Free Advice Friday: The New Freelance Writer’s Income

What I’m listening to: Noise Pollution by Portugal, The Man

Ah, Friday. I’m ready for this weekend. I had a steady stream of work this week, and I’m ready for a break. This was the weekend that I was supposed to work — a regular client needs a proofreading job done by Monday — but they project came in earlier than expected. I can have it done today. In fact, I’m already a few pages in.

In the comments section of my last post, the subject of payment came up. It should — the post was examining a lousy job posting and offering an alternative. One commenter offered a link to his blog post. It’s a good post, too. Yet something stood out that just halted me as I was reading. The price. The price for the amount of words written just didn’t feel right.

Still, I can’t judge another writer’s methods or decisions. It may not feel right to me, but for him, it may be perfect.

Judging from the number of posts on his blog, he’s fairly new to freelancing. So a lower rate, particularly in a foreign country, may be exactly right for him, for his experience, for his location, for his specialty area.  I will always prod people into going higher (occupational hazard), but I’m not the one deciding what amount is needed to pay his bills.

So where should your income be? And how do you move on from there?

The first question is one only you can answer, but the quick answer is this: your income should be in a place where you’re able to pay your bills and have some money in your pocket and your bank account every month. The easiest way to do find that number is to hop over to Jenn Mattern’s All Indie Writers and use her handy calculators.

So let’s say you’ve found clients to pay your hourly rate (which I will say you might be better off quoting a project fee lest you invite too many clock watchers). How do you move up that income ladder? Here are a few ways I’ve done it:

Gain trust. The more you work for a particular client, the more trust that client will feel for you. But it takes more than just longevity — you have to work toward building that trust. How? By asking smart questions that show you’ve researched your client and their market. By approaching the entire freelancer/client relationship as a partnership. You’re not a contractor — you’re part of the team, and you’re going to help them build the success they want.

Reminding them of your entire skill set. It shocked even me how many of my clients didn’t realize I did more than just magazine work or newsletters. In every conversation, try a sort of name-dropping exercise: mention a project you worked on (without naming clients, of course) that echoes something in what you’re doing for this client. For example, you’re working on a newsletter together, so you could mention “You know, some email blasts I wrote for another client got a great response when we included…”

Deliver more. They may have asked for two simple newsletter articles, but they may love you for suggesting artwork, charts, studies, or anything that can solidify the content and make their jobs easier. Plus it sends the message that you’re in this for more than just the check — you’re engaged and looking out for them.

Piggyback on project success. You’ve just made your client very happy with that last project. When should you reach out again? Right now. Clients are more open to new projects and suggestions when you’ve just knocked their socks off.

Raise your rates. I get it — you’re thinking that client won’t go any higher. They have a budget and they’re stretching it now. That could be true. And you may lose that client. But if you raise your rates — and give them ample notice that prices are climbing (which means they can get one or two more projects in at the old rate — way to increase your own earnings!), you might be surprised how they’ll react. If you lose them, then it’s time for the next step.

Look beyond current clients. You should be doing this anyway, but in case you’re getting too comfortable working for the same four people at the same old rate, wake up. Clients don’t always stick around. Use that experience you’ve just built with your current clients to shop for higher-paying clients.

Writers, how did you increase your income over time?
What worked best for you? Did you lose clients and if so, how hard was it to replace them?
Any advice for new writers looking to move to the next income level?


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