take months to even begin to recover. Once it happens, it’ll be great. But in the meantime, I’m back to treating it like a new site, building visibility the old fashioned way and waiting on Google to catch up.
If I weren’t confident in the “quality content = the best SEO” philosophy I’ve been talking about for the better part of a decade, I wouldn’t be putting my time and money where my mouth is, yet again. It’s never failed me. 🙂
I’m sure you’re fine at marketing. You’re a communicator by profession. And really, that’s what marketing boils down to — targeting the right market, communicating a message, and making connections. 🙂 You just need to figure out the right strategy and tactics to reach your ideal clients. You’ll get there. Just let me know if there’s any way I can help. 🙂March 6, 2014 at 4:18 pm #24799
I honestly haven’t done much with LinkedIn just because I don’t really understand the atmosphere. I’ve added a lot of good info to my profile, I connect with people when I can, and I share content. I’ve also contacted people who have viewed my profile just to let them know I’m looking for new clients.
Honestly my ideal client is a small business owner looking to improve their blog content or to create/improve their content marketing strategy. I know a lot of people say targeting small business owners is a bad idea because they don’t have a huge budget, but I feel small business owners are more friendly and easy to work with. Perhaps that’s because I grew up in a really small town and that’s really all I know. (I only graduated with 39 other people!)
I’m not necessarily trying to target a specific niche because I can easily write about a ton of topics. Instead, I’m trying to market myself as a freelance blogger, so I feel that narrows the field a little so I’m only ending up with people interested in blog content. Is that a bad idea?
I’m starting to rank on the radar for the keyword “blogger for hire,” so I think if I give it some time and I’m patient with it I’ll start to see more people come to me through search engines and my website.
And yes, my website is on WordPress.
And did you know your forum puts in weird words into the “tags” section automatically? My tag section just said “bleeding after sex” and I CERTAINLY didn’t put that in there myself!March 6, 2014 at 5:56 pm #24802
Yeah. I’m getting pretty fed up with this forum platform. I have to go in and delete tag spam every day. If I don’t find that they’ve come up with a solution (these are the same folks who develop WordPress, so I can’t believe how bad it is), I might have to start looking at other forum solutions and do yet another move.
Unfortunately this was one of only two options that seems to integrate well with WP logins, which is a requirement given that we have other needs on the member side of things. The other is called Simple:Press. I used it for years, and it comes with its own serious set of headaches. Worst case, I’ll see about removing tags entirely from the forum tonight. I’ll look into that option as soon as I finish this post.
I don’t think your targeting sounds bad at all. Specializing doesn’t have to mean settling on one or two niches. You can also specialize on the type of writing you do. You’ve done that, and you’ve narrowed down your client scope a bit by choosing small businesses. I think that’s a great start.
And you’re exactly right about there being plenty of budget to go around. Small businesses and independent professionals have been my primary targets for most of my career. And if anything, I’ve found they tend to be more willing to spend serious money on important projects than some of the larger clients I’ve worked with. They have smaller budgets overall, but that means they understand how important it is to get it right the first time by hiring a pro. They don’t piss away money hiring people at content mill rates quite as often.
Those who are still reluctant to pay for a pro tend to be quite open to an education. Keep your business blogging focused on them and give them other educational resources, and you’ll go a long with with that market. 🙂
If you’re not on them already, I’d suggest joining webmaster forums. DigitalPoint was where I started out (I was a moderator there for years). Forget about advertising outright until you’ve established yourself there. Post useful content to educate your target clients (the site owners and small business owners who hang out there), include a link to your business site in your signature, and they’ll find you. Internet marketing forums would work too. Others to look at are SitePoint, V7N, and WarriorForum.
In addition to your blogging for clients, I would consider adding a free report or two — think along the lines of short white papers. They should be informational, not promotional. Then, at the very end, you include a page about your services along with a call to action. It should stand alone well without that. Prospects appreciate your willingness to give them something for (seemingly) nothing, but what you really get is their respect and a place in their memory if or when a project that’s a good fit comes up.
Hang in there with the rankings. Diversify the keywords you target. Don’t be afraid to target informational keywords and not just service-oriented ones. For example, you might set up a static page on your site on the benefits of hiring a freelance blogger. It’s the soft sell part of getting clients — explaining why they need someone like you before you hit them with the sales pitch of why they specifically need you. It takes time, but it’s well worth it to go about it in the right way rather than spamming the Web to rise in the rankings quickly. That’s never worth the inevitable fall.
You might want to look into services that can track your rankings for you. SEOProfiler.com is one example. MajesticSEO.com is another. There are several sites like these, so consider trying a few. They can get pricey, but most have trials available, and they could give you some initial data to help you grow your business site and blog. 🙂
As for WordPress, the big plugin I’d suggest is WordPress SEO by Yoast. I’m actually putting up a post tonight on some of my must-do tasks and must-install plugins the moment I install WordPress (coming from someone who has run at least a hundred WP sites throughout the last 8 years or so). I’ll go into some of the specific things you can use WordPress SEO for, including my bare minimum recommendations and how to use it on an ongoing basis. So keep a look out for that. I don’t want to post something too similar here in the forum which could border on duplicate content.
If you have any specific questions and you think I might be able to help, just let me know. 🙂March 6, 2014 at 6:01 pm #24803
Tags should be turned off forum-wide now, so that should nip the spam problem. Unfortunately BBPress hasn’t seemed to figure out a way to prevent all logged in users from editing topic tags (why you were seeing them in an edit field). It would be much better if only the topic creator had that option. But in the meantime, we’ll just do without. Thanks for reminding me about it. 🙂March 6, 2014 at 6:09 pm #24804
Hi Alicia. You are absolutely right that LinkedIn is a different animal. Although it has significantly changed as it’s grown, there is still a very large base of traditional marketing folks. And by that I mean, they do not view the platform as social – the LI purists HATE Facebook and anything that smacks of what they view as spammy marketing. They also hate their 1st contact with you to be some sort of self-promotion.
This is just my suggestion, but I would not contact people you don’t know who viewed your profile. It would appear to many purists as stalking. That being said, I have contacted posters of jobs that are in my niche and suggested I may be able to help support their business writing needs while they continue their search for their full-time candidate. But those offers have been few and far between and only if their need is a good match to my experience. And it’s a publicly posted job that is out there for anyone to see.
I love LI and at one time figured 60% of my work was connected to LI in one form or another. I come from a 30+ year corporate life, which is probably why I was drawn to LI. It’s old school networking (just online instead of face-to-face). It takes a while to build relationships. I joined Groups in my niche and participate without self-promotion. I simply share my knowledge. Once I have a relationship established, I may do the occasional request for “if you know anyone who would benefit from my services” referral.
A strong part of LI is companies using it for networking and recruiting. So, you are wise to work on your profile as if it was a resume. They do use keyword search to find candidates. Also, sharing free tips/documents directed to the small business owner helps get to your targeted market without the appearance of aggressive marketing. It showcases your talent so they can find you. SlideShare was bought by LinkedIn and is another great vehicle for sharing. And I am sure there are Groups targeted to small business owners or your local business owners.
Sorry this is so long-winded, but I thought I would share my experience. LI isn’t for everyone, just as FB, Twitter or Google+ isn’t either. Bottom line, it’s all about the networking and that takes time. You are very gifted and your patience will pay off. Jenn will get tired of hearing me say this ;-), but if you want a bit of structure to marketing, I like C.J. Hayden’s book, Get Clients Now! that offers a 28-day plan that you can customize to your need. It is full of great ideas for building those relationships.
Best of luck, Alicia, and keep us posted how it’s going.
Cathy Miller, Business Writer/ConsultantMarch 6, 2014 at 6:30 pm #24805
Wow! Thank you both for taking the time to help me out. Jenn, I’ll make sure to check out the forums you mentioned. Also, I’m not very knowledgeable about whitepapers. I have the whole blogging thing down, but I’ve never written a whitepaper before. If I wrote a whitepaper, what would it be about? The benefits of hiring a freelance blogger? If so, is it fair to grab stats from various studies and put them in my whitepaper the same way I would do so in a regular blog post?
I have an SEO plugin on my website already. I’m not sure if it’s the one you mentioned, but I’ll certainly be watching out for your upcoming post on how to effectively use the plugin. Thanks so much for all your advice!March 6, 2014 at 6:59 pm #24806
Here’s an article I wrote an an intro to writing white papers. It should give you the bare bones basics on how to format one.
And while I don’t usually recommend much of his stuff anymore, I do recommend Stelzner’s book on the topic if you’re looking for something more comprehensive.
I think your general topic is fine. I’m actually planning one for my own business site soon on working with freelance bloggers. 🙂 The trick is narrowing it down to a specific problem-solution scenario. What problem do you want your blog posts to help small business owners solve?
For example, are you offering blogging services as a way to build traffic, build industry authority through ghostblogging, as a lead-in to newsletter or some other kind of sign-ups, etc.? If you go too general, it won’t work as well as a selling tool. Leave more general topics for blog posts. Use white papers and reports to cover highly specific topics more in-depth than you might cover them on the blog. And make sure they teach the reader something.
Yes, you can use statistics. Actually I should say you should use them. Have an entire section devoted to them. That’s where you go over the proof that your proposed problem not only exists but it potentially hurting that owner’s small business. Numbers help to put issues in perspective for the reader. Just cite them like you would in a blog post, although perhaps more formally. I often use footnotes for that so the citations don’t interrupt the flow of the content.March 6, 2014 at 11:57 pm #24820
Okay. So I suck, and that post covering WordPress SEO will be a bit late — tomorrow in the late afternoon or evening (still testing the late-in-the-day posting schedule). The post ended up being much more than I expected, so I’m breaking it into a three-part series. Tonight I covered the basics to take care of in the WP platform itself as soon as you install it. Tomorrow will cover plugins. And the third will cover any additional tips, tricks, or hacks. Sorry about that. I go through a WordPress setup install so fast now (after doing well over 100 of them) that I didn’t realize how much there was to it when you actually write it down. 🙂
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