October 23, 2014

Why Should Writers Blog?

A poet speaking at an event I attended cautioned that “once you post something on your blog or website, it’s almost impossible to get it published in a journal or magazine.”

I’m not gonna lie: he’s right. Aside from the occasional reprint or spin-off article, most blog content doesn’t get published in other markets. If you think about it from perspective, it seems like blogging might be a waste time and energy for an aspiring writer. Right?

Actually, no.

You can’t necessarily quantify the benefits of blogging with a paycheck, but you can benefit in other ways. Here’s how.

Practice writing on a regular basis. Blogging helps you stay discliplined and keeps those creative juices flowing. Even if you don’t have an assignment due, you still have a creative outlet. You don’t have to wait for a contract or go through editing by committee or wait six months for some magazine to appear in your mailbox. Blogs are immediate, and you can post as much as you want. Plus you get almost instant feedback when others comment.

Connect with other writers. This is huge, in my opinion. Befriending other writers ensures that you have the inside scoop on editors who are worth working with, publications that are in need of pitches, and general freelance gossip. We don’t have a water cooler, so blogs and forums are the next best thing (just be careful what you write online). It’s nice to see other writers succeed or grapple with the same issues as you.

Find your voice. You can learn grammar and syntax, but you have to develop your voice over time. If you post regularly and take the time to listen to your inner muse, your voice will emerge. And once you have a strong, distinctive voice, you can apply that to paying assignments and differentiate yourself from the millions of other freelancers out there.

Build your platform. Just look at Penelope Trunk. Or Jen Miller, who incorporated her blog about the Jersey Shore into her guidebook’s marketing plan. You don’t even have to be an aspiring book author to benefit from blogging. Whether your passion is careers, cooking, or Canadian lit, starting a blog can help you get noticed in that niche and lead to unexpected new opportunities.

Control your online footprint. There are about a million Susan Johnstons out there. Several of them write books. But I’m the top search result in Google, in part because I update my blog so much (which also links to my website). Even if you don’t have this problem, I’m betting you’d rather have people find your blog when they Google you than an article you wrote in seventh grade or your college track and field times. Writing good content can help you make-over your image online.

Frankly, blogging is different from writing for traditional, and I wouldn’t try to this publish something like this post in a mainstream publication. But I do like the idea of having a place to publish little musings that I find interesting in the moment. What’s your reason for blogging?

Drumming Up Clients During a Recession

“Recession” is a scary word for freelancers, since we have to continually market ourselves and search for new opportunities, as well as maintain relationships with current clients. But a lot of the writers I’ve talked to say there is definitely still demand for their services and that they haven’t suffered too much financially. Here are some of ways to nurture your writing (or other) business.

Keep in touch with former clients and editors. Maintaining relationships with people you’ve worked with in the past will help you generate more business in the future. As you complete one project, you might mention in an email to your client that you’re available for additional work or even offer suggestions on other ways they might use your services.

Even if you don’t have time to take on new projects, it’s still a good idea to stay in contact with clients or editors. Set up a Google Alert with the company name so you’ll know when something newsworthy happens and you can send a congratulatory card or email. You might also email your contacts an interesting article that they may not have seen so you stay on their radar. Or you could create a monthly newsletter to keep clients up to date on new services or special promotions you’re offering. Just make sure that you’re offering useful information for your readers (instead of pure self-promotion) so that people will want to stay on your list and open your emails.

Ask for referrals. Referrals are another way to leverage your existing network. If you’re on LinkedIn, you can see the names and companies in your contact’s networks and ask for an introduction. You can also request testimonials from clients to boost your credibility and post them on your website or LinkedIn profile.

You might also ask your editors if their companies publish other magazines or manage other websites that might be a fit for you. Of course, you should be willing to offer referrals, too. Say your client needs help with SEO, but that isn’t your forte. Or they ask for new web copy just as you’re leaving on vacation. Recommend someone you trust and you’ll make everyone happy.

Barter for more business. I know a copywriter who upgraded her website’s design by bartering with an advertising and web design firm. She wrote some copy for their website, and they redesigned hers. Another freelancer I know exchanged her editing expertise for maid services. Bartering allows you and the other person access to services or goods you might not be able to afford otherwise, especially during a recession. The exchange might also lead to referrals and more paying work.

Expand your offerings. If companies are cutting back on the services you offer, then ask yourself if some of your other skills might be marketable, too. I earn most of my income through writing and blogging, but I’ve done proofreading, too. Here’s another idea: teach a course in your field. In addition to boosting your bank account, teaching boosts your credibility, too, so be sure to tell your clients and friends to spread the word.

Use your downtime. If your clients are on vacation, then it’s a good time to take stock of your business and improve your marketing strategy. You can also use the time to take a class, attend networking events, or target new markets for your services. By staying busy and upbeat, you’ll be able to maintain momentum and be ready for new opportunities.

Adapted from an article that originally appeared in WorkHomeYou.

What I Learned While Copywriting On-Site

The past six weeks of juggling on-site copywriting and freelance assignments have been a little crazy. Fortunately for my sanity, that project has ended (despite their attempts to bribe me with ice cream and cocktails). But I think it taught me about the dynamics of being a contractor and the craft of copywriting. Here are few pointers I picked up.

Don’t get too attached to your copy. That brilliant turn of phrase you came up with could get cut for any number of reasons: it doesn’t fit the design concept, it’s too similar to another campaign, or it has too many characters. Working on-site tends to be more collaborative than working remotely, so it’s easy to get defensive as you see your copy getting lopped off. But remember, you’re paid hourly and ultimately, it’s up to the client to do what they wish with your copy. You’re not getting a byline, so let it go.

Don’t get too attached to your computer. Oftentimes contractors are expected to play musical cubes and work wherever there’s an open computer. It’s a bad idea to save things to your desktop, because you might be across the office the next day and not have access to those files. Keep as much of your work as possible web-based so you can jump around (maybe even work from home once you’ve proven yourself). I witnessed a little show-down between a contractor who had staked a claim to her computer and another contractor who had gotten there first and logged onto said computer. It wasn’t pretty. I actually got shifted around at the end of my first week, because a full timer left and they needed me to fill her shoes instead of doing my original project. For me, being flexible literally paid off.

One thing at a time. When I’m working at home, I tend to jump around a lot. I’ll have a tab open with my Gmail account and one with Google reader. I might spend half an hour on a query, then read over the draft of an article before I send it in. But when I’m on the clock for one client all day, it forces me to be accountable and stay focused on their needs. I didn’t stress out about the millions of other things I had to do, because I wanted to give that project my full attention when I was in the office. As it turns out, I didn’t miss much by not checking Gmail compulsively every few minutes (though having a BlackBerry made it easier to keep up with email on my commute or during breaks). Now that I’m working at home again, I hope to continue some of that laser-sharp focus but still allow myself a little flexibility, too.

Remember, you have X days left. I actually loved the friendly, creative work environment and the people I was working with. Still, after six weeks it became even more apparent to me that I’m just not meant to work in an office. My insomnia returned with a vengeance. Commuting became a chore. I missed spending an afternoon at the library reading magazines for research or taking my laptop to a coffeeshop for a change of scenery. It truly reaffirmed my desire to stay freelance. If you’re on an assignment that isn’t quite what you expected, reminding yourself of your end date will help you keep perspective and keep free of office politics, too.

Earlier this summer, Jennifer at CataylstBlogger weighed on-site writing versus freelancing, so you might check out her post, too. Have you ever worked on-site? How do you feel about it?

This Year’s Top 10 Blogs for Writers

Big thank you to Deb for alerting me about the Top 10 Blogs for Writers. I’m thrilled to be listed among such knowledgeable and respected bloggers. Thank you also to those who nominated me and who have been part of this community over (almost) the last two years.

It was a tough competition this year; in fact, the top three blogs were all within one percentage point of each other, as Michael points out. I have a few faves that weren’t on the list this year, but they’re in my blogroll, so be sure to check those out.

And now, without further ado, here are the other nine writers’ blogs.

Copyblogger
Men With Pens
Freelance Writing Jobs
Write to Done
Confident Writing
The Renegade Writer
Remarkable Communication
Writing Journey
Freelance Parent

Congrats to the other top 10 blogs. And thanks to you for being part of The Urban Muse community!