The business side of starting a freelance SEO copywriting shop

Candy coinsAh, if I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard, “So, it’s easy to be a freelance SEO copywriter, right? All I need to do is learn SEO copywriting, find clients and start writing.”

Well yes. And no. Certainly, finding clients is important. And if they’ve paid you, clients really appreciate when you actually do the work and write the copy. But being a freelance SEO copywriter is more than writing catchy taglines and doing killer keyphrase research. If you don’t have a handle on the business side of your business (you know, the un-fun stuff like legal and accounting,) you’ll be out of commission before your first year.

If you’ve decided on a SEO copywriting career, consider lining up these five things before you launch your online writing business. Your life will be easier in the long run if you do. Trust me.

  • Client contracts. Yes, I know that contracts seem so...businesslike and impersonal.  They are also incredibly important. A good client contract outlines the SEO copywriting work you’ll perform, discusses what (and when) you’ll get paid and discusses other details like how many revisions you’ll do and what happens if a change is out of scope. 

    A common newbie SEO copywriting mistake is figuring that you’ll deal with contracts when you’re making more money. Get over it. You need them now.

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  • A good bookkeeping method (or a good bookkeeper.) Creative people are really good with creative stuff. We’re not so hot when it comes to numbers and taxes and “having to get tax forms in on time.” Setting up a good bookkeeping system before you start your business (or enlisting the help of a trusted friend) can save you hours of frustration later.

    I know many writers who use QuickBooks – although everyone has their personal favorite.

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  • A solid marketing and networking plan.  Many SEO copywriters are fantastic online writers, and can skillfully craft fantastic promotional copy for any-sized client. When it comes to promoting themselves…well…not so much. It’s true that if you’re an introverted writing type, getting yourself out there (whether online or face to face) is remarkably scary. 

    One way to help make it slightly less scary is to outline a very specific marketing plan. Who is your target audience and what are their exact needs? How can you start a conversation with them? Once you start a conversation, what will you talk about? Whether online, offline (yes, people still create and use print brochures) or on Twitter, it’s crucial to have a solid start-up marketing strategy.

    The good thing is, once you’ve done the hard part (planning your strategy) and you have a focus, doing the networking stuff doesn’t seem quite as frightening. Really.

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  • Money. One of my favorite small business war stories is how I started SuccessWorks with a $1,000 gift from a friend – with no money in savings. I was also single and lived in a house with a very inexpensive mortgage, so although what I did was still incredibly risky, I had a solid handle on the situation.

    No matter how confident you are that you’ll be able to gain new clients immediately, take the time to figure out the financial side of things. How much should you have in savings “just in case?” How much money do you need to make a month to pay your expenses, pay taxes and pay yourself (knowing that you may not be able to pay yourself right away.) Many a freelance online writer’s business has failed because she didn’t make enough to live on.

    I love TaxMama for small business money and finance tips (and Eva Rosenberg, the owner, is an incredibly wonderful woman.)

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  • Make yourself a “real business.” Some new freelance SEO copywriters don’t get a separate business account and fail to file for a business license. Outside of the tax ramifications, getting a business license, filing tax forms and setting up the bank account is important for psychological reasons.

    A business license proves that you have an actual business.  You’re not just someone with a hobby. You’ve taken the plunge. You’re living the dream. You’re out there.  And that’s a very exhilarating (and incredibly addictive) feeling.

Now, what “must-do” startup steps would you add?

Daily SEO copywriting candy: DIY SEO copywriting

Candy houseDoes your company keep your SEO copywriting in-house?

For a large number of companies, DIY SEO copywriting makes perfect sense. These companies may have existing print or online copywriters on staff – so it’s easy to train them in the SEO copywriting fundamentals.  However, bringing SEO copywriting in-house is much harder for smaller businesses, Typically, small businesses “promote” someone to blog editor or SEO copywriter who may not have a lot of SEO copywriting experience. These companies may not have the time or resources to train their new writer. Whatever the copywriter learns is on her own – through forums, books and blog posts.

Which would be OK. If most of the SEO copywriting information out there was…oh, I don’t know…accurate. Case in point: If I see another “keyword density” article pop up on Twitter, I may just go ballistic.

(Side self-promotional note: We’ll be releasing a small business SEO copywriting online training program in just a couple short weeks. Stay tuned!)

So, for those folks forced into an in-house DIY SEO copywriting frenzy, here are some good back-to-basics blog posts by some must-follow experts.

  • Being a “blog editor” sounds a little sexy, doesn’t it? But is it easy?  Well, not exactly. Editing a blog takes a lot of organization, planning and good old-fashioned hard work. If you’ve been thrown into a new editorial role, learn what an executive blog editor needs to know.
  • Who says that SEO copywriting isn’t creative? Sure, if you’ve been taught that SEO copywriting is nothing but keyphrase (comma) keyphrase (comma) keyphrase (comma,) SEO copywriting would seem pretty dull. The truth is, writing for the search engines is just as inspired and fun as any other kind of writing. If you think that SEO copywriting is dullsville, learn how to take the creative approach.
  • Is your company just now jumping on the blog bandwagon (or are you tasked with working with the existing blog and have no idea what to do?). Sometimes, a back-to-basics slap is what you need. For those of you who weren’t at Search Engine Strategies, this article (another one from Online Marketing Blog) provides some great blog writing, publishing and promotion basics.

Photo credit: © Barbara Helgason | Dreamstime.com

TopRank Marketing patiently led me through the benefits. And then I got it. And then, the SEO copywriting light turned on as I realized its networking potential. And then I became a Twitvangelist. It happens to the best of us. Can Twitter be a waste of time? Hell yeah. But can it be a powerful way to make contacts and even gain business? Hell yeah. For the unconverted (and I know you're out there,) here's some Twittips to maximize your Twit-efforts (OK, I'll stop now.)'>

Daily SEO copywriting candy: Twitter your way to online writing success

birthday-cupcake1 Picture this:

It’s my 40th birthday.  I’m with my favorite search buddies and eating at one of Vegas’ hottest restaurants (and most expensive…we learned THAT after getting the bill.)  Drinks are flowing, food is flowing. It’s all good.

And we’re talking about Twitter. Really. On my 40th birthday. Sadly, I am not making this up.

As I’ve said before, I didn’t quite get this “Twitter thing” until Lee Odden from TopRank Marketing patiently led me through the benefits.  And then I got it. And then, the SEO copywriting light turned on as I realized its networking potential.

And then I became a Twitvangelist. It happens to the best of us.

Can Twitter be a waste of time? Hell yeah. But can it be a powerful way to make contacts and even gain business? Hell yeah. For the unconverted (and I know you’re out there,) here’s some Twittips to maximize your Twit-efforts (OK, I’ll stop now.)

  • I was a Tweeting fool when I first started.  That was bad.  Once I stepped down from my fledgling Twitter addiction and focused my efforts, I realized that Twitter was good for a number of things: lead generation, learning about new SEO copywriters and discovering new resources. Heck, Twitter is even good for copywriting practice (quick, say something compelling in 140 characters or less!) If you’re a freelance online writer, check out “8 Ways that Twitter Can Grow Your Freelance Business.”   After reading this article and coming up with a business-case strategy, you’ll feel less guilty about your Tweet time. Trust me.
  • Still not convinced that Twitter is good for networking? Dianna Huff sent out a random Tweet – and ended up making a valuable business contact (plus she got a cool tour of a flagship store!).  Dianna’s takeaway: “you can’t beat the connections that you make on social media “” connections you would never make with cold calls, direct mail, or even an optimized Web site.” True enough. Discover more about how to use Twitter for business.
  • Think about merging Twitter, reputation management and SEO.  It may make your brain hurt, but that time is…wait for it…now.  In a brilliant SEO move, Twitter tweaked their Title tags, meaning that your Twitter account may be ranking higher in search results for your name.  My first reaction was – cool!  Another way for people to learn more about me. But here’s the downside. Let’s say you’re at..oh, I don’t know…a Search Engine Strategies conference. And you drunkenly Tweet something random and stupid to 1,000 of your closest followers. Although it seems like a one-time stupid event, that Tweet will live on on your profile page. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Won’t you follow me on Twitter?  I promise not to drunk Tweet you. Really.

Daily SEO copywriting candy – Gee, honey, I’m SO sorry!

Sorry heartSometimes, all companies can say is….”Oops…sorry”

And then shut up, put their heads down, and start doing some major damage control.

Anyone who has ever been in a relationship can recognize “that moment.”  You say something that’s not meant to be bad. Hell, it may even be meant as a compliment. And then you see your partner’s eyes narrow, their mouth do that “I’m pissed off,” pursed thing,” and steam start flowing out of their ears.

Oops.

One of the most interesting things about SEO copywriting (and marketing in general) is you have to be very, very careful about how you say what you say. In your head, you may be thinking one thing. However, your target audience is perceiving things a completely different way.  What you think is clever and edgy can actually be…well…insulting. Here’s some examples:

  • Who hasn’t been somehow touched by the financial crisis? During a time when layoffs are incredibly common, G2’s latest ad comes across as “insensitive to the unemployed” according to AdAge. Oops.
  • Let’s face it: It’s funny to read something  that’s been translated so very badly. In the business world, however, translation and localization is a big deal.  Yes, I know that you’ve already written your copy once already (for a U.S.-based audience.) And yes, I know that it’s so much cheaper to run your copy through free Web translation sites. But really, do you want to be one of those companies that win awards for major, major gaffes?  Learn why translation and localization of your SEO copywriting  is incredibly important for international business. As the article says, “even one misunderstanding is too many.” Agreed.
  • There are many “celebrity SEO’s” who are actually more well-known than their company. Although some people argue that this is a good thing, promoting your personal over your business brand can be dicey. I’ve heard of many companies feeling mighty offended that their employees were brand-building on company time – even if that branding ultimately leads to business. As in any good relationship, a smart conversation about boundaries is helpful.  If you’re an employer, define what you need and leverage your team member’s talents – and don’t just get pissed because your employee is a better marketer than your company. And if you’re the employee, stay within those boundaries and show how you’re providing value – and not just promoting yourself. At the end of the day, it’s all about putting yourself in the other person’s shoes – and knowing that saying the wrong thing at the wrong time can cost you some pretty major conversions.

Are you feeling the need to confess your own SEO copywriting relationship sins? Zip me a Tweet on Twitter.

Daily SEO copywriting candy – Making more of that Internet money

candy-monitorI admit it. I’m a huge South Park fan. One of my favorite lines (compliments of the Canada on Strike episode) is “Give us some of that Internet money.”  Internet money! I love it! I walk around saying, “I want some of that Internet money” all the time. I’m sure it annoys people.

Isn’t that what we’re all trying to do – make ourselves more of that Internet money? After all, good direct response SEO copywriting should increase conversion rates. And there are a host of other things you can do to land the sale more often – and start snagging your share of that Internet money. Here are some tasty points to ponder:

  • Are your online campaigns flat? It’s easy to blame the economy, but sometimes – just sometimes – the problem is with your campaign (I’m just saying…) During times like these, it’s always good to revisit the conversion basics and see if you can do things a little differently. Check out Media Post’s article about increasing your online conversions for some very helpful tips.
  • “Wait Heather,” you may say, “Why the hell are you including a post titled, Why SEO is a waste of money?” Because SEO copywriting – as this guy defines it – is a waste of money. I have long railed on companies who regurgitate keyword-stuffed and poorly written content soley for the purpose of search engine rankings. Good SEO copywriting is seamless, skillful and a highly valuable conversion asset. If your copy sounds like the “Doug” example in this post, you are definitely missing the Internet money boat.
  • If your site isn’t converting and you don’t know why, maybe it’s because you need a little Fogg. No, not the weather hell that prevents my early morning flights from taking off. It’s the Fogg Behavior Model, created by Dr. R.J. Fogg, which states that three elements have to be in place before a behavior (like buying something or calling a 800#) will take place: motivation, ability and trigger. Read the original post and read the take from FutureNow.

Today’s homework: Ask yourself, “What’s one thing I could do to try to increase conversion rates.”  Now do it. Now.

See you on Twitter!

SEO copywriting daily candy: Should you write an ebook?

Candy mouseHappy Monday, all! It’s a fast-and-dirty daily candy today as I’m out the door for a Seattle-area meeting. This is me, praying that my windshield wipers are working…it’s not raining yet. But any minute…

A very common SEO content strategy question is, “What about writing an ebook?  How will an ebook help me?” Of course, there is always the obvious answer of how an ebook can help estabish your company as an expert. And, if you’re looking for an additional revenue source, ebooks can be mighty profitable.  But is an ebook really right for your company? Let’s see…

  • So, your Website content is fresh, your blog has an air-tight editorial schedule and you’re looking for new content marketing strategies.  Enter the ebook. Whether you’re looking for lead generation or simply to get the word out, ebooks can be a great way to establish your thought leadership dominance. Discover 5 reasons why writing an ebook should be a part of your marketing strategy.
  • Still not convinced about the power of ebooks? Patsi Krakoff from Writing on the Web weighs in with her 5 (more) reasons an ebook is a content marketing must.
  • Yes, free ebooks can be great for lead generation. At the same time, free ebooks are -  gasp -  free. Ebooks can turn a healthy profit, and if you charge what the information is actually worth (rather than conforming to a Kindle pricing-limit of $9.99,) you could have an incredible new revenue channel on your hands.  If you want your ebook content marketing to drive cash, read Sean D’Souza’s great article, “Why publishers are stupid.”

Hey, only two weeks left until the new and improved SEO Copywriting site – and a new online SEO copywriting training program. Want to know the latest and greatest as it happens? Follow me on Twitter today!

Daily SEO copywriting candy: More ideas for controlling the online marketing controllables

CupcakeEarlier this week, I discussed why controlling the SEO copywriting controllables was so important in any down economy. It’s too easy to take the economy personally and figure that there’s nothing you can do. Unfortunately, that’s like watching your market share drip away when a quick knob twist would halt the torture.

Remember folks – it’s not enough to just “hold on” during this economy.  Yes, it’s an accomplishment just keeping the doors open for some companies – I get that. At the same time, there are ways to position a cash and client-poor business for the future in a way that (1) doesn’t strap immediate cash flow and (2) sets the foundation for lots of business…later.  Fortunately, other bloggers are sharing ways people can make sense of this super-strange economy and streamline their online marketing.  Here are some helpful tips to get you through.

  • It’s tempting to slice expenses across the board just to save a buck…but that strategy often comes back to bite you later. Thank goodness Marketing Profs has an excellent article about what budgetary items to cut, and what to keep (important hint: don’t skimp on long-term customer retention.)
  • Is now really the time to hire key people? Yes, according to an article by Justilien Gaspard. His take: it’s OK to enter into new markets and try new things right now, as long as you’re focused on long-term results.
  • And speaking of trying new things – I know that I’ve waxed poetic about Twitter before. Although it can seem like standing around a giant water cooler with 500 of your closest friends, Twitter is actually a great way to do some one-on-one marketing and get the word out. Still not convinced? This article teaches you how to measure your Twitter engagement.  Think about it: writing Twitter posts is SEO copywriting…just with a shorter character count.

Hey, and if you aren’t following me on Twitter – what are you afraid of?  Follow me and drop me a line.

Oh, and we’re about 2 weeks (or less) away from launching the new site along with the new logo and new…well…everything. Stay tuned!

Daily SEO copywriting candy: Is A-B-C for y-o-u?

Candy bagBack in my 20’s, I was an outside sales rep for a local newspaper. Living solely on commission, I quickly learned what’s called my “ABC’s” in the sales biz (always be closing.) The more sales I closed, the more money I made, and the more efficiently I could pay my rent. It was all good.

It’s just as important to know your online ABC’s, too. The key is, “closing” can mean different things to different sites. It may be lead generation, and “closing the online deal” is obtaining an email address. Or, you may be selling a super-special widget, and moving units is where it’s at. The key is using your direct-response and SEO copywriting skills to figure out the exact right approach for a successful sale. Today’s Daily SEO copywriting candy focuses on the ABC’s – and shows how we can close our sales just a little bit better.

  • The Secret of How to Sell Everything? Wow, you have to love the headline. Although the advice seems basic, it’s amazing how many companies skip the “what do our customers really want” step altogether (and it’s the foundation of any SEO copywriting campaign.) If you’re needing a back-to-basics slap, this is the article for you.
  • OneUp Innovations of Atlanta had an interesting problem: How could they close more sales with customers who may be too shy to ask questions. Makers of the Liberator, an adult “bedroom accessory,”  the company found live chat was the perfect way to get customers talking – and buying. Makes you wonder – if you expanded the way you communicated with your customers, would you close more sales? Hmm….
  • Ever have a client say, “Well, we like the copy. We do. But we’re afraid that the close is a little too…hard?  Could you tone it down?”  It’s true that some folks are afraid that “closing” will be perceived as pushy – and no-one wants to be that guy (or that Website) with the super-smarmy hard-sell copy.  Enter Bob Bly with his question “Must you always be closing.” The answer? Perhaps.

Hey, are you following me on Twitter yet? If you just can’t wait for the latest SEO copywriting musings, follow me today!

Daily SEO copywriting candy: When weird marketing is good…and bad

Candy chickensAm I the only one who thinks that the latest Burger King ads are a little…well…disturbing? Subservient Chickens? Whopper Virgins?  At the same time, a good campaign gains sales and mindshare – and sometimes the weirdest ideas have the most legs (after all, who doesn’t remember the “Where’s the Beef” ads of the 80’s?)

It’s one thing to create a unique and edgy SEO copywriting campaign that’s ripe for viral marketing goodness. It’s another to create a campaign that backfires, leaving you with a reputation management mess (and no sales.)  Here are some top good and bad examples from today’s headlines:
 

  • Remember the Motrin Moms snafu? Motrin wasn’t the only brand to get slammed in the search engines, Twitter and blogs – there have been many other companies who crossed the line from cute into insulting. Check out iMedia Connections list of the most offensive campaigns.
  • 300,000 YouTube hits in just two weeks? Who knew that a mounted talking fish could gain such a following? Learn what made McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish advertising a (weird) viral sensation.
  • The holy grail of wacky marketing is to not only attract new customers and build brand awareness – but also create a new profit center. No-one does this better than the folks at BlendTec, who created the WillItBlend.com site. With over 100,000 YouTube subscribers, a huge increase in blender sales and a new profit center – advertising and DVD sales on the WillItBlend.com site – these guys have mastered monentizing the wacky and wonderful. Learn more from Tipping Point Labs.

Today’s SEO copywriting challenge: How can your company think out of the box and do something a little different?  Maybe a new PPC campaign?  Or you could test a Web page to see if a new tone and feel worked for you. Sometmes, going outside the norm can net some fantastic results.

Daily SEO copywriting candy: Control what you can

Candy bricksThere’s rain and grey skies – and then there’s this!  Greetings on a very dreary Monday morning here in Portland, OR.  Am I upset? Hell no!  Grey, rainy days are the best business-planning days. I enjoy reviewing goals and asking myself, “Am I on track? Is there anything else that I could be doing better?”  However, the big challenge for everyone is: How can we do better when we feel like there’s so much we can’t do a darn thing about. The economy is sluggish. Customers aren’t buying. It’s easy to get so caught up in what you can’t do that you forget what you can control – like your SEO copywriting campaign.

If you’re wondering what you can do now to gain control, right now (or at least feel a little better,) check out today’s Daily Candy posts.

  • So many small businesses believe that “everyone is in our target market.”  The problem is, that statement is definitely not true – and makes writing highly-specific copy with laser-focused benefits darn near impossible.  If you skipped the “who’s really our market” step – or if the economy has completely changed the marketing game for you, discover how understanding your buyer personas can make you more money (really!)
  • Anyone who knows me knows that I talk (a lot) about controlling the controllables. During a time that’s stressful at best – and terrifying at worst – it’s easy to think that business is in a free-fall and there’s nothing you can do. Enter this article by Sean D’Souza. Try this for one day: Instead of freaking out about your Website, why not do something about it. Write an article. Do keyword research. Plan an editorial calendar. Trust me. You’ll feel a little bit better.
  • Some small businesses suffer from size envy. Rather than embracing their smallness and rocking it out, they put on big business airs (that, trust me, don’t fool anyone.)  Mike Moran discusses how making your company look larger than it really is can be a bad thing…