Part of being a journalist is noticing trends. Last year, when multiple random people asked me what my typical day was like, I wrote about a day in the life of a writer. Recently, this is what the broken record has been echoing:
I want to be you. How do you do ___?
One, two, five, ten people have approached me over the past few weeks telling me they want to do what I do: Write and get paid for it. They ask me how I manage my finances, how I find clients, how to create and format their writer website. Most are just starting out, while others have extensive writing experience, but no applicable business skills.
My routines work for me and I would not expect them to work for everyone. I get up at 5AM or 6AM every day. Most people wince when they hear this. There are a few things I will share below that I think every writer can easily apply to their own business. During these recent writer-to-writer talks a few themes developed. I noticed what used to work for me when I started was not necessarily what worked in the long run. Here are three things that have changed:
Then: I used to track my expenses by keeping organized file folders of receipts for Business Meals, Travel, Writing Events, Supplies, etc. I still do this, but it was a hassle at tax time to sit with a year’s worth of receipts and figure my annual expenses.
Now: I still keep the hard copies filed ever-so-neatly, but each month (or quarter) I enter all of my expenses into QuickBooks. This makes it much easier to calculate my estimated quarterly tax payments and complete my annual taxes.
Clients and Assignments
Then: I would accept just about any writing project and start working as soon as a client accepted a proposal. When it came to magazine features I was happy with any editor who accepted my pitch.
Now: I only begin writing projects with a 50% deposit. Starting this year I established a minimum. If the project or assignment does not meet this minimum, I refer it out to other writers I know. For articles, I’m much more choosy about the markets I pitch.
Then: My work focused mainly on writing for magazines while blog writing and business writing were secondary. I did not include rates on my site.
Now: My work focuses on blogging for businesses, writing press releases, content marketing and using my journalist connections to get exposure for my clients. I do not include rates on my site.
Speaking of rates—which is another topic that kept coming up in these conversations!—as I noted above, I don’t post them on my website. Why? Every project is different. You have a greater chance of closing a sale when you meet in person. (Statistics show 8 out of 10 in-person meetings have a better chance of closing than over the phone.) I’m part of the camp that believes rates posted on a writer’s site is a sign of an amateur. There is no way I would charge the same rate for writing a blog on gardening as I would on the Dow Jones Industrial Average.
A few years ago I was writing ad copy for a commercial pesticide company about how their products were absorbed by exoskeletons of pests, reacted with neurotransmitters, and what environmental implications were direct results of applications. My hourly fee for this was not the same as writing employee bios for an accounting firm.
Writer fees will vary based on the individual’s own expertise and experience, research time involved, and specialization. Posting a set rate on your website just to get the phone to ring could very well establish the wrong first impression when your client learns you will be charging more. Bait-and-switch tactics will not foster the long-term relationships writers need to sustain their business.
Aside from rates, the other big question writers ask me is not even about me! They want to know:
How much time do I really need to spend on my writing business?
I ask these writers how much of their time they are willing to invest. This is very similar to people who want to start a workout or a diet. Being a professional writer is a lifestyle change, so you need to make adjustments that you will be satisfied with in the long-term. One of the benefits (and drawbacks) of owning your own business is that you can devote as much time as you like, and you will enjoy the rewards and carry the burden of the consequences depending on your choice.
One thing that has remained the same since starting my writing business…
Then: I did not work a 40-hour week.
Now: I do not work a 40-hour week.
Although my work hours are scattered throughout my days, I bill approximately 60-75 hours each week. It works for me. What works for you?