Truths revealed by walking in a prospect’s shoes

stay-calm-and-assemble-the-minionsAssemble the minions!
— Gru,
Despicable Me (2010, Universal Pictures)

 

Most of us know what it’s like to be the freelancer trying to get the gig. But how often do we get to see what it’s like on the flip side of the coin? To be the one hiring creative talent?

I’m not talking about hiring other writers or designers to help with your own clients. I’m talking about inbound prospects who only know that they have a problem, that you might be a solution and not much else.

A lot of freelancers give these prospects the brush off because “time is money” and “I only want to work with people who already know my value” and all that. Instead, these prospects could be opportunity knocking.

It just takes a little empathy.
Continue reading

What do you feed your Cowardly Lion?

The Cowardly Lion, Wizard of OzI *do* believe in spooks,
I *do* believe in spooks.
I do, I do, I do,
I *do* believe in spooks,
I *do* believe in spooks,
I do, I do, I do, I *do*!
The Cowardly Lion, The Wizard of Oz

Fear, worry, panic — oh my!

They’re almost every creative’s steadfast companions. Because regardless how good we are, professional writers are expendable. Freelance, full time, part time, no time…there’s a Stop sign at the end of almost every Client Road.

(Gives ya the warm fuzzies, huh? Yeah, me too.)

Yet even though we know this, we’re still rattled when something in our work environment changes. New editor? New director? Someone leaving? Client folding?

What ever shall we do?

Here’s the problem: Evolution has hardwired us to seek more information about what’s scaring us so we can protect ourselves. Our imaginations can go nuts.

Here’s the thing: The Cowardly Lion never got much done by himself and if you’re gripped by fear, neither will you.

Here’s the good news: You decide what to feed your Cowardly Lion — panic-inducing information or empowering information. Continue reading

How this Little Ducky Went Freelance: Part 3

Azkaban

But now I have a better view

When I was kicked out of Azkaban almost a year ago, I decided to put my career in my own hands and go freelance.

A year can make a big difference, good, bad and unconventionally pretty.

I’ve made major mistakes, especially in my marketing strategies and freelance rates. Result being? I’m back in a cubicle and freelancing on the side.

But I’ve also made some pretty good progress. And I’ve learned a lot.

So let’s wrap up the trilogy by taking a look at where things stand, what I need to fix and what you can learn from my mistakes.

Chapter 3: Now What?

My Freelance Writer’s Website
When I started freelancing, I had to put my freelance writer’s website together pretty quickly.

It was a hurried, uneducated, rush job and I don’t like anything about my website HayesCopywriting.com (now offline and updated/moved to Hayes-Writing.com). I don’t like how it looks, how it reads, how it doesn’t land me clients — pick something, I don’t like it.

I specialize in online content and my own website is more embarrassing than showing up to class naked.

It’s also hosted on GoDaddy. While I could do an entire post on why I don’t like GoDaddy, for now I’ll just call it cumbersome to modify, difficult to navigate and more focused on up-selling than serving its customers.

I’ve found another solution and set my GoDaddy account to close at the end of my subscription.

Dear GoDaddy, it’s not me, it’s you.
I’ve found someone else. And I’m moving on.

Construction on my new website is now underway on WordPress. It won’t be as polished I want, but it’s already better than my GoDaddy site and I can work on it more easily.

Plus, I’ll get more the insight into my web traffic and wiggle room in my budget.

  • Your Takeaway
    You need an online presence that sticks to the ribs. If your website isn’t doing the job, try something else. Evaluate what’s working, what isn’t and problem solve so that any changes you make are strategic. There are solutions out there – just know what you want and find it.

My Marketing Efforts
Ever loaded a blender and pressed the High Speed button without putting the lid on? That’s what my marketing efforts have been like — all over the place.

The problem is that I didn’t put much thought into my business identity, my target audience and how to reach them.

Timidity + no direction = ineffective freelancing

Yes, it’s that simple.

But instead of beating myself up and calling myself a failure — which never gets anyone anywhere — I’m going to:

  1. Define my freelance brand
    – to be done in my business plan
  2. Profile my ideal client
    – done
  3. Build a marketing plan using The Easy Fifteen Minute Marketing Plan from All Freelance Writing
    – a project I’m looking forward to

In creating this marketing plan, I will define where my target audience hangs out and how I can best reach them.

  • Your Takeaway
    Taking the time to plan your marketing before you hit the High Speed button will save you countless hours (and tears) of cleanup later. Know yourself, know your audience and figure out how you’re going to connect the two.

My Business Plan
In researching business plans for freelancers, I found that (as usual) there are two camps: those who don’t think freelancers need a business plan and those who do.

I’m not going speak for all freelancers. But I need to define my business model, what success looks like and how I’m going to reach my goals. A business plan will help.

These are the resources I’m going to use:

I’m going to pull the best from all of the above and sit my tail down to write my business plan.

I can have a cookie when I’m done.

  • Your Takeaway
    Your business plan doesn’t have to be formal, but you do need a roadmap. And you need to answer some hard questions. So even if your business plan isn’t so beautiful it makes Donald Trump weep with envy, you should probably whip one up anyway. Just so you know what you want and where you’re going.

My Freelance Future
I started freelancing with no leads, no clue and no clients. But even though my marketing efforts were less effective than trying to build an Egyptian pyramid out of soggy bread loaves, I eventually caught on and got some clients.

Now that I have a full time, 40-hour onsite contract gig and have started planning my wedding, I’m cutting back on side clients.

There are only so many hours in the day and if I tried to do it all, something would have to give. And that something would be my sanity.

But I’m still building my freelance writing business.

I’m putting together my new freelance writer website, maintaining Rubber Ducky Copywriter, engaging in social media, writing my business plan, formulating marketing strategies and staying active within this wonderful writer’s community I’m lucky enough to have met.

And I still take smaller side assignments here and there. Right now, I’m working on product labels for a local chili startup.

My first freelance efforts were a false start, a rumble strip on the road of life. It happens. I’m not the first freelancer to make a false start and I won’t be the last.

I can tell you this, however: I’m not quitting.

My goal is the same. My drive is the same. My freelancing smarts have leveled up. That counts for a lot.

  • Your Takeaway
    If you aren’t where you want to be, that doesn’t mean you’re a failure. It doesn’t mean you can’t do it. It only means that you need to reevaluate what you’re doing and maybe make some changes. Do what you have to do to keep the lights on, but a false start does not mean the end.

I’m not where I planned when I started, but the next time I’m released back into the wild, I’ll hit the freelance ground running.

What about you? Are you where you want to be and if not, what can you do to get there? Share your story in the comments.

How this Little Ducky Went Freelance: Part 1

Welcome to the first installment of a three-part series on how I went freelance. I’m going to share why and how I set up shop, where I find clients and where I’d like to go from here.

Spoiler alert: This is not a “how to be an overnight success” story. This is my real story. And the overnight part is turning out to be longer than I thought.

Each post is going to be longer than usual, so feel free to grab a snack and get comfy.

Introduction

Azkaban

I was on the 8th floor.

Last year, I was a corporate copywriter in the professional equivalent of Azkaban. Then one sunny afternoon, the dementors laid me off.

For a week afterwards, I channeled my anger into scrubbing every nook and cranny of my home.

And I thought. Hard. I decided that I wasn’t going to let those dementors beat me. They’d spent a year calling me mediocre, telling me that I wasn’t going to be anything more than what I already was.

But I was done letting them decide how far I could go. I was done working my tail off and believing in “If we like you, we might hire you.” I was done. And not just with the dementors. I wasn’t going to buy that line ever again.

I was going freelance.

Chapter One: Setting up Shop

When I ran out of things to clean, I put on my PJs, sat on my living room floor and made a list of what I needed to set up shop as a freelance writer.

  • Website
  • Online portfolio
  • Blog
  • Business license
  • Business bank accounts
  • Invoicing system
  • Piddly stuff I don’t know about yet

Even now, I realize that it’s small potatoes compared to what many consider overwhelming. But I was so far out of my comfort zone I needed a compass to find the floor under my butt.

And I hadn’t even started looking for clients yet.

Item #1: Website
I started building my website HayesCopywriting.com  (now moved and updated to Hayes-Writing.com) less than two weeks after I’d been laid off. My actions were rooted in panic and desperation. I just wanted someone—anyone—to hire me.

I was too emotional and unfocused to produce solid content. And it turns out I know just enough HTML to meddle and make my site look like something Picasso coughed up.

In reality, I just needed some basic pages. So I went with a predesigned GoDaddy theme and straightforward copy. Much to my surprise, it was well-received. Prospects were less concerned with the design than with seeing my portfolio.

  • Your Takeaway
    Don’t be too hard on yourself when you’re just getting started. And you don’t have to get too fancy. Straight and simple is hardly ever as bad as you think.

Item #2: Online portfolio
My years as a corporate copywriter gave me a solid portfolio ready to show. And thanks to my background in technology, it was already specialized.

However, most of my work was done for just a couple of companies. I could show variety of deliverables but not style or voice. And I worried that my work looked old.

I organized my online portfolio by type to highlight what I can do instead of the companies. And I built a blog to showcase my own voice with updated content.

  • Your Takeaway
    You have valuable skills. Focus on showcasing why you’re worth hiring. There’s a workaround for everything else.

Item #3: Blog
Before winding up in Azkaban, I blogged for a SEO company. Which gave me a decent understanding of how blogging works.

Then I ran into my biggest obstacle—me.

When I started, I tried to sound like an expert freelancer so people would hire me. But how smart can you sound if you’re trying to be an expert on something you just started? Even I didn’t want to read what I was cranking out. It was that bad.

After building and deleting three blogs, I gave up writing about what I thought I was supposed to write about. Instead, I started writing about what I knew. Fear. Doubt. Learning  to freelance. The craft of writing.

Now my blog fits like bunny slippers. And prospects appreciate that I have one in the first place.

  • Your Takeaway
    Be authentic. If you start a blog, make sure it’s about something you love. You’re far more likely to keep up with it and put your best into it.

Item #4: Business license
My first client is a company that requires its independent contractors to have a business license. I thought getting a business license was going to be expensive and complicated.

Nope. Fifteen minutes and $20 later, I was a walking, talking business.

  • Your Takeaway
    Even little steps can be scary. And that’s okay. But they’re still just steps to a bigger goal. And they’re rarely as bad as you imagine.

Item #5: Business bank accounts
My friend (a certified accountant) told me to set up business bank accounts immediately. And she was right. Setting aside part of my earnings in my business savings account kept it out of sight, out of mind and less likely to be spent on books.

This year, I can answer the tax man with confidence: Here take the money just please don’t hurt me.

  • Your Takeaway
    Sometimes the best advice you’ll get comes from people outside your profession. Pay attention.

Item #6: Invoicing system
When I started, I didn’t know about the multitude of invoicing options for freelancers. Instead, I set up an Excel spreadsheet to track my billing and I emailed my clients PDF invoices.

Simple but effective. And unlike the professional-grade options, my spreadsheet was free. When my billing outgrows my spreadsheet, then I’ll upgrade.

  • Your Takeaway
    Go with what works for you. Even if it isn’t what you think “real” professionals use.

Item #7: Piddly stuff I don’t know about yet
Going freelance requires little overhead. But there still seems an endless list of miscellaneous stuff. Filing supplies, postage, business mailbox, business cards, thank you notes, professional development books, style guides and the occasional Happy Meal. (Don’t judge. I like the toys.)

Fortunately, I already had pens, paper, printer, computer, comfy chair and yoga pants.

  • Your Takeaway
    You’re never really starting from scratch. And, there will never be an end to the piddly stuff. Just do the best you can to budget for surprises.

Notice what’s missing from the list?
Contracts. It was six months before I started on my freelancing contracts. I’ve been lucky. Most of my clients had their own contracts, and prospects for which I would’ve needed my own contract went kaput before the subject came up.

But really, contracts need to be at the top of any freelancer’s list.

  • Your Takeaway
    No matter how much you prepare, you’ll always miss something important. Kinda like packing for an overseas vacation. Just deal with it as best you can as fast you as can.

Coming Up

Next, I’ll delve into how I set my rates and found work. Stay tuned for Chapter Two: Hanging out My Shingle.

How to Deal with Rejection Day

Dealing with Rejection Day, The Mist-Style

They’re out there, waiting to tell you No.

Sometimes you can almost smell its sulfuric aroma before you get out of bed. Other times, you don’t know what’s happening until you’re hiding under your desk with a pint of Rocky Road ice cream.

It’s …*boom boom BOOOOOOM*…
Rejection Day.

Rejection Day starts creeps in slowly. Someone unsubscribes from your blog. Someone else stops following you on Twitter.

Then rejection’s creatures start coming out. Small at first. You lose another follower. And another. And another. And it’s you’ve been checking your stats for only two minutes.

With the drop in stats undermining your confidence, you hop off social media and head for the meaty, productive part of your day. Your inbox. Where larger, more bloodthirsty rejection creatures lurk.

A client sends feedback. And like all great feedback, it’s prefaced with “This is not a reflection on you, but…”

You haven’t seen so much red since your high school paper on Great Expectations in which you kept referring to Pip as Pipe.

As you dig in to the feedback, you get an email from a prospect saying that they’ve gone in another direction. Rejected before you even start. And there’s another email with the same subject line. Its preview doesn’t bode well.

Rejection has you thrashing in its tentacles before you even finish your coffee.

Good news: Everyone has the occasional Rejection Day.

Bad news: The good news has no impact on your day right now.
Unless you find someone to commiserate with.

If I was a character in The Mist, I would’ve died early trying to get to my car. And taken the last of the Rocky Road with me. But I can share some ways to deal with Rejection Day.

Tell a loved one “I love you.”
Since the universe isn’t filling your day with sunshine, it’s up to you. And telling loved ones how you feel brightens your day and theirs. I do this to my fiancé regardless, but it always makes me feel better when my day isn’t so great. You never know, maybe they need the pick-me-up too.

Finish a long-overdue chore.
A victory is a victory. And dealing with something that’s been sitting there mocking you is an accomplishment that can’t be debated. You hung the picture. It’s up. That’s a fact. For me, most of these victories come in the form of organizing my kitchen or moving furniture so I’ll stop running into it.

Write the universe a rejection letter.
Why suffer in silence? Tell the universe how you feel about this shabby, shabby treatment of your self-esteem. All too often, when I read my own rant, I realize just how small my problems actually are.

Note your accomplishments.
You may have lost five followers, but did you gain one? Did you post to your blog anyway? Did you handle that client feedback professionally even though it made you cry a little inside? You’re not as bad off as you may think.

Give yourself some tough love.
Remind yourself that this is what you signed up for when you chose this career path. And that if you get too frustrated with small stuff, you may as well find another line of work. Besides, you didn’t get this far by being a whiner.

Rejection Day isn’t marked on any calendar. You don’t always get warning. And some are worse than others. But it’s still only one day. Make it to the end and bounce back tomorrow.

How do you deal with Rejection Days? Share in the comments.