10 Ways to Become a Writer (That Gets Paid)

If you’re looking to transition your love of writing from hobby to vocation, keep reading – this post is just for you.

1. Own Your Talent – You are a writer. No matter how listless and gray your cubicle is, or how many people tell you “that would never work”, your passion is the fuel that will drive your career. Whenever you are in doubt, say to yourself (out loud if possible) “I am a talented writer and am in the process of building my successful career.”

Action: Check out The Secret for an emotional jump start.

2. Pick a Niche – Trying to be everything to everyone makes you nothing to nobody. Instead of trying to be a Jill-of-all-trades, pick a passion and write about that. Do you want to be a travel writer? a food critic? a copywriter? a fashion writer? a business writer? a sports writer? Owning a niche also helps others connect you with employers more easily.

Action: Start a blog about something you’re passionate about and use it as part of your portfolio.

3. Will Write for __________. While I am not necessarily an advocate for giving your writing away (see below for pro bono work), writing for barter is an effective way to beef up your portfolio without feeling like you’ve sold out your talent. When I first started, I bartered with a nutritionist, a life coach and a couple other services so that I could get my career off the ground. (Disclaimer: there are specific tax implications for working on barter and I would suggest discussing them with your accountant.)

Action: Write a list of services that you’d use given the opportunity. Keep your eyes peeled. You never know when an opportunity will come your way.

4. Pack Your Portfolio. As a writer, your portfolio is one of the most important tools of your trade. Pack it with your best work, testimonials from clients and visuals. Organize it based on category. For example, mine is a red, leather-bound three ring binder (office store under $15) with tabs labeled: Testimonials, Direct Mail, Web Copy, Press Releases, Fliers, Advertisements, and Articles.

Action: Purchase a high quality portfolio and nice, heavy paper to print your writing.

5. A Testament to Testimonials. In addition to the testimonials in the front of my portfolio, I also have testimonials beside their respective project. It helps reinforce the success of a particular piece and is a major selling point for using my skills.

Action: Send out a request for testimonials to all of your clients. No clients? Try friends, teachers, or family.

6. Pro Bono Can Pay Off. Charities and non-profit organizations are constantly seeking volunteers. Offering your services to reputable organizations can help you make connections, bulk up your portfolio and give back to your community.

Action: Do a web search for organizations in your area. Contact two that you find interesting and inquire about opportunities to volunteer your writing.

7. Publish Yourself. With today’s technology, it’s easier than ever to market yourself. Capitalize on networks like LinkedIn, Facebook and Lulu.com. Submit articles to aggregate sites like work.com or about.com. And most importantly, have a blog and website to make your portfolio searchable.

Action: Set up an online portfolio using a simple web tool such as Yahoo! or GoDaddy.com

8. Make Business Cards. You are a writer, right? Then lend yourself some credibility with professional business cards. And don’t skimp on the quality. Nice, heavy stock paper with a clean design is an investment well worth the effort.

Action: Go to http://www.vistaprints.com and order business cards with your new title.

9. Designers Are Your New Best Friends. Want to get lots of clients quickly? Attend a networking function for graphic designers with your new handy-dandy business cards. Clients often go straight to a designer when they need work – seldom do they seek out a writer. And designers usually hate writing and will be glad to refer the writing portion of the job to you.

Action: Find an area networking event geared to graphic designers. Attend, shake hands and make friends.

10. Stop Whining. Start Writing. Quit complaining that you could be something more. If you want to be a writer – write! Every day. No exceptions. Becoming a great writer takes hard work and dedication. Don’t waste your talent.

Action: Write something every day. No exceptions.

Related Links

A Few Words on Laziness and Responsibility by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Do You Call Yourself a Professional Writer? by Laura Spencer

How to Be a Professional Writer by L.C. Peterson

Becoming a Writer Seriously by Thomas Colvin

How Do You Become a Writer by Amanda Eyre Ward

Brainstorming vs. Editing

So I have the green light to continue with the blogging (you may notice the lovely disclaimer under my picture, just to be on the safe side). Horray! Let the blogging continue.

Here’s a thought…

How should you respond to someone who says “OMG – We could (insert crazy idea here).”

a) “That would never work.”

b) “Maybe, but we’d have to do a lot of things to make it work.”

c) “What a great idea! We could also (insert a different crazy idea here).”

The correct answer is c.

There are two parts to creation – brainstorming and editing. You brainstorm first and edit later.

In brainstorming mode, rules do not apply. You have an unlimited budget, no legal problems, and zero logistical hurdles. The goal is to purge the crazy and wacky ideas from your brain and get them down on paper. The sky’s the limit – dream big!

Then….much later…..

You edit. You look at your crazy ideas and say “This is a great idea, how can we make it work in the real world?” You’d be surprised how achievable many of those crazy ideas actually are. Don’t kill them – incubate them!

I’ve Fallen and I CAN Get Up

Last night while running, I fell. Not a dainty trip, but rather a full fledged, face to the ground spill. For those of you who run, you know that this happens every once in a while. You get in the zone, completely focused on the horizon and then from out of nowhere something fairly minuscule like an acorn, twig or uneven sidewalk gets in your way and causes you to tumble towards the ground so fast you barely know what hit you before you’re lying in a face full of dirt.

The same thing can happen in business.

You’re plodding along when all of the sudden success starts to take hold. Things are working – they’re in the flow. But then something “small” like an illness, a family emergency, a tax audit, a law suit, a bad rumor that spreads, an economic turn, a  change in technology or any number of other obstacles trips you up and impedes your growth.

In this moment while you are down you have two options:

1. Stay down in the muck feeling sorry for yourself – but this option has it’s downfalls.

A) You’re lying in muck and that’s no fun.
B) Self pity is a sure-fire way to ensure you stay down in the no-fun muck.
C) How are you going to move forward towards your goal if you’re stuck in muck?

2. Ask for help getting up, deal with your problem and move forward.

No doubt we will all fall at some point. Whether it’s running a marathon or running a business, things will come along and trip you up. But it’s how we deal with these falls that separates those who win from those who stay stuck.

And for the record, I’m up and plan on running again tomorrow. 🙂

Ditch the Pitch

phone.jpgWhen I was 16 my dad gave me a gift. Our neighbor had just opened an insurance office down the street and my father got me a job as a telemarketer. Granted, I wanted a new car. I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the thought of calling people during dinner to solicit auto insurance quotes. But as I look back, this part-time job shaped my entire career. It’s where I learned that if I wanted to be successful in sales, I needed to ditch the pitch.

My first day of work our neighbor sat me down at my desk, gave me a stack of cards filled with names, addresses & phone numbers, showed me how to dial 9 for an outside line and gave me a pink piece of paper with “the pitch.” My job was simple. Call people and get them to agree to getting an auto insurance quote.

The “pitch” proved to be worthless. This sorry excuse for a script was probably written by some sort of insurance monkey at the corporate office who didn’t know a lick about sales. Here were my first 30 calls:

Andrea: Hi, Mrs. So-and-so. My name is Andrea from Blah Blah Blah Insurance Company.

Mrs. So-and-So: <hang up expediently>

or

Andrea: Hi, Mr. Someone. My name is Andrea from Blah Blah Blah Insurance Company.

Mr. Someone: Don’t you have anything better to do with your time? <hang up>

Andrea: (mumbling under breath so her new boss doesn’t hear) Of course I do. I’m sixteen and could be out partying with my friends.

People don’t want to talk to insurance agents. I was seen as a big fat waste of time. So I decided to try things my own way.

I tried all sorts of things, like:

  • Talking in a (very fake, but I tried so hard) British accent

and

  • Being blunt by saying “Hi, I know I probably just interrupted your dinner and I’m sorry. I’m just doing my job. would you like an auto insurance quote?”

After all sorts of trials and errors, I stumbled upon a method that actually worked.

First a little back story; I grew up in Ashland, VA which is a town so small we actually had a town song that we would all get together and sing at the town talent show each spring (true story). Think “The Music Man” meets “Leave it to Beaver” and you’re close.

So being from a small town I noticed that I personally knew half the people on the list – or at least their children.

I changed my sales pitch to something like this:

Andrea: Hi, Ms. Smith. This is Andrea – I go to school with your daughter Amy.

Ms. Smith: Hi, Andrea. How are you?

Andrea: I’m doing great. How about yourself?

Ms. Smith: Pretty well, thanks. Did you want to talk to Amy?

Andrea: Actually, I was calling to talk to you. See, I have a new job working at Blah Blah Blah Insurance Company. I’m not trying to sell anything. I’m just collecting information so we can send you a quote, followed up by a nice hand-written thank you card and then you can decide if you want to do anything with it.

Ms. Smith: (slightly taken aback) Oh. (usually a pause) How long will it take me to fill out?

Andrea: About 3 minutes.

Ms. Smith: Well, OK. Go ahead.

Yep, it was that simple. Eventually I outsold everyone in the office (and made darn good money).

So why did this method work when everything else failed?

  1. Establishing a personal connection. Once it’s established that you and your prospect have something in common – it takes your chances of closing to a whole new level.
  2. Removing the pressure. No one wants to be “sold.” When is the last time you went to a sketchy used car lot seeking the thrill of being pressured into something you don’t want to buy? Saying “you can decide what you do with it” signaled to my prospects that I respected their time and wasn’t going to pressure them into something they didn’t want.
  3. Cutting ties quickly. Occasionally I’d get the “No, thank you.” My reply was always, “Thanks for your time. Have a great day.” The way I saw it, it was much easier to dial more numbers than it was to convince someone that they really did want a quote. In the end, if a customer is sold because of pressure, the likelihood of them being a loyal customer is greatly diminished.
  4. Sincerely believing in my product. Most of the people who stuck it out to get a quote ended up saving money. I thought this was a good thing, so I felt like I was providing a great value. Later in life, I sold advertising in a low-quality and very expensive print publication. I knew the ads were a bad investment and learned quickly that you can’t “fake” belief in your product. And if you don’t believe in it – you can’t sell it.

The Amazing Technicolor Networking Jacket

andrea-and-her-technicolor-networking-jacket.jpgIn the ten years I’ve been in sales I’ve attended a lot of networking events where a lot of people stand around in black suits. Black suits are safe. Black suits blend in. Black suits don’t get noticed. There’s nothing wrong with wearing a black suit, just don’t expect anyone to remember you.

A few months ago I was browsing through one of my favorite department stores when the loudest, most brightly colored jacket caught my eye from across the room. It was so bold that several sat on the clearance rack for a whopping 75% off. It was almost as if you could hear the voices of the people who had picked it up prior saying, “there’s no way I could wear this – I’d stand out too much.”

Suddenly, I had a thought. If this jacket could stand out among racks of other brightly colored clothes, imagine what it would do in a room full of black suits. I found my size, tried it on and was pleasantly surprised at how well it fit. It seemed to perfectly embody the image of the “fun, young, hip, creative chick” look that I was going for. Bingo.

So it’s been three months and here’s the result. I’ve worn this jacket 4 times to networking events (considering I go to 3 -5 events per week, that’s not very often). Yet, I’ve had the following experiences:

  1. A friend of mine gave me a pair of earrings she had that “just seemed to match that jacket of yours perfectly.”
  2. A fellow networking professional remembered me as “the girl in the bright colored jacket I met last week.”
  3. A colleague confessed that she thought of me and my jacket when she purchased her shirt.

Proof that it’s working – this jacket helps me not only stand out in a crowd, but people remember me more afterwards because of this jacket. Association and recall are two goals of any branding effort.

So where is your technicolor jacket in a room full of black suits?

  • If everyone else uses words like “innovative”, “quality”, “turnkey”, “synergy”, and the other overused business phrases do you opt instead for a genuine and conversational tone to your writing?
  • When every other IT service firm is using blue corporate colors and pictures of politically correct people for their websites are you being bold with bright colors and custom illustrations?
  • If every other financial services professional is focused on pushing a product do you flat out say (and mean it!) “I do this because I’m passionate – not because of the money. I do this because my clients become friends for life. I want to grow with them and be involved in helping them grow. If you’re looking for someone to simply transact on your behalf, I might not be the fit for you.”

Keep in mind that markets change and shift. People catch on to a good thing. In time your once bright jacket begins to blend in. In which case, a black suit just may stand out against a room full of color.

Related Links

Be Remembered at Networking Events

16 Ways to Make Your Business Card Unforgettable

Scarcity Matters

5 Myths of Business Communications

Take a moment and think about all the words you send to your prospects and clients – all the content of your website, brochures, e-mails, letters, fliers, blogs, etc., etc., etc. Imagine all the vowels and consonants you’ve used to describe what you do piled high into an ever growing heap of words. Mind-boggling, isn’t it? In business, we communicate…a lot.

The ability to clearly describe what you do, how it is different from everyone else and why your prospects should buy from you is an essential part of the success of any business. From the smallest e-mail to the most expensive advertisement every piece of communication is an opportunity to form an impression in your customer’s mind (A.K.A. your “brand”).

But are we really clear when we write our business communications? Do we accurately convey the points we are trying to make so our prospects and clients can “get” our message? Take these 5 common myths of business communications and test your CQ (communication quotient).

Myth #1 – The more information I can cram in, the better.
Have you ever tried to find a needle in a haystack? It takes a lot of patience. Unfortunately, patience is not something readers of your business communications will have. Simply put, if your message is buried in mounds of text no one will take the time to search for it. Effective business communications focus on a singular message and eliminate everything else.

Do you pass the test?
Show your business communication piece to a stranger and give them only 5 seconds to look at it. Can they tell you the main message?

Myth #2 – If I use big words, people will think I’m smarter.
Prodigious colloquy induces an antipodal consequence. Using big words is like a guy with an expensive sports car – it can be perceived that you are trying to compensate for something. Instead, go for short, clear, easy-to-understand words that you would use in everyday conversation. Your tone will be friendlier and your readers will be more receptive to your message.

Do you pass the test?
Give your business communication piece to a 4th grader. Do they understand every word?

Myth #3 – By using buzzwords, jargon and acronyms I’ll prove my industry knowledge.
You might as well write in Ancient Greek because that’s about how many people will actually understand what you’re trying to say. Acronyms are especially deadly, so if they’re necessary – take the time to spell them out. As for buzzwords and jargon – save them for the water cooler.

Do you pass the test?
Have a friend from an opposite industry read your marketing material. Do they understand it?

Myth #4 – I’ll use adjectives like “best”, “excellent” or “outstanding” to set myself apart.
Have you ever been stuck at a party with a person who just won’t shut up about how great they are? Not only is it annoying – it actually turns you off. Instead of bragging about yourself, gather testimonials and allow your customers to boast on your behalf. You’ll find prospects intrigued and eager to learn more.

Do you pass the test?
Ask your best clients to give you a quote about their experience working with you. Did you replace your boastful comments with their testimonials?

Myth #5 – I’ll write in first person so it won’t be boring.
Most of your readers will have one question in their mind when reading your document – “What’s in it for ME?” That means, using the Y-O-U word – not the I (or W-E) word. Yes, there are times that a compelling narrative story can make an impact. But in general, business communications should be about the client – not about you.

Do you pass the test?
Take a piece of business communication and change “I” and “we” to “you” (also, change the tense of the verbs, etc.). Give both versions to a friend and ask them which is more compelling.

Hopefully by now your pile is a little lighter and your message a bit clearer. By taking the time to crystallize a clear and conversational message you engage your audience with your message. This can lead to longer loyalty, more referrals and ultimately increased revenue – and who couldn’t use that?

 

Yikes! Getting What You Wish For

visionboard.jpgI’m about to share something that is intensely personal.

About a year ago I watched a movie called The Secret. Part of me thought it was a hokey, over-simplified way to state the complex state of the universe. But overall, I bought into the underlying theme of the Law of Attraction.

In the movie, they discuss the idea of a vision board – where you collect images of what your “ideal life” would be like and then by looking at these images every day you begin to attract these things into your life. Intrigued, I started my own vision board – and it’s starting to work (yep, that pic is of my vision board).

I’ve been so swamped with new work from amazing clients that I have barely had time to post on my blog. I’ve also shed some relationships that I thought were rock-solid in order to make room for new people that more closely match my “vibration” (or whatever it’s called.)

I guess that’s the dilemma – the classic struggle of so many plotlines (like Aladdin or Bedazzled). What happens when you get what you wish for? How do adjust? What if what you thought you wanted ends up not really being what you want?

They say change is the only true constant in your life – and I believe it. There’s a strange feeling of comfort in change; a welcomed knowing that you are in control of your destiny (although the way it materializes is downright bizzare sometimes).