I require my undergraduate journalism students to buy two books to keep by their sides at all times. One of them is the AP Style Book; the other is called When Words Collide: A Media Writer’s Guide to Grammar and Style.
I can’t tell you how much I love my When Words Collide book; I use it all the time. I’d like to share some information with you about one of my favorite chapters in this book. It’s called 10 Little Secrets, 10 Big Mistakes—and the information is useful if you aim to be a better writer.
Secret 1: Read
If you don’t like to read, you can’t possibly love to write. The two go hand in hand. I have always been a voracious reader. I love fiction as well as nonfiction and I’ve been lucky enough to study a handful of classics in literature in both high school and college.
Language is an amazing thing—and you can’t really work on building your own voice without listening to others. Other writers are the best examples of how to do things well—and not so well. Read widely and often. Continue Reading
Writing effective blog posts isn’t as easy as you might think. There are a ton of things to take into consideration, including creating a catchy headline, the length of your piece, even the words that you choose.
I’ve spent some time scanning the Internet to find some useful tips on how to craft a great blog post from several different sources. Read on to gain insights from professional bloggers.
Focusing on one topic or piece of information will keep your blog post succinct and easy to read.
It happens to me too at times. I start out with a single topic in mind – but then the post morphs into something else. By the time I’ve finished, I’ve added another five different bullet points, talked about related problems – and suddenly my post is long and, well, rambly. —Write to Done
Giving your readers many options and topics will make them feel overwhelmed. Plus, a blog post that has too much information is too long! No one wants to spend 20 minutes reading a blog post.
Tackling just one topic or point per blog post makes your job easier, too. If you find that you are coming up with other ideas while you’re writing, jot them down and use them to craft a whole different blog post. Many shorter blog posts are better for your search engine optimization than one incredibly long one. Continue Reading
In this economy, creating and sticking to a budget is more important than ever. Of course, not every freelancer has money problems, but my guess is that many of you out there are taking a very close look at your bottom line—especially with taxes due in just days.
Whether you are new to freelancing or are a seasoned pro, learning how to run your business on less money is always an appealing option.
I recently purchased a magazine title with two other business partners and we’re trying to stay as lean and mean as possible until ad revenue starts coming in. We’re lucky that we don’t have a lot of expenses—like office space—that we need to pay for, but we did take out a small business loan that must be paid every month. We also spend a fair amount of money on travel expenses, going to and from trade shows and bridal shows in our area, so we’re careful to count every penny.
I found this article on Inc.com listing three ways to grow your business on a budget, and I was intrigued. The author, Vanessa Merit Nornberg, has some great points, and I wanted to share them with you.
Seek Out Partnerships
This is something we do all the time at our magazine. We’re lucky that we have been able to trade some ad space to help pay for things we really need—like help with our public relations and web development.
We also work with our advertisers to make sure they have magazines to use for their needs. For example, there is a jeweler who has been giving out a gift bag to couples who have bought their engagement ring at their store. They asked us if we could provide them with magazines to put in these gift bags. Of course, we said! That’s target marketing for a wedding magazine, and we didn’t have to do any of the leg work.
We also trade web ads with some of our partners, which is a good way to get free advertising space online. If you can find partners who will promote you while you promote them, it’s a win-win situation. It’s also a great way to find new clients and revenue streams. Continue Reading
This blog post by Amber Rice on PRDaily.com tickled my fancy. Maybe it’s because many of my friends have toddlers, or maybe it’s because I’m pregnant—but I think adults can learn a lot from little kids. Below are some of Rice’s suggestions, as well as some of my own.
Be Curious and Ask Questions
What’s this? Why? How come?
Adults can become exasperated with the number of questions that come from kids. Sometimes we even make up answers just to get them to stop! But asking questions isn’t a bad thing for a freelancer—in fact, it’s a very good thing.
If you work in PR, you need to know everything there is to know about your client to represent them in the best way possible. Even if that means you ask them a lot of questions.
As a journalist, asking questions is a huge part of your job. Before I even call people for an interview, I do research to put together a list of the best questions possible. I don’t want to waste their time (or mine) asking questions I can easily find from other sources.
Practice Makes Perfect
Toddlers have to practice everything, from putting on their shoes to learning how to use the potty. They seldom learn a new skill on the first try and need to practice and reminders of how to do something. —PRDaily.com
Freelancers don’t need to practice to tie their shoes, but they do need practice in managing their business—especially with the speed technology is changing. What worked five years ago is probably not going to work the same way today.
Freelancers should try out this new technology—be it a social media site or a new way to invoice their clients—and discern if it’s going to work for them. With anything new, there are going to be bugs to work out and a learning curve. It’s easy to get frustrated with new technology, throw your hands up in the air, and give up. But that isn’t the answer. Neither is throwing a temper tantrum. Continue Reading
No one is perfect, and we can all improve upon ourselves to become better businesspeople. I really liked this article by Brad Lebo, one of the principals at Vital Growth.
He lists some challenges that each and every one of us can focus on and conquer in order to be better freelancers. These aren’t all of his tips, but the ones most suited to your needs. Read the entire blog post here.
1. Understand Your Values
Values influence every decision you make and the resulting actions. What you believe is important or valuable will determine how you interact with peers, employees, and customers, as well as determine how you react to lapses in effort, integrity and judgment. —Brad Lebo
Knowing what your values are will help you make decisions. Things pop up all the time that will make you pause and think—a client who wants something you don’t usually offer, for example. Have some firm guidelines set for yourself that you can fall back on. If not, you can hem and haw and make decisions you aren’t comfortable with. And when you lean one way for one person, what will keep you from doing it again for someone else.
I edit a yearly wedding publication that has a very specific niche. We only publish photos from wedding photographers who are located in our state. I have lots of photographers who come to our state to take photos of weddings and want their images to appear in our publication. I don’t budge. There are plenty of other magazines out there for these people. If I make an exception for one person, I have to do it for all of them, and I’m not going to open those floodgates.
Your values can also bolster your reputation. Sure, some people who don’t have the same values might not want to work with you, but there are plenty other people out there who will. And aren’t those the clients you want anyway? Continue Reading
When I read this article about how Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO, leaves work at—gasp! 5:30 pm every day—I was both happy and annoyed.
I am a huge proponent for working smarter—not longer or harder. I can get done in a few hours what takes some people all day. I am lucky that I have the ability to block out everything around me and have a laser focus on the task at hand for a good amount of time. I hear that when I am doing this, I get a crazy look in my eye and I come off as utterly pissed off. I’m not—I’m just on a roll!
I make it a point to leave my office between 5 and 5:30 pm every day. Sometimes I can’t because I have an event to go to or something that must be finished. But, on the whole, I stick to my own personal deadline.
Keeping this schedule helps me in many ways. Here are some of them: Continue Reading
I was engrossed in this blog post about why creative businesses fail written by Jason Aten. I work in a creative field (magazine publishing) with many creative people (writers, photographers, and graphic designers). If you work in the creative industry and are looking to start your own business—listen up!
Jason Aten, the owner of the blog Starting Out Right, is a wedding photographer. He quit his career in marketing and sales management with FedEx to start his own business—something many creative freelancers decide to do.
His photography business took off, and his work has been featured in many national wedding publications. He also spends a lot of time speaking, educating, and writing about the business of photography. Jason knows that, no matter how talented you are, if you don’t have a head for business, you aren’t going to make it far.
A creative business isn’t unlike any other business. You have expenses and revenue. The successful businesses have more revenue than expenses. Anyone that starts a business should love what they do—because they are going to spend an awful lot of time doing it. But just because you are passionate about art, music, photography, etc., doesn’t mean it’s enough to build a business around. Continue Reading
We face criticism from all sorts of angles, both in our professional and in our personal lives. It never ceases to amaze me how often complete strangers will offer up advice on everything from parenting skills, to recipe enhancements, to the exact right way to get from point A to point B. Everyone is an expert.
But while you can sometimes shrug off a critical remark, you don’t forget it. At least I don’t. To this day, I remember one of my high school friends poking fun at my stick-straight legs saying, “God took rulers and drew your legs.” That was almost 20 years ago.
Some people offer up constructive criticism in a kind and gentle way. Others are more abrupt and brisk. As a writer and editor, I’m used to harsh criticism about my writing. I actually had one editor hit me on the head with a rolled up newspaper when I did something terrifically boneheaded as a newbie. That was humiliating.
I actually had one editor hit me on the head with a rolled up newspaper when I did something terrifically boneheaded as a newbie.
As a freelancer, we meed to have a thick skin—how else are we going to deal with all those rejection letters? But it’s hard, really hard sometimes, to keep your cool.
Here’s an example of how NOT to deal with criticism:
I worked with a freelance writer who handled a monthly column for a bit at the magazine I edit. She was new to us, but had been writing for the local newspaper for years. She frequently took issue with how I edited her pieces, and had no trouble letting me know, via email, how much she disagreed with my critique of her stories. A pattern started developing where she would send me a scathingly mean email, questioning my intelligence and experience, followed by a very nice apology email from her about her earlier email.
When I would get these harsh emails, my blood would boil. I learned to wait for the second email apologizing for her behavior and respond to that email—not that it made me any less upset about the first one. Continue Reading
I remember sitting in a grad school course in journalism school listening to a twenty-something talk about how important blogging was going to become and how it’s changing the essence of journalism. I was so in disbelief as to what I was hearing that my chin was basically resting on my collarbone. THIS was the future of JOURNALISM?
That was almost 10 years ago. I got my master’s degree in journalism and I write for a slue of different publications—this blog being one of them.
At the beginning of this year, I was following the case of Crystal Cox, the “investigative blogger” who had been sued by the Obsidian Finance Group for defamation because she had blogged that the company had engaged in fraud. That’s a big accusation.
Initially, the blogosphere sounded the alarm at what seemed to be an attack by powerful moneyed interests on a crusading blogger. But a cursory investigation revealed that Ms. Cox employed a number of unorthodox tactics for a journalist, including registering dozens of domain names of people she perceived as her enemies in order to initiate serial and often profane salvos against them. —New York Times
She lost her case and was fined $2.5 million. According to U.S. District Court Judge, Marco A. Hernandez, Crystal Cox did not fit his definition of a journalist. Judge Hernandez’s qualifications to be a journalist are as follows:
- Education in journalism.
- Credentials or proof of affiliation with a recognized news entity.
- Proof of adherence to journalistic standards such as editing, fact-checking, or disclosures of conflicts of interest.
- Keeping notes of conversations and interviews conducted.
- Mutual understanding or agreement of confidentiality between the defendant and his or her sources.
- Creation of an independent product, rather than assembling the writings and postings of others.
- Contacting “the other side” to get both sides of the story.
According to these guidelines, are you a journalist? Continue Reading
Unlike some couples, my husband actually reads some of the blog posts I write for FreelanceSwitch. Which makes me really happy considering my own parents hardly read the articles I write for the regional magazine I work for. Heck, Shane even reposts some of my blog posts on his Facebook page! What a guy.
So when I came across this Forbes.com blog post about the career lessons you can learn from Han Solo, I knew I had to write about it. Shane loves Star Wars (and I love Harrison Ford) so this blog post is dedicated to them both.
Don’t think you can learn anything useful for your freelance career from a spice smuggler from Corellia? Think again. Another Forbes.com contributor, Dave Their, wrote a piece on what freelancers can learn from Han Solo. I’ve taken the best of both writers’ ideas and combined them here for you.
Lesson One: Have an ally who will support you no matter what
Han has a furry sidekick named Chewbacca—his faithful copilot who was a gentle giant (for the most part). As a freelancer, you probably work by yourself most of the time, which can be isolating. It’s a great idea to find some of your own sidekicks who can support you when you are down and cheer for you when you are up.
When you work with other people, you can poke your head out of your cubicle or your office and ask for advice. Not so easy when you work at home by yourself and your only sounding board is the dog that sleeps under your desk.
Whether your allies are other people in your industry that you can commiserate and celebrate with, or just some friends or family members that can lend an ear and a hug—it’s important to have that support system. Continue Reading
The International Journal of Workplace Health Management recently published a study investigating the presence of dogs in the workplace on employee stress and organizational perceptions. As a dog owner, I was interested to see what the results were.
The study focused on studying three groups of workers—those who bring their dogs to work (DOG group), those who have a dog but don’t bring them to work (NODOG group), and those who don’t have pets at all (NOPET group).
They gathered data on physiological and perceived stress, perceptions of job satisfaction, organizational affective commitment, and perceived organizational support.
What they found was over the course of the work day, stress declined for employees who brought their dog to work with them. Stress levels increased for the non-dog groups.
“A significant difference was found in the stress patterns for the DOG group on days their dogs were present and absent. On dog absent days, owners’ stress increased throughout the day, mirroring the pattern of the NODOG group.” —International Journal of Workplace Health Management
It has been widely accepted that pets have been associated with a number of positive health outcomes, including increased survival one-year after a heart attack, fewer doctor visits, less loneliness, and greater social report, the study says. Pets actually buffer the impact of stress for their owners. And a freelancer’s life is often stressful. Continue Reading
I really liked what blogger Emily Heyward had to say on her recent FastCompany.com blog post called Desks, Where Creativity Goes To Die. The SXSW attendee stepped outside of her comfort zone at the conference and learned a thing or two.
Initially, I tried to attend talks or panels directly related to my industry and clients, but each time the information felt like things I already knew, and instead of feeling inspired, I just felt tired. —Emily Heyward
By seeking out experiences that had nothing to do with her own personal day-to-day, the SXSW conference became more meaningful to her. I also find that when I attend talks or lectures about the industry I work in, I hear the same things over and over again. Like Emily, we all need fresh thinking. Below are some of the ways she suggests stepping outside of your comfort zone, as well as some tips I’ve learned along the way.
Leave the Office
I have a home office and a work office. At home, I freelance and run the magazine I co-own, and at my work office I edit a monthly regional magazine. My work office is less than ideal. It has no window and the door sticks when I close it. Some days when I’m really busy (like yesterday) I don’t see the sun all day. And I hate it. I try to get out of the office at least once a day. Most of the time I can do it, even if it means a quick walk around the block or down the street to grab a coffee or cookie. Continue Reading