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flat feeIf you follow this blog you may realize I love flat fees.

Like so many things in life, flat fees do have some potential problems.

The biggest, in my opinion, is that you may end up charging your client less, sometimes significantly less than you would have if you were charging them by the hour.

This came up in a comment to the article 4 Reasons Freelance Writers Should Always Insist on a Deposit, when Claudia, whom I know to be a dynamite editor,  said “… The difficulty comes from not being certain, even though I have established decent measures of how many pages per hour, for instance, how much work and time I’ll actually expend, because the manuscript given me to edit is still incomplete.”

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7 Questions to Help Your Client Know What They Want

 know what they wantDo most of your writing clients really know what they want? Of course, mileage will vary. If you’re working with managers who often hire freelance writers, the chances are those clients really know what they want.

On the other hand, someone who has worked with few or no freelance writers often has lots of misunderstanding s.

For example, those who want books ghostwritten are classic for not knowing what they want. They know they want a book, but they have little idea how a book actually goes together and what’s actually required in terms of time and effort. The same is true of the executive of a small business who suddenly decides she wants a blog. Unrealistic expectations abound. They are sure they can get rich or increase their sales with ease.

Vague assumptions are perhaps the first clue they have no idea how to define or spec a writing job. They think they do, but because they don’t understand how writing actually gets done or what the writer needs, they can be difficult to work with. These seven questions will help your client know what they want and you to get crystal clear on your assignment.

1 – What is the writing for?

Every piece of writing has a purpose, and that should be made clear. Why do they want you to write it in the first place? Knowing this will help you understand your client’s goals.

2 – What does your client want it to accomplish?

Is this an advertising or direct mail piece that’s supposed to sell a product or service? Or perhaps it’s to get the firm or someone in the firm publicity. Is it to provide background information of something tighter and more specific? Is it to be a ghostwritten piece, and if so, whose voice should the writer use?

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depositInsisting on a hefty deposit or up front payment, if you can’t get totally paid in advance, is an absolute must for freelance writers for at least four reasons.

If the client can’t or won’t pay you get something

Not long ago I wrote about what you can do if a client can’t pay. When you insist on payment up front or at least a large deposit, if the client flakes or otherwise defaults you’ll have at least earned something for the portion of the project you completed.

How large a deposit? That’s subject to negotiation, but I generally insist on 50 percent up front unless it’s a project that would pay me thousands. Then I may take a third or a quarter up in advance.

Refusal to pay a deposit or an advance is a huge red flag

If the potential client refuses to pay a deposit, they usually claim it’s because they have no idea how well you’ll perform. This isn’t too surprising the first time they hired you. Your samples, and testimonials  on your website or in your portfolio, should convince them. If not, their stated fear may be cover for not wanting or not being able to pay you. It’s a huge red flag.

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What Do You Do When a Client Can’t Pay You?

can't paySometimes a client simply can’t pay you. It almost doesn’t matter why, except I’d rather know the non-paying client has no choice than deliberately stiffed me.

Businesses go south all the time. It may be the owners or the CEO, depending on the size of the organization, did something stupid or failed to do something necessary. Chances are when they contracted with you for some writing they fully expected to pay you on time; instead they do not have the money, don’t know where to get it  and literally can’t pay you. Oh sure, there are a few real crooks out there, but they are pretty rare.

What can you do if they can’t pay?

Although a few businesses will let you know as soon as they know that you won’t be getting paid, mostly you find out after trying to collect over a period of time. If they truly don’t have the money to pay you there’s not a whole lot you can do.

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raise your writing ratesIt’s probably time to raise your writing rates.

How do I know? I’m betting you haven’t looked hard at how much you’re charging in over a year. It seems the decision to raise your rates is often a difficult one for many freelance writers.

The considerations seem to fall into roughly two groups. The first is “Am I, and my writing, good enough to charge more?”

The second is “How can I get my existing clients to accept the price increase?” Let’s look at both.

Am I good enough to charge more?

My hunch is you’re probably a better writer than you know. That seems to be true for most people who have sold at least some writing services for at least a year or longer. Take an honest look at your writing and compare it with one or two others in the same field who you suspect are earning about what you are. Chances are you’ll discover your writing is at least as good as theirs, maybe even better. Sure, it’s a subjective judgment, but it can help you see that you’re actually doing a pretty good job.

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Sales Funnels and the Freelance Writer

sales funnelsSales funnels – is it just me or is there a lot of talk about sales funnels going around?

The term seems like it’s simple enough – you lead people down through your sales funnels to the sale.  And in a way, it can be that simple.

Let’s see how it might apply to your freelance writing business. First let’s look at a definition.

What, exactly, are sales funnels?

Simply put, sales funnels are the process or steps you take to find potential customers, educate them about what you do, offer your services, and close the deal. The advantage of creating this process is that once you’ve got it working, it’s repeatable without much trouble.

Most of the hype around these funnels is aimed at products, and we writers are in a perfect position to create information products for sale. But a sales funnel can also work on marketing your writing services, and that’s today’s focus. I’ll talk about using a sales funnel for an info product you create in another article.

Although there are lots of ways to build sales funnels, I like this five step process.

Step 1 – Locate potential customers

In my mind this is the biggie. Here’s an approach that has worked for me:

When I want to market my ghostwriting services, for example, I first decide who might want it and has the money to pay for it. Say, for instance, I want to find a sales person who has a wow of a story to tell. I’d start by googling something like ‘top sales people.’ I might find some lists of people there or not. I might find some forums where I could post, or some websites that might let me write an article and include a link to my new (see below) opt in page.

The people you’re looking for might be middle management in a particular industry, or retirees who want to tell their story. You get the idea, define who you want then go out and find nests of them.

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The Marketing Mindset for Freelance Writing

marketing mindsetDo you have a marketing mindset about your writing and your writing business? Or does the necessity of marketing make you shudder and want to go back to bed and eat cookies?

For a long time I felt exactly that way.

Marketing was a pain; it was boring; it felt more than slightly distasteful and I often just didn’t get it done.

Sometimes I appreciate advertising

Then one day I made a startling observation. I find some advertising helpful. Maybe because it tells me about a product or service I’d really like to have. Some ads have interesting stories to tell about topics that are new to me.

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side projectsSide projects – some would describe freelance writing as a side project, but I’ve been writing as a mostly full time freelance writer for multiple decades and I’m far from alone.

Many of you reading this are also full time writers and those who aren’t are working to get there.

Of course, full time is in the eye of the freelancer.

What is full time work?

We tend to think a 40 hour week is normal for a full time job. (It actually became law in the US in 1869) I’m not so sure, at least for writers. I find if I’m writing well, 3-4 hours is about all I can do if I’m to write again the next day. All the other business of writing, marketing, research, talking to potential clients, etc. etc. etc. can take a lot of time or not so much, totally depending on what’s up.

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small stuffSmall stuff. We’re advised not to sweat the small stuff and there’s a lot of wisdom in that, except, of course, when there isn’t.

Here’s what I mean:

Back in the day, when computers were only marginally better than typewriters, a man rushed into the computer store where I was working. He was irate, waving a copy of Writer’s Market open to a page which suggested the correct margins for manuscripts. Back then word processing software mostly didn’t give you many or any options about margins, and in this case, none of them were exactly what Writer’s Market suggested. I couldn’t convince him that what he needed to do was work on  his writing and not worry about manuscript margins because no editor was measuring margins on over the transom submissions. He was convinced the exact margins would increase his chances of getting published immeasurably.

This is exactly the sort of small stuff a freelance writer should ignore. The pages need to look good, be ragged right, double spaced and with no surprises. That’s it! It doesn’t really matter where the page numbers fall, or if your contact information is on the right or the left. Unless, of course, if you’re doing academic writing. Not that I know for sure, but I understand even the unimportant minutia is considered important.

It’s the small stuff of writing you need to sweat

Although that subhead can be misleading. There probably isn’t a rule of grammar, spelling, or writing structure that can’t be broken and the writing be better for the break. If you go against the grain it’s likely to work if you’ve got a solid reason to shatter or bend convention.

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leave your job to freelanceWant to leave your job job and freelance?

If even part of your job is writing it may be quite easy to get your employer to hire you as a freelance writer. It’s one of the very best ways to leave your job to freelance.

Here is an overview of the process, with advantages to both you and your about to be former boss when you leave your job to freelance.

The advantages to you are obvious, including:

  • You walk away with income flowing in – how much depends on what you negotiate
  • You’re already familiar with the kind of writing you’ll be doing from (probably) your home office – and what you need to do to keep them satisfied.
  • In theory you control your own client base and time as well as your income which as a freelancer isn’t limited
  • Chances are you’ll be able to get more writing done than ever before once you get in the swing of things – working in offices often means constant interruption.

The disadvantages to you are worth thinking about

  • Uncertain pay days
  • Varied amounts of pay
  • No benefits if you have some
  • No pension or retirement plan if you have one where you work
  • The lack of structure may cause you some problems

Benefits to your soon-to-be former company

  • You’re a known quantity – which makes their life easier
  • If they use you as a freelancer they may not have to hire your replacement, saving them money
  • You’ll cost them less – no benefits, including health insurance, paid sick and vacation leave, etc. That is assuming you’ve got these
  • Also, no office space, or parking space. No computer equipment, unless they want you on site part of the time – which may  be a disadvantage for you

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