Blogging: Cold Emails

Blogging: Cold EmailsFirst, I must apologize for my absence. I took some time to myself this summer to do things that were not writing blog posts, and it was absolutely lovely. But let’s jump right in, shall we?

As a senior writer at my place of employment, I frequently receive inquiries from hopeful freelancers asking to write content for the company blog. Some of these want to drop links for companies they work for and others just want to see their work published on a blog that gets around 15k visitors per month. Either type is fine, as long as they meet our requirements.

The emails that I receive usually go something like this:

Hi Brittany. I was just looking over the _______ company blog and think that I could offer some great content for your readers! Let me know if you accept guest posts. Thanks!

Needless to say, emails like that don’t really do a lot for me. Now, since a lot of you are freelancers or at least freelance hopefuls, I want to use this post to 1) show you the right way to contact strangers, and 2) why you shouldn’t feel bad about sending cold emails.

Our basic requirements are as follows:

  • We’ll need to see 2-3 writing samples
  • You may not include affiliate (paid) links
  • The content must be 100% original (barring any direct quotes)
  • You have to suggest a couple of suitable topics
  • You remember that we are not internet or marketing stupid

Let’s break into the reasoning behind each requirement so that you can understand why each one is so important.

Samples help to show how skilled you are when it comes to writing. When selecting a sample to include, try to choose one that has a topic related to the business you are contacting. Always send at least 2, and no more than 5. Make sure that if they were published, the site they are hosted on is reputable, there are no spelling mistakes, and that any and all links work. It’s also best if the post is actually attributed to you and not someone else.

Affiliate links are not “the devil”, but if you’re writing content for a business, it’s underhanded and unprofessional to try to scrape a profit from their readers. Never include an affiliate link in an organic post  unless you have been given permission.

Original content is an absolute must. I don’t want to get dinged for duplicate content, and I also don’t want your recycled information. If you wrote a post for a business and it fell through and never went live, that’s one thing, but if your blog post was published elsewhere you had better think twice before asking me to give it to our readers.

Suitable topics are another must. Spend time reading any content that the business has on their site. Skim some of their blog posts and peruse a few of their articles. When you send your email, include 2 or 3 topic ideas that you really think will work for them. One of the worst things that you can do is to suggest a topic to me that would never fit with what we currently cover.

For example, I was recently contacted by a potential guest blogger who suggested, specifically, maintaining a pool. This was about a week ago and we’re on the verge of snow here in Canada. That topic is not timely, and it is far too specific for me to use since we cover much more general real estate content.

We’re writers and marketers, we know about the internet. We know that you want to get in some good backlinks, we know if you are actually talented when it comes to SEO, and we know when your writing skills are subpar. We aren’t dumb, we know the motivation behind your content is completely selfish, but so is our reason for accepting it—we like free content. So be honest and don’t bother trying to butter anyone up too obviously.

A Good Cold Email

That being said, I will judge you on your initial email, and it greatly affects my reply. If you frequently send out cold emails to businesses or individuals, I would suggest trying something like this:

Hi ________,

I’m a *insert writing profession* and came across your blog through *insert where you found them*. I thought that your post *insert interesting post name related to what you want to write for them* was very *insert an adjective or two of your choice*.

I am writing to ask if you accept guest post, and if so, what your guidelines might be. I have attached some writing samples in order to give you an overview of the topics I have covered in the past and my writing style.

I thought that a post about one of the following topics would be both a fit for your blog and beneficial to your readers:

*insert topic 1
*insert topic 2

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask. I look forward to hearing from you.

*insert name (example: Johnny Awesomesauce)

Are Cold Emails Bad?

No. They aren’t bad. Although most businesses will be savvy to the fact that you are only contacting them to either get your name in print or promote a client, we appreciate when you at least make a good effort to be polite, clear, and thorough.

Sometimes you may not get a response at all, other times you may get a short and direct “No.” But once in awhile, you’ll come across someone who wants to give you a shot and who, even if they do say no, will tell you why. I try to be that person as often as I can because as a writer I know that we are expected to accept rejection without an explanation, and it can be very tiring.

So if you’re trying to break into the writing profession by sending out a few cold emails, good on you. Take note of the tips in this post and understand that no matter how good you are, you are going to hear the word “no” often. But sometimes, you’ll get a “yes”, and when you see your post go live to thousands of readers, it’ll all be worth it.

Do you send out cold emails? Do you look for guest posting opportunities often?

I post funny things on Facebook sometimes, so if you like funny things, pay my page a visit. If you do not like funny things, just avoid it.

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Wednesday Words

Some wisdom in the form of words for your upcoming Wednesday.

Remember, we’re all working towards something, no matter if we’re taking our first steps or if our heels are like old leather from plodding along down the path.

Words for Wednesday

For more words, find me on Facebook.

The Writing Zombie

The Writing ZombieYou don’t really realize how much need something until you don’t have it. I suppose everyone else has learned this by now, but after having spent so much time writing over the last year, I have finally run out of writing projects at work, and haven’t had time to work on any at home. Now, this was fine for a month or so because I had been writing lengthy whitepapers and educational articles that were sucking the life out of me.

I complained about writing them. I groaned about having to find yet another way to say “if you die” (in the event of your passing, should you pass away, when you expire… there are so many out there), and I dreaded having to use the word “important” yet again. But now? Now I have nothing to write at work. Nothing. Instead, we are focusing on other projects. Boring projects. Long and bland projects that require you to squeeze creative juice out of your dried up, papery brain.

It is because of this that I have reached a rather obvious revelation: when I don’t write I become a writing zombie. And though it may seem to be a stretch of a comparison, I honestly feel as if I am lumbering about with arms outstretched hoarsely croaking, “WWWWOOOORRRRDDDSSSS”.

I am markedly unhappy, irritable, and “dark”. My usual cynicism has expanded to new levels and I remind myself of a small child who, when he/she finds his/herself overtired, blurts thing like, “I hate everything”, and “I don’t like you”. I feel slow and pointedly uninterested in all of my other projects. And the reason for all of this immature and uncharacteristic behaviour is a lack of writing.

I always have something on the go, but I seem to be living in an in-between right now. Probably for the first time in years, and it is quite a foreign experience. Of course, I am still reading, still thinking about plots and characters, still planning projects, but I have nothing meaty to write. And apparently, when that happens I turn into a monster.

I never realized how much I needed writing until I didn’t have it, and now I have decided that for me it is akin to a serious addiction. There are words in my veins, in my breath, and in my soul, and when they get trapped it’s like a thick, black, log jam of ink.  I’m surprised I haven’t started spewing random sentences at people. And even more surprised that I haven’t lunged at anyone, pawing at their head, asking for a writing project.

You don’t have to be a writer by trade to be one by heart. It’s the kind of calling that is a part of you, not just something that you like to do or that you are good at. Writing is one of those arts that, when it really is a piece of who you are, you need to practice and release or you will go a little nutty.

Meaning, you become a writing zombie like me, begging for words and devouring them like brains.

Have you ever been a writing zombie? What happens when you don’t have any writing projects? How long can you go without writing?

ICYMI I’m on Facebook.

Catching A Break

Catching a BreakOften, when writers are portrayed in film, they are already successful. If not, then they are the stereotypical “starving artist”, working a day job that they hate while waiting to catch their big break. Which they usually do.

I started out freelancing, and still do some of it on the side, but it was not at all an easy career. Trying to find clients in my area was my biggest problem, and I received a plethora of suggestions, such as: “You just need to get out there and network!”, or “It’ll happen, you just need to be patient!”. While this advice was well-meant, it was, unfortunately, useless.

“Networking”: seemingly a term that encompasses everything from having ridiculous amounts of success from cold calling and free ads to paying to attend conferences and making “valuable connections” that generally end up as empty promises. It’s not as simple, as easy, or as useful as it seems. The thing is, in order to make connections, you usually have to have an in. For a connection to turn into a client, they have to actually be serious about requiring your services. Making those come together is not always easy.

Then there’s “having patience”. Well, let me tell you right now that just waiting for something to happen does absolutely nothing for you. It isn’t even about taking action and then waiting for an outcome. To succeed at writing, you should never just be waiting. To catch a break you always have to be doing.

A break isn’t going to come to you randomly, at least not in my experience. It will only come if you are out there hunting it down. If you really want to be a writer, you should be trying to:

  • find clients on the side
  • look for one time contracts
  • volunteer
  • submit stories
  • write
  • think about writing
  • edit
  • frequent job websites
  • cold call
  • apply for internships
  • and, a million other things

You will never catch a break just because you write well. You will never catch a break by waiting for someone to find you. Breaks don’t happen like they do in the movies, they happen because you work your buns off to find them. You accept rejection and then let it go, you take criticism and suggestions and own them, you take any opportunity you can to improve your skill and to get experience.

That’s the difference between writing being a hobby and writing being a career. I have no real need to look for more work, but I do anyway. Why? Because I want to make sure that I continue to write about different things, in different ways. I want to make sure that I write the things that I want to, or about the things that I enjoy. I do it because I am always trying to move forward and because writing is my best and most prominent skill.

Though I am, by now, a fairly experienced writer, I still apply for internships with publishers, magazines, and so on. I still write stories and submit them when I can. I still do my best to write a blog every week even when I have to do it over two days in ten minute intervals. I do this because any success that I have had, or may have in the future, is success that I want to own. I want to know that it’s mine because I worked for it and I kept going even when the going was tough.

To catch a break, and I mean to have something good happen to your writing career, you cannot sit idly by and assume that because you have some talent, you will eventually be found and become famous. That’s not really how it works with writing.

The best way to think of it is that you will get what you give. The more effort that you put into becoming the writer that you want to be, the closer you will get. Think of any new offers or opportunities as rewards for your efforts instead of blind luck. You didn’t catch that break because of a fluke, you caught it because you fought for it. You got it because you wanted it. And if you didn’t get it, at least you can say that you tried, and that’s one step closer to getting the next one.

What do you do to better your career as a writer? Is it more of a hobby or career for you? 

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Freelancing: How to Charge

Freelancing: How to Charge

Figuring out your role as a freelancer and actually finding clients is hard enough. But eventually you realize that you have to come up with prices, which is more complicated than it sounds.

You basically have 3 choices: hourly rates, project fees, or retainers.

Hourly rates are amounts that you charge by the hour (obviously). The benefit  of them is that you get paid for the time you put in, no matter how much or how little it is. The down side is that it will ruin your budget because you’ll never know how much is coming in at the end of the month until you’re sending out your invoices.

One way to ensure income on an hourly basis is to have clients on long-term contracts who require monthly services, such as blogs, social media schedules, etc.

Project fees are a step up from this because you estimate the total cost of a project and agree on the price before you start. Then both you and the client are clear on the price from the beginning. This can put you in a bit of a bind if you end up doing more work than you thought, such as if the client wants to discuss the project multiple times a day, or you encounter issues with the project itself.

When creating a contract for a project, I prefer to include clauses for extra work. I detail the project scope as best I can, and then include a clause or two about what will happen if the project extends passed a certain number of hours, or extra work is required.

Retainers are my favorite way to get paid, and they are good for clients too. A retainer is when the client pays you an amount each month no matter what you do. They are paying to reserve your time, and it is up to them to use it. Now, it’s not my favorite because there isn’t anything to do sometimes, it’s my favorite because it prompts the client to use what they are paying for.

I like having work to do, and sometimes clients can get busy, or even have you on a long-term contract, but won’t have much for you to do. Being on a retainer tells the client that you are there if they need you, and it tells you that you are valuable to the client.

You could end up doing a lot of work one month, and not as much the next. Generally, I find that retainers balance out in the end, without leaving either party feeling like they’ve lost anything.

How do I figure out a price?

How you come up with an amount, whether hourly, project-based, or for a retainer really depends on your location, your experience, and the client’s budget.

Some clients will have big budgets and some won’t. I try my best to fit my fees to my clients, instead of sticking to a strict price. Of course, I do have a minimum that I’ll take, but I think everyone deserves a little help now and then, so if I have to take a little less in order to help someone out I’ll do it.

Take into account the length of the contract and whether or not your client is likely to need you again in the future. You shouldn’t start low and then try to charge more the next time they need you. Keep your prices fairly even, and whenever you decide to change them, offer a clear, straightforward, and reasonable explanation.

Look at other freelancers in your area, and even consulting agencies to see what their prices are like, and then figure out what you need to make to pay your bills. Your price should fall somewhere between the two.

The best way to charge

I’ve had clients on all kinds of different payment structures. I am currently on three different ones with three different clients as I write. I try to judge the best way to price a project or contract based on the client, the scope, and the length.

About a year or so ago, I implemented a sort of mixed pricing method, which has been working out very well. I charge hourly for general tasks, and then for custom graphics, articles, or other projects that can either take a lot of time, or that will require extra work such as a stock photo, special computer programs, etc., I charge a fee.

So, that would mean that for social media scheduling I might charge $25/hour, and then for custom graphics for the social page, I would charge $50/each.

But what you charge depends on what you have to offer, what the client needs, and what you can afford to work for. Don’t charge pennies, your work is valuable, but try not to charge the, more than is reasonable. Just because a client doesn’t have a ton of cash to dump on you doesn’t mean that the experience won’t be valuable to you in the long run.

How do you charge? What do you think the best pricing method is?

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Freelancing—Will You Have to Work For Free?

Erika_9_typewriterIn short, and in my experience, yes. Because we are in a society where you need experience to get experience, an education is often not enough to get you a job straight out of school. Publishers, marketing firms, and other writer-hiring businesses want you to know what you are doing and to prove that you know. That’s hard when you are just starting out and cannot, for the life of you, find a paying job for whatever you took in school.

It’s disappointing to think that after you accrued a large amount of debt for being trained by professionals, you still don’t qualify for your dream job. It’s even more disappointing to take a job that you could have done before you ever went to school. Let’s note here that I am taking about writing professions here specifically.

Sometimes, the only answer is to start freelancing on your own. But potential clients almost always want to see a portfolio, or at the very least, examples of your work for other clients. How can you show them that you can do what you say if you haven’t worked on any projects yet? You can’t. Unless you work for free.

It’s a devastating blow sometimes to take clients who are willing to accept your skills for free, but who won’t pay you for them. It stings and it gnaws. But if you don’t do some volunteer work, how else are you going to get started? I’ve done my share of free/volunteer work and now I even do some just to be nice. If you find the right people to volunteer for, they’ll likely let you use the work for a portfolio as well as give you a great endorsement. Keep track of everything so that you can use it for a website later on.

I started out by doing an internship with a local magazine. It wasn’t paid, but it was simple. At the end of it, I had a couple of articles published in their national magazine, a recommendation letter, and a valuable reference. Aside from them, I have volunteered for an independent publisher, a clothing business, an RMT, a food business, and now I volunteer for a brilliant little organization called Leaf2Wing (they are trying to save Monarch butterflies by reestablishing milkweed growth in North America). I don’t really need the experience from volunteer work anymore, but it sure feels good to do it anyway.

My advice to any aspiring writers is to start finding volunteer work while you are in school.

  • Post free ads online, talk to friends and family, post flyers, and do whatever else you can think of. Do it while you are in high school and university. Start contacting newspapers, newsletters, publishers, book stores, author groups, and anything else related to your concentration. Make sure that you outline that you will use this work in a portfolio and ask them for a written endorsement after the work is done. Keep their contact info just in case you need to use them for a reference or if you want to check in later on.
  • Be wary of those who ask for too much for free. Set your limits and outline them clearly. I’d suggest using a contract for anything that you do, but sometimes that isn’t practical. At least have a saved email message with the terms outlined and a response back from the business or person acknowledging those terms.
  • Understand that although most of your experiences should be positive if handled properly, not everyone is a “good egg”. Some clients will disappear, get work to you late, or dislike your work for whatever reason. It happens. Suck it up, let it go, and move on.
  • Branch out a bit from your area of expertise. I took publishing in school, but now I work full-time as a writer, and I offer social media marketing, editing, small business planning, and even some design on the side. I haven’t been out of school for that long, but the more that you learn the more likely you are to find people to work for.
  • Don’t be afraid of other industries. I’ve worked with clients in real estate, dentistry, food, publishing, marketing, law, massage, and tons of other industries. Just because you are trained in a specific area doesn’t mean that other industries won’t need your skills. It’s all about gaining positive experience.

All in all, it takes a lot of guts to be a freelancer of any kind. The income is unstable most of the time, if not all of the time, managing multiple clients can make you feel as if you are being pulled in a million directions, time management is difficult in the beginning, and it’s hard to just go out and “find a mentor”, which is what I was told to do many times and never did, though I tried.

Remember that if you keep at it, you’ll get there. It might not always be fun, and it might not always be as magical as you’d hoped, but if you’re doing what you really want to do, and you find some happiness in it, you’re going down the right road.

Do you freelance? Are you hoping to freelance one day? Have you worked for free, or did you start out differently?