When I asked my writer friends for guest posts, Ashley Festa was not only the first one to volunteer, but also the first one to offer two posts. That’s why I love her — she’s eager to give back to the profession and help beginning writers get a good start. What follows is a fantastic post that should be a freelance writer’s mantra. She’s learned a lot in her few years of freelancing, and it shows.
Ashley apologized for the length of this post, but there’s no need. Every point is worth committing to memory. Thank you, Ashley. Your insights are great, and much appreciated.
Dos and Don’ts of a Successful Freelance Writing Career
By Ashley Festa
step—whether it’s a success or a failure—you’ll never achieve any goal you set
were also many missteps before I found a solid foothold. When I made a mistake,
I backtracked a bit to catch my balance. Then I stepped out again, sometimes in
a new direction, sometimes in the same direction but on a different route.
Month, to being able to say that I’m more successful today than I ever thought would
be possible working for myself.
and value my work as a service to help clients achieve their goals. If I didn’t
realize my worth, I would have quit after the first mistake I made. There have
been lots of mistakes since then, but I still move forward, learning lessons as
learned not to do, and what to do instead. Hopefully you can benefit from my
trials and errors.
Making the Leap
be afraid to ask questions
Questions. I could string some sentences together well enough, but otherwise
knew nothing. At all. Running a business, setting rates, finding clients,
marketing—it was all new to me. I found a trustworthy group of writers right
here at Words on the Page, who were kind enough to take me under their wings.
(And I still ask lots of questions.)
Do research for yourself
relations, I received a phone call from someone who had just seen the
business’s commercial on television. We were promoting an event and provided a
number to call “for more information.” Would you believe that someone called me
and said, “Can I have more information?” I had no idea what to say to her.
Moral of the story: While it’s perfectly OK to ask questions, make sure you
have something specific in mind that you want to know. A little background
research will let the other person know you’re willing to work and don’t just
expect everything to be handed to you.
choose the easy route
published clips or if you’re just learning the basics of writing. But make sure
it’s still fruit, not compost. Content-mill-type work that’s handed to you,
along with the $1 paycheck, is not fruit.
effort to find
the best markets for you
bidding site or content mill, but you’ll benefit in the long run. And you can
still pick the low-hanging fruit like nonprofits or charities in the beginning.
They might not pay well, but they’ll provide professional clips you can use to
break into bigger markets later.
yourself too thin
bouncing around in my head. I wanted to try this, then that, now this other
thing. I didn’t devote enough resources to any one marketing tactic to see
whether it would work.
and stick with it
month to see whether it will work. If it doesn’t, move to your next idea. But
choose one, and work it until you’re certain it doesn’t work for you. When I
finally chose one tactic and stuck with it, I finally started seeing results.
thumbs waiting for replies
sent an email introduction to an editor. Great! Now do it again. And again. And
again. You could be waiting a long time to hear back from that potential
client. Don’t let your work schedule hang in the balance.
cycle, set aside time for marketing. Keep plugging away at your favorite
marketing tactic every day to keep the projects rolling in.
Knowing Your Worth
get an honest appraisal of your writing ability. Ask a client for feedback, or
get a coach to evaluate your work. You’ll discover you aren’t as bad as you
compensated accordingly. Not sure what to charge? Try this handy dandy freelance
project rate calculator to figure it out.
deadlines or turn in shoddy work
Even if it’s not a great paying client, you still accepted the assignment, so
it’s your responsibility to do your best.
yourself and your clients
your business, it shows your clients that they’re important to you. That keeps
them coming back.
might even disagree enough to fire you. Remember: It’s not you—it’s business.
You aren’t a bad writer just because you weren’t a fit for that client.
examine your error. Figure out what you did wrong, and resolve not to do it
again. It’s not you, it’s business, so learn how to improve your business.
Learning and Growing
always learn more.
Do grow professionally
To flourish as a writer, you must keep cultivating your craft. Whether you
branch out into new areas or plant deeper roots in your own field of expertise,
you have countless avenues for growth. (For a popular and free option, try
Massive Open Online Courses aka MOOCs.)
Don’t believe everything you read
internet with advice about how to be a successful freelance writer. Some of it
rocks—for every writer. Some of it works in particular situations. And some is
flat-out bad advice. Learn to sort out what works in your situation.
follow the leaders
(including my Writers Worth Month host!) to provide excellent tips, lessons and
guidance in every post. Find them, and follow them. And don’t just read these
blogs—put the advice into action.
Don’t think sole proprietor has to
everyone needs to bounce ideas off others from time to time.
Do find a community
shop, join a forum or seek out a writers group, find a place that feels right
Running a Business
Don’t waste your entire day with
that drags me in doing “Which Disney Character Are You?” quizzes and other
nonsense. Second word: Wikipedia. Once when I started doing “research” for a
story about space physicists, I resurfaced an hour later with a migraine somewhere
on the hypothetical dark matter/string theory/dark energy bunny trail.
Do know where your time goes
email writing, brainstorming sessions, even invoice writing—every working
minute—to the appropriate project, even if it’s not billable time. This method
gives me a good sense of how I’m spending my working hours.
you’re an independent contractor
contractor, you set your own hours, routines and working location. If you’re
required to be available during business hours or work on-site, you lose the
“independent” nature of being a contractor.
of your flexible work schedule as much as you’d like
your job. When and how you do it is up to you. If you like working within the
buzz of a coffee shop, snag a seat by an electrical outlet. If you need
inspiration from your cat, grab Fluffy and some kitty treats. If you work best
in the wee hours of the morning, burn that midnight oil.
thrill of a new client. Don’t let a prospect make you forget about your future,
and don’t take on a crummy gig
for a quick buck.
plan for the future
see yourself in five years?” from your corporate days? That still applies now.
You need to know where you want to go so you can figure out a plan to get
there. You also must consider insurance, self-employment taxes, investments, retirement
and more. Think beyond your next invoice.
make the same mistake many, many times before getting it right. But 99.99999
percent of the time, your mistake isn’t going to destroy your business. Acknowledge
the mistake, figure out how you can do better next time, and then next time, do
yourself on a job well done
perfectionism. We focus on failures, not feats. We brush off our byline and
move on to the next thing. Instead, soak up your achievements. Relish praise
from your clients. Name yourself Employee of the Month. Whatever it takes, remember
to celebrate your successes.
from your trials, errors and missteps throughout your freelance writing career?