Follow your passion, but act like an entrepreneur

Heads up, freelance writer. You’re an entrepreneur and to succeed you must think and act like one.

That was the takeaway from the 2015 NPC-SPJ Spring Freelance Workshop at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, on May 8. Woman reading a newspaper in a newspaper library.

Peter Smith, a business development coach and founder of Smith Impact, drove that point home with his three keys for success:

  • Follow your passion.
  • Get really good at what you do.
  • Learn how to market and sell what you do.

Smith was one of eight panelists composing two panels who discussed the pros and cons and ups and downs of freelance writing. The workshop attracted seasoned professionals, students, and the curious.

But while Smith was blunt in his freelancers-as-entrepreneurs approach, other panelists touched on successful entrepreneurial techniques as well. Networking, managing your client base, and managing your finances are roles all successful entrepreneurs must master.

Katherine Reynolds Lewis, a full-time freelance writer for the past seven years, was one of several panelists who discussed networking as a key ingredient for success. Why is networking important? Because clients hire people they know and trust. In the entrepreneurial world, that’s as true for selling words as it is for selling shoes. Freelance writers must network where editors gather, such as conventions, Lewis urged. But editors are one part of the mix. She surprised many in the audience when she said “networking with other freelancers is the most productive networking that I do. … I’ve learned that networking with other freelancers and developing really trusted relationships with people who may have complimentary but not exactly the same interests I do is very helpful.”

Networking lands you clients – perhaps even an anchor client. An anchor client is one who gives you steady work over a long period, sometimes years. Anchor clients come with a warning, however. It’s very easy to get comfortable with a steady income. Perhaps so comfortable and so busy that you curtail your networking. That’s a mistake for any entrepreneur. Clients don’t last forever. And if you lose your anchor client, you lose your income. Tam Harbert, who moderated the first panel, is chair of the NPC Freelance Committee and a 10-year, full-time freelancer. Experience has taught her that no one client should comprise more than 20 percent of her income.

So, never stop networking. Keep growing your client base. Next, manage your finances.

The first step in managing your finances is to compute how much you need to earn an hour to make a decent living. Include not only business expenses, but your mortgage, utilities – and vacations and retirement, Lewis said. Then track the time you work on every story or project. That will help you determine which clients pay the most per hour, Harbert said. Can you secure more work from them? Conversely, which clients pay the least? Should you replace them with higher-paying clients?

Many freelancers – and other entrepreneurs – nail the first two points Smith made – follow your passion and get really good at what you do. Successful entrepreneurs also nail point number three – learn to market and sell what you do. And, that includes networking, managing your client base, and managing your finances.

See you on the other side of the notebook.

(Tam Harbert on the entrepreneurial personality.)


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Clear and concise writing: It’s all very civilized

An example of cuneiform, the earliest known  writing systems of Mesopotamia, Persia, and Ugarit.

An example of cuneiform, the earliest known writing systems of Mesopotamia, Persia, and Ugarit. (© Can Stock Photo Inc. /swisshippo)

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a caption gives it context.

Videos are all the rage. But if the script is ineffective, so is the message.

Public speakers do it without notes. But the speech is written first.

To be a terrific tweeter, you must write engaging and effective headlines in 140 characters or less.

Why? Because the foundation for all effective communication is clear and concise writing.

It is also the foundation for civilization itself. So says the Metropolitan Museum of Art in its online essay “The Origins of Writing.” The essay notes that the population of southern Mesopotamia exploded in the 4th century BC. That includes Uruk, (oo-rook) which grew into the world’s first city. It is also here that we find the first examples of a written language. As the ability to communicate in written form spread, so did civilization.

As your writing becomes clearer and more concise, your message will explode too. It’s all very civilized.


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Don’t Let the Trolls Win

Caution road sign against a background of puffy white clouds in an otherwise blue sky. Sign reads: Do not feed the trolls.When I read the Washington Post headline “Fairfax County supervisor race heats up over ‘troll’ remark on Twitter,” I thought to myself, “Another political operative who forgot to count to 10 before hitting ‘send.’”

The troll characterization was lobbed at Democrat Janet Oleszek by the Fairfax County (Virginia) Republican Party Committee. Oleszek is campaigning against incumbent county Supervisor John Cook, a Republican.

In its defense, the committee accused Oleszek of ignorance.

“Anybody who knows anything about social media and the Internet knows what a troll is,” Matt Ames, chair of the Fairfax County Republican Party Committee, told the Post.

I’m a social media junkie, but I hadn’t heard the term used before in a social media context, which the Post wrote “can be interpreted” as “someone who is critical without supporting facts.” Granted, I’m a Boomer who still believes social media posts should be grammatically correct and free of spelling errors. I also tend to ignore stupid social media posts and stupid people who post on social media. I have better things to do with my life.

Curiosity grabbed me by my Don King hair, however, and I Googled “social media slang.” Apparently troll is not among the “9 Millennial Slang Words That Improve Your Social Media Voice.” Nor did troll make the “Big-A List of Twitter Slang and Definitions.” Ditto with a post simply titled “Social Media Slang.” (Though I did learn that “Whoa” is an “expression of surprise.” Whoa! I’ve been using “whoa” for five or more decades! How cool am I?)

I then Googled “social media troll” and found this definition on Techopedia:

“A troll is a member of an Internet community who posts offensive, divisive, and controversial comments.

“Often, a troll will make obvious and inflammatory statements that are meant to bait new users (newbies) into reacting. This is sometimes called trolling. Despite multiple attempts at limiting trolling on the Internet, it is still widespread in social networks, comment sections, and anywhere else where users can post in relative anonymity.”

I am now better informed. But having not found the definition on two comprehensive and one must-know social media slang lists, I have to caution Mr. Ames not to assume everyone knows Internet slang. The old rules of communication still apply: Count to 10 before hitting send and if in doubt, don’t. Otherwise, the trolls win.


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You’ve got mail still rings a bell

Young woman checking email on her phoneLast month, we talked about direct mail enjoying a renaissance. It remains the best medium for cold-call outreach. Email, however, is the most effective way to keep in touch with those whom you have already developed a relationship. Make sure, however, that your emails are mobile-friendly.

Here are some stats that should persuade you of the power of email marketing. The were compiled by Francisco Rosales, founder of SocialMouths, and Niti Shah, head of Email Marketing and Lead Nurturing at HubSpot.

  • 95 percent of online consumers have an email account. 91 percent of consumers check their email daily.
  • 22 percent of emails will not reach the inbox. Compare that with the 74 percent of your Facebook fans who will not even know you posted something.
  • 75 percent of the reach of a Facebook post happens in less than two hours, but an email needs to be actively deleted before its reach terminates.
  • For every $1 spent, the average return on email marketing investment is $44.25. Put another way, email marketing has an ROI of 4,300 percent.
  • 77 percent prefer email to receive promotional content, while only 4 percent prefer Facebook.
  • 66 percent of consumers have made a purchase online as a result of an email marketing message.

But if you’re using an email marketing campaign, make sure it’s optimized for mobile. Shah provided these statistics from 2013:

  • 48 percent of emails are opened on mobile devices.
  • Only 11 percent of emails are optimized for mobile.
  • 69 percent of mobile users delete emails that aren’t optimized for mobile.

Let’s revisit those last three statistics, because they are extremely important. In 2013, 48 percent of emails were opened on mobile devices (that number is likely much higher now). Yet only 11 percent of emails were optimized for mobile. If your emails are not optimized for mobile, 7 out of 10 recipients will delete them – a 70 percent unnecessary failure rate.

Mail programs such as MailChimp and Constant Contact can help make your emails readable on small devices.

Email remains the most effective way to keep in touch with those whom you have already developed a relationship. Email has a high open rate and a high ROI–as long as it’s mobile friendly. Do not use email to attempt to reach those you do not have a relationship with. That’s called spam. For cold-calling, direct mail still is your Number 1 medium.

Any questions? Contact us.

(Photo credit: © Can Stock Photo Inc. / Fisher Photostudio)


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English Tips: The principled Klingon cow

Communicate for Success—English Tips, Vol. 7

Klingons and cows are not known to be uniquely principled, whether or not their days are numbered. Those are the concepts we explore in this edition of English Tips.

Communicate for Success word cloud taken from Consistent Voice Communication's web home page and created with tagxedo.comThe principled principal—A principle is a fundamental law, truth, rule, or other abstract ideal. Principal means first or foremost, and refers to a person, place, or thing. If you remember that a pal is solid, you’ll use principal for the solids and principle for the abstracts.

Criterion is one in Klingon—Actually, it’s the singular of criteria. One can never have one criteria, as criteria is defined as two or more. A Klingon and Romulan walk into a bar. That’s a criterion for war.

Amount’s days aren’t numbered—Use “number” or its derivatives when the items in question can be counted. Use “amount” when the number is unknowable.

She’s unusually unique—To be unique is to be one-of-a-kind. To be unusual is to be rare. Few things are unique, so its use should be unusual. Alas, it’s not.

It’s the first annual cow-tipping competition, but another won’t pop up until the cows come home—An event is not annual until it repeats at least once the following year. Otherwise, it’s the inaugural event. Moo on that one.

More to come. Be sure to follow my blog so you don’t miss any. Or click on the archive link below. Have a question about the English language? Ask it in the comments section.


English tips archive


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See you on the other side of the dictionary.

English tips: Are you piqued when you peek at the peak?

Communicate for Success—English Tips, Vol. 6

Today is our homophone edition, words with similar sounds but different spellings and meanings. Here are five you need to be aware of.

Communicate for Success word cloud taken from Consistent Voice Communication's web home page and created with tagxedo.comLoose, lose—Only a loose loser confuses the two. “Lose” is the verb of the noun lost. “Loose” is an adjective meaning “not constrictive.” “I may lose my keys because of my loose pants.”

Peaked, peeked, piqued—A “peak” is a high point. To “peek” is to take a quick look, often surreptitiously. To be “piqued” is to be annoyed. “I was piqued when I peeked at the peak.”

Then vs. than—“Then” denotes time. “Than” compares. “I would rather have an orange than a pear. Then, I will eat my apple.”

Compliment vs. complement—If something “complements,” it completes or goes well with something else. A “compliment,” on the other hand, is praise or flattery. “I complimented her on her complementary accessories.”

Where, we’re, were, wear—“Where” is a place. “We’re” is a contraction of “we are.” “Were” is the past tense of are. “Wear” is to adorn yourself. “Where we were tells a lot about where we’re going and what we’re wearing.”

More to come. Be sure to follow my blog so you don’t miss any. Or click on the archive link below. Have a question about the English language? Ask it in the comments section.


English tips archive


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See you on the other side of the dictionary.

Direct mail marketing enjoys renaissance

Arrows in a bullseye on a mailbag. © Can Stock Photo Inc. / tashatuvangoDo you think direct mail marketing is a dinosaur in the age of digital media? If it was, why would online giants Google and Apple routinely send out direct mail solicitations? Laurie Beasley, founder and president of Beasley Direct Marketing, Inc., argues that “direct mail is going through a renaissance.”

Beasley’s contention is backed by the numbers. According to the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), 79 percent of respondents to its survey used direct mail campaigns, comparable to the 83 percent who used email campaigns.

DMA also contends that 65 percent of consumers of all ages have made a purchase as a result of direct mail. That includes Millennials. I know when I bring in the mail, my Millennial daughters are right there to see if anything is addressed to them.

Direct mail also has a higher rate of return than social media or email. In 2012, Direct Mail News reported the average response rates to direct mail were 4.4 percent, while those from email solicitations were 0.12 percent.

Here are other reasons to consider direct mail as part of your marketing package:

  • A $167 expenditure per person on direct mail results in an average of $2,095 of sold goods, or an ROI (return on investment) of a whopping 1,300 percent.
  • Direct mail has a longer shelf life than email.
  • Research shows that print media leaves a greater impression than electronic media.
  • Postcards have the highest read or scan rate of direct mail pieces, according to the U.S. Postal Service.

Direct mail has also taken advantage of new technology, allowing it to be more reactive and creative than in days of old. Beasley offers an example:

“American Signature Furniture once conducted a test, sending a self-mailer to people who visited a showroom but did not buy. The mailer included the customers’ names and the name and contact information for the sales rep who served them, as well as the date and time of the visit. Photos displayed the styles they considered during their visit to the store.

“Results were impressive. People who receive the mailer and return to purchase spend about 40 percent more than those who did not receive the mailer. The reminder also boosted return visits to the store by 10 percent.
So don’t take a meteor to your direct mail campaign. It hasn’t gone extinct and probably never will.

Contact us to help you design and implement your direct mail campaign.


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