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Month: February 2017

GUEST POST: Becoming a Freelance Writing Consultant

Freelance Writing ConsultantIt is estimated that 34% of the U.S. workforce is made up of freelancers. Many freelancers have found ways to go from gig to full-time work, while others stay part-time while juggling other responsibilities. What typically differentiates a freelance writing consultant from early career freelancers is that these consultants typically already have experience in their field. The consultant will then use that knowledge for the benefit of their clients.

The current freelance economy is thriving, and is made up of 53 million U.S. workers. Becoming a freelance writing consultant is a great option for those seeking to supplement their existing income and expand their writing experiences. This can include doing typical freelance work, ie, “I assign you a project and you complete it,” but can also involve offering career advice and professional guidance.

The simplified process is as follows:

  • Market your best skills
  • Successfully complete projects
  • Build momentum through positive feedback
  • Consistently hone your skills

Say for example that you’re a editor by day for a book publisher and you’ve been doing this for several years. To someone who is just starting out writing and editing, your professional expertise can be valuable…and lucrative. Whatever skills you possess or unique talents you have on your side, you can advertise these in order to gain clients.

If you’re pursuing freelancing on the side of a full-time job, it can be difficult to maintain motivation unless you break any cycles of procrastination. Being a self-starter is a required trait to be successful as a freelance writing consultant. In addition to building up your reputation, succeeding as a freelancer will help you build the confidence you need to persist even when times are lean.

There are several ways to go about offering your services. You can use freelance marketplaces like Upwork, network through LinkedIn, build your own website, or do some combination of these three. Whichever method you use, the important thing is to present yourself professionally and demonstrate your skill set. This isn’t a passive process however. Networking is necessary if you want potential clients to discover you. As you successfully complete projects and help your clients achieve their goals, positive word-of-mouth will help you build momentum.

A challenging yet rewarding aspect of owning your own consultancy is the administrative upkeep necessary. Running your own business means you must take care of your own taxes, invoices, and the rest of the paper trail. Fortunately there are many helpful resources that will teach you how to do this and even offer sample templates that you can adapt for your own purposes. Before tax season rolls around you’ll want to have all your financials in order. Keep meticulous physical or digital records, and ideally back-up those files. Though if the worst happens and the digital dog eats your homework, you can often still recover that data from failed storage devices and hard-drives. Be thorough and document everything, or back-up your files on cloud-based programs like Google Docs or Spreadsheets.

Thriving as a freelance writing consultant is hard work, yet the freedom and experience you can gain is often worth it. You don’t need to be a world-renowned expert to share your abilities and make a difference in the lives of your clients. Put your best foot forward, always keep improving your skills, and you’ll be well on your way to establishing yourself as a professional writer. Like Hemingway said, “let them think you were born that way.”

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Why I Bother to Write Fiction at All

There are times when I realize fiction is really hard work. It is perhaps the most time consuming of things that I do in the writing and publishing world, and if you work out the pay by the word or the hour, there are plenty of other ways to make more money writing.

At the same time, I love it. I am a born storyteller. Every article I write, every blog I post is a story of some sort. Even marketing materials take the reader on a journey, if a short one. The reader has a problem, and the writer leads them on the journey to solve it, even if it is as mundane as someone with dirty clothes looking for the best laundry soap to get them clean.

But every now and then, a reader or reviewer reaches out, and when you hear or read that your words, the story you have told, touches someone, you pause and realize those words, those touched lives, are why you do what you do. It is worth all of the pain, the hours of writing and editing that go into producing a book.

It happened to me again recently, when I got a notification of a five-star review of my Kindle short, The Angel. The reviewer said simply this:

“I’ve suffered several tragedies in the last few years. I thought I had dealt with each loss in turn. Yet Lambert’s prose is so deceptively innocent that shines a light on any darkness lurking on the fringes of your consciousness. I found the message of The Angel stayed with me for days.”

Her words warmed my heart. They made me smile in all the right ways. There was more, too. You can read her full review here. https://findingmeinwords.wordpress.com/2017/02/27/the-angel/

I write stories so not only will they be read, but the world will be changed for the better because they have been told. I have not always been successful in achieving that goal. Sometimes a story is just a story.

But The Angel was different. It was special to me and still is. When I read Hans Christian Anderson’s poem “The Dying Child” I knew it had to be a part of this.

When we read, we do so for many reasons. We want to feel, we want to escape, we want to travel to other places. But sometimes if I can make you feel the warmth of the sun on your skin, if the light that shines from my stories can dispel the darkness in you at all, it is worth it.

That is why I write stories. That is why I bother to write fiction at all. Because words can change the world, even if only the world of one person, and only for a moment.

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Taxes for Authors: Before You File and the Year Ahead

I’m not an accountant, but I have seen the movie and written about a few in my books. Not that any of those things make me an expert, but I have filed my own taxes as a freelancer and author for the last 10 years or so, and for five of those I had no “traditional income” from an employer: I started with only stacks of 1099 forms and a list of business expenses.

Before you panic thinking I am going to launch into some professional jargon, don’t. I’ve got some solid, simple advice for you that might affect how you file this year, and will certainly affect how you look at the year ahead.

Get Organized

This used to mean getting out a shoebox, or a file box if you were really organized, and labeling and cataloging your receipts. It also meant sitting down with 1099’s and your company books and totaling up your income. Much of this can be done digitally now but gathering all of your data into one place is still a necessary task.

Note that small businesses have longer to file than individuals, and even though your individual return is actually the same as your small business return, you can take advantage of these extensions if you need more time to get your paperwork together,

Tracking Expenses

You sit in front of a computer all day, and that computer should do some work for you. You should use a single debit or credit card (or a combination of the two) for business expenses. You can then use an accounting program that will track and categorize your expenses for you. These programs are not 100% accurate, so you should check them monthly to make sure expenses are properly labeled, but you can keep the manual tracking you have to do to a minimum.

You can then export these into a spreadsheet to share with your accountant or import them directly into your tax software when tax time comes around.

Where You Work

There are many different places you can work if you are an author or freelancer, from coffee shops and libraries to your own office at home or outside of your residence. When choosing where you will do your work, taxes should factor into it.

Home: Even if you work at coffee shops and libraries, you should also have a home office if possible. For one thing, you will be more productive in a structured environment, even one you have created yourself. The second is that you can write off a part of your expenses including mortgage, rent, and utilities as business expenses.

A few things you should keep in mind about your office expenses, especially if you are a new homeowner:

  • Don’t Overspend. You may be tempted to buy a new desk and totally revamp your office, but not only are you limited on how much you can deduct, but you also need to stay within your business budget. Resist temptation and be patient, doing things as you can afford them.
  • Get Good Insurance. You will need good renters insurance that is enough to replace all of your items in case something goes wrong. Be sure you have enough in savings to cover the deductible so you can get back to work as soon as possible.
  • Save for Unexpected Expenses. Just as your household budget should include emergency savings, so should your business account. This should be enough to cover your operating expenses including the salary you pay yourself for approximately three months.
  • Keep Records of Everything. Printer ink. Paper. Batteries for your mouse and other computer accessories. Carpet cleaning and other cleaning supplies. Upgrades to furniture and decorations. All of these are deductible.

Even though you should be careful not to overspend, once you do undertake improvements and remodels, be sure to take advantage of the tax benefits that offers.

Commercial Space: Some freelancers do not work as well at home and find it to be distracting. You can office share or use other creative ways to rent your own commercial space. The best thing about a commercial office is that all of those expenses are deductible, and they are easy to keep separate. Remember to include all of the expenses related to an outside office when doing your taxes, including your commuting time and mileage.

Health Insurance Coverage

One of the toughest things about being an author or a freelancer ins finding and keeping health insurance, especially if you are not covered by a spouse or significant other. You have a couple of choices.

Individual Coverage: You can use an insurance agent or even on your own search for individual coverage. With the ACA, there are some tax credits available if you do so, but that may change under the current administration.

This is still more expensive than group coverage, but you can choose if you want a lower premium and a higher deductible plan supplemented by a health savings account, or a more traditional insurance plan with co-pays and lower out of pocket costs in the case of an emergency.

Group Coverage: Even if you do not have a regular employer, you can find group coverage. One of the best places to compare coverage and options for writers is Freelancer’s Union, although they do not have coverage in every state. However, there are insurance co-ops for contractors and other self-employed individuals, and you should search for those in your area.

Google has shut down its insurance comparison tool because it was not working well, but there are dozens of other places to compare insurance coverage, including healthcare.gov and private insurance comparison tools.

Retirement

As a self-employed person, you need to provide your own retirement. You don’t have the benefit of an employer matching your contributions, but you should still donate the maximum amount allowed each year into a 401 K of some sort. You can choose either a Roth or a traditional IRA, depending on how old you are when you start, and what you anticipate you will need to retire and maintain the lifestyle you want.

Since you are self-employed, limits are higher for you as you can contribute as both your employer (since you employ yourself) and as an employee. Be sure to factor in these limits when deciding how to handle your taxes.

These contributions are tax deductible, as are other investments. A large consideration of how you invest for your retirement will depend on your tax situation, and how much you can afford to put towards it. Remember that as a freelancer, you will have to pay your own social security as well, and because you do not have an employer matching your costs it will be more expensive.

Tax Savings Accounts

More than likely you will owe taxes at the end of the year no matter how diligent you are with deductions, investments, and savings. To prepare for this, you need to have a tax savings account. You should save approximately 30% of your income, and make quarterly estimated tax payments. The self-employment tax is the combination of social security and medicare that an employer would normally contribute to you paying and is 15.3%. This is separate from income taxes, which is why you should save 30%.

The IRS demands that taxes be paid on money when it is made, so if you fall behind on quarterly payments not only will you have a huge bill at the end of the year, but you also may face penalties for not paying on time.

There are countless other tax tips and deductions for freelancers, but these are a few of the more common and often overlooked ones. As you prepare for tax time, be sure you are organized and know all of the deductions you have a right too.  Use what you learn from preparing for your taxes this year to plan for next year.

While doing taxes is not fun, having a solid tax plan is essential to having a profitable business and being an effective entrepreneur.

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Why Self-Editing is Not Enough

Double commas. Simple typos. A word that is not misspelled, per se, but is just in the wrong place.

Software grammar checkers like Grammarly are getting better all the time, but we as humans keep thinking of ways to trip them up. Microsoft Word is even getting better without the Grammarly plugin, but it still misses things from time to time. That is because it uses a machine learning program: it learns from us as we type, tell it to ignore certain issues or add words to our personal dictionaries.

Google docs have another delightful feature: the dictionary will even correct the spelling of celebrity or popular athlete names, just as if you had searched Google for them. Once again, machine learning and an enormous database mean spelling and grammar correction is getting better all the time.

But it still isn’t human. Sometimes sentences are too long, or the word order just does not make sense. You are not clearly getting your point across.  This is where a human editor comes in.

Think of your story, or your article, or whatever you have written as a fire. When you created it, you created a lot of smoke. An editor’s job, really, is to clear away all of the smoke. The problem is, since you created it, you often don’t see the smoke yourself.

Repetitive Words and Phrases

As writers, no matter what level your experience, we tend to repeat words in close proximity to one another. “That” is extremely common, and most of the time unnecessary. But we repeat other words, like the phrase “as well” or “in light of.” We often use “though” and “however” much too often and too close together, especially in non-fiction.

You can catch these when doing self-edits, but it takes a conscious effort. Often, if you read your work aloud or have it read to you by a program like Natural Reader, you will notice your mistakes before you submit your piece or publish that blog post.

Someone else reading your work will probably catch the error right away. They can then flag the word for you so you can substitute a synonym or somehow reword your sentence to eliminate it.

Word Blindness

Sometimes we use the wrong word in place of the one we actually want. But when we read over our own work, we see the word we meant to put there. This is called being word blind and is why editing and proofreading by another set of eyes is so critical.

The editor will see the wrong or odd word usage even when software does not catch it. These types of errors not only make you look unprofessional in some venues, but they often throw the reader out of your narrative, making them wonder what you meant.

Clarity

A software grammar checker can tell if your grammar is wrong (sometimes) or if your spelling is off (most of the time) but it does not know the point you are trying to get across.

Hopefully, your work makes enough sense and you have structured it in a way that your editor can tell what information or plot point you are trying to convey. If not, and editor can simply say “I don’t get it. What do you mean by this?”

So far, software editors, at least those available to the general public, are not able to do this effectively. As machine learning matures, they may get better, becoming very IBM Watson-like in their evaluation of your work.

Until then, and maybe even then, you need another set of human eyes on your work, one that will see your repetition, decipher your word blindness, and help you clarify your language.

Self-editing is not enough. You need an editor, someone to take an objective look at your work with a fresh perspective. It is one of the many ways to make your work the best it can be.

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5 Steps in Building A New Website


Typically, building a new website is something that, at least initially, you can do yourself. At some point, you will probably need at least a little help, unless you do this for a living. In which case, good for you. You can skip this post.

But if you are an author or you just want to start a blog with your own domain name rather than a generic Blogspot or WordPress, or you have a small business and want to have a solid online presence, read further.

Planning

Probably the most important thing to have before you start to build your new website is to have a plan. The plan should involve a few simple things:

Your Name. Even if you don’t plan to build a website right away, you should snag your name as soon as possible, if it is available. What do I mean by your name? I mean firstnamelastname.com. If that is not available because you have a common name, you can add what you do, like troylambertwrites.com or add an underscore or your title to the end of your name, such as firstname_lastname.com.

It is the same if you are looking at the name of your business. Also, to protect your name, you may want to buy more than one domain, including the .org, .net, and other extensions, then redirect them to your primary site.

A Subject Matter. Your website needs to be about something. What do you write about, or will your site be about writing? What does your business do? Need ideas? Try this:

  • What do the protagonists in your books do? What are their hobbies and what do they do for a living? Would your readers be interested in learning about those things?
  • What hobbies do you have that might relate? You do things besides writing, right? What are they, and how can you make them interesting to your reader?
  • What is your emotional biography? Not your normal bio, this is about you. How do you feel about life? Writing? Current events? (Avoid being too political or religious)

There are thousands of other things you can write about related to you or your work, even if you run a business. Attorney and dental websites can be full of rich content, but you need the next step to get there.

A Content Strategy. A strategy is just that, a road map. It describes where you are and where you want to go. Your content strategy is not just to sell books. That will be a byproduct of a good content strategy for a writer.

So what should your strategy be? That depends on what you want to write about and what you want your new website to do for you. Do you want to use it to connect with other writers? With readers? With both?

Do you want readers to get to know you and your characters? Do you want to use it to keep them up to date? What is your content going to inform them about?

Once you have a content strategy, plan out your blog posts for at least a few months. Plant titles and subjects. You don’t have to write them all at once, as long as you have a plan for what you will write. Your plan, of course, can be flexible. But having a target and a blog strategy will help you be consistent.

Choosing A Host

Once you have a content plan in place, you need to pick a host. You can do this at one of two times: you can do it when you buy your domain name, or you can do it now. Your host is the server or group of servers where your website lives. Think of it this way: the cloud is not really a cloud, it is someone else’s computer.

There are a number of host options, from small to large and expensive to cheap. Overall, you will probably spend close to the same no matter where you host your site, it will just depend on the special deals they are offering at the time how that cost will be broken down.

Speed and reliability are the most important things to look at besides customer service. Finding the best web hosting company for you just involves some shopping around and looking at features.

Picking A Website Builder

There are also a number of ways to construct your website and run your blog. My favorite is WordPress, even though it is actually a content management system (CMS) it is one of the more robust ways to build a website. It can be used by beginners and professionals alike, and some of the biggest and best sites you see are WordPress based.

There are other platforms that are equally as good. The more you know and research about what website builder you are comfortable using, the better. Even if you have someone else construct the site for you initially, you will have to do a lot of the work unless you are going to pay someone for everyday tasks like simple updates or posting blogs.

You can learn almost any website builder, but having one you are comfortable with from the beginning certainly helps.

Designing Graphics, Logos, and Banners

At first, stock photos and graphics will be okay, but to make your site look more professional, you will probably need to hire someone unless you are a designer yourself.

This means you need to select what your site would look like, using a theme. You can then work with the designer once you know the size of the banners you need and what you want your logo to look like.

Unless you have experience in this area, don’t do this yourself. Beware of deals on Fiverr and other such sites: often you get what you pay for. Reliable designers like EJR Digital Art are good to work with and priced reasonably.

Backing Up Everything

Once you have taken all the time to create a great looking website and a whole bunch of content, you need to protect it. Not only should you have good security but you should plug ins in place, but you need to have a data backup and recovery plan.

While most websites have backups of their own, if for some reason your host were to fail, you too should have a backup of your site. It should not only be stored on your hard drive, but stored in the cloud as well.

Do backups regularly. Any data, changes, or posts not in your backup will potentially be lost. Your writing may not be a large business, but time and effort put into recovering your website, not to mention the time it is off line will cost you.

Ready, Set, Go

Of course, all of these tips are general advice. There is a ton of material out there about the details of each step. But if you are a writer or a small business on the fence about creating a website, these are some ideas about how to get started.

Your presence and reputation on the internet is one of your most precious assets, and building a website it just the first of many steps in the process of developing it, growing in, and guarding it.

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