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Over the past couple of months we've talked a lot about freelance writer sites -- 5 great freelance writer sites as inspiration, what your freelance writer site should include, why I think you should include rates on your freelance site, and more. Today let's look at another feature you might be considering adding to yours -- an email list.

Now some marketers will tell you it's always a good idea to build an email list for any kind of business. But is it actually necessary when it comes to freelance writing services?

Well, it depends.

Why Freelance Writers Don't Need Email Marketing Lists

When it comes to adding an email list to my own freelance writer website, I've batted the idea around for years. And I've opted against it for two reasons:

  1. In my own case it's never been necessary. I get plenty of inquiries without it.
  2. It's an extra commitment I'd have to make (when again, I don't really need to right now).

And those are precisely the reasons you don't necessarily need an email list either.

First there's the issue of supply and demand. You aren't selling products. You're selling services that rely on your time. And you only have so many available billable hours.

That's one of the perks of freelance writing.

As long as you're charging professional rates, you don't need that many clients to keep your schedule full.

If you were selling products, it makes total sense to build a list so you can maximize sales. But with freelancing, you need to reach far fewer people to reach your sales goals. Building a list of thousands of subscribers sounds great. But it takes work. And you don't need thousands of prospects to keep yourself fully-booked.

This alone means freelancers don't really need email lists. They're about two main things: relationships and scale. There are plenty of ways to build relationships though. And freelancing isn't a game of scale.

The other issue is the time commitment. 

One thing I frequently remind newer freelancers of is this -- it doesn't matter if a marketing tactic works; it matters if it works better than your other options.

Just as you have a limited number of billable hours, you also have a limited amount of time to devote to marketing your freelance writing services. So you want to get the most out of that time by focusing on the most effective tactics and tools available to you.

Think about how you already market your services. What works? What doesn't? Are you already filling your billable hours? Or do you need to add a new tactic or change things up?

If you do need to attract more clients, an email list might work. But will it work better than all other options available to you?

That depends what you're already doing. And who your target market is. And what kinds of services you're selling. And how you intend to use that email list (such as simply for direct promotions versus using it as a thought leadership tool to position yourself in a competitive market).

Managing an email list requires not only time, but consistency. 

So before deciding whether or not an email list is a smart move for your business, ask yourself the following:

  • How do you plan to use the email list?
  • How often do you plan to send emails?
  • How long will that content be (how long will it take you to write the content or copy)?
  • How will you build the email list, and how much time can you devote to that?

Think about the time investment, not just in setting up a list and getting a form added to your freelance writer website, but also the ongoing time commitment.

Then think about other promotional tools and tactics available to you. Then ask yourself a few more questions:

  • Which of those marketing tactics, including managing an email list, is likely to bring in the most paying work?
  • How long will it likely take to see a return on your time investment for each marketing tactic you're considering?
  • Would investing more time in an already-successful marketing tactic potentially yield better, or faster, results?

It can easily turn out that managing a new email marketing list will require a bigger time investment than other tactics that could bring about similar, or better, returns.

Combine this with the fact that freelancing isn't a matter of scale like so many businesses are, and email lists simply aren't a necessity for many writers. And doing it just because people like to promote email marketing as a must-have for everyone could leave you wasting time on something you don't ultimately stick with.

Finally, there's the issue of conversions.

What do you want visitors of your professional site to do? Do you want to convert them into subscribers so maybe they'll buy something later? Or do you want to convert them into clients by getting them to contact you directly right now?

You can't count on converting site visitors in multiple ways on any given visit. So what do you want your site's copy focused on -- promoting your email list or promoting your services?

Every page should have a goal. So for every page you'll have to choose.

Splitting your visitors' attention between multiple calls-to-action could hurt more than it helps (this is something I've seen with my own blogs that offer both email sign-ups and sales-directed CTAs -- it's a balance you'll need to figure out for your own market).

Frankly, one of the biggest issues I've seen in reviewing freelancers' websites is the lack of CTAs to begin with. Check your own site, and start with adding or improving ones directed at making sales before directing visitors toward other actions.

When Email Lists Make More Sense

While I'd consider email lists far from a necessity for most freelance writers, there are cases where they can make sense in your marketing mix.

For example, you might not maintain a public list where you try to attract sign-ups, but you might keep a more private email list of past clients you've worked with for the sake of traditional relationship marketing and staying fresh on the mind of previous and current clients. Because relationships are so vital in freelancing, this kind of list might work very well for you.

You also might not sell only writing services. For example, if you also offer consulting of some kind, then thought leadership and promoting your authority status in your specialty area becomes more important. In that case, having some kind of ongoing publication can be a good idea, such as a newsletter or blog (where you make posts available via email).

Or perhaps you sell a product to freelance prospects -- a lower price point buy-in to acquaint them with your expertise and style. In this case you have a product to sell, and an email list could be a good way to promote those sales. Examples might be an e-book or a course.

And then, of course, there's the case where your current marketing isn't working and you do have reason to believe email marketing could be a more effective use of your time than other options available to you.

In any of those cases, adding an email list sign-up to your freelance writer website might make sense.

As with any kind of marketing tactic, don't follow generic marketing advice that doesn't account for the realities of running a freelance business. What works for other kinds of companies isn't always the most effective use of time for freelance writers.

Evaluate your options. Figure out what you are, and aren't, comfortable trying. Decide if you're willing to invest the time long-term. And only then can you decide if adding email marketing to your mix is the right decision for your business.

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Every week I curate ads for the freelance writing job board here at All Freelance Writing. That means digging through a lot of garbage to find a few gems. And one type of ad I sometimes see deserves a bit of attention -- those with pay based on location.

What do I mean exactly?

These are the ads that either outright say your pay as a freelance writer will depend on your location, or they list specific rates for one group of writers and another set of rates for writers in a different geographic area.

Now, you might think this only happens internationally -- such as a US company paying US-based freelance writers more than, say, a writer in Asia for the same work. But I've more often seen this stated regionally.

For example, a company based in NYC, or LA, or some other large city where the cost of living is high will offer higher pay for local writers than they offer for writers in more rural or suburban areas of the country (even though the work is the same and all of those writers work remotely).

What's Wrong with Freelance Pay Based on Location?

On the surface, this might not sound like a bad thing. It's just an urban company understanding local writers struggle with a higher cost of living, and they want to support those local freelancers. Right?

That might be the intention in some cases. But it's a largely illogical way to determine pay rates, and it has the potential to be destructive.

Let's pretend we're talking about a NYC client looking to hire US-based writers to create content for their blog. They offer $150 per post for local writers and $100 per post for writers based in lower cost of living areas, attributing the difference to cost of living.

The Issue of Value

Tell me something.

What's the difference in the value of each blog post in the above scenario? Assuming the writers have equal talent and credentials making them good fits for this gig, why is a post from Writer A worth more than a similar post from Writer B?

It isn't. Not in the sense of the client's business.

And freelancing is not an employer-employee proposition. Your location should only ever be factored into your rates if you choose to do that (and we'll get to why you shouldn't in many cases shortly).

As a freelancer, the value you provide should affect the rate you earn (among other things).

Further Reading: 47 Things to Consider When Setting Your Freelance Writing Rates

If the value of your work is $150 per post to that client, then that's what you should be paid, as long as that rates fits your own target. You can be paid less if you're less experienced, if your writing isn't as strong, if you don't bring specialized knowledge to a gig... but all else equal, you should not be paid less simply because of where you live.

Clients Don't Know Your Cost of Living

Another issue with pay based on location citing cost of living as the reason is clients don't actually know your cost of living.

Tell me. Do you think you'd have a higher cost of living if you're a 20-something living in NYC, single, no kids, living with your parents or a couple of roommates... or if you're a 20-something, married, with two kids, and a homeowner a couple of hours outside that city?

Why should Writer A be paid more than Writer B just because a client makes stupid assumptions about each writer's situation? (And for the record, most assumptions are stupid, and often wrong.)

Writer A may or may not need as much as Writer B to support themselves. But the client assumes an increase in value (which doesn't exist) because they're also assuming a cost of living they know little to nothing about.

Should a freelance writer in the suburbs automatically be paid less than one who does choose to rent in the city instead? Of course not. It has nothing to do with value and everything to do with cost of living assumptions which are irrelevant anyway.

Your Situation Isn't Static

Let's say you're that suburban or rural Writer B clients assume are worth less because you have a lower cost of living. That lower cost of living isn't necessarily permanent.

What if you're in the suburbs now, but you're planning a move to a higher cost of living area? Would the value of your work suddenly change after a move? No. And why shouldn't you earn what your work is actually worth so you can set more aside and make that move you want to make sooner rather than later? (You should.)

Creating Unfair Competition

Now put on your business owner hat for a moment. If you can get the same value out of the work of two different freelancers, but you can pay one 33% less than the other (increasing your profits or decreasing your cost for other benefits you're seeking), who are you going to hire?

Business owners don't pay more just because they can. Again, we're assuming all other things are equal between these two freelance writers vying for the same gig.

So here's a buyer acting as though they care about local freelance writers by offering to pay them more. But then they immediately put them at a disadvantage by making them less cost-competitive than other applicants for the very same gig.

That helps no one. It means the lower cost of living writers don't get paid what their work as been deemed to be worth. It means the higher cost of living writer has less of a chance of landing the gig because it becomes more expensive to hire them. And the client puts themselves at risk of not choosing the best freelancer for the job because suddenly cost becomes a significant deciding factor where it shouldn't.

There's no need for any of that.

Location as a Factor in Setting Your Own Freelance Writing Rates

There's no good reason for any client to advertise a gig with pay based on location rather than skills, credentials, and value. But what about when you set your own freelance writing rates?

This is something I see more with freelancers working in international markets.

Let's say you're a freelance writer in India for example, but you mostly work with UK clients. You might be inclined to set low rates because you perhaps have a lower cost of living. You figure it's a selling advantage that will attract more clients because it's cheaper for them to work with you.

That might be true. But let me ask you:

  • Assuming your writing is equal to, or better than, those local UK writers, does your work offer less value just because of where you live? (And while I'm well aware of the stereotype and know not all overseas writers write fluently in English, I know more than a few whose English is better than most Americans and Brits I know.)
  • If you could be paid a fair market rate for what your work is worth, rather than what you think your location entitles you to, would you be happier hitting your income goals while having to take on far fewer projects?
  • If a client's primary concern is cost-cutting, are those the kinds of clients you really want to cater to in the first place?

If you're okay being paid less than you're worth, working harder than you have to, and catering to clients who don't respect the value you bring to the table, by all means do whatever you want. It's your career.

But you don't have to put up with any of that.

Think back to what I said using the US regional example too. Is your situation static? Or would you maybe like to move overseas someday? Do you want to travel more and embrace the digital nomad lifestyle? Will charging those lower rates help you do that?

Probably not.

More likely, you'll end up stuck in a rut of working with low-paying clients. And if you do ultimately decide to change your living situation, you'll have to start over in a new market targeting better clients who pay you more.

Having a low cost of living isn't something any freelance writer should be punished for. It's a benefit. Yes. Those in higher cost of living areas should be able to earn a living wage. But the benefit of a low cost of living is that you can earn as much freelancing and squirrel more away -- as an emergency fund, to travel, for retirement, or whatever you please. If you wanted location to influence your pay, you'd have settled for an ordinary day job with a local company.

And remember, undercharging can hurt your overall professional reputation. I talked about this when I explained why you should publish your freelance writing rates on your business website.

Low rates tells prospects you don't value your work as highly. And that... wait for it... leads to more stupid assumptions. They might assume your English isn't strong. Or they might think you're a beginner when you really have 10 years of experience. Or they might assume you simply can't write and will need your hand held more than most (potentially costing you gigs in the first place).

Know what they won't assume? Your value suddenly increases just because you later decide to move to a higher cost of living area.

To sum this up, the only time your cost of living or location should affect the rates you charge is when you need to charge enough to cover those costs and earn a livable wage. Anything beyond that is based on your actual income needs, your experience and credentials, and frankly what you want to earn.

Don't let clients assign you lower worth based on where you live. And don't treat yourself that shabbily either.

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Every year I try to share my business and writing goals with you here on the blog. And every quarter I post updates about what's going well (and what's not). My hope is that it will inspire some of you to focus more on planning and reflection in your own freelance writing businesses.

It's that time again.

If nothing else, know this:

Sometimes things go according to plan. Sometimes they don't. You learn. You adapt. You grow. You change. And as long as it's for the better, you're going to be just fine, no matter how disappointing short-term progress might feel. And you are not alone. You are never alone. From beginners to experienced pros alike, we all have ups and downs. And things are usually a mixed bag.

Now, to the updates...

First Quarter Summary

If you've been following the blog over the last year, it's not exactly a secret that I've been struggling with some things. What they are is irrelevant. But it's been a difficult, depressing, hell of a time. And I thought the start of 2018 would be a positive thing, leaving certain things behind.

Instead it was filled with more pain, more struggles, and an apathy unlike anything I've ever felt.

So, it's not been a great quarter. I find it difficult to care about much at all other than client projects (deadlines and someone else relying on me still do that thankfully).

Still, all wasn't lost. I got off to a good start early in January at least. And I've been withdrawn a bit lately working on some bigger things both for the sake of progress and distraction.

I'd give this quarter... a 6 out of 10? Sure, let's go with that.

Freelance Writing

Here were the main goals for the freelance writing side of my business:

  • Have client work be no more than half my working hours by the end of the first quarter.
  • Get my professional site back up to snuff.
  • Hit 80%+ my highest year's income just from client work (despite the more limited hours).

Here's what happened towards those goals:

  • I'm pretty close to the first goal. It shifts a bit week-to-week depending on new clients and any one-off work I take on.
  • I'm about 40% of the way through my site fixes as of today. The blog's on a regular schedule. Rates were adjusted. Some issues were fixed. I mostly just need to work on more copy updates. Most of it's scheduled in this week and next, so it won't be much longer.
  • Tough to tell on the last goal as it's an annual one. With me cutting client hours more later this year (if I stay on-plan), it's not as simple as estimating month-to-month. But it's certainly doable. On the plus side I'm in talks for a few big projects that should be a lot of fun (and pay well), so if even half of those pan out, it'll get me well on-track.
Web Publishing & Blogging

Here were the goals for the blogging and other web publishing I do:

  • Get to spending half my working hours on my site by year's end.
  • Finish All Freelance Writing improvements to polish off the rebranding effort.
  • Launch FreelanceWritingPros.com.
  • Finish a site split from my old small business blog (BizAmmo.com).
  • Launch / re-launch a few other blogs this year (NakedPR.com, my genealogy blog by the spring, two new "quiet" sites, and a spin-off blog related to All Freelance Writing).

Here's where things stand:

  • Again, the working hours fluctuate a bit. Earlier in the year I was close. Now I'm a little less than half, mostly because I took a week off from my sites. But it's getting there, especially since I don't need to hit the goal until the end of the year.
  • Not much progress at all on the back-end and design things for this site. I need to light a fire under me on that. Once this post goes up I'll go schedule some of these tasks in. If it's not in Todoist or my bullet journal, it just doesn't get done. (The bullet journals have been absolute lifesavers for the record. Without them, I'd probably have let that apathy overrun everything. Committing to things in pen and then not doing them makes me rather grumpy it seems, so I've taken to committing more to pen.)
  • The Freelance Writing Pros launch was delayed. I spent the better part of a month-and-a-half sick around the time I should have been finishing the launch. And I'm struggling to work that in around everything else already planned. But again, at least there's progress. A good bit of the content is ready. I mostly need to update the copy (since I'm launching it solo and it was originally a project with a partner). And I may develop a short course.
  • I did get the first launch done -- the site split from BizAmmo. You can see the new site at KissMyBiz.com. I've been wanting to do something with that older site for years, so I'm thrilled about this at least.
  • The genealogy blog re-launched but is still in desperate need of design changes. The others I haven't yet. Once FWP launches I'll work on the spin-off. Then NakedPR's resurrection. I may drop the "quiet" sites or go with others. These ones A) remind me of what's had me feeling so awfully lately so I don't much want to spend time on them, and B) aren't niches I care enough about to stay interested.
Indie Publishing / Creative Writing

Finally, here were my goals for the indie publishing and more creative side of my business:

  • Publish at least 6 short nonfiction e-books (some through All Freelance Writing) this year.
  • Get at least one poem published (in print or in a reputable online journal or magazine).
  • Get a horror story published.
  • Release one nonfiction book in print.
  • Release at least one novel (preferably in print).
  • Earn a bare minimum of $10k from e-book sales.

Here's the progress, or lack thereof:

  • I haven't put out any of the e-books yet. One is nearly finished, but it keeps getting longer on every revision round, so it's less "short" than I'd originally planned. I have a second in the works for this site as well. So you'll get a minimum of two second quarter. A short one will release when Freelance Writing Pros launches as well. So I'm a bit behind schedule but not enough that it's worrying me.
  • I've been a bit slack about poetry. Again, it's a reminder of things I try not to remember. But I don't want to let anyone or anything ruin it for me either when it's taken over 15 years to get back into writing it at all. I've only submitted one so far. I promised myself I'd do weekly submissions, but I broke that promise almost as soon as I made it. Given that it's National Poetry Month (and I'm doing a poem-a-day personal challenge for that), it seems as good a time as any to start keeping that promise to myself.
  • I haven't submitted any horror stories yet. But I'm currently revising one that I'm submitting at the end of this month for an HWA anthology. While it would be awesome to have a story chosen for it, I'm certainly not getting hopes up. I'm just going to do my best, submit, take what comes (or doesn't), and keep submitting until I get the right story in the right hands.
  • The nonfiction print book I haven't done much with yet. The thing is though, I wrote one years ago that I didn't publish. So I'm thinking my goal here will be to do extensive revisions of that (some updates are needed though most is evergreen). So it's doable by year's end for sure.
  • As for finally publishing a novel (of which I've written several), this is an area where I've been pretty happy with my progress. A lot of what I've done while keeping quieter and withdrawing has been throwing myself into a murder mystery I'd written that was in desperate need of revisions. They turned into much heavier revisions than expected -- I wrote out two characters (including the intended killer), and I'm working on improving character development for the rest. I'm still having doubts about the murder method, so another key element might change. In spite of that, I feel pretty good about how things are coming together. I don't have a great feel on timing yet because I don't know how many more revision rounds I'll need. But with a lot of hard work and a little luck, I think there's a good chance of hitting this goal as of now.
  • Finally, the $10k income goal... I guess it would help if I actually released a new e-book, huh? I'll have to get on that. I'm not worried about this goal. If I publish even half the planned e-books, this will be an easy target for me to hit, and if anything I probably set much too low of a goal. So this goal might change mid-year.

And, that is that. As awful as I feel about this first quarter, going through the list here actually helped me realize I wasn't as off-course as I thought. That is something to celebrate. And even if you aren't quite where you hoped to be after the first quarter, I hope you found some progress worth celebrating as well. Don't give up on your goals. Use this opportunity (and every quarter) to evaluate your progress and tweak your plans as necessary. There's still plenty of time to make something amazing of this year.

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