Monday, May 21, 2007

5 Things You Must Look for in a Freelance Writing Mentor (Part I of III)

Over the years, I've been asked many times by freelancers if I would be their mentor. I'm always flattered, but have never done it simply because I don't have the time. I usually refer inquirers to my website and blog, as it is all about the business of freelancing.

For those who want one, following are some things to look for in a freelance writing mentor.

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1. Tech Savvy: You want a mentor who is tech-savvy. They don't have to be Bill Gates tech-savvy, but at least be up on the latest technology.

How do you determine this without outright asking? Look for their website, their blog, see if they publish a newsletter, or air material via a podcast.

Also, scour their writings. Have they written on tech, referred to it in a newsletter, eg, "I recently attended a teleseminar," etc.

Why is it important that your mentor be tech savvy? As I discussed in the article Lessons I've Learned from 19+ Years as a Freelancer & Recruiter in the Editorial Industry, "I had to know enough [technology] to be able to stay competitive. This meant not only getting a [web]site, but learning how to update it myself."

Technology saves you time and money - two things freelancers are usually very short on. If you don't have a website, how are you going to sell yourself? Potential clients expect one nowadays - it's like trying to do business without a telephone.

Updating Your Website: You always want to have the latest sample on your site. Also, things like media blurbs, speaking engagements, testimonials for clients, etc.

All of these are individual updates - and, it can get very expensive to have someone constantly update it. So, learning enough HTML, or creating a site with a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) software like FrontPage will save you thousands of dollars over time.

2. Variety: I don't necessarily mean across genres, although this is a nice bonus, but I mean variety in the types of projects they take on.

For example, I do freelance writing, editing, copy editing, word processing and copywriting. I also create newsletters, brochures, postcards, write sales letters and provide web content.

Why is variety important? Quite simply, clients will approach you with different projects once they are pleased with your initial work.

I started doing brochures and newsletters because clients started requesting them. For example, years ago I had a client who was a web marketer. She initially hired me to copyedit her web content.

One time, when I turned a project in, she asked me if I could develop a monthly e-newsletter for her prospect list. She asked because she liked the way I copyediting her material. Basically, I rewrote a lot of her stuff - rearranging material for more impact and deleting material that I thought was excess.

When she asked, I said sure. Although I had never developed a newsletter for a client before, I knew what they were and also that I could go on the Internet and find good samples.

NOTE: Never turn down work that you can easily find out how to do. Most small business owners (who are the majority of my clients) are very busy and usually whatever you come up with will be so much better than they expected that they will be forever grateful.

The web is packed with templates, how-to information, easy-to-use software, etc., that it is relatively easy to pick up a new skill/software and teach yourself how to use it - usually within a matter of hours.

This is another reason you want a mentor who is tech-savvy.

I heard a quote on the radio the other day that's stuck with me. It went, "Years ago, workers advanced in society based on how they performed their job; today, workers advance because of what they know, not what they do."

Technology has made this so, so true. So, choose a mentor wisely.

Tomorrow: Part II of this article will discuss two more things you should look for in a freelance writing mentor, and the third part will reveal the number one thing you want to look for in a mentor - and why.
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Scot Herrick said...

Many writers do not understand the power of good technology to help market their work. And, you are correct in that the site needs to be consistently updated.

This was so true from my experience at a writing conference that I changed my blog over to how technology can help writers.

One caution from the article -- Microsoft is discontinuing FrontPage as of Office 2007 and going to more of a Sharepoint approach. At this point, I wouldn't start a site using FrontPage.

Inkwell Editorial said...

Scott, thanks for the comment. You're right about freelances and technology. Ijust think most of us are too busy trying to keep deadlines to stay abreast of technology. It doesn't help that it changes every 5 minutes either. As for FrontPage, I know about its "death." I even wrote about it in an article on at

I'm going to use it until they make it impossible not to. I love FrontPage and don't have the time -- or desire -- to learn anything else right now.

Thanks again for chiming in.