Author: Amber James

Annual Business Services is a Tax Scam

Last week I got a letter from Annual Business Services. It looked like it was sent by the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office regarding official tax-related business. The envelope looked slightly spammy, but mostly legit. Here’s what it looks like:

Annual Filing Services Scam

Hating to receive mail from the government, I opened it immediately to make sure I wasn’t late on something. There was no letter of introduction, no State of Oregon letterhead, no “Sincerely” farewell. What it said at the top of the form was “2014-Annual Minutes Form.” And what it said at the top of the other piece of paper in the envelope was “Instructions for Completing the Annual Minutes Form.” It also said that a payment of $125 was required with the submission of my minutes, which I could pay by check, money order, or by filling out my credit card information.


The State of Oregon has never asked me to do that before. And all other things being shady, I went onto the Oregon Secretary of State’s website to double-check the proper procedure for filing shareholder minutes. Guess what I found? Two posts dated July 2014 and May 2014 warning business owners to beware this company that’s masquerading as a State entity. Here’s the post.

If you’ve received this letter, don’t fill it out! I just went to the website,, and they’ve shut it down. I had gone before and it was an ugly templated thing.

On the form it said to respond by August 29th, so this post is a little late in coming. Hopefully they haven’t made off with your $125 by now. If they have, report it to the police and/or the Secretary of State’s Office.

3 Professionals Every Freelancer Should Have on Their Team

Every freelancer is good at what they do. Whether your a copywriter or welder, graphic designer or gardener, your time is precious and it’s best spent doing what you’re good at. For everything else, I recommend you hire someone to do it for you. Your business team will help you do your taxes, make your business a legal entity, draw up legal documents, deal with non-paying clients, and buy business insurance. The resources listed below are located in the Portland-Metro area (and may practice in Washington as well).

1) Small Business Attorney

Business attorney rates, like any service provider, can best be described as having a range. The range I’ve encountered is $150-$1,000 per hour. There are also pre-paid legal service providers out there, if you want to go that route. Your best bet will be to find a small business attorney amongst your network of family and friends, and enlist their services. Working with an attorney who has her own practice (versus a huge, cookie-cutter firm) would be my recommendation.

If you live in the State of Oregon, I can highly recommend Katie Lane. I recommend her because she specializes in working with freelancers. I know quite a few attorneys, and she’s the only one I’ve met who knows the complete ins and outs of what a freelance business professional needs.

As an additional legal resource, MercyCorps Northwest offers a series of small business consulting services including: general small business consulting, legal consulting, record keeping, and credit consulting.

2) Accountant/CPA (Certified Public Accountant)

Tax time is no joke. While I’m sure I would feel very proud of myself if I did my own taxes, I will never ever be as educated about the latest and greatest tax breaks, rates, and deductions available to me. I just won’t. I’m a writer. I am writing. This is what I do.

Spending more than a couple hours per year dealing with my taxes makes me nervous. And bored, to be perfectly honest. My CPA is Geoff Dougall, and he’s like a unicorn: absolutely magical and very real. His office sends me a reminder in the mail that tax time is upon us (with a little booklet that helps me prepare everything he needs!), we meet for an hour to go over my financials, I leave, the magic happens, and they tell me when my returns are ready to pick up. See? Magic!

Yes, I pay him for the service he provides, AND he keeps me financially safe, secure, and cared for. I’ve worked with Geoff for years, and I hope to do so for many more to come.

3) Financial Advisor/Planner

When I was renting a desk in a larger office, I called my financial advisor to give him my new address. During that call, he asked if I was interested in purchasing renter’s insurance. I said “No, why do you ask?” He said, “Because you’re renting a desk in a shared office. And you’re probably leaving some of your business assets or other property at the office, right?” He was. “So anyone who has access to that office, or happens to wander through, could possibly steal your stuff. See what I’m sayin’?” I did.

The insurance would cost me $5/month. I bought it. He also helped me set-up my first 401K, an investment account, and wants to “get me into a Roth IRA” in the next few years.

If you don’t already know a Financial Advisor or Planner that you trust, start by asking the people in your network to recommend someone.

What other complementary business professionals do you think should be on the team of every freelancer?

Networking is Not Selling

The books on this subject are many, so I’ll just give you a few key things to keep in mind about networking.

Networking and selling are different

When you network, you’re meeting people and giving them the opportunity to meet you. You’re literally building your network of contacts by nurturing a long-lasting relationships, and learning what they do and helping them understand what it is you do. Selling would be focused primarily on getting money from someone over the short-term.

Here’s what the difference between networking and selling sounds like:


“Hi, I’m Amber and I’m a freelance copywriter. If you or anyone you know needs a website, brochure, or press release written, just have them give me a call. Here’s my card!”


Amber: “Hi, I’m Amber. I’m a freelance copywriter.” (Stop)
Dave: “Oh, a writer, huh? What kinds of things do you write?” (Stop)
Amber: “Well, I mostly write marketing content for businesses, like websites, brochures, and social media content. I love being able to work with so many different kinds of writing. Right now I’m working on a website for a naturopath. What do you do?” (Stop)

See the difference? The first example is a scripted speech, while the second is a dialogue, a conversation. That’s what you want. Just talk to people. Relax. Chat. Be curious about them and what they do.

Better even than talking about what you do is listening to others talk about what they do. Be curious about everyone you meet and ask questions about them and their work. People are more likely to hire or work with someone they like over someone with the perfect experience.

For example, I recently met with a prospective client who had a very specific kind of writing he was looking for. I had done some relevant work, but not an extensive amount. By the end of the informational interview, we were geeking out about Sci-Fi books and our favorite characters from the Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R Tolkien. By the end of the 45 minutes (which was only supposed to be 30 minutes) he said he wanted me working on the next project that came in the door.

If you’re not likeable or can’t stand small talk, you might have trouble with networking, and helping people get to know you and vice versa. Be honest with yourself about your limitations and find ways to manage them. Maybe you do better in small gatherings, or perhaps you need to partner with someone who does better at small talk, so you can just do your work.

As freelancers, being known and liked is key to our success. The best advice I can give is to practice, practice, practice. You’ll learn by doing. I promise.

View Copywriting From 3 Different Angles [VIDEO]

Streamed live on April 24, 2014, I was interviewed by Nick Mendez of the Mathys+Potestio Creative Party, on the subject of copywriting.

My fellow panelists included veteran copywriter and strategist Jaye Davis, and aspiring copywriter Page Jensen-Slattengren. Here’s the 32-minute interview that’ll help you view copywriting from three different angles.

4 Things You Need to Know About Networking

A lot of freelancers I’ve met are terrified of networking. Probably because they’re introverts and the idea of 1) attending an event filled with strangers, and 2) being expected to talk to these people and sell themselves is completely beyond their comfort zone.

Before you freak out any further, keep these four things in mind about networking:

1) Attend as many events as are relevant to you

The more you put yourself out there, the more you get back in return. No one can hire you if they don’t know you exist. Below is a list of organizations and groups that put on events, offer excellent member resources and provide regular networking opportunities. Some of these organizations are (inter)national, but most of those listed are located in the Portland-Metro area. More than likely you’ll find similar organizations all over the place once you start looking for them:

2) Your friends are your friends

In order to find the highest quality events in your area, I would recommend asking everyone in your local network for networking event recommendations. Where do they go? What events and strategies have they found to be useful? Explore everything and see what works for you.

3) Networking isn’t limited to networking events

Networking opportunities don’t have to be called “networking events” in order for you to network. Going to a wedding is an opportunity to meet new people and share what it is you do with others. So is talking to the person in front of you in the checkout line, or striking up a conversation with the person sitting next to you on the plane. Every time you’re around people is a potential networking opportunity. You don’t have to network at every opportunity…but you could!

4) Stay in touch with your new connections

Similar to the prospective clients you’ve cold-called, stay in contact with relevant contacts you meet at these events. Always get a card from them and follow-up with a LinkedIn invitation the day after the event, or a “It was nice meeting you” email.

For those contacts that I want to work with, in this email I’ll also ask them if they’d like to get together for coffee in the next week or two. That way I get to know them, they get to know me, and the next time they need a copywriter, I’ll be top-of-mind. And vice versa when I meet someone who needs what that new connection does.

I understand that getting out there can be hard, but your business depends on you doing it. And you don’t have to do it alone! Ask a friend or colleague to go to an event with you so you have at least that person to stick close to.

What networking events do you go to in Portland? How have you overcome your discomfort with networking?