I didn’t go to college for writing. My degrees are in business/management and pastoral care ministry. But I have loved writing all my life. John-Boy Walton was my favorite TV character growing up, because he, too, loved writing and wanted to be a writer. He chased his dream; I fell backwards on my ass and found freelance writing as my deliverance.
Most of you know my life story, or most of it, and how I began freelance writing as a side venture. Then, when my life’s career imploded and left me homeless with a family of 7, writing was the only thing I had left to fall back on. But even as I pursued building a writing career, I constantly asked myself, “How am I ever going to make a living as a freelance writer?”
I knew writing. I know writing. But I knew less than nil about the business of writing. In fact, I’m still learning that part. Now, in my second year of full-time freelance writing, I find there is always more to learn. Things change and evolve. Thankfully, I’m in some great groups and I have a handful of mentors who continue to coach me in the business side of things.
Here are 10 things I’ve learned about the business of freelance writing. These are likely not taught in Writing 101 or other college classes. But I’m learning them well in the actual school of daily producing content and dealing with clients.
Clients may take a chance on you because of your writing portfolio or some samples, but they keep coming back because of YOU. As an entrepreneur who sells a service, my clients connect with me as much as they do my work. And as I continue to provide quality work on time, they keep coming back. And they agree to occasional price hikes. You AND your work must both resonate with the client.
Everyone wants a bargain. If I’m willing to write top-tier copy for almost nothing, people will gladly pay me next to nothing. But I will starve. Provide clear value and price yourself accordingly. I can point to experience and published work that proves my value, and other client’s recommendations that vouch for my reliability. But that value and reliability isn’t free, and it isn’t cheap.
That old adage, “It’s all about who you know,” applies to freelance writing, too. As you bond with clients and other writers, and they come to know and respect you and your abilities, they will send you work. It’s true — other writers have sent me great clients, many of whom I still work with monthly. It happens randomly, but great opportunities fall into my lap from writer friends. One just this week, in fact, that will yield long-term, lucrative benefits.
If you want to be treated as a fly-by-night amateur, treat every client differently and have no set guidelines that you follow. Professionals set terms for doing business that protect them and the business, as well as guarantee the client quality, on-time work. Put everything in writing and deliver more than what you promise.
A number of clients have told me that turning in work on time is vastly more important to them than great talent at writing. For some reason, too many freelance writers believe they can be frivolous in keeping deadlines and it doesn’t matter. This is not the case. Gain a reputation for consistently turning in work on time or ahead of time and you will never hurt for work. Reliability and writing talent combined make you a highly-valuable freelancer.
No one can write with exceptional talent in every genre and voice. Some writers will submit work that is better than yours. You will get turned down by clients. You will submit pitches to numerous jobs and hear nothing, or be rejected. Grow a thick skin and keep pitching clients, even the same ones. There have been times when a client has turned me down on a job, only to choose me later for another.
I’m still learning this. I have narrowed down the scope of my business over time, but I still have room to go further. But there is great wisdom in offering one specialized service and doing it exceptionally well. I cannot afford to cut off clients for whom I perform certain services, so I do not. But I only take new clients for a narrow line of writing services. It does make things easier.
Social media allows users to craft any picture they want to convey about themselves. Your peers are likely not swimming in the Caribbean every day while the money rolls into their several overseas bank accounts. They probably have a mortgage and car payments they must meet each month, just like you. They are out there trying to earn a living just like you. Don’t envy them; focus on your work and your business. Build your own version of success.
Good clients are not only willing to pay accordingly for great work, they are willing to wait for it. They know that great work isn’t accomplished overnight. Seldom do I have the luxury of spending an entire day working on a single project. I have many tasks and projects going simultaneously. I have to budget time to invest on each piece of the pie. So, when taking on a task or project, I must ensure I allow enough time to produce quality work. Anything worthwhile will take a while.
Most people end up where they belong. What I mean by that is, their level of effort has landed them exactly where they earned the right to be. For good or bad. How does anyone else know your full potential or capabilities? Anyone who refuses to support your dream should be avoided and ignored. Don’t follow the advice of people who were too afraid to accomplish their dreams.
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3. Purchase my book on writing, How to Write Well. Now in its second edition, you will find loads of practical help to improve your writing; plus, keep it handy as a reference as you write. It is available in print, digital, or audio versions.
4. I now offer coaching for aspiring freelance web writers seeking to start their own business. This new service is still in development, but you can get in on the ground floor now as I flesh out the various modules. Follow the link for more information and to take advantage of a special introductory offer!