Thoughts on Software and Technology

Software, Technology, Online Marketing

How to Start Freelance Writing in College

College students are usually eager for a way to make extra money, while still focusing on developing their skills, and paving the way for a future career. Freelance writing fits almost perfectly here. It’s a flexible way to make extra money, with no minimum requirements for hours or strict scheduling to get in the way of your studies. If you’re an English major or if you want to be a professional communicator, it’s a great way to hone your skills. And even if you don’t, the extra writing practice will help you write papers throughout the rest of your college career.

The question is, how do you get started?

Starting With the Basics

You’ll need to treat your freelance writing endeavor like you would a business. That means coming up with a business plan and putting basic needs in order before you try to attract your first clients.

In your business plan, you’ll conduct market research to figure out who your key demographics are and how you might reach them. You’ll also review competitive research to see what other freelance writers are doing, and figure out a way to differentiate yourself from them. You won’t have many expenses to project, but this is also a good opportunity to study your financials; what are you planning on charging for your work?

We’ll touch on some of these topics in future sections.

Once you have your business plan figured out, you’ll need to brand yourself. Are you going by your personal name, or are you going to create a company name or a pseudonym to write under? From there, you’ll need a website. Even if you plan on attracting freelance clients in other ways, a website will serve as the anchor for your portfolio. Then, put together an invoice template you can use to bill your clients, and make sure you have a good way to track your income; you’ll be paid as an independent contractor, so you’re responsible for paying taxes on what you earn.

Choosing a Niche

“Freelance writing” is an incredibly broad category, so the biggest decision you’re going to make is deciding which niche to pursue. In other words, who are you going to write for, and what, exactly, are you going to write?

These are just a few possibilities:

  • Reporting/journalism. Writing articles for news organizations, magazines, and reputable blogs could be a viable outlet if you have a keen sense of storytelling and an eye for detail.
  • Website content. You could also write content for new websites as they undergo development. This is important for both customer communication and marketing purposes.
  • Search engine optimization (SEO) requires both onsite and offsite content to be written for a brand. With a bit of research, you can learn how to “optimize” your blogs for SEO.
  • Ghost writing. You could also ghost write for someone, helping them write a book or a blog of their own.

You could also work in an area that’s writing-adjacent; for example, you could provide editing services.

Developing a Portfolio

Most paying clients won’t want to work with you unless they’re confident in your abilities. That means having a thorough portfolio of your past work that shows what you can do. If you’re just getting started, of course, you won’t have a major body of work to show off. It’s up to you to create it from scratch. Depending on your industry and niche, you could put together a few pieces that show off your skills, or you could use some of the work you’ve done for school in the past.

One important note here; proofread everything like your life depends on it, and get a second set of eyes to back you up. A single typo could ruin your chances of being selected.

Once you begin to attract more clients, you’ll add more work to your portfolio organically.

Finding Your First Clients

Now for the hard part—finding your first clients. Over time, with a good reputation, you’ll be able to attract referrals and build your client base organically, but landing those first big relationships is a challenge. Talk to your professors to see if they have any leads, and start scouting the web for companies and organizations specifically looking for a freelance writer. You may need to take a lower rate or work outside your comfort zone when you get started, as a way to get your foot in the door.

Freelance writing can help you improve your skills while you make extra money, but don’t let it completely take over your life. Your first priority should still be on completing your classes, so only work on your side projects in your spare time.

Is Video as Effective as In-Person Presentations?

Increasingly, colleges and universities are turning toward video lectures as a supplement or substitute for lectures in traditional classroom settings. How these are filmed and implemented will vary by university; some campuses will live-stream lectures only to students enrolled in the class, while others will record them for indefinite future use, sometimes making them available to wide audiences through platforms like Coursera or YouTube.

In any case, there are clear advantages in making video lectures available. For starters, students can watch the lecture in the comfort of their own home environment—and since they have more control over that environment, they may be able to digest the lecture with fewer distractions or more retention. Assuming the lectures are made available indefinitely, it also eliminates time restrictions; students can get involved whenever is convenient for them, allowing them to maintain their work schedules.

But when it comes down to it, are video lectures truly as effective as in-person lectures?

The Empirical Data

Multiple studies have attempted to prove, empirically, whether video lectures or in-person lectures are superior. One such study focused on an experienced professor teaching a physics course to undergraduate students. For two years, the professor video recorded all lectures for the class, and gave students the option of attending in person or watching the videos. Each experience had exactly the same content. However, students who watched the lectures rather than attending in-person were 11 percent less likely to receive a high grade. These students were also 14 percent more likely to drop the course by the end of the term.

Another study confirmed something similar. A total of 276 undergraduate students were enrolled in a Psychology course with two-hour lectures. One group of these students attended the class lectures in a live environment, while the other group only watched the videos. Both groups consumed the same core content, just in different mediums, and were presented with a short quiz about the material immediately after the lecture. Participants who attended the live version of the lecture performed much better on the memory test. Interestingly, students in both groups were also prompted during the lecture to report whether or not their mind was wandering during the last slide; you might suspect that video watchers were more inattentive, but the empirical data doesn’t support this fact.


So why would video lectures be less effective than their real-world counterparts, even when the content is identical?

There’s no clear answer, but these are some possibilities:

  •         Audience interest. One possible factor lies with the general interest level of students attending the lecture in person, versus those attending remotely. Setting aside the logistical hurdles that could keep a student from attending in person, a student who opts to take a lecture remotely rather than making a trip to campus may be less interested in the subject at hand than someone taking the extra time and effort. Thus, naturally, people who favor in-person lectures may have more personal interest.
  •         Attention. It could be assumed that video lectures, often viewed in a remote environment, are much more susceptible to distraction. Watching a lecture in your living room, with music playing in the background, makes it harder to focus than in a classroom setting. However, at least one set of study results suggest this isn’t the case.
  •         Engagement. An in-person experience could offer more opportunities for engagement. For example, if the professor takes questions during and immediately after the lecture, attending in person could prompt you to pay closer attention and formulate questions of your own. Students attending an in-person lecture may also respond better to nonverbal communication cues, such as body language and gestures from the professor.
  •         Environmental cues. There could also be environmental cues in the physical classroom that don’t exist, or aren’t as noticeable, in a video lecture. For example, seeing other students around you diligently taking notes could prompt you to take notes more diligently yourself, or could prompt you to remember more of what you’re hearing.

The truth is likely a complex composite of many or all of these factors.

Balancing Strengths and Weaknesses

Just because video and virtual classrooms aren’t as effective as in-person educational experiences doesn’t mean they need to be abandoned. They still represent a critical opportunity to reach audiences who may struggle to attend in-person classes consistently, and those attending remotely. In addition, video lectures serve as an excellent resource for live attendees looking to reinforce their knowledge or review old information. The content itself also represents a medium that is devoid of advertisements or someone trying to sell you something. 

Instead, college administrators, professors, and students should seek to balance the strengths and weaknesses of this medium. Striving for a balance of physical and remote attendance, and spending extra time studying for remote courses are two immediate solutions, but there are many more options to explore. 

How to Deal With Tech Distractions in Class

When was the last time you went to class without your smartphone? I bet it’s been a while, if you can remember doing so at all.

Yes, you may need your phone for safety or even in-class research. But even if it doesn’t distract you from the lesson at hand, buzzes and blue light catch ears and eyes. It’s not fair of you to let your device get in the way of others’ learning.

I’m not going to tell you to leave all your devices at home. You should, however, follow these steps to keep tech from getting in the way of yours and others’ education:

  1. Plan for downtime.
    No matter the instructor or class size, there will be periods when you aren’t actively learning. Professors get stuck in traffic. Group discussions get done early.

    In those moments, what do you do? You pull out your phone. The moment you do that, you sweep class-related ideas out of your working memory. Once class starts or resumes, your brain has to forget about whatever Instagram images or Buzzfeed articles you were looking at, which it probably finds far more engaging than ancient philosophy texts.

    Have a plan for downtime. Keep a book of puzzles in your backpack. Not only will they keep you occupied, but they might actually help you stay focused when it counts. Brain teasers are actually gaining recognition as an alternative ADHD treatment because they build working memory. 
  1. Hold yourself accountable.
    You’re an adult. Nobody is going to take away your phone just because you were using it when you shouldn’t have been. Like it or not, it’s on you to hold yourself accountable.

    Start small: Get an app that discourages you from overusing your phone. Some merely track your usage, while others let you lock yourself out during certain times or past certain usage thresholds. Gamified apps stimulate the reward-seeking part of your brain, which may be to blame for your habit.

    What if apps aren’t enough? Set up a system of rewards and consequences. Perhaps if you go all week without using your phone in class, you’ll buy yourself a pizza for dinner Friday. If you catch yourself with your phone out more than once per class period, though, maybe you owe yourself extra crunches at the rec center.

    3. Ask before you access.
    What if you have a legitimate reason to haul out your phone in class? You might want to look up a term the professor threw out. If you’re expecting an important call, you may need to watch it for the right number.

    Whenever possible, get permission from the people sitting next to you. The best time to do this is before class starts. Everyone realizes that emergencies happen; as long as you’re courteous about it, they shouldn’t mind you sending a text.

    If it’s an in-class need, exhaust your other resources first. Check your textbook’s glossary for the concept or term. If can’t find it, quietly ask to look it up online. If appropriate, raise your hand to share the information. Chances are, others are wondering the same thing.

    4. Give gentle reminders.

Even if you observe smartphone etiquette, students around you might not. If their device use is distracting you, don’t create an even bigger distraction. Shouting or tossing something at them is a surefire way to disrupt the whole class.

What should you do instead? First try a silent cue. If your phone is on your desk, catch the other student’s eye while you put it in your pocket or bag. Only if that doesn’t work should you nudge or quietly ask him or her to put it away.

The key is to spread “social antibodies.” Catch the student who was on his or her phone after class. Don’t make a scene, but do make clear that you think it’s poor manners to use tech during a lecture. 

However exciting a new app or text might be, it can wait until after class. In those rare cases when it can’t, give nearby students a heads up. And if someone else’s smartphone use is distracting you, say something quietly and respectfully. It’s that easy. 

Why Most Students Run Out of Time to Study

Have you ever found yourself, the night before a major exam or due date for an essay, scrambling because you feel like you no longer have enough time to prepare? Most students have. It feels like no matter what you do, there’s never enough time to study.

Yet this can’t possibly be the case. Most professors issue a full syllabus the first day of class, explaining exactly when the essays are due and when the exams will be held. So why do so many students feel the pressure of a time crunch?

There are several potential pitfalls here, but the good news is you can learn to avoid them:

Why Students Run Out of Time

These are some of the biggest contributing factors to the persistent subjective time crunch felt by new college students:

  • Students don’t read the syllabus. First, students don’t bother reading the syllabus, so it’s practically a surprise when they hear about an essay that’s due or an exam that’s around the corner. Thankfully, this is a simple matter to correct; whenever you get the syllabus for the first time, read through it multiple times, and highlight the sections that seem most important. If anything seems confusing to you, ask the professor to clarify things early in the class.
  • Students fail to schedule important dates proactively. It’s also a problem that most students don’t use calendar software to schedule their most important upcoming dates proactively. Using a calendar app allows you to firmly schedule all future due dates and exam dates, so you can get automated reminders as those dates draw closer, keeping you on track. You could also rely on a physical planner, or a system involving sticky notes if you prefer—the point is to keep those important dates top-of-mind.
  • New students see cramming as a valid strategy. It’s common for new college students to think the best way to study for an exam is to “cram” the night before—in other words, staying up late into the night and studying as hard and long as possible, right before the exam. In practice, this strategy is terrible; it decreases your memory retention and often leaves you fatigued and sleep deprived for the exam. It’s much better to work in small chunks in the days and weeks leading up to the exam.
  • Young people are inclined to procrastinate. Procrastination is a common habit across all age groups and demographics, but it’s especially rampant among young people. New college students see an October 25 due date, and feel like it doesn’t matter on October 11. Beating procrastination can be tough, but you’ll have to find a way to do it if you want to succeed.
  • Some students underestimate the depth or complexity of the material. Some students give themselves a reasonable amount of time, but underestimate just how much they have to study or how much they have to do. This leaves them unable to seek help in time to make good use of it.
  • Ambitious students feel like their work is never enough. Finally, some students do adequately prepare, and in plenty of time to adhere to due dates, but they subjectively feel underprepared. Feeling more confident in your work and your abilities is something that will come with time and experience.

A Better Approach

If you’re interested in giving yourself as much time as possible, there are a few foundational pillars of success you can establish for yourself:

  • Review, understand, and schedule your landmark dates. Always take the time to read and understand the syllabus, then find a system you can use to schedule the landmark dates worthy of your attention in the future.
  • Spend a little time each day working. It’s good to set a goal, then spend a little time every day working toward that goal, rather than waiting to act on it until the last minute. This will help you in several areas, giving you insight into the true complexity and depth of the material, improving your memory retention, and giving you plenty of chances to talk with your professors if there’s something you don’t understand.
  • Pretend everything is due earlier than it is. Finally, work as if everything is due or issued a day earlier than it really is. If the test is Thursday, pretend like it’s Wednesday, and spend Tuesday doing your last-minute studies. This gives you an entire extra day to work with in case your primary strategy fails for any reason.

Everyone is unique, so it’s going to take time to discover and integrate the strategies that help you work proactively and avoid procrastination. Pay attention to the studying and scheduling tactics that work, and keep them integrated in your daily life.

What Makes Link Building So Expensive? (And is it Worth It?)

When it comes to SEO and digital marketing, there’s a lot of noise out there. Just run a basic “how-to” search on Google with any generic strategy and you’ll find thousands of blog posts from amateurs and professionals alike. Some of the information is useful, but most of it lands just a bit off target.

As you become more aware of how SEO and digital marketing work and what they can do for your business, it’s critically important that you stop consuming general self-help advice that looks at topics like link building from 30,000-feet above. Though a macro understanding of digital marketing is helpful, it’s the micro view – the one where you grab a magnifying glass and inspect the inner workings of specific strategies – that spurs results.

In this article, we’re zooming in and providing you with an in-depth look at a relevant topic. By the end, you’ll no longer be asking yourself why link building is so expensive. Instead, you’ll be looking for ways to get started.

The Cost of Link Building

When you work with a link building agency, you’re paying for a few different services. Generally speaking, you’re paying a marketing professional to pitch content ideas, develop said content, reach out to publishers, place the content, and provide some data/analytics about the content’s performance on the back end. While all of these services are included, you’ll generally discover that pricing happens on a cost-per-link basis.

The cost-per-link varies rather dramatically and is dependent on a number of different factors. By far, the most important factor is the website or blog where the content/link is published. The higher the domain authority (DA), the more expensive it is to purchase a backlink for these sites.

Links published on low DA websites – say 60 or below – are going to cost a fraction of what they cost on high DA websites. Generally speaking, you can expect to spend somewhere between $100 and $1,000 for a quality link with a quality publishers.

As with anything, there are exceptions to the rule. If you’re targeting really niche, low DA blogs and only need a couple hundred words of content to accompany the link, it’s possible that it could cost slightly less. If you’re trying to acquire a backlink on a very well known and authoritative website, then you could spend upwards of $2,000+ for a single link.  

5 Reasons Link Building Isn’t Cheap

When business owners and marketers first become familiar with the topic of link building and how it works, they typically do so in a top-down, generic manner that provides a limited understanding of what’s actually involved in the process. As a result, they’re blown away by the cost. However, the truth is that white hat link building is almost always worth the investment.

As you can see from some of the numbers mentioned above, link building isn’t cheap. But it isn’t fair to say it’s “expensive.” As with most business services, you get what you pay for. Quality link building has a premium price attached to it for a reason: It yields the client tremendous, long-term value.

Before writing off link building as too expensive or unreasonably priced, consider the following. Here are a few specific reasons why link building isn’t cheap:

  1.     Content Ideas and Strategy

Let’s start at the very beginning. While you’re interested in acquiring links as quickly as possible, it takes time to get the ball rolling. It all starts with the strategy.

You can’t just pick a link, choose a publisher, and finalize a transaction. In order to get your link on a specific website, it has to be embedded into quality content that provides value to the publisher’s readers. This requires a strategy session where ideas are generated and pitched. Sometimes this can go back and forth a few times before a specific pitch is finally approved.

Time is money in the digital marketing industry. When you pay for a link, you’re also paying for all the time and creative energy that’s spent on the front end.

  1.     Content Writing

Next comes the actual content writing. This can require even more time than the strategizing.

For high authority publishers, content generally needs to land in the 700- to 1,500-word range. Considering that writers are paid on an hourly or per-word basis, a significant percentage of a link’s cost is tied up in the price of the copy.

After content is developed, a copyeditor has to review the content and polish it until it shines. This is yet another cost that’s built into the price of the link you’re purchasing.

  1.     Outreach and Placement

Next comes the part you’re most focused on: outreach and placement. A link building service has established relationships with bloggers and publishing platforms all across the web. But it’s not as simple as sending them a link and getting it published. It takes some effort.

Content has to be pitched and delivered in such a way that publishers want to push the content out to their readers. If a publisher is disinterested in the content that’s pitched, the entire process has to start over again. It’s a sensitive process that requires great care.

  1.     Expertise

The link building industry has changed a lot over the years. Google and other search engines have cracked down on spammy link building practices that were once rampant and easy to get away with. In order to be successful in today’s SEO world, your link building campaigns need to be carefully crafted and properly aligned with the newest Google updates.

If you’re paying for cheap links, you’re probably paying for an inexperienced content writer with minimal SEO knowledge. They’re quickly writing thin content and trying to peddle it to low authority publishers. The links may or may not stick. If the links do stick, it’s highly possible that they violate Google’s nuanced expectations (thereby delivering low/no value).

A quality link building services comes with experience. Link building schemes aren’t developed with a spitball mentality. Instead, they’re fine-tuned with a thorough understanding of SEO best practices. White hat techniques are then used to place the link and cultivate long-term value for the client.

  1.     Back End Support

Quality link building isn’t a one-and-done strategy. Links are living, breathing digital assets that can be monitored. A reliable link building service will monitor the link placement, provide some data on how the link is performing, and keep an eye on things to ensure the link doesn’t get removed or flagged. Again, this is a cost that’s built into the price of the link.

Partner With the Right Link Building Service

If you want to, you can find a digital marketer or SEO specialist who will provide you with backlink services at a low, low price of just $200 or $300 per month!But working with these individuals is a lot like purchasing a used car from a greasy salesman on a questionable corner lot. It might be more expensive to purchase from a certified dealer with thousands of loyal customers, but at least you know what you’re getting.