Ask Me Anything: Subscriptions, Corporate Writing, Pricing and More

Myscha Theriault asks,
how do you keep track of due dates on customers on a subscription plan when auto billing isn’t an option?

The mechanics of due dates can be tough: for my clients who I bill on a monthly basis, I actually have reoccurring tasks to remind me to bill them every month on the correct date. That approach works best is we’re talking about less than twenty clients or customers, though. It quickly gets unwieldy when you’ve got more. Many types of bookkeeping software give you the ability to create invoices that reoccur each month, putting you in a position where you just have to go through your invoices regularly and let your customers know when they need to be getting that check in the mail. How often depends on your billing cycle — if everyone is on a different cycle, you need to check in on a daily basis. I know Quickbooks has this functionality, because that’s what I use. I believe Outright does as well (disclosure: I write for Outright’s site).

One relatively simple solution is to tell subscribers that, no matter when in the month they sign up, their subscription comes due at the first of each month. That option doesn’t work quite as well for yearly subscriptions, but it can reduce paperwork for anything shorter.

Mark Crump asks,
What’s the best way into corporate writing gigs?

Most of my corporate writing gigs have come about through networking. While a company will go looking for a freelancer or contractor to hire, for most creative projects, they start by looking at the individuals and companies someone in the office already knows. That is just as true for blogging gigs as writing annual reports. It’s worth noting that the better your network, the higher the rates you can charge, as well.

I’d recommend first getting your portfolio in order. Even if you have to create assignments for yourself, you need a top-notch portfolio. After all, you can’t very well tell a new contact that you’ll send over your portfolio to give him an idea of the sort of work you do if you don’t have a portfolio. Your second step needs to be figuring out where your ideal clients are hanging out. That can mean getting to know them online, as well as going to networking sessions. It can be very useful to get out and actually meet the people you want to work with, although I know that I, like many other writers, prefer not to leave my hidey-hole. Either way, you have to look as professional as possible. In terms of corporate opportunities, the final decision is made based on both who you know and what they think of you.

A shortcut to connecting with the right people is to be able to talk up what you do. Write copy for websites? You should be able to strike up a casual conversation at an event about why copy needs to be updated regularly — the sort of conversation that ends with you being able to tell your new friend that you feel so strongly about copy writing because it’s your profession. By the way, here’s your card and you’d be happy to continue the conversation at a later date. You don’t have to sell during your first introduction. Rather, you need to show that you know your stuff and you’re always happy to talk about the opportunities out there.

Matt Willard asks,
I’d ask if you know other ways I can make product interesting so people talk about it.

A little background: Matt is a comedy writer who offers up comedic videos, commentaries over movies and similar projects. There’s definitely intrinsic entertainment value. The tough issue with comedic products of any kind always seems to come down to marketing. The most effective methods I’ve seem come back, time and time again to engaging your audience — convincing them to take action and involve themselves in your product. Once they have a stake in your product, they’ll want to tell all their friends.

I think The Oatmeal is a particularly good example of how this approach works. The site has plenty of comedic material, but the pages that I see passed around are, more often than not, the quizzes. Readers go through the quizzes, laugh quite a bit and suddenly want to know how their friends stack up on questions like “How long could you survive chained to a bunk bed with a velociraptor?” The quizzes are all ridiculous, but by taking them, readers suddenly become stakeholders in passing them around. They have an interest in seeing their friends read the site.

You don’t have to use quizzes, of course — rather, it’s the involvement that you’ve got to focus on if you want readers to feel like they’ve absolutely got to send your products on to their friends.

Leigh Macdonald asks,
What is/are the best source(s) for researching proper pricing structures on a variety of writing projects?

Pricing is one of the toughest questions out there, because the amount you need to earn can involve some personal variables — and your experience and expertise can add in additional factors. I’d suggest using the EFA’s editorial rates as a starting point — but not as the end all and be all of your pricing structures. The EFA bases its common editorial rates on surveys within its membership. However, I’ve seen plenty of freelancers charging more. I’d be reluctant to go much below their rates, however.

I’d also suggest taking a look at Freelance Switch’s Hourly Rate Calculator to see how much you need to be earning from your work (disclosure: I write for FreelanceSwitch). No matter how high your rates go, you need to at least use the amount that you need to support yourself and any dependents from the start.

Leigh Macdonald asks,
Told I need a #publicist. Still new to biz, & want a smart person/company I can stick with. Which skills/traits are most important?

Leigh has a blog which she’s expanding and plans to monetize. For this sort of project, the important skills and traits revolve around online media: who can help you connect to bigger name bloggers, get your posts passed around and so on. I’d actually recommend starting with a virtual assistant, rather than jumping to a publicist. A virtual assistant is less expensive (which is certainly nice) and you’ll find that many VAs now specialize in social media. A good VA can help you build the connections you need, promote your posts and do all sorts of nuts and bolts tasks if you’re able to provide a little direction.

As you grow, you may find a full-fledged publicist more useful. You’ll want to look at potential publicists’ online presences (at least when you’re working on promoting a blog). After all, if they aren’t visible online, they may not be able to do much for you. Additionally, looking at who they interact with on various social networking sites can help you get an idea of a publicist’s reach — another important quality.

Got a question about the business side of writing? Leave it in the comments and I’ll answer it next week.

4 Comments

  1. Matt Willard   •  

    Kinda wish you added a few pronouns into my Twitter status to make it legible, but whatever :V What you advised is something I’ve seen mentioned in some of the marketing books I’ve been reading lately, like “Word to Mouth Marketing”, “Twitterville” and what have you. I’ve seen this come to play a lot with guys like Stephen Colbert, too – one of the reasons he’s so popular is that he sets up a lot of stuff for his fanbase to do. I’ll take your confirmation of this fact as a sign that it’s the right course of action after all 😉 I’m definitely going to work on finding ways for my own fanbase to get involved in what I do. Thanks for the tip!

  2. Whalen   •  

    What’s the best tax resource you’ve seen for “Independent Contractors”?

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