Friday, September 27, 2013

How to Cut Your Time Writing Emails by at Least One-Third (Part 3)

After reading my previous posts, you're probably getting a more accurate idea about how coming up with several email templates can reduce your writing time. So let's continue this series as I cite two other types of email templates:

A template that can be customized when negotiating with your clients.

Be aware that when you're charging competitive rates, there will, from time to time, be clients who will not be able to pay their remaining balance on the date upon which you have both agreed, especially if your clients have racked up a huge sum or additional charges. And yet, keep in mind that you must never settle for a partial payment, since your time and effort are extremely valuable.

If for some reason your client fails to settle the remaining balance on or before the due date, you can write an email stating that you are extending the deadline until the next payday (i.e if your Freelancer's Contract states that your client must pay within three working days after the day you have dispatched the finished draft, copy, etc., and your client was satisfied with the results and yet failed to pay, you can email him and say that you will allow another three working days for him to make the payment).

A template for billing and collection.

This type of email must come with your invoice attached. But first, make it clear to your client that you're allowing only a certain period (say, not more than 48 to 72 hours after dispatch of the project) for him to get in touch with you should he find "loopholes" in your work. Otherwise, if he doesn't contact you within that period, you'll email him about payment.

Also, experience has taught me that it's necessary for professional freelancers to learn the art of collecting payment by writing follow-up emails. Because should your client be unable to pay the balance in full, tell him that he has the option to switch to an installment basis. 

Assess the remaining balance and see if your client can pay you every five, 10, or so working days. You would need to alert him by emailing him subsequently. You must keep a paper trail of payments so you can have adequate information to enter into your log books.

There's more in this series about email templates, so stay tuned for my next articles.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

How to Cut Your Time Writing Emails by at Least One-Third (Part 2)

In my previous article, I have talked about the importance of writing effective emails as a way of soliciting a continuous supply of freelance projects. However, communicating through email can be extremely time-consuming, too, so I strongly recommend having several email templates prepared in order to trim your writing time by nearly one-third. 

Here are the other remaining email templates that are crucial to a freelancer's career:

A template that can be tailor-made into various cover letters when you bid for projects at freelancer's web sites.

Web sites like SkillPages and FreelanceSwitch are a freelancer's haven, because they're like one-stop shops that not just aim to orient you into the world of freelancing, but to lead you to potential clients who need people like you who charge at competitive rates for their services. I encourage you to bid for the most lucrative projects if you know you're capable of turning in an excellent job and are worth every cent.

However, keep in mind that applications are time-bound, and you will be competing with dozens of other qualified freelancers out there. You need to present yourself in the most professional way possible and highlight your strengths.

You don't need to provide all pertinent details about you and your work. A one- to two-paragraph email is usually adequate. You may find the following helpful:

I would like to apply as a blogger for your construction firm. For the past five years I have been a contributing writer to design magazines such as (state names of publication here). I'm also an SEO specialist who have been featured in the following blogs: (Provide URL)

I have thoroughly read your ad that says you are seeking for a Web Developer. I have worked part-time for a non-profit organization where I assumed responsibilities in the operation and maintenance of their web site. I'm also proficient in (state all relevant qualifications).

Stay tuned for my next articles where I'll cite the remaining three important email templates.

Monday, September 23, 2013

How to Cut Your Time Writing Emails by at Least One-Third

Three or more years into your freelance career, you'll probably find it necessary to write a variety of emails. Since jobs and projects won't miraculously fall into your lap, you have to get yourself in front of your potential client's face (literally) and make them know what you're capable of doing. 

But the type of email you would need to write depends on the results you'd like to achieve. And to make writing less tedious and time-consuming, you need to have several email templates prepared and filed into your Draft folder so you can easily retrieve the right one to serve its purpose.

Flexibility applies not just in creating a schedule and setting your own pace, but in writing as well. So as a professional freelancer, concentrate on getting better in writing these five types of email:

A template that can be turned into query letters intended for magazine editors.

Freelance writers who relish seeing their bylines in widely circulating magazines and newspapers are unanimous in saying that the rate of their success depends on the number of queries they send to editors each month.

To illustrate, the honorarium rate of the majority of magazines here in the Philippines is Php1,000 for every published article. Should a freelance writer make it a goal to earn Php20,000 within a year, he must get 20 of his manuscripts published in different magazines.

But here's the tricky part: a magazine's staff adheres to an editorial calendar and strict editorial guidelines. A managing editor won't give a chance to just about anyone who emails him because he fancies himself a writer.

If the magazine you're targeting comes out monthly, you must think at least two to three issues ahead. To illustrate, offering an article about Halloween may not make it to most magazines' deadlines, since next month is already October. However, an editor may put serious consideration into an article that they can publish for their holiday edition.  

Another thing to consider is this: managing and associate editors are like the mid-level executives in a company. They're the ones who vie to be the editor-in-chief, hopefully after several more years of experience tucked under their belt.

So imagine the enormous amount of effort they make when they plod through numerous queries and manuscripts. A freelance writer, if he were wise, would make an editor's job easier by keeping his query short yet relevant, and with proof of his ability to write (e.g. links provided, PDF of clips attached, etc.).

Stay tuned, because in my next several posts, I'll cite the remaining four email templates that are most important to freelance professionals. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Resources for Aspiring Freelance Writers

When I was just discovering the advantages of online writing, I wrote for a web site called Experts Column, which specializes in getting contributors to write SEO-oriented articles.

The site was in its experimental stage back then, and unfortunately, it had to shut down operations temporarily to undergo a reformat. However, it was a good place for me to hone my writing skills, train myself to meet deadlines, and figure out how SEO works.

I have selected several of my articles for freelancers who aspire to turn writing into a career. Again, the following is not an exhaustive guide, but just a run-down of the basics to get you started on the right path:

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Budget Busters Niche Writers Should Avoid

A niche writer is someone who is known for discussing only a specific topic, but with greater depth and breadth. He may eventually have a regular column in a widely circulating newspaper, or be a regular contributor to magazines with a common theme.

If niche writing is something you see yourself doing, be forewarned that there are several "budget busters" that can cause you to sacrifice too much of your freelancing income. Here are some of them:

Buying too many books and magazines about your niche.

While it's crucial to keep your knowledge up-to-date about your niche, buying every book or magazine that's been published about it is actually counter-productive. And with the steep cost of newly released books and magazines, you'll most certainly end up with a hole in your pocket. 

If you write about keeping small businesses afloat, don't bother shelling out anymore cash and instead, spend time talking with entrepreneurs at symposiums, or visit a small bazaar in your neighborhood. Bazaars are some of the best venues to go to if you want to learn how guerrilla marketing works.

Not knowing how to get the best deals when writing product reviews.

I was once appalled when I read about a technology writer who spent Php150,000 buying the latest craze in high-end gadgets just to have them pitted against one another, leading him to figure out the advantages and disadvantages of each brand's features. The thing is, he wasn't even part of any staff of a magazine that specializes in high-end technology.

Think about this for a moment: if you pool all your resources on gadgets, an editor may publish and pay you for your well-written contributions, but no honorarium rate can make up for the amount you spent obtaining those gadgets. And should you decide to sell your surplus, you would have to price them at a lot less than what you originally paid for after just six months to a year.

A better alternative would be to get an affordable post-paid plan and use it to communicate with your clients. Post-paid plans come with a free mobile phone, and offering an article comparing the best post-paid plans will appeal more to mobile phone users. 

When it comes to laptops and cameras, wait for a sale before making a purchase. And then get in touch with a group of multimedia artists and photographers and make them bid for your ware. Inexpensive cameras will also be a hit among students who are taking up photography. 

Being inaccessible to independent artists. 

Do not overlook up-and-coming bands or singers who perform for a reason other than being able to make a record-breaking album. There are theme restaurants and diners who invite such artists to entice customers. You can negotiate with the manager to make reservations for you for free or a minimal fee in exchange for a favorable write-up.

Refusing to be a guest blogger simply for wider exposure.

If you volunteer to write a post or several posts for a well-known blog, say, one that gets at least 1,000 views a month, you can gain additional readers, because if you wrote informative articles and you provided a link to your own blog, you will probably get online readers curious and have them clicking the link to your own blog.

Monday, September 16, 2013

What Are Your Negotiables and Non-Negotiables as a Freelancer?

One of the issues that often come up among professionals who'd like to turn freelancing into a long-term career is, how do I negotiate with my clients to avoid selling myself and my skills short? 

Aiming to create a win-win situation all the time can be very tricky. You want to build a steady cash flow as soon as possible, so you're tempted to just take on any project that comes your way.

But what if I tell you that you only need to master a few principles of negotiating for your freelance business to experience a steady growth?

First, when having a copy of your Contract encoded in Microsoft Word, make sure to include this portion:


Any amount given by the client as a flat fee and down payment are non-refundable.

This ensures you of a stash of cash even before you proceed to work on the project. 

Second, inform your client that should he end up dissatisfied with your work and asks for further revisions, you will only agree to do so if you were notified within a certain time period, say 48 to 72 hours. By asking them to contact you immediately, you're sending off signals that you also value their time.

Using my own experience as an example, part of my job involves writing and proofreading resumes and ghostwriting speeches, and projects of this nature require a lot of revisions, although it usually takes me only several days to a week to get them finished. I tell my clients that within that one-week period, they should allow me to notify them a few times as a way of making a follow-up, and also, to get the reassurance that I'm on the right track. 

I have determined that I will allow a maximum of two revisions within the given time frame for the project. If I will be asked to make further revisions and the request is reasonable, that's when I charge an additional fee. 

A word of advice here. If you think charging your client an additional fee is just a step beneath extortion, remember that your time as a professional is valuable, and you shouldn't hesitate asking for remuneration in exchange for your effort and hard work.

Third, set your own conditions and use that as a basis on whether you'll accept or turn down an offer. For example, if a client has tasked you to write a feasibility study and asks you to submit it no later than Wednesday, ask if you can have the deadline extended for just a couple more days, say, until Friday, to allow you more leeway before declining altogether.

Friday, September 13, 2013

How to Land Freelance Projects in Significantly Less Time

Nearly one-third of a professional freelancer's time is spent looking for work. Freelancing is the only field where even a short period of being passive will almost always end up to a less-than-rosy monthly bottom line.

Making your services known and negotiating with clients can be more tedious than working, so through the years the majority of freelance professionals learned to master several tricks of the trade to reduce their solicitation time in half. Here they are:

You got mail!

Make it easy for potential clients to know that you have "opened shop." Keep your contact information in check and practice entertaining telephone call queries in a professional and restrained tone.

Get a separate email address for your transactions with clients. Don't create an address that sounds childish or "jokey," otherwise, people will have a hard time taking you seriously. To weed out any junk mail, keep the Spam guard on.

Prepare several email templates.

This is crucial if you pitch articles to magazines or bid for jobs at well-known sites for freelancers. You also need to write collection letters in the form of an email, explaining the breakdown of your rates to your client.

Keep your templates short yet concise. Here are several examples:

I'm interested in (state nature of work). I have attached a copy of my resume and two sample articles.

I have read that you're in need of bloggers that specialize in SEO and affiliate marketing. I've had two years of experience in this field and am interested. You can find my blog at (provide blog URL).

Keep your resume up-to-date and always have a set of clips or portfolio handy.

Prepare a chronological and functional resume to suit your client's specific needs. If your articles were not published online, format your manuscript using Microsoft Word, double space it using Times New Roman and a font size of 12.

For artists and illustrators, it would be best to have a website where you can upload photos of your art, and provide your clients with a link directing them to your site.

Come up with creative ways to promote yourself. 

If you're a copywriter, your press kit is your best tool for landing lucrative gigs in advertising. Think about your specialties. Are you an animal lover? There are a lot of businesses that offer pet grooming services that would love to attract more dog and cat owners. 

Your press kit may be a simple, short brown envelope with a paw print on the flap. And then come up with a catchy phrase, like "A Penman for Pets," and have the words printed on top of the paw print. Insert your sales pitch, a brochure with information about your copywriting services and rates, and include your business card. 

Another excellent way to keep yourself within your target clientele's radar is to mail a newsletter to a select group of people who would most likely want to hire you for the services you offer. 

You can turn a newsletter into an additional income generator as well. If you write or proofread sales and collection letters for entrepreneurs, you can ask them if they're interested in getting publicity for a reasonable fee. Get a pool of freelance writers and editors, and sell advertising space or write product reviews.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Are You Making Enough to Sustain Your Freelance Business?

In addition to your overhead expenses, you have monthly bills to take care of. When you've gone for a year or two working without a boss, you may have noticed that your budget is reduced because you're no longer commuting to and from work five to six days a week, shopping for corporate attire, or eating meals at the office cafeteria.

And yet, even without transportation fare and money for food and clothing to worry about, the long-term success of your freelance business will depend upon your willingness and determination to work for a minimum amount to sustain your freelance business.

I'd like to illustrate how you can make this feasible. In the Philippines, the minimum wage among salaried professionals in the private sector falls just slightly above Php11,000.00. Now sit back and think, given your education, training, work background, and specialties as a freelance professional, how much money do you think should you be earning as your monthly minimum wage?

If your clientele is mostly based locally, you can't justify a minimum wage that's horrendously high. But if you'd like to attract clients outside the Philippines where they usually offer payment in U.S. dollars and require you to have a PayPal account, you can charge at higher rates. 

To illustrate, as a 10-year veteran freelance writer and proofreader, I have seen it fit to raise my "minimum wage" to Php18,000 since, along the way, I have decided on my specialties, which are article writing, proofreading, ghostwriting, and writing corporate resumes. And then I made a list of my overhead expenses:

Mobile phone pre-paid cards
Internet connection
Stationery (coupon bond printed with my letterhead, legal-size envelopes, envelopes for my manuscripts, and stamps) 
Marketing materials (press kit, ink cartridges, and card stock for my business cards)

After making this list, I computed the equivalent of 70 percent of Php18,000, which, in addition to my target monthly minimum wage, I felt would be enough to cover my overhead expenses and other necessities like healthcare, household expenses, meals, money for recreational activities, and savings.

Take a look at the following equation:

Php18,000 x .70 = Php12,600
Php18,000 + 12,600 = Php30,600 

I have to aim for a minimum of Php30,600 monthly, so I have to manage my time, either to be more effective on a series of projects with quick turn-over rates, or justifying a larger-than-usual fee for a project that stretched for several weeks.

Stay tuned for my next several posts on setting your freelancer's quota. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

Setting Up a Payment Plan

If your ultimate goal is to be a full-time freelancer so you can cover your monthly bills and household budget, set aside a certain percentage for your savings account, and even have some cash left for an occasional treat, you need to come up with several ways of collecting payment.

Freelance professionals may have the potential to earn more than their salaried counterparts in the long run, but it will never happen if you're not vigilant during your first few years. 

If you have electricity, water, and telephone bills to pay every month in addition to other overhead expenses, you would need to ensure a regular cash flow. But here's the deal: since we can't expect a fixed salary every payday, we need to shoot for a minimum monthly amount that we must earn to sustain our business.

I'll talk more about setting that minimum amount in my next article installments. For the meantime, here are several ways you can negotiate for payment:

(1.) The 40-60 plan

This is best for projects that require a quick turn-over rate, like writing and proofreading resumes, writing blog articles and advertising copy, and editing sales or collection letters.

Your client may ask you to finish such projects within a mere 48 to 72 hours. There are even some freelancers who specialize in "quickie resumes" and can therefore command higher rates.

So as soon as you're paid your flat rate and down payment, you can work on the project and, once you're done, be guaranteed of the 60 percent remaining balance within just a few days. 

(2.) The 40-30-30 plan

If your client racked up a bill with a huge sum, this "piece-meal" method would be the ideal payment plan. Once you have finished the project and have it dispatched to your client, you can have two invoices prepared. Don't forget to state the following:

Please settle the amount on or before (preferred date).

(3.) Charge by an hourly rate

You can apply this plan if the project will require you to do a lot of research and will call for a lot of revisions, leading to having no definite time frame. 

For example, if the client provided only a basic guideline for you to execute and you will be given freedom to call part of the shots, that would mean a bit of conceptualizing on your part, and keep in mind that your creativity is valuable.

(4.) Charge by the type of project

The types of projects that command the highest rates are those that have to do with web design or website development, and they can go as high as USD500.00, or roughly Php22,000.00.

Also, projects that will require you to work with a team could mean spending plenty of time holding discussions over the phone or through Skype. Take these into consideration when charging your client, since the mere act of having everything clarified tend to eat up plenty of hours you can otherwise use for a series of smaller projects.  

(5.) Charge by number of pages

This is a must if you're an editor and your specialties involve proofreading manuals and reports, drafts of undergraduate theses and other types of academic papers. 

You can adjust your rates according to the scope of your proofreading services. Some editors, in addition to ensuring correct grammar and looking out for misplaced punctuation marks and misspelled words, offer advice on developing a theme. 

In 2004 the rates for proofreading services for book-length manuscripts were USD2.00 for every double-spaced page. Nowadays academic papers usually fetch for no less than USD20.00 per page.

Friday, September 6, 2013

How to Teach at a Seminar

In my previous post I talked about the possibility of making a profit by sharing your expertise as a teacher at a seminar. Facilitating a seminar is one of the best ways to come into contact with other like-minded professionals. And as a by-product, you will get first-hand training in public speaking.

Now, there are no cut-and-dried rules in making your seminar a success, since there are a wide range of skills that can be taught. But here's a rundown of the basics that you must consider:

Determine the scope of your seminar.

Focus only on one or two specific topics so you can tackle it with greater depth and breadth. To illustrate, a seminar about business email etiquette can cover several aspects like what to include in the Subject portion, the appropriate length of the email, how to obtain relevant information, etc.

The number of participants that you'll be willing to accommodate will depend mainly on the scope of your seminar. A seminar is different from a lecture in such a way that you as a teacher should get your students involved by preparing interactive exercises and drills. Interaction will take up a lot of time, that's why in specialized and highly intensive classes, no more than two dozen students are allowed to participate.

Pick a venue.

In the Philippines, most seminars are held at places like community centers, hotels, computer institutes, or within the campuses of colleges and universities.

You can look around and ask if you can rent a room, either in a multi-purpose hall or building, or any place accessible to people, and then negotiate for the most affordable rate.

When selecting a venue, choose one that is spacious enough and properly ventilated. If you need to set up a wide-screen projector or talk with a microphone in order to make your voice as audible as possible, have your equipment tested at least a few days before the seminar date. 

Get two to three freelancers to act as assistant facilitators.

This is crucial since it's highly likely that you will find it necessary to use Powerpoint presentations and other visual aids. Also, if there are other freelancers around, they can share some valuable lessons they've learned from their own experience and dispense some sound advice to your participants.

Consider the costs of printing out certificates of attendance.

A cost-effective way to create certificates that look professional and neat is to purchase inexpensive yet quality paper (8 1/2" by 11" will do) from bookstores and choose a simple template from Microsoft Publisher and use no more than a three-font scheme to print the details of your seminar (participant's full name, title of the seminar, date and venue). Print out your name and put your signature above. 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Ever Thought About Sharing Your Expertise?

As a professional freelancer, you have the option to make a profit by offering to teach in a seminar or workshop.

All throughout my ten-year career as a writer, I have been to more than several workshops, and I realized that there will always be people out there who would be willing to pay a fee in order to learn something new or further hone a skill or competency.

It's also a fact that the most valued employees in the workplace today are the ones who have specialized knowledge and can apply that knowledge to make tasks easier.

Also, I've read about a human resource practitioner who declared upfront that she is turned off by job applicants who state "computer literate" in their resumes. What she's looking for is someone who can confidently claim that he's "proficient in XHTML" (or JavaScript, mySQL, C++, etc.).

Not everyone was blessed with the capacity to acquire technological skills easily, so if you can teach the rudiments of computer programming, you have an audience for sure.

Likewise, proficiency in oral and written communications has been listed among the ten most coveted transferable skills, and I always notice announcements in newspapers about a weekend course that will aim to teach writing business correspondence effectively. 

As you can see, you have plenty to offer as a freelancer. You can take advantage of your freedom to set up a flexible schedule to teach seminar participants. 

In my next few articles, I'll provide some basic guidelines for making your seminar a success.

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Benefits of Networking

A great majority of professional freelancers choose to conduct business at their home office to save a great deal on overhead expenses. But here's the deal: once you're comfortably settled, you should make an effort to rock the boat again and engage in a particular activity.

I'm talking about networking.

They say networking is a politically correct term coined in the twenty-first century workplace. The truth is, it simply means deliberately spending time with other professionals.

You must set aside part of your income to gain access to networking events, which can come in the form of a seminar or workshop, a convention, or a weekend retreat.

Networking is enjoyable, and the best thing about it is it has eradicated competition among freelance professionals. In fact, being too competitive may serve as counter-intuitive to the professional growth of a freelancer. Wanting all the work for himself may give him a reputation for being "a one-stop shop," which means not having any specialty.

Now, let me cite several examples on how networking can work for you. If you're a writer or illustrator, you can attend a series of seminars or workshops to learn new and valuable techniques, therefore honing your skills further, beefing up your resume, and making you more marketable to clients.

Likewise, there are conventions for freelance professionals who work in multimedia. These conventions are usually held at large venues, since they expect to attract a huge crowd.

The primary purpose of networking is to meet like-minded people in a relaxed atmosphere. You can learn from each others' experiences, and you may even get some sound advice that you would otherwise have not read from a book or article. 

And there are even kindred spirits who organize groups and work to turn them into a legitimate organization. Joining such groups can yield tremendous benefits.

And getting to know other competent and reliable freelancers would mean helping others make more profit. Because should there be instances when you are too busy with a project, you can refer your clients to other freelancers, and they can do the same for you.