How to Run a Sustainable Writing Business (Where the Backbone of Success Is Simply … You)

"Knowing the business of writing and content marketing gives you an advantage over other (directionless) writers." – Stefanie Flaxman

You may love to write.

You may get a lot of positive feedback on your writing.

And you may have even picked up many great writing gigs over the years, solidifying your status as a professional writer.

But something is missing.

It’s difficult to balance writing for your existing clients and attracting new clients. Consequently, your writing income varies at different times throughout the year and the work you love to do never quite feels sustainable.

TET: the backbone of a sustainable writing business

Whether you’re just starting your writing business, or you’ve been building it for a while and are hoping to make it more financially secure, I have 15 tips that support a healthy, productive solopreneur venture.

To make the advice manageable, I’ll list five tips under three important categories for anyone working for themselves: Technology, Education, Tools (TET).

The success of a writing business depends on so much more than your ability to write.

Educating yourself on the business of writing and content marketing gives you a huge advantage over other (directionless) writers.

My TET Talk below — not to be confused with a TED Talk 😉 — will show you how the right knowledge combined with the unique value you offer clients can create a powerhouse business that allows you the freedom to be yourself and do work you care about.

Technology

Technology makes most modern writing businesses possible.

And getting set up with the right digital services doesn’t require a ton of technical knowledge. Instead, this section will focus on core business logistics that depend on some sort of technology.

My goal is to help you feel thankful for easy access to these solutions, rather than overwhelmed by a bunch of new things to learn.

As you’ll see, the main components you need are pretty simple.

1. Set up your internet, email, and phone accounts

We’re really starting at the beginning here, but I don’t want to skip the basics.

Intermittent, possibly not secure, internet access at a coffee shop just doesn’t cut it when you’re ready to get serious about your writing business.

Having a reliable internet connection at a place where you can always work — whether that’s at home or an office space — will give you peace of mind that you can communicate with your clients whenever you need to.

I also suggest having an email address and phone number for your business.

While you’re passionate about your work, separating business from personal communications is one step that can help prevent burnout.

Rather than having your entire day be one mix of business and personal tasks, you can get in the habit of managing business and personal items at different times.

2. Invest in hardware and software

This one is all about asking yourself questions to find out what you need to do your job well.

You can have a first-priority list with absolute necessities and a second-priority list for possible additions in the future.

To create your first-priority list, you may ask yourself:

  • Is my computer able to perform every function needed for my business?
  • Does the camera still work if a client requests a video call? What about my microphone and speakers?
  • Is the writing software I use sufficient? How about my accounting software?

To create your second-priority list, you may ask yourself:

3. Build a beautiful, secure website

If you were setting up a brick-and-mortar business, you’d be checking out real estate at different locations.

One of the perks of a digital writing business is that you don’t necessarily need to rent or buy a physical space in order for you to do your work.

What you do need, however, is a beautiful, secure website that’s fast and easy to use. Then you’ll have a professional place to welcome prospects.

4. Prioritize your social media accounts

To complement your digital home, you’ll have social media accounts.

But attempting to have a presence on every site can be time-consuming and distracting.

Find out where your prospects hang out online and focus your social media efforts on those sites. Ultimately, you’ll share content on those platforms that will bring visitors back to your website.

5. Select a payment processor

What’s the best way for clients to send you money?

You don’t want to use a system that’s super easy for you but a pain for your clients, or vice versa.

Envision how your ideal scenario would play out once someone wants to hire you and consider using digital payment processors like PayPal, Braintree, or Stripe to make that your standard procedure.

More on outlining your terms of service and payment policy below.

Education

Yesterday, Sonia announced that we’ll be reopening our Certified Content Marketer training program to new students soon.

"Apply to join Copyblogger's list of recommended writers." – Sonia Simone, Chief Content Officer

She wrote:

“Making a living as a writer isn’t easy. Finding new clients, managing your business as a business, positioning yourself to rise above the pennies-per-word freelance treadmill.

The Certification program exists to reward good writers with more clients, more revenue, more stability, and more respect.

We also, of course, reap the benefits of having a highly qualified group of professional writers we can point to when businesses tell us, ‘We’re sold on content strategy, but we can’t find anyone who can implement it well.’”

If you want to apply to become Copyblogger Certified, don’t forget to sign up at the end of this post to be the first to find out when you can get in the program.

A dedication to ongoing education is crucial for professional writers who are business owners. Let’s look at entrepreneurial actions you’ll need to learn about and perform.

1. Draft a budget

This is another one that helps you separate business activities from your personal life.

How much money do you need to run your business?

When you set aside funds for business expenses, you’ll have a realistic picture of what you can spend money on now and what you might need to hold off on until a later time. Then you’ll have an idea of how much money you need to save for certain items you eventually want to invest in.

Review your budget on a regular basis, since you may need to adjust how much money you spend on certain things.

For example, if an emergency expense comes up, you may have to borrow money from the amount you typically spend on social media ads, and pause those ads until you’re able to replenish the social media ads portion of your budget.

2. Determine your prices

Every project you work on will have different factors that affect how much you charge for your work, but the right type of preparation makes negotiating fees with clients much easier.

Check out our article 5 Stress-Free Steps for Pricing Your Services by Beth Hayden.

You’ll learn how to:

  • Perform research and determine your hourly rate
  • Estimate how many hours the project will take
  • Add some margin to cover additional expenses, overhead, and surprises
  • Communicate the price clearly to your client
  • Track your hours and adjust future pricing accordingly

3. Outline your terms of service and payment policy

While “terms of service and payment policy” may sound like boring business details, I consider them a fun opportunity for you to stand out.

If you want to have an exceptional service business, you cannot casually respond to any form of business communication or informally agree to any business transaction.

Check out my article How to Craft Winning Pitches for Your Service Business.

You’ll learn:

  • How to become a master of assessing, communicating, and managing expectations
  • The “service business as go-to collaborator” model
  • How to present terms of service that help you convert prospects

4. Become the Editor-in-Chief of your website

You knew this one was going to be here.

Remember that beautiful, secure website that you built? That’s your publishing company, so make sure you manage it like an Editor-in-Chief.

My article Why Content Marketers Need Editors will show you how to become your own content editor and you can pick up blog editing essentials in 10 Modern Editing Tips for Meticulous Bloggers.

5. Avoid this common marketing mistake

I’m especially enthused about sharing this one with you because it will save you a lot of time.

Many new service providers (myself included, back in the day) create marketing materials that try to convince someone that they need a certain service.

For example, writers would speak to someone “who doesn’t know they need a professional writer” and try to persuade that person into thinking that hiring a professional writer is better than writing your own content and copy.

It’s a reasonable starting place for business newbies, and not a terrible mistake, but think about creating marketing materials for those who are already looking for a professional writer.

Prospects who already value professional writers are much easier to convert to clients.

Your job is convincing them that you’re the right person to hire. You don’t have to first convince them that they need someone like you.

Tools

Our final section will help you with day-to-day activities.

These are practices that help you become more creative, productive, and confident.

Small changes to your routine can make a big difference when something unexpected happens and you have to roll with the punches.

Let’s roll …

1. Have an idea notebook

You’ll write down way more ideas than you’ll actually use, but get in the habit of documenting your thoughts about:

  • Content topics
  • Marketing experiments
  • Potential business partners
  • Social media communities
  • Books you want to read
  • Your ideal clients
  • Extra value you can provide

The pages can look messy and only make sense to you, but the notebook is a resource you can open if you ever feel stuck and don’t know where you should put your effort next.

2. Break down tasks into lists

I wish I could sell lists as my own product called “Overwhelm Begone!”

There are often many different parts to a project or many different steps you need to complete before you can finish a task or achieve a goal.

My simple method to immediately avoid overwhelm is listing out every step that needs to happen. If you need to delegate tasks to other people, map out their roles in a sublist.

I include even the tiniest tasks because once they’re written down, they’re out of my mind and I can use that portion of brainpower for something else.

If you only had one thing to do at all times, I understand that breaking down that one thing into a list would be unnecessary, but when you have a lot going on, lists help ensure that everything gets done properly.

3. Use systems and processes

Like lists, systems and processes help you swiftly take care of business.

Here are some examples:

  • A spreadsheet can help you monitor the stages of every project you have or organize your content marketing ideas.
  • Your email policy can inform clients upfront about how quickly you respond to emails, so you can prioritize your workload.
  • If you have trouble remembering to do a weekly task, assign it to a certain day of the week and stick to that routine.

4. Create a sample workday

Working for yourself gives you a lot of freedom, but it’s also stressful if you don’t manage your time properly. It will feel like you’re working all the time, and you’ll lack that balance I mentioned earlier.

So, if you keep the items you need to tackle on any given workday in mind, it’s a reminder that there’s a time to hustle and a time for leisure later in the day.

Your sample workday may include:

  • Responding to work emails
  • Writing for practice
  • Writing for clients
  • Meeting with clients
  • Reading blogs about writing, content marketing, and your industry (if you write for a specific niche)

5. Filter out unsolicited criticism

They mean well, but sometimes they’re just mean.

I’m talking about the people you interact with who will make negative comments about your professional writing services. You know, the ones who know nothing about your industry or actually being a professional writer.

I don’t want to get too snarky, because a lot of them likely just want to protect you.

It’s difficult for many people to understand how writers make a living, so it’s a lot easier to discourage a writer from going down a path of uncertainty.

But you’re smarter than that. You know you don’t have to do this alone, and you don’t have to go down a path of uncertainty. You can learn how to establish the writing business you want by learning how to implement content strategy.

Now’s the time: get in line to sign up for our Certified Content Marketer training.

Are you a writer who wants to become a Certified Content Marketer?

Our Certified Content Marketer training helps you take your writing business to the next level. Add your email address to our waiting list below to be the first to hear about when we reopen the program to new students.

Find out when our Certified Content Marketer training program reopens:

The post How to Run a Sustainable Writing Business (Where the Backbone of Success Is Simply … You) appeared first on Copyblogger.


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Buyer’s Guide: Content marketing tools

Managing the volume of marketing content that needs to be created, distributed, analyzed, and managed has become complicated, time consuming and costly for many marketing organizations. Automating these processes – or partnering with a content marketing vendor that provides content creation…

Please visit Marketing Land for the full article.


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Time’s up! MarTech is here and it’s your last chance to attend

In just one week, the world’s largest independent marketing technology conference designed for senior-level marketers and marketing technology professionals happens at MarTech in San Francisco, May 9-11. The show is programmed with one specific goal: to illuminate successful real-world practices at…

Please visit Marketing Land for the full article.


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How to Manufacture Urgency to Blow through Conversion Roadblocks

We don’t need things.

We might need a six-dollar, almond milk, sea salt caramel mocha (no whip) when it gets a little chilly outside.

But we don’t need-need.

The lights are on. Roof over our head. Heating or AC blasting in the background.

That applies to most things you’re trying to sell.

Doesn’t matter if we’re talkin’ ‘bout that shiny new app you deployed or the fancy new eComm product. People don’t need it.

Which makes your life tough. How are you going to move the needle, get more subscribers, and scale revenue, when the vast majority of the people you’re speaking to have zero actual need to buy your widget?

You need urgency. Or more specifically, you need to manufacture urgency out of thin air.

Here’s how a few of the web’s top converting sites create urgency out of thin air to get visitors to finally commit once and for all.

Why Urgency Works

People don’t need your stuff. But it gets worse. Because people also resist change at the same time.

So you’ve got two problems. You need to shake people out of their inertia. And then somehow get them to act.

Thankfully, the solution’s no secret. There’s a book on it. Along with countless studies.

For example, ConversionXL explains one account where just a little bit of urgency sprinkled onto a product page lifted revenue by over 27% for Bob & Lush.

They came up with the idea to that “clarity of deliver time on a product page would push more customers to convert.”

Sound familiar? It’s what some of the best in the business, from Amazon all the way down to the QVC have gone to great lengths to employ.

delivery-date-estimate

So they made one relatively small tweak to their product pages.

The new variant included a little simple text box that highlighted when someone would receive their product if they ordered within a short time frame.

dog-food-urgencyImage Source

Not only did revenue jump (27.1%), but the the number of purchases (9.5%) and checkout visits (10.1%) did, too.

Of course, the inclusion of this delivery date estimate wasn’t just a hunch. An epiphany. Or a ‘growth hack’ some growth hacker wrote about in their Bible to Growth Hacking on GrowthHackers.com

Instead, the hypothesis came from a place that good ideas always flow. But few rarely tend to go.

Consumer Research (AKA The Part Everyone Always Skips)

In 2012, Marcus Taylor of Venture Harbour launched a ‘Groupon deal for musicians.’ (And wrote about the experience in another excellent ConversionXL case study. Yes, I’m completely ripping them off today).

He reportedly invested months and even dipped into personal savings to fund it. The boats were burned. There was no going back. It had to churn a profit.

musicians-guide-urgencyImage Source

No need to bury the lead. He increased conversions from a mediocre-but-fine 2.5% up to an astonishing 10.8% by infusing urgency into every pore of the site.

That incredible conversion lift wasn’t the part that got me, though.

This was:

When people think of conversion optimization, they go to landing pages. They go to headlines. CTAs. Images. And other similarly miniscule details that kinda don’t move the f-ing needle.

But all of those elements (which we’ll touch in soon) are at the mercy of one giant thing: the audience.

All of the CTA tweaks in the world can’t save you from targeting the wrong audience in the first place.

That’s the critical difference Marcus understood. And acted on. (Emphasis, mine.)

“Prior to launch, I “tested” hundreds of traffic sources, from Reddit Ads, to specific music forums. I wanted to know was which traffic sources I need to prioritise during the real campaign.

I ended up with a custom Google Analytics dashboard like this, which made it clear which traffic sources delivered the most relevant traffic.”

converting-traffic-sourcesImage Source

“Not only did I know where my customers would come from ahead of time, but I knew more about my audience, such as how guitarists were almost three times more likely to buy than drummers, and that my conversion rate was highest in the UK and Australia.”

Similarly, when ConversionXL worked with Bob & Lush initially they didn’t haphazardly start throwing stuff on a DIY landing page builder. Rather, they begun with a boring, tired, old survey.

One hundred eighteen people opted in. And many agreed that their biggest fear centered around “running out of food for their dogs.”

That’s the catalyst. The trigger.

It manifested as a purchasing roadblock based on “knowing when the food would arrive.”

So that’s what ConversionXL leveraged. You’ve already seen the updated landing page variation that was a success. Just by using simple language to entice people to buy now (instead of waiting around).

The tactic – the thing you see on the screen – isn’t the point. It’s the impulse it targets. The underlying motivation that’s already preventing people from feeling like they need your thing.

It’s no coincidence that this is the exact same strategy that one of the interwebs top converters implements.

Expedia recently announced gross revenues of $16 billion. Up 8% from online sales.

Which should come as no surprise when you see what they’re doing.

How Expedia Manufactures Urgency Out of Thin Air

Visit Expedia.com.

The homepage is fairly bare. A giant reservation form takes over almost everything above the fold.

Below that, a few of “Todays Deals” are highlighted.

So far, not much is happening. It’s not until you actually search for a trip that things start to get interesting.

Vegas sounds fun. Pool season sure beats reading another blog post like this in your pajamas.

Plug in some dates. Hit Enter. And here goes.

vegas-hotel-listing-expedia

Whoa. Lots happening.

You see plenty of greens (good!) and reds (bad!) to help you instantly understand their meaning.

In the lower right-hand corner, multiple little callouts keep popping up, sliding in and out of the screen, emphasizing the same thing: a BUNCH of other people are looking at booking these deals right now – so they might not last long.

Then of course, the Daily Deal hits you at the top of the screen. A classic countdown timer that ticks away. My heart rate sped up. Palms sweaty. Despite not having any real interest in booking this initially.

Once again, that was no accident. As this case study featured on Behave.org (formerly WhichTestWon) indicates.

behave-urgency-testImage Source

All that was added was a countdown timer. That’s it.

They even removed a few elements, including ‘free delivery’ and ‘order now’ in order to remove extraneous distractions and focus viewers on what mattered most: that countdown timer.

The result after 50,000 viewers? An instant 8% conversion lift.

Ok. Enough boring marketing stuff. Back to Vegas.

How Expedia Uses Price Anchoring & FOMO to Make this Trip Look like a Steal

Those FOMO callouts slide in and out of view.

The countdown timer continues ticking down. And then the product attributes help you decide.

For example, scroll down a little bit until you reach Cosmo.

cosmo-vegas-expedia

It’s garnered a little yellow “Top Hotel” badge. It literally screams “Wonderful!” with excellent ratings and reviews to match.

Price anchoring in full effect, with the ‘sales price’ slashed down to the new effective one.

Scarcity comes into view with the strip of text in red that highlights the number of people who also booked this hotel in the past forty eight hours. Along with when it was last booked.

So. If we’re even remotely serious. We need to move fast.

Let’s select Cosmo. Because c’mon: wraparound terraces!

You look at available rooms and are immediately met by an “Unreal Deal” that will “save you 100% on your flight.” That’s backed up by the pricing, which shows you’ll ‘owe’ $0.00 more to select it now.

expedia-unreal-deal

Deals like that won’t last. Don’t last. Which means you should act.

Not later, but now.

How Expedia Forces You to Take Action (Now)

Words matter.

It’s not that people absorb every letter in detail. They don’t. Hell – people don’t even read. ‘Specially not online.

But the sum is greater than the parts. It’s scanned in a moment’s notice and the meaning hits home.

For example, email marketing service AWeber ran a simple copy test on their call to action.

The only change? A single word.

aweber-urgency-nowImage Source

AWeber added the word “Now” to their call to action. And they saw a 12% increase in paid signups with a credit card.

An online travel booking flow is no different than any other conversion flow. Doesn’t matter if we’re talking about signing up for a new email marketing app or trying to go through a shopping cart checkout sequence.

The stats are remarkably the same, too. Online travel bookings see a 81% abandonment! While shopping cart abandonment averages right around 70%.

61% of those cart abandonments are because of ‘extra costs’ (including shipping, taxes, fees, etc.)

total-abandoned-cartsImage Source

You know how this feels. You’re super pumped about that new pair of plastic jeans (yes, that’s a thing) you just found. Except when you head over to checkout, you see that another ~30% has been tacked on due to taxes, shipping, and fees.

Guess what Expedia does, instead?

review-and-book-expedia

First, they ‘drop’ the price. Two cents. Literally. But it’s green and happy and there’s a check mark exclaiming “Good News.”

The other thing it says? “Book now to secure this price.”

Zooming into the pricing area on the right, you also see the savings of booking the flight and hotel together. Then, down below, you see the total price (again first – price anchoring).

roundtrip-flight-expedia

And then a “Due at hotel” line item that cleverly buries all of those damn resort fees that we hate so much.

But they’re almost invisible because of how Expedia has positioned this pricing and sale.

Instead of being ‘thrown off’ the conversion scent at the moment of truth, you’re practically already packing your bags. #Humblebragging about your upcoming Vegas trip.

Conclusion

Ranchers use a cattle prod to get those big, dumb, slow moving animals to do what they want.

Whether that’s to eat, find shelter, or head to the slaughterhouse.

Consumers don’t need to do anything.

They might want lots of things. But they lack nothing. And so there’s no inherent desire to purchase your widget.

Instead, you have to create it. Manufacture it and bring it into existence.

For guidance, start with the web’s top converters. Expedia is a master at creating urgency by using countdown timers, product attributes, prince anchoring, FOMO, and a host of other psychological tactics that would make Cialdini proud.

Increasing conversions online isn’t about tricks or gimmicks or hacks. It’s about building up the value of your offering so much that people can’t help but convert.

About the Author: Brad Smith the founder of Codeless, a B2B content creation company. Frequent contributor to Kissmetrics, Unbounce, WordStream, AdEspresso, Search Engine Journal, Autopilot, and more.


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Writers: An Opportunity to Get Copyblogger Certified

"Apply to join Copyblogger's list of recommended writers." – Sonia Simone, Chief Content Officer

This one is just for the professional writers in the audience.

You may have seen that we have a listing of recommended Copyblogger Certified Content Marketers. I’m going to tell you a bit about who those folks are and how they’re selected.

If you want to hire an excellent professional writer who understands content strategy, that’s where you look for one.

And if you’d like to join that group of recommended writers, this is how you can apply.

What’s in the program

Certification has three main components:

Education

The Certification program starts with a four-week online course taught by me and Brian Clark. It’s designed to take you from being an excellent writer to being an excellent writer who can implement content strategy.

“The Certification program pulled it all together for me. It was truly my aha moment — I got it! Not to be melodramatic, but all the components of content marketing aligned for me.” – Mark Crosling

Note: This isn’t a writing course. If you don’t come into the program with solid writing skills, you won’t leave with them, either. We may do a writing course at some point (I’d like to), but that day is not today.

The course will show you how to think about content strategy at a professional level. It includes workbooks and checklists you can bring with you to client meetings, so you can nail down the hard questions (and look incredibly smart and prepared) before you write a single line for your clients.

Once you’ve completed the course, you’re eligible to submit your work and apply for Certification.

Application

Not everyone who completes the course becomes Certified.

Every application is closely reviewed by someone on our writing team. We’re looking for excellent writing, professional presentation, and a demonstration of solid content strategy. If your application shows us a writer we’d be proud to recommend, you’ll be Certified.

Every evaluation includes a detailed critique. So if there’s a fixable problem, you’ll know what the specific issue is and how to correct it … and you can re-apply.

For me, this individual application process is at the heart of what makes Certification valuable. You’re not showing that you could pass a multiple-choice quiz — you’ve shown work that demonstrates, to a fellow professional writer, that you’re a pro with solid skills.

Ongoing education

The program also includes membership in our Authority community of content marketers. That’s where you’ll get ongoing education for your Certification, including sessions on traffic strategies, evolving content best practices, and insights into how to run a more profitable business.

You can even apply for an in-depth mastermind-style “hot seat,” where we take a close look at your business and help you develop a plan for how to reach your next goals.

“The other thing about the program that’s great is the invaluable support and information you get during and AFTER you’ve completed it. Being in the Authority program gives me access to awesome continuing education. Worth every penny — and the listing on the site has really gotten me a ton of work.” – Trudy Roth

What it’s doing for our writers

Making a living as a writer isn’t easy. Finding new clients, managing your business as a business, positioning yourself to rise above the pennies-per-word freelance treadmill.

The Certification program exists to reward good writers with more clients, more revenue, more stability, and more respect.

“The education Rainmaker Digital provides through Authority and the Content Marketing Certification program has helped me further advance my freelance writing career, and the result has been an increase in the quantity and quality of client inquiries.” – Kristi Hines

We also, of course, reap the benefits of having a highly qualified group of professional writers we can point to when businesses tell us, “We’re sold on content strategy, but we can’t find anyone who can implement it well.”

What you should do next

  • If you’re a writer and you want to turn yourself into a valued content strategist
  • If you’re a writer and you want support and advice on reaching your professional goals
  • If you’re a writer and you want to find better clients and belong to a prestigious list of recommended writers

… then you want to join us and get Certified.

Take your writing business to the next level with our Certified Content Marketer training

If you’re interested in becoming a Certified Content Marketer, add your email address to our waiting list below to be the first to hear when the program reopens.

Find out when our Certified Content Marketer training program reopens:

The post Writers: An Opportunity to Get Copyblogger Certified appeared first on Copyblogger.


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Search Engine Optimization – 5 Things you Need To Know

The internet is now the #1 source consumers turn to to buy products and services. 

Are You Ready? The first place your customers go to find you is the web. Your internet presence will most often be the first impression you give to a potential new customer. Make sure it’s great. Can You Be Found? Millions of business owners and consumers use the internet to find information, research companies, and make buying decisions. If you have a website, you need to be loud and clear.

Here are the 5 basic steps for website optimization:

Step 1 is site optimization (proper page titles and descriptions, meta tags, labeling images with alt text, etc).

Step 2 is listing you in key places on the internet.

Step 3 is narrowing down keywords: getting down to the nitty gritty with who are target audience is!  

Step 4 is optimizing your site’s content (articles and info) with those target keywords.

Step 5 is writing up style guidelines for the site (rules that your writers, web helpers, contributors should follow:  ex: always use alt text with an image).