4 Key Lessons for Freelance Writers

In 12 years of blogging and 7 years of professional blogging, I’ve learned a few tips about freelance writing. Today, I’m going to answer some of the biggest questions from aspiring freelance writers.

Question 1: How Do I Find – and Keep – Clients?

1. Keep or Start a Blog

My first paid gig was writing for a big name brand – American Greetings (AG). Because I had already been blogging for years, I had a leg up on other applicants but I made sure AG knew I was a fan and understood their audience. Blogging provides great editorial, writing and proofreading experience. Position your blog in the niche you want to write for: lifestyle if you want to work with brands, techie if you want to do science or technical writing, style if you want to work in fashion, etc.

 Learn why blogging is an essential part of any business growth plan.

2. Look for Work

Where can you find work? Friends and colleagues often provide work or business contacts for me so be sure to tell everyone.

Put “writer” on your business card and email signature. You can write website copy, menu plans, promotions, tweets, blog posts, magazine articles – think outside the box. Here are 10 of my favorite places to find freelance writing jobs. You should also subscribe to Freedom With Writing, which lists publications and pay rates. Many are magazines with pitching guidelines, so learn how to pitch and write queries. The Renegade Writer is the place to learn how to pitch magazines.

3. Strategically Make Contact in Person

If you are attending events to find brands and companies to work with, it’s not enough to drop your business card and media kit at each of them.

Review who is going to be at the event and select your top 5 or 6 to make contact with. Engage with the brand before you get to the event. Brainstorm creative ways that you can work with them ahead of time and why they should hire you over anyone else. What will you do for them that no one else can do as well?

Question 2: How Can I Stand Out from the Crowd?

stand out

1. Volunteer Where Your Passion Is

One of my current clients kept me in mind because I was passionate about the cause for GMO labeling, just as she is. I wrote a number of articles in that campaign’s infancy, and she eventually hired me to her team. As a result, bloggers in the natural living sphere know me and hire or refer me to other people looking for writers. That’s because I also keep active in this community, supporting their causes. Don’t just volunteer; become active and engaged with the bloggers who are doing work that you really care about.

2. Overdeliver

The old cliché in business goes, “Underpromise and overdeliver.” While you should be creatively pitching prospects, promising less while deciding ahead of time to build in “extras” for your client makes you look good and gives you breathing room in case of disaster. For one client, I was her “go to” person for emergencies for a period of time. This can be inconvenient and is not always an option, nor should it be a long-term requirement, but it can build your reputation quickly and easily. How can you “overdeliver” for your prospects and clients?

3. Communicate Issues Before They Blow Up

Real life is full of miscommunication, missed deadlines and missed opportunities.

If this happens with a potential or current client, take the high road. Admit when you’ve done something wrong or if you are uncertain. Take steps to make it better. Recently, a miscommunication between two of my clients caught me in the middle. I discussed the issue with both of them and declined a job to keep them happy. They did not resolve their issues, but they appreciated my honesty and gesture. So far, being honest has never made a situation worse; it has only improved things or ended an unwanted client relationship.

4. Get to Know the Client Personally

When possible, have a direct conversation with your client. For small clients this is a wonderful way to brainstorm ideas, find common ground and put you top of mind. One of my upcoming clients is a vendor of services for my family, however, we have built a relationship on our common philosophy. When she was looking for a writer, she thought of me. I took what I knew from our time together and pitched her services over and above what she was requesting. Now she is considering me for even bigger responsibilities on her team.

Question 3: How Do I Get Support From My Family While Building My Income?

1. Your Blog is a Business

When I started talking about my blog as a business, my husband immediately changed his view on it. After I started getting freelance work, I employed my husband as my business manager, allowing him to collect past due invoices and to assist me with research when I was strapped for time. When you are freelancing for others, you need to make sure your family and friends know that you are a professional. You can foster that idea by recruiting someone close to help you – just don’t take advantage!

2. What to do When Your Writing Income is Too Low

When I quit my full time job back in 2011, we had more than enough income to live on one salary. If you do work part or full time, please don’t quit your job until you have enough money meet your basic needs.

My advice is to keep your job and strategically move/add to your current position in a way that gets you closer to writing. When I worked for a trade publication for many years, I made contacts and asked questions from the writing staff that later helped me. If you have something you have done in a past job to excel, reframe those skills as a writer. Boot strap what you do now into what you want to do. For example, whatever industry you are in – retail, engineering, administrative – gives you information and experience to write about.

If you are making money now, consider raising your prices. If you have a blog, monetize it with ads or small social media campaigns. Ask to be paid for what you do if you are not. (Even volunteering has its limits.) It’s time to start asking anyone who contacts you to “help spread the word” about products or events for pay.

Question 4: How Do I Balance My Work and Personal Life?

game time

1. Be More Productive at Work

There are no real shortcuts but the first step is to maximize your time management.

Learn what times of day are most productive for certain tasks. When are you sharpest for proofing and editing? When are you most creative at thinking up topics and angles? When writing, I create a list of bullets for several posts and then go back to do research afterward. Then I assign a client post to a particular day of the week and list tasks for all my working hours. When my client comes up on the schedule, I’m ready to go. Finally, I have accountability partners and weekly goals to stay on task.

2. Don’t Work Outside of “Work”

Once you’ve sketched out and planned your work time, you need to set aside time for family, friends and fun. I have “office hours” and scheduled days off. I never let work interfere with my personal time. When work is done, I log off and forget it until my next office hours.

These tips have helped me have a successful career in social media and freelance writing. To sharpen your writing skills, learn what top editors do to make articles shine.