How to Bulletproof Your Estimates

BoPP Cover Volume 1

Here’s another excerpt from The Best of Pencil Points, Volume 1, coming July 1, 2015!


Next to actually doing the job, estimating is probably the most challenging task for a freelance. It can also be the most frightening. Estimate too high, and you might not get the job you would have been glad to do for less. Estimate too low and, well…the only thing worse than not getting the job you overbid is getting the job you underbid.

Following are a few tips we use to prepare estimates for our clients that we believe can help you bulletproof your estimates, that is, help you develop estimates that are realistic and defensible. We’re not promising that you’ll get every assignment, because there are still freelances out there who will underbid and clients out there with unrealistic expectations, not to mention myriad other variables including experience and availability. And sometimes we’re asked to provide estimates that turn out to be simply to keep other writers honest (yes, we hate that, too!). Bulletproofing your estimates will make you more confident of the estimates you send out, more likely to make money on the assignments you get, and better prepared to defend your estimates in negotiation. (more…)

Twitter Tips for Medical Writers

twitter-bird-followme-512We’re excited to share an excerpt from our newest book, Best of Pencil Points, Volume 1, set for release on July 1, 2015. Don’t miss the Authors’ Update and Business Tidbit at the end of the article!


Popular trends online in 2009 are social networking and anything else related to Web 2.0, a label used to describe advanced internet technologies such as blogging, RSS (really simple syndication) feeds, and member communities that users join to connect with other people who may have similar interests. In fact, according to a report from Nielsen Online, social networking and blogging are more popular than sending email. More than two-thirds (67%) of the global online community now goes online to visit social networks and blogs. (more…)

Writers Behaving Badly

Bad behaviors are everywhere. Just glance at the magazine rack the next time you’re standing in the supermarket check-out line. But while movie stars and teenaged musicians might get away with behaving badly, freelance medical writers risk ruining their businesses if they engage in bad behaviors. Here’s our top 10 list of bad behaviors to avoid.

1.  Not meeting deadlines. At the top of our list, failing to meet deadlines is, in our opinion, one of the top reasons clients won’t give you repeat work.

2.  Invoicing for more than the agreed-upon price. Clients never like surprises. Failing to estimate a project accurately is your problem, not the client’s. Suck it up and do a better job estimating the next time.

3.  Charging too little. If you’re working relentlessly and still can’t pay your bills, you’re charging too little. Consider your value and raise your rates.


Freelancing’s Double-Edged Sword: Independence and Isolation

yellow irisWe work from our home offices. We get to pick and choose which jobs we take and which ones we turn down. We can work in our PJs, if we want (but we don’t), and we can throw in a load of laundry whenever we feel like it. Heck, we can smell the flowers whenever we feel like it, right? Ah, the independence of freelancing.

Yes, a certain allure is associated with being a freelance writer, but here’s the thing. We work ALONE in our offices, without the benefit of camaraderie from coworkers. There’s no birthday cake for the guy in the next cubicle, no baby shower for the woman working across the hall. And no colleague in the corner office to brainstorm with when we’re having trouble interpreting a CSR. And when the computer takes on a mind of its own, we can’t just pick up the phone and call IT. That’s the flip side of freelancing.

How do we handle the isolation? Here are some tips:

• Plan monthly lunches with other freelances. This gets you away from the office and gives you the chance to compare notes with colleagues in the same situation. And keep the receipt. Lunch with your colleagues is a tax-deductible expense if you’re a freelance!

• Join a local business association and attend meetings. Consider the local Chamber of Commerce or another business-networking group. You’ll have the opportunity to meet other local business people and network with businesses that might need your services.

• Schedule breaks during your work day. Staring at the computer for hours on end can make you feel even more isolated. Leave the office, go to the gym, walk around the block, say hello to your neighbor, do anything that gives you a change of scenery, no matter how brief.

• Don’t be afraid to call other freelances when you need another perspective or some business advice. How do you find these colleagues? By leveraging your contacts through the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) as well as other professional societies. Both of us have colleagues we call now and then to complain or bounce off ideas.

• Teach a class for fun. We find that doing something completely different from medical communication can be exciting, as long as we don’t overcommit. What are you good at? Cyndy teaches quilting classes; Brian judges educational events for the New Jersey FFA. We find the balance refreshing.

Photo credit: Cyndy Kryder