What I’m listening to: The Fall of Rome by The Airborne Toxic Event

failure-1160971-1599x1590Jeezuz, what a week.

I did the old trick to get more work coming in — I thought about taking next week off for vacation. Not that I need more work, but I wanted a lot of these stalled projects to finish. I do have a big vacay coming up, and I don’t want to leave with stuff hanging.

So I thought “Maybe I’ll head to Ontario next week.”

Worked like a charm. I’m now busy for seven straight hours a day.

I saw a discussion on Anne Wayman’s About Writing Squared forum yesterday about clients that don’t know what they want. That’s pretty common, actually. What isn’t common is the client who can’t articulate what they do, who their audience is, or what they want out of their communications. It’s a rather large gap in the business plan, don’t you think?

It’s also a mistake far too many freelance writers make.

Let me tell you, freelancers make enough mistakes in one day — we sure don’t need to be making mistakes with our business. Those kinds of mistakes can sink a business. There are plenty of ways in which we can screw up. These are some of the scariest to me:

  1. Relying on too few clients. If you’re working with three or fewer clients, you’re about two clients too close to having the bottom drop out of your revenue. Clients disappear without warning. Projects end. Mismatched writer/client relationships occur. Don’t be stuck with too few options when that happens. And it happens — about ten years ago, I had two clients disappear within two weeks. I had four clients at the time. It hurt. Big time. Think of your client base as being built on sand — it doesn’t take much to move it to a bad place.
  2. Not having a plan. It doesn’t matter if you’ve written out a six-page document or jotted down a rough idea on a napkin — if you have a plan of any sort, it’s much better than just going with the flow. Things you should be planning –how much money you want to make annually/monthly/weekly/hourly (you choose); how you’re going to contact client prospects; who you consider to be client prospects; how you’re going to track your progress and hold yourself accountable… you can add or subtract from that list as you like.
  3. Chasing the damn dollars. It is so tempting at the beginning of your freelance writing career to run after dollars. “This will pay me $500!” But it’s too hit-and-miss. You end up with one-off projects that don’t help you build any sort of expertise. Instead, turn your attention toward building relationships with people and companies for whom you’d like to work. If you put time and effort into building a strong network and marketing to the right people, the money will follow.
  4. Waiting for clients to come to you. Unless you’ve done the legwork in step #3, you’re making a huge mistake thinking clients will magically find your website, swoon over  your clips, and hire you. There are precious few “musts” in this job, but one is you must find and attract clients. You can’t do that sitting on your ass waiting for them to show up. You have to actively look for opportunities and, as I mentioned in step #3, build a network.
  5. Pretend you can ignore the money side.  I get it. I’m not a math wonk, either. In fact, my first five years of freelancing repeated the same scenario at tax time — I’d be gripping my head and wondering where the hell the money for taxes was coming from. You have to pay your quarterly taxes. It’s just easier than scraping together the $10K or more you owe (minus penalties) in April. The same goes for knowing what you make each month and what you spend. It can only help you to know what services you offer that are being requested most often and how much you’re making in any particular area of your freelance writing business.

Writers, what major mistakes have you made or seen?

What was the toughest business lesson you learned, and how did you learn it?

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  • Cathy Miller July 14, 2016 at 12:45 pm

    I can attest to the clients disappearing. In the last six or seven months, I’ve lost three clients. Two were single projects and not a huge deal. One was just a flake (and one of those ignored my gut, but because I required payment upfront – which never came – it was no big deal). The second one is a long-time client who has gone through an acquisition that has stalled everything. The last one was huge. A year’s worth of projects where the business is growing like crazy and the writing projects (like they so often do) became a non-priority.

    So, 2 out of 3 were just circumstances. But, this is the life of freelancing.

    • lwidmer July 14, 2016 at 3:04 pm

      Isn’t it just the life of freelancing? I think I remember at least two of those instances. The large one was pretty unsettling, I’d bet.

      How did you fill in the gap? Have you?

      • Cathy Miller July 14, 2016 at 4:32 pm

        Not completely, but I’m getting there, and have some good-looking prospects. I hit up some existing clients with ideas and got them to bite on a few. Also, I subscribe to the Lori Widmer school of marketing so I’ve never stopped marketing. Thus, the good-looking prospects. I have a couple of direct mail campaigns I’m interested to see where they go.

  • Paula Hendrickson July 14, 2016 at 3:48 pm

    Hmm…I’m going to be away from the office a few days next week. Wonder if the same will happen for me? (I did get a new assignment yesterday, but it isn’t due until September. And I know I have a big project coming up in late July.)

    • lwidmer July 14, 2016 at 7:07 pm

      Well, if you’re anything like me, Paula, the work will hit your in box on Friday after lunch. 🙂

      • Paula Hendrickson July 15, 2016 at 3:40 pm

        Well, the Emmy nominations were yesterday, so at least one client might be knocking soon – as long as they don’t need an immediate turn-around, I’m happy to take it on.

        Right now I’m sending LOIs and checking in with past clients hoping to round up a but more work for when I’m back. (Seriously, I’ll only be away from my desk for three workdays.)

  • Ashley Festa July 26, 2016 at 11:15 am

    Pretty soon I’m taking an extended … vacay 😉 But I’ve alerted all my clients about my pending absence, so they know there’s no point in contacting me for assignments for a while. I’m going to try to answer emails periodically, but access will be limited. I did see a big uptick in assignments when I first told my clients I would be out of the office for a while, but those are winding down, just in time!

    • lwidmer July 29, 2016 at 9:38 am

      Enjoy your time off, Ashley! And do yourself a favor — turn work off entirely. Sometimes we just need that disconnection.