Ask Me Anything: Taxes, WordPress Plugins, Article Lengths and More

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

When I need tax information, I always start at the IRS’ website. More than once, I’ve seen other websites give out information that directly contradicts the IRS’ policies — and in the event of a problem, who do you think actually matters? The best starting point is the Self-Employed Individuals Tax Center, which is updated regularly as tax regulations change. It may seem a little difficult to go through the legalese that some of the forms use, but the IRS is committed to making sure that you can avoid tax troubles and even has a toll free number you can call with tax questions (800-829-4933).

As your business grows, it’s usually worthwhile to sit down with a CPA at some point, even if you consider yourself ‘just a freelancer.’ Because every person has a different tax situation, a CPA can be the only way to find potential trouble spots, especially with state and local taxes. There just aren’t a lot of great resources on state and local taxes for independent contractors, making it necessary to find a professional who you can rely on.

Rob DeHaven asks,
Are there any workflow plugins [for WordPress] to help manage approval steps and enforce policy for larger blogging staffs?

I rely heavily on the built-in roles WordPress offers to manage approval steps. Because a contributor can only write and submit posts, and not publish them, I will typically use the contributor role for most writers. From there, I (or other stakeholders) can approve the post or send it back. One plugin, WP Status Notifier can be used to notify you when ever a new post has been added. Another useful tool is Single Post Template: creating templates that your bloggers can follow can speed up the process for both of you.

There are quite a few plugins out there that can enforce style guidelines, like Remove Double Space. Where possible, however, I actually try to avoid using such plugins. Too many plugins can, of course, slow down a WordPress-based site, and I’d rather rely on educating my bloggers on policy before relying on technology. I also have brought in a virtual assistant on occasion to handle tasks like reformatting posts.

Rob DeHaven asks,
For small startups with one employee, is it still a good idea to use, “We and Us”?

I’ve actually gotten nasty comments on blog posts in the past where I used ‘we’ and the reader was under the impression that I was talking about just myself and trying to sound important. That said, if you’ve got one employee — other than yourself — you can use ‘we.’ It’s not a bad thing to play up how small your company is if you can put it in a positive context, however: if you offer a very specialized service, maybe you and your employee are the only people out there who can actually do what you do. Exclusivity is never a bad thing.

It’s not necessary (or even helpful) to use ‘we’ and ‘us’ exclusively, though. In blog posts, social media and other situations when you’re working to build a connection with your audience, use ‘I.’ Show there’s an individual there!

Rob DeHaven asks,
Does the length of the article matter?

In high school, I had a teacher who assigned papers but refused to ever give a word count. When asked how long a paper should be, he would ask questions like “How long is a piece of string?” The answer was always, “As long as it needs to be.” That’s an incredibly frustrating suggestion to a high schooler who wants to get the paper done and get on to more entertaining things, but it’s true for most writing.

On the web, you’ll hear a lot of answers about how long an article, a blog post or any other writing needs to be. The fact of the matter is that it depends and there are no hard and fast rules. That said, here’s my approach: Unless I have a very good reason not to, I never write less than 300 words. I don’t have statistics to back me up on this one, but from some experimenting, it seems that articles shorter than 300 words have a harder time of getting picked up by search engines. I don’t think search engines ignore shorter posts or articles, but it seems likely that there’s just not enough there — keywords, links, whatever — to work with for a piece of software with no human judgment.

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

1 Comment

  1. Rob DeHaven   •  

    Thursday,

    Thank you for answering my questions and sorry for the late response. I know as a fellow blogger, we spend time writing articles or answering questions and do not get the comment feedback we expect, or at least I fall into this trap sometimes. Thanks again and hope we see each other next week. 😉

    Rob

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