How to make money writing in a tough economy

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Have you ever wondered about starting your own writing business? Today’s newsletter describes five strategies to help you succeed — despite the economy.

Last week I received an email from a longtime copywriter who told me she’d lost her job. Fortunately, she has just the right attitude. She’s gung ho and cheerful and determined to launch her own writing business.

Say what? Doesn’t she understand that we’re lurking in the land of the R-word? That one with nine letters . . . Anyway, I wrote her back right away to tell her to keep her spirits up. Thing is, tough economies aren’t necessarily a bad time for launching a business. Did you know that LexisNexis, FedEx and CNN all launched during recessions?

You can make money writing during tough times. Here’s how:

1) Think about sales first. Don’t spend your time on the glamour — such as getting a fancy name for your business, setting up a slick website and getting handsome business cards. Instead concentrate on selling. Nothing you do counts as a job unless you’re getting paid for it. Tip: your best way to begin selling your work is through your network of friends. More than 90 per cent of my work has come from people I know well. When you have your first clients, then you can think about casting your net wider. But always start with the people you know.

2) Think about things from the customer’s perspective. Many people who sell think mainly about themselves. If you try to see the situation from the potential buyer’s perspective, you’ll immediately put yourself in a different class. Don’t try to sell yourself as a “fine” writer (that’s all about you). Find a customer problem that can be fixed with good writing. Then propose fixing it.

3) Set goals for yourself. Don’t flop around waiting for the phone to ring. Instead, resolve to make x number of sales calls a day or to spend x number of minutes on marketing. Funnily enough, keeping your eye on the sales/marketing prize will be even harder once you actually get some work. You’ll be busier then, and writing is usually more fun then selling. But stay committed to sales — you want a steady flow of customers.

4) Learn to write faster. OK, at last we get to the writing improvement category. You’re paid for your time, so learn to write more quickly. You’ll make more money that way. And at the risk of sounding ingenuous, may I point out that I offer a book on how to write faster?

5) Measure everything you do. When you measure things, you learn what works. For example, I have a spreadsheet that lists how many people signed up for this newsletter every day since it started in 2006. And I have a spreadsheet recording every book sold. I also document how much time I spend on every client with a piece of software for the Mac called Time Tracker. When you measure what you do, you quickly learn what works and what doesn’t. Then you simply do more of what works. Rinse, lather, repeat.

Times may be tough but you can be tougher. Go for it!

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