I know it’s been some time since my last post. I haven’t given up. I’ve been taking consistent, intentional action to build my freelance writing business.
Here’s what I’ve been up to:
1. Working through Heather Deveaux’s course, How to Confidently Start and Run a Freelance Writing Business. (See previous posts for my thoughts on Heather Deveaux’s blog, podcast and freelance writing course). I’m currently on the seventh module – creating writing samples. Be prepared to roll up your sleeves and spend some time on this section, as it is easily one of the most valuable. You will work through exercises designed to sharpen your online writing skills. Heather provides topics, minimum word count and keywords to hit. By the time you complete the exercises, you should have a diverse portfolio of writing clips to show to prospective clients. Heather even offers to review your samples and give pointers on how you can improve.
If you find yourself struggling with the assignments, Heather encourages you to reach out to her directly. I did, and she offered some great, actionable advice:
- Just start writing: Heather says to resist the idea of a perfect first draft. What’s important is putting pen to paper. “Allow yourself to write something awful if that is what it takes to get on with the process.”
- Avoid the research rabbit hole: It’s easy to get derailed by the sheer volume of information available on any given topic. If information overload is hindering your writing, Heather says, “Don’t worry about the research. I know that is like telling a banker not to count the money before they put it in the vault, but trust me. Pick one. Pretend you know everything there is to know about it and pretend that whatever you put on the paper is the God’s honest truth.” Then, with draft in hand, go back and do some focused, targeted research and add substance where needed.
- Choose to add value: After you’ve done some research, you’ll need to decide what information to include in your final work. Heather offers this suggestion: “I constantly ask myself: what didn’t I know before I started reading this? Because you know more than you think and many readers know more than they think, so lead with a question that draws out the most important information first.”
- Stay on point: “Before you sit down to write something that you have researched, come up with the working title and then refer to it numerous times asking the question, ‘Does this information contribute to the answer of that question or fulfill the promise of the title?’ For example, if I am writing about how to improve SEO in a blog, I need to be careful to only include information that answers the question, ‘How can I improve SEO in a blog?’ and that helps filter out all the other crap.”
2. Publishing content on the online writing platform, Medium. My reasons for doing this are six-fold: 1) To exercise my ‘discomfort’ muscle by putting myself and my work out there; 2) For a sense of community as writing can be isolating; 3) To sharpen my writing skills by occasionally writing on topics unrelated to my blog; 4) To start building an online presence on an internationally read platform; 5) To push traffic to Eleanor and Jane; and 6) To read others’ work.
Stephen King wrote in his memoir, On Writing, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”
Medium is a fantastic place to do both.
3. Building social engagement. I know that networking and online engagement are critical to increasing traffic and growing an online business. I’m a fairly private person, but I’ve found that commenting on particularly informative or well written posts or articles allows me to contribute to the community and connect with my fellow writers and readers without the in-your-face feel of other engagement efforts. Sometimes I’ll comment on a blog directly; other times I’ll tweet a link to an article on Twitter. Word of mouth marketing is powerful. If I feel a specific blog or podcast would be right up a person’s alley, I don’t hesitate to share.
4. Revamping the Eleanor and Jane website. I actually started Eleanor and Jane a couple of years back, when I was thinking about writing for a living. At the time, the only thing I really knew about WordPress was that anyone who was anyone used WordPress for their business website or blog. So I signed up for a free WordPress account, uploaded a free, basic theme and wrote a couple posts. Then I left the blog dormant for a good year or two.
More recently, I posted a couple of articles on the technical side of starting an online jewelry business on Etsy. I mistakenly thought that any content was good content for Eleanor and Jane, so long as it was informative and somehow touched on any aspect of building a freelance business. It was only after I started sharing Eleanor and Jane with others that I realized my website was all over the place. I knew I needed to streamline my content in order to reach a more targeted audience. Although I was proud of my posts about my Etsy business, I decided to take them down.
Fast forward to last month. When I fully committed to making a living as a freelance writer, I went back and tweaked my first post, added another, and switched to what I thought was a more professional-looking theme. I still didn’t want to spend too much time on website design — I really just wanted a place I could direct people so I could start establishing my online presence as a freelance writer. I figured that, in time, I would register my preferred domain name, switch to self-hosting and hire someone to redesign my website so it would match the vision in my head. (More on what’s wrong with this line of thinking in posts to follow.)
When I first started writing on Medium, I did not include a link to Eleanor and Jane on my Medium profile. I realized it was because I was not proud of my website. And since exposure to my blog was one of my main reasons for joining Medium in the first place, I spent last week revamping my site until I was happy enough to add the URL to my Medium profile.
I wanted a minimalist, clean website. I went with a different WordPress theme, switched fonts, added a short bio, added a sidebar widget to showcase my blog post titles, and, most importantly, added a Work With Me page with my services and contact information.
Is my website perfect? No. But it’s better than it was and now readers and prospective clients have a way to contact me.
5. Next steps
In the near future, I plan to transition to a self-hosted plan which will allow me to do so much more with this blog. I’m excited to learn about the popular plugins, in particular Yoast SEO.
I’m looking forward to learning more about the backend of WordPress. Understanding the technical aspects of blogging will allow me to offer a more valuable package to prospective clients.
I’ve recently started looking into registering my domain name. I hit an unexpected (but not uncommon) snag which may result in me having to rename this blog unless I want to keep it on WordPress. That’s a story for another post. One step at a time.
What have you been working on lately?