The Confident Freelancer

What I’m listening to: Changed the Locks by Lucinda Williams

Today, let’s explore confidence. Some of us are born with it in abundance (I’ve been known to think I can do it even if I can’t demonstrate that ability all the time). Some of us could use a map, while others are too easily discouraged.

Some say confidence can’t be taught. But me, being confident to a fault, say that’s just a wad of BS. Of course it can be taught, or rather freelance writers can come to a place in their thinking and their perspectives that allow confidence to grow.

To be a small business owner, you definitely need some sort of confidence. So let’s get to building it.

Start focused.

The temptation when you start building a client base is to blanket the world with queries. Nothing is as self-defeating as not hearing from the 85 prospects you’ve sent your standard query to. Nothing says “I suck” to your sensitivity more than having most of those clients say no. So try this instead: spend ten more minutes on your research and locate two magazines that you’d like to pitch to. Learn what they like (look at past issues, current articles, and their guidelines). Then take some extra time to search the internet for statistics, studies, and surveys that relate to their audiences. Then use that research to pitch an idea that speaks to their readers.

Organize your success plan.

Buy yourself a project board and erasable pen. Post it near your computer, and each week, list the items you want to work on, the things you want to accomplish. “I want to reach out to two new magazines this week.” Okay, now list under that which ones and how you’re going to approach them.  If you don’t want/don’t like project boards, use your Calendar app to write your own to-do list. Plan out, even if it’s just bulleted items, a little of your efforts so you’ll feel less adrift. The more organized you are (within reason), the more confident you’re going to feel about sitting at the computer and trying.

Give yourself permission to fail.

Yes, you will fail. We all do. I’m sitting here after decades of freelancing, tons of skill and success under my belt, and guess what? I fail at a lot of my marketing. Like I said, we all do. In fact, if you’re a marketing professional, you know that a 2% response rate is decent. That means 2% of the people you’ve reached out to are interested in hearing more. That’s 2% more than you had yesterday. But 2% is awful! you say. Let’s look into that figure: If you sent out 100 marketing pieces this year, that 2% equals 2 new clients. And if each client hires you and ends up funneling about $5,000 in work to you over a 12-month period… and now you get it. That’s why most companies are content with a 2% response rate. But you won’t know that if you don’t risk failing. Note: not everyone who contacts you will hire you. If you get one new client a year, that’s still more than you had last year, right?

List your project successes

Three or thirty-three  — it makes no difference how many you put on your list. Just start listing them. Put the stuff you are proud of at the top, followed by the things you really loved doing (if they’re the same project, put a star beside the ones you loved doing). Keep that list near your computer. Each time you feel you’re lacking confidence, look at it. You may surprise yourself by how much you’ve done in a short amount of time. Also, it wouldn’t hurt to list the clients you’ve worked with. That makes it easier for you to network with them on occasion.

Pretend it’s for someone else.

This is a trick I used when I was first starting and trying to find my voice. I pretended I was writing for someone else. That letter of introduction you’re about to type up becomes so much less stressful if you pretend it’s one you’re writing for a friend of yours. Create that person in your head who will be your temporary client. Sheila needs your help writing a letter for her to send to a client. How would you advise her? Now write with that in mind.

Remove your own roadblocks.

I talked about this a few days ago — there’s no place in your vocabulary for negative qualifiers. Well, not when it comes to approaching clients. “I’d love to approach them, but I’m sure they have a marketing firm.” Are you? Or are you guessing to avoid being turned down? Most of our “but” statements, as my previous post suggests, are fear-based excuses. For one month, don’t allow yourself to use the word “but” (or “however” — I saw that) when you think about what clients to approach. Remember — one month. See how it changes your perspective.

Don’t dwell on mistakes.

Coaches tell their players to “shake it off” when they’ve botched something. Let yourself shake off the mistake. By all means learn from it (and apologize once if you need to at all), but don’t drag it through the rest of your life like a cement block around your neck. Let it go. Your clients sure have. I know because recently, two clients hired me back years after I’d made mistakes with their projects. They recognized that we all screw up now and then, especially since I apologized once and fixed it. Even if they never come back, that’s okay. You’ve done all you can (and all you should).

Wear real clothes.

You think working in your pajamas is the freelancer’s dream lifestyle? Let me ask this: would you wear a dress to bed or a blazer to the beach? While you may do as you wish once you get established and are earning mad money, I suggest you start your career by putting on real pants and brushing your teeth before noon. It’s a mental switch — you’re getting ready for work. You’re putting effort into looking the part, even if you’re the only person who will see you today. That you see yourself is enough — dress for the job you want. That doesn’t mean you have to go all Armani suit on us. Casual clothing works, just make sure it’s not something that doubles for pjs.

Writers, how did you find your confidence?
What advice can you give writers who are stuck and can’t quite locate their mojo?

About the author




  • Joy Drohan April 20, 2017 at 8:41 am

    Hi Lori,
    Alright, you’ve convinced me. I’ve been hemming and hawing about whether to take up precious work time today to attend a talk and a networking event on campus near me. The talk is by a guy who could possibly become a client, and I already connected with him on LinkedIn and told him I’d try to come to his talk and meet him. The networking event is natural resources focused–just my thing. Other life stuff makes it complicated to go today, but I’m going to take the leap and do it. I’ll let you know how it goes.

    • lwidmer April 20, 2017 at 9:56 am

      Leap, Joy! Good luck, and have fun. 🙂

  • Cathy Miller April 21, 2017 at 8:54 am

    Repetition helps. The more you write, the more you do of a certain type of project (white paper, web writing, whatever), even the more you put on your big girl pants and pay your taxes. It all helps you build the idea – I got this.

    And like you said in your other excellent post, Lori, take the “yeah, but” out of your repertoire. Call yourself a professional writer or a business owner. Wear it. Own it.

    • lwidmer April 21, 2017 at 9:23 am

      Great point, Cathy. It is about making it all routine, isn’t it? The more you do it, the more comfortable you become. The same for the mistakes we make along the way. Even those become easier to accept, and we learn from them.