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This story originally appeared on Dollar Sprout.
I've been a freelance writer since 2011 – but I consider my first five years in business a practice round because I've been so unsuccessful.
I've spent those years doing low five numbers annually. After getting a full-time writing job, I was scared of ever freelancing again. I thought I was just bad at it. Then I was released.
In December 2019 I was suddenly unemployed and only had a freelance job about every two months.
But this time around, I started my freelance game – and did almost nothing in less than 90 days to reach my full-time salary.
When you know the basics of being a freelance writer and you're ready to start making more money, try these steps that will add value and get clients knocking on your door.
1. Learn to write for the web
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Content marketing and online publishing represent the greatest demand for authors. Businesses need authors for blog posts, social media, email marketing, e-books, and landing pages.
If you are into print journalism or creative writing, you should familiarize yourself with writing for online platforms such as search engine optimization (SEO) and social media to significantly increase the number of appearances you qualify for.
2. Develop a niche
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I quickly attribute a large part of my success in customer acquisition to my focus on writing about personal finance, a niche in demand. I worked full-time in this field for five years, familiarizing myself with complicated subjects.
At first I didn't want to "niche" because I like to write about so many things. However, if I describe myself as a “personal financial writer” and rely on my largest knowledge base, I can attract clients who are looking for that expertise. It also helps my network think of me when making recommendations.
Finance, health, and law are all lucrative niches that always seem to have open writing opportunities. They each cover complex topics that have a major impact on readers' lives. Hence, the expertise of writers and editors is vital.
I don't have a certification like a Certified Financial Planner or CPA, but these would add authority and increase your worth as a niche writer. Legal blogs often want to see a law degree or education in addition to writing about law.
3. Be referable
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Through full-time jobs and freelance side appearances over the years, I developed close relationships with editors and other writers.
Networking has never been my strength. Instead, I developed relationships based on my work – I submitted a clean copy, met the deadlines, and suggested good ideas. When my friends and colleagues knew I was available for work, they were happy to refer me to clients and give me opportunities.
No matter how much you get paid for your work now, put your full effort behind it. When you show up and do a killer job, you get set up for referrals – so, after all, you can be picky and feel confident about negotiating higher prices.
4. Be flexible with prices
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Setting freelance tariffs is a complicated dance. I set my original goal somewhat arbitrarily based on what I knew from colleagues and freelance writers I had worked with as an editor. It was pretty high and I turned down some offers from potential customers who couldn't keep up.
But then I got an offer from a website I'd like to write for. It offered a fixed rate to all freelancers – half of my target rate per word. But there were endless opportunities for tasks too, so I would spend less time looking for new jobs.
A low work-promising rate might be more lucrative than a high one-time or sporadic task that involves unpaid time. Build this difference into your tariffs to avoid turning down good opportunities that don't meet your strict standards.
5. Work is based on income, not hours
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There are several ways you can plan your days as a freelancer:
- At the time: Make a commitment to work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (or any specified number of hours). Stop to exit even if you are in the middle of a project and continue the next day.
- According to tasks: Make a to-do list for the day and work until you tick everything off.
- According to merit: Aim for an average daily dollar amount and work until you have earned it.
I plan my days based on income because it helps me earn the best and consistently increase my income without increasing my work hours or workload.
Working towards a dollar amount every day allows me to prioritize the work and quickly see when to rebalance my workload by dropping overdriven customers and reaching new prospects.
6. Do the math
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This was one of the most important steps I took to grow my income by 70% in my third month as a freelancer. Early on, I was doing a lot of content management work that took up to 20 hours a week, and I did some writing to do the rest.
By keeping track of the hours spent on each project, I could quickly see that writing had a much better ROI.
Keep track of the time spent on each project to determine your effective hourly rate. You will see which projects are making money and which are taking up your time.
To set a target hourly rate, a good rule of thumb is to double the full-time hourly rate. If you're targeting an annual salary of $ 50,000, the hourly rate for a full-time job is around $ 24. Aim for about $ 48 an hour to freelance.
As a freelancer, you have to aim harder as you don't get paid for every hour you work. You spend tons of non-billable hours doing tasks like writing parking spaces, searching publications, searching job boards, writing proposals, meeting prospects, or networking.
If you are self-employed, you will also have to pay more taxes and get your own health insurance if you don't have a spouse who can provide coverage.
7. Drop time-consuming clients
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After realizing that I could make more writing than content management, I broke up with a client who'd taken up a ton of my time for a low hourly rate.
As I filled that time with other clients, my hourly rate increased by about 40%. That meant I could make more money and work fewer hours. I was reluctant to lose this client who promised as much work as I wanted, but I knew I could use my time better.
Be aware of inefficient work that can take up a lot of time that you could spend on more lucrative work, and don't be afraid of dropping clients for better opportunities.
Be aware of customers wasting their time on non-billable work – those who require complicated invoicing, email you at odd times, micromanage every job, expect multiple rounds of revisions, or are generally disorganized. Take this extra time into account when determining the hourly rate you will earn on this client's projects.
8. Do not rely on pitches
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My biggest mistake in my early days as a freelancer was that pitching was the only way to get work.
Sending a one-time pitch is a great way to get a job with a high-end magazine or newspaper or blog as a new writer. But it's a tedious way of making a living writing.
Focus on finding customers who offer ongoing paperwork and want a long-term relationship. Small businesses often work this way, as do niche websites that require expertise such as: B. Finance, health, or legal blogs.
Or turn one-off jobs into ongoing appearances by doing a great job.
Follow up on a successful assignment with another pitch. When an editor knows how good you are, let them know that you are available to take on assignments. Most websites have a wish list of items they would like to have written and they are happy to pass it on once you've proven yourself reliable.
9. Look for gigs in the right places
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As a new freelancer, you may have relied on broker sites like Upwork and Textbroker to find places to get paid to write. However, customers on these websites are often looking for the cheapest rental and are not that interested in the quality.
Now that you have more experience, you have better ways of finding gigs:
- Search high quality job boards like MediaBistro, JournalismJobs.com and Mediagazer.
- Host a portfolio and work with me on your own website and link it on your social media profiles to help clients find you.
- Join membership groups of writers such as: B. Freelance Writers Den, Editorial Freelancers Association or Society of Professional Journalists who host verified job boards and list you as available for hire.
- Leverage your network and make sure colleagues who love your job know you're available so they can send prospects on your way. Try to return the favor if you can.
- Join freelance writing groups on Facebook, like The Freelance Content Marketing Writer and The Write Life, where editors post quality opportunities.
10. Get (a little) tech-savvy
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The simple work makes you more valuable to customers – and a little technical know-how gives you fewer headaches than customers who customers need to have on hand with every new piece of software.
Learn how to leverage basic technologies that you will encounter as a freelancer, including:
- Video conferencing: Google Hangouts and Zoom.
- Project management: Trello and Asana.
- Word processing and collaboration: Microsoft Word and Google Docs.
- Content management: WordPress (and Wix for some small businesses).
11. Subscribe to the writing of newsletters
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Newsletters for writers are an easy way to keep up with writing gigs without constantly reading the job boards. Plus, they usually come with tons of writing tips.
My favorite newsletters with unique writing appearances are:
12. Reach new customers
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If you're a new writer, you can easily rely on job boards or Facebook posts to find new clients. However, you can make more money finding customers yourself.
Use websites like Crunchbase to find startups in your field. Send them emails explaining what you offer and how your writing can help their business grow.
Set a calendar reminder to respond with a quick check-in and link to your latest article within months.
Follow-up is key, even if you never hear about anything or only get a lukewarm response. You never know when a company will be ready for freelance help. It could be in six months or a year.
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