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The Pen Thinker

Everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. ~Sylvia Plath

Freelance Writing – How I Got Myself Started (And How You Can Do It, Too)

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ds-1.jpgHow did it all start?

Freelance writing, I mean.

If I had to answer this question, I think I would say: “It began with accepting the obstacles and taking up the challenge.”

Well— a few weeks ago I received exactly that kind of question from a follower of my Facebook page.

Hi, I am a Wanna-be-writer. Could you please explain how long it took you to be what you are now and what tips would you recommend for me. I am a beginner and I don’t know where to start. Could you help?

The question awed me. How was I going to respond to give him a thorough answer without coming up with a 2,000 words personal essay? I had to think about it.

So I told this person I would better off answering his question with a blog post (which I’m doing), but I felt compelled to spend at least a few words on a short reply.

I wrote:

It takes practice, goodwill and a bit of stubbornness to enter the freelance world. You will have to experiment with various writing styles and niches until you find your match, research and keep up-to-date with writing markets, marketing your skills and products on Social Media, blog and network with fellow freelancers… and you have to keep going, keep pitching and marketing even when the waters are too calm for your taste. Never give up. :-]

That summarizes it a bit, doesn’t it? But it still didn’t answer the “how did you get started” question, so I tried to put myself in my follower”s shoes, to recall what it felt to me— that fear that left me wonder whether I’d ever make it in the freelance world.

I never gave up on my dream to write

When you write small books and essays from age 10, you know you’re never really going to give up on your passion. As I grew up, a hobby that made me happy 24/7 slowly began to shape into a future career in my mind.

Oh, there have been many along the way— “I’ll be a pediatrician!”, “I’ll be a teacher!”, “I’ll be a full time comic artist!” —but nothing ever replaced writing in my art. Perhaps its only ‘competitor’ was illustration, because I’ve always been an artist, too. Art and writing are my room-mates.

So your first asset to enter the freelance writing world should be your dreams, your passion for writing. It will get you going, even when you run into obstacles and downtimes.

I never gave up on my dream to write for money

Why just write without compensation?

To earn money doing what you love is THE job!

Even so, it took years for me to accept that I would have to charge a fee for my writing services. Back in 2007, when I started earning money for writing sponsored posts on my own blogs, I felt compelled to set my fees at the lowest possible amount ($1 to $5) and I was just happy that I could make that measly $50/month I could spend on my personal shopping without having to ask my parents.

But was it right? No way!

I recently published a free 5-page comic here on Writer’s Mind that tells the story of Margie, a newbie freelancer who puts her lifestyle at risk to write for content mills. That’s what I was going to do if I hadn’t the push from my family, my friends, kind advertisers and fellow writers who saw the potential in my writing.

Don’t do that mistake. Life is good and your job should add more good to it, not turn it into a hell.

I read blogs, books, magazines, white papers and more

Every writer starts as an avid reader.  At least, that makes sense if you think that you can’t learn how to write well if you don’t read how others write well first.

I read blogs because I’m a blogger. When you stumble upon big blogs like AllFreelanceWriting, TheRenegadeWriter, YoungPrePro, QuickSprout or MakeALivingWriting I know I’m going to learn a big deal about how to widen my blogging horizons and I regularly discover new angles and new niches.

I read magazines because I want to pitch them and because I want to stay informed. Also, magazines are a precious resource of new ideas, potential sources and prospects (because I may not be interested in pitching the magazine itself, but a company that advertises on that specific publication in a specific niche).

I read white papers and case studies because they’re great for background research, they provide useful information about a subject (yes, I have used white papers to complement my university studies, too!) and they show you how YOU can write a successful white paper or case study.

Read anything that interests you. And sometimes, even what you have no real interest in. Your mind takes in all the new angles and voices and will come up new connections.

I used fiction to experiment with different types of writing

Whether it was Character blogging, fanfiction or short stories, using fictional situations helped me explore different niches and types of writing.

If you’re a blogger interested in finance, you could create a fictional character that works in a bank and writes detailed journal entries about his experiences.

If you want to learn how to write a case study, you may invent a fictional corporation and write about how you (and that’s yourself or a fictional person you created for the exercise) helped it achieve a certain goal.

There’s no limit to imagination, is there? Then use it at your own advantage.

I explored the available markets in length and breadth

Research, research, research. It’s the only way to learn what the market expects from you.

Whether you wish to write for a magazine, a blog or a company website (copywriting), your pitches and proposals won’t get your the job unless you have done your homework. Prospects want to know that you understand their niche, that you keep up to date with the industry and that you’re flexible enough to find connections on your own.

Want to land more gigs? Give your curiosity a boost and use it to improve your research skills. :-]

When I had a hard time understanding a niche, I studied

No human being was born with an encyclopedia installed in their brain.

You have to keep learning throughout your life, keep up to date with niches that interest you, find new connections between topics and build up your vocabulary when the industry you’re interested into is filled with technical terms and foreign words.

If you didn’t enjoy studying back in school days, make an effort to start doing that now. Trust me, the confidence you will build this way will keep you going even when an assignment will look more like a nightmare than an easy gig.

When it was the English language to bug me, I made an effort to learn from my mistakes and hone my skills

I’m not a native English speaker. I started learning English in high school and I have only used the language for as little as 13 years.

What did I do to reach today’s competencies?

Simple: after high school I developed a hobby for text translation. I also began reading novels and manuals in English, which helped me improve my skills.

But online chats where the thing that really made a difference. When you chat, you only have seconds to a few minutes to IM a person without interrupting the flow of the conversation. To put it simply, chats force you to think in English rather than translating from a language to another. After only six months, my skills improved considerably.

Not a native English speaker? :-] CHAT!

How did you get started on freelance writing? Share your experience in the comments below.

Image credit: Tyron Francis

8 Questions You Should Ask Yourself Before You Accept To Write For FREE

Posted in Freelanc-ink, Marketing ToolboxComments Off on 8 Questions You Should Ask Yourself Before You Accept To Write For FREE

Free writing?Free “gigs” are easy to find.

Which prospect will say “no” to the possibility to get a writer to work for them at no cost?

But often writers won’t get any benefit from their effort. What’s in for us in a free “gig”? Experience certainly isn’t enough of a reward.

The truth is: you should only write for free when you can get something back for the effort.

I do write for free, but I won’t just write free content for every business or magazine that crosses my path.

There are 8 questions I use to guide myself to discern the real opportunities from the downright exploitation. A writer’s time is too precious to waste on work people won’t pay out of pure greed.

Keep reading to discover how you can protect yourself from the sharks!

My 8 Anti-Exploitation Questions

1. Will I get a byline with this article/blog post/sales letter/etc.? — The truth is: there is no point in writing for free if you can’t get a byline. There’s no ROI of the time you spent to research, interview, write, edit and proofread. Don’t accept to write for free if you’re not provided with a byline.

2. Can I rise my reputation level if I write this? — Reputation makes a writer into a successful writer. Even if a clip doesn’t pay you money but rewards you in reputation, it will be worth inserting into your writing portfolio.

3. Can I direct more organic traffic to my website? — Whether your website is only mentioned along with your name in the byline or linked for SEO benefits, you will get a part of your client’s traffic redirected to your website. Every time I accept to write for free, I make sure my work (be it a guest post or a cartoon) is not only bylined, but it also links back to my website so I can get targeted traffic for my niche. Nofollow links are fine as well, because even though they won’t pass search engine benefits, they are still human-clickable links readers can follow.

4. Will the clip get me in front of the right audience? — When you write for free, you want to give yourself an opportunity to reach your target audience, the only audience you can get relevant feedback from. Ask your free client questions about their readership before you accept to write for them.

5. Will the clip help me in my marketing and prospecting efforts? — Think of free, reputable opportunities as marketing tools to up your chance to find new prospects and, hopefully, land new high paying gigs.

6. Will the clip get me more contacts in my niche? — The person you choose to write for might work in an industry that’s relevant for you and may introduce you to one or more of their contacts— who knows? Make sure to learn a bit about their background, scrutiny their website and social media account. Explore your free client’s reach and reputation before you make a decision.

7. Can I learn anything new with this opportunity? — Learning is an underrated benefit. Can you expand your knowledge about a niche as you write for free for this individual, association, noprofit and whom else? If you can, don’t disdain the project (just make sure it’s small and quick enough to get done).

8. Will this free gig eat up too much of my time? — No excuses on this one. If a free project is going to take too long to get done, or will require too much effort on your side, you better pass. Your time is for earning a living.

The Exception?— Yes, There Is One. Just ONE.

Pro bono work. Small projects you want to do because you know they’re going to benefit the needy and will make you feel better about yourself, too.

But I don’t need to remind you to keep this kind of projects spare throughout the year and only in your leisure time, do I?

What do you do to protect yourself from no-payers?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Announcing Italian Writing Blog In Collaboration With Silvia Gabbiati

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Silvia GabbiatiLast December I contacted my old friend and publicist Silvia Gabbiati (here on the right) to ask if she would like to join me in a new venture: to bring wisdom and international markets to Italian writers. She accepted willingly, hopeful for a change in how our country sees the writing craft.

So we began working with on the contents of Consigli Di Scrittura (transl. Writing Advice).

It’s a joy to know Silvia and I are going to give a small, yet relevant, contribution to the business development of our country. The pay for freelance writers and journalists in Italy is closer to that of content mills than of the major trade and glossy magazines in the US and UK.

In 2010, the Italian Order of Journalists reported that Italian freelance writers only made between €1 and €200 per article, often with additional obligations (photos, more pages) when the pay was between €100 and €200. A survey conducted in 2012 shows that the 78% of Italian freelance journalists lives well below the line of financial independence, and that they only manage to contribute to their family income by the 0%-5%.

Are Italian freelance journalists really that inferior to their US and UK colleagues?

I don’t think so. Neither Silvia does.

So we join forces against this outrageous working condition. We’re launching ConsigliDiScrittura.com on May 2nd, 2013.

What Will ConsigliDiScrittura.com Cover?

Because we don’t wish to put up yet another e-course on grammar and style, but rather actionable advice we want readers to put into use, we’re going to cover:

And much more as we grow our blog and readership. Feel free to give us suggestions in the comments below.

Can you read and write in Italian? If you can and you would like to contribute to the launch with a guest post, contact us at guests@consiglidiscrittura.com

Can I Really Make Money Blogging? – Jane Sheeba Tells You HOW In 5 Ways (In Her New E-Book!)

Posted in Marketing Toolbox, The Blogger's WellComments Off on Can I Really Make Money Blogging? – Jane Sheeba Tells You HOW In 5 Ways (In Her New E-Book!)

Can I Really Make Money Blogging? - Stop Wondering! Here’s How You CanYou adore blogging. You enjoy getting your thoughts online and look at other people come and read and discuss your opinion.

Too bad making money from blogging is not as easy as keeping a personal journal. You need to develop a business mindset if you really want to earn an income from your blog:

I’ve learned these things after reading dozens of freelance writing blogs and (e-)books. I’m a still learning and still experimenting with new ways to earn more and with less stress, but that’s part of the fun of the freelancing profession, isn’t it? :)

Jane Sheeba’s new report Can I Really Make Money Blogging? Stop Wondering! Here’s How You Can definitely helped me see new horizons.

A Pro Blogger I Admire

I’ve been following Jane Sheeba‘s Pro Blogging Success for nearly eleven months before I made the decision to subscribe to her newsletter and free content writing e-course. I was never a regular blogger, as pushing myself to do something out of inspiration would only lead me to produce low quality content and get an anxiety attack— however, Jane’s advice helped me realize that I can make my own schedules without having to push myself too hard. All it really takes is a bit of time management and an effort to get most of the work done when the muse is favorable.

When Jane released Can I Really Make Money Blogging? and asked some of her subscribers for a honest review, I thought it was a chance to finally give back to a pro blogger I truly admire, as well as to learn how to write a good book review (because that’s a new ground for me to explore). Both these possibilities made me enthusiastic enough to start working early on a review of Jane’s report, by taking notes as I read the chapters and by outlining this post before I was even halfway my reading.

Yes, it was a slow labor of love, but I wrote a book review and that’s a big step forward in my career.

Jane’s Advice For Bloggers

1. Product Reviews— Jane’s report is filled with numerous, hands-on tips on how to write an honest review. This is particularly true of affiliate marketing: disappoint your readers once, disappoint them forever– they’ll fly away like birds, really, no second chances. Jane stresses the importance of staying on the realistic side and provide both the cons and the so-so aspects of the product along with the benefits. Readers appreciate that, whether they buy or not. If you write good tutorials, they will surely remember YOU.

2. Valuable Content— I agree with Jane that our content should provide value. Always. That’s the only way to fidelize your readership. And your loyal subscribers, who often convert into customers.

In fact you should save some exclusive golden nuggets just for your list subscribers. Why? Because they’re so special.”—- Jane Sheeba in Can I Really Make Money Blogging?

We all need to feel special. I’m in Jane’s mailing list because I do. :)

Also, Jane suggests you build a mailing list today, not to wait for your blog to develop– so I’m starting tonight!

3. Guest Blogging— Jane suggests to use it to increase subscriber count. She tells you how to do it with practical examples in her e-book, but I will add this:

Use guest blogging to prospect, too!

Getting yourself out there not only improves your visibility in front of potential new readers or subscribers, but also high paying clients. I got a SEO + article writing gig this way.

4. The 80/20 Rule— You have to balance your promotional content with the value you provide to your readers. An overly promotional blog can lead many to unsubscribe or to abandon your blog, causing a substantial drop in traffic and conversion. That’s why Jane suggest you use the Pareto principle for business, also known as the 80/20 rule: the amount of valuable content should always outnumber your promotional messages.

5. Income Reports— Publishing income reports along with an ‘how-to’ guide on how you earned that income will build readers’ trust. And I mean real trust. Because you could fake an income report, but not the exact steps you made to earn that money with your blog. If your readers know they can trust YOU, they won’t forget about you.

6 (Bonus!). A Blogger’s USP— Jane stresses the importance of defining your Unique Selling Proposition (USP). You’ll find more about it in her report, as she describes it thoroughly from planning stage to delivery, but I suggest you start learning about USP right now, to make the best out of Jane’s advice.

What I Don’t Agree With

The only personal ‘pet peeve’ about the e-book is Jane’s view of bloggers who ‘fake it till they make it’. While I definitely agree with her on the lack of credibility and trust such bloggers often carry to the blogosphere, I’m generally a supporter of blogging about subjects and areas we know nothing about.

First, because it’s a challenge: you can’t learn about a new topic until you actually need it.

Second, because it helps master research and interviewing skills.

I think that blogging about something we don’t know is NOT faking it when done properly: I may not know much about computer hardware and networks, but I can research documents, visit tech companies, ask the experts and then write what I learned, share expert quotes and advice.

I do that often and I come out with more knowledge than I would have ever learned on my own.

Have you read Jane Sheeba’s new e-book? What’s your take on freelance blogging?