Sample Collection Letter

Sometimes you get stuck with a deadbeat client who won't pay up - and you'll need to send him a note to let him know money is serious business. Here's the one I use when I need to shake somebody down.

Sample Freelance Writer Resume

Should freelance writers keep a current resume? Of course - and here's what you need to include.

The Evils of Revenue Share

I always tell people to write wherever they want to write - it doesn't matter where, as long as you're happy. But if your happiness springs from delusion, then maybe it's not such a great idea.

Kill Fees: Why You Need Them

In the writing world, a kill fee is a predetermined amount of money both you and your client agree upon - and it's for work you've done but the client doesn't want.

Sample Freelance Writing Contract

Don't write without a contract - EVER. Here's one you're free to copy and use.

Blogging about Your Business

Do you understand your business?
As a business owner, you've got to know your stuff. And you have to tell people you know your stuff... through your business's blog.

That's true whether you're a lawyer, a freelance writer or a plumber.

Is Blogging Necessary for Businesses?

When business owners come to me and say, "I'm not getting found in the search engines - what should I do?" I immediately ask if they're blogging.

Many business owners can't be bothered to blog about their products or services.

Let's be clear: you don't have to blog. But it sure does help your business.

  • Blogging spreads your brand around like warm butter on a Rudy's bagel
  • Blogging shows your customers - both current and potential - that you really do know what you're talking about
  • Blogging enables things you say to be shared by others
Explaining Your Business, Services or Products

It's been rumored that Einstein said, "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough."

Your blog establishes you as an authority in your field, as long as you really do know what you're talking about, because people can learn from you. When you understand your topic so thoroughly that you can't help but want to share it, people will take what you've said and be able to apply it (and if they can't apply it themselves, you'll be the first one they call).

Do you blog for your business? If not, what's stopping you?

Follow me on Twitter, join me on Facebook or subscribe to this blog via e-mail.© Angie Papple Johnston 2012. Don't steal from me or I'll come getcha. Really... I've got that kind of time.

Image courtesy of kimberlyfaye on flickr.

Working with Web Designers

I recently contributed an article to entitled "Getting 'in' with Web Designers." If you're not familiar with, you should be.

If you have a moment, stop by to read it. I included tips on how to find web designers to work with and why working on a contract basis with web designers can help you succeed as a freelance writer.

Naturally, I'm honored that my article was accepted by - it's a fantastic resource for both new and seasoned freelance writers.


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© Angie Papple Johnston 2011.

Don't steal from me or I'll come getcha. Really... I've got that kind of time.

eHow: Down the eToilet

Droves of freelancers are flooding the Internet looking for online writing work. Why? Because eHow, a WAHM (and WAHD, I suppose) money train, has finally circled the drain and slipped into oblivion. Apparently the content mill is still commissioning content for some channels - and very little for plain ol' eHow.

Some are glad to see it go - like those that subscribe to the school of thought that Demand Media is killing freelance writing. There are others, though, who are pretty lost in the sauce right about now.

And now, if you're a Demand Media refugee, it's time to be realistic.

Freelance Writing is a Real Job

Freelance writing isn't just something you do - as a freelance writer, you are a business owner, marketing strategist, salesperson and finally, a writer. In the real freelance writing world, you may get a gig where you can select titles and then write them, but the majority of your work comes from the sweat you put into your business.

If you're a Demand Media refugee who believes in your heart that other content mills will become your primary income sources... well, blow the dust off your resume and hit the pavement. You're going to have to get a brick & mortar job eventually, so you might as well get it over with now.

You Cannot be Lazy

Are you truly cut out to be a freelance writer without the Demand Media life raft keeping your head above water? About 1/3 of what I do in a week is actually writing. The rest of my time is spent marketing, querying magazines and online publications, learning new things to give myself an edge, and working brand awareness campaigns - and I've been at this for a while. When I was new, about 1/8 of my week was spent actually writing.

If you do not do those things (marketing, querying, learning and creating brand awareness), you will not write. And then, you will not eat. Sure, you may land an occasional gig - but you're not going to be a six-figure freelancer.

Truth is, if you bust your butt and you can write, there's no reason you shouldn't pull in a reasonable amount of money. The problem often lies in the "you can write" area; sometimes, it's in the freelance writing rates you're willing to accept.

Admit What You Know (and Don't Fake What You Don't)

Be honest. Do you know SEO? Do you really know how to write a press release? Can you create web content that doesn't describe "How to Tie Your Shoes" or "How to Cure Anal Itch" - or is that all you know?

I occasionally read a forum for Demand Media freelancers, and one woman was talking about SEO: "It's not that hard.  All you do is put the words in." (Yes. All you do is put the words in. Anyone can do it... but the trick is making SEO invisible. Oh, and the surrounding words have to make sense.)

If you don't know what you're doing, learn. Period. There are no shortcuts, and running around writing $12 "press releases" isn't doing anyone any good (least of all, you).

Cheap is as Cheap Does

The nesting ground for the SEO comment above also provided a home for this gem (though I don't remember it word-for-word):
I write press releases for $25 to $50, and I charge less if it's easy.
Let me tell you this: the freelance writing community is a fairly tight-knit community. There are lowballers, like that dude, who will have a really hard time hitting it big. So will this guy:
I pitch myself to prospective clients by telling them I'll write for free.
I cannot fathom why anyone would offer free work. If you don't respect your work, how in the world do you expect a client to respect it? (I thought it was bad when a potential client asks for a freebie... but people are offering it, so why wouldn't they?)

Bad Advice Begets Bad Results

You have to know how to recognize good advice and terrible freelance writing advice. I don't mean to be Angie the Dream Crusher here, but if you can't distinguish between freelance writing pros and this guy, you might have a tough time in this field.

Freelance writing isn't for everyone. If, however, you feel it might be for you, you can make it work. You have to learn the trade, hone your writing so it's marketable, and bust your butt to find some clients.

Are you a Demand Media refugee? Are you going to build a freelance writing career, or are you getting an office job?


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© Angie Papple Johnston 2011.

Don't steal from me or I'll come getcha. Really... I've got that kind of time.

Image courtesy of Woodsy at

2012 Freelance Writing Rates

That?  That'll get you ten pages of web content and a press release.
It's that time of year (my favorite)... it's time to recalculate your freelance writing rates for 2012!

If you're new to this field, this might be your first time calculating your freelance writing rates.  It's crucial that you set a reasonable rate so you don't short-change yourself (and so you don't kill freelance writing... but that's another post).

Let's get out the calculators and credit card bills.

Background on Your Freelance Writing Rates

What you need to know before you start calculating your 2012 freelance writing rates:

  • What's your writing speed?
  • What's your bill situation like?
  • How much "fun money" do you need?
  • What will you put back into your business in 2012?

2012 Freelance Writing Rates: Are You a Tortoise or a Hare?

First, let's figure out how much you can write in a day.  Do you work a few intermittent hours a day, or do you crank it all out from 8 to 5?

We'll say you work 5 hours a day.

How much can you write in an hour?  We only need an average, but factor in research, proofing and editing.  Let's assume you can write 400 words in an hour when you're doing web content, 200 when you're writing a press release or academic writing, and 500 when you're composing a sales letter or writing a blog post.

So a day filled with web content will get you 5 normal-length web pages; you can do one press release in a workday and you can write 6 blog posts.

Your Necessities

How much do you spend every month on bills (electric, gas, car payment, mortgage, phone, insurance, Internet and groceries?  (Your bare minimum 2012 freelance writing rates depend on the answer here.)  Let's work with $2,000.

2012 Freelance Writing Rates: Playtime

How much do you spend on fun stuff you could do without (Netflix, new clothes, Brazilian waxes) each month?  $500 sounds good.

Back to Work

Do you need a new computer this year?  How much will you spend on spiffy paper for query letters, stamps and a couple new coffee carafes for the home office?  Don't forget business cards, advertising costs and web hosting.  Let's say you'll put $2,000 back into your business in 2012 - and divided up over the course of a year, that's $167 a month you have to account for when you're calculating your 2012 freelance writing rates.

2012 Freelance Writing Rates: The Calculations

With the figures above, you'll need to make at least $2,667 a month... but you still have to pay taxes.  Let's add another $750 to be reasonable.  Now you need $3,417 - so we're rounding that up to $3,500 a month.

You work 5 hours a day, 5 days a week (it's just easier to calculate that way).  That's a little bitty 25-hour workweek - so you need to make $35 an hour.

25 hours per week x approximately 4 weeks per month = 100 hours
$3,500/100 hours = $35/hour

Great.  So your base rate - the very least you can charge to cover your... bills... is $35 an hour.  

The Minimums for Your 2012 Freelance Writing Rates

If everything above applies to you - the hours you work, the speed at which you write, and the amount of money you need to survive - these will be your bare minimum 2012 freelance writing rates.

An average web page should be around 400 words - and according to our calculations above, you can do one web page an hour.  The least you should charge for a page of web content is $35.  Not one penny less.

It can take you a whole workday to compose a press release - remember, you have to conduct interviews and ferret out facts.  The least you should charge for a press release is $175.

You can knock out a blog post in about 50 minutes.  The least you should charge for a blog post is $29.17 (and please, don't be that guy - just round it up to $30).

Padding your 2012 Freelance Writing Rates

We didn't account for unexpected expenses.  Your car takes a dump, the washing machine breaks or you become impregnated... and we didn't plan for any of it.

Your 2012 freelance writing rates need to be rounded and padded to provide you with a nice cushion when life knocks you down.

New minimums!  You can add whatever you're comfortable adding, but I personally believe each rate should be rounded up based on:
  • what you're worth (and be honest here - if you don't know what you're doing, you shouldn't be overcharging; however, if you're damned good at writing and can be considered an expert, you know how much to add to your minimum)
  • what you may need for emergency expenses
  • what you're saving
  • whether the client is a huge pain (but that one's on a gig-by-gig basis)
Let's say each rate should be upped by 20% to provide a significant cushion.

That gives us:

$42 web pages
$210 press releases
$36 blog posts

If you like oddball numbers, go ahead and bill them.  Remember, these are your minimums.

2012 Freelance Writing Rates: Forget the Minimums

Let me preface this by saying I'll only work for my minimums if I really, really like someone or if I'm in their will.  I'm not a freelancer just so I can scrape by - I'm a freelancer because I want to make a lot of money on my own terms and doing something I love.

So forget the minimums and charge what you're really worth.

And so help me, if you're out there charging $5 for a blog post and $20 for a press release... you're killing freelance writing, and I, for one, don't appreciate you demeaning the craft.

How did you calculate your 2012 freelance writing rates (I don't want to know what they are - I just want to know what system you used)?  If you need a more in-depth explanation, check out my post on setting your 2011 freelance writing rates.


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© Angie Papple Johnston 2011.

Don't steal from me or I'll come getcha. Really... I've got that kind of time.

Image courtesy of SailinJohn at

Getting an Interview

Magazine articles, newspaper features and press releases need solid information. Research helps, but you can't just hit the Internet and hope for the best. 

Interviewing professionals gives your work a spark others don't have - and step one is landing face time with somebody in the know.

 What are you writing?

Before contacting a potential source, you need to have a pinpoint focus on what you're writing.  The more specific the source, the better.  Say you're writing a piece on socialization in the kindergarten classroom - would you rather interview a high school principal and some teenagers or a kindergarten teacher and a bunch of five-year-olds? Common sense tells you who you need to ask.

Asking for the Interview

Contact the person you'd like to interview.  Don't know anyone?  Use Help A Reporter Out or work through your social network to dig someone up.

Where's the piece going to end up?  Have you pitched it?

If you've already pitched your kindergarten piece to "Psychology Today" and they've accepted, you can tell your source so.  The important thing here is to honestly represent your work-to-be; if you've pitched and haven't heard back, tell your potential source that.  If you intend to pitch it after it's written, that's okay too.  Just make sure the source doesn't think you're working on behalf of an entity when you're not.

Be on Time

You don't have to meet your source in person, but you do need to be on time. You can Skype, use the phone or an instant messaging program, or whatever you're comfortable with - as long as you're in the right place at the appointed time. Let your source set the time, place and method of meeting; they're helping you out, remember?

What do you do to find potential sources?  Do you usually meet them in person, by phone or correspond through email?


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© Angie Papple Johnston 2011.

Don't steal from me or I'll come getcha. Really... I've got that kind of time.

Image courtesy of MurielleSW at

Snagging New Clients

It's always great when clients find you; all you have to do is give them a quote, send a freelance writing contract and start writing.  Sometimes, though, you've got to look for them.  They might not know they need you, so how do you approach the situation and score some work?

Find the Clients You Want

Look for people you'd like to work with.  People who need freelance writers.  And people who have the money to spend on freelance writers.  Lawyers, doctors, web designers, private tutors - people who realize the value of the written word and can use your services to generate more business for themselves.  That's a win-win.


  • Do an Internet search for those professionals in your area.  Sometimes people want to deal locally - and if nothing else, your hometown can be used as an icebreaker.  "Hey - I'm in Mililani, too; that's how I found you."
  • Ask your friends if they've got any of those professionals in their families.  Chances are somebody went off to school and came back with a doctorate and now owns a business, right?

Reach out and Touch Them

Not literally.  Especially not a lawyer.  But there's nothing wrong with contacting someone to let them know you're there, willing to help.  Will it take a cold call or a cold email?  Yes - but what's the worst that can happen?  They won't answer or they'll tell you no.  Big deal!  The best that can happen is you landing a thousands-of-dollars gig, and if you get just one of those after 50 phone calls or emails, it's worth it.  You might get ten hundreds-of-dollars gigs.  Either way, you're golden.


  • A short, friendly email can work wonders.  Something like, "Hi - I found your website and wanted to let you know I'm a copywriter in case you ever need my services..."
  • Put those rollover minutes to use, for Pete's sake.  The worst thing that can happen when you cold call someone is that you'll learn some new, flowery language when you interrupt their lunch.  Let the guy you're calling know you're a writer and have experience that can help him grow his business.
  • Be prepared to respond.  If they want samples, have a list ready to pull from so you can fire off a quick response email.  Have references ready beforehand.  Update your freelance writer resume so it's ready to go and be prepared to send some marketing materials that illustrate how awesome you are.
  • Make sure your website is current and still fashionable - people check, and if it looks like crap they're not going to have much faith in you.

Got any tips of your own for snagging new clients?  How about a cold call horror story to scare everyone else with?

Image courtesy of RWLinder at


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© Angie Papple Johnston 2011.

Don't steal from me or I'll come getcha. Really... I've got that kind of time.

If you're a big, fat attorney, keep spying. :)

I'm Back!

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© Angie Papple Johnston 2011.
Don't steal from me or I'll come getcha. Really... I've got that kind of time.

When Someone Asks for a Freebie

I scope out freelance job ads every now and then, and this morning I found one that looked pretty cool.  For the application, all the guy wanted was a resume and links to published clips - so I tossed mine into an email and sent it off.

I just got this response (which I've edited to protect his identity):

While I'm not insulted that he asked for a free sample, I don't think it's appropriate. (On a rough day, I might be insulted - but not today.)

I'm not suggesting that this dude is trying to pull a fast one, but some people do try to get free content for their blogs.

But I don't provide free samples.  Period.

3 Reasons it's Inappropriate for a Potential Client to Ask for a Freebie

1. Keyword: "potential."  He's not my client, and may never be - and if I chose to provide him with a sample, specific to his blog on an uncommon topic, that's time and money down the toilet.

2. I gave him links to my portfolio and a resume.  He can see how I write from both those things (especially the portfolio!) but perhaps didn't bother to look.

3. He gave me my first deadline and I don't even have a contract with the dude.  Four days or less?!  (Four days from now is Sunday, and I don't work weekends.  Not good on my calendar - and all my existing clients know that there's a serious rush fee for projects that they need in less than a week.)

So here's what I sent him back:

What would you have done?  Do you provide free samples?  Would you, if the potential gains from the job were great enough?


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© Angie Papple Johnston 2011.

Don't steal from me or I'll come getcha. Really... I've got that kind of time.

May: National Photograph Month

May 30 is National
Water a Flower Day.
Yes, it really is.  And in honor of National Photograph Month, I'd like to share my favorite source for free stock photos for this blog.  (I'm also running a special on web copy for photographers, but I'm not going to pimp that here...)

My favorite photos come from - and the provider whose photos I use most is a lady named Lusi.  I genuinely appreciate all her work and hope you'll go look through her gallery.  Leave a few comments on her photos when you find out how fantastic they are.

May is also National Blood Pressure Month, National Hamburger Month and National Salad Month (fitting that it's all three, yes?) - so what kind of fun sales can you conjure up to snag some extra biz before summer break hits?

Special Days in May

May 1: Save the Rhino Day

May 3: Lumpy Rug Day

May 6: Military Spouses Day and International Tuba Day (how lucky are we?!)

May 13: The first Friday the 13th of the year

May 16: National Sea Monkey Day (I love Sea Monkeys... but then, who doesn't?)

May 21: Armed Forces Day

May 25: National Tap Dance Day

May 31: National Macaroon Day

May is going to be a great month for me, too - I'll have my own special holiday somewhere in there.

How are you going to help your freelance writing clients during the month of May?

Image courtesy of Lusi at (of course)!


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© Angie Papple Johnston 2011.

Don't steal from me or I'll come getcha. Really... I've got that kind of time.

If Your Freelance Writing Client Sucks, Can You Walk Away?

If you have a client who's making each day a special kind of hell, you can drop them and walk away.

In fact, you probably should walk away.  Thanks to my wise sister-in-law and colleague, Dawn Babcock Papple, I was able to do this with a client of mine last year - and with zero guilt in a way that (I hope) the client understood.

What makes a nightmare client?
  • He changes the scope of the project after signing a contract (i.e., asking you to do more work than originally agreed upon)
  • He makes unreasonable demands which, if you comply, will only be to his detriment
  • He needs constant (not occasional or even frequent) hand-holding, explanations and other attention
  • He requires you to do much more research than you've ever done before - and expects it to be included in the quote you gave before you knew about the extensive research
There are other factors that can make a nightmare client, but these are a few of the things that can chip away at a freelance writer's armor.

My Nightmare Client

I had a client from hell who didn't start that way.  He was really cool, friendly over the phone and seemed to know precisely what he wanted.  He requested 11 pages of web content - five were to be original freelance writing and six were to be simple edits and search engine optimization of content he'd written.

He agreed, no problems at all, to sign a contract and pay 1/2 the total fee before I started.  We agreed on the fact that it would take me two weeks to complete his content (I added a week to what I really thought it would take for padding so I could attend to all my clients and take new ones on).  I sent the contract and didn't hear from him until I e-mailed him the next day, asking if he was still interested in working with me.

"Sure, yes, I am... I just have to have an attorney approve this contract."

You guys have seen my freelance writing contract.  There's not an insane amount of legalese, but I understand if someone wants to make sure it's binding and not only slanted in my favor.

The next day, he told me he can't sign a contract based on Hawaii law because he had no presence there.

Well, I had a presence there.  Hawaii was my state of residence, and the origin of the contract... but ok, I'll take it out.

Three days went by - and I didn't start work because I refused to work without a deposit and a signed contract.  Finally, he signed and sent me a deposit.  I got started with confidence, knowing I could complete work within the deadline because it's just web content.


He wasn't happy with what I sent - but I sent him a lovely, 400-word piece of SEO web content that any other client of mine in the same field would've snapped right up.  What's wrong with it?

"At first glance, I already know I want more keyword combinations.  You need to use keywords off the list I sent you, and I want them at 4.5% density."

I can do 4.5% density.  It looks like spammy crap to me, but I can do it - because I'm a professional writer, and that's what I do.  Can I do it with the keywords off his list?  Sure - I can use the terms "vulnerability assessment," "high availability & load balancing solutions" and "NOC" 18 times each.

I thought, no way - this is going to ruin this guy's entire page of content.  He doesn't know what keywords are or how they're supposed to be used.

I emailed him and explained that keywords have to be things his target audience is looking for - and I backed everything I said up with hard evidence.  It took an hour to find all the evidence, because his keyword list contained roughly 100 terms.

He said he understood.  I told him that 4.5% density was going to be a pretty tall order in regards to readability, and maybe his web designer could include some of his terms in the metatags so he could provide useful content to his readers.

He emailed me back, saying, "My web designer said to tell my writer to get some experience and learn how to incorporate keywords in text.  She said you should put keywords in the beginning, middle and end of the text."

For a minute, I wanted to slap the web designer. Actually, I still do.

After I got over that initial urge, I complied with his request.  My sister-in-law was working on the project with me, and she couldn't believe it either - but she made it happen on her end, too.

I sent him the content, which was prepared precisely to his specifications.

He said, "Angie, I'm reading this and it doesn't make any sense."

I know it doesn't make sense, but I explained keywords, density and web copy to you and you understood.  Didn't you understand?

I laid down the law: pick keywords that make sense.  Last chance.  He said, "Okay."

He picked "Microsoft Office 2007 support" and "Microsoft Help Desk."  They're not relevant to what he does, but he knew (because I provided him with hours of research) they got searched frequently.

I again made suggestions based on my expertise in SEO writing for the web.  He accepted them and said he was glad he understood.

Great!  Move forward.  Write according to his almost-acceptable expectations... according to what was in my writing contract that he signed...

I sent the next document.

"This isn't saying what I need it to say."  He sent me an article from a magazine and wanted me to summarize it, litter it with irrelevant keywords (still at 4.5% density - maybe I should've condescendingly "taught" his web designer how to use metatags) and include his own information.

I walked away.

I sent him a nice, respectful email saying I didn't have the extensive amount of time it would require to complete his project and that it had gone haywire - and that it wasn't within the scope of our contract.

And you know what?  I felt like a million bucks.  I had time to take care of my other clients who understand I'm not a master of their field and they're not a master of mine - and while this may sound downright bitchy, it's my right to walk away from a client who isn't upholding his end of the bargain.

What did I learn?
  • If a client requires so much from you that you're not even working for minimum wage any more, and the project is entirely different than what you jumped on board for, it's okay to walk away.
  • It's fair to both you and the client - as long as you've done your part of what you agreed to do - if you have to walk away.
  • If you stick it out with this kind of client, who may never be happy with ANY writer, you will waste valuable time that could be spent working for other clients or searching for new work.
What do you think?  Is it ever okay to walk away from a client?  Have you done it, and if you have, what happened?

Image courtesy of jdeboer at


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© Angie Papple Johnston 2011.
Don't steal from me or I'll come getcha.  Really... I've got that kind of time.