How to Become a Freelance Writer in 900 Simple Steps – Part 2: The Existential Crisis

Now that I have to decided to go freelance (no matter how long it takes me), I find myself parsing a slew of chicken/egg scenarios:

I want to start a business, so I need a business name and a business license. To get a business license, I should consult a lawyer first to make sure I don't eff it up. To consult a lawyer, I need some money. Before I see if this whole business thing is worth the cost, maybe I should see if I can get some clients, so I should make a website. To make a website, I need a business name so I can select an appropriate domain. And I need money. Maybe I should start a business...

And 'round and 'round it goes until I end up completely paralyzed and incapable of tackling ANY of those things. So, in order to avoid getting stuck between a hen and hardboiled egg, I decided to tackle all of those things at once. Maybe it's not the best idea, but in order for me to fight my nature, which wants to do things only in the most logical and efficient order possible (or do nothing at all), I have to adopt the Nike attitude, and JUST DO IT. So, in no particular order...

Name Game

As you might have guessed by the title of this article, I'm terrible at titles. And names. I can write 5000 words before I can think of 5 good words to serve as a catchy title. When I try, one of two things usually happen: I either can't seem to settle on a few goods words, or I get total writer's block—and I can't think of a thing!

So when it comes to naming my business—possibly one of the most important decisions of my LIFE—I'm paralyzed. I have a great name that I used for the writing class/workshop I created a few years ago in Seattle—Writer's Cramp. To be fair, though, I didn't come up with it, my husband did. (He has NO issues with confidence. He could name anything, and he'd be fine with it.)

In order for me to fight my nature, which wants to do things only in the most logical and efficient order possible (or do nothing at all), I have to adopt the Nike attitude, and JUST DO IT.

I'd love to use this as my business name, but, as luck would have it, I'm not the first person to use it. In fact, I wasn't even the first person to grab it for a gmail account or Twitter handle. Both were already taken—thus why I can be contacted at writerscramp1@gmail.com or @writerscramp1. In fact, there was already another, although judging by the website, possibly defunct writing group of the same name in Seattle already. But since I wasn't selling anything, it didn't really matter at the time.

I did a search of Oregon business names, and despite a hearty showing of just about every pun you can make with the words “writing” “word” “right/write”, etc., there are no businesses in Oregon with the name Writer's Cramp at this time. However, a Google search did turn up a “Writer's Cramp” freelance writer in Florida for a person whose name popped up an arrest record. Not exactly an association I'm keen on. So, although I like the name and have built something of a reputation with it, I think I'm going to have to come up with something else.

When it comes to business names, there are two types that I can't stand. One is the business that is named for regional landmarks. Around here, everything is Evergreen this, Mount Hood that. Names that use some combination of beaver, Cascade, sunset, rain city, stumptown, Tillamook, Willamette, or Columbia are well represented. I get it, you're in Oregon. I can see how it probably brings in some business just on the “I'm a local!” endorsement, but other than that, it's just boring.

The second type I dislike is the business name that seemingly has NOTHING to do with the product being sold or that is made up of nonsense words. Sure, it works sometimes...in the case of Google, Amazon, or Starbucks, their names are now verbs, but I'm not bent on taking over the world or verbing myself, so I plan to avoid clever-sounding but totally confusing business names. Besides, it's hard enough trying to get people to take you seriously as a writer, so why sabotage the effort with a name like “I Can Haz Tutu-Face.”

So, I tried a few punny names—Write Stuff (taken), Wordy Shipmate (Taken), Gramma-lamma-ding-dong (ok, not really.) They are either too obvious, too obscure, or just plain stupid. I mentioned my dilemma to my friend and experienced freelancer, Kristin O'Neill. She has a great name for her business: Knock Out Words, and I was curious where she came up with it. Answer: she just did—she's a writer, and she's good! But, she said, why don't you just use your name?

I had thought of that, but figured that was so BORING. But, hearing her say it, I began to rethink it. Here are a few reasons why it suddenly seemed like not only a good idea, but the only idea that made sense. For one, my potential clients will not necessarily be writer-nerd types (or else—why would they need MY help, right?!?), so confusing or insulting them is not the best tactic for getting their business. I want them to take me seriously, so I should take myself seriously.

Second, I want my name to clearly represent me and what I am selling. Clear is better than clever. When they see my ad or my name, I want them to automatically know what I do. Furthermore, I have a reputation with my own name as a good employee, a published writer, and a teacher. After years of suppressing my writerly identity to get “real” jobs (i.e. paying jobs such as envelope-licking and paper-jam-fixing), I actually want to be known to everyone as a writer. I want to be hired to write. I don't even want to think about why it's taken me SO LONG TO FIGURE THIS OUT, but there you have it.

And finally, I do have something of a mission as a writer and human being. When I started Writer's Cramp, and when I teach the Grammar Class for LitReactor, I do it to HELP PEOPLE, not alienate them with overly intellectual or insider attitudes that assume judgment from the outset. On the contrary, I KNOW that not everyone likes to write or is good at it, and THAT is the kind of person I need to hire me! I mean, I hate to change my own oil, so I happily pay someone else to do it. If the mechanic called his business “Dipsticks for Dipwads”, I might not go there. (Or I might. That's an awesome name. Don't steal it. If this writing thing doesn't work on, I may need it.)

In the end, I settled on the conservative but functional Taylor Houston Writing. When I Googled it, the first thing that came up was me and links to my articles. Perfect.

What's in a Domain?

I purchased a domain—just now, in fact. I took a break from writing this article to pull the trigger and actually purchase the domain name before someone swipes it out from underneath me! Taylorhoustonwriting.com. I can always do business as myself, so that seems pretty safe. I have been typing it into domain searches for about two months now, so it seemed like I may as well just DO IT ALREADY, TAYLOR, sheesh....

Of course, I don't have a website yet. I do, however, have about 6 partially-personalized web templates that I have started. I couldn't even decide which website building site I wanted to use, so I tried out several.

On the suggestion of my graphic designer sister-in-law, I tried Wix.com. Easy, simple, and intuitive. They have hundreds of templates that are industry-specific already, so just search for one that is close to what you are doing, and get going. Everything is customizable (should you wish to change it), click-and-dragable, ruler-snappable, automatically formatted for mobile devices, and equipped with helpful color palate and design elements that make it super simple to use. I made 4 prototypes there before I suddenly doubted my decision and decided I should shop around.

I have a Wordpress blog, and I remember that it was fairly easy to set up and nice-looking. But that was back in 2010, and I didn't have a kid going “Mama, book. Mama, WALK!, Mamamamamamamama!” back then. I do remember ensconcing myself in the office for several weekends before I had something I liked. I just don't have that kind of time or patience anymore. Plus, the website builder, it turned out, is a totally different beast than the blog section, and I had to download something?!? NO! I hate downloading stuff. I gave up on them quickly.

Next, I went over to Squarespace.com. While I think they make really beautiful, professional-looking sites, they only had a few basic templates that I was then supposed to completely customize myself. That's great and all, but give me that much freedom, and I may not get this thing done until my kids have kids. I didn't even make it through the free trial before I ran back to Wix.com

Great, I've picked a website builder, but I still have 4 templates in various states of done-ness, and none that I was totally happy with. Now what....

I took a break to talk to my excellent sister-in-law again who reminded me of how annoying it can be to click through multiple pages for information. We also both agree that splash pages are pointless. So, I went back to Wix, canned my 4 templates and started again—on a single pager.

My experience shopping for websites reminded me that easy, up front, and uncomplicated is what got my business, so why would my potential clients be different? I only get a few seconds of a person's time when they visit my page, and I want them to see everything right away. No digging, clicking, and MINIMAL scrolling. This is me. This is what I can do for YOU. Here's how to get it touch. Bammo. I can put in links to examples, blogs, portfolios, etc., should someone want to dig around, but the basics should be obvious.

At this point, I am about halfway done with the website. Guess what's tripping me up now? The wording! Go figure. Even writers have a hard time finding the right words sometimes.

To LLC or Not To LLC

I touched on this topic last time, but I did a bit more research. It seems the biggest advantage of choosing to make your business into a Limited Liability Company (LLC) instead of just a Sole Proprietorship is to, well, limit your liability. Face it, we live in a lawsuit world, and if you do anything for anyone at any time and something goes wrong? There's a finger out there that will point at you. If I go the Sole Proprietor way, my personal assets can be at stake should something go awry. Granted, I own nothing—not even my cell phone—so there wouldn't be much to take, but in the future, there might be.

Now to the business of starting a business. Yes, I love being part of a world where EVERYTHING is online. I can do my taxes, I can read books, I can shop for cars, and I can even file for an LLC with online vendors like legalzoom.com and corpnet.com. Easy, peezy, right?

And risky. In the event that I do get into some legal entanglement, will LegalZoom help me sort it out? Not likely. They, too, probably have an army of lawyers to claim that anything that happens to me is my own damned fault.

Both Legalzoom and Corpnet quoted me about 300-400 bucks to do an LLC. In both cases, it included getting an IRS and Oregon state business identification number—known and as EIN and BIN respectively. Both of those things are REALLY EASY TO DO, so there is no reason to pay a fee for that. I actually already have them for another reason. (Long story, so it seemed like expensive overkill. They also have lots of add-ons and stuff that I am not sure would apply to me or my business.)

Once again, I don't know what I don't know, so I decided that forming a relationship with a bonafide lawyer was probably the smartest, if not the cheapest, thing to do. I Yelped it, and found a local lawyer who offered an LLC package for $700. (which included all the filing fees). Another non-profit law office offered the services of a lawyer for $50/hour. I don't really know what I'll need or how much time, so that seems like a good way to get started. Either way, I need to save up a few more pennies before I can afford any of the options, so I'll get back to you on how that goes later.

On the Next How to Become a Freelance Writer in 900 Simple Steps...

Will Taylor ever finish her website? Will she give in to the ease of online-everything and succumb to Legalzoom.com? Will she ever figure out how to write her own website copy?!?! Stay tuned...

Previously, on HTBAFWI9SS

Taylor Houston

Column by Taylor Houston

Taylor Houston is a genuine Word Nerd living in Portland, OR where she works as a technical writer and volunteers on the marketing committee for Wordstock, a local organization dedicated to writing education. She has a BA in Creative Writing and Spanish from Hamilton College and attended Penn State's MFA program in Creative Nonfiction. She has taught writing at all levels from middle school to college to adult, and she is the creator of Writer’s Cramp, a class for adults who just want to write!

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