This year’s marketing swag (so far!) has arrived. Men’s dry wick tees and women’s tanks are going out to employees and clients today. Next up? Colored shirts, hoodies and eco-friendly water canteens.
When I was in graduate school (for writing, of course), the department head shared a story of when he used to make big bucks ghost writing books. His anecdote went something like this: “Well before ‘vanity publishing’ was a household phrase, ghost writers were scraping in lofty incomes playing to egos. As a ghost writer, I would always ask the client to meet me in a public place like a small coffee shop. I got there early and set up at a window. My fees for ghost writing a book were the same as the cost of their car. Every time, clients would show up in something like a new 5-series BMW. If they’re willing to spend $50,000 on a car, they won’t think twice about spending $50,000 to immortalize themselves.”
Today, ghost writing isn’t just for books (although that’s still a huge market!). There are ghost writers for blogs, articles, white papers and even social media posts. The majority of my income comes from ghost writing. That’s why I have very few live links featuring my genuine byline—and that’s perfectly fine with me. However, what I find interesting is that, apparently, it’s not acceptable to a lot of writers.
When I’m first negotiating with a new client, the trepidation in their (written) voice is nearly palpable when it comes to bylines. They’re almost always apologetic that my real name won’t be used. Sometimes I’ve even been asked to create a fake bio for pseudonyms (“Larry” was my favorite) and I write as Larrys, Evelyns, Joes and Barbaras. Personally, I don’t care. I’m not getting paid or sought out for my name. I’m getting paid for what I deliver.
When a client pays me for a product or service, the end result is theirs to do with as they wish. This isn’t like writing or publishing poetry, which is what I consider my passion project. The work I get paid for on a daily basis isn’t “my baby” because, quite frankly, I’ve sold that baby to someone else. I was simply a surrogate.
Is Ghosting for You?
Unfortunately, not all writers are ready to “give up the ghost” and they prioritize having their name attached to their work. There are a myriad of reasons for this, and none of them are wrong. Maybe they’re attached to their work and can’t bear to let someone else take credit for it. Maybe they’re trying to build their reputation as an expert in search engine optimization, social media, or circus training. Maybe they just don’t think the fees they’re getting paid are worth the value of their words.
However, bear in mind that (much like contracting), you can probably get more money if you let a client use their name (or whatever name they like). What’s more important to you—the income or the credit? It could vary from piece to piece and client to client, but until you’re a thought leader in XYZ field, your worth is likely higher for your writing rather than your name.
I know things have been quiet on the blog front for awhile. I’m in India until February 16 for a formal engagement ceremony (and the Wi-Fi, at best, is ornery!). However, I’m happy to announce that my first bid request for a new project just rolled in on the MehtaFor site! I’ll be hitting the computer clacking when I’m back in the US thanks to my current and potential projects.
Some of you know that MehtaFor transitioned from my “old” website that, quite frankly, was a holding place until some behind the scenes paperwork/deals/etc. were made.
Thank you to everyone who helped make the soft launch of MehtaFor successful. I plan to roll out the “official” launch by the end of February!
As an entrepreneur, small business owner, freelancer-writer-who’s-actually-making-money, where your business is established (or where your permanent residency is) matters. A lot. In the US, there are various pros and cons state by state. There are a few states with zero income tax at all—which means you only pay federal tax (not state). This can make or break a small business, especially when you compare the nine percent income tax in Oregon to the zero percent in Washington State (for those of you not in the Pacific Northwest, Portland, Ore. and Vancouver, Wash. are just a few minutes away. It’s also why my residency is in Washington).
There are other states like Nevada and Delaware that offer the same zero-tax allure. However, it’s not just income tax rates (or lack thereof) to consider. The “richer” a state is, the more support for entrepreneurs you’re likely to find. California, even with Silicon Valley hanging on for dear life, is a notoriously broke state with high income taxes. The cost of living in startup-rich areas is also through the roof. Then there’s the sales taxes (as an Oregonian, I have to toot our “no sales tax” status here).
Planting Business Roots
I’m just using California as an example, and this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider the Golden State for your startup. Maybe it’s necessary that your tech-based startup is close to some of the best talent in the industry. Perhaps your partner is finishing a graduate program, has a geo-based job they adore, or you’re committed to taking care of an aging parent. Where you establish your business/residency should be a priority—but it’s not the only one.
However, for the entrepreneurs with few strings and commitments, there’s also the option of moving abroad. I personally have enjoyed “foreign income exemption” three times in my life while living in the UK, South Korea and Costa Rica. This is a means of legally avoiding the majority of federal taxes and income taxes via becoming an ex-pat. Of course, there are rules.
Traveling Abroad? Try Living Abroad!
The US has agreements with a number of countries in order to avoid doubly taxing American business owners. The idea is that you pay taxes in your adopted country (the rates, means of doing so, regulations and details are up to you and your CPA to figure out), which takes the place of most US federal taxes.
By being outside the US 330+ days per year, it doesn’t matter if you live abroad and 100 percent of your clients are in the US. You’re considered an ex-pat with residency in another country, and the only federal taxes you have to pay are Social Security and Medicare (there’s absolutely no getting around these) up to a certain point.
Nothing Certain in Life but Death and Ta—Actually, Just Death
There’s a cap on how much of your total income is exempt with this maneuver, but in 2014 it was $94,500. That’s a pretty big chunk of your income to avoid the majority of taxes. Plus, play your cards right and you can find a country that’s paradise to you with seriously low cost of living. With the influx of virtual offices, you can earn an American salary (with US clients) while taking advantage of a cost of living on par with what your parents recall from their childhood.
No matter where you establish your business and/or residency, don’t let convenience dictate what you do. Do the research, consider the possibilities, and work with a reputable CPA to map out the best plan for you.
As writers, we’re cloaked in stigmas, myths, stereotypes and clichés—and like it or not, it’s our responsibility to dispel them, break them, and project a professional image that counteracts negative connotations. I’ve personally known some writers who used their profession or hobby to excuse alcohol/drug abuse, not supporting themselves financially, or as a dictation of their moods (They got published? They’re flying high. They got a rejection letter? It’s going to suck to be around them for the next two weeks).
I’m not saying I’m immune to this, either. “Writers have issues.” “Writers need inspiration to work.” “Writers are moody.” It’s kind of like blaming your Zodiac sign on a personality trait, characteristic, or bad behavior—when you can shift the blame to something beyond yourself, it’s pretty easy to indulge guilt-free.
Here are some of the classic writer stereotypes out there and why they need to go:
- Writers are alcoholics
Some of them are. There are also architects, teachers, full-time parents, police officers and CEOs who are alcoholics. There are even complete books focusing on the relationship between writers and alcohol(ism). However, alcoholism is a disorder (sometimes genetic) that anyone can potentially struggle with. Regardless of whether statistics show writers are more likely to abuse alcohol than other types of profession, that doesn’t make it an excuse.
I’ve personally had people tell me, “You should try writing drunk!” The stereotype that writers are drunks who do their best work under the influence is a dangerous, seemingly accepted idea. Luckily for me, the few times I’ve tried writing after a glass of whiskey (let alone being drunk!), the result was total garbage.
- Writers are depressed/suicidal
You can point to Sylvia Plath, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Mark Twain or a slew of other greats to back up this point. However, depression is becoming a more and more common diagnosis—some say because more people are seeking help and there are better avenues for a diagnosis. Few professions beyond writing encourage people to put their innermost feelings naked on the table for the public to peruse, tear apart, and read into.
Depression is a chemical imbalance that may require medical intervention. It’s not feeding your creativity or writing chops, so don’t think treating it will make you a worse writer.
- Writers are broke
Some certainly are, and there are also broke attorneys, executives, and even movie stars. Your college degree and/or profession won’t dictate your earnings—your ambition will. With a BA in English and a master’s in writing, I was asked one of two questions during my studies: 1) So, you’re going to teach? or 2) What kind of job can you get with that degree? (Don’t get me wrong—teaching is an extremely challenging profession but I have no interest in it or talent with it!).
Fortunately for writers, we’re in the digital era where every single business is realizing they need professional writers. It’s no longer an indulgence or optional. Certain types of writers, like those who specialize in SEO, can earn six-figure salaries. Others go on to start their own content writing business and breach the million dollar mark. Still others are adamant that they’ll make it big selling a screenplay and barely break the $20,000 mark every year while living off their spouse. Success and failure hinges on what you do with your talents, not your talents themselves.
- Writers sleep around
All type of people sleep around—and it’s getting easier and easier with apps like Tinder and hookup sites like Adult Friend Finder or Grindr. This doesn’t mean all people sleep around of course, or that there’s anything wrong with a lot of sex/sex partners if safety and honesty is part of the picture. However, there’s not one “type” of profession that’s more prone to infidelity than another.
But here’s the thing: Writers like to (surprise!) write about their life. Their passion. What enrages them and turns them on. Simply put, writers are more likely to share their sexual stories with the world than, say, a plumber. Unless of course said plumber regularly stars in “I’m here to clean your pipes” type of films.
What are some writer stereotypes you’ve encountered?
“Mobile readiness” is more than just a 2014 buzzword—and it has a lot more staying power than its counterparts like “on fleek”, “bae” and “thot”. Really, it’s just a name given to a movement that’s already arrived, and it’s just what it sounds like. Mobile readiness means that your website or business is “ready” for any mobile device. It sounds pretty simple, but it’s actually a big beast to tame.
Consider how many mobile devices are out there, from smartphones to tablets, and how many will be launching this year alone. Then think about all the mobile devices used around the world, like those multi-million dollar gold-plated phone behemoths in the United Arab Emirates (I’m speaking from astounded personal experience here).
But What the Heck is It?
Ask different experts what “mobile readiness” is and you’ll get a bevy of different responses. However, I’ve found that it generally falls into two categories: A mobile version of a website, an app, or both. I’m also of the camp that considers mobile readiness a sub-category of responsive design (RD). RD is also just what it sounds like: Making sure a website is “designed” so it “responds” quickly and well no matter what device or platform a person is using.
Obviously you want your website to load quickly and display appropriately no matter what. However, that’s getting tougher and tougher with new mobile devices seemingly popping up every day. Plus, mobile users are even more demanding than desktop users! Google researchers recently found that mobile users won’t wait a blink of an eye longer than they deem necessary for a page to load.
Instant gratification. It’s the MO of the mobile world.
So…Am I Mobile Ready?
Maybe. Remember that just because your website looks great on your various gadgets, that doesn’t mean it’s true for everyone else. Try checking out your website on your Chrome browser vs. Internet Explorer (or any other combination) and you’ll easily see there are big differences—and that’s on the same device with the same Wi-Fi! Just imagine how your site might appear to someone with a totally different device using Firefox and relying on dial-up in rural India. Suddenly the need for mobile readiness makes a lot more sense.
There are a few ways to tackle mobile readiness:
- Make sure your website is designed for mobile readiness. Obviously, right? The good news is that platforms like WordPress automatically include responsive design. If you rely on a web designer, you need to have the RD/mobile readiness discussion pronto and find out what they’re doing to ensure a good user experience.
- Check your web host. There’s only so much you or your web designer can do to offer fast loading times. Your web host also plays a role. A lot of people go with the default web hosting option offered when they register their domain. There are thousands of web hosts out there—shop around. (I also write for Hosst, which offers some great tips on web hosting selection).
- Get your images in check. This falls into the overall mobile readiness/RD design aspect, but images that are too big can wreak havoc on your load time. Plus, they might not necessarily be displaying well on mobile devices with small screens.
What About That App and Mobile Website?
Here’s the deal: Not everyone (and every site) needs an app or a mobile version of their website. Only you can determine that, preferably with research and asking your audience what they want. If an app won’t benefit you and nobody will use it, why waste the time and effort on developing one? If a mobile version of your website isn’t more convenient than the “regular” version, why bother?
Responsive design is a must. Mobile readiness is an option. Start with RD, then ask yourself whether mobile readiness will benefit you, your business and your audience.
Working from home and running your own business is worlds away from being allowed to telecommute as a permanent employee. There are a lot of myths about it, rumors swirling, and envious glances when you can make that 10am spin class that nobody else can swing. Is it a dream come true? When I think back to my own days of the daily grind as a worker bee, definitely. I haven’t worn slacks, a suit, or hosiery in years. However, that doesn’t mean working from the couch is always glitters and unicorns, either.
Of course, every small business owner, entrepreneur, and telecommuter will have a different experience. Here are a few of my daily realities—for better or worse:
- The whole yoga pants/work on the couch thing is true
I actually do work from a couch (sorry, ergonomics) in yoga pants most days. In my defense, I’m also a certified yoga teacher and practice on a regular basis. I just don’t get into the whole home office thing. Working from a desk and in an “office chair” just makes it feel too much like I’m working for someone else. Perhaps it was all those years of conditioning that turned me off “an office” for good.
- There’s no such thing as an alarm
The only time I set an alarm is when I have an early morning flight. Otherwise, I’m naturally a morning person, complete with pepperings of insomnia from time to time. My work day usually starts between 5 and 6am and ends around 4 or 5pm.
- Yes, the TV’s on
However, it’s on mute and it’s more for “company” than anything else. Seeing flickers of people and colors peripherally keeps me out of tunnel vision. Plus, I know I should be done with Client X’s work of the day by the time Frasier segues to How I Met Your Mother. And if I don’t have Client Y’x stuff done by the time Grey’s Anatomy is over? I’ll be pulling double duty that day.
- There’s no such thing as leaving work at the office
Even if I had an actual office, this wouldn’t be the case. I have clients around the world. My contact in Thailand regularly sends me requests during her normal work hours, which is the middle of the night for me. When you have a backlog of requests nagging at you on a weekend and you have some down time, it’s easy to think you’re “getting ahead” by squeezing in just a few more articles. In three weeks, I’ll be taking three weeks off (forced without Wi-Fi thanks to rural India). It will be the first time I don’t work for more than one day, consecutively, in five years.
- I set my own schedule (for the most part)
Of course there are deadlines, but here’s the thing: Writers are notoriously flaky (I know, I’ve gone through a laundry list when hiring them myself). That means clients often give me way more time than necessary. Thus, I work when I like, can take any gym class I want, shop in the middle of a weekday, and never have an issue squeezing in appointments.
In the end, there are pros and cons just like any work situation. I don’t miss the commute, the “having” to get ready every day, or the staring contest with the clock when you’re working by the hour. However, the work from home lifestyle isn’t “easy”, either—luckily for me, I just happen to be cut out for it. It’s about finding the best environment, career path, and work style for you (and if yoga pants fit into the picture, that’s all the better).
I’ll admit it—there was a time (cough, early 20s) when I felt like I needed to be “inspired” to write my best pieces. This certainly put a kink in homework for my poetry classes. After all, if I wasn’t “feeling” alliteration or the urge to write my own version of a Robert Frost poem, what was the point? Of course, as a Type-A, I always got it done (and there were some real loser pieces that I hope never see the light of day), but that wasn’t the big issue. The big issue was this: A “real” writer, one who makes a living at it, can’t wait for inspiration or motivation.
On average, I write between 20-50 pieces per day for a variety of clients. I really aim for a five-day work week, so that’s up to 250 unique pieces every single week. With those kinds of numbers, you certainly can’t wait around waiting for the mood to strike. That’s like a prostitute in Nevada (let’s keep it legal) waiting to be in the mood before taking on the next client. They’re not going to be very successful. You need to suck it up, fake it at times, and get it done.
However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some “tricks” (pun a happy accident). Here are my favorite ways to up the motivation:
- Do a quick Google News search
Does your client want a piece about mobile readiness with a link to a site about eco-friendliness? Have you written seemingly thousands of mobile readiness blogs or articles in your career? The best way to get a fresh perspective or cutting edge information is to peruse your favorite news source. Mine is Google for starters. Even seeing a headline can give you inspiration for a fresh new angle.
- Work out
Some of my best ideas have come mid-cardio—which means I always have a means of taking notes when I’m working out. Usually, this is most helpful mid-day right before that staple afternoon slump. The pumping blood, endorphins, change of scenery and adrenaline are a great cocktail for motivation. Plus, it counteracts that poor writer’s posture.
- Work as soon as you wake up
Studies have shown that most people are most productive within the first few hours of waking up. It doesn’t matter if you wake up at 4am sometimes to work (guilty) or noon. Take advantage of your most rested, alert and motivated time of day. This is where procrastinators can get in trouble—so make sure a reward (like breakfast) is waiting after a certain number of pieces are done.
- Track your daily income
Once you know how much you’d like to make per year, break it down by month, week and day. If you need a kick in the pants to power through, track how much you’ve made so far for the day. Suddenly busting out a few more pieces to make that mark is a little easier.
- Do a chore as your “mini break”
I’m a big supporter of mini breaks throughout the day. It helps to rejuvenate your eyes, ensures you’re moving on a regular basis, and basically keeps you from going writer crazy a la Jack Torrance. However, if you work at home and your “break” is something like putting away the laundry, it’s a two-part win. 1) You’re getting a chore done and 2) Suddenly writing one more blog doesn’t seem that bad compared to hanging up your t-shirts.
How do you get motivated as a writer?
Search engine optimization (SEO) is a critical part of any business with an online presence. Unfortunately, the majority of small businesses in the US have no website—even fewer have SEO in place. SEO is an ever-evolving set of best practices that help your website get ranked higher on search engines like Google based on “your” keywords or key phrases. For example, a dog groomer in Portland might have “Portland dog grooming” as one of their key phrases. When someone types that into Google, there’s a reason certain websites come up as the first hit and others come up on page three.
Studies have shown that almost nobody looks beyond the first page of search results. Few people even look past the first few hits. There are many items included in SEO, but content is king. SEO algorithms “want” high quality, unique content with just the right amount of keyword density. There was a time when keyword stuffing (sometimes to such a degree that the content read like nonsense) was a shortcut to boosting your SEO ranking. Those days are over because algorithms are better, and it’s now considered a “black hat trick” and might even result in a Google penalty.
Does your website have the SEO-rich content and other strategies necessary going into 2015? Here’s a checklist to be sure:
- Ditch the black hat tricks
Some website owners embrace black hat tactics and don’t even know it. Others hire an SEO “professional” who try to get away with it. If you get caught by Google, it’s tough to get back in their good graces. Learn the basics of black hat tricks so you know what not to do.
- Revere quality, SEO-rich content
Just like it’s not easy to be a premium website developer or graphic designer, it’s not simple to be a skilled writer with SEO know-how. It’s not enough to just have quality content on your website. You need SEO-rich content to help move up the rankings.
- Speed things up
One of the SEO ranking factors is speed, and there are many factors to consider. Maybe your web developer needs to re-format the images or videos, maybe you need to change web hosts, or maybe responsive design isn’t being taken care of. Google researchers have shown that the average person won’t wait even a blink of an eye (literally) longer than they feel is normal for a site to load. They’re quick to back click.
- Optimize for Amazon
For years, “SEO” and “SEO for Google” have been used interchangeably because Google is the most popular search engine in the US. Even though Google is notoriously secretive about their algorithm, guru-employees like Matt Cutts also dish up plenty of SEO advice. Chances are high that what’s good for Google is good for Bing, Yahoo!, or any other search engine.
But now there’s Amazon. If you’re an e-tailer or you’re connected to Amazon in any way, it’s time to start optimizing for this shopping search engine as well as Google. People search differently on Amazon and have different objectives. Your SEO needs to reflect this.
The best way to do this? Hire a reputable SEO agency. You get what you pay for, especially with SEO. If you have a website that’s not optimized—and you’re on page two for all your keywords—you may as well not be online.
There was a time I paid for everything for my professional site—web development, logo design, professional photos, you name it. I’m not saying that there aren’t fantastic professionals out there who more than deserve their quotes and bids for a job well done. There certainly are, and they certainly do. However, don’t overlook a great barter arrangement when you can swing it.
Bartering: It’s the world’s oldest means of getting and providing services. However, you need to make sure it’s a fair trade. Almost everyone has a marketable skill that someone else wants. Maybe you’re a certified yoga instructor, a contractor, an SEO guru or an amateur photographer with serious skills. What happens when you want a service from a professional outside your skill set? This is the perfect opportunity for bartering.
My Bartering Experience
One year ago, I paid (handsomely) to have a new logo created. I did my research, checked out her online portfolio, and paid the industry standard. However, the end result just wasn’t what I wanted. I’m no graphic designer, so perhaps much of this was my fault. Even as a communicator (writer) for a living, was I just not explaining what I wanted? I didn’t have a specific “look” in mind, but I was open and descriptive in the general theme and look.
However, the end result (to me) just looked amateur, outdated, and not at all how I wanted to represent my business. I accepted it, paid it, and felt like I was playing dress up in someone else’s clothes.
Then I stumbled across a Craigslist post to barter landing page content for graphic design skills.
Just the Right Fit
The logo that I use today (complete with the pen in the “M” of MehtaFor) was designed by Lisa Lynch. You can check out her graphic design chops yourself, as well as her jewelry design. There was never any money exchanged. We both got what we wanted, it was a money saver for both parties—and for me it was proof that bartering isn’t a cheapskate’s way of making something happen.
No matter what your industry, take a look at bartering options and see what’s out there. However, for writers in particular, you already know your skills are in high demand. Why not swap a blog for a massage session, some product descriptions for some free handcrafted goods, or landing page content for complimentary mechanical work?