The "Make Money Online" myth

As a freelance writer and a work-from-homer, I tend to get pretty annoyed when people ask me, "How do you make money online? I want to do that!"

The owner of the barn where I used to board my horse was the epitome of the type of person who usually gets taken in by these myths. He had retired early, needed money badly, and was convinced that if he gave his email address (and sometimes, his credit card number) to enough people online, eventually he'd find a get-rich-quick opportunity that wasn't just a scam.

How many times have you heard the following questions or statements, either from people you know or those you meet in passing?

"I want to learn how to make money online! Can you help me?"

"How can I do that?"

"So that's what you do — you just write?" (Said as if you just told them you get paid for breathing)

(When you explain what you do) "I can do that! Is there a website you sign up with or something?"

What these people don't seem to get is that for every genuine freelance client, there are 101 scammers just waiting to take advantage of the poor unfortunate souls who can't tell the difference. My old barn owner was forever telling me that such-and-such company had taken money out of his account, or that his inbox was full of spam. In fact, at one point he had tried so had to find a way to make money online that he actually had to change all of his account numbers to prevent the numerous charges that kept hitting his account!

As any successful freelancer knows, writing is a business, and businesses require work. As Wesley says in The Princess Bride, "Anyone who says differently is selling something." Real business opportunities — whether for writing, graphic design, investment banking, or even selling pinatas — don't happen overnight, and usually don't make you rich (quickly or otherwise), either.

My problem is deciding what to tell people that ask these questions. In my experience they are usually somewhat inept, and don't really get it when you try to explain that it doesn't really work that way. What do you usually tell people when they ask you dumb questions like these?

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By Katharine Swan On Thursday, October 29, 2009 At 12:02 PM 4 comments

Snow day, slow day

Lately I've been doing what my mom would call "burning the candle at both ends" — I've been spending a LOT of time with my horse and on a doll show my mom and I had to prepare for. Therefore work has been crammed into odd times — not very successfully, either, I might add.

But today was a snow day, which meant I was stuck at home. And despite how much I was looking forward to it — not to mention the prospect of having enough time to get everything done — I found I was quite restless and unable to focus very well for most of the day.

Do you ever find that this happens to you? That when you are busy and out of the house off and on for days or weeks in a row, you find it difficult to come back to your home office and work for an entire day?

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By Katharine Swan On Wednesday, October 28, 2009 At 2:53 PM 0 comments

Happy anniversary to me!

I just realized that today is an important anniversary for me: Exactly four years ago, I was working my very last day at my job as a full-time technical writer. I was quitting to follow the next stage of my dreams: to freelance full-time.

Four years later, I'm still at it, and it's going pretty well (if I do say so myself). Despite the recession, I have still been pretty busy, and it even looks like I'll beat last year's income by $1,000 or so.

I found out this morning from Kathy Kehrli's blog that yesterday was a new holiday: the National Day on Writing. Too bad they didn't make it today instead — that would have been perfect! In any case, I'm celebrating by sitting at home in my pajamas (something I don't often do), working on a couple of deadlines. A combination of the weather (light rain and snow) and my deadlines kept me from heading out to the barn this morning, which is why I'm around to celebrate my four-year anniversary of freelancing full-time!

Happy anniversary to me — and may there be many more!

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By Katharine Swan On Wednesday, October 21, 2009 At 2:55 PM 4 comments

Funnies for Mondays

I had one heck of a weekend. To read all about that, visit my Pony Tales Blog and read the weekend's posts. And sadly it's not over, either — more fun scheduled for later today.

For those of you who don't want to read the entire story, the short version is that I decided to move my horse NOW, rather than in two weeks, because of an incident at the barn over the weekend. But none of it is happening as smoothly as I'd like.

We are going to try (for the second time) this afternoon to load Panama onto a trailer. But because I have several deadlines this week, and because I can't turn down money now of all times, I have a busy morning ahead of me — I need to work hard and get as much done as possible, since it's unlikely I'll have another chance today.

But before I get started, I needed something to cheer me up first thing this Monday morning. Not being able to sleep in (my first choice), I'm instead posting a few of my favorite funny videos. Only one is writing-related, I'm afraid, but indulge me!





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By Katharine Swan On Monday, October 12, 2009 At 9:28 AM 0 comments

Lessons from The Office

Michael and I just finished watching Season 5 of The Office. I've found wisdom for writers in past episodes, and this season held a particularly fine little gem: a lesson in why we shouldn't price ourselves too low.

Spoiler alert — if you haven't seen this yet and you don't want to know what happens in the season, click away!

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Basically, the boss, Michael Scott, quits his job and starts his own paper company. He scores quite a few Dunder Mifflin clients by offering low low prices, but it turns out the prices are too low. He and his employees, Ryan and Pam, have a conversation with an accountant that I think is all too applicable in the writing industry, too:

Accountant: Your prices are too low.

Michael: Lowest in town!

Accountant: Why do you think Staples and Dunder Mifflin can't match your prices?

Pam: Corporate greed?

Ryan: Our pricing model is fine... Over time, with enough volume, we become profitable.

Accountant: With a fixed cost pricing model that's correct. But you need to use a variable cost pricing model... As you sell more paper, and your company grows, so will your costs. For example, delivery man, health care, business expansion. At these prices, the more paper you sell, the less money you'll make.

Michael: Our prices are the only thing keeping us in business.

Accountant: They're actually putting you out of business.

It's the last two lines that I think are the most profound. Listen up, newbie writers! You might think you can learn to write faster, turn out more articles per hour, and become profitable "over time, with enough volume," and maybe that will work for a little while, but that's not how you stay in business. You need to think about your long-term goals — whether you still want to be freelancing five years from now, for instance.

Michael Scott goes back to the office and starts calling up clients to raise their prices, and of course they just go back to Dunder Mifflin, because the only reason they'd left in the first place was for the lower price. i.e., You can't quote a client a rock-bottom price and expect to be able to raise it to a more reasonable rate later on.

Naturally, the show has a happy ending: Dunder Mifflin (not realizing that Michael Scott is about to go out of business) buys out the fledgling company and gives Michael, Ryan, and Pam jobs again. But my idea of a happy ending is NOT going to back to work in an office. I like working for myself just fine, thanks! So I have to set my rates to enable me to continue doing that.

What's your happy ending?

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By Katharine Swan On Tuesday, October 06, 2009 At 11:38 AM 0 comments

Katharine Swan is a full-time freelance writer with more than 5 years of professional writing experience. In addition to maintaining several personal blogs, she writes a variety of online marketing materials for clients, including company blogs, articles, and press releases. In her free time, she spends time with her horse, reads, and writes fiction.

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