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A Few Secrets to Freelance Writing Success (That Have Nothing to Do With Writing!)
A freelance writer called me the other day asking for my advice on how he can succeed in his desired new career. Like many freelance writers, he already had a career and wanted to transition into a full-time writing career. I don’t get many calls like this; Maybe one every five years.
You have to be brave to make that kind of phone call. After all, you’re infringing on someone else who might qualify you as a competitor. I don’t recommend that other people who are considering freelance writing call me or contact other writers they know.
But I can give you some free advice from being in the trenches.
The best thing freelance writers can do to set themselves apart from the pack and guarantee a steady stream of new and returning business is to treat freelance writing as a business. This means keeping regular business hours, having a dedicated business phone line (and even a dedicated fax), and contacting your business contacts in a professional way.
Many freelancers are drawn to writing careers because they think it will give them “flexibility.” Most people who want flexibility in their work are actually saying they don’t want to work regular hours. There are many freelance writers who do not work regular hours. Some work only in the morning, some only for two hours in the afternoon and then again late at night. Some of them follow the religion of landing every Wednesday or Thursday or working half a day on even-numbered Fridays. Some freelancers work on Sundays but not during the week. And most freelancers I know only keep irregular hours; They can’t tell you on Tuesday when they plan to work on Wednesday, though.
That is not an exaggeration. This is good news for serious writers because one of the best and fastest ways to put yourself in the top 10% of the pack is to keep regular office hours. The hours should match your client’s work hours, which are usually Monday through Friday, 8 to 5.
If, like me, you have clients on both coasts, you’ll come earlier and stay later. Hey, freelancing is not for wimps.
Next, you need to develop very professional, serious work habits. I maintain an outside office and when I am in the office I am at work. I admit that not every freelance writer can afford their own office, and some may claim that they don’t want that extravagance, but that should be the goal. It says that you treat your writing career as a business. An outdoor office reduces distractions, keeps your schedule better (working from home is so much easier) and looks more professional.
Think of it from your client’s point of view. If you were looking for a writer to advertise a new million dollar product, would you want to hire a writer whose toddler answers the phone and whose every conversation has a baby screaming in the background?
That being said, there are many times not to start a freelance writing venture. Starting any new business requires a lot of time, stability and energy. This usually does not coincide with the arrival of a new baby. Yet I know more than one freelancer who tried to start a freelance career because they became new parents.
As a freelance writer, you have to stop thinking like a creative writer and start thinking like a business person. Your best writing gigs won’t be articles for the local paper or movie reviews for an entertainment website, even if those seem like the funnest assignments.
Most professional freelance writers do most of their writing for businesses. This means you need to identify and target businesses and contact them…again and again. Calling a business and giving a writing assignment is very rare, but cold calling can help you build a list of contacts that you can develop into a few assignments over time.
If you want to jump-start your freelance enterprise and make some real money, you need to have people who can link you with assignments. If you’ve worked for a corporation, make sure you know people who can hire you (or recommend you). For me, the traditional networking approach of attending parties and social functions under the pretense of swapping business cards never works; The only people I met at these networking wingdings were my competitors. But I do well because I know a lot of people and keep in touch (holiday cards, quarterly e-mails, and the occasional phone call). Sooner or later, some of them will call back if editorial services are needed.
Don’t target the wrong contacts. Your best friend or neighbor or cousin who lives in Pittsburgh may all be good people, but if they don’t usually buy copywriting, they’re not your contacts. Find people in the industry who may need articles written, ghostwritten books, prepared speeches or brochures and advertisements.
Many of these contacts will want to see samples of your work. An ideal model is one that is very close to what the client wants to buy from you. For example, if a hospital is interested in hiring you to write a brochure for incoming breast cancer patients, they may not want to see your article about selling Barbie® dolls on E-bay.
So what do you do if you’re angling for a client and don’t have matching clips to dazzle them with? Cook something! Using the same example, you could write an article on breast cancer from a patient’s perspective and submit it to some free article or ezine site (like this one). That’s publication! You now have a relevant clip. Other places to publish your articles include newspapers you know (or own), newspapers, or local newspapers. You’re unlikely to get any financial reward for your efforts, but that doesn’t matter. If it helps you bring in new clients, the clip is of great value to you.
As a general rule, fish for assignments in areas you know and where you already have good clips. But sometimes an unusual offer comes along and it pays to learn how to scramble and bring in some clips. Another hint: the clip must be great. Don’t slap something together. A bad clip is worse than no clip.
According to some freelancers, there is no shortage of writing work. In fact, many businesses that buy writing complain about the lack of stellar freelance talent. In my own experience (I once bought freelance writing), freelancers never get it all right. There were some good writers but terrible business people (unprofessional, erratic). Some were good at the business end, but couldn’t write well or fell through their assignments too quickly. Some became very friendly, calling me on weekends or during work days to chat, mainly to find out how busy they are.
By maintaining a business with business hours and business etiquette, and avoiding the trap of thinking of writing as your ticket to a world of “flexible” (ie irregular) lifestyles, a writer with good skills can be successful as a full-time writer. freelancer
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