10 Years a Freelance Writer

In January 2010, I walked out of my office at the Windstream Communications’ Brownstown PA building for the last time. The other approximately 15 employees and I in the marketing department knew that day was coming for months in advance. When Windstream, a national corporation, acquired the regional company once called D&E Communications, HR reps met with us to tell us our positions were going away. After a transitional period, we would no longer be needed because folks with similar positions in the Arkansas corporate office would be taking on our responsibilities.

As we left the building on our last day, some of my co-workers shed tears as they carried their boxes of personal belongings from the premises. I, on the other hand, had a difficult time holding back smiles and skipping through the hallway.

It’s not that I disliked my job at D&E Communications/Windstream. As a marketing product manager, I was well suited for the position, and it was well suited to me. But after spending a total of 17 years at the company and in the telecommunications industry, I looked forward to a change. 

I had a plan.

In April of 2010, I officially launched my freelance writing business. Ten years later, I’m still at it, working full-time as a freelance writer. I’m blessed, for sure. However, I don’t believe that the grace of God or of some other universal energy has alone made that possible.

Reality Check

A combination of factors have played a role in my ability to launch and sustain a freelance career path:

  • My husband and I weren’t living paycheck to paycheck.
  • I had a generous severance package from my previous employer.
  • My husband was gainfully employed with a salary that could cover a majority of our expenses as I ramped up my revenue in the first two years.
  • We had good health care insurance through my husband’s employer.
  • I had a room in our house that I could immediately use as a dedicated office space.
  • My husband was fully on board with my decision to freelance. 
  • We aren’t suckers for extravagance, and we’ve never made a habit of living beyond our means.
  • Having been in the marketing department in my previous career, I had professional connections that provided me with some freelance opportunities out of the gate.
  • Writing comes naturally to me.
  • Project management comes naturally to me. 
  • I enjoy working independently and can tune out distractions.

Had a few of these things been missing from the equation, I might have ventured down a different professional route. Hanging my shingle as a freelance writer was exciting but also scary. My salary in my previous job was bringing in 60 percent of our family income. Even with a savings account and severance, I would have had to explore other options after year two if my business income didn’t grow and come reasonably close to my past pay.

A Checklist of Factors That Can Make or Break a Freelance Career

To succeed as a full-time freelance writer, you need some writing chops (stating the obvious). But that alone won’t allow you to stay in business. Many other aspects of your personal situation, background, and personality will affect your freelance success potential, too.

  • Current financial situation
  • Living situation
  • Educational and professional background 
  • Professional connections 
  • Work ethic
  • Tolerance for working alone
  • Business sense
  • Common sense
  • Organizational skills
  • Will to learn and adapt
  • Tolerance for constructive (and sometimes non-constructive) criticism

Not all aspiring freelance writers think about whether their current life scenario, personality traits, and mindset are a good fit. If those things aren’t conducive to working as a freelance writer, it will be especially challenging to make a go of it. 

A 10-Question Self-Assessment for Aspiring Freelance Writers

It’s important to carefully assess your circumstances before deciding to rely on freelancing as your one and only income source. Consider your current life situation and personal characteristics. Are you in a position that will allow you to navigate the possible financial and emotional ups and downs while building your business?

Ask yourself:

1. Do I understand how much it will cost me to operate my freelance business?

2. Do I have enough money saved or another source of funds to fall back on if I’m not making enough to cover my personal and business bills?

3. Am I self-motivated enough to meet project deadlines?

4. Am I organized?

5. Do I have professional connections that I can leverage to find new clients?

6. Do I manage my money well?

7. Do I understand what I have to do to run my freelance business legally? 

8. Can I deal with rejection?

9. Do I have an environment where I can work uninterrupted?

10. Am I focused, or will I let trivial personal tasks distract me from my business responsibilities?

If an honest assessment leads to the conclusion that you’re not financially or otherwise in a place that’s suitable for going freelance full time, you may want to dip your toe in the water on a part-time basis. Or you might consider working as a writer for a marketing agency or other company.  I know several writers who transitioned from freelancing to working as content writers for businesses and marketing firms. They’re successful and very, very happy…and they still do some freelance gigs on the side when time allows. 

After 10 years a freelancer, I find it difficult to imagine myself doing anything else. If some aspects of my personal situation were to change, I believe my business is established enough that I could continue. However, I realize there are no guarantees in life or business. 

Your Turn!

What circumstances made it possible for you—or prevented you—to freelance full-time? I’d love to hear about your journey!

Solopreneur Startup Smarts: East Coast and West Coast Solos Share What Works

No matter where you live and work, you’re going to make some really smart – and some not so smart – choices as you start out as a solopreneur. My friend, Carrie Chwierut of Carrie’s Social, and I launched our businesses at nearly the same time back in 2010. Carrie’s a west coast (California) gal and I’m near the east coast (eastern Pennsylvania), but despite our geographical differences, we have a lot in common. Both of us have learned some valuable lessons as our solo-businesses have grown and evolved over the past 4 years.

We’ve compared notes and are sharing the good, the bad and the ugly with you via a synchronized blogging exercise. Here on the Insatiable Solopreneur, I’m reflecting on what we’ve found to be among our smartest moves as new solopreneurs. On her blog, Carrie is sharing what we might have done differently had we known what we know today. So, after you read my post, please do pay a visit to Carrie’s blog to read her post!

Solopreneurial Smarts

What this East Coast Solo would do over again…Dawn Mentzer, East Coast Solopreneur, in Lancaster County Pennsylvania

• Joining the local regional chamber of commerce on Day 1 – and sticking with it!

While it didn’t pay off immediately, over time it has paid for itself many times over. Not only have I gained new clients, but I’ve been able to strengthen relationships with existing clients through my membership.

• Launching a website

Even if you don’t focus on generating leads from it, you need a place for people to go to learn more about you. Websites – particular those that are professionally-designed – give you credibility. I’m amazed at how many freelance writers don’t have websites. Depending on what type of business you have, it’s possible your competitors don’t either. Get there first. It will set you apart.

• Using Hootsuite and Buffer for posting to Twitter

Twitter is a different animal from other social channels. You can’t tweet once or twice a day to gain traction – you need to be prolific! Using Hootsuite and Buffer to schedule tweets and keep tabs on my social media activity has helped me build my online presence. That in turn has helped me build awareness of my brand and connect with some key folks who have brought some great projects my way.

• Getting personal on Linkedin

Sending personalized invitations (rather than the generic option) and responding with a personalized thank you to people who invite me to join their networks has opened to door to opportunities. By making that little bit of extra effort to connect with people, I’ve gotten face-to-face meetings and landed new projects.

• Volunteering strategically

When I transitioned from my corporate career to freelancing, I knew I needed to make more connections within the business community, learn more about being a biz owner, and build my portfolio of writing samples. I became a volunteer with SCORE and a board member of my local Main St. organization. Both experiences helped me build my network, skills and experience. Although my workload from clients is a lot more intense than it was when I first started my business, I still volunteer – only not quite so much.

Carrie Chwierut-West Coast Solopreneur-in CaliforniaThe West Coast Solo weighs in on what has worked for her…

• Launching a website

I completely agree with Dawn on this one! Creating a website was one of the first things I did. It makes you appear more professional and provides potential customers with a broader look at who you are and what your business is all about.

• Announcing it to family and friends

You have to be a little careful here. While you don’t want to bombard your family and friends with countless emails asking them to mention you to their friends, it doesn’t hurt to do a mass announcements to family, friends, past business contacts, etc. telling them that you’ve started a new business and what the services are.

• Joining a Social Media peer group

Finding the right peer group is so important when starting your business. I was lucky enough to have a group approach me about joining, and I gladly accepted. These groups give you a platform in which to vent, ask questions, and learn from the experiences of others in your field of work. The group I joined had a requirement that members share each other’s blog posts on their platforms, too, so it was a great way to support each other.

• “Honesty with clients…always” became my motto

From the start, I felt it important to be totally honest with clients. Whether it was telling them that I didn’t feel I was the best person for the job, or a constructive criticism of their current platforms (if they asked, of course!). If you’re honest with people from the start, you build trust and save yourself some potentially embarrassing and damaging situations down the road.

East, West, North, South…No matter where you’re located, you’ll discover that some of your choices will help put you on the map, while others will get you lost for a little while.

Now, check out Carrie’s post with our self-admitted solopreneurial blunders!
What decisions and actions served you well as you started your business?
Carrie’s California Image (background) courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

4 Business Untruths Solopreneurs Need to Ignore

Don’t believe everything people tell you about running a business.

As you start and build your business as a solopreneur, you’ll discover that not everything people tell you is right. While whatTime for Truth image they tell you may be true in their particular situations, that doesn’t mean following their advice will be right for your business. I’m now in my fourth year as a freelance writing solopreneneur, and along the way I’ve discovered a few myths (which I believe truly are myths for nearly all solopreneurs) in need of busting.

 4 Business Untruths You Can Kick to the Curb

  • You need to have something other than a home office. – Unless your business depends on you working with clients in your office, you can do just fine with a home office. If you need to occasionally meet with clients, you can see them at their location (always convenient for them!), take them out for coffee or lunch, or book a meeting room at your local library or other facility that offers conference rooms by the hour. I’ve never had a client frown upon the fact that I don’t have an out-of-home office. And with the growth of freelancing as a career, working from a home office is becoming more of a rule than the exception. Just be sure you have a home office that is purely a business space where you have all the amenities you need and where you’ll be free from other distractions within your house .

  • Before you can include a particular type of project in your suite of services, you need to have done that type of work before. – Yes. You must have the knowledge and skill set needed to work on a project, but it’s not always necessary to have the same type of project under your belt to get the business and do the job well. As long as your talents are transferrable, there’s no reason why you can’t add a service to your offerings or take on projects clients inquire about. DO be honest with your clients and tell them if you haven’t worked on the type of project they’re asking about. Then go on to say why you believe you’ll be a good fit regardless. In my own case, it wasn’t until recently when I was approached about writing the audio for marketing-focused video scripts. I immediately disclosed to my client I hadn’t worked on those types of projects before, but that I had full confidence I could do a great job for him. He was more than willing to bring me onto the job – and since then we’ve worked together on those types of projects several times over the past few months.
  • You can’t walk away from business – You can. And you should when clients or projects don’t align with your goals, values, or available time. Know the warning signs of difficult clients – unreasonable deadlines, unresponsive when asked questions or for feedback on work, disrespectful of your “off hours” time, constantly changing the scope of work. Also, carefully consider taking on projects you will absolutely abhor or that are outside of what you want to focus on in your business. Nearly a year ago, I opted to no longer take on proofreading projects. Why? I don’t enjoy them. AT ALL! I had to forfeit a good client as a result and have turned that type of work from other prospects away since I made the decision. I also ran into a situation where I turned business away from what could have been a quite lucrative ongoing endeavor. After just a brief amount of time dealing with the client contact, I decided the interpersonal deficiencies (OK, that’s my very nice way of saying she was a total B to me!) were something I was in no way willing to put up with on a continual basis.No matter the situation, respectfully explain why you’re not interested in taking on the work or doing business with someone.
  • You won’t be able to grow your business unless you hire employees. – Payroll, turn-over, Obama-Care…No thanks! But just because you’ve decided to be a business of one employee (a.k.a. YOU), doesn’t mean you can’t grow your revenue or your suite of available services or products. Much of what you can do depends on how well you manage your time and resources. Take advantage of the free and low-cost productivity and business organizational tools available to you. A few of my personal favorites are Trello, Evernote, and Toggl. Save time and effort logging into the online networks you access with an online password manager like LastPass. Use a social media management tool like Hootsuite. Outsource a few administrative tasks to a bookkeeping pro or virtual assistant. And if you’re looking to expand your business offerings to clients, partner with other freelancers who provide complementary services.

The more time you spend as a solopreneur, the more advice you’ll get from others in business. Remember, not everything you hear will apply to you. When you receive well-meaning guidance, listen. Then consider how it meshes with your own unique business and aspirations before acting – or not acting – on it.

Your turn! What business myths have you busted in your solo-business?

By Dawn Mentzer

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The 2 Worst Reasons to Become a Solopreneur

Living the Life of a Solopreneur

The Right Reasons to Become a Solopreneur

There are many wonderful reasons for deciding to go the self-employed route and use your expertise and skills in your own Right and Wrong signsbusiness rather than working for an employer. With over 22 million solopreneurs out there in the U.S., there are obviously some very real benefits that draw people to start their own solo-businesses:

  • The flexibility that comes from setting your own work schedule.
  • Having control over who you’ll work with.
  • The ability to accept assignments that will give you professional fulfillment and reject those that will not.
  • The freedom to pave your own professional development path.
  • Doing work that you enjoy and which gives you personal satisfaction.

The Wrong Reasons to Become a Solopreneur

But then there are also the wrong reasons for going into business for yourself.

Becoming a Solopreneur Because You Don’t Like Working with Others

If you’re sick and tired of dealing with other people and think that being your own boss is the way to go, think again. Sure, as a solopreneur, you can often work independently and don’t need to deal with daily office politics, but you still need to get along with people.  In fact, it’s even more important for you to hone your interpersonal skills as you work with clients with unique personalities and expectations. And if you’re like me and not only work with your clients, but also with your clients’ clients, you’ll have as much – if not more – interaction with others professionally.

Becoming a Solopreneur to Get Rich

While you can make a good living as a solopreneur if you work very, very hard and know how to manage your time, market yourself effectively, and nurture your client relationships, don’t expect to become filthy rich. Not that it can’t happen, but it’s unlikely. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2011 Nonemployer Statistics (which includes data about businesses with no employees), just 10% of solopreneurs had annual receipts of over $100,000.

Think Before Starting Your Solo Business

So if you’re considering leaving the boss and the 8-5 office behind, be sure you do some soul-searching first. A solopreneur lifestyle offers tremendous opportunity and satisfaction both personally and professionally, but first you need to be honest with yourself about your motives. Do it for the right reasons!

by Dawn Mentzer

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

4 Things Even the Thriftiest Solopreneurs Should Spend Money On

Solopreneurs by nature – and sometimes by necessity – tend to be a thrifty lot. I resemble that remark. But make no Moneymistake, “thrifty” should not be synonymous with “cheap.” Thriftiness is a quality that leads to smart business, but it shouldn’t get in your way of investing some of your hard-earned cash to move your business forward.

Sometimes in our quest to keep expenses in check and maximize revenue, we overlook – or ignore – functions and foundations of our business that really do deserve some investment beyond our time and the “freemium” options that are out there.

To grow a solopreneurial  business and run it more effectively, there are certain administrative and operational elements that are well worth throwing some dollars and cents at. Some will give you a more credible, professional presence. Some will ensure that you’re maximizing your productivity. Some will ensure that making smart decisions.

Your Website
It’s relatively easy to pick out websites that were “home grown” using a freemium platform. Unless you’re a website designer, my advice is to invest in a professional to create yours so you make the right online impression.

Your Accounting
From tax preparation to bookkeeping, consider getting professional help with these to some degree. Unless you’re in the field or have some serious business accounting background, you don’t know it all. And that can cost you in the long run. Note that you don’t have to go all or nothing, either. For example, you could contract someone to help you set up and train you on Quickbooks, but then manage your entries and reconciliations yourself.

Your Networking
I think a lot of solopreneurs miss out on opportunities because they don’t want to fork out the dough to join local business organizations like Chambers of Commerce. No, the investment doesn’t pay for itself after one or two mixers. But with repeat, regular attendance at events, you’ll build familiarity and trust. And THAT will lead to project opportunities and referrals.

Your Social Media Tools
If you’re active – or want to be active – on a variety of social networking platforms, efficiency and planning is the key to being able to maintain consistency. There are tools out there that offer free versions, but those often have limitations in terms of number of posts you can schedule or accounts that you can manage. If your social media success is hindered by a tool that’s not giving you as much flexibility and capacity as you need, check into upgrading to a premium version that offers more. Personally, I use Hootsuite and upgraded to their Pro version about a year ago. At $5.99 per month, it has paid for itself and then some in the amount of time it saves me.

If you’re just starting out as a solopreneur or are cash-strapped at the moment (it happens to all of us!), be judicious about what you spend your money on. But do keep an open mind – and wallet – and consider investing in things that will help you get your business off the ground and lay a foundation for success.

Your turn! What investments have you made in professional services and tools for your business?

Image courtesy of jannoon028 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What’s Behind Your Brand? Ask Yourself These 6 Key Questions!

One of the most difficult things about starting a business is to gain clarity about the basics behind your brand. It seems Questions Dicelike it should be the easiest thing to do, but it’s where a lot of new solopreneurs (and entrepreneurs in general) struggle. With so many ideas, capabilities, possibilities…how do you narrow down your value proposition to succinctly and clearly develop your brand?

My suggestion: Think like a journalist! Ask yourself the following questions to get to the core of your brand and why people should care about it:

Who? “Who” has several components to consider…

    1. Who are you? Of course, your company name is important, but this question goes beyond that. Who will your clients/customers do business with when they engage with your company. The “who” involves your credentials, level of expertise, reputation, work ethic and personality characteristics. Defining who you are helps set the tone for the type of experience people can expect when they do business with you.
    2. Who are your clients and customers? Hopefully, you’ll have done (or are starting to do) some marketing research to determine your target markets. Who is most likely to want, need AND buy your products and services. As you define your brand, these are the people you’ll want to appeal to and demonstrate your value to.

What? To answer the “what” question, put some thought into…

    1. Defining the products and services that you’ll provide. What exactly are you offering?
    2. What type of business are you? Will you be a top-quality, top-tier provider who will charge a premium, or will you aim to be known as an affordable alternative?

When? This particular question also has multiple meanings…

    1. If you’re just launching your business, when will you start delivering products and services?
    2. Another way to look at “when” is to define the delivery expectations clients should have when they buy from you. What’s your typical working interval? How fast can you provide your services and products to clients after they’ve signed a contract or placed an order?

Where? Another two-fold question…

    1. Where can prospective customers find you to start a dialogue? What’s the address of your brick and mortar location, or do you do business via email, phone or your website instead? Consider all the places (physically and virtually) where a client can reach out and “talk” with you.
    2. Also think about “where” in terms of where geographically you’ll deliver your services and products. Will you serve clients in:
      • your local area only?
      • a specific region?
      • within your state?
      • other states?
      • internationally?

Why? Again, a question with layers…

    1. Why are you in business? Think about what has driven you to be an entrepreneur in your particular field. Why are you passionate about what you do? Given the choice, customers will choose to do business with someone who genuinely cares and is excited about serving them over someone who is only going through the motions.
    2. Why should clients choose your services and products over your competitors? What’s in it for them? Which leads into…

How? How are you different from your competitors? In what ways are you unique? Always think of this from your clients’ perspective! How will they benefit from choosing you over another provider who offers similar services or products?

Using this framework for defining your value proposition is a simple way to gather your thoughts and put all your ideas into a mentally manageable package. Give it a try and let me know how it works for you!

Please feel free to share your experience by either commenting on this post, or send me an email directly to dawnmentz@gmail.com!

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Image: Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net