Freelance Writers: How to Prioritize Your Own Projects

I made a comment on Twitter (@queryfreewriter) last week about blog posts. I mentioned how my titles for client blog posts tend to be much better than those for my own sites, and how maybe I should start treating my own projects as I would a client's. Others chimed in with similar sentiments and LaToya thought it would make for a good blog post idea.

Let's talk about the issue of taking our own work as seriously as we take client projects, and what we can do to make productive changes.

How Serious Are Your Own Projects?

Whether you write e-books, run a blog, manage other types of websites, are writing a book, or tackling any other work-related project of your own, do you take it as seriously as you take your client work? Sometimes I do. And sometimes I don't. For example, I take this blog fairly seriously in how I treat it as a part of my business. On the other hand, I really don't prioritize e-books, haven't spent as much time on my book as I would have liked to so far, and even when I personally write a post here I treat it very different than client blog posts.

For example with client gigs I tend to come up with a list of post ideas I would be interested in writing. The client accepts that list or narrows it down to the number in their planned order (for some I just send our weekly ideas over, and for others I send more than they want to buy so they can pick and choose). For each article I usually come up with some clever spin to the title, outline the post, write it, edit it, embellish it with images or whatever it might need, and then have it ready to be published.

For my own blogs I tend to write more on a whim because something inspired me (like this post or any of my rants) or an idea popped into my head (like our last post about e-books). I just open WordPress and start writing. I proofread it quickly and then I publish. I don't generally embellish posts here with lots of images -- did a while back and there was no difference in readership for this particular audience so I don't unless it really illustrates a point now. And when I edit I know I don't have fresh eyes, so plenty of typos get through. That doesn't really bother me. After all, I'm using an instant publishing platform for a reason -- to share my ideas in a timely fashion, and not to create amazing pieces of journalism.

The real problem for me is that this "on a whim" approach to my own blogs leads to inconsistencies. Some blogs are rarely ever updated. Others like this one are updated more often (by me personally) because I'm thinking about the niche or industry more. And ironically it's the blogs I neglect that financially support this site because I've refused to whore out to individual sponsors and don't want to overload the site with network ads. And because I don't prioritize my e-book projects I'm not selling as many of my own products here as I should. The inconsistency therefore hurts my overall earnings. I do well with my projects, but I can do quite a bit better.


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I've decided to change things a little bit when it comes to my own work projects, and I'd like to share some of those ideas and plans with you in the hopes that they'll help you prioritize some of your projects too. After all, our own projects can bring in income and attract new clients. They can be an integral part of our freelance writing businesses. And because of that they deserve much better than being put on the backburner while we throw ourselves into other things.

How to Make Your Own Projects More of a Priority

There's one basic rule I'll follow as I prioritize some of my projects more in coming weeks. I'm going to start treating myself as if I were a client. For me this involves e-books, a book, and a decent-sized network of sites to manage. All of these ideas might not apply to you, but go through the list and see if there are any you can implement to make your own projects a bigger priority during your work week.

Here's what I'll do:

  • Set aside dedicated "project time." -- For me that will likely be 2-3 hours each work day. That means no screwing around with Twitter and other sites during that time. And it means I won't overload my schedule with so much client work that I lose time for my own projects. They both bring in income, and both need to be nurtured equally. It doesn't mean I'll take on less client work overall, but rather that I'll keep it as consistent as possible so a week of overload doesn't lead to the bad habit of neglecting my own work.
  • Set self-imposed deadlines. -- "I'm going to do x, y, and z" is fine and dandy as a place to start. To-do lists have always been a big part of how I get so much done. But I can do more. I'm one of those people who works best under pressure. I have deadlines for client projects in most cases, so projects get completed by those deadlines. But my own projects are always more open-ended (like the Query-Free Freelancer e-book I wanted to release months ago). Thing is, I get so distracted with other things as they come up -- tech problems, blog post ideas that are timely and need to be covered, client work, etc. -- that I say "I can always work on that later." But later never seems to come. That needs to change. I need to assign specific deadlines to each project. I've already started that here by assigning myself to Tuesday and Friday blog posts on All Freelance Writing (although to be fair I did miss Friday's "deadline" last week because I forgot to publish before going away, so that post went up Saturday). I need to also break my book down into mini-projects with their own deadlines to keep me moving along smoothly. And the marketing boot camp e-book needs a serious deadline. But there's the problem -- how do you keep your own deadlines? You won't fire yourself, so what kind of reward or punishment would it take to make you take those deadlines as seriously as you take a client's? For e-books I think it'll be easy -- it's about the direct income. You don't get paid until you finish. With blogging it's a bit tougher, but I'll work harder to stick to those post deadlines (and let myself be a bit more free-spirited by periodically posting on a whim at other times during the week). If you have any self-imposed deadline tips, please share them in the comments. I'd love to hear your ideas.
  • Focus more on planning. -- I already do a fair amount of planning when it comes to my projects, but I could be a bit better about the details. For example, I'd like to put together a list of blog post titles I intend to tackle in coming months, so I can work on them early if I have extra time during that "project time" I'll be setting aside. I'll outline my blog posts (I already outline my own larger projects thoroughly). I'll go back to using the planner I bought specifically for this site. Yes, I have individual planners for individual projects -- I'm a paper planner kind of gal (electronic notes just become more clutter to me and I don't want to be connected to electronics day in and day out). I already schedule out each individual day. But my own projects don't get worked into those schedules as much as they should because although I know there's a lot to do, I'm often left feeling overwhelmed by it and I don't know what to tackle next. I'm hoping the planning calendars will help with that.
  • Keep the bottom line in mind. -- Money is an excellent motivator. When a client sends me $xxxx to work on a project, it's easy to jump in and get the work finished so we can move on to that next set of blog posts, the next report, or whatever it is I'm working on for them. And since we're talking about projects that are tied to our freelance writing businesses here, we need to remember that they can also impact our bottom line. For example, if you want to finish an e-book that you plan to sell think about your sales targets and how much profit you'll earn based on those projections. Let that motivate you to do more. If you blog but you don't earn much (and you want to), find ways to better monetize your blog. Try new ad models for example. As you bring in more money you might find that it justifies having you spend more time on the site on a regular basis. If you don't want to earn from them directly, look at how you can use it to attract more clients and bring in more income that way. E-books are the big one for me in this area because I know I'm hurting myself in that income stream area by not completing the two e-books I already started. But it will apply to this site too. While it makes money, it doesn't make enough to pay for all of our contributors, designers, coders, etc. who I periodically have to bring in. And because it doesn't earn enough for that, it certainly doesn't bring in enough money to justify the time I put in personally when compared to other areas of my business. And I don't want to continue using my other sites to support this one.  They should be contributing to my bottom line independently, and I certainly wouldn't keep most of them if they weren't profitable enough. So either it needs to get to the point of supporting itself income-wise, or I'll be cutting back on how much I spend here come 2011. I've always been good at monetizing sites though. I just have to rework the strategy here a bit, and we'll see what happens. I keep putting it off simply because I haven't had the time to review the kinds of offers we'll be promoting here. In the future though you'll see more affiliate promotions and more of my own products being released. I think it's a better option for this audience than partnering with less than ethical "sponsors" notorious in this niche, and affiliate products will either be personally reviewed by me or coming from colleagues I know I trust already -- no random garbage. But I often forget about the income side of things as I focus on content (I do the opposite with some other sites), and I think a better balance is necessary on all counts.
  • Increase review times. -- Look. I'll never run a typo-free site, and I'll never succumb to the grammar nazi crowd. If they can't handle occasional typos, they shouldn't be reading things on instant publishing platforms. It isn't technically possible to stay timely in that sense and still have fresh eyes when you proofread. I'm not willing to let blog posts sit for days or weeks or more just so I can be "fresh" when I edit them And I'm not willing to have an outside editor work on my posts when here they're designed to be rather personal in nature. That said, I can certainly revamp my process in a way that will hopefully catch more -- the same way I handle client blogging. For me that means I'll type most articles in a word processor (as I did with this post) rather than directly into the blogging platform. I'm not crazy about the idea, but I'm willing to try it for a while. By doing that I can proofread in a basic text mode in the word processing program first, then put it into WordPress and format it, and then do a final edit in preview mode where I can see how it displays on-site. However, very short posts and quick announcements will likely still be done on-the-fly. I'm just talking about more substantial posts here.
  • Clean up the past. -- In addition to increasing my review time on upcoming posts and projects, I plan to go back over old posts and clean them up a bit. I'll add tags if there are none. I'll add meta details where I skipped them before. I'll make sure posts are formatted fairly consistently with things like subheadings (we used different formatting with old designs, so I'm sure some old ones are screwed up on the site with the current stylesheet in place). And I'll give them all a solid read-through and fix any glaring errors I see. If links are now dead I'll remove them or redirect them. If I find typos, I'll fix them (although I'll probably still miss plenty). If something is seriously outdated, I'll add an edited note in the content. I won't change old content beyond things like typos without an editorial note being included. That's because I don't want readers to worry about posts suddenly being deleted or changed to hide things like some other bloggers have been known to do. But if an opinion changed you might find a note in the post to that effect which links to a more up-to-date article explaining the change of opinion.

Well, those are my plans for the time being. I'm sure I'll struggle with some and change will be slow at first, but it's all about taking steps in the right direction. And I really do think that treating my own projects more like client work will help me stay on task and get more done. What about you? Do you think you take your own projects as seriously as you take client work? Do you wish you could? What projects are you working on, and what things do you think you can do to take them more seriously when it comes to working them into your schedule and making sure they're of the highest quality possible? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Thanks for sharing!
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Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, and indie author. She began writing for clients in 1999 and started her first blog in 2004.

She owns 3 Beat Media - a publishing and client services company which operates All Indie Writers as well as several other websites and blogs including The Busy Author's Guide and BizAmmo. Jenn comes from a background in online PR and social media consulting, having owned a small PR firm for several years before choosing to pursue a full-time writing and publishing career.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names in the areas of children's fiction, mysteries, and horror fiction. Jenn is an active member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA) and currently serves as the organization's Assistant Coordinator of Promotions and Social Media.

15 Comments

  1. Cathy Miller September 28, 2010 Reply

    Jenn:

    I am so there with you. I finally made my blog a priority with me, but my reports and e-book keep taking a backseat.

    Let me tell you what worked for me with the blog. This may not work for seasoned vets (like yourself), but since I started my business blog only a little over a year ago, it worked for me.

    I signed up for a 30-day blog challenge. Because I am so darn competitive, I could not fail at it. And, I found 1) it was easier than I thought it would be, 2) it moved me from posting maybe 2-3 times a week to 5 (refuse to do weekends!), 3) it focused me on my readers-i.e., what I have to offer is for the “newbies”-the very basic stuff, 4) it helped me develop a theme for each day that keeps me on track.

    It also stopped writing the post on the day it was posted. It was a huge pressure taken off me by better planning. That way of something blows up, I can go to a Plan B without as much pressure.

    I tried scheduling time on my schedule for my e-book and reports. but I just keep failing at that. I know Anne Wayman often suggests getting a person to “report to” for accountability. I’m not sure I’m ready for that-it gets me twitching like Corporate days, but it is a good idea.

    Maybe what I’ll do is blog about the project and give it a deadline so I am held accountable – even if just in my own mind. I need little tricks like that.

    Sorry for the loooong response. Can you tell you hit on a nerve with me? Thanks for sharing some great ideas, Jenn.

    • Jennifer Mattern September 28, 2010 Reply

      Haha. I’m the queen of long responses, so please don’t apologize for it. I love good conversation over quick comments any day. :) — and just added you to my blogroll actually (how did I not do that before??)

      I think that’s a good idea (the blog challenge), no matter how experienced someone is. After all, if we launch new blogs we have to start all over anyway, right? (And I have a couple new ones in the works.) I could never post five times per week on all of my blogs. With one, yes. But with about a dozen now I’d have no time for anything else. lol That’s where these lovely folks writing for AFW come in — they keep me sane and keep bringing great content in for readers. And I can tell you, even if it’s not all me more posts definitely have a significant impact on readership.

      Maybe I’ll actually come up with my own 30 day challenge and turn it into a free e-book or something. (there I go again, committing to e-books I’ll never make time for lol). Or maybe just a blog post checklist / worksheet to get ‘er done — credit to you for the idea of course. In my old posts I actually found three posts that already go into some of this, so might be worth a quick mention:

      1. Blog Evaluations
      2. Blog Launch Checklist
      3. Blog Points System

      There’s still room to come up with a new blogging challenge though — maybe two actually (one for new blogs and one to give existing blogs a fresh start).

  2. Cathy Miller September 28, 2010 Reply

    P.S. Obviously, I have a problem with typos, too. :-) We’ll just consider them our little challenge to see if the grammar nazi are reading. :-D

    • Jennifer Mattern September 28, 2010 Reply

      lol You know… if my life ever becomes so dull that I obsess over such things, I’ll know it’s time to hang this work up for good. I’m anal about enough as it is. I don’t have time or energy to be that way about typos when it comes to my casual, personal projects. I’ll save that for client work, thanks.

  3. Cathy Miller September 28, 2010 Reply

    I am honored to be added to the blogroll-thank you! See, there’s another thing on my list! I am still looking to find my voice and readers and want to get a good blogroll list going that represents my Keep it simple, clear & uniquely yours theme.

    I love your AFW writers. It’s a great way to add variety and consistency for posting. The consistency has made a difference for me. However, I may be in a rocking chair before I get big enough to need the help. Ha! :-D

    I know you had the e-book writing challenge a while back. Maybe I should go back and look that up. Thanks for the other links. I’ll check them out.

    • Jennifer Mattern September 28, 2010 Reply

      Don’t think you have to have a huge site already to do something like that. If you can already post frequently on your own, you’re probably good. In my case I couldn’t do that because of having a lot of other sites and business commitments. And having to post less often has actually made me a bit more consistent because some of that pressure is off. And even if you don’t want to turn into a collaborative blog, guest posts and interviews can also help a lot. We talked about that a while back in the post where I mentioned some of the things that led to an 80% traffic increase here.

      As for the e-book challenge, I actually put that into e-book form and you can find that on the freebies page. :)

  4. Cathy Miller September 28, 2010 Reply

    Cool-didn’t know about the e-book freebies-Thanks!

    I love the idea of how you changed your categories listing. I bookmarked the instructions as I am sure it might take a bit of doing for me to make it happen.

    • Jennifer Mattern September 28, 2010 Reply

      If you follow the instructions, just be very very careful about backing up your original template files. When I was trying to help Terez with hers, she had to make some changes. It’s going to vary a bit depending on how your theme is set up and what kind of formatting is already in there from the theme designer. So there’s always a chance the code I gave won’t work and that you’ll need to quickly pop the original back in.

    • Jennifer Mattern September 28, 2010 Reply

      Actually, I just ran into a problem with this method today that you should know about. When you have too many posts to your name you can run into a php memory allocation problem. So rather than show them all in one place, you might want to limit it. I think I set mine to 500 per page now, so that other writers here still have them all on one page and only my massive list gets sliced up. On top of that, I was using a plugin called W3 Total Cache. That plugin allowed other authors’ pages and post lists to display, but not mine, even after decreasing the number of posts. So to make it display again I actually had to tell the plugin not to cache that specific page on the blog. Just some things to keep in mind in case you run into trouble. :)

      • Cathy Miller September 28, 2010 Reply

        It’s probably getting beyond my capabilities, but I was thinking of running it by the theme creators anyway, so I appreciate the heads-up.

        • Jennifer Mattern September 28, 2010 Reply

          As long as you don’t use that plugin or have thousands of posts under your name it should be fine. :)

          • Cathy Miller September 28, 2010

            But I have such big dreams. :-)

  5. Carol Tice September 28, 2010 Reply

    I need to follow this plan! It’s so hard to shoehorn the personal writing projects inbetween the more immediately paying gigs.

    Having just been on Copyblogger this week…(500+ RTs and counting!)…I know it’s important to keep working on things like that and my ebooks which may not pay immediately but are a key part of my long-term plan for my career. But it’s hell fitting them in.

    Great post…RT’d it. Keep up the good work! And I think your blog headlines are just swell. Honestly. Maybe you could show us some of your client headlines and then we’d see how they’re even more amazing?

    • Jennifer Mattern September 29, 2010 Reply

      There are a bunch of client blog post titles in this post.

      With some, I keep it right to the point. For example “how to write a white paper” is pretty self-explanatory, and we got it ranking #2 in Google for the term — more an SEO choice. Then there are some like “Gurus” and other Social Media Monsters or The Little Fish Guide to Niche Dominance that I tend to like much more. I think my issue is that I just don’t think about the titles in the same way for my own blogs. After all, the titles are a big part of selling them to the client since sometimes all I send is a list of potential titles, and at most I include a 1-2 line summary of what it would cover if the title doesn’t make that clear. So I don’t try to get creative as often on my own blogs. I just go with what pops into my head.

      Thanks for the RT! :)

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