7 Tough Love Tips to Boost Your Freelance Income

You'll want to pay attention to these tough-love freelance business building tips.

You’ll want to pay attention to these tough-love freelance copywriting  tips.

Freelance writers receive a lot of happy-crappy “how to increase your income” advice. There are thousands of  blog posts online outlining tips like:

“Charge more money.”

“Find your niche.”

“Package your services.”

It’s not that the advice is wrong (heck, I’ve discussed those tips, too.) It’s that the advice only goes so far.

“Charging more money” doesn’t mean anything if you don’t know your numbers. And there are a lot of writers out there making six figures without a niche.

So, how do freelance copywriters boost their income?

Over the past 20+ years, I’ve learned a lot of hard business lessons the hard way. Sometimes, I was warned about a course of action, and I stupidly did it anyway. Why? Because I’m stubborn. Did it work out? No.

So please consider this my tough love writing advice to you. If you want to increase your income, you have to get your business process tight and wired.

Here’s what to do.

Fire the clients who no longer serve you.

It may be the client who pays you late every single month. Or the client who sends you work Friday at 4:30 and expects it to be finished by Monday. Or the client that likes to call and “check in.” A lot.

Or, sadly, this can be your very first client. You outgrew them years ago, and they pay you far below your normal rate – but you have a hard time letting them go.

Let them go. It’s time.

Your clients may not bring you joy every single day, but you should at least enjoy working with them and feel respected. If you keep clients on who drive you nuts and suck up your available bandwidth, you won’t have time to help future clients you’ll love.

Here’s some more information on how to fire a writing client.

Ruthlessly budget the time you’ll spend on a project.

How many times have you calculated your hourly wage after completing a project and realized you could have made more working at McDonalds?

Yeah. We’ve all been there.

Yes, it’s OK to spend a little extra time polishing a project. But if you find yourself spending hours more than you originally budgeted, you have one of two problems:

– Your client is demanding additional work than what was originally contracted for (and you’re not kicking back as you should.)

– You need to stop being a perfectionist and get work out the door faster.

Remember, you cost yourself money every time you spend too much time on a project. It could be a few dollars. Or a few hundred. Either way, this is something you’re doing to yourself.

If your client wants something that’s out of scope, tell them that it’s an additional charge and ask if they still want to proceed. Easy. Here’s the difference between “out of scope” and a revision.

If you’re taking too long to write something, it’s time to tighten down your process. Remember, your copy is never going to be perfect. No matter how many times you tweak it. Really.

Know your numbers and stick to them.

Quick: How much money do you need to make to cover your monthly bills, including your insurance costs, vacation time and taxes? How many pages do you need to write every month to make that happen?

If you can’t immediately answer that question, that’s a huge red flag.

A huge mistake freelancers make is pulling pricing numbers out of the air without thinking about their hard monetary needs. Sure, you can charge $15 a blog post. But if your monthly expenses are $1,000, you’ll have to write an average of 17 articles a week just to break even.

The purpose of owning a business is to make money. If you’re constantly stressed about cash flow, your life will be a very unhappy place.

Remember, as a freelancer, you are responsible for everything – your own retirement, your own vacation, your own salary and your own health care. If you set your hourly rate at what you used to earn as a full-time employee, you’ll come up short every month. Carol Tice outlined the expenses you’ll need to cover in her pricing-savvy blog post.

Also, here’s a calculator that helps you set your hourly freelance rate.

Think out of the box

You don’t have to offer the same services as every other writer. One competitive intelligence secret top writers use is to talk to people in their target market (yes, on the phone) and ask them what their main challenges are. A quick 15-minute conversation can provide you a wealth of insider information you can use to craft future service offerings.

Need other ideas? Here are four ways you can increase your freelance income – fast.

Focus on your business first.

How many hours a week do you spend on your business? Not just administrative stuff like paying bills – but profit-driving things like setting up your marketing plan, connecting with influencers, planning new services and making your website shine.

For many writers, the answer is, “I don’t market my business.”

And that’s a huge mistake.

Your most important client is you. Period. That means you need to set aside time every week to strategize and plan (you know, just like you do for your clients.) You can set aside a half day to make it happen (Fridays tend to be good days.) Or, you can spend 30 minutes a day on business planning.

Do this. Do this now. Even if you think”you don’t have the time.” If you go out of business because you didn’t plan correctly, you’ll have plenty of time on your hands. But that’s not really what you want, is it?

Are you so overwhelmed with must-do tasks that you can’t figure out how you’d even find 30 minutes a day for marketing? The next tip is for you…

Let go of your need to control.

As freelance writers, it’s easy to believe that we have to do it all. We write the content. We research the keyphrases. We handle the back end of our businesses, like marketing, bill paying and invoice-wrangling.

Is it any wonder that balls get dropped?

Give yourself permission to think about tasks you could delegate to someone else. For instance:

  • You can bring on another writer and supervise their work. This strategy works to your advantage. You can make more money for much less work.
  • You can outsource tasks you don’t enjoy (like bookkeeping or keyphrase research) to someone else.
  • You can hire someone to post on social media for you (and yes, you can approve the posts first, you control freak you!)
  • Do you hate sales? Consider bringing on a commissioned sales person.
  • Is client communication driving you nuts and eating into your time? Bring on a part-time project manager.
  • Is your day taken up by administrative tasks? Hire a VA for a few hours a week.

The most successful freelancers I know work with a team of smart, talented people. Bringing on team members is not a sign of weakness. In fact, it’s the complete opposite – you are so laser-focused on your strengths, you recognize there are things you shouldn’t handle yourself. Yes, this is money that’s out the door. But you will make more money – and have more free time – if you bring on the right people to help. Trust me.

Think bigger

When I first started my SEO copywriting career, I’d look at the SEO cool kids like Danny Sullivan, Disa Johnson and Shari Thurow and want to be just like them. They were speaking at conferences. They were working with major clients. They had some major SEO street cred.

My goal back then was to push myself out of my comfort level and speak on the national circuit. And yes, I made it happen!

Am I happy where I am today? Yes. Do I think I can do even more? You bet. I just set a big business goal for myself today – one that, yet again, pushes me squarely out of my comfort zone. I’m not sure how I’ll make it happen yet. And I have a feeling I’ll need to find help. But hey, that’s part of the fun!

Consider how you can take your business one step beyond. Maybe you want to make 50% more this year. Maybe you want to double your newsletter subscribers. Or maybe, you want to work your tail off ten months out of the year so you can vacation for the other two. Don’t let yourself think, “This sounds fun…but…” No excuses. Your mind (and your intentions) are much more powerful than you think.

Now get out there and start making some of that Internet money (thank you, South Park!).

Photo thanks to © Astrid228 | Dreamstime.com – Big Cats Eyes Photo

4 Ways SEO Copywriters Can Increase Their Income – Fast!

Do you want to build additional profit centers for your SEO writing business?

Why not up your game and help companies with the strategic side of SEO copywriting?

You’ve probably found that many clients are looking for more than “just a writer.” Maybe that’s because they’re not sure what content they should produce. Or perhaps the internal writing team is new to SEO and they don’t have a content plan.

That’s where you’d come in.

Companies like these need an SEO content strategist. Strategists comb through the client’s site to pinpoint new opportunities and set the strategy. You may work in tandem with an internal or external SEO team. Or, you may set the complete strategy. You’re at the center of everything SEO content-related, directing other team members what to do and when.

Yes, you may still be doing some writing. But at least half of your time would be spent planning, evaluating and watching the work flow.

Intrigued? Here are some additional strategic services that clients really need.

Content audit

Do you look at some of your old blog posts and cringe? You’re not the only one. There are thousands of sites with old (and bad) content, missed SEO opportunities and minor boo-boos that need fixing. Instead of sweeping those old blog posts under the rug, content audits help you pinpoint what needs to be done page-by-page.

Things you would evaluate during a content audit are:

– Are the pages optimized (especially the blog posts.)

– How are the Titles? Are they keyphrase-rich and compelling?

– Should some posts be updated?

– How is the writing? Does it resonate with the reader, or fall flat?

– Are the sales pages written to convert? Or is there room for improvement?

– Are the keyphrases appropriate for the page? For the site?

Be warned – content audits are time intensive, so you won’t be able to knock them out in a couple hours. Your deliverable would be a report outlining what needs to be done Although your client could conceivably take your content audit and run with it themselves, they’ll often need some implementation help. And yes, you can certainly help with the implementation, too.

Content strategy

Sure, companies know that they “need content.” But they often don’t know what that means. Should they publish five times a week? What should they write about? And how can they make sure that their content is hitting their audiences’ pain points?

Companies that need a content strategy may already have in-house writers on staff. What they don’t have is an SEO content expert that can tell them what to do and when to do it. Or, a company may be looking for someone to handle the strategy and the implementation (bonus!).

As a content strategist, you’d be developing a sustainable publication schedule for your clients. You’d dive deep into their target audience, match keyphrases to the buyers’ intent and suggest content that answers reader questions. This would mean developing blog post ideas (BuzzSumo is a great tool), setting up the workflow and checking the metrics. If you also created the content audit, you’d prioritize what needs to be fixed and set up a plan to make it happen.

Content recycling

Have you ever run across an old blog post you wrote and thought, “I forgot about this one. This is still a really great post.” Guess what? Your clients have that problem all the time. Content recycling helps clients leverage the power of the content they’ve already produced.

Instead of writing brand-new content all the time, you can dust off your old content, recycle it and make it shiny and new again. Some writing is often involved, especially if you’re creating a roundup post or blog post.

Some things you’d evaluate include:

– Can you combine blog posts into an ebook?

– Can you highlight a few related blog posts and create a “roundup” post?

– Can you pull tweets/LinkedIn updates from an old post and link back to the original post?

A content recycling plan often goes hand-in-hand with an overarching content strategy.

Content editor/project manager

Some marketing departments don’t want to learn how to research keyphrases and write optimized content. Instead, they want an experienced strategist to make the SEO tweaks for them.

This can be a cool ongoing gig, especially if a company is producing a lot of content. Typical content editorial tasks include:

– Conducting keyphrase research

– Optimizing posts after they’re written by the in-house staff.

– Creating compelling Titles and descriptions.

– Checking for typos and other mistakes.

– Ensuring the content workflow is followed and posts are being uploaded on time.

– Developing a best practices content creation document.

In short, all the content runs through you. You may not be doing the writing, but you’re the content gatekeeper who makes sure everything is perfect.

Can you see how all of these roles work together? The right company will need help with everything:

The content audit showcases the site’s opportunities and the challenges.

The content strategy sets the stage for what needs to be done when.

Content recycling helps companies use old content in new, exciting and traffic-driving ways.

– The content editor makes sure that all the content is being produced on time.

The good news is, many clients need all four of these services. Suddenly, you’re transformed from being “just the writer,” to being an indispensable part of their marketing team.

That’s a pretty nice place to be.

What SEO content strategy services are you offering your clients? Talk about it in the comments.

Photo thanks to: © Aluha | Dreamstime.com – Small Circle Of Diverse Photo

10 Must-Read Posts for Freelance SEO Copywriters

Want to improve (or start) your SEO writing business? Grab some coffee. There's a lot to read here...

Want to improve (or start) your SEO writing business? Grab some coffee. There’s a lot to read here…

Running a freelance SEO copywriting business means wearing many different hats. You’re in charge of business development, marketing, client relations…and oh yeah, you’re also the one writing the content.

It can be a little…overwhelming…at times.

These 10 posts will help you write better copy and navigate the business-building waters with style.  Enjoy!

9 Questions Writers Ask About SEO Copywriting

Wondering if SEO copywriting is right for you? Here are nine of the most common questions I’m asked (including how much people will pay for content.)

9 (More) Questions Writers Ask About SEO Copywriting

Want to freelance? Or is working in-house more your style? Here’s how to launch your SEO writing career.

How to Land More Clients with a Killer Freelance Copywriting Proposal

Proposal writing can be crazy-making. It’s hard to know how much detail to include, what to say and how to write it. This guest post by Derek Cromwell outlines some time-tested tips.

Freelance Copywriting Proposals: 10 Questions to Ask First and 4 Types to Write

Need more proposal-writing help? Check out this great post by Ilise Benun, owner of Marketing Mentor.

How to Charge for Freelance Copywriting Services

Confused about how much you should charge? You’re not alone. If you need some general pricing guidelines, this post is for you!

Promises, Promises. The Copywriting Client Carrot and Stick(y) Situation

Ever heard, “If you could discount your rates this one time, there’s more work for you down the road.” Yeah. We all have. It may be tempting, but beware! This post outlines things to think about–and what you should say.

Smart Freelance Writing Tips – in Haiku

Tired of boring freelance writing tips? This post delivers some time–tested wisdom, Haiku style.

Quit Getting Paid Peanuts: 10 Tips for Freelance Writers

Does it feel like you’re working 12 hours a day, yet you’re barely keeping your financial head above water? It doesn’t have to be that way. These tips will help you make more money (and find clients you’ll love!).

Freelance writers: How to Tame the Client from Hell

Is a client driving you insane? You can tame your client from hell–and even turn her into your favorite client! This post will tell you how to make it happen.

Do You Suck at Marketing Your Own Site?

When clients need you RIGHT NOW, it’s easy to ignore your website (and your marketing.) But this can be a very, very bad idea. Here’s what to do and how to fix it.

 Photo thanks to: © Studiobarcelona | Dreamstime.com – Coffee Cup Photo

Do you suck at marketing your own site?

Does your marketing make you think "yuck?" You're not alone...

Does your marketing make you think “yuck?” You’re not alone…

During client meetings, your smart marketing ideas fly around like popping popcorn. ::POP::  There’s another brilliant idea!

Your clients’ files, marketing calendars and upcoming posts are organized, color-coded and scheduled.

You are a marketing ninja when it comes to your clients.

Your own site…not so much.

It’s funny how we neglect our own sites. We know how to help our clients. We can instantly see new opportunities and break down exactly how to make the necessary changes.

Yet, our own marketing goes untouched. There’s nothing in the sales pipeline. Our marketing collateral is outdated. And bigger projects – like performing a content audit on our own site – seem insurmountable.

If you’ve been beating yourself up about not marketing your business properly, know that you’re not alone.

And also know that it’s time to snap out of it and get to work.

Here are some common challenges freelance copywriters face – and how to fix them.

If your problem is…

You’re trying to be Superman (Or Superwoman.)

You’re handling all your bookkeeping, administrative and web duties yourself. Installing a WordPress plug-in can suck up half a day. Invoices aren’t getting sent because you don’t have time. You keep meaning to blog, but there are templates to update, client work to complete and emails to answer.

Your solution…

Hire a virtual assistant, fast. No, it’s not a luxury. It’s a business necessity. Hiring a VA can take the busywork off your plate and let you focus on more important things. You know, like completing client work and making money.

You’re stuck.

You know your marketing isn’t “right,” but you’re not sure how or why. What you do know is you don’t like your site, you’re not thrilled with your web copy and your messaging is across the board. You don’t have a niche. You don’t have an unified message. You’re in your own head all the time and you can’t figure out next steps.

Your solution…

If you’re in this space (and yes, I’ve been there,) It’s time to shake up your thinking and do something different.

Here’s a reality check: If you are this stuck, you won’t be able to figure out a solution by yourself. Your brain is officially tapped out.  Instead, you’re going to need some outside intervention. Talk to another freelance writer and see how she can help. Work with a marketing consultant or take a training that offers group coaching.

It’s amazing how another person can instantly pinpoint what’s wrong with your marketing and come up with fast solutions. You know, just like how you help your clients. :)

You don’t have a plan.

You’re kicking out your marketing in spurts, but nothing about it feels cohesive. You haven’t researched your keyphrases in ages, you’re never sure what to blog about and you have no guest blogging ideas. You have fantastic marketing brainstorms, but they never get past the idea stage.

Your solution…

It’s time to get anal about your time management techniques. It’s important to get those ideas out of your head and on paper. Try setting aside non-negotiable planning time. My favorite technique is to hang out at a favorite cafe one day a month and map out my marketing. Plus, it almost feels like a “day off” – which is a huge bonus.

Resist the temptation to reschedule your marketing appointment because “something came up.” Something is always going to come up. Take the time anyway. Besides, the break will do you good.

You don’t set aside implementation time.

You’ve got a marketing plan – great! But the implementation is what’s difficult. Client work sucks up your available time. And, wow, the email – it’s like you can spend the entire day just responding to messages.

Your solution…

You know how you schedule client work in your calendar? Good. Do the same thing with your projects. You may dedicate one hour every day to your marketing. Or, one day a week (and no, don’t work on client work that day.) Remember that you are your most valuable client. If you get in the habit of handling your marketing from 12-1 every day, you’ll always get something done and will see some fun financial rewards.

You need accountability.

You’ve tried scheduling. It hasn’t worked. Now, you’re behind, you feel guilty and you think you’re worst freelance copywriter in the world. You have no problems hitting deadlines for your clients. Why can’t you hit them for yourself?

Your solution…

Find an accountabilibuddy. It could be a coach, a friend, your partner or another writer. Write down all of your marketing tasks (including the deadlines) and send them an email outlining your progress. If you don’t hit your deadlines, give them permission to call you on it.

Studies have shown that accountability, commitment and writing down goals will make you more successful, more often. And besides, it’s nice to have someone in your corner who cheers on your success.

What about you? What techniques to do you use to keep yourself on track?

Authorship: Google giveth and Google taketh away

Looks like Google’s taking away something else…

Bottom line: Should you continue producing content now that Google Authorship markup is dead? Is blogging and guest posting still worth it, even if you won’t see your shining face next to the search results page?

The answer: Yes.

Many writers freaked out when they heard the Google Authorship news. These folks wrote great content, went through Google’s somewhat confusing Authorship instructions and built a nice author platform on Google+. Heck, some writers wouldn’t have even joined Google+ if it wasn’t for the Authorship benefits.

Now these folks feel scammed – especially writers who were riding the Authorship wave. One person said the announcement was “devastating” to web writers.

To that I say “Hogwash” (and how often does one get to say “hogwash?”)

If you’re freaking out about Authorship, relax. I know it’s frustrating that it’s suddenly gone (although we did have some warning.) But that doesn’t mean that you stop creating commanding content. Besides, although Google may not support Authorship anymore, Author Rank is not dead (as Danny Sullivan explains in this post.)

To those new to the web writing world, know that Google (and content marketing) existed long before Authorship. People have always written articles to establish themselves as subject matter experts. In the old days before Google, we wrote for print trade publications to establish expertise. Before Authorship, we still blogged, created ebooks and wrote white papers. The byline is still alive and well.

To paraphrase the Talking Heads, today’s content marketing world is the “same as it ever was.”

The reality is, Google giveth and Google taketh away. We used to have keyword search data and now we don’t. Authorship markup was in our lives for a short time – and then it disappeared. The only constant in SEO is that the field (and the rules) are constantly changing.

Despite what Google is doing this month, the important thing is to keep writing. Build your author platform. Get your name out there. Build your brand.

Because although Authorship may have gone away, good content never goes out of style.

Get out of your own head and work with a freelance writing coach instead! Pay by the month or by the minute. Learn more!)

9 (more) questions writers ask about SEO copywriting

Would being an SEO copywriter make you smile?

Wondering if you’d be happy as an SEO copywriter?

In a previous blog post, I discussed 9 common questions writers ask about SEO copywriting. But what about SEO copywriting as a career choice? If you’ve wondered how you could find a job as an SEO copywriter – or how you can start a freelance shop – this post is for you.

I originally wrote this post in 2012 and I’ve updated it to reflect other questions I answer every day. Enjoy!

I’m a print copywriter.  Are you sure that I can learn this? Or can an old dog really learn new tricks?

Yes, this is a skill that you can learn and master (check out Lynda Goldman’s interview for a real-life success story.)  Online writing is much different than print copywriting – so there will be a learning curve. At the same time, if you know how to write and connect with your audience, that’s half the battle. The main challenge I see with print copywriters is that they think that SEO copywriting is too “technical” to learn. Here’s how I answer that question …

I’m not a really technical person. Can I still do this?

Yes, you can. It’s true that the more you know about the “techie” side of SEO (and SEO copywriting,) the more opportunities that you’ll have. I highly recommend reading everything you can about SEO (including how to code) and upgrading your skills. Having said that, there are many SEO copywriters who partner with SEO firms. The copywriter writes the copy – and the SEO firm takes care of the “techie stuff.”

There seems to be a lot of SEO copywriters online. Is the market too saturated?

Nope. Granted, if you want business, you’ll have to learn how to market yourself – and ideally, you’ll choose a niche. But there are still many opportunities to make money.

But I’ve heard that SEO copywriting is dead. Is that true?

Nope. Certainly, the SEO writing “rules” have changed. And it’s more important than ever to keep up. But companies (and clients) are still begging for smart SEO writers who can help make them money.

What kind of companies hire in-house SEO copywriters?

All types of companies, including B2B, B2C and publishing companies. If you’re looking to work in-house, think about sites that produce a large amount of content every month – and consider those companies possible employment targets. For instance, ecommerce sites are constantly updating their product pages and blogs. A publishing company may require you to write SEO-optimized articles. Some in-house writers may also create newsletters, emails and white papers. Others focus just on SEO copy. It depends on the employer.

I’ve seen job titles like “Web content writer,” or “SEO content writer.” Is that the same thing?

Yup. There are quite a few different job titles for SEO copywriters. The main thing is choosing a job that fits your skill set. For instance, if you love blogging – but sales pages aren’t fun for you – you’ll want to choose a job that’s more social media related. If you can write high-converting sales pages, you may want to look at jobs that allow you to write landing pages, product pages and service pages.

Can I find a job that can teach me this stuff?

Yes, but don’t expect to get paid a lot. Many companies are looking to turn this over to an “internal expert” – so you’ll make more money if you have training, experience and fantastic clips. Having said that, starting out as a “copywriting assistant,” can fast-track your knowledge. Some of the best copywriters I know had someone helping them expand their skills. The pay may be lower, but the experience will be fantastic!

How can I find clients (or someone who would hire me full time?)

If you’re looking for an in-house job, you can certainly check out online job boards and see what’s out there. However, I recommend getting out there and actively networking – especially within your local community. Many writing jobs are “insider hires” that aren’t posted. The more you can connect with people, the more you’ll learn about secret opportunities and can position yourself as the perfect candidate!

Networking (whether it’s local or on social media) is also important if you want to freelance. In a perfect world, most of your clients come from referrals and you have a steady stream of business. Many freelancers love LinkedIn for copywriting leads. Pam Foster has said that LinkedIn “has been more fruitful … by far, than any other marketing method.” Why not give it a shot?

I want to be my own boss and work as a freelance SEO copywriter instead. How do I do that?

Read my “Ultimate Guide for Beginners.” it will tell you everything that you want to know.

I’ve heard that SEO writing is a low-paying gig. Tell me why I’d want to do this.

It’s true that some companies pay a paltry $5 per blog post. Having said that, some companies pay $250 or more per post – especially if the writer is truly top notch. I know many SEO writers who are happily writing content and making a fantastic living. You won’t make 100K starting out (whether you freelance or work full time.) But you can find clients (and employers) who value great writing. As your skills improve and you can demonstrate results, you can make more money over time. That’s pretty cool.

Wow, I’m sold! I want to quit my job tomorrow and freelance full time. What do you think?

Um, don’t do this. Not unless you have a pretty flush savings account, have clients already lined up, or have other income coming in. No matter how “hot” SEO copywriting is as an opportunity, it takes time to get your business off the ground. Having said that, learning everything you can about running a successful copywriting business will help you make more money, faster. For instance, check out my Copywriting Business Bootcamp classes for all of the topics that you’ll need to master.

Are there other ways I can use my SEO writing skills?

Heck yes. If you ever want to launch a side business, your SEO skills give you a competitive advantage. You’ll know how to drive more traffic and convert it into paying customers. Want to help out a friend who owns a business? Yes, you can do that, too. I’ve even heard of SEO writers bartering their skills for Pilates lessons, haircuts, landscaping … you name it. Plus, if you ever write a book, you can easily build an author platform with your SEO know-how.

Are you sure this is fun?

Oh yeah. It’s really fun. If you enjoy a fast-paced career – and you love working in an ever-changing industry – you’ll love SEO copywriting. If it wasn’t fun, I wouldn’t have been doing this for the last 16 years. :)

Want step-by-step SEO-writing training and personalized help? Check out the SEO Copywriting Certification training!

FREE is powerful, but dangerous

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photo-free-message-image22936345“Free” is a very effective power word. It grabs your reader’s attention and may even convince him to take that next conversion step.

However, if you use “free” incorrectly, it could cost you.

Does “free” remove value?

I recently witnessed the following scene.

A 15-year-old boy uses color ink to print the informational page for a PC that he wants to buy (Let’s not kid ourselves – that he wants his mother to buy). The printed description has a picture of the computer, so the printer definitely uses some color ink.

His mom sees the printout and says, “Next time, could you print something like that in grayscale so we can save the color ink?”

The son replies, “But it’s the free ink that came with the printer. It didn’t cost us anything.”

The discussion continued and it consisted mostly of his mom asking him to conserve ink and he kept stating that it was free. (It was quite fun to watch as a third party, but I digress.)

Although most of us are probably not trying to reach a 15-year-old demographic, the point is that he saw the ink as something that had no value because it was free.

Put a price tag on “free” products and services

It’s great to offer a free content marketing evaluation or to entice website visitors with a free product sample. However, be sure to include the value of the free product or service.

If you don’t include something as simple as “$200 value” or whatever the true cost of the product or service would be, why would your clients think it is valuable?

Including a waived price/value to the free item or service can:

  • Increase conversions because potential clients understand the deal they are getting
  • Keep clients from insisting you give them similar products or services for free
  • Give a glimpse into your prices and (hopefully) minimize the number of inquiries you receive from people who cannot afford your services or products – saving your time to focus on those who can.

Make sure it’s not always free

In addition to giving your service or product a value, be sure to limit your offer. If something is always free, it loses whatever value you assign to it.

Utilize the principle of scarcity to further entice your audience. By telling your website visitors that your free offer is only for a limited time, you are adding additional value to it – and encouraging an action sooner rather than later.

Keep “free” in your arsenal

Don’t remove “free” from your list of power words. By taking a few precautions and using it correctly, you can increase your conversions.

Speaking of deals, save nearly $200 on the SEO Copywriting Certification training if you sign up before April 30! Use coupon code UPDATE.

Photo credit: ID 22936345 ©  | Dreamstime.com

Land the Gig with These 7 Freelance Copywriting Proposal Tweaks

proposalTired of spending hours writing proposals that never result in a sale?

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about how to get clients to say “yes” faster. Since writing the post, a number of people have said, “Heather, where I’m really stuck is how to write proposals. What do prospects expect? I feel like I’m doing it all wrong.”

You’re probably not doing it all wrong. But there probably are some things you can do to increase your odds of success. Here are some things to think about:

– Are your proposals detailed enough to be a DIY guide?

You’ve included a keyphrase list, a competitive analysis and a detailed explanation of the pages you’d rewrite and why. This process took you hours. You spent the time because you want to land the sale. After all, everything you wrote showcased your expertise. Right?

Wrong. Instead, your prospect could read your free proposal and easily do the work themselves.  Or hire a less expensive vendor. And yes. This happens.

Remember, the proposal’s purpose is to get the gig. Not give away your secrets. You may need to do some discovery to accurately bid on the gig. That’s cool.. Just save the meaty information for after you’ve cashed their check.

–  Do you include too many options?

Too. Much. Information.

Too. Much. Information.

Ever talk to a prospect and think, “Wow, there are so many ways I can help her.” That’s great. Just don’t put all 10 ideas in one overwhelming proposal. Why? Your prospect won’t know what to choose, what to do – heck, they may not even read all of it. After all, who wants to read a 20-page document when all they want to know is what you’ll do and how much it will cost.

The key is narrowing your options list way down. Remember, YOU are the expert – so choose what you think the prospect should do and focus on that. If your prospect needs options, limit them to three. You can focus on your other ideas after you’ve landed the gig and proven yourself.

– Should you have written a proposal in the first place?

Did you propose a $5,000/month agreement when the prospect has $500/month to spend? That’s a bad mistake. It’s crucial to prequalify the prospect and ask about budget before you get to the proposal stage. If the client can’t pay for your expertise, you can refer them to someone else before spending loads of time.

It’s true that many prospects don’t know their budget or don’t want to answer the question. One way to deal with this is by telling the client, “Most projects like this cost anywhere from $5,000-$8,500. Is that within your budget? If the prospect says, “yes,” you’ll know you can move forward.

– Did you include any testimonials or bio information?

It’s important to remember that the person gathering proposals may not be the decision-maker. In fact, your proposal may be emailed to multiple team members, all with their own ideas and agendas. You may not ever have a chance to talk to these team members or “sell” your services – so your proposal has to do it for you.

To put your best foot forward, create a “bio page” and include it in your proposal. I include mine as the last page. That way, if someone is wondering about my qualifications, they can turn to the last page and read them. They don’t have to visit my site or surf around (although I figure they do this anyway.) It’s a great way to sell yourself in an understated way. I’ll talk more about a proposal bio page in a future blog post.

– Have you explained your terms?

Um, what are you trying to say?

Um, what are you trying to say?

It’s easy to propose something like, “Instead of rewriting these pages, we can edit them for keyphrases.” Although that’s super-clear to you, it won’t be clear to anyone not living and breathing the SEO/online writing world.  The more questions that pop up during the proposal process, the easier it is to say no and work with the vendor who clearly spelled everything out.

Remember, even if your contact is SEO-smart, you shouldn’t assume everyone in the company (especially the decision-maker) has the same level of knowledge. If your proposal is passed around to multiple people, you want to focus the discussion on how you can help – not cause a huge email thread asking you to define your terms. It’s important to speak your customers’ language and use terms they can easily understand. One easy way to do this is …

– Have you templatized your proposals?

Why, oh why, are you creating every proposal by hand every single time? Especially when most of your clients request the same services? An easy way to save time is to create template copy discussing your service offerings, deliverables (yes, define your terms) and general timelines. That way, creating a new proposal is as simple as adding the relevant information, proofing it and clicking send. Which reminds me…

– Does your propozal have some funky typos?

Typos happen, especially when you’re kicking out a bunch of proposals at once. Prospects don’t dig typos, though – especially during the proposal process. And if you are using a template proposal, you better make darn sure that you erase the previous prospect’s name EVERYWHERE and replace it with the new client’s name. I’m paranoid enough that I don’t rely on Word’s find and replace function. I hand-check that stuff.

Spending time to freshen up your proposal is one of the smartest things you can do. If you’re stuck on what to change, it couldn’t hurt to hire a consultant to help. That way, an outsider can provide suggestions on how to take your proposal from so-so to spectacular – and you can land the gig every time.

Photo thanks to Doug Wertman (Proposal at the PBR)

Want to know how to get writing gigs without needing a proposal? Ivana Taylor spills her secrets in the Copywriting Business Bootcamp training. Now, you can save almost $100 if you use coupon code BOOTCAMP (though April 14th.) Sign up today!

 

 

 

 

10+ ways your freelance writing site sucks (and what you can do about it.)

Sad dog

Does your site copy make you sad?

Does your freelance writing site have some…sucky… elements?

If you’re a freelance writer, there’s a good chance your answer is “yes.” You may be able to transform your clients’ content into marketing gold. But your own site…not so much.

Writing copy for your own site is hard (really!). I’ve seen super-talented writers make major blunders on their site – mistakes they’d never make with a client.  Unfortunately, those blunders are probably costing them money.

Wondering if your site suffers from the same problem? Here are some ways your freelance writing site may suck:

– You don’t have a site.

So what are you waiting for? If you want to write for online clients, having your own site is a must. It helps with lead generation; it’s a place to showcase your clips and testimonials – plus, clients simply expect it. If you don’t have a site, you need to make it happen. Right now. Otherwise, people will not take you seriously as an “experienced web writer.”

sad t-rex

Nooooo! Not “welcome to my site!”

– Your headline reads, “Welcome to my site.”

This is wrong for so many reasons. From a copywriting perspective, your headline is valuable real estate. Instead of wasting it on a “welcome” statement, you’re better served with a hard-hitting benefit statement. From a prospect’s perspective, saying “welcome” won’t make you stand out from the crowd. I will hit the back button on any site where I see “welcome” as the headline.

– Your home page preaches to the choir.

Your home page is not the place to explain why your prospect needs an experienced copywriter. They know this already. That’s why they’re on your site. Instead, you want to grab your prospects’ attention and compel them to click deeper into your site. That’s where they’ll find the information they need.

– You designed your site yourself. And it shows.

There’s nothing that screams “amateur” like broken links, an ancient design and bad stock photos. I know site design can be pricey. I get it. But this is one place where spending a little extra will go a long way. A professionally designed site will show your prospects you’re a serious business person. Besides, who has time to design their own site? You should be hustling for business instead.

– You talk about yourself way too much.

Words

Quit. Talking. About. Yourself.

Many freelance writers go on about the classes they’ve taken, the seminars they’ve attended and the newsletters they subscribe to.  Unfortunately, your prospects don’t care. What they do care about is what’s in it for them. Sure, you can address some of this stuff on your “about” page. Just focus your services pages around how your can help your prospects overcome a problem and make more money.

– Your blog hasn’t been updated in a long, long time.

You don’t have to publish a new blog post five times a week. What you do need to do is stick to a blog publication schedule. Maybe that’s once a week. Maybe that’s once a month. The key is consistency and writing the best possible post you can. If you prospect notices a neglected blog, she may wonder if you’ll neglect her copy the same way.

– Your copy doesn’t connect with your target audience.

To paraphrase an old Diana Ross song, “Do you know who you’re writing for?” You want your target reader to know that you “get” her, you understand her pain points and you want to help. That means the tone and feel, what you write – even the information you put on the page – is laser-focused on your reader. If you’re writing general copy, you’re going to get general (read: so-so) results.

– You don’t practice what you preach.

If you are an SEO writer, you better make darn sure that your site is optimized. That means a clickable Title, fantastic content and well-researched keyphrases. Prospects will judge you if your site isn’t up to SEO-snuff.

– All your text is below the fold.

Where's the content?

Where’s the content?

You may have fallen in love with the WordPress template with the fancy sliders and big images. But if your text is all the way below the fold, your prospects may not scroll down to see it. They may get hit with your slider and immediately surf away. Remember, you’re a writer. Text sells. Not fancy sliders. (Thank you +Chris Simmance!)

– Making your copy all about Google – not your reader.

Concerned about your rankings? You may think that writing content “for Google” (read: stuffing it full of keyphrases) is a smart move. But it’s not. Not by a long shot. Not only is this considered spam, but it’s really bad for your readers. Don’t do it.

Want more tips? You can follow along with the Google+ discussion.

If you’ve put off working on your site because you’re “too busy” or it’s “not important right now” – it’s time to get to it. Fixing these extremely common issues will help you land more clients, command more money and generate leads more easily.

In short, it’s worth the time.  Now, don’t you have some site tweaks to make? 😉

Need a second opinion on your writing. The SEO Copywriting Certification training now offers content reviews and feedback. Learn more about the training.

Image credit:

©  | Dreamstime.com

Diversify or die

DiversifyImagine what would happen if your biggest client left you for another vendor.

Would you be OK and simply move on to another client?

Or would you be out of business in less than two months?

You may think, “Hey, my clients are awesome. This will never happen to me.”

Yeah, I used to think that, too.

But here’s the scary thing…

Companies go out of business.

Companies have cash flow problems and slow-pay their vendors.

Your contact could quit or get fired – and your new contact may want to work with someone else.

Companies can (and will) break their retainer agreements with you.

If you don’t have other clients to take up the slack, you will be up a very stinky creek without a paddle.

I’ve seen this happen many times.

One woman worked with a client for over five years. When a new marketing manager came on board and wanted to “change directions,” her firm was fired – and the owner was suddenly scrambling for a full-time job.

Another person had to shut down his business and get a “real job” until he could build things back up again. It took him five years.

This can happen to you too. If you let it.

Here’s how to prevent an irritating situation from turning into one that crashes your business.

– Diversify your client base (or die.) Ever hear that you’re supposed to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables for maximum health? It’s the same with your client base. Rather than relying on just one (or two) main clients, have a number of client gigs going at once – plus, more prospects in the pipeline. That way, it won’t hurt if a client (even a big client) goes away. You can even build out a product or write a book. Those “extras” can mean some stable money.

– Build an emergency account. Freelance writers (and business owners in general) don’t often think about a business emergency account – but it is VERY important. Try to have at least three months’ expenses socked away. If a client flakes out, you’ll know you can still pay your bills. One way you can do this is to transfer a percentage of every sale to a savings account. That way, you’re always feeding your savings account in a low-stress, easy way.

– Always keep selling. Always. Don’t figure that you can sit back and rest on your laurels, because you can’t. I’ve made this mistake before. Take sales calls even if you’re busy. Send out proposals during your “I’m so swamped I can barely move” times. Otherwise, you may wake up one day and realize you have no work to do – and no income coming in.

– Consider any “big money” client extra cash. Don’t rely on it, don’t get used to it and for heaven’s sake – don’t spend all of it. In a perfect world, you bank a considerable part of that cash in your retirement or “just in case” fund.

The more you learn how to protect your business, the more you’ll be ready for those inevitable “lean times” that come your way. Then, you can find the perfect client to replace one that has left – rather than scrambling for whoever you can get.

And that’s a wonderful thing.

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Photo credit: Lola1960