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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!

Want to know how to start your own freelance SEO copywriting business? I’m running a free webinar on February 14, 2019! Sign up for my newsletter to get all the details.

7 Tough Love Tips to Boost Your Freelance Income

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.

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, Detlev 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!).

5 SEO Client Types to Avoid at All Costs

Do you instantly hit the “ignore” button when you see a “special” client’s name come up on caller ID?

Do you write “please shoot me” notes during client calls?

Choosing the wrong clients is a slow, sure path to insanity. Fortunately, these folks throw up some pretty obvious red flags during the sales process. The key to business success is noticing those red flags in the moment — and not deluding yourself into thinking you can “fix” the client (yeah, right!)

Here are five common SEO writing client types to avoid at all costs:

– The “Taylor Swift” client

“All of my past SEO providers did me wrong, and I want to tell the world!”

If a prospect is outlining her grievances about every SEO writing firm she’s worked with — and this is your first phone call — you may want to steer clear. It’s true that people can make lousy SEO-provider decisions. And it’s true that there are bad SEO companies out there, and you may need to repair some legitimate damage. At the same time, you’ll want to proceed with caution when you notice that blinking neon chip on her shoulder. Especially if the prospect is ranting about her SEO exes instead of discussing the project.

With a “Taylor Swift” client, the real problem may not be “bad” SEO companies. Instead, the client may have some … issues. Just know you will never be her SEO knight in shining armor. No matter how well you perform, you too will “do her wrong” eventually – and she’ll add your story to the mix.

Do you really want to get involved with that hot mess?

– The mullet master

“I know a lot about SEO writing. I need doorway pages and article spinning.”

Does your prospect’s site scream 1999? Are they talking to you about doorway pages, keyphrase density and submitting to article directories? Your client could be so stuck in the SEO past that educating them will be a full-time job.

Assuming they listen to you.

Justin Timberlake may be able to bring sexy back, but you won’t be able to bring keyphrase density back. In a perfect world, you’re able to educate your prospect — and she actually listens to you and takes your advice. Unfortunately, many SEO prospects who are stuck in the past stay that way. They like it there. And they’ll keep calling providers until they reach someone who says, “Article directories? I love it! Yes, I can help!”

The “Yeah … but” prospect

“Yeah … but are you really sure that will work? My mother’s uncle’s cousin said I should try something else.”

Feeling like you’re talking to a brick wall? Do you have tiny bald patches from ripping out your hair? You’re talking to the “Yeah … but” prospect.  This person will shoot down any idea you have, even if they called you for help.

Unfortunately, this prospect is so pessimistic that making a decision is impossible. You’ll send proposal after proposal, but none of them will be “right.” Follow-up calls won’t help. Client education won’t help. This prospect is stuck in a deep hole of indecision, and there’s no way to dig them out. Nor will you probably ever sign a gig with them. Walking away is the safest thing you can do for your sanity (and your bottom line.)

– The “Wimpy” client

“I don’t pay deposits. I’ll pay you the entire invoice when the job is complete.”

This is the client who would gladly pay you Tuesday for SEO writing work you do today.  When asked about paying a retainer, their flat answer is “no.” Maybe it’s because they’ve been “burned by a bad SEO provider” (see my earlier point above.) Perhaps it’s not “how accounts payable does things.” That puts you in an uncomfortable situation. If you want the gig, you have to trust that the client will pay you. And pay you on time.

Your response to this type of client should be something along the lines of “No freakin’ way.” Paying a deposit is a standard practice that shouldn’t freak out a possible client. If it does freak them out, that’s a huge red flag. Essentially, the client is asking you to extend them credit and take on all the risk. If things like paying rent and eating are important to you, always get a deposit up front.

The “shiny objects” client

“I need help with my SEO copywri … Look! A squirrel!”

One day, your prospect is pumped about Pinterest. The next, she’s talking about adding new blog content. The following week, she’s changed her strategy entirely and feels it’s time for a redesign. In the meantime, you find yourself sending multiple proposals and spending hours chatting about your prospect’s “cool idea.”

On the positive side, these prospects are incredibly excited about the SEO and marketing opportunities. On the negative side, they often want to implement them all. Right now. And then change their minds.

Shiny-objects clients are notoriously difficult to help. Sometimes, you can pin them down and get them to sign a contract. Just be prepared for lots of forwarded emails promising to “submit your site to 1,000 directories” or “help your guest posts get more exposure.” If something new catches their eye, you’ll be the first to hear about it.

What other SEO writing client types would you add to the list?

“SEO Content Marketing Is Too Expensive.” Now What?

How many times have you heard, “We can’t rewrite the web content right now. It’s too expensive”?

Or…

“Revising the SEO content is going to take a lot of manpower. We have other priorities.”

Yeah, I’ve heard it too.

Sure, the content may be horrible. But, the thought of changing it (and paying for it) is too overwhelming.

Even if it’s holding a business back from SEO (and sales) success.

The disconnect between expectations and reality

Many prospects (and in-house teams) are surprised at how hard it is to create good SEO content. In their heads, it will take just a few weeks and cost less than $2,500 for the entire site. They won’t need to allocate manpower to it, or have to pay for “extras” like competitive intelligence or keyphrase research.

The content will just…happen.

When they get the inevitable reality slap of “yes, this costs time and money,” it’s easy for the prospect (or manager) to back away, reprioritize, and choose to do something different.

Sure, they know their current SEO content is underperforming. But, the thought of change is too overwhelming. Too expensive. Too….everything.

If you get kickback, or hear “not now” from the powers-that-be, the first reaction is often to get angry or feel discouraged. After all, it’s easy to go down a path where you can feel like, “they don’t care,” or “they’re just trying to lowball my pricing.”

Instead, take a deep breath…

Here’s what you can do

Remind your prospect/boss that content marketing is not a sprint — it’s a marathon.

A marathon you can eventually win, even if you take baby steps.

Is it ideal to comb through all the content at once and switch it out? Sure. But most teams can’t accommodate that workload (and the up-front price tag for outsourcing would be hefty.)

Instead, look at what you can realistically do every month. For instance, maybe the first month is checking out the competition, reviewing the keyphrase data, and creating the editorial calendar.

Month two, you could rewrite a couple important “money” pages (the ones that drive the most revenue) and track performance.

And go from there…

You’re still getting everything done — and the client is still paying the same amount — but it’s all happening in baby steps. You can take your time, see what’s working, and adjust accordingly.

The baby step approach is often much less overwhelming to the prospect (or boss.) She can budget X hours (or dollars) every month to get to the goal.

Plus, a baby step strategy allows everyone to see some nice wins along the way. The wins may not happen quite as quickly as doing everything at once, but they do happen.

Will you still get some kickback, even with a suggested baby step approach? Possibly. If so, put your curiosity hat on and ask the client, “how much is it costing to not improve these pages?”

Or…

“How many leads could you generate if these pages were performing?”

This helps shift the prospect’s attention from, “oh, crap, this is expensive,” to “oh yeah, it’s costing us more to NOT do it.”

This shift doesn’t guarantee your boss will say, “You’re right. Let’s start today!” You may still get a “not now” response. That’s OK. At least you’ve helped her think about the situation in a new, realistic, and less scary way.

9 Reasons Why You’re Losing Freelance Writing Gigs

What are the most frustrating words you can hear (or read) after spending hours writing a proposal?

“You’re too expensive. We’re going to go in another direction.”

ARGH!

But, here’s the thing…

We’ve all gone beyond our budget and spent more than we’ve expected.

We buy a slightly more expensive car because it has better safety ratings.

We buy organic produce because we feel it’s better for us.

We splurge for an expensive night out, because it’s been ages since we’ve dressed in something other than yoga pants.

(OK, maybe that last one is just me.) :)

The point is, companies set budgets (sometimes, highly unrealistic ones) limiting how much they’ll spend.

But, like us, companies will make the call to spend more than expected — IF they think the value is there.

 

And that’s the key point.

Those companies that say “no” aren’t necessarily saying, “you’re too expensive.” They’re saying, “I don’t see your value, so you aren’t a good fit.”

​​​​​​​It’s true that some companies will only pay $6/post, and expect you to be THRILLED with that amount. I’m not talking about these folks.

I’m talking about folks who have money, and are ready to spend it…but they aren’t spending it with you.

Sound familiar?

If your proposals are falling flat, here are 9 things to check:

  • Are you bidding too low? Believe it or not, your low prices may be what’s causing prospects to run away.
  • Should you bid a monthly retainer rather than per-post? Many SEO copywriters brand themselves as “content marketers,” and handle the entire content campaign. Content marketing rates range from $1,250 – 10K+/month, so it may be worth upgrading your skills.
  • Are your proposals professional-looking and typo-free? Consider having another writer check out your template and make suggestions.
  • Are you bidding too high? Mom-and-pop businesses can’t spend $200 per post, even if you’re the best writer in the world. You may need to adjust your pricing for the market — or change markets.
  • Are you providing too much information? Do you feel compelled to brainstorm a complete strategy and include it in your proposal? Stop it! Your prospect hasn’t paid for your brainpower…and you run the risk of your client using your strategy without paying you. This happens all the time.
  • Are you getting too personal? Writing, “I’m a new mom who really wants to work from home,” or “I just quit my job,” screams “I’m a beginning writer who isn’t quite serious yet.” Leave the personal information out. Focus your proposal on what you can do for the client, instead.
  • Do you sound desperate? “I could really use this job” is a sure way to get your work ignored.
  • Do you sound inexperienced? If your SEO knowledge is old or you were never trained adequately, shore up your knowledge before pitching clients. I can’t tell you how many pitches I’ve read with the term “keyword density” in them.
  • Are you showcasing your value? What can YOU bring to the table that other writers can’t? If your prospect can’t see what makes you a unique and cost-effective hire, it’s easy to move on to another candidate.

What do YOU think?

Did you think, “Yup, I do that” after reading the list? It’s OK. We’ve all messed up a proposal or two (or more!) The question is — what will you do differently next time? Let me know in the comments.

 

What’s Your Copywriting Superpower?

Have you seen the latest Marketing Profs 2018 Marketing Salary Guide?

The 2018 salaries for brand and agency content positions blew me away!

The forecasted salary range for a content strategist is $60,000 – $115,000.

A web copywriter? $47,000 – $104,000.

In fact, there was nothing under $40K a year.

Nice, eh?

This is great news for content writers like us. (Congratulations if you make this — or even more than this — now!)

But, what if you’re not making that kind of money?

It’s easy to look at salary surveys like this and think, “Everyone else is making way more money than I am. What’s wrong with me?”

I assure you that is NOT what’s going on.

In fact, after I wrote about this in my newsletter, I heard from many writers — both freelance and in-house — who ARE afraid of algorithms taking their jobs.

They’re floundering around, taking low-paying gigs, and suffering with slow-paying clients.

Maybe you feel the same way.

For instance…

A friend of mind was stressing out because she had a “feast or famine” business. When she was busy, she was too busy to think — but when things were quiet, she’d wake up at 3 a.m. and worry about money.

What’s funny is this woman is brilliant at product launches. She can write the emails. She can set up the back end. She can project manage the process. It’s a huge skill set.

The challenge is, she didn’t think of her skill set as a superpower. She didn’t realize she was charging way too little for the knowledge that was in her head.

Because that’s why clients pay you, you know. It’s because of your superpowers.

One SEO Copywriting Buzz reader summed this up beautifully when she responded to my “will machines take our writing jobs” email. Her note?

My copywriting superpower is being a CPA steeped in direct response. I don’t see my big clients looking to AI to write for them. They’re willing to pay me for what’s in my brain.

YES, YES, YES!

So, what’s your content writing superpower?

What do you do every day that seems easy to you — but, blows your clients’ or boss’ minds?

Do your blog posts get more likes than cute cat videos?

Do you have influencers at your fingertips, ready to help get the word out?

Can you write highly-technical content that only an engineer could understand?

Your superpower skill set is what propels you from, “I’m worried about money and clients don’t pay me enough,” to “I’m on vacation and I’m not taking on new clients right now.”

Knowing the value you bring to the table gives you the confidence to negotiate a much higher writing salary (plus, it allows you to work on the stuff you really find fun.)

It’s all about what’s in your brain. The information in your head is worth more than you know.

What do YOU think of the salary survey?

Is it inspirational? Depressing? Do you know your writing superpower, or are you still discovering your hidden talents? Leave a comment and let me know.

Did you enjoy this blog post? You’ll love my weekly newsletter — it’s chock-full of actionable SEO writing tips. Here’s how to sign up!

 

52 Questions to Ask Your New Copywriting Client [Updated for 2017]

Anyone who knows me knows that I tend to ask a lot of questions….

Why? Because that’s how I learn.

When you’re onboarding a new copywriting client — whether you work for yourself, or an agency — asking lots of question is the key to success.

Sure, that means that you’ll be spending an hour (or more) on the phone. But just as you wouldn’t enter a marriage without a pretty solid “getting to know you” process, you shouldn’t start writing without a solid customer interview under your belt.

After all, how can you write specific, action-oriented content if you don’t have any specific information?

Here are 52 of my favorite questions to ask a new copywriting client – enjoy!

Important: Ask these questions after your client has signed on the bottom line. Although you may touch on some of these topics during the sales phase, it’s best to save the “meat” of your questions for the kick-off client call.

Reporting/set-up questions

  1. Can I review your analytics?
  2. Do you have any customer persona documents? Can I see them?
  3. Do you have a style guide?
  4. Can I see reports outlining your SEO/content marketing success, to date?
  5. How do we measure success? Conversions? Page positions? Social media love?
  6. Which social media platforms are working for you?
  7. What is your per-page keyphrase strategy?
  8. How did you arrive at your keyphrase choices?
  9. Do you need me to create the strategy and research the keyphrases?
  10. How important is it for you to position for a particular keyphrase? If it is a competitive keyphrase, are you prepared to spend the time (and budget) to make this happen?
  11. What’s your one thing that drives most of your current content marketing success?
  12. What tools/platforms do you use (SEMrush? BuzzSumo? Trello?)

Marketing questions

  1. Who is your online competition? Why would you consider them “competition?”
  2. What is your unique sales proposition?
  3. Why should a prospect purchase from you rather than your competition?
  4. What are your company benefit statements?
  5. What content approach has worked in the past?
  6. What has not worked?
  7. Do you like your site’s “voice?” (how it reads and sounds.)
  8. If not, what’s an example of what you would prefer?
  9. How do you follow up with prospects?
  10. How do you follow up with current clients?
  11. Can I see your other marketing materials (autoresponder emails, print materials, etc.)
  12. Are there any keyphrases that you’re not currently positioning for, and you want to gain a stronger position?
  13. How do you currently promote new content (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.)
  14. Who is your “perfect customer (s)”?
  15. What benefit statements are important to those customers?
  16. What customer profile would not be a good fit for your business?
  17. Can I review your customer testimonials (or better yet, can I chat with a few of your happy clients?).
  18. Has your company won any awards? Can I see the documentation?
  19. What are the most common questions that customer service answers? How do they answer them?
  20. Can I talk to your best salesperson to get his/her perspective?
  21. What are the most common objections to overcome?
  22. Has your product/service been featured in a book, endorsed by an organization, etc.
  23. What primary action do you want readers to take?
  24. Is there a secondary CTA?
  25. What is your biggest sales “sticking point” right now?
  26. How will the content be promoted?
  27. What is your influencer outreach strategy?
  28. Is there anything you’ve wanted to try (for instance, white papers,) but you haven’t had the time?

Process/procedure questions

  1. Who else will I be working with (for instance, an external SEO company.)
  2. Who is my main point of contact?
  3. What is the expected content turnaround time?
  4. Who will review the content?
  5. How long does content approval take?
  6. How would you like me to send you the content? For instance, in a Word document?
  7. How often would you like to receive project updates?
  8. How will I know if the content is working? Will I have continued access to your analytics?
  9. How is the editorial calendar created and who is on the editorial calendar team?
  10. How often do you deviate from the editorial calendar?
  11. How often do “quick turnaround” posts happen?
  12. Are there any content structure/wording no-no’s I should be aware of (for instance, not using the word “cheap” in the content.)

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Quit Obsessing Over Your Freelance Writing Niche. Do This, Instead.

 

Right this minute, someone out there is wondering, “how can I find my perfect freelance writing niche?”

(Maybe even you.)

I receive heart-wrenching letters every week from writers trying to find their true path. These folks have heard they need to “find a niche” — and that’s where they get stuck.

Because people aren’t focused on finding a niche. They want to find THE niche. The one thing they should do that will be fun and satisfying and most lucrative and feel almost effortless.

And, let’s face it, there are a lot of people selling their “best writing niche” ideas. You can buy training courses on how to write for small business owners, how to write B2B copy and how to write white papers that sell for 10K a pop.

There are books and blogs and webinars, all screaming the same tune. THIS IS THE FUTURE! LEARN THIS NOW! YOU’LL MAKE SO MUCH MONEY!

It gets confusing.

So, people go from blog post to blog post, and purchase training course after training course, trying to find that one thing.

That one copywriting niche that makes their life complete.

via GIPHY

In the meantime, they don’t write. They don’t start anything. They’re…stuck.

(Feel familiar?)

If this sounds like you, I want you to stop and take a deep breath.

It’s OK you haven’t found THE copywriting niche for you.

Why?

Because there’s more than just one niche for you out there. Good, profitable, fun niches.

Your job isn’t to pick THE niche. Just A niche.

Let’s talk about how to do that.

It all starts with high school…

Remember taking career aptitude tests way back in high school? They were a way to supposedly tell us what we should be when we grew up.

There was all this emphasis on “what are you doing after high school” and “what will you major in?” At the tender age of 18, we were supposed to have our lives figured out for us. Many of us dutifully went to college, chose a major and made a future career choice. Mine was “psychologist.”

Did I know anything about my career choice, other than I would have to go to graduate school? Not really. But, I had to choose something…right?

Let’s face it: most of us had no idea what we were doing back then. The only exception I know is my high school boyfriend. He wanted to be an accountant like his dad, and he worked his way up to a Big Six accounting firm. He’s done well.

The rest of us, well, we’ve bumbled around some. I’ve owned a video store and art house theater, worked as a secretary, worked as a recruiter, dabbled in marketing for a plate freezer company and even tried my hand at accounting. I discovered the world of writing and SEO in my 30’s.

Chances are, you’ve lived a similar job trajectory. You’ve tried different things and stayed with some more than others. Maybe you’ve been in the same profession for awhile, but, there was a time when your career choices were more flexible.

News flash: Finding our copywriting niche takes a lot of fumbling around. It’s learning what you like, what you don’t, and how you best work.

You may be one of those rare folks who know exactly who you want to work with, and what you want to offer (if so, I envy you!). But, most folks need to circle around and get cozy before committing.

via GIPHY

What’s more, you have the aptitude for multiple niches inside of you! I’m not talking so-so niches, either, I mean good, meaty, fun and profitable niches.

Just like we can look back at our high school selves and say, “How can anyone be expected to choose a career at 18 years old?” we should give our current selves the same compassion.

How can anyone be expected to choose the one true freelance writing niche for them when they are first starting out?

But wait…don’t you have to start somewhere?

Yes. Here’s how

I got this idea from reading Designing Your Life. The authors, both Stanford professors, discuss how there’s not one true “perfect job.” Instead of focusing on finding THE job, the authors recommend prototyping out three job alternatives and choosing the best one.

That way, you get to design the job (and life) that works for you today — and you know how to focus your efforts.

(I highly recommend reading the book if you’re stuck and need direction. The book goes in-depth about how to prototype your career choices, the importance of a workview, and more.)

Think about the author’s advice in terms of choosing a niche. There’s a remarkable amount of freedom in knowing there’s not ONE niche for you. Your career (and interests) will naturally flow from one thing to another. Opportunities will pop up. Clients will come and go.

Your “job,” right now, is to think about three possible niches that sound fun. To you. Not what makes a “10 best freelance writing niches” list. Or, what your favorite mentor copywriter is pushing.

Just pick three writing niches you would enjoy. No pressure. No judgment. It’s all up to you.

Research your niches for three months or so. Check out the freelance copywriting competition. Look for possible clients. Break down the pros and cons. For instance, small business owners may be your passion — but they typically don’t have much money to spend. You may be fine taking on more clients so you can help small business owners. Or, you may want to work less and make more.

Pretend you’ve made a choice and live one day as an “industrial B2B copywriter,” or a “health and wellness freelance writer.” Or, you can choose to be the “newsletter maven,” and market your business to all businesses, big and small. How does it feel?

You’ll often learn everything you need to know just by noticing how you feel.

via GIPHY

The important thing is to take action every day — however small — towards researching your freelance writing niche. You may not feel that “checking out blog posts” is helping you accomplish your goals. However, even the smallest action steps put you that much closer to making a decision.

Once you’ve made a decision, commit to it for at least six months. You may have regrets and doubts and want to second-guess yourself. That’s normal. Know that you’ve done the research and you’ve evaluated the options. Worst-case scenario — you dump choice A for choice B after six months and go for a different target audience.

It’s OK. This is your life and your business. Many business owners (and companies) reinvent themselves and pivot in a slightly different direction. You can, too.

So, quit worrying about THE perfect freelance writing niche for you. You have many perfect niches inside you.

Just. Start. Your. Business. Already.

It’s time.

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Is SEO Copywriting the Career for You? 12 Questions, Answered

Have you thought about dipping your toes in the SEO writing waters, but you figured it was “too technical” to learn?

Or, have you shunned SEO writing because you’ve heard it was spammy, maddening and not worth your time?

Let me calm your fears…

SEO writing has been around for a long time — close to 20 years now.

A lot has changed over those 20 years.

No longer does Google reward keyphrase-stuffed, spammy writing (woohoo!)

In fact, quality, authoritative writing is what scores a sky-high ranking. You know, the kind of writing you already love to create.

Wondering if you should add SEO writing to your services mix? Here are the 12 most common questions I hear  — and my (sometimes blunt) responses. Enjoy!

1. I have zero copywriting experience. Can I still write SEO copy?

Yes…but…

There will be a learning curve.

You don’t have to be a technical wizard who enjoys coding sites in your spare time. But you do need to understand the SEO copywriting basics.

Otherwise, you are doing your clients a huge disservice. Not understanding SEO best practices means you’ll miss important opportunities (or make mistakes) that can cost your client money.

(Fortunately, SEO copywriting skills can be picked up fairly quickly.)

You’ll also need to learn the basic copywriting ropes.

If you want to help your clients succeed (and that means helping them make sales,) it’s crucial that you understand how to create conversion-oriented copy. It will help you write better Web pages, improve your email campaigns – and even help you drive more traffic to your site.

2. I’m an established copywriter. Should I learn SEO writing, too?

Yes. SEO writing is a service you can offer established clients, increasing your profit margins.

Plus, why wouldn’t you want to help your client drive more traffic to her site? After all, if you don’t provide this service, your client may be forced to find another vendor who can.

3. Do I need to go back to school?

I don’t know of any universities that incorporate SEO copywriting into their curriculum. Some writers choose to get a certificate in ad or business writing — but it’s not required.

4. So, if I can’t go to school to learn SEO copywriting, how will I learn the ropes?

You have a few options.

Unlike some careers, don’t figure that you’ll “learn SEO copywriting” in a few months – and that’s all you’ll need to do. I’m still learning. I’m still researching. It’s a never-ending process.

If you enjoy learning in a conference environment, events like Pubcon and Search Marketing Expo run SEO copywriting panels. AWAI runs web writing workshops.

Occasionally, there are local workshops too – you can always check with an SEO copywriter you like and see if he/she is running anything in your area.

If you prefer to learn from the comfort of your comfy couch, there are online training classes, too (such as my SEO Copywriting Certification training.) Going through a training course can even help land you your first gig.

What should you avoid? Learning the ropes from message boards (where the information could be wrong) and books (where the information may be outdated.) Stick to constantly-updated resources and you’ll be fine.

5. What about working with a mentor? Can I learn that way? 

Some folks prefer a mentor/mentee relationship, where the “master” SEO copywriter reviews your work, answers your questions and helps you learn the art faster and easier.

Some mentors will work with writers for free — but that means you’ll probably be paying in other ways (such as helping your mentor with tasks.) Other people will charge money.

Although “free” is a great price, don’t reject a paid mentor relationship if you have the funds available. You’ll probably be able to work with an SEO copywriter faster (and receive more consistent feedback) if you’re able to pay.

6. I’d rather learn on the job. Will anyone hire a newbie SEO copywriter?

Yes! Although most companies prefer to hire folks with some experience, you can work as an assistant at first — and gradually work on writing projects as your skills improve.

A recent 2016 study found that the average web writer salary is $77,500 — so the income projections are excellent.

7. Won’t what I learn go out of date in just a few months?

Yes…and no. It’s true that Google keeps changing the rules. Having said that, many of the basics (like write for your reader) are the same.

It’s crucial to stay educated in this fast-moving field. If you love to learn, SEO (and SEO copywriting) is a great career choice.

8. How can I find SEO copywriting work?

That depends – do you want to work in-house or freelance? If you want to freelance, think about business owners you know (for instance, your hairdresser, a restaurant owner or a plumber.) Is there some way that you can help them?

You can also work with advertising agencies, SEO firms, copywriting agencies and even web design companies. In short, freelance SEO copywriters have lots of options.

9. How much should I charge for SEO copywriting services?

That depends on a lot of things, including your experience level, your local area (assuming that you are focusing locally,) and the types of clients you want.

If your heart is with small business owners, it makes sense to charge small business prices. If you love working with corporations — and you have some experience under your virtual belt — you can charge much more.

I know some SEO copywriters making 20K a year – and others making over 200K. It all depends on your income goals.

Here are some things to think about when you’re setting your freelance copywriting rates.

10.  Can I be a part-time SEO copywriter?

Yes. Many people when they are first starting out have a “real job” during the day – and work on SEO copywriting assignments at night. Working part-time can be a great way to build up a client base while having the security of a regular paycheck.

11. How can I get paid more money?

That’s up to you. Top notch SEO copywriters understand how the search engines work, and keep up on the latest and greatest algorithmic changes.

Plus, they’re researching topics like NLP, neuromarketing, consumer psychology — anything that will help them write better copy faster.

The more you know, the more you can get paid.

If you love learning and uncovering the latest search engine burp is fun for you, you can look at expanding your skills into content marketing, social media and even consulting and training.

Some SEO copywriters even take on full-scale SEO projects, handling everything from technical to analytics and everything in between.

If this is the route you plan to take, know that you’ll need to spend a lot of time educating yourself. As I mentioned earlier, your lack of knowledge can hurt a client,so be very honest about what you can do – and what you can’t provide.

12. The most important question of all: Is SEO copywriting a fun career choice?

Yes, SEO copywriting is a darn fun career choice.

Some folks choose to turn SEO copywriting into a lifestyle business, where they fit in copywriting gigs around family, fun, and other responsibilities.

Other people dream of having a full-fledged SEO copywriting and content marketing agency, complete with employees, downtown office, and signage.

Still others would rather work for an agency and be part of a fantastic team.

If SEO copywriting is your desired career choice, you have the freedom to create the work environment you’ve always wanted. And having that kind of freedom, combined with doing the work you want to do, is a great gig. :)

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.

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