WARNING: The following tips may create so much work for you, you might find yourself dealing with a surplus of ever growing work. If this list was a recipe for a cocktail, I’d give you the following advice: dilute heavily with water and sip slowly. As an independent writer for four years, I’m almost never short on work. I usually have a different problem entirely; I sometimes have too many assignments going on concurrently.
Last year, I almost collapsed from the pressure. I barely slept. Sometimes, even when I had time to sleep, my brain wasn’t able to “turn off” and relax enough for me to enjoy my break.
In fact, the pressure that rises from having too many deadlines can be mentally, physically and emotionally taxing. Use these tips at your own discretion and always make sure you have some “decompression” time for your family and yourself. Always remember that when you’re running a business, it’s okay to take some time off. No, the world isn’t going to collapse when you do, I promise :).
Enjoy The Journey, Not The Destination
Before I begin, I think it’s important for me to remind you to enjoy your first steps along the writer’s path. Writing is fun; no really, it is. Freelance writing is especially rewarding because I can set my own hours and travel almost anywhere in the world while still making a very good living. If done correctly, this career can give you the freedom and flexibility many only dream about while slaving away in corporate jobs.
Some of the tips I’ll give you seem ridiculously obvious. I find it interesting that the most manifestly apparent things are usually the ones that people tend to ignore.
Ultimately, as you perfect your craft, your joy in writing will probably deepen, as it has for me. There is nothing quite like stimulating the creative juices in your mind and seeing what can come out. So, whether you’re dealing with one client or ten, relax and enjoy the creative process.
1. Focus on building relationships, not a business card or a website
I know this will sound a little bit counter-intuitive; after all, I have an entire website dedicated to displaying my portfolio that took me many hours to generate, but you don’t need to focus on your website or any archaic means of advertising like business cards. I’ve never used a business card once in my professional career and I seem to be doing just fine. Additionally, long before I put up ProArticleWriter.com, I was already generating a healthy income from the relationships I had built with past clients.
Of course, having a website, logo, and all the other accessories are great ways of establishing credibility and showing off your portfolio. However, they should be nothing more than an addition to your networking skills. Ultimately, the main things that will help you flourish, in my experience, are client referrals and active solicitations.
2. Know Who You Are Writing For: Understanding Your Clients and Niche
I can’t stress this point enough: choose a niche that you’re comfortable with and look for clients that require quality work in your chosen field.
As an independent writer, you can write for 1001 clients: from small businesses to large companies, from sports sections or science editors to women’s and legal magazines. However, there are some problems that come with being an all-purpose writer.
First of all, you can forget charging high fees for your work. Clients pay top dollar for specialized pieces that touch the core of their customers’ concerns. If you’ll write anything for anyone, you’ll be resigned to charging not much more than 5 cents per word (or less).
Additionally, there is a lot of competition from other freelancers that have no issues grinding out articles in third world content mills. I’m not saying it’s impossible to make a living as a general purpose writer, but why would you?
You’ll get off to a faster start if you specialize in a certain niche, such as psychology, sports, law, or technology.
By writing a lot about a certain subject, you automatically build up expertise and become more attractive to clients. It seems obvious to state that almost any company is more likely to hire someone who often writes about their niche than a freelancer who does all sorts of things. A law firm would rather hire a copywriter who regularly writes about legal issues than a general reporter from a newspaper.
Your specialization can be very narrow. For example, you could become a maestro in the field of mortgages. But if you like more variety, you can also choose a broader topic. Personally, I can write one week about the insane shenanigans of wallstreetbets then write about how youtube’s algorithm changes affect earnings for small businesses. They are all under the “finance” umbrella, but it’s a broad enough topic that I’ll honestly never lack what to talk about.
3. Aim for Practical Goals
Here’s a secret, I’m not sure if you know this or not: almost every freelancer would love a hit piece on the New York Times or other major content aggregators. The pay is matched only by the prestige of writing for an established firm. In reality, most bloggers can earn a very healthy full-time income without ever going beyond small blogs and local newspapers.
At the beginning of your career, set practical goals that you have concrete step by step plans on how to fulfill. Perhaps you’d like to achieve a certain word count per day or you’d like to brush up on your skills. Instead of fantasizing about a future that may never come, just make sure you live every single day to its fullest potential.
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
Start chewing day by day. Who knows where you’ll end up one day.
4. Build A Varied, Solid Portfolio
Spoiler alert: every single potential client you’ll ever come across will want to see a sample of your work. Period. It’s your time to shine! Organize some of your most outstanding, compelling writing pieces and show why you’re the best in the business. If you have a large amount of variety, choose articles that closely align with the specific work your client is looking for.
Early in my career, there were times when I’d purposefully write about 100-200 words for a client as a sample of the kind of content they could expect from me. Eventually, I realized that some unscrupulous people were looking for free work. These days, I just let my portfolio speak for me. It has enough variety and outstanding work to help someone decide if they want to hire me or not.
5. Pitch Ideas to Clients
Let’s say you come across a website that looks like the kind of place you’d like to write for. The first thing you should do is look through their article repository and figure out what is missing. You may want to compare the site to others in the niche. After that, contact the site owner with a customized sales pitch for your services and the type of work you’d like to do for them.
Most business owners don’t have the time to sit around all day and think of things to put up on their website. These are the ideal people to target because almost no other freelancer is pitching them content ideas. Personalizing sales pitches in this manner will skyrocket your conversion and retention rates.
Whenever I approach a new client for work, I always make at least two suggestions for articles I would like to write for them. I feel like this makes my request for work much more concrete and the site editor(s) seem to be significantly more inclined to answer.
6. Improve Your Writing Skills
So you’ve been talking to a client for a few days, they seem really excited about your ideas and want to start working with you immediately. Then, they ask for a sample of your work, you send your portfolio….and communication stops. Have you ever had this happen?
The reason is pretty simple: your writing sucks.
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news. If they liked what you had to offer until they saw your content, you need to work on your writing.
Relax: nobody is born writing like George R. R. Martin. Sure, some people seem to have a natural talent for it (NOT me), but EVERYONE can improve if they put some effort into their work. Maybe you had too many spelling errors or perhaps the flow of the content felt a little bit too disjointed for their liking.
A good writer is always trying to improve their craft. There are many free creative writing courses offered on the internet and you may even find affordable classes locally. Practice for a few hours a week and over time, you’ll get better at it.
7. Learn How To Say “NO”
I get it: clients, especially repeating ones, are the lifeblood of any business. Sometimes, it might feel like you’re almost entirely beholden to them. The urge to satisfy their every whim can be quite strong, especially if you fear that future opportunities will go to other freelancers.
I started saying no to clients a few years ago and not one dropped out.
“Hey, could you rewrite this section that you just spend hours of your afternoon polishing because I changed my mind about the subject of the article?”
“I’ve been buying content from you for a while. Do you mind doing X work for YY hours for free? I promise I’ll keep coming back ^_^!”
“I’m paying in free eXpOsUrE bucks…..”
Interestingly, I noticed that editors started offering me more work when I became more selective. If you respect yourself and know your value, people will start respecting you too. Don’t be shy to entirely cut off very problematic clients if it’s impacting your mental and emotional health. You’re in this business for the long haul, and there’s no easier way to completely burn yourself out than working with difficult clients.
I promise you that if you apply some of the suggestions I’ve listed above, not only will potential customers start flooding your inbox, you’ll have a better relationship with a high quality, valuable, long term clientele. Any thoughts, comments or questions? Contact me or post a comment below!