Category Archives: advice

In Praise of Failure

By Jake Poinier

If I’m honest with myself—and, yeah, that can be tough to do—I recognize that I have learned as much or more about the freelancing business from failure as I have from success. I’ve been at it for 14 years now, and have enough distance from some of my most major screw-ups to laugh about them. For others, the sting is a little too fresh and harsh.

You’ve got your obvious mistakes, when you bid too low, or let the client run you ragged with scope creep, or simply took on a job that looked boring…and it turned out to be worse than you imagined. But the main thing is to not make the same mistake twice. That’s not failure, it’s foolishness.

There’s another aspect of failure, though, that’s a little more subtle and a lot more under your control. In order to improve your freelance business, you need to try things that you haven’t done before. Maybe it’s experimenting with different industries and media types, or trying out different marketing techniques. (If you want a ton of low-cost, high-potential-upside failures, cold-calling is a great exercise.)

The bottom line is that we may expect perfection from our actual creative work as freelancers—perfect grammar, punctuation, turns of phrase—but the sales/marketing/management aspect of the business doesn’t follow the same rules. If your query letters aren’t working, perhaps it’s not that the story ideas are bad. If new clients are haggling on price, it’s not necessarily because your rates are too high. If you’re having trouble finding prospects, it could be simply that you need to take a different approach.

Normally, you think of January as the time to try new things, but I’m telling you right here, that there are freelance clients out there now, coming into the pre-holiday rush, who can be grabbed with just the right pitch or approach—and it might be different from your current methodology. Sure, you might fail. But what would happen if you succeed?

Jake Poinier recently published his first book about freelancing, The Science, Art and Voodoo of Freelance Pricing and Getting Paid. He runs Phoenix-based Boomvang Creative Group and blogs under the pseudonym Dr. Freelance.

Don’t Forget to Write (Creatively)

SignatureWhen I first started out as a freelance writer, my stories were mainly observational essays based upon things I’d witnessed or experienced in my travels. The story that opened the freelancing door for me was titled The Fox and the Foreigner, a humorous little anecdote about ordering a bowl of kitsune soba in an off-the-beaten-path noodle shop in Kyoto. Since then, my work has expanded to include interviews, film and book reviews, various forms of service journalism, and most recently, international recipes.

In a span of fifteen years, I’ve gone from: “The days were clear and polished, with enormous banks of snow-white cumulus clouds hovering on the horizon’s blue-purple hills.  At day’s end, in the long rays of the October sun, these cloud banks were transformed into glorious kaleidoscopes of color, soon to be subdued and soothed by the onset of twilight, sparked by the twinkle of the evening star.”

To: “In this age of global connectivity, telecommuting is a rapidly-growing option for businesses of all types and sizes. Some companies allow their staff to telecommute on certain days of the week, and work on-site the rest of the time. Others, especially web-based businesses, may operate with a staff comprised mainly of telecommuting employees. Although telecommuting has its pros and cons, it’s certainly worth considering whether it is a good idea for your business. So take a look at your staff and ask yourself how many of them could be working from home.”

And now: “Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and sauté quickly. Add shrimp and sauté until just pink. Add wine and bring to a simmer. Add tomatoes, scallions and herbs and continue simmering for about 5 minutes, until tomatoes are just tender and sauce thickens. Season with salt and pepper. Add lemon juice and gently stir in feta cheese. Serve immediately. Serves 4.”

Regardless of its subject and content, freelance writing pays the bills; and for that, I am endlessly grateful. But lately, I find myself longing to return to my flowing narratives, creative imagery, engaging dialogue, and pithy conclusions. The only cure for that…is to tell a story. And I think I know just the story I want to tell.

CelesteHeiterFZBioCeleste Heiter is the author of Turn Your PC into a Lean Mean Freelancing Machine, the creator of the LoveBites Cookbook Series for Kindle Fire, and the author of Potty Pals , a potty-training book for children. She has also written ten books published by ThingsAsian Press; and spent eight years posting her recipes, food photographs, and film reviews on ChopstickCinema .

Visit her website, and her Amazon Author Page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Books about Freelancing

Joe Wallace Vinyl Collector and authorby Joe Wallace

There seem to be quite a lot of books about freelancing. A quick look at Amazon.com shows a number of titles, some of which seem dangerously close to being outdated judging by dates alone. Why do I say that? Because things change so much in this electronic age that the book in 2008 or even 2010 that seemed relevant and on-target is quickly dated by the types of social media platforms and fads used to network, the always-shifting challenges when it comes to the quality and availability of freelance work, etc.

There are two basic types of books on the freelance lifestyle. One I personally have no use for–the ones with titles like, “How To Make Bizillions of Dollars In Freelancing” and “90 Days to Quitting Your Day Job Forever And Ever Amen Because You’re a Hotshot Freelancer Now”. Sure, saying there are only two basic types is a massive generalization, but a quick look at the books out there does tend to make one believe that generalization has legs. Or at least is growing them rather quickly.

The OTHER type of book about freelancing is far more valuable. These are the books with titles like, “How I Went From Being a Day Job Zombie To A Full Time Freelance Superstar”.

See the difference? One type of book is stopping just short of claiming it can help turn YOU into a full time freelancer in 90 days or less (or whatever), the other type is explaining “How I Did It”.

The value in the second type of book? There are NO PROMISES IMPLIED. Unlike the first kind where there’s the implication that if you just follow the magic formula, success can be yours. These selling points are fairly misleading even when they don’t set out to be; “How I Did It” is far more valuable, honest, and worthy of your hard-earned book buying dollars.

Sure, many will disagree. Some will tell me not to judge a book by its cover. But I’m NOT, I’m judging it by the title and any promises implied therein. Maybe it’s even more shallow to judge a book by its title…but I believe in the old idea about truth in advertising. And if your book’s title isn’t “ad one” for your work, what is?

–Joe Wallace

Joe Wallace sells vinyl on the internet, writes articles about personal finance and veterans issues, edits book manuscripts, and is an audio professional specializing in field recording, post production, and sound effects. Contact him: jwallace@freelance-zone.com

Continuing Education For The Writer

by Catherine L. Tully

Catherine L. TullyAlthough freelance writers are self-employed and don’t have to take continuing education courses as part of the job–I’m going to argue that it is still a good idea. It never hurts to expand your knowledge base and it is always helpful to network a bit.

What type of class? Well, now that is entirely up to you. You can take something to enhance a strength you have (for example, if you are a fab blogger you might want to take an advanced WordPress class) – or you can brush up on an area where you are weak (perhaps using Photoshop or learning basic HTML skills?). It isn’t going to hurt you, and it certainly can help.

I would also recommend talking with your accountant to see if you can write off the cost of such a class, plus any materials that you buy for it.

Here are some places you can look for classes that might be useful:

  • Your local park district or community center
  • An area community college
  • Recreation centers
  • The library

As for ideas on what to take? There are plenty of things to choose from. Here are some that I would think could be of use to writers in the digital age:

  • Photoshop
  • Adobe Acrobat
  • Basic investing (to plan for your finances in the future)
  • MS Word
  • MS Excel
  • WordPress
  • Grammar refreshers
  • An advanced writing course
  • A fiction writing class

There are many other choices–just grab a catalogue from one of the area facilities and flip through to see what is offered in your community.

Many professionals in many different career fields take continuing education classes to expand their knowledge base and stay sharp. Why should we be any different?

Have you ever taken a class to enrich your writing life? If so, we’d love to hear about it!

Studying at the University of YouTube

YouTubeLogoA few months ago, I, a freelance writer and publication layout artist, was contracted to make a series of videos. Of course I was thrilled and my imagination went wild with creative possibilities, but as with many projects, dreaming is easier than doing.

In the past, I’d only worked with Windows MovieMaker to produce rather simplistic videos, but for this project, I would have to step up my game. I soon discovered that I was already in possession of Adobe Premiere, one of the best video editing software programs on the market. Unbeknownst to me, it had come bundled with my copy of Adobe Creative Suite. The bad news was that I had absolutely no idea how to use it; and being such a highly technical, professional-grade program, it’s neither user-friendly nor intuitive. With Adobe Premiere, you gotta know what you’re doing from the get-go.

For the first few days, I futzed around with the help files, but to no avail. Sure, they provided the basics for getting started, but for the kinds of bells and whistles I wanted in my videos, they were an exasperating labyrinth.

Just about the time I’d decided to lower the bar and revert to my old friend Windows MovieMaker, on a whim it occurred to me to see what YouTube might have to offer in the way of tutorials.

Gadzooks!…I’d hit the Motherlode! On my first try, with a few well-chosen keywords, I discovered top-notch tutorials on every technique I would need to make my video vision a reality, not to  mention a few nifty little tricks along the way.

Just out of curiosity, I began exploring tutorials on other software programs that a freelancer might need. What I found was a seemingly endless array of video lessons on every task and topic imaginable:

Need to learn how to do a mail merge in MS Word?

Want to sharpen your advanced Excel skills?

Like to find out how to add eye-popping special effects to a digital image in PhotoShop?

Thinking of starting a blog on WordPress?

Fancy a professional Facebook page for your freelancing services?

Crave a makeover for your website?

Then head for the University of YouTube. It’s not just for goofy fratboys anymore.

CelesteHeiterFZBioCeleste Heiter is the author of Turn Your PC into a Lean Mean Freelancing Machine, the creator of the LoveBites Cookbook Series for Kindle Fire, and the author of Potty Pals , a potty-training book for children. She has also written ten books published by ThingsAsian Press; and spent eight years posting her recipes, food photographs, and film reviews on ChopstickCinema .

Visit her website, and her Amazon Author Page.

Good Blogging Habits

438223_86537119by Catherine L. Tully

If you blog, there are a number of “good habits” that you can cultivate. As with any type of writing, getting into a regular groove and doing simple maintenance tasks can be a great help. Today we’re going to talk about a few of these…

Hook up social media

If you haven’t already done this, it’s worth investing a few moments. Get your blog together with your social media accounts by either utilizing a site like Twitterfeed (which also hooks you up with LinkedIn and Facebook), or install a social media plugin. Social media is a great funnel for more readers and it gets more eyes on your words. You can’t afford to be without this.

Check periodically to make sure your content is indeed being fed to the social media sites. The nice part about this is that it is a “habit” that you don’t even have to worry about much once you set it up!

Update your plugins

If you have plugins installed, be sure to update them when you are notified there is an update ready. This helps to insure everything will work properly. Here’s more info on that.

Be social

Don’t forget that blogging is a form of social media. Keep the “social” in there by taking the time to comment on other blogs regularly. It’s a good Karma thing. 🙂

Google your blog

I’ve seen my posts turn up in crazy places–some good–some not so good. Keep an eye on what is going on with your blog content by checking the web here and there for your stuff.

Update things periodically

Freshen up your bio, update your copyright and make sure your navigation links are working. Schedule in some time to just make sure things are current and working. Think of it as “light housekeeping”.

Back it all up

I can’t emphasize this enough. Back up your site regularly. Make it a weekly or monthly thing and put it on your calendar. Here’s a primer for WordPress users. Here’s one for Blogger users.

Do you have anything to add to this list?