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How to Survive the Business Dark Times

Sometimes, I receive an email that’s so compelling that I need to respond right away. This is one of those times.

The note said:

“I’m a freelance online copywriter. I’m busting my butt to get clients and doing all the necessary marketing (email, networking, social media, article marketing, etc.). However, I’m still not getting the results I desire, but I see my colleagues who do the same exact thing that I do, and they are making a killing.

I don’t want to sound like, ‘Woe is me,’ because that’s not me. I’m dedicated, passionate, and a fast-learner. I guess the question is, have you experienced this kind of ‘stuckness’ when you were just starting out? If so, what did you do to get past this phase? Please note, that I’m managing social media for two clients a month as well.”

Ah, I call this phase “surviving the dark times.” And yeah, it’s tough. I distinctly remember going through this about 14 years ago and feeling so frustrated that I threw a wicker chair against a wall. I knew what I wanted. I could SEE it. I just couldn’t figure out how to make the money flow.

Obviously, I pulled out of it. That doesn’t make me smarter or better. I just had a vision, and I stubbornly held on to it – and eventually, everything worked out.

You may have seen this in your own business – whether you’re a freelance writer, a small business owner, or even a partner in a corporation. You’re working mondo hours and not seeing the money you want. You’re waking up at 3 a.m. thinking about money.

And there’s a little voice inside of you whispering, “Give it up. You can’t do this. Close down and start over.”

Are you tired of hearing the “helpful” whispers?

 

Maybe you subscribe to a few newsletters in the hopes that they get you back “on track.” But the newsletters almost make it worse. Every headline talks about how much money everyone else (except you, of course) is making. You read inspirational stories about people who make it big within six months of opening shop.

And that little voice inside of you whispers even louder, “Forget it. You’re wrong. Other people know the secret, and you’ll never succeed.”

Then you try talking to friends or to your spouse. They try to be supportive. They really do. But when they say, “Maybe this isn’t the right time…maybe you should get a real job,” it tears you up inside. You don’t want to talk to them anymore. So you close down and give up.

And that inner voice that used to be a whisper is now a full-force 3 a.m. taunt. You’re so burned out and demotivated that it’s hard to get up in the morning, much less work.

Here’s your compassionate reality check: This process is normal. It sucks, but it’s normal. And you will go through this many, many times throughout your career.

There are some great books on this topic (The Energy of Money is a great one) but here’s my take:

Running a business – like everything else – is cyclical. Some days (or months) you’re super-creative, motivated and in the flow. Other days, you wonder why the heck you decided to go into business for yourself. Some months (or years) you can’t keep up with requests for business. Sometimes, you happily talk to phone solicitors because – darn it – it was the first call you’ve received in weeks.

There is dark, and there is light. There is super-busy, and there is super-quiet. It’s all part of the process.

Your freelance writing business will ebb and flow like the ocean. You may as well relax and enjoy it!

Plus – and this is just my opinion – most folks quit too early. They hit the dark times, and they freak out. The fear is too much. They lose too much sleep. Instead of following their passion, they do what’s “safe.”

Granted, there are times you do what you have to do to live – and there is no shame or judgment in doing that. Just know that it’s one thing to let your dream die and give up. It’s completely another to do everything you can (even if that means taking a part-time job) to keep that dream alive.

I strongly believe that we are rewarded for being passionate. When we’ve done the planning and we can see the goal on the “other side” – we will eventually get there. The trick is – and I know that this is easier said than done – stay calm, manage by facts, and take care of you.

Some positive steps that you can take right now are:

  • Take time away from your business. Seriously! It may feel like the “worst time ever” to do it, but you need the perspective. You need to be able to look at your business with fresh eyes (and a calm brain) if you want to move forward. Otherwise, you’re going to burn yourself out and involve yourself in “busywork” that doesn’t move your business forward.
  • Take a hard, hard look at your business focus. Hindsight is always 20/20 – and for me, I know that a lack of focus can decimate my business opportunities. You may be an “online writer” – but who is your target audience? Can you picture what she/he would look like? What her hopes would be? Her fears? It’s so easy to do “anything” to get money in the door that we stray away from what we really want to do (and who we really want to work with.)
  • Spend time every day with “the end in mind.” Allow yourself to feel what it would be like to work with that company you really want to work with. Or imagine writing the check that pays off that last credit card. Or finally having enough money to take a “real” vacation. Keeping that excitement and vision alive is paramount.
  • Celebrate your successes. It’s so easy to say, “Well, yeah, I’m making money – but it’s not the money I want to make.” So what? You’re making money! Congratulate yourself and pat yourself on the back. You’ll never be able to break out of your funk if you never feel “good enough” to celebrate your successes.
  • Don’t believe everything you read and hear. Although your colleagues may say that they’re “raking in the bucks,” know that it may not be true. After all, it’s very, very hard for entrepreneurs to admit that they’re losing money (in our minds, we call it “failing” – even if that’s not the case.) It’s a whole lot easier to say that things are “great” rather than admitting “Yeah, I’m feeling pretty scared.”
  • Take care of you. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, you’re all you’ve got. If you get sick from the stress, you’re going to put yourself in a worse situation. If you ignore exercise because you “don’t have time,” you’re going to feel worse and be less productive. I would watch every piece of food you put into your body and focus on high-quality meals. The better you feel physically, the better you’ll be able to handle any situation. (After typing that, I’m feeling a little guilty that I just munched the complimentary chocolate they gave me on the plane!).
  • Recognize the voices in your head. The voices telling you that you’re a failure at 3 a.m. aren’t real. It’s your fear coming back to bite you. Notice the voices. Laugh at them. Learn from them. But do not let them get to you. They are not real.
  • Know that your hard work is not in vain. At this very moment, someone may be discussing hiring you – you just don’t know it yet. Your life and financial situation can change with one phone call.
  • Get support from other entrepreneurs. My support network is comprised of search folks and local Portland business owners. I love them. I can go to them hurting and scared and frustrated and come away feeling fantastic. It helps to know that you’re not alone (and you know that you’re never alone, right?) Other people have gone through this multiple times. They survived. You will too.
  • Ignore the naysayers. They do nothing but sap your energy and make you feel bad about yourself.  If you walk away from a friend feeling drained and tired, you may want to keep that friendship “on hold” until you’re in a better spot.  You don’t have time for folks like that.
  • Finally, recognize that this is, in fact, a phase. It’s the darkness before the dawn. It’s miserable and scary and…a little bit exciting too. Once you’ve gone through this a few more times, the process does get easier. You start to recognize what’s happening and move through it a little bit faster. It doesn’t make it “fun.” Heck, I go through this phase kicking and screaming (sometimes literally!) But at least you may not take it quite so personally next time.

If you’re going through this – hang in there. Know that things will – eventually – be OK. And let me know how it’s going. We’re all in this together.

SEO Editing vs. Copywriting for SEO

Should you create original SEO content? Or, should you optimize an existing page (in other words, add keyphrases without rewriting the copy?).

Freelance and in-house writers ask this question all the time. I receive emails saying, “My boss (or client) wants me to add keyphrases to this existing page. The problem is, the page isn’t very good. Will the keyphrases help? Or is better to rewrite it?”

That’s an excellent question that I address in the video  — or, you can read the modified transcript, below.

SEO copywriting and SEO editing — what’s the difference?

First, let’s go over the differences between SEO copywriting and keyphrase editing.

Keyphrase editing is also known as “on-page optimization,” “optimizing the text,” or “SEO copyediting.” The technique is to add keywords — either derived from the writer’s keyphrase research or received from an SEO — to existing text.

When a page is optimized (or edited,) the content is not rewritten. The writer may edit the page Title and meta description, but for the most part, she’s working with the existing content.

SEO copywriting usually refers to creating original content. The writer still conducts keyphrase research (or receives the keyphrases from an SEO.) However, rather than editing the existing content, she would write brand-new content and include the keyphrases (along with synonyms and related words.)

So you see, SEO copywriting and keyphrase editing are very different: one is working with existing text, and the other is throwing away the existing text and starting fresh.

Should you optimize your site? Or rewrite your pages?

So, when is a better strategy to edit existing pages rather than rewrite them?

It’s best to optimize a page (keyphase editing) when:

  • You (and your readers) already love the content
  • The page isn’t crucial to the sales process
  • The bounce rate isn’t too high

If you have content on your site you (and your readers) already love and it’s performing well, but it wasn’t written with keyphrases the first time around, the page may be a good candidate for keyphrase editing.

It’s also OK to edit the page when it isn’t crucial to the sales process. For example, I’ve worked with companies that have edited old blog posts and saw a great bump in search positions as a result. Editing FAQ pages and articles can offer the same benefit.

Finally, optimizing the page is OK when the time on page (or bounce rate) isn’t too high. You know that people are sticking around and reading the page once they’ve landed on it, so adding in some strategic keyphrases here and there is typically fine for that page.

An SEO content editor or an SEO copywriter usually handles the keyphrase editing. He may be someone you employ in-house, or a freelancer.

There are also certain times when it’s better to write original content, such as:

  • When the page is crucial to the sales process
  • When the page is a duplicate
  • When page conversions or time on page is low

If a page is crucial to the sales process, or is somehow intended to make money — like the home page, and subcategory pages such as products and services — it’s better to rewrite it.

You also want to rewrite the page if it’s a duplicate. This is common with  local landing pages, where two (or more) pages may be basically the same (outside of the city name.)

Also, when you know that the page isn’t working — you’re not getting conversions, the time on page is low, and people are bouncing out quickly —  rewrite it. Readers are telling you they don’t like the page by leaving as soon as they can.

Sure, you can edit the keyphrases into a poorly performing page and sure, hypothetically that page might position a little better, but it won’t help boost conversions.

Either a freelancer or an experienced in-house SEO copywriter can rewrite your pages. Also, an SEO content strategist could do the keyphrase research for you, as well as dovetail her research with the rest of your SEO plan.

Make sense? There’s clearly a difference between when you would write original content and when you can work with the existing content — and it’s smart to know those differences before you proceed.

(Editors note: I originally wrote this post in 2011. A lot has changed since then, so I updated the video and the transcript. I hope you enjoyed the post!)

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Does Your SEO Client Suffer from UGE?

I receive such a positive response every time I write a rant-filled post —  so I thought I’d do it again!

What am I ranting about now?

Clients who insist that a page “deserves” a top ten position — even if the keyword intent is all wrong.

I call this UGE — Unrealistic Google Expectations.

Chances are, you’ve worked with a client who suffers from this affliction.

No matter what, they insist they can achieve a Google position — despite the search intent or what their consultants say. They have UGE goals and UGE strategies. They spend oodles of cash and time pushing for a result that’s not going to happen.

Grr. Here’s what I mean.

Recently, I’ve stumbled upon a bunch of folks who tell me a similar story. It goes like this…

“I sell accounting software that gets great reviews. We spent a lot of time creating and optimizing our product page, but I can’t get it to position top ten for [best accounting software].”

I do a quick search for [best accounting software] and what do I see? Third-party review sites, Hubspot, and technology publications.

No product pages. The only sales-oriented listings were ads.

What does this mean?

It means that Google has “decided” the search intent for the keyphrase [best accounting software] is informational — not transactional.

More specifically, this means that the client is never going to position their product page for [best accounting software]. Ever.

Spending additional time and money on trying would be foolish.

It’s as simple as that.

The reality is, Google is “the decider” when it comes to search intent. You may think that Google should position your sales-focused page for [best accounting software] — but what you think doesn’t matter.

It’s up to Google.

Adam Heitzman talked about this in his article, “What to Do When Google Is Ranking the Wrong Pages for Your Keywords.” I recommend you read this article and save it for later. It will be an excellent reference for when your client or boss says, “Are you sure we can’t position for that keyphrase?”

This will happen to you someday. Trust me.

But really, Heather, are you sure there’s nothing you can do?

Yup. I’d drop it like a hot potato and switch my strategy.

That means pivoting away from that particular keyterm goal and looking at other terms that would drive better ROI.

It’s not just me saying this. As Adam says in his article, “…you need to shift focus away from this keyword altogether or understand what you are dealing with to better align.”

Alignment is crucial.

Sometimes, it takes a while before companies “get” this concept. You can say, “But, check out the Google search results,” until you’re blue in the face, yet the client (or boss) will still insist positioning is possible. You’ll hear things like, “Maybe if you just added a few more keywords in there.”

No.

There’s no reason to beat your head against a Google wall when there are scads of other topics (and keyphrases) waiting for you.

Why not go after those?

What do you think?

Does your client (or boss) suffer from UGE (Unrealistic Google Expectations)? Share your pain and leave a comment below!

How Freelance Writers Can Survive the Upcoming Recession

Right now, a lot of people are afraid.

Maybe even you.

They look at the news and at past economic cycles and say, “See, a recession will happen any day now. What will happen to my job/business/livelihood when it does?”

Scary stuff.

I get it. I do. For many people (including me,) the last recession was devastating. Sure, many folks are doing 1,000 times better now than they were before 2007, but that fear, uncertainty and doubt remain.

It’s like we’re suffering from an economic-based PTSD. Sure, the worst probably won’t happen. But that doesn’t help us when we wake up at 3 a.m. worrying about stuff.

I learned a lot from the last recession and from talking to other business owners who survived (and yes — even thrived.)

Here are some things to think about:

– A recession does NOT mean you’ll automatically go out of business. 

It’s easy to think that a recession = we all lose money. In fact, many businesses did well during those dark recession years. And yes, even freelance writers. 

It’s important to get your mindset straight NOW, before the other financial shoe drops. If you go into a downtime thinking you’re going to flounder — guess what’s going to happen?

There is always opportunity. You just may need to think outside of the box to find it.

I know business owners who made a bunch of money during the recession and weren’t worried about cash flow at all. (Shocker, I know!) Just because the news is telling you, “Everything is horrible everywhere,” it doesn’t mean it has to be true for you.

– Working in-house won’t necessarily protect you.

Sad, but true. There was a time in 2008 when every. single. one. of my client contacts was fired in the same week. None of them saw it coming. This doesn’t mean your employment is hanging by a thread, but it does mean you’ll want to come up with a plan B — just in case.

Heck, according to this salary survey by Carol Tice, part-time freelancing is the norm. Maybe now is the time to test the waters and to build your writing business.

 – Being “too busy to market yourself” will bite you in the butt.

I hear you. You’re already working long days, and you’re constantly busy. Sure, you mean to update your LinkedIn profile and to contact possible prospects, but who has the time? 

You do.

Instead of waiting for work to come to you, get out there and hustle. Maybe that means connecting with a few LinkedIn contacts every week. Or going to a networking event. Or creating some video tips. Anything you can do to connect with future clients is a good thing, especially if your current reliable client pipeline dries up. 

 – Examine new markets, new skill sets, and new ways to stay competitive.

It’s time to be more than a one-trick pony. Think about new services you can offer your clients (or even your employer.) Stretching your wings, offering different things, and billing yourself as an SEO content marketing consultant makes you more marketable and gives you profitable options.

This is also the time to take a hard look at your target audience and to ask, “Is it worth it?” If you’re constantly underpaid, find a client (or industry) that WILL pay your rates. If you love your niche, think of ways you could expand it. 

– Save money whenever and however you can.

Even a small nest egg will give you a huge sense of control. I use Digit.co to transfer small amounts of money out of my checking account into savings — and it’s been amazing. The amounts are so small that I don’t notice, and I now have a nice chunk of “just in case” cash. 

Some people save X percent of every contract as “just in case” cash. Others transfer money into savings every week or month. Find what works for you and do it — even if you’re only saving $10 a week.

– Can’t save money because things are too tight? Raise your rates.

Freelance writing does not mean “working for less than minimum wage.” Yet, so many writers undervalue themselves because they think they aren’t worth more than $10 a post. You can make at least $50 an hour — and more than $100 per hour — just by positioning yourself and knowing your value.  Especially since there ARE writers making good money.

This is ALL about mindset and marketing. You CAN make more money doing exactly what you’re doing now. 

Want more inspiration? Check out this survey of top-earners (scroll to the bottom of the page to see it.)

 – You’ve got to spend money to make money.

Do you need a business coach to help improve your productivity and to change your mindset — but, you keep saying, “It’s too expensive”? Have you wanted to attend a conference that’s chock-full of prospects, but you’re afraid to spend the money?

Get over it.

NOW is the time to get your mind and finances right for what we all know is coming. Sure, it’s scary to spend money when (1) you’re unsure of the ROI, and (2) you’re already feeling vulnerable. I’ve been there. At the same time, not spending $1,000 now could actually COST you money later.

 – Build a supportive business community and share your story.

When the last recession landed, I felt like I was the only one who was hit so darn hard. I felt horrible about myself (and my business,) and I was afraid to tell my friends how things were really going.

Then, I attended a conference along with some long-time SEO friends. We collectively let down our guard and shared how much things sucked. One friend lost a million dollar contract. Another was thinking about taking a job at his local newspaper. One friend had to lay off his staff and was still dealing with the guilt. This happened to some of the top names in SEO — not just the stragglers.

That dinner years ago was the most cleansing, therapeutic thing that could have happened for me. It normalized my situation, gave me hope, and made me realize I wasn’t alone. 

Create your own community of business/writer friends who “get it.” Think of them like your own personal mastermind group who keeps you happy, sane and focused. You may want to go it alone — heck, that’s typically how I roll, too. But, having folks around you will make things so much easier.

You can enter the upcoming recession feeling confident, secure and prepared. Or, you can fail to plan — and let the financial news (and reality) hit you like a truck. Again.

You have a choice. 

I know what I’m going to do. How about you?

What do you think?

Did Carol’s salary survey results surprise you? Are you ready to take the plunge and to start your own freelance copywriting business? Do you walk around saying, “I ain’t afraid of no recession”? (If so, I applaud you!) Leave a comment and let me know!

5 Content Marketing Tips for Tough Financial Times

In-house and freelance writers are all asking the same question…

…what should I do now?

I get it. I do. As I talked about last week, this is a time of tremendous uncertainty. We don’t know how long this will last. We don’t know what it will mean to our income. Heck, we may not even be able to work in our “normal” office or enjoy a “normal” schedule anymore.

Everything feels up in the air. And that’s because it is.

Having said that, there are things that you can control right now. In fact, this time could (weirdly) be a huge opportunity.

Let’s talk about five things you can do.

Get yourself (virtually) out there

You know that confused, “what should I do next?” feeling you have? Your clients and prospects feel the same way. They are looking for a thought leader (like you!) to connect them with others and to help them navigate this weird time. 

One way to do this is by thinking about how you can help and serve your market. For instance, I wrote a LinkedIn post asking people to comment if they’re looking for writing jobs. The post is trending for #copywriting, it’s been reshared 24 times with over 2,500 views, and it’s brought together a community of freelancers.

That’s pretty darn cool.

You have a choice right now. You can choose to be THE person your customers can turn to during this weird time. Or, you can choose to hide in the shadows and wait until it’s over. 

What do you want to do?

Work on your value proposition

It’s easy to sell products or services when the economy is good. When resources dry up, so do sales — unless you know how to adapt.

NOW is the time to review your value proposition and make sure it’s still relevant for today’s new world. That may mean overhauling your sales copy to reflect the current times. It may mean changing the voice of your site so it’s more conversational. (Pro tip: people want to read personal-sounding copy right now.) It may even mean hiring someone who can see your site and content with fresh eyes — and show you how to fix it.

Pretty much every site out there can do something. Now is a great time to start.

If you’re a freelancer, consider building your skill set, revamping your site, and taking some online courses. No, it doesn’t have to be one you purchase from me. :) Just anything that helps show clients that you are the one-stop solution they need. 

OYDCP!

What does OYDCP stand for? Optimize your damn content, people! Although that seems like a no-brainer statement in a blog post about SEO writing, there are a lot of folks out there who haven’t taken this step.

News flash: you are out of excuses. Driving Google traffic is one way you can drive leads and make sales. It could even make the difference between making enough to make payroll or putting it on your line of credit. If you’ve avoided learning how to optimize your site or blog post because it feels “too geeky” and you’re not ready, get over it. Especially since there are so many people out there who can help you.

Get more mileage out of your existing content

Are you trying to squeeze every drop of ROI you can out of your content? Instead of reinventing the wheel and writing new content, why not repurpose the content you have? For instance,

  • You can add transcripts to the bottom of podcasts or videos. That’s great for Google — and great for people (like me) who hate watching videos.
  • You can turn blog posts into an e-book.
  • You can pull pieces of content from your blog posts and turn them into email copy.

The possibilities are endless! Here’s how to find easy content opportunities.

Review your social posts and sales emails

Raise your hand if you’ve recently seen an email that made you think, “Ouch, that seems a little tone deaf considering the current times.” Guess what, Mr. “let me help you with your IT solutions” dude — most folks are worried about their businesses right now. Not their VPN.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t sell or market right now. Just…be smart. Showing stock art photos of large groups standing around a computer monitor is dumb. Pushing for a meeting during a time when companies are trying to keep their staff employed is dumb. Pretending that it’s business-as-usual during a global pandemic is dumb.

As a side note, I just saw the first COVID-19-inspired commercial from Cadillac. Check out their “We have your back” ad. Personally, I can’t imagine dropping the funds for a brand-new Cadillac right now…but I’m not their target market. And if I was, I’d appreciate how I wouldn’t have to leave my house to buy a car.

Your readers and customers are watching you. Do you want to be known as the helpful company who brought people together? Or the slimeball who responds to every LinkedIn invitation with a canned, “let’s set up a a 20-minute time to chat about your financial needs” message.

I know what I want my legacy to be during this time. How about you?

What do you think?

Do you also want to scream, “Don’t you get it?” to all the spammers out there? How are you serving your audience during this challenging time? Leave a comment and let me know!

Are You Ignoring This?

Between you and me, are you ignoring “the olds?”

No, I’m not referring to your OK Boomer and Gen X readers — or anyone over 25 that may be considered “too old” to get it.

I’m referring to your old blog content that may be ignored, unappreciated and un-promoted — even if it’s still accurate and well-written.

You know, the content that makes up the majority of your blog (or, maybe even your site.)

I ask, because most content marketing articles you read talk about how to write and promote NEW content.

If I randomly check Twitter right now, I’m sure I would see at least a couple, “Hey, I just wrote this post — check it out” tweets.

But, I probably won’t see anything like, “Hey, I wrote this post 10 years ago, but it’s still accurate and good and helpful. Read it!”

Why?

Because we often downplay the value of our old content and focus on new, shiny posts with more recent date stamps.

And that’s sad.

Here’s the thing…

Not all of your old content is worthy of new promotional efforts.

The article may be out of date. You may currently focus on slightly different topics, so republishing an old post would feel off-brand. Or, your old writing style makes you cringe a little inside.

(Hey, we’ve all been there.)

Having said that, most site owners have some old content that they could polish  up and make shine.

And really, it (normally) doesn’t take that much time. Maybe 10 minutes a post.

Here’s my process…

To make things easy, I have a huge Google Sheets document that outlines every post I’ve written since 2009, if I’ve updated the article, and when I’ve published it on social media.

I’ll quick-scan my list, pick an “old” post, and make some standard changes:

  • Replace the header image
  • Check all the links
  • Review the information — is it still accurate? 
  • Make any necessary format changes
  • Push “update”

A “last updated” date stamp appears below the original, showing readers that I’ve made some changes since the original publication date.

Done! From there, I freely promote my “old” posts — yes, even posts that are 10 years old — on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.  

In fact, some of my older video posts are some of my most popular — and many of them are from nine years ago.

Granted, some posts take more updating — such as my big authoritative posts like this. Others need slightly more than 10 minutes to make them shine. That’s OK.

But, the majority, like my 23 amazing tips post and this one about spicing up B2B content, took virtually no time at all.

Nice.

Why else is this important?

Because it’s just darn wasteful to spend time and money creating fantastic content — and then toss it aside because it’s perceived as “too old.”

Let’s face it: even if your followers are glued to your social media feed, they aren’t going to read everything you post. Nor remember every post you publish.

Republishing old posts helps your posts get seen (and shared) by more people — and, it’s one of the easiest ways to increase your content’s return on investment. Especially posts that don’t perform in Google, but do pull well on social.

Can you help your clients with this?

You bet!

Chances are, your client doesn’t remember (or recognize) that her “olds” content is still hot. Instead of leveraging her “deep cut” content, she may focus all her promotional time on writing and promoting new posts.

Just imagine how she’ll feel when you tell her that her old content can drive new traffic. This saves your client time (she doesn’t have to keep creating new content) and money.

Pretty cool, eh?

What do you think?

Is your “olds” content gathering dust? Or, do you update it, promote it, and give it a new life? Leave a comment and let me know!

Is it Time to Upgrade From Freelance Writer to LLC?

When I made the move from freelancer to starting a content development agency, the decision of which type of business to form was an easy one. I went from being a sole proprietor to being the co-owner of a limited liability corporation (LLC).

Why we chose to go with an LLC had a lot to do with the state where we’re based — Texas. Say what you will about the state, but Texas is one of the most small-business friendly states. Also, there’s no state income tax. And we have awesome barbecue. But I digress.

Aside from the legal and financial reasons for making that choice, creating an LLC — and in general, becoming a more formal business entity — offered other benefits directly related to our business over and above our business filing. If you think you’re ready to upgrade, an LLC may be just the thing to help you gain more credibility, more clients, and yes, more revenue.

What’s the Difference Between a Sole Proprietorship and an LLC?

If you’re a freelance writer, you’re already a sole proprietor. (You’re paying your quarterly estimated tax, right? Right?!) Although you likely didn’t have to actually file any papers or pay any fees to claim that status, sole proprietorship is recognized by the IRS. It basically means you as an individual and you as a business are one and the same, and you’ll encounter few differences to how you file your taxes, aside from possibly having more deductions.

In order to be recognized as an LLC, you will need to file paperwork and pay fees. What kind of paperwork and how much in fees will vary from state to state. But the basic paperwork required regardless of state indicates the name of your business, its location, and who the members are.

Depending on where you form your LLC, you may also have to pay an LLC tax or, in some states, what’s called a franchise tax. I know — we’re not talking about franchises, we’re talking about LLCs. You weren’t really expecting tax law to make sense, were you? C’mon.

Forming a Foreign LLC

You’ll notice I said “depending on where you file your LLC.” Sure, this is because it depends on the state you live in, but something you may not know is you can file an LLC in any state you like, whether you live there or not.

Why would anyone do this? For lots of reasons, but the two main ones are:

  • to make the filing process easier, and
  • to reduce expenses

While forming a business can be a complex process in some states, when we did it, we filled out a form, sent it to the state capital, paid a few hundred dollars, and in exactly one week, we were an LLC. Just like that. Done. It couldn’t possibly have been any easier than it was.

As for expense, if you live in California, you’ll pay a fairly high LLC tax of 8.84%, and a minimum tax of $800, and income tax to boot. If you file your LLC in Texas, you’ll pay a franchise tax of just 1%.

(While I may be just a teensy bit biased toward Texas (Go Spurs Go!), it’s not the only state that offers benefit to those forming an LLC. But seriously — barbecue. That’s all I’m saying.)

Forming an LLC in another state — a “foreign LLC” — may also require the payment of additional up-front fees. You’ll need to do your own homework here to decide not only whether you want to make the leap from sole proprietor to LLC, but then whether to file in your home state or not.

Speaking of doing homework, I’m discussing these topics based on my personal experience, and from a general, educational point of view. But remember that we’re talking about legal entities here that have certain tax responsibilities. As I’m neither a lawyer nor a tax accountant, be sure to consult one or the other or both, or at a minimum, do your own research before making any changes to your business status.

Now, how can switching from a sole proprietorship to an LLC benefit you as a business owner?

More Credibility

Let’s be honest for a minute here. As prevalent and in demand as the freelance writer is, there’s still a pervasive attitude that if you’re a freelancer, you’re not a “real” business. You just have some free time on your hands, and you figured you’d make a few bucks while your kids were at school, or on the weekends. You’re not really expecting to make a living doing that, are you? So businesses can sometimes be reluctant to pay reasonable and fair rates for freelance work.

I’ve definitely been there. In fact, when I was freelancing, I took to referring to myself as an “independent professional writer” in an effort to be taken more seriously — and to have my rates taken more seriously.

That changes when you become a registered business entity. When you put an LLC (or an Inc., or whatever official designation you establish) after your business name on your website, people perceive you differently. I’m not going to lie to you and say companies immediately open their wallets wider to pay for web content because we still have a struggle with content mills, but that’s another post.

But when you can put a business name and logo on your invoices, you can begin to change how your clients interact with you and how potential clients see you.

It may also open up other opportunities to you such as speaking engagements, offers to guest post on well-regarded blogs and even press quotes (Are you signed up with HARO?).

More Clients

Those marketing opportunities are all fantastic, but the main goal of those activities is to get clients. You also know that some clients respond to perceived scarcity (a classic marketing tactic), and to perceived value (a necessary facet of your business). How better to bolster both of those perceptions than to move from being an individual freelance writer to an LLC?

Just as your industry colleagues may view you differently once you change your status, so too will potential clients. In fact, establishing your business as an LLC (or other entity) may even passively assist you with client pre-qualification. Some potential clients may infer that once you become a small business, you’re probably more expensive than a freelancer. Whether this is true or not, it may keep the more, uh, frugal clients out of your inbox, leaving plenty of room for those who are really serious about their content, and serious about hiring you at your possibly higher rates.

More Revenue

Well, this one just naturally follows the last one if forming an LLC brings you more regard and more clients. But if you do go this route, why not raise your rates a bit? In fact, you really should.

Even if you form a single-member LLC, you’re likely going to have a few more expenses than you had as a sole proprietor. You still may not have to worry about renting office space, but you may want to step up from using your Gmail address to a domain-based address that you access via Gmail. The best option for that is Google Apps, which, while very affordable, does cost.

Then there are business cards. Again, you can find affordable options, but now that you’re a business and not a freelancer, you need cards with your logo on them that make more of an impression than most free cards you may find.

And don’t forget your LLC or franchise taxes and other fees. As a business, you have other expenses you didn’t have before. Raising your rates may not bring an immediate raise in net profit. But if your new rates cover your new expenses while keeping your income status quo (at least at first), you’re coming out ahead.

You may also find it easier later on when it comes time to raise your rates again. Some clients won’t take it well, but that’s just another way of qualifying clients. Again, a post for another time.

Joining Forces

OK, now let’s think for a moment. If you’re going to form an LLC, you’re positioning yourself for more credibility, more clients and more revenue. Well, how are you going to handle all those new clients and new marketing opportunities by yourself? Maybe you don’t have to fly solo.

I never thought I’d go into business with a partner. My experiences as an employee with less-than-stellar bosses put me in a mindset of wanting to go it completely alone. Well, things happen, things change, and I did not only get a business partner, I became one. But it’s led our business to bigger and better things.

Think about it — two times the labor force. Two times the marketing. Where I’m weak, she’s strong, and vice-versa. And now that she’s moved back to her home state of Ohio while I’m still in Texas, we’re a national company with two locations! OK, we both still work from home, but you get what I mean. She’s making all new connections up there while I’m still working in our community here.

But the best thing? Those days when being an entrepreneur is hard, when clients are making us crazy, when we wonder what the heck we were thinking — those days, it’s wonderful to be partners who keep each other grounded, who listen to each other vent and then give each other that push we need to keep going.

The point is, starting a business is hard. Keeping it going is even harder. Doing everything all by yourself, well, that’s not always all it’s cracked up to be. If you’re thinking about making your business official, you can open yourself up to a lot of benefits. But don’t let the fact that, up to this point, you’ve worked alone, be the thing that stops you.

In fact, don’t let anything stop you.

About the Author

Michelle Lowery is a freelance book editor, provides website optimization for authors and wrote the book Self-Editing for Indie Authors. Learn more about her by visiting her site at michellelowery.com.

Connect with Michelle on Twitter  and LinkedIn

How to Start Your Own Freelance SEO Copywriting Business

Five posts on launching your own freelance copywriting business is featuredRecently, I gathered a collection of Heather’s posts about surviving in the highly competitive SEO freelance copywriting business.

Today, I’ve selected a complementary set of Heather’s posts on how to start your own freelance business – beginning at the beginning.

These posts are a mashup of both video how-to’s and Heather’s regular Thursday posts. For those of you (like me, like Heather) who prefer to read content, rest assured that the video posts included are all accompanied by narrative text.

So without further prefacing, let’s get on with Heather’s best on how to successfully start and manage freelance copywriting business…

 

Plan for SuccessLaunching your freelance copywriting business: plan for success!

Preceded by how to: define a niche market, ask for a writing deposit, deal with writing revisions, stand firm by your rates, protect yourself with a contract (no matter the size of the gig), and hone in on the services to offer your clients, in this video post Heather gets down to the nitty-gritty of how to launch your freelance copywriting business – by making a smart plan.

 

 

Dive or Wade in?Should you dive or wade into a freelance copywriting business?

Wondering whether to just take the plunge in starting your new freelance copywriting business? Or would it be a better strategy to slowly wade in? In this final installment of her How to start an SEO copywriting business video posts, Heather outlines the pros and cons of each approach.

 

 

 

31 Questions for your client52 questions to ask your new copywriting client

Asking questions is the best way to get at the answers you need to write highly effective, targeted SEO content. Meaning, content that resonates with your clients’ prospects and succeeds with conversions. Think your list of 10 questions is a bit much? Try 52 – from reporting to marketing to process/procedure questions – to drill down to the details you need to generate great conversions-driving SEO copy that best helps your new client.

 

Sales Call Success7 tips for sales call success

So this is it: you’ve the questions you need to ask (above) and have scheduled a call with your perfect prospect. No worries: with these seven business-savvy tips from Heather (backed by her five confidence-boosting tips to help your prepare for prospect calls) you will close the deal. Easily.

 

 

 

How to raise your ratesHow to raise your freelance copywriting rates

Now that you’ve some momentum in your freelance copywriting business, and have (hopefully) accumulated some case studies and killer testimonials, you’re ready to ask for a raise. This can be a very uncomfortable and somewhat scary thing to do. Here, Heather outlines six things to consider if you’re thinking about raising your freelance copywriting rates.

 

photo thanks to Steven Depolo

Are You a Content Strategist or an SEO Copywriter?

Are you undervaluing your work — and selling yourself short?

I’ve talked to many freelance and in-house copywriters who claim that they’re “just” a writer. Sure, most of their time is spent writing copy. But they’re also setting the editorial calendar, using tools like BuzzSumo to find new topic ideas and even explaining Google’s latest updates to their clients or team members.

To me, it sounds like these writers made the leap from “writer” to “SEO content consultant.” They just may not know it yet.

Read more

The Do’s & Don’ts of Partnering with Other Web Content Providers

I took a big step this week for my company – I closed its virtual doors.

But I’m far from being out of business. I’ve decided to focus on content marketing clients who are also working with a marketing company for complementary services like social media and inbound marketing strategy.

Working with partners – whether formal or informal – has helped me reach new levels in my business. And it can do the same thing for yours too. But you need to be careful you aren’t compromising yourself, your ethics, or your sanity when you strike up a partnership.

Here are some of the do’s and don’ts that I wish I’d had when I first started working with partners.

DO look for complimentary partners for your SEO copywriting services.

Fortunately, we’re working in a time where the demand for copywriting and content marketing is at an all time high. Anyone involved with providing web marketing services to clients – from web designers to social media consultants – needs to know great content creators. If they don’t have one they trust an email away, they are doing their clients a big disservice.

Start your search by finding complimentary providers on LinkedIn, exploring small business sites, or looking for freelancing blogs where similar, but not competing, providers might be hanging out.

DO learn about the different ways of partnering with other providers.

Partnership doesn’t have to mean going into business together.

You can work with other providers under a referral agreement or set up a deal where you provide a service as part of their company – but still retain your own clients. It all depends on what you and your potential partner decide to do.

Consider where you want to take your SEO copywriting business and then pick an option that works best for you.

DON’T jump into a partnership too soon.

Finding a good partnership is a lot like dating. You’re not going to run off to Vegas to get married the first night you go out. And if you do, you’re going to end up getting the partnership version of an annulment.

Network with other providers, but take things one project at a time until you get a good feel for how you work together. There’s nothing worse than getting into a contractual relationship with someone whose business practices you don’t respect.

DO evaluate your potential partner’s target market and marketing approach.

There are dozens of opportunities out there for working with another provider – so you can afford to be choosy.

Pay close attention to your potential partner’s own marketing. Who are they working with and speaking to? This is important for two reasons. Finding a provider that works with your own target audience will make it easy for you to create client content – and easy for you to create content for the fellow provider. Everyone needs blog posts and website copy, so chances are your partner will be looking to use your content services at some point. It helps to be familiar with their target audience and know who you’re writing to.

DON’T work without a contract.

No matter how friendly you may be with another provider, you’ll want to treat them just like any other client.

There needs to be contracts in place for each project or – depending on the nature of your partnership – for the length of time you’re working together. Even if you’re working with a fellow business owner it doesn’t mean that they have your best interests in mind.

DO pay close attention to their business practices.

Finding a good fit with another provider goes beyond the leads or projects you can bring one another.

Are you truly on the same page when it comes to growing your businesses? Case in point, after a single project with a particular SEO provider I came to realize his opinion of clients (that they were stupid and deserved to be duped) didn’t jive with the way that I want to do business. This isn’t always apparent based on their website, marketing and social media usage – so keep things low on commitment until you know more about their business practices.

DON’T explore partnership unless you’re sure you can handle it.

If you’re someone who prefers to work on your own, partnership probably isn’t for you.

For me, I found the life of a solo copywriter to be sort of lonely. I always found myself conferring with SEO providers, web designers, and social media marketers so I decided to make it official. Do some soul searching and figure out what you want your business to look like in the future.

Have you worked with referral partners or other partners? What was your experience like?

About the Author ~ Courtney Ramirez

Courtney Ramirez is an SEO Copywriter and content marketing specialist who creates clickable content for clients in both B2B and B2C markets. You can connect with Courtney on LinkedIn.