Do you ever wonder what can make you a more successful freelance writer?
I can think, and research, about that until my brain goes numb from overload. But maybe that’s just me. Certainly, as a professional writer for more than a decade, I’ve had ample opportunity to hone my writing skills, make money, and most importantly, to learn what seems to really work, or not work, as a freelance writer.
And I want to share with you all, some of what I’ve learned AND give you a chance to ask questions you might have.
Just so you know, there are two things I kept uppermost in my mind as I wrote this article – to be totally honest with you and to draw on those things that I’ve found insanely useful – things that have contributed heavily to my success over the years – things that I believe will be insanely useful to you.
So here we go…
My Freelance Writing Tips and Secrets for Long-term Success
1. You have to love to write.
Seems kind of silly to have this here, doesn’t it? But the truth is that I run across a lot of people who like the idea of being a writer; whether it’s the romantic notion of it or they just like saying they’re a writer, or they think it’ll be easy money, I’m not sure. But I can say with certainty that if you don’t love to write, you won’t be happy as a freelance writer over the long haul.
How do you know if you love to write? Do you get caught up in writing, to the extent that the outside world disappears? If you are able to get into a state of flow with your writing then you probably love it. Many people talk about and write about fearing that empty page (aka, the blank flashing computer screen) but in all honesty that moment is exhilarating. That is the moment you step into creation – you make something out of nothing. Even now, years into my career, I find myself getting caught up in pieces that I write, whether for myself or for clients, to the extent that I forget to eat, forget to pee, forget that I have other obligations.
So, think about it for a few moments, do you love to write, or do you just love the idea of being a writer? Your answer/s should tell you if this is a good path for you.
2. Know that Getting what you need financially is really not that hard.
You’ve probably heard a zillion times that you can’t get somewhere if you don’t know where you’re going. I’m telling you right now it won’t actually take that much for you to get the cash flow you need to get by. (I’m already assuming you’re a good writer and are willing to actually do hard work).
From what I’ve seen writers are their own worst enemy in their thinking here. Here’s the thing, it doesn’t take that much for you to be successful. Yes, the internet is stacked with apparently countless people who are making millions. Good for them.
But you don’t need that much to get by so let’s examine what you really do need. Take a look at your life. How much do you really need to be mildly comfortable? 3k per month? Let’s break that down as an example. You can get 3k per month by having 1 weekly blog post gig with 2 social media clients if you’re charging properly. That’s 3 clients. JUST 3 clients to change your life.
Doable, right? So stop discouraging yourself that you’re not making millions and see what you really do need. You absolutely CAN find 3 clients if you’re good and are willing to work for it. Once you get the basic cash flow then you set another specific financial goal to go after.
3. You have to learn what projects are best for you to say yes, or no to.
When you are just starting out as a freelancer you’ll probably be inclined to say yes to any paying project that comes you way. And if you need that money to keep your electricity on, then by all means, say yes to the project. That’s a no-brainer. Plus, this is when you have to build your track record and get some testimonials.
But let’s suppose you’re getting by. You have those 3 clients, you can pay your bills with a little juggling, you have a few potential clients on the line. This is a critical juncture because the temptation is to keep saying yes to every project that is offered to you. I know I did and though the bump up in income was nice, I wasn’t facing many days with happiness. As we all know, you must balance income with satisfaction and happiness or what’s the point? After all, it’s about your Spiritual Write to Success, not just success at any cost.
So, how do you know what to say yes to and what to say no to?
You have to know yourself and what your goals are. To made project decisions I use what I call my personal filter – I mentally run all my business decisions through my filter which in short is this – do I love it, and if not, does it pay enough so I’ll really love the money? (There is nothing wrong with seeking and earning money as long as it’s not to the exclusion of what really matters in life).
My personal filter includes these questions:
- Is this project in line with my ultimate goals?
- Am I passionate about, or do I believe in the concept or topic, of this project?
- Is the pay inline with my abilities?
- If I answer no to the first 2 questions, then I ask myself, can I get enough money from the project that loving it does not matter to me? OR is there something else of high value to me that outweighs my lack of passion?
If I answer yes to the first 3 questions, I take the project unless I’m totally overbooked for the foreseeable future.
Let’s talk about question 4 for a second. The first point in question 4– will it pay enough that loving the project will not matter to me? If a project is going to last 2 weeks and pay me what I would normally make in 3 months, then the payoff will allow me some financial elbow room to work on some of my own writing projects, like my next book. Gaining that time is HUGE for me so the money in this case makes saying yes worthwhile.
However, I have never and will never write about something that I am against or that is counter to my morals etc. So this question is for those projects that have content that you are not personally interested in – BUT YOU KNOW you can still be interested in producing good writing for the client. No matter what the pay is if you don’t believe you will be able to engage in the actual writing enough to provide high quality, don’t do it.
The second point, “is there something else of high value to me that outweighs my lack of passion? Even if you have never personally been interested in plastic mold injection you might end up saying yes to writing about it on a company blog because you desperately need to build your writing resume or there is something else of high personal value to you such as: It gets you in with a client who will likely lead to other projects that are more interesting to you or you’re trying to break into social media posting for pay and this gets you started.
So, your personal filter needs to have a few basic questions that are pertinent to you as a person and writer, that address your goals and needs. If you develop this now and run your decisions through it you’ll develop a freelance writing business you love and that you can sustain over the long haul.
4. You have to know how charge properly.
I’m not big on the Starving artist syndrome. If you are a skilled professional you should be paid as such. Just like any other professional it takes time and effort and learning to get really good. Too many people think they can be a writer because they can string some words together. A professional freelance writer is a lot more than that – especially if you’re writing online in today’s rapidly changing Internet climate.
So, when you have the skillset you have to charge enough so you can stay writing and not have to go do something else. I personally recommend against writing mills, period. Your time is worth more than that and all you’ll end up doing is training yourself to not value your time and your writing enough.
I do highly recommend you charge by the project. Clients feel safer when they know the total cost up front. And here you’ll have to be really honest with yourself on how long the project will take you. Don’t cut your rates low because you’re afraid of not getting the contract. If you’ve been a freelancer for 1 year you can’t charge as much as when you’ve been one for a decade. I know it’s hard to find actual ballpark numbers of what to charge because people always say, it depends. And I’m saying that too, but I will give you some hard numbers based on my experience and you can draw from those to develop your own scale based on your experience and skill sets.
I’ve been a freelancer for more than a decade and I’m very good. Plus I have an excellent grasp of SEO so I charge accordingly – but I’m going back in time a bit in my mind so here you go – hard numbers to work with:
- Blog posts: When I first started I’d do a blog post for $20 – now I try never to go below $100 per post (unless it fits in my filter for other reasons) and I regularly get paid $200 per post and I’ve been paid as much as $500 per post.
- Webpage: When I first started I’d create a landing page or webpage for about $40 and now I don’t go below $350.
- Webpage rewrite: When I first started I’d rewrite a web or landing page for about $25, and now I don’t go below $100. (except for some zencopy subscribers, who I will rewrite a page for, for free).
- Social media posts: When I first started I’d write a series of social media posts for free (to support a paid landing page) and now I average $500 plus per month for social media posts that come out 5 days per week.
To charge well you have to know how fast you are, how much time you have to write, and what your income needs to be.
And MOST IMPORTANT – you must deliver quality – every time. Writing one great blog post isn’t that hard. Writing three great ones every week for 2 years for a client – not that easy. When you have ongoing clients beyond the good feelings you have you will experience at various times, boredom, frustration, and fear. For the emotions that make writing tougher, you HAVE to make yourself work through them. Your client doesn’t care – they want the product and they want it to be high quality. And on time. Always.
A note on when everything goes bad in your life. If you are in the habit of always delivering high quality writing on time, when you do have to ask your client if you can get the blog post to them several days late because you’re moving and getting a divorce and you have a sick kid all in the same week, they’ll be understanding as long as you communicate effectively. And if you have a project that absolutely has to be done and you absolutely can’t do it (and you put it off) hire someone to do it. Consider it an investment in your future.
5. Always seek efficiency and greater success
My favorite technique – Clumping
I clump. This is a technique I wished I’d started earlier in my career because it is so effective – both time wise and emotionally. When I have regular paid projects for a client, let’s say social media posts, and I know I have to post 3 per week every month, I try very hard to do an entire month’s worth in one sitting or one day – unless I feel myself losing my edge then I pause and come back to it at a different time. Clumping allows you to deep dive into your topic and stay in it so you’re on top of the information and this saves time because there is no reentry like you’d have if you do a post a day.
Most importantly, the emotional toll of doing them every day (oy, I have to write those dang social media posts AGAIN) vs wow, I can move onto something else for the next 3 weeks. Cool. Clumping ahead of time also gives you plenty of time to review, which you should always do, so you’re never posting typos etc. Also, you’ll feel refreshed on the topic when you need to tackle them again and it’ll be a lot more fun.
Develop Personal Time-Saving Systems
Develop little systems that maximize your efforts. Over the years I’ve tried out all sorts of things to streamline my writing process and business, and you should too.
For example, I used to have notebooks, and word docs, and PDFs, and electronic post-its to keep track of my notes and research and ideas and client information. Now, I have everything on Evernote – it took me a long time to find one thing which handled all my needs. Now, my Evernote holds all client information, resources, links, research, html code snippets I use all the time – anything I want to keep and refer back to. Saves me oodles of time.
For social media I use Hootsuite – which isn’t perfect but I’ve found that with multiple social media clients it helps – I have one client that I have to do a lot of posts for – multiple daily but the social media channels they go on varies – so I have all their social media channels pinned to top of compose new message section so I can DELETE the channels that don’t pertain to that post rather than ADD in the ones I want. Deleting is about 10x faster than adding. It’s a funny little thing but I’ve saved myself hours every month by doing it this way.
It doesn’t matter whether you have social media posts, what matters is as you go through your daily repetitive writing tasks keep asking yourself, “is there anything I can do to make this faster?” It may not seem like a lot to save 20 minutes per week but it absolutely adds up.
I avoid most groups. This is a tough one. But if you join every linked in group and spend a lot of time on other social media gathering spots, you won’t be making money. Yes, we can all argue that it’s networking and you might get work but only do this if you have no work. You need to create the space in your schedule for new business to flow in. And though groups may seem fun and important when you are a busy freelancer you’ll have to be very sparing in where you time goes so it’s not a bad idea to train yourself now.
Think what works for YOU.
It’s deceptively easy to use something because it exists but really think about whether it’s right for you. As an example, I still use paper calendars. I’ve tried the electronic versions because I spend so much time online but bottom line for me, if it’s sitting on my desk, it’s faster and I need to see it there. I don’t need electronic alerts (there’s enough of that already). I use this silly little example just to remind you, don’t just use something in your business because you can, use it because it works for you, makes your writing better or faster, your business smoother, or your life happier.