So, you wanna be a freelance writer. You want to work from home, make money writing, build a business in your pajamas. You can write, but do you know – really know – what it takes to succeed as a freelance writer?
I’ve been freelancing for more than five years. It was something I’d always thought about, but was afraid to try until I found myself facing divorce and single motherhood. Adversity has a way of helping us find courage we didn’t know we had. Happily, in addition to my courage, I also discovered a few serendipitous connections that helped me get set up with a couple long-term contracts.
For the first eighteen months, I wasn’t writing. I was a freelance project manager who helped web development companies herd their proverbial cats. I handled budgets and schedules, corralled various resources, and managed client expectations. I wrote a lot of meeting notes and a lot of emails, but nothing more creative than that.
Then, a year-and-a-half into my freelance journey, I got my first chance at a writing project. One of my clients needed some web copy written. When he asked if I knew anyone we could hire for the project, I offered up my own services. I had no idea what I was doing. I had no samples to show. I did, however, have the trust of my client. They gave me the shot and I never looked back. About six months later, I had enough experience under my belt to confidently call myself a “freelance writer.” Six months after that, I joyfully turned down a project management gig saying, “I don’t do that any more.”
Over the course of my adventures in the land of freelancing, I have learned many things. I have been hired for a wide variety of writing jobs: professional blogger, ghost blogger, marketing writer. I have written all kinds of content: essays, website copy, emails, newsletters, corporate ebooks, case studies, award submissions, brand identities, messaging frameworks, and more. I wear a lot of hats, but no matter what role I’m in or which kind of content I’m working on, there are seven “secrets” that have consistently contributed to my success:
Learn where to find work.
When you’re first starting out, it’s tempting to take jobs that you find on sites like Craig’s List or oDesk. While I’m sure there are some viable gigs that you can find through these sources, my personal experience was depressing – the quality of the clients was low, the pay was low, my chances of landing the job against the many other applicants were low.
Instead of searching these sites as a stranger in a strange land, think about how you can use your personal and business networks to make connections with potential clients. Your chances of getting an introduction to the right person are much higher when you have a personal contact. Your chances of getting stiffed are much lower (assuming your friends aren’t jerks).
Don’t overlook the value of the relationships you already have.
- Make a list of all your contacts and make a commitment to reach out to a few of them each day. Share what you’re doing and ask them to let you know of any opportunities that come up.
- One site that I did find helpful in the early years was Freelance Writing Jobs. Though I didn’t ever land a job through the site, perusing the daily job postings was a great way to begin getting a feel for what types of jobs were out there and even what people were paying for certain types of writing.
Learn to price projects properly.
One of the most common pitfalls awaiting new freelancers is inaccurate pricing. You land a new project, but you’re not sure what to charge. You end up throwing out a number that winds up being way off the mark. End result: you work your tail off, but your profits dwindle away to peanuts.
Knowing what to charge comes from experience. You need to know the market value of the work you’re doing as well as how long it will take you to do the work. When you’re just starting out, there are all kinds of unforeseen tasks that will eat away at your budgeted time like Uncle Ned at a Las Vegas all-you-can-eat buffet.
- Do some online research by searching phrases like “freelance writing rates” to see what kinds of pricing resources are out there.
- Make a list of all the tasks that go into a writing project: client intake, administration, research, writing, review meetings, revisions, formatting, editing. Create a template in Excel that you can use to help you price out projects.
Learn to be a project manager.
A project manager is the person in charge of creating and managing project plans, budgets, schedules, and resources. It’s an unglamorous role, but an important one. When you can handle these details, you take a great deal of responsibility off your client’s shoulders – you make her job easier. (That is a good thing.)
In addition to accurately estimating your time (and the associated cost) on a project, learn to create a basic project schedule for your clients. Handle all the documentation tasks associated with a project: creating a scope of work (a topic which deserves a post of its own), capturing meeting notes, sending reminders about next steps and deadlines.
By helping to keep the team on track and on time, you will become a more valuable asset.
- Think through the basic steps of a project and create a simple project calendar or schedule that you can provide for each of your projects.
- Get in the habit of providing clear, consistent communications (most usually in email) so you can help everyone stay on track.
These simple practices have played a big part in my success. They have kept my clients so happy that they don’t just come back for more, they refer their friends to me. I’ve seen these same principles at work in the successful writing businesses of my colleagues as well. Although creativity and writing excellence are important, you might be surprised at how qualities like responsiveness and reliability can influence your prospects.
Next time, we’ll cover four more secrets of successful freelance writers. Until then, what methods and tactics have you seen work well? How do you build your successful business?
Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of voice and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.
Image Credit: Jan Willemsen