Friday, August 30, 2013

The Importance of Having an Effective Filing System

As you bag more projects and land more assignments and gigs in your freelancing career, it's now crucial to create your own filing system.

Your filing system can be kept in your computer's hard drive, or you can choose to have your email correspondence (letters where you negotiate or collect payment from your clients) printed out and tucked neatly inside a folder. 

Freelance professionals need to review their files annually for the following reasons:
  • You need to figure out which projects have been the most lucrative given a reasonable period of time. You can assess whether you'd like to work more on tasks that take longer to finish if you will be assured of a higher pay, or prefer those with a quick turn-over rate (i.e. proofreading resumes and submitting them within 48 hours) but don't pay as much.
  • You will get to know your "problem projects," or those that have challenged you to stretch yourself to become more resourceful. This will cause you to think if you need to hone your skills, sign up for additional training, get access to books or articles so you can have more information, or simply learn to manage your time better.
  • Your records will also reveal your "problem clients." I'm not merely referring to those who attempt to bail out with no prior notice or who refuse to pay up within a certain number of days. You can also easily pinpoint the ones who still made demands when you have already proceeded to work on the project. You have to decide that in each succeeding assignment, you will remain to stand firm with what you have agreed upon before asking the client to fork over a down payment.
You don't need to make your filing system elaborate. In fact, I strongly recommend keeping it as simple as possible.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Tracking Your Cash Flow

As you begin to accept projects as a freelance professional, the next crucial step that you need to do is to track the amount of money made from each transaction. After all the excitement of finding potential clients, you must now focus on building a steady cash flow.

Initially, part of your job requires that you keep a record where you enter your client's name and contact information, a brief description of the work involved, the amount you're charging as a flat fee and down payment, the date on which you got started, the deadline, and the date you expect to be paid. 

Tracking everything down may seem tedious at first, but you'll find this method convenient as soon as it's time for you to prepare a document called an invoice, which is a list of the services you have done along with a breakdown of your rates. 

This is particularly helpful after you have worked on a huge project, say, something that stretched for several weeks or a couple of months. In the field of freelancing, huge projects are seen as a lucrative deal.

To help you get started, I recommend using the following as a guideline. You can create a simple chart using Microsoft Word or Excel:

Client's name
Email address
Mobile number                     
Project brief        
Flat fee
Down payment
Date started
Date expected for first/second/third dispatch (if project will be delivered piece-meal)
Expected date for first payment (if client was billed on an installment basis)
Expected dates for succeeding payments
Date for settling all remaining balance

Monday, August 26, 2013

"Clip-less?" No Need to Worry! (Part 2)

I have mentioned that for newbie freelance writers, not having any clips (or published articles) to show magazine editors can pose as a hindrance to breaking into their target publication. But thankfully, there are many ways to obtain publishing credits.

While I can already consider writing without pay and blogging as "gold mines of a training ground" when it comes to getting some experience and honing your skills, here are three other ways you can secure those much-coveted clips: 

(3.) Ask a small business owner or entrepreneur if you can write a review about his products or services.

Over the last several years I've seen more and more businesses in their start-up stage peddling their wares through web sites, or social media sites like Facebook to save advertising costs.

If you see yourself writing for trade or consumer magazines, making it easy for the buying public to understand what constitutes a good bargain, writing product reviews would be an excellent way to get started. Usually, reviews take no more than 300 or 400 words. 

(4.) Get some exposure by submitting to article databases found online.

When I was just starting out, I got published in databases like SelfGrowth and EzineArticles, which are two of the best known sites when it comes to article marketing.

The newbie freelance writer may not have too many resources in terms of cash reserves and time, so building a professional platform is crucial if you want to be taken seriously. 

Web sites like the ones I mentioned above allow members to create an account for free, and you will be asked to specialize on several topics, making it easier for you to be known in a particular subject (e.g. entrepreneurship, parenting, workplace etiquette, etc.)

(5.) Join online writers' groups and be open to having your articles critiqued by fellow writers.

I highly recommend looking in Yahoo! Groups, or join , where I have been a member since 2010. As soon as you sign up for a free account, you will immediately sense the upbeat spirit in these sites backed up by stories and testimonials of writers of all stripes.

The rewards you'll get from online writers' groups stretch far beyond recognition for your work. You will mature by learning to take constructive criticism, and there are countless opportunities to encourage other aspiring writers as well.

Friday, August 23, 2013

"Clip-less?" No Need to Worry!

Experienced features writers for magazines are aware of the importance of presenting clips to editors of magazines and periodicals. For the newbie writer who'd like to make it as a contributor, a "clip" means any published article.

You can probably guess by now why editors require samples of your previous works. If it's your first time to try to break into their publication, the editor would at least like to know that he's not wasting his time reading your query. 

And when you have clips to show a magazine editor, it would be convenient for him to check if your writing style suits the publication.

But since we're talking about being a newbie freelance writer, having no clips would definitely make it hard for editors to sit up and take you seriously.

Fortunately, there are several ways to approach this problem if you really are determined. The following is not an exhaustive list, but just a few ideas to get you started: 

(1.) Volunteer to write for a community, church, or corporate newsletter.

Some people frown upon writing without pay, but volunteering is something a newbie must do willingly if he wants his articles to be seen in a magazine someday.

Writing for newsletters tops my list when it comes to getting some experience because people are the life and blood of communities, churches, and corporations. I did some volunteer work before, and it forced me to network with people, which led me to develop my communication and social skills.

Having said all of these, I'd like to give you additional advice: don't bother writing for free if you're going to deliver the article in a half-baked manner because you know you won't get paid. Think about volunteering as a training ground for you to get better at your craft, and you owe it to yourself to give it all you've got.

(2.) Start a blog.

In the past decade hosting services like Blogger and WordPress have become extremely popular among online users, and for good reasons: you can choose from a variety of templates and lay-outs that look clear, crisp, and professional, and you can even have them customized to suit the contents of your blog.

When publishing your own blog, avoid posting a hodgepodge of rants and ramblings, and unless you can offer some specialized knowledge about dogs or dog breeding, don't upload random photos of your pet.

A blog works best when you choose a topic and stick to it. All of us are knowledgeable about certain topics. But an even more important aspect of blogging is getting you to cultivate the writing habit.

Stay tuned for more in my next post.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

How to Pitch Your Ideas to Magazine Editors (Part 3)

Today I'll round off my article with the remaining two items in the list of guidelines for pitching ideas to magazine editors. Here they are:

(6.) Attach two article samples.

It would be best to include articles that have been published in other periodicals. This is proof that you've done the hard task of brainstorming, writing, revising, and pitching. Check your hard drive and upload the PDF files of your published articles from your computer. 

If you have articles published online, provide links so the editor can gain easy access. However, make sure that each link is working properly. You wouldn't want to arouse the curiosity and excitement of an editor over your article proposal only to turn him off by directing him to dead or inaccessible links.

(7.) Mention the articles or links you have provided, and end your query with a call to action, but do it politely.

Phrase the closing paragraphs of your query this way:

"I have attached two samples of my previously published articles for your perusal. As soon as I get your go signal, I can have the finished manuscript emailed to you within (insert your time frame).

Thank you for your time. I'm looking forward to hearing from you."


Your Name

In my next few posts, I'll talk lengthily about one of the most common problems experienced by newbie freelance writers: having no published articles to show editors. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

How to Pitch Your Ideas to Magazine Editors (Part 2)

In my previous post, I provided the first two ways in the list of guidelines for pitching your article ideas to editors of magazines and periodicals. Here are three more ways:

(3.) Hook your editor in the first few sentences of your query by asking a thought-provoking question, mentioning a well-known fact, or raising an issue that might seem taboo or controversial.

Let's say you're targeting a magazine catering to health and health-related issues. You're aware that there have been many valid arguments made about losing excess weight to be in better health. So an excellent introduction might be to state a fact.

Take a look at the following example:

"Certified nutritionists and dietitians have always abided by the rule of individuals staying within their ideal Body Mass Index (BMI) in order to benefit from maximum health."

You're sure to catch the editor's attention because most health professionals believe in this. But imagine how his curiosity will be raised if you mention this as a follow-up statement:

"However, during the past few decades, web sites like Body Positive, in an effort to empower women with large bodies, promoted the philosophy of HAES, or Health at Every Size."

If that's the first time the editor has heard of HAES, then he would want to continue reading to find out what you've got up your sleeve. 

(4.) Mention your planned article proposal.

Remember to keep it brief yet concise:

"I would like to propose a 1,000-word article where I'll bring up the two sides of healthy living regarding weight."

(5.) Cite any relevant credentials you may have for writing the piece.

A query is not the place to be modest about your accomplishments as a freelance writer. Mention your experience, and since you're writing a piece about health, you may include credentials like:

"I've been a full-time freelance writer for three years, and my articles about health, nutrition, and weight loss have been published in (state titles of magazines). I have also been commissioned by So-and-So web site for their marketing campaign on the benefits of juicing."

Stay tuned for my next post about pitching ideas to magazine editors.

Friday, August 16, 2013

How to Pitch Your Ideas to Magazine Editors

The career of a features writer for magazines usually involves mining ideas, developing an idea to a full-length article, and looking for a suitable publication for his work.

And yet, the most important part of getting published in a magazine is pitching, or selling your ideas to magazine editors. Before an editor agrees to publish your article, you would have to convince him by writing a query letter.

Time and again freelance writers who contribute magazine features have found it tricky to compose the perfect query letter. Even the most seasoned freelance writers still get rejected occasionally.

Now, if you're just starting out, it's better to increase the chances of an editor reading your query and getting him to take action.

I recommend doing the following:

(1.) Remember that accuracy is key.

Be sure to address your query to the right person in the magazine's staff, which is either the managing or associate editor. To find out the name of the appropriate editor, turn to your target publication's editorial page, which is usually located among the first few pages of the magazine.

Regardless of whether you're planning to write a snail mail or email query, double check to see that you got the magazine's postal mail address and web site URL correctly. 

(2.) Know what to include in your query letter.

If you're sending a query through snail mail, write your address and the date in the upper right-hand corner of your letter. And then, in the left-hand portion underneath the date, write the following:

Managing Editor
Title of Publication

Dear Sir/Madam:

I'll mention the three remaining guidelines in my next post.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

How A Features Writer Can Save Up on Magazines (Part 2)

In my previous post, I introduced the first two ways an aspiring features writer can save up on magazines. Here are my three other suggestions:

(3.) Examine the racks in your doctor's or dentist's clinic.

Haven't you noticed that most clinics usually have a stash of magazines in their waiting room? Waiting to get a consultation or treatment can eat up a significant amount of time, so clinics have magazines to keep patients entertained. 

I visit my dentist twice a year to get a prophylaxis, and occasionally I go to a dermatologist, too. I've noticed the wide array of reading materials in the waiting area, dealing with topics that have to do with health, fashion, lifestyle, and housekeeping.

Bring a notebook the next time you have an appointment scheduled, and while waiting for your turn, do a market study by scanning the magazines available. Take into consideration the names of the managing or associate editor. Better yet, if you see a web site, write it down and log on to it later.

(4.) Ask your family members, friends, or any other acquaintances if they have magazines at home.

This is an excellent way to discover new titles that may not be popular in newsstands, since there are magazines that can be bought only through subscription and people receive them through postal delivery.

(5.) Keep tab of clear-out sales.

There are book shops that don't intend to compete with major bookstores and prefer to cater to a limited number of readers instead. These are the kinds that periodically have sales to get rid of their surplus of reading materials. With discounts that go as high as 70 to 80 percent, an aspiring writer is sure to enjoy purchasing magazines while staying within a budget. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

How a Features Writer Can Save Up On Magazines

Freelance writers who pitch their ideas to magazine editors can testify to the feeling of fulfillment that the result of seeing their names in print brings. Magazines are also some of the highest paying markets in the field of freelance writing, since they usually offer payment word-for-word. 

If you'd like to give magazine writing a try, you would need a dose of creativity and the ability to look at a topic from different perspectives. But first, let's deal with the practical side of writing feature articles.

You have to learn to conduct an effective market study. A market study involves observing the different types of magazines that are sold in newsstands.

Now, ask yourself, "What are the topics with which I'm most comfortable writing?" Or, "Which topics am I willing to know more about through research?" It could be anything, from business, parenting, food, technology, photography, travel, sports, or fashion.

Your next step would be to obtain previous issues of several magazines that publish articles about the topics in which you're most interested. If you're relatively new in freelance writing, buying a lot of magazines at once is sure to break your budget. 

Also, since paper costs a lot these days, publications that come out regularly in print have found it necessary to increase their prices steadily.

However, with a little bit of creativity, imagination, and skill in negotiating, you can do a market study without running out of funds.

Here are a few excellent ways to obtain magazines at very little cost:

(1.) Look for back issues at well-known bookstores and racks right outside grocery stores of major shopping malls.

The majority of managing or associate editors require aspiring contributors to study a years' worth of issues if their magazine comes out monthly. That means going through 11 to 12 issues. 

Back issues are usually priced at 50 to 60 percent lower, or even more. It's common to find popular titles originally sold at Php125.00 to Php150.00 reduced to Php40.00 to Php60.00. For the aspiring magazine writer, this is a real bargain. 

(2.) Ever heard of Book Sale?

When I was starting out as a freelance writer, this second-hand book and magazine shop was my go-to store for magazines. I can consider Book Sale the equivalent of a gold mine for aspiring freelance writers. 

Book Sale offers all sorts of magazines that are published locally and world-wide. If your dream is to eventually have a byline in Time, Sports Illustrated, Reader's Digest, or Good Housekeeping, spending time in Book Sale would be a wise investment. Book Sale can be found in most Shoe Mart department stores.

In my next post, I'll mention other cost-effective ways to get hold of magazines. 

Friday, August 9, 2013

Three More Possible Ways to Get Paid for Your Freelance Services

In my previous post, I cited the first two payment schemes that you can use in your freelance business. But you'll soon realize that as your career grows and you get more clients, the need to come up with other ways to get paid is crucial.

Freelance professionals rave over the following:

(3.) Ask for a money transfer.

Getting paid through money order or money transfer is a secure and reliable method if you have clients from different parts of the Philippines. Google "money transfer services Philippines" to know more about this.

(4.) Get paid through PayPal.

If you accept jobs or projects from foreign clients, this is usually the most preferred mode of payment.

(5.) Choose to get paid in kind.

Yes, you read that right! One of the advantages of the field of freelancing is the freedom not to ask for monetary remuneration if it would mean greater gain from your clients. I'll give you a few examples where getting paid in kind could be the better alternative:

  • If you write product reviews for consumer magazines or blogs, getting hold of "what's hot" in the market may also mean breaking your budget. Should a business owner ask you to put in a good word for her products or services, it's only reasonable to ask for a "free taste," or whatever is their equivalent of a freebie.
  • If you aspire to be a film or music critic, you may be aware of the expensive costs of movie tickets, CDs, and concerts. It would be sensible to start your career supporting the independent movie or music industry (conveniently grouped into a genre called "indie"). Network with film students, or keep tab of up-and-coming bands or performers. I was already well into my freelance career when a band from Scotland emailed me and asked if I could review their self-produced album. To be able to do this, they allowed me to download several of their songs.    

Thursday, August 8, 2013

How Do You Expect to Be Paid for Your Freelance Services?

As a freelance worker, you may be charging less than your salaried counterparts since you may have a cheaper overhead, eat your meals at home, and don't spend on corporate attire or daily transportation.

However, keeping a steady cash flow is vital to sustain your freelance business. Even the most experienced freelancers confess to having feelings of reservations when asking their clients to pay up, but in my opinion, if you want to be taken seriously, you must never allow your reluctance to get the best out of you.

Now, you should also make an effort and take time to set up a payment system that is organized yet flexible. I've mentioned before that it's a standard within the freelancing industry to charge a flat rate and a down payment that ranges from 30 to 50 percent of your price quote for the project.

Never start a project without your client settling this rate with you. If you're thinking about setting up an effective payment plan, I strongly suggest the following foolproof methods:

(1.) Ask to be paid in cash after you negotiate with your clients.

This is ideal if you're renting office space or have your own home office where you entertain clients to talk about possible projects. The only downside to this is you might feel the need to have your freelancer's contract written out right on the spot. 

When this happens, clarify all terms and conditions, get everything down on a notebook, ask for the flat rate and down payment, and immediately proceed to type the contract the following day. As soon as you're through, email a copy to your client and begin working as soon as your client approves.

(2.) Require your client to make a deposit.

If your contact with your client is only through email or phone, it would be best to get paid through a savings account in a reputable bank. Ask your client to deposit the required amount.

A word of caution, though. Never disclose your bank account number negligently. If you're going to provide it through email, make sure your password is secure.

In my next post, I'll provide the remaining three excellent ways to collect payment.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Why Quality Content Should Be of Utmost Priority

In my previous post, I have talked about the importance of SEO in getting your web site, blog, or articles on top of search engines. But SEO is merely the icing on the cake in the race to the top. What's even more important is the quality of your web articles.

Initially, your goal is to entice, or hook your online readers to get them to take a look at the products or services you're offering. But if your business is to be sustained and you want to keep at it for the long term, you need to constantly provide your readers with quality content.

To illustrate, I once wrote an article on how anyone can enjoy life regardless of their income, and I submitted it to a web site and tested my knowledge about driving more traffic towards my article. 

Now, because I was aware that since people come from a wide range of income levels, plenty of readers would like to know a thing or two about cutting costs here and there or getting more bang for their buck. 

I enumerated ten ways this could be done, and then did the following:

  • Since it's best to keep online articles short, I divided one long article into a two-part series. 
  • When thinking about a title, I tried playing around with the order of the words in order to make it sound catchy. (A catchy title is most likely to arouse the curiosity of your readers.)
  • I structured my article coherently, which means the flow of thoughts and ideas must hold the attention of my readers. 

Now, since my goal was to get my article on top of search engines, I Googled "The Best-Kept Secrets to Thrive on Any Income," and sure enough, I found my article on top.

Likewise, I typed the same order of words on the Yahoo! search engine, and my article landed on top, too.

By getting my article on top, the majority of online users would notice it first and read it. This is when I'll know that I have succeeded.

Stay tuned, because there's more to come in my next installments. 

Friday, August 2, 2013

Why SEO is Essential to Your Freelance Career

In my previous post, I have talked about the importance of having your own web site. When you're advertising, or making your services known to potential clients over the World Wide Web, it's essential to maximize your site's exposure through SEO, or search engine optimization.

In the same way, if you publish a blog and intend to earn money from it, you should get as many visitors as possible (referred to as "increasing traffic") to view your blog pages.

To explain further, Internet users often turn to search engines like Google or Yahoo! to do some research or look for professionals who offer a variety of services. 

Let's say I want to find someone who does graphic design. I'd simply Google "graphic artist," and pages and pages of graphic artists' web sites will appear.

Now, the essence of SEO is to get your web site, blog, or any online articles you've written on top of the first page of a search engine. When you're on top, online users are likely to click on your site, blog, or article and check out what you have to offer.

The crucial part of knowing SEO lies in figuring out the types of keywords that most online users enter into search engines. If you're an events planner or blog about restaurants and fine dining, think, "What might people want to know about hiring someone to organize a corporate activity or Christmas party?" Or, "Restaurants and fine dining usually involve some kind of specialty on a particular dish, and even a choice of wine."

So the possible keywords could be "corporate events planner," "party planner," "five-star restaurants," etc.  

In my next post, I'll illustrate how I got my two-part article on top of Google by using SEO.