While it is possible to become an instant success after writing your first few pieces, chances are its going to take some time for you to hit your stride and gain a steady roster of clients. If your experience is similar to mine, you’ll progress through three distinct phases during your freelance writing career. Here’s an outline of those three stages.
1. I’m making what I can!
This could be defined as your “I’ll Write Anything!” phase.
You need to make money so you take any job available to you even if it means you aren’t really making all that much money at it. We’ve all been there as its tough trying to get a reputation in the business. A large number of job boards and forums have a rating system so if you are willing to undercut your competitors and make very little in order to get those first jobs under your belt and get positive feedback.
You will end up taking jobs that are outside your expertise and require a lot of research in order to produce quality content that your customer will be pleased with. During my “I’ll write anything” I remember doing articles on breast enhancements, race car driving experiences and genital piercings that left me feeling dizzy and uncomfortable as I wrote them thinking about the men and women crazy enough to do that to their most sensitive and private areas.
While this is a necessary step in your freelance writing career, there are some things that you need to keep in mind or communicate with your first customers;
This is not your regular rate
When bidding on jobs, be sure to let the client know that this is not your regular rate. You are willing to cut your rate in order to get these initial jobs and your main focus is to gain positive feedback once the content is delivered. Without outlining this to the customer, you risk that chance of that same client expecting you to do additional jobs at the same discounted rate.
Don’t do this for a long period of time
If all you are getting is these low paying jobs, the time is right to start looking at different options for finding new clients. If you’re constantly producing quality content but not receiving a commiserate income as a result of your efforts, you risk getting discouraged and losing your motivation and ambition to write. You really need to know when it is time to walk away from this strategy if you want your career to progress and your income level to increase.
Don’t bid on too many jobs at once
I made this mistake not once but twice in the early days of my freelance writing career and almost threw my hands up in the air and headed for the door to apply for the fry guy job at McDonald’s. I knew that guy was making a lot more than I was on an hourly basis due to my own stupidity. When I first joined Scriptlance many years ago, I decided I was going to land myself a healthy dose of work and bid on something to the affect of 15 jobs expecting to pick up a few of them.
To my surprise I was selected for 11 of them.
My next 8 days was spent creating content for about $4.00 an hour. Guess how good I felt about myself at the end of those projects?
Bid on a few jobs at a time and if you just so happen to get a large number as I did, don’t be afraid to decline with a quick note of apology stating you had been selected for other projects since your original bid. It is much better to apologize than try to struggle through low paying jobs.
2. I’m making what I need!
Once you get through those initial projects and get experience researching and creating killer content, you’ll also have feedback and customer recommendations that you can start to draw on to secure additional assignments. Those initial projects will also give you the experience you need to price jobs to more adequately reflect the income levels that you are looking to achieve.
This is a great time to start setting goals on what sort of income you want to generate from your freelance writing endeavors. If you started taking writing assignments to cover specific bills on a monthly basis or save for a dream trip at the end of the year, break down what you would need to secure in assignments on a weekly basis to secure that additional income. With a track record, securing those jobs will be a little easier but at this point people may not be knocking on your door to hire you.
While you “make what you need”, you can be a bit more selective on the projects that you work on as you should be able to land a higher percentage of jobs based on your past experience and track record. This is a great time to start reaching out to websites, blog owners and companies that fall within your own interests rather than bidding on every project or job posting you see.
At this level of your writing career, here are some tips on helping land the assignments you need.
Talk to past clients to see if they need work completed
One of the best things about completing assignments on time and to the customer’s satisfaction is the fact that they know you can deliver what they need. If you haven’t received additional assignments, follow-up with the customer and ask if there’s anything they need completed. Think of a few topics or titles that would make sense for their website or company blog and pitch it to them. Don’t be overly aggressive and don’t message them on a daily basis but do follow-up and let them know you’re available for work. This will keep you on their mind when the time does come when they need some content created.
Ask for recommendations from previous clients
Another excellent way to get leads for new writing assignments is from those same happy customers mentioned above. Draw on their connections by asking the simple question “Do you know anyone who might be looking for some help on their website or blog? Is there anyone you can recommend I get in touch with?” By contacting these recommendations with “Dave from Whateversite.com recommended I get in touch with you to see if you’re in need of some freelance writing completed. We just finished up [insert project here] and you can check it out at [insert link here]”. In my experience these warm leads often lead to some excellent referrals.
Show some recently completed projects when bidding on new projects and include references to past clients
If you’ve developed a good relationship with past clients, ask them if they would mind if you used them as a reference or include comments taken from past communication with them. You can use these recommendations in the same way you would use past employers as a reference on a traditional resume. When you submit a proposal or bid on a project, you can include these references and links to previously completed work. This shows your potential client that you have a successful track record of completing projects on time and to the customer’s satisfaction. It also gives them quick access to work outside of your carefully selected portfolio, giving them an idea of your writing style and tone.
3. I’m making what I want!
This will be the most satisfying part of your freelance writing career as you have produced some killer content for clients and they are willing to pay the rates that you want to continue writing for them. You will also have a reputation and portfolio of work that you created for clients and are able to show new potential clients. Your clients love the work that you do and recommend you to others.
Here are some tips to keep you at this level of income.
Don’t rest on your laurels
Yes, you have worked extremely hard to get to this income level as a freelance writer and choice assignments are coming your way on a regular basis. Don’t get complacent when this happens as the work assignments and the income that comes with it can disappear very quickly. You need to continue reaching out to websites and publications that you want to write for and inquire about possible writing opportunities they may have. Continue asking for those recommendations from your satisfied clients and try to bring in new customers willing to pay your ideal rate.
Take a hard look at your requested rate of income… and increase it!
When you start making the income levels that you want, it’s time to start looking at your desired rates. You only have a limited time in the day / week / month to write and once you’ve hit your capacity, the only way you can increase your income levels is to adjust what you charge clients for the content that you write. I’m not saying that you need to send out a mass email to everyone that you’re increasing rates by 25% but use your past experience, background and freelance writing portfolio to gain higher rates from new customers.
Start culling your customer list.
It’s always hard to severe ties with a client but sometimes it is absolutely necessary. You may have a demanding client that wants your instant attention and focus as soon as they have an idea in your head that disrupts your profitable work flow. You may also have clients that are on the lower end of your pay scale and you’re starting to feel frustrated when you realize you could earn 2 or 3 times more by creating content for another customer. While it may be unpleasant, you do need to cut ties in a friendly and professional manner.
Let them know that you are swamped by new assignments are not going to be available for some time. Or simply explain that your rates are higher than what they are currently paying. Remember earlier when I recommended you make it clear on your initial job bids that this is not your regular rate? This is why. They may thank you for your previous work and move on or they may agree to your requested. You’ll either free up time to do work for others or increase your rate per piece.
Focus on projects that you are really excited about!
This boils down to job satisfaction. In order to get the most out of your writing time, you need to be able to concentrate a large part of your time on topics that really interest you. If you are constantly pumping out articles and blog entries on roof repair and its something you have no interest in, it’s going to drag your mood and creative flow down. Sure, you’ll be able to do it for a while but trust me when I say you will absolutely end up despising the writing process and even suffer burnout.
Target websites, blog owners and businesses in the fields you are interested in and try to land a few test assignments. Start working on content for your own blog in order to build your reputation as an expert. This will help build you an audience and present yourself as an expert on your particular area of interest. By doing so, you are opening yourself up to not only your audience but also clients who are looking for someone to write similar content for their properties.
I hope this adequately outlines that three levels of freelance writing income that I personally experienced and gives you an idea of what you are in for on your own journey. Your experience may be quite different and I hope you make a quick and easy transition to getting paid what you want for the content you create.