"Master Dayton" might be humorous, (I mean if Ph.Ds are called "Doctors," shouldn't MFAs be called "Masters?") but in all seriousness I have made a living freelance writing and after several years I have tons of information I want to share to help out my fellow writers, regardless of age, experience, goals, situation, or background. This blog isn't pretty-but it will help if real freelance writing information is what you want.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Freelance Writing in Recession

Freelance Writing in Recession: Part I, A Quick Note

One truth good freelance writers know: recessions are often a boon for independent contractors like freelance writers. This economy is so bad, however, that at times even that work is becoming hard to find. That being said, it is still the best way I know of to make money during a recession. Good writers are always going to be in demand. Okay writers great at marketing will always be in demand, as well. While times might even be thin for freelance writers, that still makes this market for writers better than most others.

This Thanksgiving post is going to be very quick, as it is the holidays and I'm doing a lot of to and fro traveling, not to mention a lot of freelance work and probably a little bit too much beer and wine :)

Basically, I received an e-mail from someone who stumbled onto this blog from finding it via a long tail keyword, and while I can't share the full text yet (I want the person's permission to print it, sans the name), the gist of it is something I'm sure a lot of people are going through. In very brief summary: Hello, I know this might sound weird, but I want to know if you can please help! I was laid off and there are no jobs anywhere. I have only a few months of unemployment, and I'm desperate. If you were in my position, what would you do to start from nothing and get making money writing to make your bills?

This is something I'm sure a lot of people are asking right now, and it's heart breaking. I've been a full time freelance writer, and I was actually working an exceptional full time writing job and freelancing on the side the past 15 months when I was just let go in November, as well. First thing I did was cancel my lease and turn back to the Midwest - the cheapest place I have to live, and now it's time to get the freelancing income back to full force.

I am lucky - I have a good reputation established, I've been writing for years so I know how the markets work, and I have 6-7 months of time with frugal living to get back to being fully self sufficient as a freelancer again. A lot of people only have 3-4 months. So my strategy will be different now than someone starting from nothing.

So my next post, which will be up sometime mid to late next week, will be something I was planning to save for an e-book, but hey, here's my chance to help out and I'm not going to miss it. My next post will be a step by step guide of how I would start from nothing to making a solid to full time living as a freelance writer. This is based on my knowledge, my experience, my successes, and most importantly, my mistakes and failures.

If you are a good writer and have four to six months, we can get you up to a stable (although maybe low middle class area depending on where you live) income and set the foundation for a lucrative freelance writing career.

That post comes next week, and until then, here's some reading I highly reccomend not only for the here and now, but information you need for the future to go from getting by to lucrative. I'm also including some links of places where you can get started, but check in next week for a very long post that will walk the beginner through how to get started.

And all you beginning freelance writers, or everybody struggling out there, hang in there, and try to enjoy the holidays. Times will get better.

For further reading:

My Constant Content Review

My Other Constant Content Review

10 Places to Sell Your Freelance Writing

*There will be more links coming over the holiday weekend.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Freelance Writing: Helium.com Review

Beginning Freelance Writers: Helium.com Website Review

One of the websites that many beginning online freelance writers run into is Helium.com. Helium is an unusual writing website in that they really emphasize community and a ratings system. There are several ways to make money here, as there is a market place, weekly contests, as well as the normal revenue sharing streams that online freelance writers might be aware of from writing on other websites online like Associated Content, which pay a PPV (pay per view) bonus, or from sites like Xomba, where you share in the AdSense revenue your articles help to produce. Just recently (and the one thing that is preventing me from absolutely putting Helium's head on a chopping block) is they have recently introduced up front payments, although there is a catch to this, as well.

Helium's mottos range from "A Place for Knowledge" to "A Place for Writers." While many people talk about how good the community is, and there are always people trolling blogs with comments defending Helium every time a bad Helium website review is posted online. In fact I have an account with Helium from checking it out and giving it a fair shake. It won't surprise me at all if I never see my first $25 payment. If I'm wrong and I do, fine. Great. I'll write an apology if it's warranted, but even with the new system of upfront payments for freelance writers, for the beginning freelance writer I simply would not recommend Helium.com. It might have its place for certain freelance writers, but for most writers and all beginners I would say not to waste your time, but I'll go into that more in the main review.

First of all, the terms of service. All the rights that Helium.com buys are non-exclusive, meaning you are allowed to re-publish and re-sell your articles wherever you can find a buyer. But, Helium also ALWAYS has the right to use your article for any further purpose they see fit without further reimbursement. So if you write an amazing article they sell to a magazine, tough luck. You don't see any of that. How often (if ever) this happens, in all fairness, is debatable.

Second, you can get paid for your work...but you're never going to find out how exactly since the terms on payment are vague and nebulous at best. Also, you absolutely must have one rating star to get paid. Period. If you don't have a rating star from having at least 50 articles rated in the past month, then you will not receive a single penny of the money your articles make. So despite advertisements about Helium being a place that will earn you income "in perpetuity," the fact is if you ignore this site for more than a month, you won't receive any money.

So let's also get to money. It stinks. There's no other way to put it than that. There are several ways to make money, and some might not seem so bad a pay rate, but there's a reason that I can say freelance writing for Helium does not pay off. Let's go over how the money works:

1) Contests. There are weekly contests for channels where the writers who get the most points, through a combination of total articles written and overall rankings, get some decent pay outs by the end of the week.

Problem w/ Helium Contests: I use the word "decent" in the most liberal and loosest, sense of the word. The second problem: they say they 'discourage' the practice of uploading all 20-25 articles at once at the end of the week, since early articles tend to naturally rise. By having all these articles uploaded right before deadline, the combination of scores is likely to put that person into first place because there isn't enough voting time for the quality of these articles to be judged. Despite 'discouraging' this practice, it happens all the time and those who complain are often banned, or at least claim to be at which point new articles under that pen name cease to appear on Helium. This might not happen with every contest every time, but it has happened on several Helium writing contests.

2) Helium Marketplace. Many people claiming to make any amount of money writing for Helium mention the marketplace as where it can be done. The competition in marketplaces is huge, and it's not unusual to see over 200 articles per request. There has also been rumblings online (disclaimer: these are alleged and while this has been repeated by several individuals the evidence offered is scant) that many of the markets looking for content are actually fictional or owned by Helium, so they're being used to generate content without picking someone to pay.

Additionally, even if these are all completely legitimate, here's the thing: if you're good enough to consistently beat out 300+ people in the marketplace, then spend $75 on a Writer's Market with a one year online subscription and make the big bucks writing for legitimate print markets. If you're that good, there's absolutely no reason why you should settle for peanuts when you should be eating caviar.

3) Residual Income from profit sharing at Helium. The Helium writing site spends a lot of time enticing writers with this promise, but is it a really good deal? With over one hundred articles that have been uploaded since February, over 3/4 of which are #1 in their category, including several "front page features," I have acquired a whopping $17.71. Other people talk about $300 a month for 500 articles...I find that incredibly unlikely.

Slight writing tangent: Before I get ten comments talking about how amazing Helium is (wait for them - it's only a matter of time) and how I must be a (insert explicative) who doesn't know how to write, I'll repeat: over 100 articles, nearly 75% that are #1 ((or at least in that range as of this writing)), and including several articles that were featured front page. If anyone wants to get into an economical "whip it out" contest, fine. By the end of this year I'll clear close to $50,000 from writing. Apologies to everyone else as I usually keep my calm, but the comments I've received before from questionable "Helium rocks" sources have pissed me off before, so if you aren't clearing 50k from Helium (and if you are, you're an idiot for not writing elsewhere) then bite me. This is an honest review from my experiences, deal with it. End of slight freelance writing tangent.

And if you're that good at promotion, why not write online for some place that pays a lot more per view, like Associated Content, which also more easily ranks near the top of Google, giving you more traffic for real passive income. Which doesn't disappear the moment you're under one rating star. Since you don't have to waste your valuable time rating what is often times really really bad writing.

If you don't have a rating star, Helium isn't going to pay you a penny. So the "completely hands off income" idea with the Helium writing site is crap, and still would be even if they paid more. At worst at AC you get $1.50 per 1,000 views. It's not a lot, but it is truly passive income, and if you get ranked at the top, it's $2.00 per 1,000 views. Far better than the 7 cents a month Helium has paid for my best articles (and yes, I use Stat Counter, so I can confirm that I've had high traffic articles that received pennies).

4) Upfront payments from Helium for freelance writers. Yes, they now offer up front payments. But these up front payments are also conditional. You have to have one writing star for the entire month, including when rankings and earnings are figured at the end of the month. Upfront payments are also dependant on your writing stars and range from $0.50 to $2.50 per article. AC still has them beat here with $3-5 an article for upfront payments (and their bonus for page views is far better than Helium's - the two aren't even comparable).

But you don't get upfront payments as a true beginner. You need a minimum of one writing star in order to qualify for upfront payments. In theory, if your articles are in qualified topics and rank on average in the top quarter, you can get a writing star with 4 articles. You can get three at 100 articles, and 5 isn't in reach until the 500 article mark. So some early articles you won't get paid for. And if your rankings mysteriously fall right before payday (something that happens quite often if you're on the edge) then you might lose out quite a bit by getting knocked down.

And there's the fact that it is still a ridiculously small amount of money and that there are far better sites to put your money up on.

So what's the cash difference between Helium & AC?

A ton. Let's hypothetically say you upload 100 articles from scratch to Helium vs. AC. We'll also assume that you get the maximum payment for every Helium article, and the lowest end of average for AC ($3 each, and you're losing a ton of change if you go by this average, if not outright dollar bills - and I'm not saying AC is the best, but it is compared to Helium, IMO). And we're even assuming only 3/4 of AC articles are approved for upfront payment, so you don't get any upfront money for your writing for a quarter of the articles. Assuming this:

Upfront payment from Associated Content: $225 (and in reality it would probably be much higher).

Upfront payment from Helium: $83.50 (and remember, this is the absolute maximum possible starting from 0 to 100)

That's a $131.50 difference right off the bat for the EXACT SAME AMOUNT OF WORK! Based on my experience, in a good month you can expect about $3.60 from Helium in residual income. That's it. So $87.10 for 100 articles of work assuming everything breaks right.

For 100 articles with Associated Content, I'm even going to estimate low. You usually get the most views right off the bat, but I'll going to figure average page views for 100 articles that are a year old, and we're figuring you don't have a single breakout article on AC out of those 100. Also not likely, but hey, that's what we're figuring. Shame on you for not doing better ;)

For those 100, on a bad month, expect $15 if you don't do any promotion at all. So what does this lead to? $240 worst case scenario for AC as opposed to $87.10 for a best case scenario. It wouldn't be unrealistic to think the actual numbers far closer to $330 to $80 or even bigger. So defend Helium if you want, but why as a freelance writer would you do the same amount of work for $150 less or worse?

So How Could Helium Be Good for Freelance Writers?

First of all, beginning freelance writers simply should not waste their time here if money is the only concern. The monetary rewards aren't nearly enough, and anyone who can make a respectable residual income here can do far better for the same or less work elsewhere. But Helium does offer a really good online community if that's what you're looking for, as long as you don't bring up criticisms or issues you have with the site.

In addition, Helium does allow links in articles now. There are two issues with this. One: if you know about Internet Marketing, AdSense, and how search engine rankings work, then this is potentially an obvious bonus. If you want to only be a writer and that's it, then this isn't much of an advantage at all. The one caveat: I don't spend much time there anymore, so I don't know if the links are "Do Follow" or not. If they're not, then there's no advantage here. If they are, then this could be an okay place to dump article directory type articles marketing your other sites. You get some keyword anchored back links, and maybe a few pennies for each article. Maybe.

Also, if you've been writing online for years and literally have hundreds upon hundreds of articles you've already written that :

  1. You still own the rights to
  2. You will never use or re-sell for higher amounts again

Then writing for Helium can work for you as an article dumping ground. But keep in mind you will have to continue ranking articles in order to receive your upfront payments, as well as residual income. Otherwise you get absolutely zilch for your effort.

I hate recommending a site as an article dumping ground, but that's about the high end of what I can recommend here. It could get you a few hundred dollars extra on the side, and maybe a pittance of monthly residual income. If you are working with Squidoo, AdSense, Hubpages, then those keyword anchored links (if they are do follow - and if anyone knows for sure please leave some information in the comments section) could be helpful if you use them right.

Otherwise new writers should look at Associated Content, or check out my review of Constant Content if you're more of a dabbler. I've sold single articles there where my take home is more than I would make in residual income in a decade of writing for Helium.

For writers with a lot of articles already, there might be something here. If it wasn't for the upfront payments at least offering something, I would say this site is a complete waste of time.

I've heard Helium.com for writers is really a scam

There are a lot of blog posts, forum discussions, and other pages relating to this thought process online. There also ALWAYS manages to be several people ravenously defending Helium, usually lobbing accusations of people not following the TOS, or not understanding how online writing works. The sheer consistency of this is suspicious enough to me personally, but that's neither here nor there.

I am a believer in the "where there's smoke, there's fire" thesis. And no matter how much you argue, among the "big name" online content sites that pay for freelance writing, Helium by far and away has the most complaints involve the words "scam," "rip off," or "they never paid me." I haven't qualified for the first $25 in residual income, but I did dump a ton of old articles for their early year Reward-a-thon, and they did pay me the $150 owed, so I can't speak to rip offs personally, because I've kept my mouth shut and I got paid.

That said, it is online. Do your research and make up your own mind about it. Is Helium a complete scam? I'd say no. Is it a major rip-off? Yeah, it could definitely be considered that. I've experimented with a lot of writing sites, and Squidoo, Hubpages, Constant-Content, Associated Content, and even my 5 new articles on eHow absolutely trump Helium. Even Xomba, which pays by splitting AdSense clicks, does better for me on an article to article basis.

I would say that beginning writers who are trying to learn how to start freelance writing careers should not spend a lot of time at Helium, but should work on other online sites that pay for freelance writing and develop your careers through those much higher paying websites.

So my final grades? If you are an absolute beginner writer who is a competent writer and only interested in the money, Helium gets an F. If you have hundreds of articles to dump that you know beyond a shadow of a doubt you'll never use again, and don't mind spending a few hours a week rating, Helium gets a C-. If you're into the Internet marketing and building websites, then the grade is incomplete, but has potential to become a solid C.

The writer who can get the most value from writing for helium is the one who has hundreds of articles collecting dust, who is into Internet Marketing and collecting anchored back links for websites (assuming they are "do follow links") and can stretch one article into a ton of online sales. For this person, Helium might get as high as a B-, but that person might even be the first to tell you there are better ways to spend the time, and Helium is better as diversification rather than a main strategy for making money writing online.

And if it's all about being read for you, you'll get more readers on other websites. So if you're a beginner, my posts have listed a lot of websites where you can get started for free. Your time is far more valuable working for these other sites than it is working for Helium.

That's my review of Helium.com. Now all we have to do is wait and see if I get booted off the site or ever get paid that $25. I'll add an update when I find out either way. Until then, keep on writing, and I'm always happy to answer any questions I can in the comments section.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Making Money with Adsense: Freelance Writers Beware the Smart Pricing Mark!

Passive Income for Writers: Some AdSense Warnings

Freelance writing takes some time and effort to break into, and for most of the last three years and change the majority of writing for money that I've done has been the "normal" type where you write, get paid, and that's more or less it. A lot of this has been online writing and ghost writing because there's an extremely high demand for both, and anyone who knows my story, from near bankruptcy to the car accident that busted both my legs to some periods of homelessness (or near to it) can see why sometimes I worked for less because I needed cash now. Somewhere in the middle of all that mess I figured out how to become a great freelance writer (enough to make a living writing) and returned to and finished grad school despite a really negative environment, considering my situation.

There is another type of freelance writing that online writers can do to make money, and that's earning passive income. While writers can make passive income with some more traditional writing at websites like ehow and Associated Content, but this doesn't offer the same level of passive income that more Internet marketing based writing can make. The one program that is almost the definition of passive income is Google AdSense.

The early disclaimer: I've been getting into AdSense part time for only a few months. So I'm nowhere near a Guru or Expert level, but I've followed the advice of some of the AdSense/SEO experts who share their secrets and make a full time living with AdSense (I'll include their links later in this post) and even with the relatively little time I've been at it, I've seen their strategies work first hand and the percentages for me shooting up like crazy.

Many people give up on AdSense after a few months, and online forums are littered with "I only made $1 in a month" or "I made only $5 in four months," stories of people quitting, thinking there was some magic bullet to passive income. AdSense, and most of what it takes to build actual automated income, is going to fall more under Internet Marketing as opposed to Freelance Writing. Part of the reason is people have unrealistic expectations early on. Check out this great blog post about quick easy ways to make money to really get a good sense of how the beginning process of making money online takes place.

Does a freelance writer have an advantage? I think yes, if he/she knows who to learn from and can adapt quickly to the style needed to maximize writing earnings. If a person refuses to learn how online search engines, traffic, and Internet Marketing works, then $1 a month only, or $5 a year might be all that a person can make from AdSense.

As part of the agreement to be part of Google AdSense, there are a lot of stats I can't reveal, but I can give you a look at monthly earnings:

  • May - $0.00 (didn't even have traffic every day - I was a total noob)
  • June - $1.21
  • July - $3.99 (pathetic, but sadly more than many make)
  • Aug- $12.40
  • Sept- $22.95
  • Oct- $28.52

Now before anyone starts scoffing: I did virtually no gathering of back links until recently, until September it was all from one blog I barely wrote any posts for, and a lot of the later stuff was from joining Hub Pages, which splits impressions and clicks. How much time do I spend on this passive income? Not nearly enough. Maybe 1-3 hours a week, and after doing a lot of reading, I realize most of what I've done the past few months is wrong. But this is encouraging, because I'm just short of averaging a dollar a day, and that's if I don't do anything.

Unless I Get Smart Priced.

"Smart Pricing" is when you fall below a certain percentage of clicks per impressions. Based on conversations I've had with friends and other online sources, the general consensus seems to be that the smart price line is probably around 2.00%. This is the point where instead of being worth 25, 58, or 70 cents (and yes, I was a newbie starting out, so I chose areas where the pay outs aren't as good as they could be) a click, they're suddenly worth 3, 4, or 7 cents a click. Not good.

Smart priced, I'd only be looking at $6-12 a month if I never did anything and never improved my stats. Without smart pricing, I should be able to earn $35 or more in automated income. For never doing any work, and having yet to come close to dominating a niche, this isn't bad. Knowing what Justin, Vic, and Grizz teach, I know how to go about doing this.

The problem is, let's say hypothetically Mr. MD has sites that are getting more and more traffic, but for some reason the click numbers are declining at the same time. Even though Mr. MD's total history with Google he is still above that hypothetical 2% line to get the better compensated clicks, there are a lot of people noticing, like Mr. MD, that if at the beginning of a month there are a few bad days to pull you down below 2%, then you get smart priced.

That means a really bad start to the month can badly dent the earnings numbers.

As far as I can tell, aside from a few very out of the way forums, no one has talked about smart pricing as a monthly thing. This is something to keep in mind, especially when trying to start from the beginning. This is the quick note to new freelance writers looking for passive income: be aware of this stumbling block, and don't let it get you down, and don't let it scare you off.

If anyone knows of other "hypothetical experiences" detailing this same finding for the month, let me know in the comments about other things you've "heard." As far as my hypothetical friend Mr. MD, he's going to keep plugging away and applying the lessons learned from the experts to figure out what he's doing wrong and fix it. Hundreds or even thousands of people make a full time living out of AdSense, so he knows he can, too!

That's an update on another potential nugget of knowledge that could help you if you decide to go into the Google AdSense program. Best of luck, and here are the links to these guys' blogs:

Grizz's Make Money with AdSense Blog

Vic's Make Money with Niche Stores

Justin's Make Money Online Site

If you want to learn how to make money online with AdSense, blogs, affiliate marketing, and niche stores, these are the guys you need to learn from.

Next time: Helium.com review, and a possible stay of execution. I'll get more into their recent announcements and why that might barely be enough to keep me from blasting their site to the netherworld of the Internet...maybe.