"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.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2011 Writing Goals: Looking Ahead

Full Time Passive Income x 2 , No Freelancing, and a $15,000 December?

Hello everybody! I have to say, I think the Europeans have it right as far as the minimum of six weeks paid vacation per year. I'm back from 4 weeks and change of traveling, and another week of just being lazy and enjoying re-acclimating myself to winter weather once again :) While it is definitely very cliched and maybe even passe (that's an annoying fashionista word, isn't it?), this time of year it simply makes sense to not only look back on the past year, but also look forward to making your goals and New Year's resolutions for 2011.

I'm no different, as I've been spending the last week in the exhausting task of recording every top 10 page keyword ranking for every passive income article, website, URL, Hubpage, Squidoo lens, blog posts, or what have you that I have online. When combined, this is over 1,200 pieces at some level. While some are much more valuable and thus much more time-worthy of working on then others (Associated Content articles are pretty much ignored and Squidoo lenses are way down vs. HubPages, all of which are lower than my 100% own blogs), I like having numbers and I want a clear list of everything there is to work on.

This is part one of my 2011 goals: Taking away all excuses to delay or procrastinate because I don't know what to do next. The beauty of this long master list is that if I don't know what to do, I take a look at the next keyword on the list and just keep going. There's no chance now for me to waste time or get frustrated because I'm drawing a blank. Basically I'm preempting one of the major issues I've run across throughout my writing career, and one that because of that I'm sure to run into again.

I'm a firm believer that the reason most people don't achieve their goals isn't because it's not possible - not even the most overconfident of us knows what we're truly capable of - but because making the goal is only part one. The even more important part is planning out in specific and very detailed, easy to follow steps how you are going to do it.

One great example of this I've already seen online is Kidgas's hub on tripling his online income in just one year. What does he do right?
  • He sets a goal that is ambitious but realistic, one that is going to force him to work but isn't going to become an anchor because it's unrealistic.
  • He clearly identifies the best way to get from point A to point B (tripling traffic)
  • He clearly lays out his plan of how to get there, not with a general "write x number of hubs," but an even better weekly plan of one Saturday, one Sunday, and one during the week - as well as some specific steps on building backlinks, since this is a crucial part of ranking in the search engines and getting more traffic
If I was a betting man, and I am, I'd put my money on Kidgas not only making his goals, but even surpassing them by the end of 2011. That is a good plan. And yes, a few simple tweaks or additions will make his backlinking efforts much more powerful (more on that in a bit), but the point is that all the bases are covered. This is someone who is putting the clear planning and effort behind his goals to succeed.

So for this post I'm going to do two things:
  1. I'm going to announce my own goals (public pressure and all to keep me on track) for the next year and how I intend to get to them, including some major potential pitfalls I can see.
  2. I'm going to give some simple steps/advice to Kidgas (not picking on him or singling him out - but I know he reads this blog and I'm eager to help him hit his goals; I'm a firm believer in paying it forward) that can help improve his backlinking strategy to help him reach his goals.
In all fairness, it might be that Kidgas didn't mention everything he did with backlinking, so maybe I'll just be talking to myself and running a refresher course, but some well intentioned good advice certainly can't hurt.

But first, my writing and passive income goals for 2011. The subtitle of this post, while appearing somewhat sensational, is actually pretty accurate. My three main goals for 2010 when it comes to writing and passive income are:
  1. To no longer have to freelance write for clients at all - and I mean NADA
  2. To have two full-time incomes (in my mind app. $36K a year) from passive income by the end of the year: one from just my own efforts and one from my brother's and my business
  3. To have a $15,000 month (minimum) in December solely from Amazon's Affiliate Program
So starting off with #1: it's not that I don't enjoy freelance writing, I love the lifestyle and there is little else I'd rather do, but the prospects of having full time passive income and being able to work on my passions and my own creative projects is FAR more appealing, not to mention that an end of the year Pareto Principle look at my life indicates that the majority of my work stress (all of it, actually) comes from freelancing for clients. Don't get me wrong - many of these clients are great and many of these jobs I enjoy, but at this point I have to do a pretty decent chunk of freelance work to make ends meet, pay student loans, and try to save up to improve my current lot in life. And with this comes stress. While I can weather the storm of any major recession, the sooner I don't have to freelance at all, the sooner I have total control over my financial life.

So how to get there? Obviously I need much more passive income to make up for the freelancing income. The first step for me is counter-intuitive. I want to take on more work the first three months of the year to save up an extra 3 to 4 months of expenses - something I've never had before. With that much saved up I can take the next 4 months off from freelancing, only take on the easy, high-paying, and fun jobs that come along (if I so choose) and use all that extra time to focus hard core on the passive income side of the equation.

I'm very confident that if I had 4 months where I didn't have to worry about making any income at all, and ALL of my attention was focused on the residual build up, then the progress on that front would be exponential compared to right now.

To do this I plan to spend 4 hours a day writing for Demand Studios, 3 hours a day writing for jobs I win from Guru.com, and 1 hour a day finding new work. I know intermittent work will come in from some former employers, but I choose not to count on it and anything I get is just bonus.

Now for #2: Getting not only one, but two full time passive incomes by the end of 2011. This definitely might be considered over-ambitious considering I haven't fully earned one yet, but I'm feeling good about this. Part of it is from the fact that the business my brother and I are partners in did very well in December - about $1,700 well and counting from only online sources. Yes, the Christmas season throws the numbers way off since a lot of that is Amazon, but it still shows what is possible, and we got started late and were not anywhere close to putting in 40 hour weeks...if only we had.

One of my first steps is making the SEO master list of all my sites and pages, and the company's sites and pages. There are more than enough good topics, keywords, and online real estate that I think I would already be making at least one, if not both, incomes if all these pages, sites, or articles ranked in the top 5 (preferably top 3) in the search engines. So getting there is step one, and with the voice software, I can do 10-12 articles a day for backlinks pretty easily now, in fact in three hours or less - so 300-400 backlink articles a month on the really low side won't hurt at all. If I spend 10 hours every Saturday doing nothing but backlink articles, I can do upwards of 40 to 50.

Next is to create a minimum of 200 new hubs for both my personal account as well as the business account based on continued keyword research, and using the optimal layout we found for selling Amazon products, in addition to still converting for AdSense. These will all get backlinks, including from revenue sharing sites like Xomba, InfoBarrel, and Squidoo. I also need to get my butt in gear and get some of those e-books and online reports done like I've had on the "To Do" list for over a year now and make sure all of my domain names have active and hosted websites - which means a lot more work to get up from the 25% or so where I'm sitting at right now.

This means going back to old pages to "properly" monetize them based on what I've learned the past two years and also being very selective about what I spend my time on. I'm very much naturally a "scatter-shot" sort of person as opposed to the "sniper focus" and my efforts the past few years have reflected that: very broad but rarely very deep. To complete this goal, I don't have any other option. I need to focus heavily on the pages that are showing the most return, the most potential I can actually turn into earnings in a reasonable time, and the projects with the highest upside.

I'm also going to "cheat" and count 2011's Amazon earnings as part of the "average" for the year.

Finally, I've had some really cool ideas for e-books and online courses that I've been working on just a little bit throughout the past year, and it's time to get those out. While not completely passive, they will definitely help with no longer having to freelance and over time some of them might become very profitable passive income streams. One of the appeal of e-books is if you can get an audience and provide information that really is worth $40 a pop versus 50 cents a click or $1 a commission.

Which brings us to #3: $15,000 December. This I actually think is very achievable. Basically I didn't heavily figure out Amazon until this year, and it's been mind-blowing for me. Using only HubPages (so think 60% of what we could have earned) and starting on the 15th of August, we made 67 HubPages, each with an average of 3-5 articles backlinking to each one. Considering there's 116 days between then and Christmas, this isn't that much work, especially for two people. In fact, we pretty much stopped doing anything the first week of November.

The end results? By changing which keywords we shot for slightly and testing to find the best layout for hubs to sell Amazon products, our company (which right now is the two of us just working together) earned $2,783 in commissions, well over half of which came in December. My personal account jumped from $10 a month to $70, and tallied nearly $200 for December, and mostly just from me revising and changing 5-10 hubs I already had to make them more Amazon friendly.

At the end of the day we could have done so much more - even doubled the work without feeling all that stressed out or rushed. So knowing that, and having figured out how to take advantage of Christmas sales and how to design HubPages and sites that actually convert for Amazon, with an entire year to go making $15,000 in December 2011 does not seem that far fetched at all...especially since it's not like this year's hubs disappear. They'll rank even higher by next year.

The goal here is 2 campaigns per month, and at least 2 backlink articles per hub or per website page per month aiming at Amazon, with a huge push in July through October 2011 when we'll have a much better idea of what's hot and what's not during the Christmas season, and what words will be achievable versus which won't be. This goal is actually the one I consider the easiest of the three based on experience and my confidence in what I know and how to do it.

So those are my goals and how I intend to achieve them. For anyone looking at making goals for the next year, I'm personally a fan of aiming for challenging goals that force you to "step up" to achieve them. Getting to new places and reaching new goals means pushing yourself to accomplish things you haven't done before.

Next, hopefully this helps pay it forward and helps Kidgas (who seems to be a cheerful and thoroughly outstanding individual - you can check out his "My Online Income" blog here) reach his goals with some advice, which is always my two cents and nothing more, that hopefully will help his backlinking efforts and in achieving his goals over the next year. And actually, these can be used by anyone, so anyone else go ahead and take notes and enjoy!

Well I guess we could just go back to my old blog post on backlinking for beginners, but since none of us are going to do that, let's move on to just a few basic steps that Kidgas could take to make his back linking more effective.

By all means, I agree with bookmarking at Xomba, Snipsly, and SheToldMe. This is a good start. I would also say, if you don't have an Ezinearticles account, get one! Regardless of what people have been saying for 5+ years, the demise of Ezinearticles is greatly exaggerated. Even 2-3 Ezinearticles (don't use the exact keyword you're shooting for in the title - use a related one) per hub can add 4-6 good solid backlinks. Learning the "a href" language to get backlinks in your author box is not difficult, and I get solid traffic directly from my Ezinearticles...and if they're willing to click once, they're willing to click again once they get to my page.

So I obviously encourage adding Ezinearticles to the mix. You can use the bookmarking sites on these to add extra "juice" to your links.

The next step would be to look at InfoBarrel if you haven't already done so. This is a very good AdSense and Amazon revenue sharing site that also allows you to have backlinks in your "signatures" of the article. InfoBarrel articles tend to rank fairly well, and you can make money off of them, as well.

Finally, in each new hub make sure to link to other recent hubs that you produce. This is a very smart move, as those "internal links" can actually be an enormous help in outranking other pages.

This is an extremely basic "how to get started," for Kidgas or whoever else needs it, but even by adding just a few Ezinearticle, InfoBarrel article, or other links you might be surprised how quickly your rankings in the search engines improve. HubPages is an incredibly strong site, and it often doesn't take very many backlinks to push the hubs up in the rankings for targeted keywords. Once you get the hang of this and start seeing the results, take a look at the backlinking for beginners post I made as it will give you a list of other places to get backlinks from (including sites who have an AdSense share program) and the default order in how I do things if that type of structure helps you out.

If you haven't tried it already, down the line consider looking at a Keyword Academy Membership (this is an affiliate link), which last I check offered a free trial month. The tools and teaching they offer is incredible and has shaved months off of my journey, if not more. The regular price is $33 a month, so it is a commitment, but it's not a bad idea to sign up when you have some time to watch the teaching videos, get a feel for their tools, do some research and get some backlinks, then if you can't afford $33 a month you can decide whether it's worth it for you to come back at a later time. Definitely hold on this until you know you have time to look at the videos and take notes: it's incredible information and even if now you can only do the free trial run, do it. What you learn will speed up the passive income process immensely.

So hopefully that will help you out to really get the most out of your backlinking efforts. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to leave a comment and ask. You were brave enough to mention your goals, so I want to be able to help you reach them and then some.

As to everyone reading, hope your holidays are great, feel free to share your goals or thoughts in the comments section, and I really encourage you to challenge yourself to really go after those big time goals in 2011. Cheers!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Freelance Passive Writing Income: And a Vacation Update

Passive Writing Income Opens Up the World

Well this should be an enjoyable post. I've just finished my third week of travel/vacation out of four, and after a week enjoying North Carolina and then Tampa, Florida, this week is already up and kicking in Las Vegas. And we're not talking New Mexico here, people. While I've attempted to start this post several times in the past week, well vacation has been great and there is always a lot to see in the city, so the tenses of this post might not completely match, and I'm going to try and be a little bit less long winded than usual since I am on vacation and there's so much more to be out doing and seeing. But I figured it would be nice to get in one freelance writing blog post before Christmas.

This has been somewhat of a work vacation, as I've put in about four hours of work every Friday, but many days on vacation I haven't done any. And on some of the other days, I've only worked a couple hours a day, using free or rented Wi-Fi and a laptop to get online and type some articles, or use my Dragon Natural Speaking Software (this is an affiliate link, but I strongly recommend this software after a couple months of use and will be doing a more in depth review on it later) to really get some done quickly in a shorter time. So it might not be a 100% no work vacation, but I haven't worked more than 8 total hours any of the last four weeks, and the reason this is possible is not only because of a little bit of savings, but because of the way that passive income opens the door for this type of trip. In a limited way, so does freelance writing since it only takes a laptop and Wi-Fi, but then you have to work a lot more on each week of break than you otherwise would.

During these four weeks I've received over $300 from Google AdSense, $250 from Amazon's Affiliate program, $150 from my eHow articles, $90 from Yahoo! Contributors (formerly Associated Content), $13 from Suite101, $125 from Squidoo, $40 from eBay and $700 from other various sources of passive or semi-passive income. Taking a month long vacation is much easier when you're receiving $1,665 from work that you've already done while on vacation - and it definitely helps you to stretch out the savings. This is part of the reason I so adamantly believe that all freelancers should spend some time building up their passive income streams. The number of hours or days I "have to work" shrink dramatically when a flow of money is coming in from various resources. Even the number of days you can qualify as "I should work, but I don't really have to" also shrinks dramatically when enough money comes in to pay the bills.

This also makes traveling more enjoyable. What stopped me the most early on was that I spent way too much time reading and trying to learn everything there was to know instead of actually building blogs, writing articles, and building sites. And when I started Grizzly's famous make money online for beginners blog was available as an excellent resource, before Google and a few jerks (you know, the ones who try to ruin everything for everyone) hammered away until it was no more. Even if that blog was still available for all of you, it would be a bad idea to do too much research and not enough doing.

There are several reasons for this, not the least of which are:
  • Online marketing and passive income changes constantly. While the basic cornerstones remain the same, there are constant changes in how pages are ranked, what links are most effective, and other tweaks to the best ways to rank pages and make passive income. Because of this, you can NEVER learn 100% of what there is to know before getting started.
  • You can always learn while you are setting up money making pages. Not only is this smarter because you will learn the most by actually doing, but instead of sitting on the sidelines you will be beginning to make the articles, HubPages, and websites you need to build up your passive income.
  • Age matters. The older a website or article, the more authority it has in the search engines and the easier it is to rank on top. So the sooner you get started, the sooner your pages will age and the more they will make for you.
  • Did I mention that actually doing is the best way to learn this business and you can fill in the details while you're writing online?
  • Passive income is partially a numbers game. The higher the numbers, the more winners you are going to have, the more money you will make, and the more likely you are to have a large number of articles or pages that you can tweak to turn into good earners once you learn more about passive income.
  • Paralysis by Analysis is the most common thing that stops people from making it online
  • And finally, almost everyone I know making passive income states that their one big regret was not jumping in and getting started sooner or waiting too long before starting, or something else along those lines.
One of the great things about writing for passive income online is that you get to correct your mistakes and improve your sites down the line. You don't have to ever be perfect, and certainly not up front.

Use that information to encourage yourself to get moving. You can always revise your HubPages later, move ads around on your blogs and websites, and write more articles that are better focused. You're not going to get hurt earning online passive income because your articles or pages aren't perfect when you're starting out. At least by having pages out there you have the ability to earn - someone with all the knowledge in the world and 0 sites is worth $0.00. A person with a badly put up site with no good keywords at least has an outside chance at something.

So this is one of those basic "motto" posts which can be summarized easily: get started and work consistently. If that means something as simple as only one HubPage and one InfoBarrel article a week and one Ezinearticle to both, then so be it, but put in the work. It's worth it, and you'll be glad you did down the line. And if you're ready to really invest in your business, then read this Keyword Academy Review to get a true sense of where the next step is for the true beginner.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

I Haven't Updated My Resume Since 2006

Freelance Writing Benefit: No Resume Games

First off, let me add an important caveat to the title, that being that I'm not saying having a good resume isn't important or that freelance writers shouldn't have resumes. I'm just saying that I haven't updated mine since 2006 and honestly I'm not keeping a conventional resume any more because I don't have any intention of getting an "honest job" (whatever that means) again.

My personality made me clash with authority even before I worked for myself, so really, in many ways I'm probably pretty unemployable at this point unless my boss let's me do my own thing as long as the job gets done. But one of the advantages to a freelance writing career is that after a certain amount of time, depending on how well you set up your business, you don't need a resume anymore. I stopped updating mine in 2006, when it became clear that getting into academics was a nightmare I wanted nothing to do with, and that the boss of the job I was interviewing for had exactly 0 interest in my resume and was only interested in my writing skills and at how efficiently I could keep growing and adapting into producing the type of writing that was actually useful to him.

Now don't get me wrong, I do keep track of special accomplishments, list of clients I've worked for (or continue to work for), and places published and earned awards. But as for organizing everything into a writer's resume, I don't bother. There's no reason to. Between steady clients and my growing passive income, there just isn't any reason to. Aside from the fact that the way I was taught to write a resume in college is now "completely wrong and outdated" why do I need an updated resume? Maybe down the line if I want to spend some free time teaching as an adjunct because there are a couple classes I'd really enjoy designing (such as one on online freelance writing that college students could actually use and turn into paying work), I love working for myself and am not willing to give that up.

For beginning writers, a freelance writing resume is essential as you build up a client list, learn the ropes, and still have to sell yourself in query letters time and time again. If you're also someone who doesn't mind writing for a company or in the corporate world, then a resume in addition to copies of published articles (your "clips") are very important. However, one of the great advantages of being a freelance writer is that word of mouth is a powerful way to gain new work as one impressed client will suggest you to others looking for a good and RELIABLE writer. I still can't believe all the horror stories of flaky and terrible writers who don't respect their clients and make the rest of us look bad.

If you're a good and reliable freelance writer, just keep marketing yourself and over time between steady clients and word of mouth, you'll get to the point where you have all the clients you need and possibly a backlog to boot. Another key point here: passive writing income definitely helps out this process a great deal. The day you work for yourself only, with no other clients, I'm sure is also a great day - and one I'm rapidly working towards. Never ignore passive income even if 90% of your time has to be spent on freelancing - a situation I'm used to. However that 10% of time I've spent just over 3 years (because the first 2 years I did ignore the passive income) building passive income has me almost half way to a full time passive income. I'd probably be there by now had I started right away, but the point is that even small baby steps over time will add up to hundreds, then thousands, of dollars a month. You'll be very glad you did not neglect this point.

So what does not updating my resume since 2006 have to do with anything? Well to me it's symbolic of a lot of things that I love about the freelance writing life style. There's a definite independence. Not only do I not worry about finding a new job, I don't worry about getting fired from an old one. There's no being pissed off at being passed over for promotion over and over again or having someone else take credit for your work (unless you're a ghost writer getting paid very handsomely to do just that). There's no worry about whether or not I can compete with experienced veterans or eager newcomers willing to work for less - employers do not let go of excellent reliable writers. No worrying about "having to" beef up a resume or "what about that gap" or "how can I make this sound impressive?" None of that.

Not to say I haven't written resumes since 2006 - I have...but other people's for $50 a pop :) The point here is that a skilled writer willing to take the lumps, learn the business, and push through the frustrations and muck then you can become completely independent of all the worries that plague so many daily grind workers who deserve better. I haven't updated my resume since 2006, and you know what, that might be the last time I ever do.

So how long has it been since you had to update your resume? How hard would you work to make sure you never had to do so again? This might not be right for everyone, but these are questions that might give you that little bit of motivation you need to get moving with the online writing. Imagine never having to prepare a resume again because you were secure. What would that be worth to you?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Last Writing Post Before a Freelance Vacation

Freedom to Write on the Road

If there is one giant benefit to freelance writing, especially when the majority of my work is done online (and nearly 40% of my income is passive) is that when it's time to take a vacation...or just wander off for a while, that's exactly what I can do. There is no office I have to be at, no location where I "must" be to do my job. Have Wi-Fi, get paid for working. So over the past year I've been back in Cedar Rapids, Iowa building my business, taking care of personal matters, and trying to clean house and figure out what's next for me.

Part one is part doctor's orders and part just long overdue. After a very stressful year and too much working in 2010, (not to mention serious wanderlust that hasn't been seriously fed in 2 years) there's no question that it's time for a good vacay, and there is little that relaxes me more than traveling. So I'm going on a vacation, also a "work vacation" for the rest of the year.

Next week I'll be taking the train east to visit one of my best friends in North Carolina, who is fulfilling his life dream of going to college at the age of 30 - a life dream that was delayed by a hard life. After hanging out for a week, it's a road trip to Tampa, Florida where he can visit his family for Thanksgiving, and I can visit my Dad for Thanksgiving. A week after that I'm flying for my return trip to Las Vegas, Nevada, where I'll be meeting some of my best friends from Alaska who I haven't seen in years.

After that, a week in Austin to see some of my old friends and scout out apartments for a return next year and a nice train ride home with a few days in St. Louis before getting back to Iowa in time for Christmas.

How can I do this? Because as a freelance writer all I need is Wi-Fi, whether it's Asheville North Carolina, Tampa Florida, Las Vegas Nevada, Austin Texas, St. Louis Missouri, or back to Cedar Rapids Iowa. I've worked my butt off the past six weeks to pay off the bills, set myself up to be able to coast out the year and take this vacation with minimal work.

Now I'm not 100% passive income, and that passive income level isn't where it needs to be so I can "not work," but I'll be enjoying life a lot more than most people stuck in a career. Every Friday for the next five to six weeks I need to work 4 hours a day in the morning. Otherwise, it looks like 6-8 hours a week will be more than enough to handle expenses, give me a decent bit of spending money and cover all the bills. For me, visiting some of my favorite cities and some new places altogether is going to recharge me in incredible ways, with or without work.

The freedom of a freelance writing lifestyle is what allows me to end a year like this, and while I'm on break no worrying about saving up for bills, no worrying about getting extra work, and no worrying about building passive income or writing my next e-book. I'm going to do the minimum work to finish out 2010 and recharge my batteries to be prepared to go full force in 2011.

This also serves the important function of reminding me not to pigeonhole myself, because being a freelance writer offers freedoms and an openness to planning life that gives me the opportunity to do amazing things and enjoy an amazing life - as long as I don't let old habits or practices get in the way and change my thinking to make a freelance lifestyle just another job.

Not everyone is going to have the same goals or desires that I do. I love travel. ALWAYS have. For other people that's not the goal, but simply having the ability to move around, to work in different places, and to have that control over your life is a huge relief and maybe the biggest benefit of being a freelance writer.

Being at my breaking point, having the ability now to travel, to spend a week at five different places (most I love, one I haven't ever visited) and to only have to work a grand total of 10-12 hours a week at the most to do it is huge for me. For those of you who are more motivated by the possibility of living out your dreams as opposed to written goals to achieve (i.e. earning enough to take a 6 week work vacation as opposed to a goal of 'write 100 articles' and then doing it), take the time to really look at what you love out of life and use that as motivation. I find it easier to have at least one or two reminders of things I have done and want to do again - this is easier for me to imagine as opposed to going somewhere I've never been or doing something I've never done.

This doesn't mean I don't have to work for a break - I've pushed myself pretty hard the past few weeks, but now I get to enjoy the pay out, and while this shouldn't be the last freelance writing blog post before 2011, I'm not sure if I'll be posting over my break. Basically if I feel like it I will, and if I don't then I won't. That's the beauty of a freelance writing vacation, as well - I get to choose my schedule.

So I hope everyone is doing well, keep up your writing goals, and if you're finding a hard time getting motivation then think of the things you want or the ideal lifestyle you could enjoy from making a full time living as a freelance writer. Spend some time reflecting on these goals or ideals, then map out the first steps you can take to get there.

So take care, and for now I'm outta' here!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Dragon Naturally Speaking Review: The 15 Minute Review

Immediate Impressions of Dragon Naturally Speaking 11

After recommendations from several people about looking into this software, and getting the green light of approval from several online freelance writers whom I respect very much who claim to use Dragon Naturally Speaking Software full time (thanks to TW at Complete Writing Solutions for the encouragement and answering my questions), I decided to finally bring out the credit card and take a shot to see if all the hype was there and if this really could make me more productive - or at the very least take down the physical stress from Carpal Tunnel. I bought the Dragon Naturally Speaking 11 Home Edition, without any fancy bells or whistles. What I thought would be interesting is to try it right away and give my initial first impressions, do a second review in two weeks (right before my vacation) and then do one in January after I've had plenty of time to decide whether or not this is something I'd recommend to freelance writers.

So what's the result after literally only 15 minutes? I would probably recommend it to most people. Seriously, I'm blown away by the early results. This doesn't mean I don't have frustrations or concerns, but this software hasn't even had time to adapt and learn how I speak and it's by far and away superior to every other voice software I've ever tried.

In fact, I'm going to paste in my "practice run" using Dragon for the first time:

Dragon naturally speaking review.

Many people have recommended this software to me. After a long debate, I decided to finally give it a try. Early on it is hard to figure out it is a good piece of equipment or not. Early on I'm having a hard time with actual word showing up that I did not say. But I have been told that this is a problem that most people have with speaking software right out-of-the-box. I do have to admit, that so far I am fairly impressed with this software. The hardest part for most people, including myself, is having the patience to train the software to work for us. When the software is working fine you definitely pick up speed and versus typing.

This is my first test using Dragon NaturallySpeaking software. There is no question in my mind, that this is a much better piece of software than the cheap version that comes with some Windows. When I tried using other brand it was pretty much worthless. I can already see how the this particular piece of software could definitely help me out. One thing you will have to be aware of so, is that you will have to do a lot of visual checking and correcting to make sure the words are coming out right.

Another very important aspect of using the Dragon NaturallySpeaking software is that you have to make some corrections yourself. Making the corrections with your voice instead of typing them in, helps to train the software to recognize your own enunciation's and accents. I also think that while correcting text to seems difficult at first part of that is just not being familiar with the command first time.

I have made some minor corrections with this text, but have chosen to leave most of it as is so you have at least a reasonable idea of how the software is working as I'm talking to you first time. So far I have had to make approximately 6 corrections. The funny thing is, many of the hardest words on here the software recognized right away. Right now is having the hardest time figuring the word at versus it. In fact I just had it correct that in the last sentence.

If you're writing here does not seem up to par with what I usually do, don't worry that's more of me figuring out the software and learning to talk as opposed to write my ideas. Although obviously there are some early frustrations, unlike other voice software I have tried even with the first test run here I can see how this will be worth the purchase. I also appreciate that the DragonPad makes files in RTF format.

This makes it much easier to save the file straight to document and then be able to use it with anything I need on or off line. While I can't endorse the software yet due to the fact that I'm still using it on my very first day, the potential is definitely there and my hands are already happy with the rest that they are getting. Once I actually get used to the commands that you use with this program and more used to talking instead of typing, I think I could definitely improve our production using the software and help prevent carpal tunnel, or at the very least alleviates it.

So in some ways you can look at this is a test, and maybe I'll have a better idea what this can do after 10 days and even better idea after 30 days. It is too early to say for sure whether this was a good buy or not, but the early signs are looking like this is a very worthwhile in investment. Are you kidding me
End of Dragon test

Now the "are you kidding me" comes from me realizing that as opposed to talking out about 300 words in 13 minutes, which is where I thought I was, the total actually came out to be 633 words, which comes out to 49 words a minute completely ignoring the facts that:
  • I spent over 50% of the time correcting small details and trying to learn the correction commands
  • I had no outline and no idea what I wanted to say
  • This is my first attempt dictating an article as opposed to typing, so I felt very slow stringing my thoughts together
  • This review isn't a topic I'm used to, so I couldn't just pull stuff out from prior knowledge like I can with many of my niches
  • It was my first freaking time using the software - 50% of which was spent trying to learn simple commands.
Which means even going slow as an absolute beginner, I could still belt out over 2500 words per hour even before this software learns my speaking nuances, before I learn all the commands, without being familiar with the subject, without being familiar with the software, and before I get used to speaking and thinking as opposed to typing and thinking.

So what happens when I stop pausing every time I just remember to say "comma" or "period," when the software gets used to my pronunciations, and I get used to dictating instead of typing? My guess is my rate will double at a minimum, and it will save my hands. This is especially useful for late at night when I can think of things that need to be written or things I want to write, but my hands and eyes don't want to cooperate.

So my initial reaction is that this was an exceptional buy for me, and I have a feeling I will be strongly recommending it once I really used to using this software and become much more comfortable and efficient using it.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Backlinking for Dummies (or Just Beginners)

Backlinking Basics for Beginners

Welcome to the freelance writing blog post featuring the most alliterate title to date. Recently I've been helping some friends get started not only with freelance writing, but specifically with the real basics of passive income. HubPages, keywords, and backlinks all come to the front of the discussion, and it's easy for me to overlook the basics because I have been working on passive income for some time now. I believe for a lot of us this could be the case. Even after a short time working for passive income online it can be easy to not think about things like keyword research or finding backlinks, because it's all become second nature after even a short time.

Also, after a certain amount of time you get used to being able to take short cuts. I've done so much keyword research I can take an educated guess at this point and with about 60 seconds of research decide if it's worth going after or not with a pretty decent rate of accuracy. But it took a lot of time to get to this point. And now more often than not I simply use the tools at The Keyword Academy to REALLY shorten up the process. Ditto with collecting backlinks (and if you're serious about your online business and have the time and money to invest, the $33 a month subscription for The Keyword Academy is ridiculously good resource. That is an affiliate link, but I believe the first month is only a $1 and if you don't like the affiliate link, then type "keyword academy" into Google).

So for someone who is a true beginner, who knows only the most basic information about making money online and SEO (Search Engine Optimization if you're really a noob...aka getting ranked high in Google), doesn't know where to get backlinks, and doesn't have the time or money to make a $33/month investment at this point, then this post will walk you through a nice simple template of actions I used early on to get backlinks to everyone of my money pages - and I still use this with new pages when I don't want to think too hard about it.

If you're a veteran at the passive income, you can probably skim or even ignore the rest of this. For anyone who feels lost as a beginner and wants a solid way to build several good backlinks to their money sites, read on or feel free to print this post out as a starter's guide.

Caveats: Many of the links further down are affiliate or referral links, but I only use these links when I get a cut of the website's %, not yours. This is also going under the assumption that you're building HubPages as opposed to websites when starting off. I'm doing this because HubPages is by far and away, in my opinion, the best way for true beginners to learn how SEO and Internet Marketing works and to see some early results to stay motivated.

If this isn't the case, I'll explain more about how that changes things (actually very little) later on in the post. Also, have a safe place to keep copies of all your log in information as you will need to open accounts in several places to build your backlinks.

First of all, you will need to open accounts at several article directories and websites. Some split income with you (InfoBarrel, Xomba) while others don't (Ezinearticles, Buzzle, Articlesbase). This doesn't make one better than the other: you need backlinks to get your money pages ranked, and the more good links, the better.
  1. After publishing a hub, the first step is to write a Xomba bookmark for your hub. Although there is a 50 word minimum, I strongly recommend 75 words as this almost guarantees your hub (or whatever you're bookmarking) will be indexed by Google within 24 hours.
  2. Find a high PR blog that gets a lot of attention (like the 4 Hour Work Week Blog) and make a relevant comment, only linking your name to your site. This isn't for a keyword - this is to get Google's attention, index your site, and get a "natural crappy" link to make the link building look natural and honest.
  3. Write 3-5 original articles for Ezinearticles and submit them.
  4. Write 1 original article for Buzzle
  5. Write 1 original article for InfoBarrel
  6. Write 1 original article for Articlesbase
  7. Write 1 original article for Olive Articles
  8. Write 1 original article for Theinfomine.com
  9. If the topic is something you're going to right a lot about, start a Blogger.com blog and a Wordpress.com blog. You'll eventually want a minimum of 5-10 posts each, but each post can have a link to a hub or article (not even including the blogroll for each blog).
  10. Bookmark your hub at RedGage.com, YouSayToo.com, SheToldMe.com, & A1 Webmarks.com.
  11. Create a Xomba bookmark to every single one of the articles on this list with a 75+ word description.
  12. Use the 4 social bookmarking sites to bookmark every one of the articles on this list.
  13. Write a Xomba article (not bookmark) that links to your hub or site. 400+ words is best but not mandatory - this will give you a "no follow" bookmark, which is always good to have a few.
  14. If you want a few more links, Google "KeywordLuv" and spend 20-30 minutes gathering blog comment backlinks using a variety of keywords related to your hub.
That's it. Is it a lot of work? Yes - but everything online for making money is. Is it difficult or hard or confusing? No. This is very easy, and you can completely skip the Blogger.com and Wordpress.com steps if you feel like it. If you're a true beginner, I might even recommend that. When you're further along with Internet Marketing you'll understand how to use those better, anyway. If you have a website or blog as opposed to HubPages, then just follow these steps, except add a HubPage and then go through all these steps for the HubPage, too, to make that a much stronger page, which will make it a stronger link.

This outline is very basic, it uses basic social bookmarking, blog commenting, and article marketing to get a solid group of links. HubPages is a very strong website that tends to rank very well right off the bat and FAR better than an independent site or blog starting from scratch. If you follow this group of instructions, you already have 15-18 backlinks, even with no Blogger Blog, no WordPress blog, no Keyword Luv commenting. A decent amount of these directories even split any AdSense earnings that your articles might earn. Aside from Xomba and InfoBarrel this rarely happens, but every little bit extra helps.

Most of those are do follow, with just enough no follow to make your site look really good to Google. With a HubPage, this can often be enough to start ranking well, especially after some time passes. The steps are ordered by importance, so if one article directory is ranked in step #3 and the other is step #8, then the backlink you get from #3 will be stronger than the one you get from #8.

I'm not saying this is the best way to gather and build links, but it is a great backlink starter template for those of you who want to learn about Internet Marketing and SEO but don't have a lot of guidance. Now there's no excuse. Go make some hubs, and use this guide to get them all some backlinks. Remember that the sheer number of hubs and money pages you have does matter, and time is a very big factor when it comes to ranking a page at the top of Google, which is how your pages will make you the most money online.

By all means, keep learning and keep reading from the many incredible resources that are online, but there's no excuse now. Go to HubPages, start building hubs, and use this template to gather backlinks. No fear!

I'm not saying there won't be a learning curve, and as you learn more online you'll almost certainly go back and touch up your old sites and/or pages (I still do), but when you really know what you're doing and understand down the line from having more experience, you'll definitely be glad to already have a great base of backlinks. It makes everything much easier! Hopefully that helps out and if anyone has any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments section.

Good luck and enjoy the extra results this work will bring to your efforts!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Online Writing, Passive Income, & Blogs to Read

Reading Break for Online Writers

One of the nice things that I've really enjoyed about becoming an online freelance writer is not only the freedom of time and place or the security that comes with being self-employed, but also the great community that exists online. You don't have to spend too much time looking around to find a huge number of writers, bloggers, and other normal people shooting for passive income who want to share what they've learned and help out others in their online community. I've felt extremely blessed for the number of positive comments and e-mails I've received from this blog, and from the number of people who I've helped to get part time or even full time income working on their own. Just as great has been the sheer number of online friends I've made, the communities I've discovered, and the support that really comes from normal people who have extraordinary dreams - because those are two of the common factors I've found from many people online.

So this post will hopefully give you a few great resources and blogs that are worth checking out. As always, make sure you're working towards your goals and not letting over analysis paralyze you - nothing any of us ever tell you is going to beat good old fashioned experience when it comes to learning the ropes of making money writing online and making money through passive income. But it's nice to have support, encouragement, and online mentors...and this list of blogs is one that I encourage anyone looking for great reads to take a look at.

It's important to understand that while earning passive income online most often involves a LOT of writing, that's not the only model for earning passive income. One thing I like about passive income online is that Jade Dragon's blog covers both the online and some offline methods to passive income. Two recent posts have really jumped out at me. This one on being happy with $3 a day, and then this informative article on a great link stacking tool that is extremely useful for improving your SEO online. Both of those posts are definitely worth checking out.

Along the same lines of there being more than one type of passive income, I strongly recommend the blog "My 4 Hour Work Week." There are several reasons why I love checking in on this blog. Aside from the author being about 10 times more consistent at posting than I am, he's willing to ponder unconventional questions like this post wondering if controlled chaos can equal success. It's a good read and good discussion down in the comments section. He also talks about non-Internet based sources of investment and passive income like this earnings update that also serves as a LendingClub Review.

I definitely feel akin to this next blog, as the author, Felicia, started as a writer and is moving into full time passive income. Obviously this is exactly along the lines of the same transition I'm making, one that started shortly after I originally created this freelance writing blog. So if somehow you haven't heard of the No Job for Mom Blog, you should go check it out. The comments section can be a wealth of information here.

If you haven't seen the Complete Writing Solutions blog, then you will want to check it out. This blog is a recent one that a reader actually recommended to me. T.W. covers some major parts to writing online full time, and goes into the great benefits of living as a writer such as living overseas, travel, and living a mobile lifestyle as a full time freelance writer.

And sometimes blogs are carried not just by great information, but also great personalities. This isn't saying that the other blog owners aren't likable (I find everyone listed here to be a jolly good group), but some blogs really shine almost personality first. Two examples of blogs that jump out immediately in this regards is Lissie's Passive Income Blog and Kidgas's Online Income Blog. Both of these blogs feature writers who are very open, very friendly, and know what it's like to be a true beginner still working towards their main goals. I always enjoy new blog posts from these writers and enjoy hearing about their on going successes, as well.

Finally, one freelance writer's blog that I strongly recommend is Bianca Raven's Freelance Writing from Home blog. The October 15th, 2010 post she has on the need for freelance writers to take their clients seriously is fantastic and I strongly recommend it. Far too many would be writers make this critical and completely inexcusable mistake.

So this should leave you plenty of reading material, including this blog. You never want to read so much that you stop working on your stuff, but this list of blogs gives you not only a wide array of perspectives and people willing to give good advice, but also a part of an online community that is actually worth being a part of. While these blogs all vary greatly, one thing you can see in common with those listed here is a genuine kindness and willingness to pass it on.

That's it for now, although there will be some more posts coming up soon going over my base link building strategies for passive income, current strategy for writing online, and a post making fun of the first outright "crazy person" e-mail I've received because of the advice I'm giving on this blog. So hope everyone has plenty of reading now, and keep up the good work!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Finding Private Freelance Writing Clients

Freelance Writing Work: Finding Private Clients

One of the major parts of building a successful freelance writing career is building a list of private clients. This can be one of the hardest and scariest parts of building a freelance writing career, as well. But private clients often equate to steady work and much higher wages than any other form of writing. There are many, MANY people out there who are willing to pay much higher wages to find one very good and very RELIABLE freelance writer to deal with all of their work.

Many of my private clients pay me double or more what they originally did when I was first hired, because I set myself apart as being talented and completely reliable. The second part is even more important than the first. Average writers who are completely reliable are 10 TIMES more valuable than fantastic writers who may or may not hit deadline. If you can be above average and prove yourself as THE go-to guy (or gal), you can find some excellent pay. I don't have any private clients who pay less than $36 an hour, and on some jobs I get paid as high as $60 to $65 an hour. Even if you don't hit those levels (and early on it will be difficult, especially in this economy), having steady solid work from private clients makes a huge difference and is worth pursuing.

There are a few important rules you need to make sure you hold yourself to before you search for even your first private client.
  1. Always get done before deadline. There is absolutely no exception to this rule. Almost any successful employer or business I worked for agreed that C+ work done on time is ALWAYS better than A+ work delivered even a few hours late. Missing deadlines kills businesses, and great writing won't resurrect them.
  2. Come through in a pinch. Proving that you can deliver on short notice can move you to the top of the list. Two private clients I write for both originally used several freelance writers. Once it became clear I was willing to turn any reasonable project around in 24 hours, I took over ALL the work for both. Sometimes this means you'll get a job at 9 pm and be staying up all night so they have something in the inbox by 10 am the next morning...but this type of coming through not only lets you charge more, it means they'll send all the high paying quick turnaround work to you.
  3. Defend your specialties. Everyone has their specific niches or specialties - those topics or subjects that they know more about than other people. As a writer, you need to know the areas where you can excel, because these niches are the first places you're going to look for new clients. If you're good at a niche, work to become great. Expertise shows.
  4. Be confident. Many writers like the idea of working from home, and part of that can often come from preferring to be one one's own as opposed to having people looking over your shoulders. That being said, finding private clients means practicing some common exercises that many people find hard nowadays: cold calling and pitching. You need to appear confident because when cold calling you're already pitching yourself without any permission and no foot inside the door - which makes it all the more important to come across as confident, professional, and with true value to offer.
  5. Be Prepared. Be prepared, because on cold calls I find my success rate is about 3% - and I have a really good radio-style voice that gives me a little bit of an edge in the "vocally charismatic" arena.
These five rules are critical before even starting the search. The next section, about places and techniques for finding private clients, are based on past experiences I've had. This isn't a step by step guide for a major reason: while I can give general advice and tactics that have worked for me, finding private clients is going to be different for individual people, and changing technology and economic times means that the best ways to find private clients (and the demand for reliable writers) is going to shift and change over time. Everything I'm writing here is true, as far as I know, in my experience from 2005 to 2010. Starting in 2011 and on, who knows?

But those five freelance writing rules for finding private clients still stand. You will get rejected much more than you get accepted, but even a few consistent private clients can make a huge difference. So here is my best advice for finding or increasing your number of private clients.

Use old connections. This is a great piece of advice, and the ideal way to actually get started into freelance writing, if possible. Did you just walk away from a company? Get downsized a few years back, but know they need an online presence? Do you have friends with companies that want to set up websites? Former employers, friends at other companies, or any type of old connection can often be used to find work. You might be surprised how often these connections can lead to work, but only when you ask point blank. My best private clients to date are actually my former employers in Austin, Texas. Just because there was no longer enough work to justify a full time writer on staff didn't mean there wasn't more writing work that had to be done. Those old connections (and their recommending me to friends) leads to thousands of dollars of work a year for me.

Forums. Don't spam online forums, but in many online forums you can offer services or find work even by casually mentioning that you are a writer, especially in niche forums (those forums about topics you are a specialist in) and online marketing forums, who are often ALWAYS looking for talented writers. With the latter you may have to start with a discounted rate to prove yourself, but if you prove your mettle you can pick up some very profitable long term clients.

Start out at auction site. This is how I found many of my earliest clients. Personally I have a lot of experience with Elance.com and Guru.com and can vouch for both, but many writers I know also like oDesk and Rentacoder as well. These sites may not seem like a natural place for finding private clients, but many employers come to these sites looking for quality writers not only for one project, but for several. It's not uncommon to have employers who use Elance or Guru for all their projects to come to you first for any new work, and they're willing to pay extra to have a writer who is consistent and provides quality work. Sometimes all future work is done on the auction sites, I've also had these employers contact me directly and start paying me directly to work for them. That way you save 6-10% on commission fees and you have more private clients who often recommend you to their friends, as well.

Surf websites in "expert niches" and find sites that may want more content. Sometimes I'll stumble on a website by accident while doing research. Sometimes they have a blog but no content, or a really nice site but no content, or a nice set with terrible content. I'm not shy - if the writing sucks I'll offer my superior services for a reasonable professional price. Look around niches you know a lot about and see if you can find a lot of sites that might want contact. You might only get 2-3 responses for every 10 or 20 e-mails you shoot, but even 5 test articles at $15 each is a nice little haul in for a couple hours of querying. Any long term contract you get is bonus. I broke into travel writing this way, and while no one contract was large, there were 4 sites I wrote for who each wanted 15 to 20 articles a month at $15 each - and they were simple, I could do two in an hour, and added up to good grocery money.

Set up your own online presence. If there's one area I should personally do better in, it's this one. You can set up a professional website or blog (or both) to set yourself up online. In addition, while building passive income by writing for sites like HubPages, Squidoo, and Xomba you can talk about yourself in your profile and even offer your services. If nothing else, leave a business e-mail to let clients get a hold of you. Just from HubPages and Squidoo I've been interviewed as an expert in writing, working from home, literature, and history on various radio shows and online radio shows, and was almost in a USA Today story. You will be amazed at the ways people will find you online as long as you have a presence there.

Cold call local companies. This is one of the most intimidating ones on the list, and many people find it hard to believe that calling is better than e-mail now - but cold calling is MORE effective than ever just because of this change. So many people shoot an e-mail when looking for work or asking a question that having the guts to call not only makes you stand out and look more professional, but gives you a better chance of success. You might be surprised how many companies want a freelance writer, or didn't think about it but are willing to give you a shot once you call. If you know anything about SEO to go with freelance writing, your chances of success sky rocket.

Advertise in local papers. And I don't mean online. While I believe in having an online presence and how important that is, I'm not a fan of online ads since people look for cheap work here, and many people look for people to rip off. Many people still swear by Craigslist, and I'm not saying it can't work, but a great way to find local private clients is through local papers. People still look at the want ads or ads offering services, so put yourself out there.

Advertise in trade magazines of your niche. Sometimes it's best to just pitch magazines, but depending on the niche, it might be worth advertising yourself as a professional online writer who specializes in that magazine's niche. Chances are that people who run popular websites in the niche still look through specialty magazines for ideas. An ad for a freelance writer custom made to their niche could easily be too much to resist.

Business cards at coffee houses. Remember all those billboards at Colleges full of fliers and business cards that no one paid attention to? Well there's one place I've found where those actually get read and picked up. Coffee houses. Post up some business cards, or a flier explaining your services, and you might be surprised how often this leads to some good work.

Read the best books on the topic. This is kind of a no-brainer, and don't worry I'll list the ones I feel are the best. If I miss one, feel free to add the information in the comments section.
First, I would strongly recommend Peter Bowerman's book, "The Well Fed Writer." This gives a ton of great information about finding clients, and the cold calling advice is invaluable. I know Bowerman also wrote a sequel to The Well Fed Writer, but I have not read it at this point so I can't personally vouch for it. Once again, if anyone reading this post can give a review good or bad, please include your opinion in the comments section. Robert Bly's two books: "Secrets of a Freelance Writer" and "Getting Started as a Freelance Writer" are both also extremely useful and should be extremely helpful to beginners. I also strongly recommend Jenna Glatzer's "How to Make a Real Living as a Freelance Writer." The emphasis here is on magazines, but the chapters on research, marketing, and pitching should be read by everyone who wants to make it as a writer. The reason I recommend these books is because these writers have landed more private clients than I have by far - and the best way to get information is right from the expert's mouth!

Be persistent. It takes time to build a strong client list, but private clients seem to be the most profitable as well and taking the time to build that list will help you on your way to a strong full time income as a freelance writer. Push through the early rejections and over-deliver every time you get a chance to prove yourself.

That's it. That's all the advice I can give about tracking down private clients, and it's what has worked for me. Hopefully this helps all of you, and keep on fighting for that dream. It's worth the long struggle when the hard work pays off and you get paid handsomely to make a living writing.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Creative Writing, Brief Update

3 Poems and a Brief Blog Update

Hey all. Appreciate the kind comments and e-mails. I'm always encouraged by stories of people finding work, taking their first steps, and finding success in the world of freelance writing. I'm currently working on a blog post on how to find private clients as a freelance writer, since that is a topic that is getting a lot of interest from readers. This is taking a little bit longer than I expected, thanks in part to several real world projects that popped up as well.

So until I get the next post wrapped up, I thought I'd answer the second request that comes up a lot, and share some of my creative writing.

For those of you who are new to the blog and have no interest whatsoever in creative writing, feel free to check out early and try the following posts:

50 Things Every Beginning Freelance Writer Should Know

Why I'm Not Ashamed to Be a Freelance Writer

The Truth About Freelance Writing

Demand Studios Review

Constant-Content Review

For the rest of you, the following are three poems I wrote while living in Alaska, one of which was published, one which won a contest/award, and one which would have been published had the journal not folded two weeks before publication. Such is life :) Hope ya'll like it, and be gentle. Poetry is my fourth creative writing skill behind fiction, creative non-fiction, and screenplays. Also if the formatting gets screwed up - blame Blogger and Microsoft Works for not playing nicely.

Arctic chills in spring,
familiar fragrance, burning meth
lazing thru loose floor boards
and shoddy dry wall.
Sit on empty red milk crate
grading freshman papers
Gut-wrenchingly bad.
The poets are in hiding, and
future leaders have lost all sense of soul.
Muffled mattress squeaks,
inevitable result of meth perfume,
Harbinger of sad quiet sex
once distracting, now ignorable
like a drip, drip, dripping faucet.
Until one very early morning red and blue lights
cascaded thru open shades
and splashed our walls.
We laid awake and trembled
like deer who just missed the headlights.
They took them away,
one in a bag.

New neighbors came.
Summer brought back familiar smells
and not-so-quiet mating,
snorting like animals,
Summer papers were a little better.

Remembering when I was astray, the warthog,
burning spoons and shooting syringes,
Tap, Tap, Tapping the Mainline Florida,
and, oh God, how I loved to touch you . . .
until you rode off one Tuesday
on back a Harley to somewhere;
left me to finish the degree I started
and forgot about half way through.

I moved out of state, two thousand miles to teach,
but never enough for a better apartment
with a river view like we talked about;
but what would an adjunct do with money anyway—
and what’s the point of a river
with no one to share?


Cabin’s cold even in summer
Alaska's like that,
but the shiver indistinguishable from a shudder
and not due to forty degree nights.

Marshall bought bread at
Wal-Mart, evil empire of commerce,
but prayers sanctify
organic whole oats
or refined wheat flour
into the twisted flesh of
a broken Savior and
grape juice in blue plastic
Dixie cups transforms into royal
blood prepared for cannabilistic ingestion.

Prayers drip off heavy lips
like the tears bursting from
closed eye lids too light to hold back
the deluge behind the levy.

Bless us. Forgive us. Help us.
Word torrents rush out and
old tongues mix with new,
older than Aramaic,
harder to translate,
always ends with Abba.

You want a whole piece? I asked,
surprised when he didn’t tear it in halves.
I have a lot of sin to cover, he replies,
and knows I do, too.

Naked body cannibalized
piece by piece,
by greedy ravenous teeth,
thanks given,
spontaneous prayer bursts forth
from sanctified vessels;
the cabin walls can not
contain it.

We erupt and do not care
who hears.
Bullied into silence long enough,
but not in our temple.

The blood is sweet and
gushes down eager throats,
but some remains on the bottom,
speckled, you can never quite
get it all, and not all can ever
quite get it and therein lies the
problem and maybe the solution.

North of Noah's Flood

Technically Fairbanks, Alaska,
is a desert, my professor says,
and I’m not sure he is right,
but there is so little rain,
and they say come in, but this
isn't even drizzle, it's mist, and
even then it only comes twice
a summer.

Then there was 2006,
and it was different.
On Monday I spread my arms
and yelled joyfully at the sky as
it drenched me and
every other Midwesterner
dancing in the rain and even the
Alaskans thought we were crazy,
these people who didn't know to come in,
and danced like wild pagans
praising an indigenous Christ-like God
and the rain is home.

That was the only good rain in three years;
but then the skies poured again,
and Thursday twice more.
Lightning made buildings shake
and I wonder about cabins with tin roofs as the
skies won't stop dumping,
coming in sheets and flash flooding
in ways even Iowan farmers
would fret at,
wind blowing weighted trees sideways,
Trees gyrating wildly,
already bent near breaking
from many winters snow,
cabin's tin roof poor shield
from lightning and logs.

Wind howls and man,
I have never seen this here—
no one has—
and man oh man are those trees
making me squirm.

We've never seen a storm like this,
and some wonder aloud
if the world is ending.
Maybe it is.
Us crazy bastards,
not even we dance in this.
The desert becoming
an ocean,
and us without an ark.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Truth About Freelance Writing

The Truth About Freelance Writing: What a Writing Career is Really Like

There are many different important freelance writing topics I cover with this blog, and while they are all perfectly valid, I wonder how many beginners stop and think about why they want to be freelance writers. More to the point, I wonder if they understand what a freelance writing career is really like, or if they hold a romanticized notion of what a writing career is really like. It's not that being a freelance writer isn't great - there isn't another career out there I'd rather be doing (and I fold my passive income work into the general term "freelance writer career" as well), but that doesn't mean this doesn't come without its own set of costs or difficulties. Some of these difficulties are easy to overcome if you really don't care what other people think, and this is a job that I thoroughly believe is much easier if you are single as opposed to raising a family.

So I wanted to take some time in this post to explain the truth about starting your own freelance writing career, and explain both the positives and the negatives: and how sometimes they can be the exact same thing. This post isn't meant to force people to jump in and become writers, nor is it here to try to scare you away from pursuing a freelance career whether it is part time (which I think is probably right or better for most people, especially starting out) versus full time. This post will hopefully simply lay out the truth about what a freelance writing career is like, both good and bad, and give you a better idea if this is the right road for you - or indeed since there are many different ways and routes to becoming a full time writer, which specific road might be the one you're most comfortable with pursuing.

First of all, the disclaimer: there are ALWAYS exceptions to the basic "rules" of any given industry, and freelance writing is no exception. I've met a couple of people who just were in the right time, right place, starting out and were good enough to turn it into a full career very quickly. Over 99% of the time, this isn't going to happen. And the majority of the time someone leaves a snarky comment on a writing blog about how quickly they made $50k+ a year right out of school writing, notice the less than stellar writing and lack of a URL linked to the name. There are more trolls claiming to be successful freelance writers than there are really good freelance writers making a living. Most successful freelancers I know are more than friendly and go above and beyond in sharing their time and advice with newbies. In fact, there's only one I've run into who isn't. All the others are more than happy to help someone who is willing to do the work needed to prove they're really dedicated to making it.

Not everyone will experience all of these, but based on my 5+ years experience as a freelance writer, I'm going to go over my experiences as a freelance writing and mention not only the positives and drawbacks of being a professional writer, but also go into the things that I think others could have issues with as well.

Common freelance writing beliefs or questions

#1: Freelance writers can work anytime they want. This is one of those freelance writing beliefs that is both true and false. Yes, you do get to set your own hours. This means if you get up one morning in April and the water levels are finally down after a wet winter and the trout streams were stocked for the first time all year, you can choose not to write that morning or even the early afternoon. Pure freedom, right? Wrong. A more accurate description of this common belief is that: freelance writers can move their working hours around any way they want. You can go fishing when the fishing is good, but that means you won't be going to bed at nine at night. You'll be staying up until 1, 2, 3, or maybe even 4 a.m. making sure you get your needed writing in and get any assignments done on time. The work MUST be done, and it MUST be done on time and on deadline when applicable. So yes, you can move your schedule around and it helps to lead a richer and fuller life, IMO, but you WILL make up for it. Flexible Schedule? Absolutely. Work whenever you want with no consequences? Not bloody likely.

#2: The Respect Issue. There are generally two, and only two, reactions you get after telling someone you are a professional freelance writer. The first reaction is what most non-writers or beginning freelance writers imagine: surprise, interest, and a strong sense of respect, often out of interest in what you do and how you pull it off. The second reaction is a little (actually probably a lot - I'm fortunate in that I'm surrounded by family and friends who more or less gave up on me ever going the conventional route for a job or life by the time I was 17) more common and surprises many beginning writers: smirking, arrogance, or absolute disdain. Don't be surprised if many people look down at you, believe you can't get a "real" job, or will never believe you no matter how easily you can prove that you're successful. Don't be surprised if everyone who looks at you with disdain thinks they could do your job easily, even though most can't. And you will NEVER convince them otherwise. I'm making double per month what some people who know me are, and they still snicker and make fun of me for being "just a writer." If you crave or need the respect of others, sad truth is you just might not have the skin to be a freelance writer. That's a hard truth, but it is one you need to be aware of before making an unwise jump into the freelance writing business.

#3: You get to write what you want. No, you don't. This doesn't mean you can't start your own blogs or write specialty articles, but most people will never be able to make a living writing articles on only things they are interested in. Even if you are very capable like Celeste Stewart over at Constant-Content and can write excellent high quality articles on topics you choose and sell them: they still have to be in topics in demand. I might be able to write 20 great articles on the historical philosophical and political ties between the Kingdom of Morocco and the United States, but no one is going to buy them. You are allowed to turn down jobs you're not comfortable with, and I 100% suggest that you do just that, but getting clients means writing the way they need you to write for the jobs that they need you to do for them. Period. That's the only way you can make it as a full time freelance writer.

#4: Freelance writing is easy. This is a misnomer. Personally, I find the writing part easy and natural. I've literally been writing since I was 3 years old and have never wanted to be anything else other than a writer. But there are always jobs that are harder than others, and writing is only one part of being a freelance writer. Taxes, finding clients, pleasing clients, dealing with problem clients, finding more work, adjusting with ever-changing markets, writing online, writing offline, learning different writing styles, editing, budgeting, loneliness, self-motivation, discipline, providing own benefits, marketing, and balancing life and work are all important aspects of being a writer, and balancing all of those is NOT easy in any way, shape, or form. And if you're stuck doing technical writing, you're making a lot of money but the writing itself won't be easy either.

#5: Freelance writing is lucrative. This is one where it's hard to nail it exactly, because freelance writing can be lucrative. It can be extremely lucrative, especially on a per hour basis. However getting to that point can be very difficult and take a long time. I started out at about $4 an hour while learning the ropes. If you've followed this blog and some of the other excellent resources online that were not around back in 2004 or 2005, then you should be able to start at quite a bit more than that. But even then, getting to $20 an hour or $30 an hour or more can take a ton of work, a lot of time, and working for countless 50, 60, or 80 hour weeks or more building up your portfolio, looking for better long term clients, and constantly working not only to keep up with the rent, but to keep pushing your freelance writing business towards more growth and more movement.

A Writer's Market article from several years ago mentioned that a stunning number of freelance writers would never make enough in a year to pull them above the poverty line. Somewhere in the 75%+ mark. Making above 30k as a freelance writer puts you in the top 10%. While the top writers make six figures - there's no question they are in the top 1% of all earners. Passive income can muddle this up a bit, but even in that field there are far more trying to make good money at writing and blogging than are actually making it.

As a part time job, second income, or hobby that's used just to fill an IRA or save up for a vacation once a year, freelance writing is a great gig that is very lucrative and attractive for limited goals such as these. As a long term freelancing career, it's hard.

Other points of interest to beginning freelance writers:
There are several other points I want to make from personal experience, because there is so much that can be covered on this topic, but it's hard to dive into everything fully for people who haven't been through the same, and as with all things, different people react differently. Loneliness is a major problem for many people, while it's just not that big a thing to me. Additionally, I'm willing to do more with less because I don't have a family, which makes many things simple for me that are harder for others (like insurance, day care, extra expenses, working at home while trying to balance family life, etc).

Going in a bullet point format, here is a final list of tips. If there's any point or number of points that you want to know more about, or if there's even something else I haven't covered completely, feel free to ask a question in the comments section. I'll do my best to answer based on my own experiences.

More truth on the freelance writing experience:

  • Develop a thick skin. Even if you are one of the best, you'll get rejected a LOT. If you take it personally, you'll burn out too early to ever see success. Develop a thick skin and go from there.
  • Recognize you could get lonely. Freelance writing is a long lonely job. Take a break and spend an hour at a book store, take a walk in the park, or go out for a cheap meal. Just being around people often helps, and you need this to keep your sanity over the long run.
  • The money will be hard early on. Very hard.
  • Private clients will pay the most, and will be the hardest to find.
  • Some types of writing, like technical and sales copy writing, will pay far better than others (like content writing). The more expensive the writing, the harder it is to break into that market.
  • You pay self-employment tax. This varies greatly based on circumstances, but a basic rule of thumb is that you will pay 12-15% more than you are used to.
  • You must have self-confidence, because many people who think they are helping you will inadvertently (or maybe even intentionally) put you down during the hard times when you need support the most. At these times only your own self confidence and determination will see you through.
  • Get a community. A supportive online community can be very helpful during the rough times - but don't go there so often that you spend more there than actually writing.
  • Be open to learning multiple styles of writing. This makes cobbling together clients and a solid writing resume, as well as a working income, much simpler.
  • Specialize in a popular niche to really get some private client attention.
  • If you don't know what cold calling is, learn it. This remains one of the best ways to find private clients who can become your biggest paychecks.
  • Never undersell yourself. If in doubt, charge 20-30% more than you think you're worth. I was stunned when I did this and saw my workload double, then did it again and saw the demand stay exactly the same. Don't work for less when clients have already decided you're worth more. I've been told by clients who pay me $36 an hour that I don't charge nearly enough. Good to know.
  • You have to learn to concentrate on the very short term, in a one-step-at-a-time method to keep your work running smoothly and keep yourself sane but if you want to succeed long term you have to be able to keep an eye on the long term picture without getting overwhelmed. It can be a tough balancing act.
  • Learn what passive income is right away and devote a MINIMUM of 10% of all your working time towards building this passive income. Start with HubPages, InfoBarrel, Suite101, and Xomba and go from there. It may take two years to see big results, but you'll kick yourself in the butt for not doing more while being thankful you started at all.
  • If you have the choice, start at part time and go from there. If you're a college student and money's not an issue, jump right in.
That's it for this new post on learning some truth about freelance writing. I hope you found this useful, and feel free to leave any comments or questions you have.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Freelance Writing Updates, Advice, and Important Miscellania

More Freelance Writing Advice, Corrections, and Updates

Hey all. I appreciate all the kind words from the last blog post of mine, about celebrating freelance writing milestones. Every single comment I receive that tell me I've helped to inspire people to get started, or helped people take the next step in freelance writing really fires me up and I count each one as a huge blessing. Thanks for the great comments, and thank you all even more for pushing yourselves to meet your goals in life. Even a quick e-mail note telling me you're a college student who writes only $100 a week just to travel during the summers - that's exciting and awesome from my point of view and I appreciate all the stories you've all shared with me.

For this post, there are going to be a lot of odds and ends that I cover as it seems like that time of year where there's one little note of interest here and one other note of interest there. I'm not sure how comprehensive this will be for complete newbies, but hopefully between all the little things I want to cover there will be some gems of information that are worth knowing, and I'll mention all the resources that I personally know are worth paying for. Yes, those will be affiliate links, but anyone who has followed this blog for any amount of time knows that's not why I'm in this one. Look at it from my point of view: I absolutely am defensive of my name and reputation because it's one of the few things I can generally control. If I don't feel completely comfortable with a product, I won't recommend it and if I'm willing to take an affiliate commission, then I know I'm putting my reputation on the line with each recommendation, so I'm very careful about what I endorse.

And as with many past websites, I reserve the right to pull that endorsement at any time as I see fit based on changes or actions of the site or resource in question. The past couple weeks have also taught me some things I wasn't aware of before, and I found some high quality blogs that are also worth a mention, particularly for those of you just becoming familiar with concepts like "Lifestyle Design" or "Automated Residual Income."

So while there are plenty of reviews and more advice coming up in later posts, right now this one is going to be a hodge-podge. Based on the sheer number of e-mails I get, I will include in this freelance writing blog post:
  • All the paid resources I can personally vouch for and have bought or used myself.
  • Some blog posts worth following (any blog I've linked to in post in the past is most likely still on my heavily recommended list).
  • Updates on various online writing websites and what I think of them as of the date of this blog post (08/20/2010).
  • Some announcements on future projects I'm working on and will be releasing by the end of the year.
  • More comments throughout badgering new readers to get started NOW, because getting started is the most important piece of advice anyone can get for freelance writing or building passive income.
So first and foremost:
If you haven't already started, get started NOW! (See, told ya' I'd be badgering over this one). If you learn everything there is to know over 8 months, in 8 months you have knowledge and you have nothing to show for your learning. The guy who throws up 10 hubs a day, even at random without keyword research, he's not getting enough for his work, but he'll have hundreds of hubs and therefore he will be making money.

So people have asked for my recommendations on paid resources. I'll give the list here, but I want to make sure this is perfectly clear: not every person has the same needs as I do, which is especially true since I'm working to switch from a mostly freelance model to a mostly passive income model. These have worked for me and I recommend them to other people. I'm also NOT saying that I don't trust anything that is not on this list. The best programs in the world might be out there and I don't even know about them. But these are the ones I can personally vouch for:

The Keyword Academy - This is an amazing program that Court and Mark oversee, and newbies get their first month for $1, then it's $33 a month after that. If you're looking to learn how to earn passive income, how to find back links, and want to learn to make a full time residual income, this is the place. As of this writing they have a goal of helping 1,000 students reach their goal of $1,000 a month passive income within 12 months. Strongly recommend if you can afford it and put in the time to work a little bit every day.

Celeste's E-Book on Constant-Content - Nobody rocks Constant-Content like Celeste. If you want to know how to make it at CC, this is the one and only guide.

Writer Gig's E-Book on eHow - I used to have this one on the sidebar, then I took it down. NOT because of quality - Writer Gig's book is the real deal, but after the eHow and Demand Studios mess, I wanted to wait and see what happened before putting this back up again. While it's not 100% up to date because of the new format, if you're approved to write for Demand Studios and want to make the most out of their residual income articles, this is still your best resource.

Justin's Great E-Book: Life After the Cubicle - Justin as a great blog, and he worked a year on what is obviously a passion. Comes with MP3 Coaching and deals with a wide variety of topics that people have to deal with when looking to work for themselves or get away from the cubicle life they hate so much. Highly recommend.

The 4 Hour Work Week (Audio Book) Revised and Expanded by Timothy Ferriss - Not every part of this book is right for everyone, and it's not meant to be. Some of the exercises are great for individuals, others I think are a touch corny. But in the end, the expanded version of this book is incredible, and if you are willing to give it a shot, there is something here for everyone who can learn to make a side income, chase their dreams, become a more efficient worker, and find a much better path that what most people are following right now. I listen to this all the time for encouraging and motivational background. In fact, this is what I'm listening to right now as I type this blog post.

How to Make a Real Living as a Freelance Writer (Print Book) - Best book I've found for magazine writing, freelance writing print markets, and how querying and research is best done for maximum effect.

These are the paid resources I would recommend at this point. You know, as long as you immediately started working on your writing career even as you were reading them. Without getting started, they're just more information overload. If you want passive income and don't know where to start, start with HubPages. It's where I started seeing major results, and I know it's one of the first places Lissie started seeing success online. It's perfect for beginners.

Secondly, there have been some very good blog posts recently that are worth having a look at. Some of my favorites from the past month or so:

JadeDragon's post on Constant-Content Success and why most new writers fail there (and why they have no excuse to). His observations on CC and how writers should be able to sell a lot here and why most don't are dead on with what I've seen. Yes, he links to one of my posts from the blog, but this truly is a great blog post and comes back to the all important point: you have to get started.

Okay, this one is older, but if you're new and haven't seen Allyn Hane's: Everything You Need to Know About Backlinks, you're missing out. Go watch, read, then come back and get started.

Take a look at this blog: "My 4 Hour Work Week." I've only discovered this one recently, and obviously he is also a fan of Ferriss' work, but it is great to see another perspective on learning to make passive income online, on the hard work to get there, and on how progress does happen.

Change Your Life, Are You Living or Surviving? Not about freelance writing at all, but this is a question every single one of us should be asking constantly. If you don't get the question, then it's REALLY time for you to stop and start thinking about what it might mean and what direction your life is going.

Check out Lissie's Passive Income Online article on The Secret to Online Success. Lissie is great, friendly, and and hits the nail on the head on this fantastic post!

Felicia is an absolute inspiration and does a FAR better job updating her blog consistently than I am here. She had a couple of great posts worth reading, one reflective on Choosing the Write Way (nice), and another on Dreaming Big But Thinking Long Term. They're both worth the read, and might be that last little push to get you moving.

And last but not least, thank you to TW for Another Look on Content Mills. Before anyone comments on whether or not the math was right, wrong, or otherwise, read the article, read the comments, and realize that whether or not he understood the math for the specific example, the concept is absolutely correct and Demand Studios gets mentioned a lot in the comments because of it.

Finally, as for the questions about whether some future business projects I've alluded to have anything to do with e-books or creating my own writing e-book, the answer is yes and kind of. Before the end of this year I do intend to create a few e-books that aren't just aimed at beginners, but go into things like running an actual business, finding clients, carving out a niche, improving query letters, and working efficiently to build freelance and passive income at the same time. I also have a very big project I'm proud to co-author aimed at college aged kids, or kids wondering if college really is a good idea anymore or not, and what the real options are versus what they're being told.

So yeah, there's a lot coming out in the future, and since there seems to be plenty of interest, I'll make sure to keep things posted here. A creative writing project I was hoping to have up this fall is running behind schedule a little bit, but we'll see what everything's looking at by Christmas.

So that's it for this update. Plenty of reading, plenty of resources, now get out there and don't you dare settle for anything less than your wildest dreams!