5 Freelance Revelations That Can Boost Your Business

What I’m reading: The Optimist’s Daughter by Eudora Welty

What I’m listening to: Iris (Hold Me Close) by U2

revelations-1183858-1279x850Thursday already? It’s been a slightly frustrating week. I’ve been trying to complete a project, but the things I need to get the thing done haven’t appeared. It’s like working with both hands tied behind my back. I’ll press on, but I’ll be putting in at least one late night.

I’ve started this reflection exercise lately. After an event that was too time-consuming and too stress-inducing, I thought it would be a good idea to go back over my career as a sort of retrospective. Thankfully, I have a blog, so finding out what I was up to say five years ago isn’t tough.

I went a little farther, in fact. I wanted to see just how far I’d come in my marketing, but also in my confidence level.

Pretty far, it would seem.

Like most freelance writers, I started not knowing what I was doing or where I was going. Because my first freelancing happened in 1989, things have certainly improved from a technology perspective alone. But they improved in other ways, too. I learned to market. I learned to say no. I learned to negotiate.

Most importantly, in my opinion — I learned to treat this as a business.

So for all you writers out there who are beginning, or at some stage of freelancing that you can’t quite move beyond, this post is for you. Here are five revelations I had that may help you get out of your own head and into a better place.

Marketing is easier than you think. Do you know how to write a query? How about a tweet? That’s all you need to get in front of potential clients and get to know them. Don’t sell, sell, sell, but do reach out, interact, share what you’re doing, and make connections.

Even slapdash marketing can work. To put it in hockey terms (because I just love hockey), if you shoot toward the net something is eventually going to go in. So stop worrying about screwing up with marketing. Put yourself out there. Learn as you go. It’s not hard, but it’s impossible if you don’t try.

If you want to earn more, you can. I’ve heard it all, as have most of you. Your earnings are beholden to what the market will allow, you should just succumb to the fact that freelancers are always going to be underpaid…. I call bull sh**. You, dear freelance writer, can start earning more right now by charging more. Click To TweetYou may lose current clients, but you’ll gain clients at a higher level (and those who come with the ability to value your skills without being convinced).

Free advice abounds. You don’t have to pay a dime to get advice on how to improve your career. This blog and others have plenty of it. Don’t know how to market? Can’t see what’s wrong with your query letter or letter of introduction? Unsure about what to charge? Just ask. Or do a Google search. Or click on the links I just left behind. What not to do: sit back and wait for someone to tell you what you haven’t asked.

Freelance writing is hard work, but not impossibly hard. Look, it’s a career that requires your attention. You have to learn to juggle a lot, but once you get the rhythm, you can have a successful freelance writing career as long as you maintain it. Think of your business as a pet — you have to feed it, care for it, and make sure it has what it needs to be healthy. You’re capable if you want to be.

Writers, what revelations about freelance writing did you discover?

What advice do you have for writers who are struggling?


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  • Paula Hendrickson October 27, 2016 at 12:49 pm

    This tangentially related revelation is for the long-timers among us: I discovered including SASEs was a waste of money. Why? Editors who wanted to assign articles would typically call to discuss the assignment, and those who didn’t want your pitch simple didn’t reply at all.

    I also discovered you can’t wait for clients to sing your praises to generate word-of-mouth marketing. You need to do it yourself with well placed and timed tweets, LinkedIn updates, or even Facebook posts if you’re so inclined. Just don’t over-do it or you’ll come across as a pushy narcissist.

    • lwidmer October 27, 2016 at 2:47 pm

      True on the SASE, Paula. Too many editors would rather we email our pitches, anyway.

      Great point! We are in charge of our own marketing, and that includes banging our own drums to some extent.

  • Gabriella F. October 31, 2016 at 5:24 pm

    Really good tips, Lori. I second the idea of getting into a groove. Once you get this career down, you do things you wouldn’t have ever believed. A crush of deadlines all over two weeks? You just put your head down and do it. It’s all about that confidence you mentioned, along with knowing what you’re doing so you work efficiently.

    Also, love the advice on marketing. Marketing doesn’t have to be complicated. I don’t market in the traditional sense. But I keep up good relationships with editors and others I work with. Just casual check-ins. Hellos. Thought you might like these… Lunch on occasion. I’m just part of their sphere, and they remember me when they need stuff.

    • lwidmer November 1, 2016 at 5:00 pm

      I’m so glad you said that, Gabriella! You’re right — once you get into a groove, it falls into place. You stick your neck out there and do the job, and you’re almost always rewarded.

      I’ve often seen people say “I can’t market!” and more often than not, they’re already doing some form of marketing without realizing it (showing up on LinkedIn groups, sending queries, etc.). I love how you market — lunch would be welcome, right?