12 Ways to Boost Freelance Success in 2016

What I’m reading: Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler
What’s on the iPod: Roadrunner by The Modern Lovers and Jonathan Richman

You know, I expected December to be slow. Not a chance. This week I have an interview (possibly two) for two different projects, and I bigger project just arrived. Plus I’m working on a smaller, one-time project for a new client.

So much for winding down at the end of the year.

But do we really wind down? If we’re smart writers, we ramp up. As I mentioned in Monday’s post, December is a great time to channel that free time into getting your ducks in a row for 2016. This post shares the same theme — freelance writing success in 2016. I mentioned five ways to get some projects rolling in, yet there’s more to this success thing than simply hunting down work.

You have to show you’re up for the job.

Here are 12 ways you can boost your freelance writing success this coming year:

1.  Boost your online image. How old is that website? After a friend told me years ago that my website was outdated, I look my site over once a year with a critical eye. How strong is your message? Is it relevant to your audience? Are you doing all you can to make them visit your site and once they’re there, engage with you?

Do you even have a website? With sites today that allow you to use their templates, there’s no excuse. Step one — buy a domain (mine is loriwidmer.com). Step two — find a place to host it (I use HostGator). Step three — either self-host the thing or use a service like Weebly to get a pre-formatted, drag-and-drop site builder. Step four — write the content and put it up. No more excuses.

2.  Pump up your message. Can visitors to your website/LinkedIn page tell at one glance what you’re about? I visited a site recently that claimed to be “The Ultimate Resource” for a specific flavor of writer. However, all I could see was a plug for an expensive newsletter and a photo of a dog. There was nothing (and I really mean nothing) that was compelling me to spend that much money (it was three figures) when I had no idea who these people were, what their product was, and how it mattered at all to me.

3.  Ramp up your social media presence. Complete your LinkedIn profile, use Twitter like you mean it, make Google+ work for you….whatever your brand of media, become an active participant. And don’t neglect your profiles — that’s your first impression with potential clients.

4.  Establish a customer management system. Every contact you’ve made from Day One to this should be listed. Use a simple spreadsheet or a CRM (I talk about them here). This is your Master list. From there, look at who on the list is ready or able to hire you, or has done so previously. This is your Hot list. The rest of the names are on your Warm list, and should be the people you keep in touch with regularly with updates on what you’re doing, or with things you share that are relevant to them. Every contact has the potential to hire or refer — keep that in mind.

5.  Upgrade your tools. Yes, you could probably get by with your old PC that’s running Windows Vista, but with the price of desktops at bargain-basement level, why not upgrade to a more powerful, faster machine? The moment you notice you’re waiting longer for the downloads or you can’t open something in your ancient browser (that you can’t upgrade because you lack the system requirements), it’s time.

6.  Get to know your weaknesses. Every writer has a weak spot (or as I like to call it, an area of growth opportunity). Maybe you use “then” when you mean “than” or maybe you’re sloppy with the proofreading. Perhaps your image is reading ancient or your editing skills aren’t up to snuff. Ask trusted writer friends to give you honest feedback. In fact, it’s a great time to have a sharing session — you each point out something the other is strongest in and weak in.

7.  Approach marketing strategically. If you’ve done this freelance writing thing for a few years, you’ve already noticed patterns — magazines that expend budgets at certain times of year, companies that need you these months but not those months, clients whose busy seasons hit in summer or early spring…. whatever it is, create a marketing plan of attack that takes these ups and downs into account. Also, remember to work seasonal article ideas into your marketing calendar.

8.  Schedule your marketing/follow-up contact. Right now, open your calendar app and count out two weeks. Open an appointment window — schedule follow-up correspondence/calls for all those emails/letters you sent out this week. Now count out two months from today. Open that appointment window — schedule a check-in with clients who have said no thanks to your offer, or who have expressed some interest or invited you to check back in. Instead of just checking in with a “Are you in need of my help?” note, send them something useful — an article that relates to their business, or an event announcement they might want to attend.

9.  Leave behind a problem. There’s always one client in your life — the one who creates more work than the fee is worth, the one who’s great to work with but doesn’t pay well, the one whose projects suck up a ton of time, or the needy one who wants your undivided (and uncompensated) attention. Raise your rates. Give them a referral to another writer. Say farewell in the nicest way you can, but lose the problem child, even if you are used to the regular income. I left one behind six years ago and haven’t missed that hassle at all. Better clients await if you trust your abilities enough.

10. Be the complete package. If you edit books, you know the question the client will ask. So have that list of possible publishing venues handy. If you write copy, make sure you’re a strong editor, too. If you write marketing copy, get to know the ins and outs of marketing so you can be the trusted source of info for your clients. Whatever type of writing or editing you do, always have a complementary skill set. Advertise yourself as that complete package, listing the things that make you the writer of choice.

11. Improve your marketing image. New year, new design. Business cards, website design, brochures, media kits… make sure whatever medium you use is speaking with the same language and imagery. For example, a bright purple business card does not mesh with that subtle blue color scheme on your website. Nor does it make sense to use multiple logos, fonts, or slogans/taglines. Create a consistent appearance and message.

12. Become an active participant in your career. Print out that very phrase. Circle, bold, and underline the word “active.” If you’re going to blast your earnings through the roof this coming year, you have to take the passive out of your approach. No more job board cruising. No more eLance, Upwork, Demand Media or any other low-paying, lazy way to find work. Every successful freelancer I know works at finding clients, qualifying them, and landing the work. It’s not hard. It’s a little scary at first, but once you get a client through active pursuit, you’ll never look back.

Writers, how do you prepare for the coming year?
How does that differ from how you prepare each month?
What’s more important to you — image or volume? Why?

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  • Paula Hendrickson December 2, 2015 at 5:05 pm

    All good tips, Lori, but I'd say #9 and #12 may be the most important of all. Why? They both lead right back to our favorite thing: Writers Worth. By leaving behind problems, you're declaring your self worthy of better clients/situations/outcomes. And actively participating in your career means you know you're worth the effort, too.

  • Lori Widmer December 2, 2015 at 6:06 pm

    Hear hear, Paula! Agreed.

    I think any one of these are small changes in what we do, and they can net huge differences in the results.

  • John Johnson December 4, 2015 at 4:59 am

    Every single great freelancers know that clear communication is absolutely vital for business success.

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