Leaving Work Behind

The Best Way to Make Money Blogging (That You’re Ignoring)

Written by Tom Ewer on February 18, 2014. 45 Comments

$20 notesWhen I decided that I was going to quit my job in May 2011, freelance blogging was the last thing on my mind. As is the case with most people, my focus was on creating passive income streams.

Invariably, I failed on that front. After six months of trying and failing, I turned from passive income exploits to freelance blogging — out of sheer frustration more than anything else.

Despite freelance blogging being the reason for me being able to quit my job, I felt for a long time that I’d only carry on with it long enough to get my passive income projects off the ground. My attitude was simple: freelancing was a means to an end — not a long term solution for leaving work behind.

However, my attitude has changed markedly over the past 2 1/2 years. In this post, I want to reveal how freelance blogging has had a more positive impact on my life than almost anything else, and convince you why you should be following in my path.

The Fallacy of Passive Income

Let’s start with one of the most important things you should know about making money online: there is no such thing as “passive” income, and anyone who tells you otherwise is probably trying to sell you something.

“Passive” income implies that you do not have to work for it, when nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, the phrase can only be used in the loosest sense of the term — i.e., you might work very hard up front to produce something that makes money over a period of weeks or months without you having to do too much to sustain that income.

So while the idea of doing no work to make lots of money is an attractive one, it doesn’t exist in the real world. Furthermore, the attraction of spending a great deal of time creating a product that you can then sell in a “passive” manner has been blown way out of proportion.

When it comes to making money, there are only two things you should care about on a fundamental level:

  1. How much money you make
  2. How much work you do to make that money

In my opinion, you can throw issues of passive vs. non-passive income out of the window, because there is a much simpler equation: what makes you more money.

For example, let’s say that Joe has a “passive income” business that makes $5,000 per month and he spends (on average) 6 hours per day maintaining it and creating the products that produce the income. Meanwhile, Jenny is a freelancer, makes $80 per hour and works 3 hours per day. Jenny makes more than Joe while working half the time.

Who would you rather be?

Put another way, if you can make more money from a “non-passive” business, why wouldn’t you go down that road? I know the 4-Hour Workweek approach to life as all the rage, but most of us have a desire to work and won’t necessarily be more fulfilled by working less. I think most people end up discovering that it’s more about finding rewarding work than trying to work as little as possible. That’s why Tim Ferriss doesn’t work four hours per week — on the contrary, he probably works harder than you or I.

A lot of people argue that the key to running a successful business is to disconnect yourself from a direct relationship between your time and income. However, unless you hire enough staff to keep your business running without any of your input (which is one hell of a challenge), your income will always be linked to your time input. It’s unavoidable.

My point is this: the sooner you disconnect yourself from the notion that your input should be far removed from your earnings, the better.

Blogging vs. Freelance Blogging

The world of blogging offers countless examples of how many people are completely lost — to their detriment — in a dream of making passive income. I’ll use myself as an example, and more specifically, Leaving Work Behind’s “passive” income generation.

Since launching this blog it has made in the region of $30,000 (including affiliate income and information product sales). In that time I would estimate that I’ve spent approximately 900 hours working on the blog (about an hour every weekday on average since July 2011, which is probably an overly conservative approximation). That gives me an hourly rate of ~$33.

Now consider my freelance blogging career progression. My first gig paid $20 per hour. My second gig, which I landed a couple of months after I started freelancing, paid about $30. In other words, it took me a couple of months of freelance blogging to equal the hourly rate I have achieved after over 2 1/2 years of “passive income” blogging.

But that’s not all. My freelancing rate continued to climb to a high of $161 per hour before I “quit” and moved to the subcontracting business model I currently operate (i.e. I work with a team of writers and operate in an editorial role to ensure that each article is up to scratch before passing it onto the client).

My blog has got a long way to go before my equivalent hourly rate matches my freelance blogging success.

Despite this, people continue blindly pouring hours of time into their blogs. Just imagine if they took that same drive an applied it to a freelance blogging career. It could change their lives.

The Issue of Scalability

I know what you’re thinking though: “freelance blogging doesn’t scale.” Well, I’ve already proven that wrong.

Having established myself as a freelance blogger, in the middle of last year I sidestepped into a subcontracting business model with surprising ease. Just like that, I had created a “passive income” business. My hourly rate went from ~$150 to ~$400 per hour — something that will take me a long time to match through blogging (if I ever do). Not only that, but it’s money in my pocket right now — it’s not money that I can hope to have down the line after countless hours of hard work.

To be honest, writing this article has encouraged me to spend even more time on my writing business. Compared to blogging, it’s a license to print money.

I think a lot of people are put off the notion of freelancing due to its lack of scalability, and while one-man-band freelancing isn’t scalable, such businesses can sidestep into scalable models — just like mine did.

But Freelancing’s No Fun!

I guess this is the most compelling argument for people who turn their noses up at the prospect of freelance blogging. After all, who wants to work for clients? Isn’t that just like having another job?

In short: no. I’ve never felt like that. I’ve only worked with clients I want to work with and I’ve only done work that I want to do. I spent around 18 months freelancing for 2-3 hours per day and earned thousands of dollars per month in the process. It wasn’t a hardship. On the contrary, it enabled me to quit my job and acted as a springboard for just about everything I have achieved so far.

I suppose it’s all a matter of perspective. Freelancers will invariably feel far better about being freelancers if they view their business as a business — not some kind of quasi-employment. Furthermore, I believe that all freelancers should have one eye on the future potential of their business — i.e. leveraging the skills of others and creating a scalable business. That’s where it gets real interesting.

It’s Not All Roses

For those of you who have been convinced by this article that freelance blogging is worth consideration, I do want to make the point that it’s not a cakewalk. You will need to work hard and smart.

So many freelance bloggers ignore what I consider to be the fundamentals of success and thus only ever work with low-paying clients. However, in my experience, the potential rewards are enormous.

I’m not going to turn this into a big sales pitch (yes, I do have a freelance blogging course). If you’re interested in the course, take a look. But what you could also do, totally free, is check out all of the freelance blogging articles I have here on Leaving Work Behind. That will get you going.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to get in touch. The best thing to do is leave your question on the freelancing forum here on Leaving Work Behind — that way, you’ll get the benefit of more answers than just mine.

Alternatively, leave your comments and questions below!

Photo Credit: Unhindered by Talent

The Blogger’s Style Guide: How to Write Stellar Blog Posts

Written by Tom Ewer on October 22, 2013. 87 Comments

BloggingAt its most basic level, blogging is remarkably simple. After all, just about anyone can blog if they put their mind to it. All you need is a computer and an Internet connection.

However, there is a big difference between the act of blogging and writing something that is truly worthy of consumption. If you are serious about becoming a blogger then you should be keen to improve your craft.

That’s where the list below comes in: fifty of the most important tips I can give you about the art of blogging. I have gathered them over a period of 2 1/2 years or so, during which time I have written more than a thousand blog posts for over a hundred blogs.

Don’t forget to check out the comments section too, where you can share your own tips and read tips shared by others. Enjoy!

The Blogger’s Style Guide

  1. Grab yourself a copy of The Elements of Style and The Yahoo! Style Guide. They will teach you 90% of what you need to know.
  2. Let your personality shine through — you’re writing a blog post, not a text book.
  3. Stuck for topic ideas? Consider the following: common questions, breaking news and current events, pain points, desires, and personal experience.
  4. Still struggling? Set aside a non-time sensitive block to brainstorm ideas. Try to come up with ideas in batches — not one by one as they’re needed.
  5. Write with your audience in mind — who are you writing for and what are their motivations for reading?
  6. Create a headline that touches on one or more of the following: urgency, speed, ease, desirability, intrigue, controversy, outlandishness.
  7. Write a draft headline when you start a post but don’t finalize it until the end — the writing process will probably inspire you.
  8. Pick a headline/sub-header formatting style and stick to it. I recommend title case — in my opinion, it looks the most professional.
  9. Keep headlines and sub-headers short and snappy — treat them as an exercise in word economy.
  10. Include search-friendly keywords within your headline if doing so does not interfere with its readability.
  11. Don’t use the <h1></h1> tags within your post (they’ll be used for the header) and nest your sub-headers as appropriate (i.e. <h2></h2>, <h3></h3>, etc).
  12. As Ernest Hemingway once said, “Write drunk, edit sober.” Get your thoughts down first and worry about how to package and present your post afterwards.
  13. Start every blog post with a short introduction (100-150 words as a rule of thumb) that clearly states what can be expected from reading the post.
  14. End every blog post with a conclusion that highlights the key point(s) made in the post and gives the reader a clear call to action (e.g. “Share your thoughts in the comments section below.”).
  15. Break up your content regularly with sub-headers (every 3-5 paragraphs or so).
  16. Make sure that your sub-headers are consistently phrased (see point six here).
  17. Write using short words, short sentences and short paragraphs. Keep it simple!
  18. Pare out all unnecessary words during the editing process. The fewer words you use, the better. As Strunk and White put it, unnecessary words should be omitted “for the same reasons that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.”
  19. Use bold to highlight key phrases (but use sparingly!).
  20. Use italics to add emphasis to a particular word.
  21. Use exclamation marks sparingly (and only ever use one (e.g. not “I am so excited!!!!”).
  22. Never use ALL CAPS (it seems like you’re shouting) and do not underline anything (it will look like a link).
  23. Always use apostrophes correctly — both in terms of indicating possession (e.g. “Tom’s blog”) and when abbreviating words (e.g. “you’re”).
  24. Don’t screw comma usage up. The simplest way to prevent this is to speak your writing aloud, as it is written, to determine whether the flow of the words are natural.
  25. Never use ampersands (&) in place of “and” (unless it’s called for, such as in a company name like Johnson & Johnson).
  26. Use hyphens (-) to create compound words and double hyphens (–) to create a break in a sentence.
  27. Do not use double hyphens as a replacement for commas — they are very different.
  28. Semicolons should only be used to separate two statements within a single sentence that are grammatically complete and not joined by a conjunction (e.g. “I like KFC burgers; they’re really tasty.”). An easy test is to ask yourself if the two phrases could be separated by a period (i.e. “I like KFC burgers. They’re really tasty.”). If they could, use a semicolon.
  29. When creating links, it is only necessary to include title text if a further explanation of where the link directs to is necessary.
  30. Links that are supplementary to the post (e.g. a link to a longer definition of a particular word) should be set to open in new windows. Links that are intended to move the reader through to a separate part of the site (e.g. the next blog post in a series) should be set to open in the same window.
  31. Use lists whenever possible. They’re attractive to readers and make the text far easier to digest.
  32. Include plenty of graphical elements to break up the relative monotony of your text when possible: photographs, screenshots, blockquotes, tables, charts, and so on.
  33. Images should either be full width or half width (or slightly less) and aligned to the right.
  34. Images should never be aligned to the left — moving the left margin makes the reading process less comfortable.
  35. Make sure that your images aren’t too big (as a rule of thumb, they should be under 100kb and preferably far smaller).
  36. Only use Creative Commons images. My favorite resources are Compfight, Google Advanced Image SearchStock.XCHNG and Icon Finder.
  37. Always credit image authors — I recommend doing so at the bottom of your post in the following format: “Image Credit(s): Author Name
  38. Save images with descriptive file names (e.g. “red-car.jpg”).
  39. Use descriptive alt text for images (e.g. “Red car”).
  40. Don’t include an image for the sake of including an image. It should be in some way relevant to the post.
  41. Never use poor quality images.
  42. Always proof read your posts — ideally by speaking them aloud (you’re far more likely to notice mistakes this way).
  43. If you are able to, leave a post to “mature” overnight and come back to it the next day. You’re likely to want to make some further changes.
  44. Don’t use your spell check as a crutch and never assume it is always right (it isn’t).
  45. Always check the definition of any word you’re not sure about.
  46. Use a thesaurus to expand your vocabulary.
  47. If you can afford to, only write about topics that interest you. Doing otherwise will quickly make you jaded.
  48. Read a lot and write lot — doing so is the best way to become a better writer.
  49. Blogging should be an enjoyable pastime; don’t lose sight of why you’re doing it.
  50. Check out the comments section below for even more tips.

Your Turn

That’s it folks! The fifty most important tips for blogging that I could think of.

Now it’s your turn. I want the list on this page to ultimately be far more than fifty, and that’s where you come in. I don’t care if you’re brand new to blogging or an pro — share your own blogging tips with us in the comments section below!

Image Credit: Kristina B

Online Writing 101: 14 Errors That Are Preventing You From Blogging Success

Written by Tom Ewer on July 22, 2013. 112 Comments

Escape KeyI have worked alongside other online writers ever since I began my freelancing career in September 2011. However, my direct involvement with their work was limited up until early 2013, when I took on a more editorial role for the ManageWP Blog.

Fast-forward a few months and I re-launched my One Hour Authority Site project by taking on LWB readers as writers for the site. That experience taught me two things:

  1. There are lots of talented writers out there (far more than I thought in fact).
  2. Their chances of success are often hamstrung by technical issues relating to online writing.

Here is what I found most fascinating though: most of the issues are easily noticeable (once revealed) and simple to fix. That is good news folks. In fact, the news was good enough to galvanize me into launching a new content marketing agency (more on that in the near future). I felt that I could take such innately talented but rough-around-the-edges writers, help them to become successful bloggers and ultimately grow my business.

Whether Clear Blogging Solutions proves to be successful remains to be seen but in my opinion one thing is for certain: any aspiring blogger or freelance writer can vastly boost their chances of success by getting the basics of online writing right. And those basics are exactly what I want to cover in this post.

Two Years of Pet Peeves Distilled Into One Post

One thing I quickly learned from working in an editorial capacity for both ManageWP and my authority site was that I am really anal when it comes to certain aspects of online writing. I sweat the small stuff in terms of structure, style, formatting and punctuation more than most seem to.

But as I say to my writers, I am loathe to release myself of my often fastidious approach because I have a strong hunch that it has been a huge contributor towards my success to date.

Look at it this way: As a freelance writer your primary job is not to write for the client; your primary job is to provide a solution. If you write a generally great piece of work that requires extensive editing due to structure and formatting issues, you are not providing a solution — you are providing a problem.

I would much rather work with a good writer who provides a neat-and-tidy end product than a great writer who is happy to provide the kind of product that requires editing to fit into what I consider the “correct” style for online writing.

Although being a good writer is of course important (and I do cover some technical aspects of writing below), you must aim to adhere to most (if not all) of the stylistic considerations that make up the “rulebook” of online writing if you want to become a successful freelance writer.

In short: I don’t want to hire good writers, I want to hire great online writers. This post is intended to create great online writers out of good writers. It is compulsory reading for my writers and perhaps it should be for you too — whether you are pursuing a career in freelance writing or simply want to become a better blogger.

N.B.: I do not claim to be a “great” writer, nor do I consider myself impervious to errors in writing. In fact, I have been guilty of many (probably all) of the errors below at one time or another. This is about us all bettering ourselves as writers, not about me putting myself on a pedestal.

Online Writing 101: 14 Errors That Are Preventing You From Blogging Success

The following are the most common (and costly) online writing errors that I have come across in the last two years or so.

This list is by no means comprehensive, but given my relative breadth of experience in blogging (some ~1,000 blog posts published across ~100 blogs), I do feel that it makes up a healthy percentage of the most grievous errors that online writers can make.

1. Inconsistent Header Capitalization

There are three main styles of capitalization used online:

  1. Sentence case (e.g. Three common causes of the common cold)
  2. Title case (e.g. Three Common Causes of the Common Cold)
  3. All uppercase (e.g. THREE COMMON CAUSES OF THE COMMON COLD)

You can pick whichever one you like, although personally I always use title case — I think it looks the best by a distance. (If you are concerned with which words should and shouldn’t be capitalized, just use my Title Case Convertor tool).

That aside, my main point is this: pick a style and stick with it. While you can use one style of capitalization for headers and another for sub-headers, make sure that they consistently remain the same across all articles on a website.

If you are working for a client, check out which form they are using and adhere to it. That’s the kind of attention to detail that really makes you stick out.

2. Using “Clever” Headlines

When it comes to online writing, creativity isn’t dead, but it has its place. With that in mind, when it comes to writing headlines, one must put function before form.

The job of a headline is to “sell” the article. Although that should be done in a compelling and creative fashion, that creativity must be exercised within the bounds of the headline’s primary job. Ambiguity has no place in headline writing.

Imagine for example that you were writing an article on how to take the perfect free kick in soccer. Consider this headline:

How to Bend It Like Beckham

If you don’t know who David Beckham is then this headline will mean nothing to you. If you do know who David Beckham is but are unfamiliar with the phrase “Bend it like Beckham” then the headline will also mean nothing to you.

Now consider this headline:

How to Take the Perfect Free Kick

Much improved, right? If the reader is a soccer fan, they will be in little doubt as to the potential benefit of the article. But there is still potentially room for ambiguity, so let’s make it easier still for the reader:

Soccer Skills: How to Take the Perfect Free Kick

Even better. You could even take it a step further by adding one more element:

Soccer Skills: How to Take the Perfect Free Kick [In 3 Steps]

The additional clarity of “3 Steps” makes it somehow seem like the article will be easier to digest and/or the skill will be easier to learn. Don’t ask me why, but that’s how the human brain processes it. We like steps.

The same general rules apply to sub-headers too — stick to the point and leave the reader in no doubt as to what they can expect from reading on.

3. Not Including an Introduction

Let’s start with the absolute basics: any blog post must have an introduction. Seems obvious, right? And yet, I have seen my fair share of blog posts that just launch straight into the content.

Beyond the obvious statement that any article deserves an introduction, there is something more vital at play here that is highly appropriate to an online audience: many people simply don’t have the patience to read an article if its purpose is not immediately obvious.

An introduction should serve a blog post’s “hook” — a lead into the bulk of the article that explains exactly what a reader has to benefit from it.

Consider for instance the introduction of this post and the part it played in ensuring that you are still reading. In a few short paragraphs I introduced a problem (poor technical writing skills) and promised a solution with a positive outcome (eradicate errors, become more successful). That is the power of a good introduction.

4. Including a Long Introduction

Ideally, your introduction should be just long enough to make the benefits of reading the article obvious, but short enough to get that message across in an immediate and compelling fashion.

I’m not going to prescribe a precise word count or number of paragraphs, as that would be entirely subjective. However, to serve as an example, consider this: In an ideal world I would prefer that the introduction of this post was a little shorter. In terms of length I feel that it is pushing the boundaries a bit.

Don’t worry unduly about this aspect of online writing. As long as your introduction isn’t six extended paragraphs long (I’ve seen that, and worse), you’ll probably be fine. But when writing introductions, remembers these two words: Immediate and compelling.

5. Not Using Sub-Headers

There is just about no excuse not to use sub-headers in blog posts. This can trip even experienced writers up, as they may feel (quite reasonably) that adding sub-headers doesn’t necessarily add anything to the reading experience.

Guess what? They’re often right (in a sense). But sub-headers aren’t just about the reading experience — they’re for those hefty proportion of internet users who scan content.

Sub-headers perform three main tasks tasks. They:

  1. Help to separate distinct sections of an article
  2. Make the scanning of content far more straightforward
  3. Break up text into more easily readable chunks

Use sub-headers liberally for the above three reasons and your blog posts will not only look better, but will be easier to digest for everyone.

6. Using Sub-Headers With Inconsistent Phrasing

This mistake makes articles look ragged and makes them far more difficult to read than they should be. But before I reveal why, I’ll explain exactly what I mean by “sub-headers with inconsistent phrasing” by giving you an example.

Say you were writing an article for your cat blog entitled: 5 Things Cat Haters Say About Our Feline Friends and your sub-headers were as follows:

  1. They Tear Up Your Furniture!
  2. They Miss the Litter Tray!
  3. But They’re So Cute!
  4. They Bring Dead Animals Into the House!
  5. They Give Me the Evil-Eye!

Can you spot the odd one out? That’s right — sub-header number three isn’t actually a thing cat haters say; it’s something that a cat lover would say to a cat hater. This kind of inconsistency can really throw a reader.

The above is a pretty obvious example but inconsistent phrasing can be done in more subtle yet still erroneous manner. I advise that as part of your proof-reading process you read through your sub-headers and make sure that they are consistent with each other.

7. Writing Bulky Paragraphs

The first thing I’ll tell a newbie online writer who wants to improve their skills is this maxim:

Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs. (Tweet this)

Of those three elements of style that I feel are so important to online writing, the third is the one I would pick out as the most important. In my opinion, few things look worse on a page than enormous paragraphs. For many web users, it’s practically an invitation not to read.

I would advise you to rarely write paragraphs that extend beyond 6-7 lines; many of them can be as little as one line. The benefits for this are threefold:

  1. Smaller paragraphs are more aesthetically pleasing
  2. By making only one main point per paragraph you enable the reader to digest your content more easily
  3. Smaller paragraphs are easier to scan

On the flip side, a minor pet peeve of mine practiced by some writers is the overuse of paragraphs — i.e. including multiple one or two line paragraphs consistently throughout an article. In my opinion this serves to negate the benefits listed above. Having said that, I would much rather that you use excessively small paragraphs than excessively large ones.

8. Not Using Lists

I have yet to find an academic study that validates my position regarding lists but I still maintain that they are a reader’s best friend and should be used at every possible opportunity. For anecdotal proof of their efficacy just reflect upon the lists you have read through in this post so far. Do you feel they helped or hindered your understanding of the points that I made?

It only seems right that I wax lyrical about lists through the medium of (you guessed it) a list. So, what makes lists so effective in online writing?

Consider for instance the above list and preceding paragraph, delivered in a non-list format:

What makes lists so effective in online writing? They are attention grabbing, they imply the delivery of valuable and/or actionable information, they make text easier to read and scan, they add aesthetically pleasing white space, they shorten copy, they allow you to present relatable items in a clear format and they can demonstrate a sequence or order of importance (through numbered lists).

Which one is easier to read and digest?

9. Using Inconsistent Numbering

Ninety-nine percent or more of online writers use numbered lists rather than one of the alternatives that can be achieved through CSS (Roman numerals, letters, etc). Furthermore, those numbers are presented in very particular style: (e.g. “1.”).

So why is it that some writers insist on varying from that format with the numbers they put into headers? Why should a sub-header be preceded by “1)” when the lists included within the post use the format “1.”? It is inconsistent and unattractive. In fact, I recently edited an article that listed numbers within sub-headers as follows: “1).” (to cover all bases perhaps?).

So ensure that your numbering is consistent. That rule applies both ways too — don’t start creating alphabetical lists when your sub-headers are ordered numerically unless there is a compelling reason to do so.

10. Using ALL CAPS Within Content

USING ALL CAPS MAKES IT SEEM LIKE YOU ARE SHOUTING.

See what I mean? It’s difficult to read, looks unprofessional and instinctively “feels” negative. Never use all caps.

But what if you want to emphasise a specific word? That’s what italics are for. In fact, quite incidentally, I just used it above. I said: “Never use all caps” rather than “NEVER use all caps.” Which one do you think looks more appealing and professional?

11. The Incorrect Usage of Quotation Marks

Believe it or not, quotation marks are seriously complicated. Those complications are compounded by the fact that American English and British English have different approaches to using quotation marks.

I don’t have room here to go into the intricacies of their myriad uses of quotation marks; instead I want to hone down on their most common use. I am talking about the use of single and double quotation marks. My advice is straightforward: pick a style and stick with it. Personally I always use double quotation marks, but it is perfectly valid to use single.

If you want to use single quotation marks to denote speech or a quote, do so. but don’t switch to double quotation marks half way through the article. If you need to denote quotes within a quote, employ the quotation mark that you don’t usually use. If you want to denote a quote within a quote within a quote, go outside and take a walk — you’re going crazy.

12. The Odd Use of Italics

There is a multitude of ways in which italics are abused; most likely down to a lack of agreement amongst writing experts as to how they should be used.

My position is as follows — italics should be used for the following:

Here are some ways that I see italics being used that I don’t approve of:

  1. For questions (e.g. “In my opinion the government should reduce taxes. What do you think? Let us know in the comments section below!”)
  2. For quoted text within a paragraph (you will often see italics used to denote block quotes — this is acceptable)
  3. To emphasise phrases and/or sentences (e.g. “In my opinion there is no way that the government should reduce taxes.”)
  4. To indicate internal monologue (e.g. “I often say to myself, What would I do in that situation?“)

For each of the above usages of italics I consider there to be clear alternatives:

  1. If you feel the question is important, use bold to highlight it (i.e. “In my opinion the government should reduce taxes. What do you think? Let us know in the comments section below!”)
  2. Italics are not necessary — it is already clear to the reader that the phrase or sentence is a quote
  3. Again, use bold to highlight importance phrases and/or sentences (i.e. “In my opinion there is no way that the government should reduce taxes.”)
  4. Use quotation marks to indicate internal monologue (i.e. “I often say to myself, ‘What would I do in that situation?'”)

13. The Incorrect Usage of Hyphens and Dashes

In simple terms, hyphens have two uses:

  1. To form compounds of two or more words (e.g. “Well-behaved”)
  2. To separate prefixes and suffixes from their root word (e.g. “Pre-1940s”)

Hyphens should absolutely not be used to indicate a break in a sentence (such as the one you are about to see) — that is what dashes is for.

But that’s where it begins to get complicated, as there are two types of dashes: en and em. Furthermore, there are additional circumstances under which hyphens or dashes (of either type) might be used.

I’ve got to be honest — even get a little bored at this point. As such I like to keep it simple: I use a hyphen as per the two uses above and I use a double hyphen (–) for everything else. Within WordPress, the double hyphen is often automatically converted into an en or em dash (as it is above). That’s good enough for me.

Even in my world of writing, practicality occasionally reigns supreme.

14. Not Including a Conclusion

The vast majority of blog posts and online articles should have a conclusion. Without a conclusion you are likely to leave the reader undecided as to what they should do next.

And make no mistake: when it comes to online writing, your job is always to demonstrate to the reader what they should do next. If you do not, they are more likely to get on with their day than carry out a desired action (such as subscribe to your newsletter or purchase a product).

Just with the essays you used to write at school, the job of a conclusion is to sum up the most relevant points within the article. This summing-up should typically result in you advising the reader to take one or more steps.

Ideally, these steps should result in the reader remaining engaged with your content or taking a desired action. Often you enable this by using a Call To Action (CTA) such as, “If you enjoyed this article then please subscribe to our mailing list to receive our future updates in your email inbox!” Such CTAs should be varied in order to prevent the reader feeling like they’re being battered with the same message every time they read one of your articles.

Over to You

I find it unsurprising that this post is one of the longest I have ever written here on Leaving Work Behind, because it highlights a huge number of pet peeves that I hate to see within people’s writing. I am certain that if online writers eradicate the above errors in their writing, they will create better looking blog posts and, most importantly, increase their value to clients.

But I don’t want this to end here — this is your chance to voice your opinion! If you disagree with any of the points I’ve made above please feel free to offer your constructive criticism in the comments section below. And if you have additional points that you feel should be listed above, let me know and I’ll consider them.

I look forward to reading your thoughts!

How to Start Blogging [In Ten Minutes]

Written by Tom Ewer on May 21, 2013. 23 Comments
How to Start Blogging

Photo Credit: Scott Beale

Making money online is a challenging prospect to those with no experience. As someone who only started their own journey in making money online less than two years ago, I can relate to that fact. As such, I try whenever possible to address common issues amongst Leaving Work Behind readers in my posts. This is one such post.

I receive more emails about this particular issue than perhaps any other. It also happens to relate to what I consider to be the most important part of making money online (at least in the way that have gone about it).

How to Start Blogging

I am of course talking about starting a blog and everything that is involved in the initial process: from purchasing a domain name, to getting hosting for your new site, to installing the WordPress content management system and publishing your first blog post.

In the video below I take you through the exact steps necessary in order to start your very first blog. Take ten minutes out of your day right now and you’ll have a blog to call your own!

Alternatively, I can do one better. I offer a completely free blog installation and setup service over at Beginner Blogging. There’s also a free blogging course available over there, along with an ever-growing archive of blogging tutorials. Yep; it is as awesome as it sounds!

If you want to know more about Westhost and get 30% off hosting then check out this post: The Best and Most Affordable Web Hosting Service (My Verdict).

What Next?

As I said at the end of the video, there is of course much more to blogging than what I have covered in the ten minute setup tutorial. However, you now have all the necessary knowledge required in order to publish content on your very own website – you don’t need to know anything more.

Having said that, I have no doubt that you will be hungry to further your experience and develop your blogging skills. With that in mind, I’d recommend that you head over to Beginner Blogging, where you’re likely to find the answers to whatever questions you have.

And as always, if you have any questions or comments whatsoever, please do not hesitate to voice your thoughts in the comments section below!

Freelancing: a Complete Guide to Setting and Negotiating Rates

Written by Tom Ewer on June 27, 2012. 124 Comments

Freelancing: a Complete Guide to Setting and Negotiating RatesIt’s the most common question I receive from aspiring freelancers of all types:

How much should I charge?

The question comes packaged in various different guises — whether it is a beginner dipping their toes in the freelancing waters for the first time or someone who has been freelancing for a while but wants to renegotiate their rate with a client.

Setting and negotiating rates can seem like one of the most complicated and intimidating parts of freelancing but it really doesn’t have to be. Today I am going to give you an in-depth overview of how to set and negotiate rates with prospective and existing clients.

Although I am a freelance writer, I believe that most of the following advice applies to any service-based business.

Your Minimum Acceptable Rate (MAR)

The first thing you must do as a freelancer is ascertain the lowest equivalent hourly rate you are willing to work for — your Minimum Acceptable Rate (MAR).

If you are already a full-time freelancer (or are planning on being one), your MAR calculation should look something like this:

( (personal overheads + business overheads) / hours worked ) + tax

Let’s look at a practical example. Say your personal overheads (i.e. the total cost of keeping a roof over your head, food on your plate, and so on) are $30,000 p.a., and your business overheads are a projected $5,000 p.a. You plan on doing client work for 6 hours a day for 48 weeks of the year (1,440 hours total). Here’s the calculation for your MAR (gross of tax):

($30,000 + $5,000) / 1,440

Your MAR (gross of tax) is $24.31. Add say 20% for tax, and your MAR (net of tax) is $29.17.

If the above calculation seems a little rough, that’s because it is. Don’t concern yourself with trying to set a precise MAR, because there are far too many variables at play to perfect it anyway. Using the above calculation does the job well enough, as long as you err on the side of conservatism.

Another way to calculate your MAR is to take your previous (or current) salary and divide it by the number of hours you plan on working. The addition of overheads should be covered by the reduction in tax from being self-employed, but you may want to confirm this for yourself.

I am not a fan of this approach — you will probably be underselling yourself wildly. Freelancers should earn far more than employees, pound for pound. However, it can be a good starting point — it’s the calculation I made when I was deciding whether or not quit my job.

If you are just getting started with freelancing part time, your MAR is more a case of how highly you value your own time. You need to work for an amount of money that puts you in the right mindset to deliver an exemplary service. If you do anything less, you may deliver poor work and end up damaging your reputation.

As you develop as a freelance writer, your MAR may increase based upon how much you want to earn, as opposed to how much you need.

Pricing Format

When it comes to deciding how you should price your services, start with this key understanding in mind — charging by the hour is one of the worst mistakes a freelancer can make. There are two key reasons for this.

1. It Limits Your Earning Potential

If you charge by the hour, it will only be natural for you to work less efficiently than if you had priced on a per job basis. And given that you only have a certain number of hours available in the day, you are essentially capping your maximum earning potential. You can of course raise your hourly rates, but you will still only have the same number of hours to work with (literally and figuratively).

If on the other hand you price on a per job basis, you are limited only by the speed in which you can complete your work. You will learn to work more productively, and in turn, will earn a higher equivalent hourly rate (and impress clients with your efficient style and quick turnaround).

2. It Clouds Your Clients’ Judgement

An hourly rate is a big psychological hurdle for many prospective clients. The same job priced in two different ways can provoke wildly different reactions.

Let me explain. Say you’re presented with the opportunity to write a 1,500 word article on a complex and technical topic that you just happen to be well-educated on. Given the nature of the content, the client is happy to pay $150 for the article. He assumes it will take 3 hours, and deems $50 to be a reasonable hourly rate (but you don’t know that).

Consider these two different pricing approaches:

  1. State that the article will cost $150 to produce
  2. State that the article will take you around an hour to produce, and will cost $150

The client would happily accept option 1. He would almost definitely balk at option 2.

It’s simple psychology — the perception of value. Chris Guillebeau touched upon this in The $100 Startup. He paid $50 to a locksmith for an ultra-quick turnaround in an emergency, yet he felt shortchanged by the transaction. Chris remarked on his illogical reasoning:

…I realized that I secretly wanted him to take longer in getting to me, even though that would have delayed me further. I wanted him to struggle with unlocking my car as part of a major effort, even though that made no sense whatsoever. The locksmith met my need and provided a quick, comprehensive solution to my problem. I was unhappy about our exchange for no good reason.

Our theoretical client would feel illogically unhappy about pricing option 2, in the same way as Chris did about his locksmith experience. The difference is this — most people don’t have Chris’ presence of mind to understand their illogical reasoning.

Your competence and the speed at which you are able to do you work can have a huge impact on your bottom line. Don’t undercharge yourself by charging by the hour just because you happen to be good at what you do and can do it quickly and efficiently.

Service Value

It is always important to view your work through your client’s eyes and from a commercial perspective.

Consider this: how will your work benefit the client? How will it positively affect their bottom line? The answer to this question dictates in part the amount you can charge.

For instance, an article for a small business blog is likely to have a relatively limited impact. If on the other hand, if you are writing copy for a huge multinational corporation, the benefit of your services could be enormous. You should price accordingly.

Bear this in mind when developing your freelancing business. When possible, place your services in what I like to call “huge client benefit areas.” Instead of writing blog posts for small clients (small client benefit), migrate your services to high-end blog editing for Technorati 100 blogs (huge client benefit). Instead of designing logos for local businesses (small client benefit), work as a design consultant for Fortune 500 companies (huge client benefit).

Such ideas may seem outlandish at this point in your career, but it’s amazing where endeavor and planning can take you.

The Competition

What you can charge depends to a large extent on how much your competition charges.

But what are they charging? Can you find out? Many freelancers post their rates on their websites. You might even consider asking them — the worst they can do is tell you to sling your hook.

Furthermore, how good area they? How does their experience compare with yours?

In essence, the overruling question is this: where do you fit in with the competition? Are you nearer to the bottom or the top of the scale? The answer to this question dictates how aggressively you should set your rates.

Supply and Demand

I recently negotiated an improved rate with a client of mine. However, it wasn’t as high as I wanted it to be. But I couldn’t argue with her point of view:

Writers are, I gotta be honest, insanely easily to come by for very few dollars indeed…given that my background is in writing, it’s pretty scary. I’ve got friends who are Financial Times journalists that are increasingly shitting themselves! I mean, it’s great for the company and all that, but not for quality folk…

I don’t agree with her clear implication that you can’t make money writing. However, I don’t doubt for a moment that she can find an abundance of cheap writers for the type of content her blog produces.

My point is this: an abundance (or dearth) of other freelancers like you has a hefty impact on the rate you can set. And here’s the kicker — the lower the quality of work you do, the higher the supply of similar freelancers is.

So be aware of supply and consider how it can affect your rate. But most importantly, work hard to get yourself above the first few rungs of the ladder as quickly as possible — otherwise you will always be dealing with negotiations like the above.

Furthermore, consider the demand specific to you. Do people approach you by referral? Do they seek you out specifically because they like your work? Such prospective clients are likely to value your work far more highly than those that you seek out.

Indirect Benefits

When setting or negotiating a rate (and/or considering your MAR), it is important to not think solely about financial compensation.

Take the client mentioned above. I continue to work for her, even though I get paid an equivalent hourly rate of about half as much as every single other client I have.

Why? Because of the indirect benefits. Namely the following:

There are many more indirect benefits that can affect the rate you would be happy to accept, such as potential (could the work lead to greater things?), and referrals (e.g. a client in a new sector). Bear them in mind.

Negotiating

Negotiation is something that comes fairly naturally to me. I worked in property management and development in my previous life, and was no stranger to seven figure negotiations. That may well be why I have no difficulty in negotiating with freelance clients on what are, by comparison, minuscule deals.

But that doesn’t detract from my firm belief that negotiating does not have to be a terrifying prospect. Whilst the common perception seems to be that clients are after a cheap deal, I have found that not to be the case, for the most part. This could be a side-effect of the forward-thinking blogging culture I generally operate in. If you find yourself with clients squeezing you for every last cent, you might consider that your efforts are better focused elsewhere.

With that said, let’s delve into the world of negotiation for freelancers.

The Scope of Works

Always be certain of the scope of the job you are pricing. I cannot stress that enough.

A freelancer’s worst nightmare is a misunderstanding between them and a client regarding the scope of the works. This can lead to a faltering relationship, and extra hours allocated to a job that you did not budget for.

Make sure that you come to an agreement on the precise nature and scope of the work. If the job is to be more of a work in progress, come to a temporary agreement with the client, on the basis that a firm contract will be agreed for the long term at a future date.

But whatever you do, make sure that you come to a unambiguous long term agreement regarding the nature of the work. This can be in the form of an email exchange, or a formalized contract. The point is that you must be able to clearly demonstrate that you have delivered exactly what the client asked for.

Pricing a Job

The key to pricing a job is to break it down into its constituent parts.

Once you have segmented a job, allocate a conservative time frame to each part (plus contingency). Add up all the elements, and consider adding an overriding contingency.

The client is more likely to negotiate than not, and many will feel that they are being hard done by if they don’t get the price knocked down at least a little (regardless of whether or not the price represents true value). So be sure to price your job accordingly.

What is hopefully clear at this point is that all of the above factors should be taken into account when pricing a job. Ask yourself the following questions:

Your MAR is your bottom line. The key now is in making a proposal that strikes a balance between maximizing your earning potential, and not scaring the client off.

Worst case scenario, your prospective client sees your price, and walks away. The likelihood of this is small, unless you have really priced yourself out of the market (in which case, you need to go back to the drawing board in terms of analyzing what you deem to be a reasonable rate).

It is far more likely that they will attempt to negotiate you down, which is where the conservatism you built into your price comes into play.

How hard you choose to negotiate above your MAR is essentially down to how much you want the job. Do you have lots of work booked? Can you afford to play hardball? Or, are you in need of any and all work at or above your MAR? Consider your situation and negotiate accordingly.

Remember, so long as the equivalent hourly rate is above your MAR, the additional pay represents the potential for a boosted income. It is not the difference between life and death. If you are genuinely in need of the work, don’t try to get too cute with your negotiations.

Your Bottom Line

If your client attempts to negotiate below your MAR, you have one of three options:

  1. Accept
  2. Stand your ground
  3. Negotiate the scope of works

Option 1 is only to be considered if you feel that the indirect benefits associated with the job outweigh the difference between the actual equivalent hourly rate and your MAR.

I have a client who is a prime example of this. They pay me a little under my MAR, but I get a free link back to this blog in return, which makes up for it. After all, I expend plenty of energy in promoting this blog without any financial reward, so getting paid to do the same can’t be a bad thing, can it?

Option 2 should be taken if you are comfortable that your MAR should not be breached for the job at hand – a straightforward decision if there are no indirect benefits.

Option 3 represents a compromise in service delivery, and I am not keen on it. It can often lead to client dissatisfaction, and a fractured relationship.

Generally speaking, I will stick with option 1. After all, if they are not willing to pay what keeps a roof over your head, why on earth would you want to work for them?

Finally, if a client plays hardball and you find yourself saying “I might be willing to work for a little less,” it may be time to reassess your MAR.

Retainers

In my opinion, you should never request a retainer (unless the job is particularly large and will require a lot of upfront investment).

Nothing screams “I don’t trust you” more than requesting a retainer. It is not a good way to start what will hopefully be a profitable long term relationship.

Instead, vet your clients appropriately. If you are uncomfortable with the proposed payment terms, suggest a shorter payment period over a probation period, followed by a permanent long term agreement (if applicable to the scope of works).

Finally, understand that the occasional non-paying client is a cost of business. The sooner you accept that, the better.

Rates Are Not Permanent!

Budding freelancers are often paralyzed into inaction when it comes to setting rates. But remember this: each client is only one client, and rates are never permanent. In negotiating a rate with a client, the worst outcome is that you lose that client. It’s not the end of the world.

I’ve said the following to new clients on more than one occasion:

Let’s start with this, and take stock after a few articles to see how expectations match reality in terms of the scope of works.

I have never had a client react negatively to this. The answer has always been something along the lines of, “that seems fair” (because is fair — for both parties).

If you act towards your client in such a way that demonstrates your trust, they are far more likely to want to work with you, than try to rip you off. And if you are totally transparent in the way you do business, they will want to work with you in the long term.

In conclusion, the key to setting and negotiating rates successfully (beyond your reading of this article) is simply to do it. The more clients you negotiate with, the more experienced and capable you will be come. It’s that simple.

If you’re keen to learn more, we’ve got loads of other related articles here on Leaving Work Behind. Here are a choice few for your consideration:

  1. Getting Your First Freelance Writing Client: How I Did It
  2. New to Freelance Writing? 9 Ways to Make Money as a Beginner
  3. 5 Reasons Why I Earn $100+ Per Hour From Freelance Blogging
  4. The 10 Key Attributes Top Earning Freelance Bloggers Share
  5. 4 Ways to Kill It in Your Next Freelance Email Pitch

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask in the comments section, and if you found this guide useful, please share it with your friends and followers!

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Alan Cleaver