4 Game-changing Freelance Writing Moves

What I’m listening to: Robot Rock by Daft Punk

I’m settling back in to what might turn out to be a normal workweek. After the upheaval of last week (and the fact that I was able to finish just one assignment), I’m working long hours to get things sorted. Because my dad’s situation isn’t great, I’m trying to build the room in my schedule for any unforeseen trips back home.

Over the weekend, I had time to decompress. I spent the time prioritizing work and actually reading through some social media sites.

It kind of breaks my heart to see how newer freelance writers are struggling to gain a toehold in this profession. It’s hard to know where to go first, what to do next, and how to make a successful go at freelancing. It hurts more to see the same old predatory mentality — the “buy my course/book/coaching” promises that divert nothing more than funds from the pockets of hungry freelancers.

And for what? Not for any secret to freelance writing success that sticks, from what I’ve seen. Yes, you can make money freelance writing. Yes, you can grow a successful freelance business.

No, you don’t have to pay to do it.

In fact, there are a few things you can do that don’t require anyone’s intervention or guidance. You just do it.

Here are four of my favorite things for boosting your freelance writing business rather quickly:

Set an earnings goal. Forget annual — that’s way too far out to stick to, from my own experience. I choose to set monthly goals. That way, I can see much more quickly how close or far away I am from the goal. Suppose you want to earn $50,000 a year. If you’re not earning the $4,200 you need each month to do that, you might find yourself scrambling in December (the toughest month to get work, by the way) to make up a rather significant deficit. Better to track it much more closely.

Add accountability. You cannot imagine how much better your business will be the minute you have to answer to someone else for how you’re running it. I used to post my own Monthly Assessment here, and readers would add their own accountability. If you’re more private, try answering to a friend or someone else whose opinion you value highly. Report your earnings, your actions (How often did you reach out to potential clients? How did you do that?), and what you think you need to do next month to reach your goals.

Find your own clients. Seriously, your passive approach of using content mills and answering ads isn’t going to bring you the motherlode of cash. Do what successful freelancers do — find clients on your own. Write killer sales copy and reach them any way you like — social media, email, phone, snail mail… Show them your background (briefly) and show them you know who they are (because you’ve researched them, right?). Reach out to as many clients as you can follow up with in an hour a week. Ask for the conversation, and know that a 2% response rate is rather good (in other words, don’t fear rejection).

Know what your clients know. It’s not as much about specializing as it is about having enough info to hold your own in the conversation. If you’re fairly new to it all, have smart questions ready. What kinds of communications pieces do you generate? What’s been the result? What do you want to do differently? How is your current plan falling short? What’s most important for you in the next six months? If your questions are smart, your client prospects are going to see you as such. Help them hire you by showing them your value, particularly in getting the details right.

There are plenty of things that can help your freelance writing career soar. These four have been my staples, and they’ve helped my own career get to a point where clients come to me rather than my having to seek them out.

Writers, what are your game-changing moves?

Was there one thing you’ve done that elevated your career more than others?


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  • Paula Hendrickson August 8, 2017 at 11:10 am

    Great points, Lori.

    While reading this something struck me: As challenging as it was back when I started freelancing before you could research and contact markets online (and had to spend several hundred dollars a year on letterhead, envelopes, copies, and postage, including SASEs that never were returned), in some ways it was easier. Or at least less confusing.

    We had the Writers Market and a few freelance solid writing magazines and newsletters offering advice, not a slew of self-promoting “experts” offering their sage advice in exchange for money. Back then it was easier for us to vet the quality of the advice we were receiving.

    I know I’d single out companies or publications I thought might use freelance writers and was sending LOIs before I even knew what an LOI was. All based on my own research: Determine what city the home office is, call the switchboard, get the address and perhaps the name of someone to contact. Or mail a SASE and request contributor guidelines. Then wait.

    It’s almost as if the access is too easy these days. I’m thinking maybe next year I’ll experiment by going old school and using regular mail instead of email to see if that helps my LOIs or pitches stand out.

    And if you don’t mind, I just might revive your monthly assessment idea over on the Five Buck Forum. (Or whatever its official name is now. Inflation and all.)

    • lwidmer August 8, 2017 at 11:29 am

      Right there, Paula. Exactly that.

      We had a library and a Writer’s Market. The rest was on us. I tend to agree with you — with that option as our only one (beyond knowing someone), it did make it easier. We just did it. We didn’t think about how to do it easier because there was a protocol — you send a query letter and a SASE. And you had to go to the library, hope they had the magazine in question, and you’d read about four months’ worth of copies so you’d know the market.

      Your experts? They came from those magazine articles. Or you’d use the library’s resources to locate them. I remember using my push-button phone and recording interviews by holding the tape recorder microphone to the earpiece when the interviewee answered my questions. LOL THAT is old school!

      • Paula Hendrickson August 8, 2017 at 11:40 am

        I had one of the old suction cup things that constantly fell off the handset in mid-interview.

        Oh! What was that massive thing – the Gale Directory? I would go to the library and search volumes of that for info on various publications – I think it included contact info and circulation. It was intended for advertisers, if I recall, and was essentially an annually updated repository of every newspaper and magazine’s Media Kit details, minus the prices.

        I’d like to see some of today’s whippersnappers navigate that!

        • lwidmer August 9, 2017 at 9:28 am

          LOL Those were the days. 🙂

          I used old copies of magazines to find sources, then I’d get the librarian’s help. She always knew the right place to find the best source.

  • Mary Schneider August 9, 2017 at 11:09 am

    Glad to hear your dad’s doing better. <3

    I think my goal (after the wedding this weekend!!) will be to contact a set number of prospects per week.

    • lwidmer August 9, 2017 at 11:38 am

      Good plan. And have a great wedding, Mary!