You’ve probably heard about SEO—search engine optimization. If not, the (very basic) description is that it’s a set of evolving best practices to “optimize” your web presence (usually at least your website) so that it ranks higher on search engine results based on “your” key words or phrases. For example, if you own a dog grooming business in Dallas, one of your key phrases is probably “dog grooming Dallas”. Potential customers Google (since Google is the most popular search engine in the US) “dog grooming Dallas” and you want to show up as high on the Google search results as possible. Studies have shown most people only check out the first few links of a search, and most people never look beyond the first page of search results.
However, being an SEO writer is just one of many skillsets an SEO agency or self-described expert should have. There are many aspects to SEO from finding and analyzing keywords to making a website mobile ready, responsive design, page load speed management and so on.
That being said, “Content is king” is the rally key of many SEO pros. Without good, organic, high quality written content with natural keyword placement, SEO just can’t happen.
No Jack of All Trades Will Do
It would be great if you could hire a single person to “do all your SEO”, but that person doesn’t exist. There are creative aspects to SEO, technical aspects, and plenty of mingling in between. It’s very unlikely that you’ll find a high quality SEO writer who’s also an SEO professional who can make your site mobile ready. Those are two very different skill sets—and SEO requires many more than just those two!
Hiring an “SEO Writer” is also different from hiring other types of writers, even including Web Content Writers. SEO writers have a gift of taking keywords and phrases and fitting them seamlessly into quality content. There is an ideal “keyword density” for SEO text that SEO writers can achieve.
The great news for SEO writers, or a writer who wants to become one, is that there is serious job security. Every single business and person with an online presence wants or needs higher SEO rankings. Plus, “their” SEO keywords are always changing. This means virtually endless work that needs to be updated on a regular basis.
And they said you’d never get a writing job with that English degree!
This blog isn’t about Kimye. Cue either relief or disappointment (but if you really need your Kardashian fix, check out Hollywood Life).
Here’s the thing about clickbait: You kind of need to do it, because otherwise even the best content won’t get as many clicks, as much exposure, or as many shares. That being said, there’s a big gray area when it comes to clickbait. There’s sensationalism, and then there’s marketing standard highlighting. Obviously if you choose a title like, “Kim Kardashian Releases New Sex Tape” and the content is jibberish, a sales pitch for a hair transplant company, or features a clip of Kim K. talking about her efforts to get pregnant again in her new season, you’re not just committing libel. You’re also seriously taking “clickbait” too far.
It’s a catch-22 because your clients (and your SEO rankings) want your headlines to draw people in. Unfortunately, in an era where news is reported in real-time and the idea of breaking a story has pretty much died, how can you come out on top? Yes, you need a catchy headline with SEO elements, but what else? Getting someone to click on a link is just part of the process. If you’re offering up offensive clickbait, you’re also going to get a slew of bouncebacks. Ultimately, your SEO won’t improve from such a shortcut.
Walking the Line
Writing great headlines and titles have a lot of “rules” or best practices. You want it short and sweet enough that it won’t get cropped in search results (both on major search engines and on whatever website the story is being hosted on). For awhile people loved lists, even dubbing them listicles. Now a lot of people hate them, so you have a 50/50 split. You also need to create or curate images that are high quality, have SEO elements themselves, and won’t get you into trouble (copyright infringement, anyone?).
Unfortunately for those looking for a shortcut, they simply don’t exist. You might experience short term gains with clickbait and other gray hat tricks (since some clickbait strategies aren’t quite blackhat), but it won’t last forever.
Plus, the average content consumer is getting savvier with clickbait, and they know how to identify it and what it’s called. If you get “caught” by one viewer, your credibility and reputation may get marred. Leave the hyperbole to your fiction pieces. It’s a world where news happens and is reported nearly simultaneously, so it’s not a race to be first or the most outlandish. It’s a competition to see who can offer the best, most thorough, fact checked, edited content with (legal) complementary images.
I created The Jessica Tyner Scholarship Fund before MehtaFor became a full-fledged business. However, the importance of giving back and social responsibility has always been at the heart of MehtaFor. That’s why the Scholarship has always been featured on the website, and I encourage clients and non-clients alike to apply (if they qualify) and to help spread the word.
I’m excited to announce the 2015-16 Selection Committee! Last year, the selection committee was comprised of established fiction writers and poets. This year, I sought out another niche of the literary world, and arguably the most important: Book lovers and readers.
Please welcome Niyomi Mehta, Erin Smith and Alex Smith who have volunteered their time, efforts and unique perspective to help select the 2015-16 recipient(s)! Niyomi is studying Interior Design in Mumbai, India and knows first-hand the challenges facing today’s students. Erin spent years teaching at the university level in Abu Dhabi, and is now pursuing her PhD in Math Education in Columbia, MO. Her husband, Alex, is pursuing his PhD in Special Education.
Without the selflessness of selection committee members, no scholarship (including this one) would exist. Here’s to a successful year…bring on the applications!
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.
Breaking up is hard to do, whether it’s with a love interest or a business client. People tend to hold on to things longer than they should. They cling when the relationship isn’t benefitting them, when it’s not fitting either party, and when it’s obvious ties should be severed. Nobody likes to have “the talk”—and it can be even more nerve wracking when you feel indebted to the other party. I’m no exception.
I’ve continued working for clients even when they still paid me at a rate 50 percent less than my standard. I felt indebted to them because I had worked for them for so long. There was a time, years ago, when our agreed upon rate was fair for my experience. Maybe they gave me a chance in an industry that I didn’t know at all. It’s likely that I “liked” the client and let emotions get involved where they didn’t belong.
As a writer, whether freelance or with your own business, there will come a time when you need to break things off with a client. Don’t linger. The Band-Aid approach is best.
Here are a few clues that the relationship is dead. The sooner you snip off that dead weight, the sooner you open yourself up to more, better, and more lucrative opportunities.
They won’t/can’t meet your current standard rate
I’ve posted about this before, but I highly encourage writers to only charge per word or a flat rate per project based on average word counts. Never charge per hour—but make sure you have a personal “hourly rate” that you “need” to meet in order to grow your business. If it takes you 20 minutes to create a $20 piece, that’s $60 per hour. For some writers at certain points in their career, that’s a reasonable amount.
However, if you have a client or project that ends up paying you anything below $60 per hour, it’s time to call it quits. Otherwise, you’re stalling your career and your revenue.
You dread their projects
There will always be times when you don’t want to write at all, or you don’t want to write for a certain client. However, if this happens every single time you have to write for a specific client, that’s a red flag. You’ve reached burn out and there’s only one cure: Letting them go. Only you can ask yourself if the pay makes it “worth it”. For example, if your minimum hourly rate is that $60 but this client pays $100 per hour, you might think it’s worth sticking around. Or you might not—that’s your call, and only you know what your hour is worth.
They’ve been complaining more often than usual
In my experience, it’s very rare for a client to complain or ask for re-drafts after your initial learning curve. Of course, some clients are more demanding than others. Personally, if a newish client has continual requests for changes, I usually end things right there—it’s clear this isn’t a good match for either of us.
On the other hand, if an existing client starts suddenly requesting more changes, has more complaints, or otherwise is taking up more time than usual, read between the lines. This means one of two things: Either there’s a new manager somewhere in the mix you’re not meshing with (and likely never will), or you’re nor performing like you used to because you’re burned out. Either way, it may be time to move on.
So, how do you break up with a client? There are as many ways to break up with a client as there are to break up with a significant other. Be professional, be clear, and don’t leave any wiggle room. You can certainly come up with an excuse if you like, such as a mysterious new project that will take all of your time, but avoid bridge burning. After all, you never know when that client might come up with a new project that’s more in line with your passion—and pays handsomely.
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 a writer, I find it much more challenging when a client requests “evergreen” content rather than news-related, trending, seasonal or anything other type of content with a short shelf life. However, the term “evergreen” is a bit of a misnomer—kind of like the namesake. Even evergreen trees will eventually fall, whether from disease, natural disasters, logging or lack of nourishment. Nothing lasts forever while remaining relevant, and the written word is no exception. But that doesn’t mean writing evergreen content is pointless.
As a rule, evergreen content should last as long as possible while remaining helpful, entertaining or both. For example, one of my clients that especially likes the evergreen approach is an endodontist (dental surgical specialist). When it comes down to it, the approaches, tools and strategies for dental surgery are “rooted” (couldn’t help it!) in tried and tested approaches. A root canal is a root canal, even if the latest YAG lasers make the process faster and more efficient.
There will always be demand for evergreen content because basic 101, proven best strategies, and “best of” pieces will always have a place in content marketing.
Make it Easier on Yourself
What helps make content “evergreen” in the digital era is the fact that “forever” isn’t quite as long as you think. The odds of a website today holding true for over ten years with largely the same content and layout is slim to none. Businesses close, they get sold, they get re-branded and the owners want an overhaul of the website. This means that evergreen content you’re writing likely has an intended lifespan of one to five years. That’s a much more feasible goal than forever.
However, you never really know when a website could stick. When writing evergreen content, avoid citations that will date the content. If there is a bunch of links or mentions of 2015 throughout the article, how’s that going to look in 2016—or 2018? The only time dates should be included is when they’re already settled in the past, such as the year the first porcelain veneer was created (it was 1928 for those gearing up for trivia night).
If you’re a writer asked to pen evergreen content, steer clear of breaking news, trending items, or just about anything that will date your piece. This is a time to cover the basics, provide a refresher course on the subject, or delve a little into history. Get as much information as you can from the client, because they might have a very different idea of “basic” pruning, home staging, re-upholstering, or whatever other niche they may be in than you do. Your best source of information with evergreen content is, well, the source. Make use of it so you and the client will be happy with the results.
I’ll admit it—up until a couple of years ago, I depended heavily on Craigslist for writing gigs. I dabbled in some other sites as well, but CL remained a staple in my writing bid diet. In fact, it’s where I found my very first freelance gig (which showed me you really can make a decent living as a writer!). However, the underbelly of CL is also well known, but don’t think it’s the only platform where you’ll get crazy clients, non-paying clients, and clients who think writers are automatically also graphic designers, website developers and basket weavers.
Luckily, I’m now at the point where I’m not accepting new clients (and the most recent ones all came from existing client referrals). However, I know that one day I’ll be back on CL bidding on projects and sending writing samples for new gigs and contracts. That’s the nature of writing for a living. I’ve learned a thing or two in my years of CL work and can spot a red flag like a pro now.
Here are some of the most common to watch out for as a writer looking for honest work:
“You’ll be the first batch of writers to get paid when the website starts making money!”
If you’re a professional writer, that means you get paid for your work. Period. It’s not contingent on whether your client makes money, their website makes money, or what their financial situation is. This is like agreeing to ghost write a book and hoping it’ll sell, making the author millions. That’s not how it’s done.
“No ridiculously high bids!”
Trust me, the definition of low, high, mediocre, fair, and any other word to describe your project rate is highly subjective. It depends on your experience, speed and going rate. If a poster already seems angry about potentially paying a “high price” for a writer, don’t even bother. They might as well say, “I’d prefer a volunteer writer, but will pay you half a penny per word if I really have to.”
“Get in on the ground floor!”
No, thank you. See number one for this blazing red flag.
“Send me a free writing sample and I might contact you.”
In some instances, it’s perfectly reasonable to ask for a sample. However, 99 percent of the time, this should be a paid sample (perhaps not at your going rate, but at least to prove the gig is legitimate). There have been times when I’ve drafted a quick sample for free, but it’s always an intro paragraph or other content that can’t really be used for anything besides a sample. Otherwise, you’re providing free labor.
There’s a picture/logo
I’m sure there are exceptions, but every time there’s a photo/logo on a job ad, the pay has been subpar. I’ve often found these are either really young startups that don’t have the budget to pay professional rates or an enterprise that wants to pay hourly rates (always charge per word/project). In my experience, these posts are always a waste of time.
“Mah grammers bad so i gotta hire a writer asap!!!!”
This isn’t what the ad usually says, of course, but if it’s not professionally written, don’t expect a professional experience. On a related note, if an exclamation is used in the job posting, get ready to deal with a rollercoaster of a client. The red flag should start waving even stronger if they offer a strangely high rate that just doesn’t mesh with the lack of professional presentation.
“Go fill out this online application that’s 20 pages long.”
This can be one of two things: A “test” to see how serious you are or just a means of collecting applications for data usage, reporting, and the like. As a full-time writer, I don’t have the time to jump through those hoops. I’m sure sometimes this approach could work out, but you’d better be pretty certain you’ll get the gig (a perfectly alignment of their demand and your supply) and you should know for a fact that the pay is high before you waste your time.
“Call Billy Bob at…”
You don’t want Billy Bob to have your number. Plus, if someone’s hiring a writer, don’t they want to see their writing chops first (like with an intro email)? I’m all for phone or video “meetings”, but not from the get-go.
“Let me tell you about this horrible experience with another writer…”
You’re not a therapist. If someone’s been burned by another contractor or professional, they shouldn’t be airing their dirty laundry for all to see. This is the same as getting into a relationship with someone who just broke up with their cheating spouse last weekend. You’ll be the one dealing with the fallout.
“I need a writer for something. I’m not really sure what. Let’s collaborate!”
Unless you’re also a consultant, steer clear of these. A client should know exactly what they want from a writer (ahem, it’s writing). Your time is worth money, not just you’re writing. Clients who want to talk, scheme, plan and dream don’t realize that every minute of yours they’re using is your money wasted. They don’t mean any harm, but they’re a leech you can’t afford.
These are just a few to avoid if you want to streamline your writing career and business. Most importantly, trust your gut. It’s always right.
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.