Refreshed, Reinvigorated and Ready to Go

I probably should have preceded this blog post with one headed ‘Fatigued, Frustrated and Fed up’ as that’s exactly how I felt just a couple of weeks ago. It’s a good thing that my holiday came when it did as I was well in need of it.

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‘Why was I feeling so FFF’d up with everything?’ you may ask. Here’s why:

Fatigued because I’ve been working weekends for the last seven months as well as working Monday to Friday. Basically, me and my husband have been renovating my mother-in-law’s former home as she sadly passed away last September.  Although the work was mainly cosmetic we underestimated just how long it would take to complete. We also didn’t realise how much the continuous weekend working would take it out of us, especially as we have both been fully stretched in our Monday to Friday occupations recently.  Plus, we’re not as young as we used to be and at times like this it really shows.

Frustrated because I desperately want to publish the novel that I wrote several years ago. Unfortunately, I’ve been so busy lately that I can’t even find time to edit it let alone put all my promotional and marketing plans into effect.

Fed up due to a combination of the above two. I do tend to push myself too hard at times, to the point where I feel extremely tired but I still find myself dissatisfied if I don’t achieve all of my goals. I planned to launch my novel in May or June and it galls me to have to accept that I will probably need to postpone the launch date.

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On a more positive note, two more weeks should see the end of the house renovations and then I’ll get my weekends back – at last! I’ve also spent two blissful weeks lazing about in the sun so I’m feeling much more refreshed and ready to tackle the mountain of client work that is waiting for me. Not that I’m complaining about my client workload – it’s always good to have plenty of paid writing, proofreading and editing work. Getting my weekends back, however, will be an absolute bonus. It means that I’ll be able to take some time to chill and recharge my batteries at the weekends. I might also manage to squeeze in a couple of hours on my novel if I’ve been too busy during the week. Bring it on!

I’d love to hear how other authors find the time to organise a heavy workload particularly those who have other commitments as well as being authors. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments box below.

 

Becoming a Freelance Copywriter – Part 7 – The Financial Aspects

There are many good things about being self-employed but, unfortunately, along with the benefits comes the burden of having to keep financial records. Let’s be honest; it’s not a task that many of us enjoy but there are ways in which you can make it easier for yourself.

Record Keeping
I have never found the need to invest in costly, time-consuming accounting software. I find it much easier to keep two spreadsheets; one recording my income and the other recording my outgoings. For income you should include your invoice number, date, amount and description, and also add columns for the amount and date of payment as well as columns showing total income, total paid and total outstanding.  The spreadsheet for expenditure is similar but you would divide the columns into different types of expenditure to make it easier when you fill in your tax return at the end of the year.

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I use an invoice numbering system beginning with the letter S (for sales) for all my client work and the letters BS for all my book sales. For client work I issue an invoice as soon as the work is complete and enter it onto my spreadsheet. This enables me to keep a record of all the invoices I have issued, and with my current spreadsheet I have a separate column for book sales so that I can see how well my books are selling. You will find it easy to get hold of an invoice template on the Internet, which you can adapt for your own use. Every time I update my spreadsheets e.g. by adding invoices, expenditure or payments received, I back the spreadsheet up so that I don’t lose valuable information.

Don’t forget that there are a number of items for which you can claim through your business such as the use of a home office, pension contributions etc. You can find information regarding items you can claim for on the HMRC website at: http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/incometax/tax-allow-ees.htm.

Your Trading Status
From my point of view, as a freelancer there is little to be gained from operating as a limited company, even if you occasionally enlist outside help. In fact, there are a lot of drawbacks financially. You have to open a separate business banking account often entailing increased bank charges, you need insurance and there is a lot of form-filling as well as various rules and regulations. I therefore find it much easier to operate as a sole trader, and you can still have a separate name and brand for your company if you want to.

Credit Control
I worked in credit control for about 14 years prior to becoming a writer so I’m aware of the problems that this can sometimes present. Here are some tips that might help you when it comes to credit control:

1) Agree terms with the client at the outset. I send a simple quotation document with a few terms at the bottom. These set out when payment is required and the number of revisions that are included in the price. Ask the client to agree to your quotation before work goes ahead as this will avoid problems in the long run.

2) Always bear in mind that it is you who sets the terms, not the client. Many clients insist that they take 30 days credit but it is up to you whether you choose to allow this. This is often because they have monthly payment runs but it is always possible for companies to issue separate payments if they want to. I usually ask for payment within 7 days as I think that this is a reasonable period to enable the client to process payments.

If you want to be paid more quickly than the company’s usual timescales explain to the customer that you do not offer extended credit because you are a sole trader and rely on income from clients for your living expenses. Some clients may still insist on lengthier payment terms and it will be up to you whether you think that it is worthwhile waiting e.g. because the client gives you a lot of work and you are confident that he will keep to his word.

3) When you start working for a new client check him out to see whether he is in a good financial position. The website https://www.duedil.com/ gives you a certain amount of free financial information about limited companies, but there are also paid services you can use. You will find the Companies House website useful at: http://www.companieshouse.gov.uk/.

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4) If a client’s invoices become overdue, it is important to maintain contact. Don’t be frightened of asking for payment; it is your money after all. It is usually best to make contact by telephone as this enables you to get a feel for the situation. Also, make sure you are speaking to the right person. You could start by contacting the member of staff responsible for processing payments then move onto the finance manager if you have no success.

If you have given the client sufficient opportunity to make payments and he still hasn’t paid, it may be time to threaten further action. Before doing so, though, think about whether this could jeopardise any chances of future work. It is also standard practice to send a 7 day letter (or a Letter before Action) before taking a client to court. You can find further information on the Citizen’s Advice website at: http://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/.

This is the seventh blog in my series about becoming a freelance writer. To view any of the earlier blogs in the series please visit the blog archive. If you have found this blog useful, or any others in this series, you are welcome to leave any feedback in the comments box below. You can also use the comments box if you have any questions and I will respond via the blog.

Becoming a Freelance Copywriter – Part 6 – Retaining Customers

Now that you’ve built up your client base you need to make sure that you retain those clients because your connections with them could lead to regular ongoing work. Here are some tips that should help:

Maintaining Quality

There’s an old adage that you’re only as good as your last piece of work and that is particularly true in the writing industry. It is important to maintain both the quality and the punctuality of your writing no matter how busy you may become. This can be difficult at times when you have a heavy workload, but don’t be tempted to do a rush job, which doesn’t match your usual quality standards. Just because you have done good work for a client in the past doesn’t mean they will retain your services if you return writing that is sub-standard.

To ensure that you haven’t made any mistakes with your writing you should always proofread it a couple of times. You will find it easier to spot errors if you approach it afresh. I usually check through my work straight after I have written it then put it to one side and proofread it the following day. I prefer to proofread first thing in the morning before I start work on other writing projects. You will be amazed to find how much easier it is to spot errors after you have slept on it and approached the task with a clear head.

Be realistic about timescales because if you fail to deliver a project on time it will only lead to disappointment on the part of the client. As a freelance copywriter you are bound to get periods when everything seems to come in at once followed by quiet periods. This is one of the reasons that I decided to write and publish my own books as it is something productive that I can fit around client projects, whilst still utilising my skills as a writer.

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In time you will learn to manage these fluctuations. However, in the meantime you will have to balance your workload in the best way you can. Managing a demanding number of projects will sometimes entail having to make crucial decisions. For example, if a client is really valuable to you, can you really afford to put him off if he has an urgent requirement? You may decide that it would be best to put him at the front of the queue and ask other clients whether they would mind waiting a little longer. Alternatively, you may decide that it is worthwhile pulling out all the stops for a couple of weeks and working longer hours until your workload is more manageable.

Keep in Touch

Bear in mind that clients have urgent requirements and not so urgent requirements. With the latter clients tend to put off these tasks choosing to concentrate on the more pressing needs of their businesses. In fact, sometimes they forget about them altogether until something jolts their memory. That’s why it’s handy to keep in touch. However, it’s not a good idea to bombard clients with emails every week as this can become irritating as we all know. Instead you should only contact them by email when you have something worth reporting such as a special offer.

Social media is a handy way of keeping in touch with clients and I always try to connect with clients on Facebook or Linked In. With these channels it is accepted as the norm to make regular postings, and people following you can choose whether or not they want to read the information you are posting. So, if you publish a blog and link to it from Facebook or Linked In it may remind your clients of your presence. Also, if you provide valuable information via your blog it will serve to reinforce your professional prowess. 

Entice Them

One good reason to contact a client directly by email would be if you are running a special promotion. This could be a percentage discount on all services or perhaps you will offer a discount for certain areas. I offer a permanent discount for bulk articles and blogs as companies have a regular need for these. Commissioning regular articles can also work out costly for businesses who constantly publish them to maintain their Internet Search Engine Rank. So, if you have a new client that you have just written the web copy for, it may be a good idea to let them know if you offer a discount for bulk article copywriting. 

This is the sixth part in my series of articles about becoming a freelance copywriter. Part 7 will discuss the financial aspects. If you have found this post helpful or you have any questions you’d like to ask, please feel free to post your comments below.

Becoming a Freelance Copywriter – Part 5 – Attracting New Customers

If you’ve been following this series of blogs you may have tried bidding sites as a way of finding your first few projects. You may also have created an online portfolio to showcase your work.

Now that you have taken those steps, how do you continue to attract new customers? Furthermore, how do you attract customers that pay better rates than the rates paid by most of the companies on bidding sites? These tips should help you to find more ways of attracting customers:

Your Website 

If you want to reach out to new customers it’s essential to have your own website. This shows potential customers that you’re a serious copywriting professional and not just someone who wants to make a bit of extra money in your spare time.

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Apart from displaying your portfolio on your website, you can tell customers more about you and your business. This often helps potential customers to make a decision as to whether to engage your services. Customers will be looking for someone who is reliable and has the skills and experience to provide a high level of service at a competitive price. Here are some example questions that customers may be seeking the answers to when they visit your website:

–       What specific writing experience do you have?

–       Do you write in any niche areas?

–       What is the depth of your experience in these areas?

–       Are your other clients happy with the projects that you have completed for them?

–       How can clients get in touch with you?

–       What level of service can clients expect?

–       Why should customers use your services rather than those of another copywriter?

As well as displaying your portfolio on your website it is useful to show some testimonials from satisfied clients. New customers are always impressed by glowing feedback regarding your services.

When writing your web copy you should try to sell yourself. AIDA is a useful technique for writing sales copy:

A = Attention – try to grab the reader’s attention from the outset.

I = Interest – once you have got his attention you need to keep him on the website.

D = Desire – this is where you create a desire in the reader to take further action e.g. ask for a quotation.

A = Call to Action – this is very important as you need to make it as easy as possible for the customer to contact you. You should put your phone number and email address on every page of the website as well as full contact details on the Contacts page.

You should also think about any unique selling points (USPs) that your copywriting business has as these can encourage customers to use your services. For example, do you have a great deal of knowledge on a specialist topic?

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Once you’ve developed your website you need to make sure it gets noticed and this is where search engine optimisation (SEO) comes in. The two areas that you should focus on are onsite optimisation and offsite optimisation.

Onsite optimisation refers to the content on your website and the metadata. As well as inserting keywords into your web copy you should keep refreshing the content. The continual introduction of new content on your website is an important factor for search engines and this is where having a blog can help. Metadata refers to data that isn’t seen on the page, but is nevertheless essential as it provides valuable information to search engines. A good web development company should be able to help you with this.

Offsite optimisation refers to the practice of creating links to your website. There are many ways to do this e.g. guest blogs, article marketing sites etc. Basically, the more good quality incoming links your website has, the better chance it has of increasing its rank with the search engines. Articles and guest blogs have another advantage in helping you to share your knowledge and therefore set yourself up as an expert in your particular field.

I won’t go into great detail about SEO since it isn’t my field of expertise, but there is a lot of information available on the subject through the Internet. If you have the funds to employ an SEO company, I recommend www.reallysimpleseo.co.uk. On the other hand, if you can’t afford to employ an SEO expert you can still find lots of useful information at the really simple SEO website. A guy at this company gave me some advice which really helped me. My website is currently ranked 0, basically because I haven’t had the time to create more incoming links. Nevertheless, I still manage to appear at the top of Google for certain keyword phrases thanks to his help.

Social Media

Social media is invaluable for getting your name out there and it’s definitely becoming increasingly popular. Every time you publish a blog on your website, link to it from social media by using words that tempt people to want to read more. If they’re interested in finding out more, they will follow the link to your blog and hopefully explore the rest of your website. Your blog is a chance to demonstrate your expertise and bring visitors to your website so you should put it to good use.

Social media can also prove valuable without even having to draw people to your website. For example, Linked In is widely used by professionals and gives you the opportunity to enter a profile about yourself and the services you offer. There are many groups that you can join on Linked In, which enable you to provide your expert opinion on different topics. You can find out a lot of useful facts from other members of groups too, as well as sharing ideas.

Linked In works through a system of connections. The more people you connect to on Linked In, the wider your network is. This enables people to find you more easily when they search Linked In for particular services. This often happens and I have gained a couple of new clients on the basis of being on Linked In. Apart from connecting with customers you can also connect with other members of groups so it’s easy to grow your network.

Contacts

Once you start to build up some valuable contacts you should make sure you keep in touch with them as you never know when they might need your services again. We covered ways in which to keep in touch in part three of this series of blogs, which you can access from our Blog Archive at: http://www.dianemannion.co.uk/blogarchive.html if you want to recap.

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Business Directories

Customers can sometimes find you through business directories. There are many free directories available, some of which are more useful than others. One I particularly like is the Free Index at: http://www.freeindex.co.uk/  as you can also list feedback from clients. If you manage to get plenty of feedback, you rise higher up the listings, making you more visible on the site.

Directories can be useful if customers are looking for local services as some of them display quite prominently in search results for location specific keywords e.g. “Copywriters Manchester”. Directories can also help with SEO as they create those all-important links back to your website. However, they don’t carry as much weight with the search engines as some other methods of link creation such as guest blogs that produce links from highly ranked websites.

Jobs Boards and Bidding Sites

You may be able to find freelance copywriting projects through jobs boards, which you can find by entering the term “freelance copywriting jobs” in an Internet search engine. I haven’t personally found any projects using job boards but this is mainly because the bulk of projects posted on jobs boards require you to work onsite and I prefer to work from home. However, there are occasionally jobs that allow you to work remotely so it is worth exploring this avenue.

If you’ve had success through bidding sites then you may want to continue using them. I have found a few clients this way but in the main the rates are poor unless you are writing about a niche topic.

The Direct Approach

Another way of finding new customers is to take a direct approach through mailshots etc. This is a method I have used in the past but success rates are generally quite low and postage costs can soon add up. With the increasing move towards online marketing I find that it is generally easier and more cost effective to market my services online.

This is the fifth in our series of blogs about becoming a freelance copywriter. You can find the previous four articles in the series through our blog archive at http://www.dianemannion.co.uk/blogarchive.html, which also contains a lot of other useful information about the writing industry. The next article in the series will be about retaining customers.

If you have found this article useful, or you have any questions relating to this article, please let me have your feedback comments below. You can be notified about future articles by following to this blog using the box to the right of this screen.