6 Signs Your Freelance Writing Business May Fail

What’s on the iPod: Fade Into You by Mazzy Star

Another wildly busy weekend. My son was visiting, so we were happily busy for much of the weekend. Because we’re still painting the upstairs, he had to stay at his sister’s house, which worked out well.

Since we seem to be a revolving door when it comes to guests (and I do enjoy it), we’ve been looking at furnishing these rooms we’ve just painted. A few weeks ago, we stopped by the local blind and shutter place. We shop locally whenever we can, so we thought we’d give this business a try. I looked up the store hours, then we headed off.

Closed. Taped to the door was a note saying hours are by appointment. There was a number to call. We did. The person on the other end of the phone was pleasant and happy to hear from us, so he made an appointment for us. For three days later. And because of my husband’s work commitment, we had to postpone.

Anyone see the problem? There we were standing outside the door. We were motivated to buy. We wanted to buy right then. Only the business is set up so that you have to wait.

So why have a store front at all, I wonder?

It may seem a minor inconvenience, but we’re under a serious time crunch. We have guests arriving within 12 days. No way will we be able to order custom blinds and have them installed in time. It’s not as though we hadn’t left enough time. But now we’re going to have to put up something on the windows, and this store won’t be the store that sells it to us.

It’s not a new business model. The bridal shops all do it, though their reasons are to keep the weekends from becoming insane with all the newly engaged throngs rushing in. And I do suspect our blind guy is a small, two- or three-person shop wherein much of the work is installation and off-site.

Still, you should have someone in the store. Our order would have been a few hundred dollars at the least. Now, we’re forced to go elsewhere. It’s like the custom drapery business in town. I’d love to order from them because they have such great reviews. Alas, they’re open from 10 am to 5 pm on weekdays only. If you work all day, as many in our area do, there’s no hope of catching them when they’re open.

So, freelance writer, how are you inadvertently turning clients away? Each time you fail to understand your clients and what they need from you, well, that’s your own foot you’re shooting.

Here are some ways you may be sabotaging yourself:

1. Not understanding your client. Beyond knowing what a client wants from the project, you should know who your ideal client is. Company? Individual? Big business? Startup? With whom do you work best? Also, what is their business? Would you be able to describe their company/product/service in one sentence?

2. Making it tough for them to reach you. By all means you should not be tied to your computer or your phone. But do you have a website? Do you let potential clients know you exist? Are you answering calls within 24 hours during your business hours? Do you advertise? Do you answer those emails that come in from that contact form? I know I’ve waited years for responses from companies that put up those infernal forms and never go back to check the messages. Make sure you have a routine for following up, and apply it consistently.

3. Not focusing on building your business. Ed Gandia had a podcast recently that talked about how freelancers are their own toughest challenge. It’s true. There are a lot of freelancers who are aiming their careers, but not really guiding it or setting goals and processes to reach them. Don’t just throw darts at a target — build a path right to it.

4. Not diversifying. Today’s clients are just as quickly tomorrow’s memories. No client relationship is permanent no matter how much they love you. If you have fewer than four clients who hire you either regularly or on occasion, you’re in serious danger of losing your revenue stream. Time to beef up your client base. Don’t worry that they’ll all call you at once for work. Better too much work than not enough.

5. Casting too wide a net. When you first start out freelancing, you look for any warm body with a checkbook. But it’s not long before you realize you’re taking work that doesn’t pay well or just plain sucks. Instead, figure out what kind of client you want to work with, what kind of work brings you the most satisfaction, and what kind of income you want to earn. Ditch the clients who aren’t paying you what you want to make or whose projects make you cringe or drop from boredom. Actively seek clients who will appreciate your skills and compensate you accordingly.

6. Chasing the money. That’s exactly the opposite of what you should be doing. Chasing the money means you end up with a handful of one-off projects that aren’t necessarily going to lead you to a more meaningful career. Want to build a stronger, more viable business? Build a plan that includes your client prospects, your growth and earnings goals, and your marketing. Find the right clients and the money will come.

Writers, what mistakes did you correct in your career that have helped you grow?

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  • Eileen August 3, 2015 at 4:29 pm

    Not periodically upgrading your skills and changing with the times may not put you completely out of business, but you'll be floundering. In the past year alone, I've learned how to script and produce an information DVD product for a client, and write VSLs (video sales letters) and short promotional video scripts for the web. These are in demand from my client base, not the newsletter articles and landing pages I started out writing years ago. A writer friend of mine is still writing print newsletter articles and the occasional print magazine article in a specific industry, and struggling mightily to find enough clients, much less clients who are willing to pay well. She dislikes leaving her comfort zone, and is just trying to stay afloat til she can retire in a couple more years. I preach to aspiring writers all the time: set aside money in your annual budget to upgrade your skills every year.

  • Lori Widmer August 5, 2015 at 7:03 pm

    Absolutely true, Eileen. Too many writers get by with their current skills or training. What about branching out, or why not improve your grammar and sentence structure? None of us know all there is to know about the profession.

    Your illustration of your friend's comfort zone is probably quite familiar to some readers. It's easy to become complacent. But complacency doesn't get you to your goals.

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