Tuesday, October 21, 2014

4 Things I've Learned About Freelancing

I took my first freelance writing job in 1997. A few things have changed since then -- blogging became a thing; the Internet exploded into a global shopping mall/news feed/soap box; and social media took media, well, social. But for all that, I'm not so sure that the art of freelancing itself has changed all that much, aside from the fact that there are a zillion more opportunities to practice it. So this post is aimed primarily at writers who have just started freelancing or are debating whether to bother. Without further ado, here are four insights I've gained in my years as a freelance marketing copywriter in Austin (and, thanks to the Web, everywhere else):

1. Uncertainty is a certainty. If you absolutely must have an exact dollar amount dropped into your bank account every week or month, you're better off with a 9-to-5 writing job. Freelancing isn't a feast-or-famine existence; it's a feast-and-famine existence. Your income will blow hot and cold, with good months following bad months in what almost seems a perverse rotation. The only way I've found to flatten the curve a little is to build up a large, varied clientele. The more eggs you have in your basket, the more easily you can ensure tomorrow morning's breakfast.

2. Clients come and go. When I began my writing career I made the classic mistake every freelancer makes at some point (and then never again). I had two big clients that accounted for my entire monthly nut, so I figured that I was all set for the indefinite future. Well, you can guess what happened -- the indefinite future became definite. One client decided to do all its copywriting in house, and the other got absorbed by another firm and more or less vanished in a puff of smoke. the lesson: always add new clients to your list, no matter how heavily booked you may think you are, because they will come and go. Businesses restructure; business owners change careers or retire. (Or even die. Yes, that's happened to me.)

3. You can't do it in a vacuum. Freelancing appeals to us solitary types because we're able to think and work largely unmolested by the outside world. But if you think you can spend the rest of your writing career staring serenely at your wall, think again. Whether you write marketing content for businesses or you submit articles on spec to publications, you need to get out there, talk to people, listen to people, and generally soak in what's going on and how your colleagues feel about it. For me, the most efficient way of doing that is to frequent weekly or monthly networking organizations. You may also have luck finding topic-based get-togethers on Meetup.com or similar sites. Even casual social gatherings can provide you with valuable insights and information.

4. It works if you work it. Okay, that isn't always true; there are plenty of hardworking souls for whatever reason found that freelancing simply didn't work for them. But I can at least state with confidence that it doesn't work if you don't work it. Now, if you're just coming off a brutal career in which long hours were the norm, you may well want to give yourself some slack time (if you can afford it) before plunging into your new life. But if you're attracted to freelancing because "it beats working for a living," then you'll soon find that your definition of "working" needs an adjustment. Freelancers can decide when they want to work, but not whether they want to work. That rent won't pay itself. For better or worse, you're your own boss now -- so lead wisely.

One final tip: No matter how much planning and weighing of options you do, you'll never really know whether freelancing agrees with you unless you give it a whirl, at least as a side job. Who knows -- you might find yourself sharing your own insights on the subject one of these days!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Let's Try This Again: Revising Your Marketing Content

If you don't get a thrill out of creating marketing content for your business, you may feel that the only thing less pleasant than writing the stuff is writing it again. Even experienced professional writers sometimes cringe at the thought of going over their masterwork with a red pen. And of course there's nothing fun about acknowledging weaknesses in that draft you toiled over for hours. But revision doesn't have to be a horrible experience. Here are some things to keep in mind the next time you have to repair a draft:

Little things mean a lot. You'd be amazed at how effective even the most minimal fixes can be. This is especially true for the kind of short-form writing found in so much marketing content. The fewer words you put into your work, the more weight and power each individual word must sustain. On the one hand, this means you're tasked with selecting the most effective words possible from beginning to end, which can seem an intimidating chore. On the other hand, it also means that swapping out even a single word here and there can completely transform the piece into something great. Just the other day I received what looked like an imposing list of revision requests on a print marketing piece; once I got started, however, it became obvious that just a few changes here and there would satisfy the client's concerns completely. So take heart -- that "big rewrite" may not be as big as you think.

There's no "right" way to write (or rewrite). One of my writing teachers was fond of saying that there's no such thing as good writing or bad writing -- there are only stronger or weaker choices. There may be an infinite number of ways you can express a given point in your marketing content, and many of them could easily hit a home run for you. If you want to give yourself the world's worst case of writer's block, keep telling yourself, "I've got to get this content right." There is no "right." Your only objective is to make your point clearly, in a way that impacts the emotions of your specific audience so that they'll do what you want them to do. If your revision (or even your first draft) achieves that, then congratulations -- you're done!

More isn't necessarily better. "One more thing" syndrome is an easy trap to fall into, especially if you're writing about a complicated product or service. What about those 47 additional features you forgot to mention? What about this specification or that disclaimer? Well, all those tidbits may be legitimate concerns for an owner's manual for a major business proposal -- but for your basic web page, press release, sales letter or blog article they can lead to a massive case of overkill. Your reader doesn't want to read every single detail you can dream up, nor do you want to add all that extra labor to your revision. In fact, the most successful revisions frequently involve cutting, not expanding. Cutting is as easy as hitting the Delete or Cut buttons on your keyboard, though it may not seem so painless when your favorite turns of phrase go on the chopping block. It certainly beats churning out more text!

So if you have to revise your marketing content, don't fret. Take my little reassurances to heart, relax, breathe deeply, and take a good look at just what needs to be done. If you feel too close to the material to be objective, get a second opinion from a pro. That's what we're here for!