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Why Pro Bono Projects Can be Dangerous for Freelancers

pro bono projectsPro bono projects are the ones we undertake to do at no charge, aka free.

We all get asked to ‘write for free‘ and you’ve heard me caution against it in many cases. Sigh!

While there can be good reasons to give away from of your writing, be careful.

Be extra careful if you find yourself volunteering for what might be called a project. It probably includes some writing and is likely to also require some meetings, and any number of things that take you, (and me) away from our writing.

Ah the interesting worthwhile project!

Let me give you an example that I’m working with at the moment. Three or four weeks ago I ran into the CEO/Founder of a tech start-up non-partisan, non-profit organization that has developed a way of audit elections before an election is certified. If there’s a discrepancy, the certification can be delayed until a real investigation is held. I love it!  (It’s called DemocracyCounts! and you can get all the info you want at the web link.) It’s important work that makes total sense to me and I quickly volunteered.

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Client wantsNot knowing what your client wants with and from a writing project spells trouble – trouble that is up to you to solve.

It’s trouble because if you’re not in sync with your client’s needs and expectations  you simply can’t get it right.

Our customers are notorious for being unclear on why they want a particular piece of writing and what they will do with it once they have it. Which is why it so often falls to you to figure it out in concert with your customer, even if it means you end up helping them decide what they’re actually doing.

It’s surprising how often this confusion needs to be addressed.

Start by asking the right questions

Skillful questions are the key. Take this situation. You get a call from a possible customer who eagerly wants to know what you charge to write blog posts. I generally start with something like: “Great! What kind of blog and what do you hope to accomplish with it?”

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3 Ways to Get Samples on Your Professional Writer Website

samplesSamples on of  your writing on your website is a great way to keep marketing 24/7. And if you don’t yet have a website what the heck are you waiting for?

How samples help you market yourself

The reason samples are so important is that they demonstrate to the potential client that you can actually write. Our clients typically don’t know a thing about how writing actually happens. The ability to actually see your samples is hugely reassuring to them.

Even editors and publishers who want to hire writers and presumably know something about the process find samples helpful in sorting out applicants.

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price reductionA price reduction? Yes!

Rare I know.

Of course there’s a story!

A brief history

Several years ago, I think it was 2011, fellow writer Lori Widmer and I created what is now largely known as About Writing Squared, nee’ The Five Buck Forum – a truly supportive forum for writers. Obviously at that price we needed no price reduction.

Back then there was only one plugin to create a membership forum and it was anything but easy, but we made it work. Two or three years in Lori decided she wanted to work on her poetry. I took over completely. Lori stayed in the forum where she still shows up and posts almost daily.

A couple of times I experimented with higher prices.

Everything worked until it didn’t

Everything worked until it didn’t. About a month ago the site crashed. Badly. It turned out the most active of us were able to find out way in again, but it was pretty ugly. It was also way beyond my ability to truly fix. Nor did I know where to get the right kind of WordPress help.

Tony, the knight in shining armor

I mentioned my problem to Tony, a member of my Buddhist sangha (congregation) because he’d helped us move our old fashioned website to a WordPress format. He fixed my site! Almost suddenly. Well, not quite that fast, but he had to do a ton.

The short form of what happened is a renewal of a ssl certificate somehow broke the site. My   host restored it from backups, but they used the wrong set of files… a really old set. So Tony had a lot of work to do and he did it well, including substituting a much more up-to-date forum software. Nice.

I’m about finished and I’ve been thinking

There’s lots of additional work – tweaking, recreating sales pages and new payment buttons, integrating everything and I’ve made great progress with still a fair amount to be done.

While I’ve been working on the forum I’ve been thinking and have decided I want to take it back to the original pricing. We set the price at $5 a month for a couple of reasons.

  • We wanted to be of upmost service to our fellow writers and keeping the price low seemed a good way to do that.
  • We also loved the sound and look of The Five Buck Forum.

In a week or two I’m going to ‘relaunch’ as it were with the price reduction to the original $5 a month. You’ll have 19 days from that announcement to join at the Five Buck price.

Make sure you get notified the early so you don’t miss out. That’s easy to do – just go here and sign up

Write well and often, and try our forum!

Anne Wayman, freelance writer


writing for freeWriting for free is something, as a general rule, I don’t do – except of course when I do.

After all,  I’m a professional with excellent credits and like others need and deserve to be paid what I’m worth. Yet I spent part of this weekend writing quite a bit for free.

In other words my real answer to the question should you or I ever be writing for free is a great big “it depends.”

Maybe I should have a category of “it depends” because so much of the writing game is like that – no certain or standard answers despite what we experts sometimes seem to say.

About this writing for free weekend

Friday I found a job listed that truly excited me. It seems like something I not only could do well, but thoroughly enjoy as well. He asked applicants to read a sample of the kind of thing he wants, watch a couple of short videos, tell him if we wanted the gig and to quote a price for doing something similar with a draft document. I was way to tired to take that on Friday evening, so I started on Saturday morning.

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regular invoicingThis is Part 3 of charging and invoicing for your writing. Part 1, Let’s Talk About Invoicing and Invoices for Freelance Writers is here. Part 2, about Flat Fees, Hourly Rates or Retainers, is here.

If you don’t have a system it’s impossible to develop the habit of regular invoicing. Business systems you design and use will help you create a truly pleasurable and profitable freelance writing business. Regular invoicing is a major part of your success.

Now, what I mean by system in this case, is a pattern you create and follow to make regular invoicing a snap. The result is every invoice gets sent in a timely manner and you have a way of keeping track of which one’s are paid and which ones need to be reminded or worse.

Create a list of what regular invoicing looks like

The way to build a system is to first chunk it down in its component parts, like this:


Hourly Rates, Flat Fees, RetainersThis is Part 2 of charging and invoicing for your writing. Part 1, Let’s Talk About Invoicing and Invoices for Freelance Writers is here.

Hourly Rates, Flat Fees, Retainers are the three most popular ways freelance writers get paid, at least in the U.S. There are advantages and disadvantages to each.

As you’ll see, I’ve got my prejudices; I’ll tell you what they are and why I feel the way I do, promise.

What you want when setting rates

As a freelancer in charge of your own business you want first of all to be sure you’re charging enough to cover all your expenses and give you at least some of your wants, if not most of them. If you’re having trouble charging enough take a look at the whole Money Issues category – I suspect you’ll find some help there.

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invoicingThis is Part 1 of charging and invoicing for your writing

If you’re freelancing you’re also going to have to learn invoicing if you want to get paid. Oh sure, you can stick with outfits that pay automatically, but if you want to grow your business you need a wide variety of clients and most of them will want you to send an invoice.

And if you find you resist the idea of invoicing clients, know you’re not alone. Many freelancers, particularly on the more creative side, find themselves loath to bill their clients. They have all sorts of excuses and reasons – from not really knowing how to feeling guilty about charging for their services. Yes, creative freelancers sometimes have odd ideas about money. Fortunately you can learn to let go of those if you have them and adopt new ideas that support you and your business.

Invoicing is easier than ever

For years I generated every invoice almost from scratch using Word™. That method still works and you’ll find invoicing from scratch instructions and a real sample here.

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moneymaking freelance writerAre you on track to be a real moneymaking freelance writer?

A month or so ago I talked about the myths of freelance writing.

But what, really, does it take to earn a generous living with your writing? What follows are what I consider the basics for making money as a freelance writer.

You need to write reasonably well

Writing reasonably well is key to being a moneymaking freelance writer. But ‘reasonably well’ doesn’t mean you need a collage degree or deep studies in grammar. You do need some concept of complete sentences, simple punctuation, and how paragraphs work. I look back at some of my early, published writing, even after being edited by pros and see how much better I could have been. It was good enough.

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too hot to writeToo hot to write?

I understand.

Okay, I live within spitting distance of San Diego Bay. Which used to mean the weather was almost always if not great at least good. But like so many other places it’s getting hotter and hotter here as climate change kicks in in noticeable ways.

(Begin rant: And yeah, I understand that any particular rise in temperature and humidity can’t be directly attributed to climate change. But darn it I’ve lived here most of my life and I know the weather has gradually shifted. As far as I’m concerned it’s mostly climate change mostly driven by fossil fuels and it’s way past time we started doing something serious about it. So I drive less and recycle more and bemoan the fact that our current administration is in climate change denial. Or maybe they really do prefer  profits and getting reelected to continuing human and other life on this planet. You can make a positive difference at Treespond.com and feel good about it too. End rant.)

I live in a duplex that’s darn close to 100 years old and although it’s charming, it’s lacking really good insulation – wasn’t needed for most of its life. We also paint the roof black, which is insane – white or silver would probably lower the inside temp by several degrees. Turns out white roofs used universally or even in large numbers could make things worse. On the other hand, they also do save energy; like so many things it’s a mixed bag.  And it’s the inside temperature that gets in my way. My office is often in the low – mid 90s for a good part of the day.

When it’s too hot to write start early.

The most obvious thing is to write in the cool of the early morning. Which I do anyway, so it’s easy. Fans help.

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