Eat That Frog!

Eat That Frog!

I’ll admit it. I’m a planner.

I used to be proud of it and even tried my hand at wedding planning. But I gradually came to realize that spending an entire working day just planning a project is not a good use of my time.

One of the great things about freelancing is the ability to raise your hourly income by being more productive. Planning doesn’t directly equal income. Productivity does.

As I’ve become more focused on productivity, I’ve begun to recognize a lot of planning for what it is: a convenient way to procrastinate. Sure, you feel like you’re working, but you’re probably just delaying the actual work.

To make sure I’m getting the most important thing on my schedule done every morning, I … eat a frog.

If you haven’t heard of this technique, let me assure you, I don’t eat an actual frog.

Brian Tracy, author of Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time, made this concept popular.

Basically, you do the worst thing on your list first thing. Then the rest of the day is easy.

Here’s how to determine what your own frog is and make sure you eat it:

Before you end work for the day today, figure out your most important tasks for tomorrow. These should be things that will move you closer to your goals or directly impact your income. My list includes writing a project proposal, calling a client, and updating my website.

Now, choose the worst of the most important things – the one you’re dreading the most – and circle it. Then put a star next to your favorite item.

I’m scared to death of making phone calls – even “warm” calls – so that’s definitely my frog. I’ll do it first thing tomorrow morning.

This sets my tone for the day. I can do anything! And I have more energy and passion.

Next, I’ll write and send that project proposal. But in comparison to my frog, the proposal is a piece of cake.

Then, once all my tasks are done for the day, I’ll reward myself with my favorite task: updating my website.

Now, this only works if you eat the frog first thing in the morning. Resist the temptation to do small things first. Don’t check email. Don’t return phone calls. Don’t write a nonessential blog post. And don’t plan how you’re going to eat that frog.

Just eat it.

If you allow yourself to procrastinate by doing smaller, less essential tasks, your motivation and valuable time will be gone. Then you’ll have to tackle that big, scary task with less enthusiasm and energy. If you’re like me, that means you’ll put it off until tomorrow and feel guilty.

If you have a 9-to-5 job, you might be wondering how you can eat the frog first thing in the morning and still get to work …

You have a few choices. You could get up earlier and eat your frog before work, or you could schedule time each evening to eat your frog.

I personally recommend getting up earlier because after you come home from your J.O.B., your creative energy is likely gone. And other obligations will be screaming for your attention.

If you commute to work in traffic, try leaving your house an hour earlier. Eat your frog at the office. This way, you miss the morning traffic and save yourself some time and frustration.

What do you think? Do you already eat a frog every morning? Or are you going to start by making it your New Year’s resolution? Comment below to join the discussion …

3 Reasons You Should Embrace Social Media Now

3 Reasons You Should Embrace Social Media Now

You may have heard that social media is the hottest opportunity of 2012, but you might still be wondering how businesses use social media … and how it can be your path to the writer’s life.

Social media is basically a group of websites that provide a place for their users to share messages with their friends, colleagues, or even strangers. The most popular social media sites are Facebook.com, Twitter.com, and LinkedIn.com.

The thing that makes social media so unique – and such a big opportunity – is the ability to connect with virtually anyone around the world and share your message with them.

Right now, social media is being embraced by all types of businesses because they can use it to their advantage to reach out to people like they’ve never been able to do with offline media, like print, TV, or radio. Social media really is changing the world.

But businesses need a social media expert to show them the most effective ways to use social media – and they are willing to pay very well for this expertise. Many social media experts charge each client $2,500–$12,000 per month – and they’re having no trouble finding clients.

So why should anyone who wants to live the writer’s life embrace social media now?

Here are the three main reasons I’m giving it a try:

1. Work from anywhere – literally.

We all have the dream of working from anywhere at any time, but honestly, technology limits us a bit. I personally do not want to take my computer to the beach. And I find it a tad difficult to type a 14-page sales letter on my iPhone.

But a Social Media Expert has a whole different life. They can do most of their work from their smartphone. With all the social media apps now available, they can check and update their clients’ accounts, follow people, and tweet right from their phone from anywhere with Wi-Fi or cell phone reception.

2. Have a lot of fun and get paid for it.

I don’t know about you, but I think social media is a lot of fun. I check my social media accounts several times a day – even if I’m not getting paid. I don’t just follow the goings-on of friends and family. I also network with clients and work colleagues and keep up with industry trends in my niche.

But when I am getting paid for it, I’m still having a great time social networking with people on behalf of clients. For my clients, I use Twitter and Facebook to search for and answer customers’ questions and share quality content. This extra attention helps my clients get more loyal customers.

I even enjoy training my clients’ staff to handle social media. It’s fun to show them all the benefits of these social media tools and watch them grasp how powerful this form of marketing can be.

Most people know just a small percentage of what social media can do for their business. They have no idea it’s a sales machine, networking goldmine, and customer loyalty generator. Showing them this side of social media gets me really excited.

3. Help businesses succeed.

When I first became a copywriter, I chose to specialize in writing for small businesses. I saw a need there. I knew I could help them increase business with direct mail, a better online presence, and a few other tricks I have up my sleeve.

But after pounding the pavement for months, it became clear that my mentors were not kidding. Small business is a hard niche because the majority of them do not understand direct marketing, do not have the budget for it, and, honestly, just don’t care that much.

I decided to switch niches and cater to the personal development industry. I love it, but I still yearn to help small businesses. That’s just one more reason I’m so passionate about social media …

Because social media is so popular right now and so many businesses are seeing such great results, small businesses are eager to give it a try. The investment isn’t huge (much less than one direct mail campaign), so they can get up to speed quickly and stay within budget. It’s trackable, so they know if they’re making it. And it’s exciting to get their name out there, connect with customers, and then see them in the store.

I’ve decided to couple my social media training with my copywriting services to offer more services to more businesses. I made this decision mainly because I’ve already invested a lot of time and energy into copywriting, and I already have some steady clients in that niche. My social media work will provide a nice side income for me – plus I love the work.

But you can easily make a full-time living – working just part time – running social media campaigns for clients. The demand is there. And businesses are willing to pay.

I recently attended a networking event where the guest speaker was a “Social Media Expert.” She passed out a form to sign up for her social media training class and said, “We had 20 spots, but there are only 10 left.”

By the time the meeting ended, the remaining spots were sold. At a rate of $297 per seat, she made $5,940. (More than most people make in a month.) I attended the class to get an inside view of what it took to be a Social Media Expert, and I was impressed by the amount of new clients she got from the class.

Most of the attendees decided they couldn’t handle social media and they hired her to do it for them. Considering she could charge $2,500–$12,000 per month, she’s making a good living.

The point of this story is that social media – and finding social media clients – is not difficult. As a writer, you already have most of what you need, the ability to write. The only thing you might need to learn is how to use social media to help businesses achieve their goals.

I’d even venture to say it’s probably the fastest, easiest, most fun way to start living the writer’s life.

What do you think? Comment below to join the discussion …

Danger … “Shiny Objects” Ahead!

Danger … “Shiny Objects” Ahead!

Today, I want to talk about shiny objects and how they’ll hold back your freelance career if you let them.

Shiny objects are tips, tricks, or techniques that distract you from your main path. They make you think there might be a better, faster way to succeed.

When I started my journey to the writer’s life, I was plagued by indecision. I couldn’t figure out which direction I wanted to go or which route would give me the best payout in the shortest time.

Shiny objects constantly tempted me.

I would choose one direction only to hear about a better, faster one the next day. I would start learning about that, but in no time, I’d hear about something else that seemed even better.

It was a frustrating struggle that left me with a mess of training programs and bookmarked articles, but no progress. No matter how fast I learned, it felt like I would never know enough.

Finally, I heard about FOCUS (follow one course until successful), and I decided to come up with a plan – and stick to it.

I joined AWAI’s Circle of Success and met with Rebecca Matter. She helped me come up with a plan, and I didn’t look back.

I put away the programs and started ignoring the emails that didn’t support my focused path.

Filtering out the temptations to stray from my path is one thing that allows me to live the writer’s life.

Here’s how you can start avoiding shiny objects today:

First, decide on your path.

To make it really simple, pick an AWAI course. They come with step-by-step directions. It doesn’t matter which one as long as it’s something you’re excited about doing. Then make a commitment to finish that course and take action on what you learn.

Once you’ve made that commitment, it won’t be easy to stick to it. You’re likely to hear about all kinds of other paths and programs.

If you find yourself unable to commit and constantly chasing one method after another, but not making any real progress, take stock:

What happened with my last method? Did I follow through or abandon it? Why?

If you still think your last method is worth pursuing, don’t move on until you follow through. File away the new method for later.

If you still want to move forward on the new method, ask yourself:

Is this method essential to my success or another reason for me to procrastinate?

Essential would be contacting clients. Nonessential would be signing up for the newest social media site. Then ask:

What proof do I have that this method is better than my last method?

If it’s not better – or you have no way to know if it’s better – proceed with caution. Don’t try stuff just for the sake of trying it. Make sure you have concrete evidence that this is the way to go and that you will see results with this method.

Then, no matter which method you choose, make a commitment to see it through.

Going through this process has helped keep me on a path where I’m making progress instead of chasing after the newest thing.

I’ve found the key to achieving the writer’s life is staying focused and avoiding the pitfall of shiny objects.

Looking back, I realize my fascination with new programs was just an excuse to procrastinate. But along the way, I did find a few shortcuts that work and will get anyone to the writer’s life faster. (I’ll share them in next week’s article.)

So how about you? Do shiny objects distract you or have you found a way to overcome them?

The Problem of Too Many Goals and How to Solve It

The Problem of Too Many Goals and How to Solve It

A few times a year, I sit down and reflect on where my business has been, where it is, and where it’s going. I do this at the beginning of the calendar year and again on my birthday in August.

This year, I realized I had a major problem that was stunting the growth of my business: I had too many goals. Because I was torn in so many directions, I wasn’t accomplishing much toward any of my goals.

What’s worse is that because I was spending so much time working, I stopped doing a lot of things I’m passionate about. That led to unhappiness with my business and feeling like my work wasn’t paying off.

For my mid-year analysis, I looked at the areas of my life and quickly saw if I didn’t take time to relax and recharge, my business would only suffer more as my creativity drained away and my passion burned out.

The first thing I decided to do was take a hard look at my goals and where my time was going. I quickly realized I had two types of goals:

1. Someone Else’s Goals.

These were goals someone else had given me – either by making them sound like something I should want to do or by asking me to help them with a project. Making six figures per year and self-publishing a business book were on this list.

2. My Goals.

These were goals that got me out of bed in the morning and kept me up late. They were the things I was truly excited about accomplishing, like being featured in Entrepreneur magazine and getting Sara Blakely (the creator of Spanx) to notice my new venture, ComfyEarrings.com.

It was hard to make progress on my goals because they were getting pushed aside to make time to work on someone else’s goals.

I decided I didn’t want to spend my time working toward a goal I wasn’t 100 percent in love with. It wasn’t easy, but within a few days, I had “resigned” from all of the goals that weren’t mine and freed up quite a bit of time.

Next, I decided to spend an hour every day doing something I used to enjoy. The only requirement was it had to be fun and get my creative juices flowing. I chose to read fiction books and get outside more. On the days when the weather is nice enough to read outside, I get a double dose of enjoyment.

So far, the results of my streamlined goals and doing more things I enjoy are:

  • My stress is almost completely gone.
  • I have more energy and passion for my projects.
  • I’ve read more books in two weeks than I did in the past six months.
  • My creativity is back and writing is much easier.
  • I’m not struggling for ideas because my brain isn’t exhausted or numb.

I’ve always thought reading is important, but after the past month, I truly believe reading fiction is essential to writers.

Just in case you won’t take my word for it, here is what some famous writers have to say:

    “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” – Stephen King

    “Be awesome! Be a book nut!” – Dr. Seuss

    “Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.” – Richard Steele

So what about you? How do you take time to recharge? Comment below to join the discussion …

5 “Shortcuts” to Success

5 “Shortcuts” to Success

If you’re a freelance writer – or working to become one – nothing will get you off course faster than a shiny object.

Shiny objects are tips, tricks, or techniques that distract you from your main path. They make you think there might be a better, faster way to succeed.

Many shiny objects come in the form of promised shortcuts to getting what you want.

But, it’s important to understand there are two types of shortcuts:

The first is the distraction kind. For example, you might see another niche or technique for getting to the writer’s life faster and easier. If you buy what they’re selling, you’ll likely get a plan that might work. But you’ll be distracted from your original path and likely never finish anything. Many “shortcuts” are just that – distractions.

The second is the kind of shortcut that works. They can be applied to any situation to increase your effectiveness and decrease your learning curve. Here are five shortcuts I’ve found that work:

1. Pick a Niche

It’s been said many times before, but the best shortcut you can take to the writer’s life is to pick a niche. This needs to be done before you do anything else because your niche will determine many other factors in your business, like your website, potential clients, and marketing message.

Yes, you can learn the basics without a niche. But without a niche, you don’t have a focus. And without focus, you’ll flip and flop from one plan to another without getting any real traction.

Plus, having a niche will give you a huge shortcut when it comes to learning the ropes. If you know, for instance, that you want to be a social media expert, you can ignore all the advice for B2B copywriters because it doesn’t affect you. This will cut back on the material you need to absorb and allow you to take action faster.

2. Invest in the Right Training

Once you choose your niche, you’ll need to invest in a program that will give you relevant advice for that niche. Many of AWAI’s programs tell you step by step how to get from wherever you are now to a successful freelance career – and they’ll be specific to your niche.

Decide on a program, and then make a commitment to go through the entire thing and take the recommended actions before moving on to anything else. When I first started this writer’s life journey, I didn’t know my niche. I floundered about, reading every course and wondering why I wasn’t seeing any progress. If I would have picked any of those programs and actually completed them, I would have seen results right away. Sticking to one path will give you a complete roadmap to success. Don’t discount the value in that shortcut.

3. Get Started Now

So many beginning writers think they have to know everything before they get their first client. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Fact is, you could know just one thing – how to write a great email, for example – and get more than enough clients.

This shortcut is simple – learn just enough get your very first client. Then build your business from that.

If they ask you something you don’t know, say you’ll get back to them, and then look up the answer. You don’t have to know every answer as soon as someone asks the question.

Just remind yourself that no one knows everything, and you can learn what you need to know as you go.

4. Start a Swipe File

A swipe file is a collection of sales letters, ads, and other examples of copy that are eye-catching, successful, or interesting. It’s important to have a library of these promotions to “swipe” ideas from.

Most “A-level” copywriters use swipe files so they can learn from other copywriters and gain inspiration when they experience writer’s block.

I have a virtual file saved on my computer and a physical file next to my desk. I put “direct mail” from my mailbox in the physical file and save screenshots, websites, or emails to the virtual file.

Anytime I see copy that makes me want to buy something, I save it. Later, I can look through my collection to get inspiration and trigger ideas for current projects. Because of my swipe file, I rarely have writer’s block. This alone makes having a swipe file one of my favorite shortcuts to the writer’s life.

Helen Buttery, an experienced marketer, says, “The trick to building a big swipe file is getting your name ‘seeded’ onto mailing lists.”

5. Create Cheat Sheets

I’ve found that there is so much advice floating around that if I try to remember it all, my head might explode. Now, whenever I come across something I want to remember and use often, I write it on a “cheat sheet.” I have one for headlines, one for leads, and one for every type of copy I write. I also start one for every client.

Sometimes, the one cheat sheet turns into a few pages, but it really helps to keep all the information I need in one place. Instead of spending time searching for six articles about headlines, I can glance at my cheat sheet and have all the advice I need.

Keep in mind that your clients aren’t testing you. Just like they don’t expect you to know everything, they don’t expect you to remember everything either. If you need to have cheat sheets and note cards and write friends to ask for help, that’s completely okay and encouraged.

These five shortcuts have worked wonders for my freelance business. While there aren’t any magic pills, there are tips and tricks that make it easier and faster. I hope these shortcuts work for you, too.

What about you? Have you found any shortcuts that work? Let’s talk about it in the comments below …

Why “Hypey” Copy Doesn’t Work

Why “Hypey” Copy Doesn’t Work

I like copy that takes a subtle approach, with ads that tell a story and build a relationship.

At last year’s AWAI Bootcamp, I learned I’m not alone. In fact, I’m just like 85 percent of the buying market.

Lorrie Morgan-Ferrero of Red Hot Copy is an expert in reaching 85 percent of the buying market with copy. She spoke at last year’s Bootcamp, and today I’d like to share some of the remarkable things I learned from her.

First, you might be wondering what she means by “85 percent of the buying market.” Well, that 85 percent is women.

Did you know American women spend $5–$7 trillion dollars every year? Or how about this: women open 70 percent of new businesses, and 20 percent of new home sales are driven by single women.

These facts were startling to me, but impressive. I’m considering reframing my niche to focus on this huge sector.

If you’d like to do the same, I’m going to share five ways you can adjust your copy to make it appeal to women. Lorrie calls this “feminizing your copy.” She points out that by feminizing it, you’re also depolarizing it.

From 1925 through 1942, ads were written for men. Women didn’t have as much buying power, so the advertisers appealed to the men. Over time, copywriters modeled what worked in the past, so a lot of our copy is still directed toward men. As a result, much of it turns women off.

But with women now making up 85 percent of the buying market, it only makes sense to change things up a bit and appeal to women.

Here are five ways to depolarize your copy. These techniques work with women and men. The reverse is not true. Aggressive, over-the-top hype won’t work with women.

1. Replace emotionally aggressive language.

In masculine copy, you’ll find words like “massacre” and “crush the competition.” But men and women respond differently to marketing language. Women respond to more emotionally bonding language such as uplifting phrases like, “It’s not your fault.” Or “You can do it!”

Keep in mind, bonding doesn’t mean your copy should be boring. Use action words to grab attention, but not in an aggressive way. Instead, you should relate to your prospect.

For an example of this, check out Lorrie’s article “5 Critical Trends for Marketing to Women in 2011,” which is still relevant today.

2. Build rapport.

Masculine copy gets to the point fast. It has a single action and focus. It says, “Let’s cut to the chase.” But women like to hang out and chat. Just compare how long a woman will talk on the phone versus a man.

A woman wants to build a relationship and feel like she knows the person behind the product or service she’s buying. To build rapport, you want to address the problem, relate to the reader, and then solve the problem.

3. Make your copy or ad look good.

Men don’t mind if online copy mimics offline direct-response copy. Men think the content is important. But women want content, and they want it to look good.

Taking the time to make your copy look good tells a woman reader that you are going to be a better person to do business with in the long run.

To learn more about design, check out this article for three core secrets of direct-marketing graphic design.

4. Talk about your values.

Values aren’t necessarily a factor in making a buying choice for men. But for women, the values of whom she does business with are very important to her decision making. If your company supports a charity or offers discounts to certain groups, be sure to say so. Values resonate with women, so talk about them.

5. Tell a story.

Lorrie says, “In masculine copy, stories work but aren’t critical. With women, though, they’re required.” A woman needs a story to bond with you and build the rapport she needs to buy your product or service.

You have to connect with women before you can sell to them.

No matter what kind of writer you are, understanding that men and women make decisions differently will make you better. You’ll be able to better connect with your audience, and your writing will be richer.

What tips do you have for depolarizing – or “feminizing” – your copy? Comment below to join the discussion …