Make A Living Writing | Practical help for hungry writers
Practical help for hungry writers -- 700 useful posts for freelance writers looking to break in, move up, and earn more. Blogs mission is to help freelance writers make more money. To help writers find better-paying markets and avoid crazy-low rates. Writers of the world unite!
Want to be a freelance journalist? It starts with one simple thing…curiosity.
It’s a skill that will help you get better at copywriting and content writing, not just hard-news reporting.
When you learn to think like a freelance journalist, you’ll also tap into skills to ask good questions, find fresh angles and ideas, understand your audience, and ultimately make more money from writing.
Can you really learn how to think like a freelance journalist? Or do you need a J-school degree, a stint as a cub reporter, and years of experience? Yes, you can. And no, you don’t.
It might take a little practice, but you can learn to think like a freelance journalist.
To help you out, we caught up two veteran journalists in a recent Freelance Writers Den podcast to talk about journalism skills and strategies for freelance writers.
Curious? Check out this Q&A to learn how to think like a journalist:
Freelance journalist skills: Learn from the pros
Whether you’re writing magazine articles, blog posts, or content for big corporate websites, being able to think like a journalist will help you tell compelling stories that keep your clients and readers coming back for more, says Allen Taylor and Emily Leidel.
Taylor is an award-winning journalist who focuses on writing and content marketing in the financial technology (fintech) niche.
Leidel is a B2B copywriter, world traveler, and graduate of two journalism schools (Columbia University in New York and Sciences Po in Paris)
Q: What does it mean to think like a journalist?
A: Taylor: It’s being curious enough to look beyond what is obvious and come up with deep, thought-provoking questions that get to the heart of a story.
A journalistic mindset makes you a better writer. You get into the habit of looking for the nonobvious things. Anyone else looking at the situation would say, “Okay, here’s the story.” If you get past that, into something other people don’t see, you can flesh out the main story more deeply.
Q: What are the top journalism skills all writers should learn?
A: Leidel: First: Ask who the story is about. For example, if you’re writing about flood insurance, don’t begin with, “59,000 people don’t have flood insurance.” Instead, write, “John and Sue live in a three-bedroom ranch house. They don’t have flood insurance. And now, they got flooded.” Then give statistics. But you want a character or two that anchors the story.
Second: Answer the question “Why now?” Businesses want a press-release hook that’s more than a product release announcement. “Hey, we released a product–AND it’s related to this other event.” Same with a blog post. It needs to be timely.
Third: Focus on the details. Details are important for storytelling and building characters. For the flood insurance story, mention that these characters have beige carpet. The water level got to 2 feet and 4 inches. You can see the mark on the yellow walls in their house. All these details transport readers into the story and help them visualize it.
Q: How do you come up with the best story angle?
A: Taylor: Before you write, brainstorm. Ask yourself, “What do I know about this topic? What do I want to know?” Come up with ideas for directions this story could go.
If I do that early on—write down as many ideas as I can, and think about how this story can play out—it sparks questions. I get more curious about the topic, and that leads me into the direction I need to go.
Q: How does the journalist’s skill of coming up with story ideas translate to other forms of writing?
A: Leidel: Sometimes my copywriting clients drag their feet about what they actually want me to write. I might send them a list saying, “Hey, I think you need these pages on your website.” It’s not exactly a story idea. But it still comes from imagining what information is going to be useful to readers.
Q: How do you speak to the concerns of your audience?
A: Taylor: Put yourself in your reader’s shoes. Find out what they would want to know. And then, ask those questions.
One helpful resource is quora.com. It’s a question and answer website. You can go onto Quora and see what questions people are asking on your topic.
Q: What are your best interviewing tips?
A: Leidel: Don’t be worried about impressing the person you’re interviewing. That’s not your goal. In fact, sometimes you have to come off as kind of stupid. Your goal is to get the person to explain everything.
Ask background questions. Be quiet and listen. Ask open-ended questions. Ask, “Why?” Do that even if you think you know the answer. Don’t be afraid to ask a question that might seem obvious.
Q: How do you keep content fresh when you’re writing about the same topic a lot?
A: Taylor: Question everything. Get in the habit of coming up with questions that lead to new, interesting angles. Some ideas include:
What’s controversial? In business it’s not always prudent to talk about the controversies. But they do get people’s attention. Just don’t take it too far.
Who’s the underdog? That’s another story people are interested in. Who’s got everything going against them?
What’s different or has never been done before? Who’s doing those things? Who has set a new record?
These types of questions will lead you to search and find the answers.
Q: Was there anything you learned in J-school that doesn’t apply to other types of freelance writing?
A: Leidel: I think a lot of journalists have a nonprofit mentality. “We’re doing this to help people. It’s okay to get paid pennies to write this article with a thousand rounds of edits.”
As I’ve transitioned to do more business writing, I still want to have quality. But I also have to think about how much money I’m making and not agonize about whether every sentence is absolutely the best it can be.
Q: How important is tenacity to the journalistic mindset?
A: Taylor: You have to hang in there when you’re hitting a wall, and it happens to the best of us. You’re chasing down a trail of information, and you realize, “This is a dead end.” Now you’ve got to go back—brainstorm, research, look over your notes. I’ve often found holes of information I hadn’t noticed before. And that will spark more questions.
Be dogged in chasing down every trail of information that you can find, and don’t give up.
Develop skills to think like a journalist
Maybe you didn’t go to J-school or work at a newspaper. So what? You can still develop the skills to think like a journalist. Be curious. Ask lots of questions. Connect the dots. Follow up. And you’ll be able to use those skills to move up and earn more.
What journalism skills have helped you as a freelance writer? Let’s discuss on Facebook and LinkedIn
Maria Veres is a freelance writer based in the Oklahoma City area. She contributes regular Q&A blog posts to Make A Living Writing.
I can still remember how excited I was to get my first freelance writing job. It was an essay for an alternative paper in Los Angeles that paid $200.
Over the moon! You know I ran right down to my nearest mini-mart, the hour those papers got delivered, to grab myself a few copies.
Then, I followed up on that by doing…nothing.
When you’re just starting out, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of seeing your name in print, or getting that client check after your first freelance writing job. And to be a bit in the dark about what to do next, to keep building career momentum.
There are some key moves to make right after getting that first gig that can help you build your career faster — steps that most newbies don’t take. (I know I didn’t!)
Want to get some real mileage out of your first freelance writing jobs? Here’s what to do right after your work gets published:
Start a collection
It’s important to hang onto your published work samples. You never know which future client might be impressed by a particular piece you wrote in the past. Especially, when you’re starting out, it’s important to save them all.
I’ve still got a physical portfolio of my very first clips — and looking through those tiny articles I had in long-dead publications still brings me joy.
Now that we have the Internet, a big tip: Don’t just put up a link to the site where your work appears onto your LinkedIn, online portfolio, or writer website (or in a Word doc, if you don’t have an online presence yet).
Definitely do that, but don’t stop there. There’s more you can do to leverage your first freelance writing job.
Websites change their addresses, merge with other sites, and just plain vanish overnight. Then, your link goes dead, and poof! There goes your clip, into the ether. Speaking as someone who lost loads of great samples when Freelance Switch got folded into other Envato sites…ahem…preserve copies of your work.
How? If it’s a publication, you can contact their reprints department about getting a PDF copy. (I’ve also been known to use proof PDFs I’ve been sent during editing.) Otherwise, save a digital copy — here’s a good list of screenshot tools.
Offer visual proof
In a decade of reviewing writer websites, I’ve discovered there’s one thing that lands new clients like nothing else. It’s called a proof bar — a set of visual logos of clients you’ve worked for. With your first gig, you’re ready to start your proof bar.
As soon as you’re published, add the logo of the company or publication you wrote for to your online presence — ideal is right up in the header of your LinkedIn or writer site. Say “As seen on” or “Clients include” and then put up the logo.
Is that legal? Yes, it is. As long as it’s true that you wrote for them, that’s considered Fair Use of their logo — and trust me, companies never complain about it. That’s free publicity for them, right?
Posting company logos gives you instant credibility, that new prospects can spot in seconds. Trust me, no fascinating copy you can write on your home page will get new clients to pick up the phone like those logos will. So put ’em up!
Document the reaction
If you got published and your client is happy, your next step is to collect a testimonial.
Right away, you ask? Yes.
Do it before you forget. Before that editor leaves the magazine. Before time goes by and then you feel all awkward about asking.
The ideal place to do this is on LinkedIn. Then, you can screenshot that recommendation (which helps you get gigs off LinkedIn) and put it on your writer website, too.
Form a friendship
When you get published, it shouldn’t be a one-off situation. It should be, as they say in Casablanca, the start of a beautiful friendship.
When you turn in that invoice, turn it in with a couple of other article ideas. Or a note about the next piece of content marketing you think would help the company. Maybe it’s time to propose an ongoing retainer, to keep doing what you just did on a regular monthly basis.
Pro writers look to turn every first assignment into an ongoing relationship that provides a steady stream of assignments. That’s how the freelance life gets easier.
Keep going after your first freelance writing job
Once you’ve got a clip in hand, it’s time to ramp up your marketing. Be sure to mention your recent work whenever you write or speak to prospective clients.
You want to strike while that clip is fresh. It makes you sound professional and busy when you mention that you just completed a project.
With luck, soon you’ve got another writing job. Lather, rinse, repeat, and you’re building a freelance writing business.
How do you leverage your freelance writing jobs? Let’s discuss on Facebook and LinkedIn.
This in-flight magazine for Alaska Airlines doesn’t have a dedicated humor column, but that doesn’t mean editor Michele Andrus Dill isn’t interested in humor writing.
“We are interested in writers who can cover business with insight and style,” says Andrus Dill. “Local writers who can lend inside perspective to our destination and travel columns and journalists who write with a sense of humor.”
Clubhouse magazines is published by the Christian organization, Focus on the Family. It’s a children’s magazine aimed at 8- to 12-year-old kids, and publishes both fiction and non-fiction humor writing, says Editorial Director Jesse Florea. Examples include:
Short, humorous how-to articles (e.g., how to get good grades, how to be a good friend)
Fictional humorous stories with a point (around 500 words)
The print version of Cracked magazine died a slow and painful death in 2007, after a 50-year run as one of just a handful of markets dedicated to humor writing.
Fortunately, it lives on as Cracked.com, where Executive Editor Jason Pargin and his team work with writers to serve up laugh-out-loud satirical and humor writing in the form of articles, photo captions, list-posts and more.
Do you live on a farm? Maybe you just live out of town in the country? Or maybe, you leave the city or the suburbs every chance you get for a taste of country life. If you’ve ever seen the city-boys-turned-ranch-hands movie City Slickers, you know some funny and crazy stuff is bound to happen.
And you can write about it for Country, a custom mag published by RDA Enthusiast Brands.
Have a funny story to tell, humorous essay about country life, or jokes about country living? Check the editorial calendar for topics and themes in upcoming issues, and pitch Copy Chief Deb Mulvey.
If you want to write for Air Canada’s magazine, enRoute, you won’t find a formal space dedicated to humor writing. Wait, that’s “humour” writing for Canadian pubs like enRoute. But humor still serves a purpose for educating and informing readers in this travel mag.
It’s no secret that being a freelance writer can have it’s ups and downs. Ever had one of those days where you just had to laugh it off, and move on? Making money writing isn’t always easy, but it’s possible when you learn the business and craft of freelancing and work hard.
Funds for Writers founder C. Hope Clark accepts guest posts for the site (although the guest post calendar is currently booked through June) about how to make money writing. Review the guidelines, and don’t overlook the last line for tips on what can help land you an assignment: “a dash of humor, if possible; a positive note and a happy ending.”
Self-described “publishers and troublemakers” Ray Lesser and Susan Wolpert laugh about this every day. They’ve been publishing The Funny Times for more than 30 years, and the magazine doesn’t include any advertising. Seriously, it’s not a joke.
“Our print publication pokes fun at politics, news, relationships, food, technology, pets, work, death, environmental issues, business, religion (yes, even religion) and the human condition in general,” says Lesser and Wolpert. “Not much is off limits, so do your best to make us laugh.”
In this Christian-focused magazine for tweens and teens (ages 10 to 14), a little humor can help teach a lesson and build confidence to manage those sometimes stormy years of adolescence.
“Stories in this category use a lighthearted story line that goes beyond one-liners to expose a character-building principle,” says Managing Editor Laura Samano.” The key is to write what’s funny to kids and keep it believable.”
Length for stories is typically 450 to 1,200 words.
If every kid came with a parenting manual, the world might be a different place. But that’s just not the case, according to The Imperfect Parent. Everybody knows “perfect parenting” is a funny business.
“The name Imperfect Parent came from the disgust of being constantly preached to on how to be the perfect parent, and what we were doing wrong,” says Editor Preston Carlson.
Instead of cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all solutions to parenting, The Imperfect Parent publishes parenting articles to make you think and make you laugh about things like the euphoria of the school bus taking the kids away, managing an angry-cup-throwing toddler, strategic ways to embarrass your kids as a twisted form of discipline and control, and much more.
“Anything that deals with any aspect of the lighter side of parenting,” says Carlson. “Parody, humorous takes on parenting, satire, an ‘open letter.’ Take your pick. And if you are questioning if your humor crosses the line, then definitely send it in.”
What do you know about life and culture in the Twin Cities, the North Start state, and the Upper Midwest? If it’s anything close to Garrison Keillor’s Minnesota Bucket List, you’re bound to have some laugh-out-loud stories to write about for Minnesota Monthly.
Editor Rachel Hutton says the best way to break into this magazine is to pitch stories for a First Person or True North feature. And if you’re going for humor, submit a full manuscript, instead of a query letter.
Parenting isn’t exactly a cakewalk. Unless of course, you’re the parent of that perfect little angel who is exquisitely well-behaved, well-mannered, and has never thrown a single temper tantrum…ever. LOL. If you can serve up parenting advise with a dose of humor, pitch a personal narrative or essay to Parent.co Community Manager Sara Goldstein (firstname.lastname@example.org). Like it or not, this pub prefers writers pitch via Submittable. Check back for an open call for submissions.
Sasee is a women’s lifestyle magazine that features stories and art about fashion, food, travel, and family life near Charlotte, South Carolina. “Essays, humor, satire, personal experience, and features on topics relating to women are our primary editorial focus,” says Editor Leslie Moore.
If you haven’t looked at a copy of Reader’s Digest recently, it’s not the same magazine it was when it launched way back in 1920. It’s still half the size of the typical magazine, but it’s been redesigned to keep up with competing pubs in the general interest and lifestyle niche. One regular feature includes jokes, gags, quotes and funny stories written by freelancers.
Rates: Pays $25 to $100 per assignment.
Get paid for humor writing
If you want to write for magazines, blogs, and markets that appreciate humor, satire, and good jokes, here what to do:
Read the guidelines. Every one of the sites listed here provide guidelines on humor writing, and the submission process. And the rules are slightly different for every market.
Study back issues and site content. It’s really the only way to get to know your market’s style and start thinking like the editor.
Write and proofread your pitch. You come up with a great idea and labor over writing a great pitch. But don’t fire it off before proofreading it. Take a break, and come back to read your work. Or ask a fellow writer to proofread your pitch before you send it out, to avoid less-than-funny mistakes.
Accept feedback. If you hear back from an editor with a rejection, don’t give up. Study up on the publication, find out how to improve, and give it another shot.
Keep going. Even pro writers get rejected or never hear back from an editor. Laugh it off, and keep going. It’s a numbers game. The more pitches you send out, the more likely you are to land an assignment.
NOTE: Fear and overwhelm might be one of the biggest stumbling blocks to building your freelance career. But it doesn’t have to be. Read this to find out how to finally get the ball rolling. Enjoy! —Carol.
The Internet has made some things about building a freelance career as a writer a lot easier.
You can investigate what a magazine has recently written, for instance. Or find an editor on LinkedIn.
But in other ways, our Information Age has caused problems for writers.
I know because I keep hearing comments from new freelance writers like this:
“There’s so much to know and the world of freelance writing is rapidly changing. I feel so behind and don’t know how I’ll ever catch up. Can you help?”
Wondering if can really jump in and build a freelance career as a writer, even though you don’t know everything right now?
I do have a tip on that.
Admit it’s a bottomless pit
Stop imagining that if you study study study — you read enough blog posts, buy enough books about writing, and take enough courses — there will be a point where you will feel you know “enough” about freelance writing.
And then, boom! You will dive in and be writing up a storm.
This will never happen.
You will not look up one day and realize you now know everything you need to know about blogging or writing magazine articles or whatever your chosen niche is, and now you’re ready to do this writing thing. Because new blog posts and e-books come out every day, with new tips for freelancers and solopreneurs.
So how can you kick your freelance writing into high gear?
The reality is, you have to start writing and marketing, and learn as you go. Yes, you will feel nervous that you don’t know it all. But that’s the only way you will move this forward.
Here’s a simple, five-step plan for cutting the overwhelm and getting your freelance writing biz into gear:
1. Find an expert to help you build your freelance career
There are a million people who blog about freelance writing on the Internet. There are books, and videos, and e-books. Figure out the mode in which you like to learn, and then find one or two experts who deliver advice in that mode, and whose advice really resonates for you.
Check out their credentials. How long have they been freelance writers? How successful are they?
If they’re the real deal and you love what they have to say, then commit to reading (or viewing) them closely.
Next, look at what else you’re consuming, and start trimming it down. Yes, even if that means you’re going to unsubscribe from my blog.
You want to go from the spurting firehose of way-too-much information of various quality levels down to a small trickle of high-quality stuff.
2. Look for action items
As you read your chosen gurus, look for actionable advice. Something simple and practical you could do right now, or that you could put into practice soon.
Maybe it’s just one tip, or maybe it’s a whole article writing class that’s a perfect fit to give you the chops you need to quickly move up to better-paying markets.
Now that you’ve found your action item, stop reading.
Yes, let those emails you subscribe to pile up for a few days or even months. (I’ve been known to end up with more than 1,000 email newsletters piled up to read when I’m ready.)
3. Stop worrying
The thing that keeps many writers frozen is that they’re worried the action item they’ve chosen isn’t the best one. You might feel like you’re flailing around and wasting time.
But this will never be the case. When you take action, you are learning — even if it’s learning that plug-in doesn’t work for you. That still moves you forward.
And if that action item spoke to you and made you want to stop reading and go “Oh man, I’ve got to try that!” it’s probably something you need. Trust your gut on that.
4. Take action
When you’ve found one writing prompt that speaks to you, a great social-media marketing tip, or that perfect class, stop reading.
Now, go and execute on that.
Put everything you’ve got into that class. Or go download that plug-in you want to try. Implement that one new design trick on your blog.
Now you’re ready to come back to your experts and read some more. You’ll be surprised how much more efficient this is if you do it in batches instead of reading a bit every day.
Taking breaks when you’re not in ‘learning’ mode will also help you come at the advice with fresh eyes. You’ll be able to spot that next great action item more easily.
Keep at this, and you have the perfect recipe for a thriving freelance writing business. You’re taking concrete action to grow your freelance business and improve your craft, and you’re continuing to learn how to do it better.
How do you avoid overwhelm and move forward with your writing? Let’s discuss your approach on Facebook or LinkedIn.
You scan through all the low-paying work in the content mills, and it makes you feel sick.
Ever done that?
Spend much time in the content mills, and you’ll soon feel the need to wash your hands, lather up with hand sanitizer, and spray your computer with Lysol, or you’ll spew disgust all over the place.
It’s not a healthy place to find clients or make a living writing.
Maybe you’ve already sold your soul and several hours of your life to write a blog post for five bucks. No doubt, the kind of mind-wasting gigs content mills are infested with.
When one writer I talked to told me he did this 399 times, I threw up in my mouth a little.
If you want to be a successful freelance writer, you can’t hang around the content mills. It’s a toxic environment that will siphon creativity, confidence, your bank account…and make you feel like blowing chunks.
Sick of content mills? Take these four healthy writing income remedies:
The fight against content mills disease
In 2010, Steve Maurer needed some extra cash. So, he wrote his first article for a content mill. It paid $5 and took him six hours to write. And he was stricken with content mills disease.
He then slaved to sell 399 more articles and scraped in $2,000. The next year he did the same.
But in 2012, something amazing happened. A cure for content mills disease?
Steve escaped the content mills, wrote fewer articles and doubled his writing income. And it just keeps doubling.
He brought home an extra $40,000. And—here’s the kicker—he only wrote 50 projects to do it.
Did you catch that?
He completed 350 fewer jobs than when he wrote for content mills yet made 20 times as much money. He still writes part-time, and he still writes from home.
So, what did he do after kicking the mills to make such a huge difference?
Well, a few things, actually. And he isn’t the only successful freelance writer doing them.
I interviewed three other writers and asked them how they make mega moolah without using content mills or job boards. Not surprisingly, their answers shared a few common threads.
If you’re sick of content mills, dose up on these healthy writing income remedies:
1. Move to a better neighborhood
“If a talented lawyer sets up shop on the poor side of town, then he can’t expect that he’s going to do very well,” says Peter Bowerman, copywriter and creator of The Well-Fed Craft.
The same goes for writers. Only, you don’t need to change your physical address to get better pay. You need to move away from low paying clients.
For example: “The local dentist will pay $10 for a blog post about what should go in a teenager’s room, but a large credit card company will pay $300 for that post,” says Bethany Johnson, B2C content marketing writer.
So, why not go after the better clients?
That’s what B2B copywriter and writing coach Andrea Emerson recommends.
“Pursue quality prospects,” she says. “You want to find clients who crave content and already have a budget for it, as opposed to those who must be educated on the benefits of your service.”
2. Choose lucrative projects
“If you’re looking to maximize your income,” says Bowerman, “Consider expanding your skills to include commercial copywriting projects.”
Why do these projects pay better? Because they have a stellar track record for bringing in leads and customers.
What do they pay? It varies. But, case studies—basically long form testimonials written like reported articles—are worth about $1,500 for 800 words.
Learn to write just one of these copywriting projects, and you’ll give yourself a hefty raise. But here’s a word of caution from Steve:
Learning new skills should be a spare time activity. Don’t stop earning while you’re learning.
3. Price according to your value
“It doesn’t often make sense to charge per hour or per word,” says Emerson. “Those are poor measures of your effort, expertise and the value you deliver.”
For example: As you gain experience you’ll write faster, so charging per hour actually punishes you for getting better at your craft. Charge per project instead. And anchor your fees to the value the project will bring your client.
If you’re still a little fuzzy on how to do that, maybe this will help: Steve Maurer wrote two product descriptions, a total of 250 words, to help a company sell $4,000 industrial-grade fire alarms. He charged a $700 flat fee. The company happily paid that, because if those descriptions sell just one alarm they will more than recoup their investment.
4. Market yourself
Imagine being so booked that you were turning down work, like Bethany Johnson: “I just told a client—who’s paying $800 per post—I don’t want to take on any more work.”
How did she become so in demand that she can turn down such a great paying gig? Simple. She put herself out there.
That’s all marketing is—making sure the right people know who you are and how you can help them.
Some writers pitch, some writers frequent LinkedIn, others network. Most use a combination of tactics.
And guess what? Some lucky freelancer who’s been marketing their business has already snagged the work Bethany turned down.
Healthy marketing habits for freelance writers
When you get out of the toxic environment of content mills and focus on healthy marketing habits, you’ll feel a lot better, work on more interesting projects, and make more money.
Need help getting out of the content mills? Let’s discuss on Facebook and LinkedIn.
Holly Hughes-Barnes creates the magnetic stories marketers crave to power their content marketing strategy—when they don’t have the time or bandwidth to do it in-house
When I first started out as a freelance content writer, I almost didn’t make it. My lack of freelance marketing focus was largely to blame.
But there were other reasons I nearly starved, too.
I quit my day job before I had steady clients. My portfolio was slim. And my savings? Ahem, what savings?
I also had bad habits. I squandered way too much of my time on freelance marketing strategies that didn’t work. If you’re nodding your head, I totally understand.
Fortunately, I realized that if I was going to survive, I needed a better freelance marketing menu of strategies to find clients that were already hungry and ready to hire me.
Worried about how you’re going to find great clients? I know I was.
To turn my freelance marketing famine around, I had to figure out better ways to reach out and make connections. These four tactics will help you find clients eager to throw you some work:
1. Find low-hanging fruit
Carol’s advice for newbies is the best I’ve seen. She says to try for “low-hanging fruit.”
Note, this does not mean writing for shady content mills.
It means taking an honest look at yourself, and asking: “What level of experience do I have?”, “What expertise can I offer?”, “What I am I interested in?”
These questions will point you toward companies that are ready for you.
And, once you distill your answers into a succinct paragraph— you suddenly have a compelling pitch for your services.
Here’s how my pitch went:
I come from a medical sales background. Spent a lot of time roving hospital floors and scrubbing in for surgeries. These days I help hospitals, nonprofits, and manufacturers talk to their patients, donors, and customers.
It doesn’t look like much, does it? Just a few sentences.
But when you point those sentences at the right person, the results can be magical.
I used that passage, verbatim, to land two clients through LinkedIn. One of them awarded me a contract worth $20,000.
All thanks to the low-hanging fruit strategy!
2. Look in your own backyard
When I was first trying to raise clients, I cast my net too wide. From my little nook in Omaha, I was cold-calling clients as far afield as LA, Boston, and even Hong Kong.
The reaction was muted, at best.
But a little tweak to my approach changed everything. Instead of long-distance, I started calling LOCAL clients, and letting them know I was in the neighborhood. As in:
“I’m a LOCAL freelance content writer, and I was just wondering…
Suddenly, prospects were inviting me out to coffee. One local PR consultant gave me a $500 project, less than 24 hours after I called her.
People have a primal reaction to the word ‘LOCAL’. It makes clients feel you’re more reliable, or at least more accountable. It’s a nice way to build a little bit of trust.
So if your cold calls are too cold, try making them a little closer to home!
3. Develop a nose for chaos
The hungriest clients are usually — but not always — just a little desperate. They need to push out a lot of content in a hurry. That’s where you come in.
But how can you identify these needy companies?
The signs are there, if you know where to look.
Identify prospect websites that need help
Your ideal customer should have a polished web-presence with strong branding — but it should look a little thin. Maybe they have a blog that hasn’t been updated since 2014. Or maybe their ‘Resources’ section has just two articles on it.
Show clients like this that you can beef up their content operations. You can flesh out their blogs, polish their thought-pieces, or even produce new types of content, like white-papers. That will get them excited!
Check out who’s hiring, and look for companies in distress
Obviously, if they have an ad out for a full-time writer, that’s a good sign. But there are subtler signals, too.
If a company’s looking for a “Marketing Manager”, for example, that’s an invitation for you to shoot them a line. Why? Because if they’re looking for a ‘Manager’, it means they’re struggling to delegate work. Their operations are in disarray. And you can pitch in.
LinkedIn is perfect for this. Using their ‘Jobs’ search engine, I found a local company looking for a ‘Content Manager.’ I found their VP of marketing, and shot her an InMail:
Saw you’re looking for a Content Manager. Well… I’m not that.
But the fact that you’re looking tells me there’s work to be done.
A little about me…
And then I launched into the spiel I mentioned above.
The results from that message? The best client I’ve ever had. To date, I’ve earned more than $60,000 of work from them — not bad for a one-off LinkedIn message.
4. Capitalize on moments of ambition
On the opposite side of the spectrum, ambitious companies need you, too.
These are your up-and-comers, your firms on the verge of the big-time. They can take a little detective work to spot.
It lets you sort companies by when they last received a funding round.
A recent cash-injection is a great sign for you. Observe this screen-shot:
Look at that list. Pick a company that matches your answers from step one.
And then imagine the impact when you introduce yourself with something like:
Hey I saw you guys got funded last week — congratulations!
That kind of ‘Hello’ shows that you’re savvy and that you’re paying attention to them. A great first impression. It’s gotten me hired more than once.
Freelance marketing to find hungry clients
If you want to avoid the famine I was in, be proactive and make the most of the time you spend on freelance marketing. Finding hungry clients is the best way to avoid going hungry yourself. Put yourself out there, and you’ll make connections, start landing more contracts, and feast on success.
Matt Seidholz is a freelance healthcare content writer from Omaha, Nebraska.
What freelance marketing strategies work for you? Let’s discuss on Facebook and LinkedIn.
Did the recent U.S. stock-market dip make you worried about the future of your freelance work? If so, you’re not alone.
I’ve been getting anxious emails from freelance writers ever since stocks suddenly ended their long upward climb earlier this month, and took a big dip.
Good news: Freelancers can thrive during recessions.
I know this because I steadily built my own freelance writing business up during the last recession, hitting six figures in the final year of the downturn, 2011. You can recession-proof your freelance business now, so that you thrive even when the economy falters.
Let me walk you through what’s happening now, and give you concrete steps to take right now to help you sail through a recession with a solid freelance income.
Economics 101 for freelancers
Why do freelance writers need to worry about what the stock market is doing right now?
Short version: The stock market’s overall value recently plunged. Experts think it will probably continue to sink. And that means companies will be worth less, start hoarding cash, be able to borrow less, sales will decline…and some will spend less on hiring writers for freelance work.
Details: After rising steadily from under 11,000 in 2011 to a record-high 26,600, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dipped under 24,000 in early February before stabilizing lower, as you can see here.
Many economists believe this big dip signals the onset of a coming major recession. Just check out this market sentiment gauge from CNN Money, to take the pulse of investors:
Global instability and terrorism is on the rise. President Trump is looking to tear up longstanding international trade contracts.
It all adds up to uncertainty. People don’t buy when they’re scared. That goes for everything from stocks to designer purses.
Once big stock investors start selling, others panic and also sell. Stock prices spiral down. Retail sales start to shrink, too. Companies start doing big layoffs. Unemployment goes up.
Add it all up, and it means the go-go days for freelance work come to a sudden end.
Our shrinking safety net
Final important thing to know, American writers: Trump is gutting the safety net for unemployed workers.
Where President Obama extended unemployment to a record 99 weeks during the previous downturn, expect few benefits to help you over the hump this time. We’ve got an administration that believes federal aid makes you unmotivated and weak, so it’s all being cut.
In other words, there’s little advantage to staying in a day-job now. There’s never been a better time to get serious about your freelance work, and build a recession-proof business of your own.
Having seen writers end up living in their cars around 2010, I think it’s critical that freelancers understand how to prosper during hard times.
Here are seven steps to take now:
1. Spread your risk
If you’re a freelancer who only has one client, or only works in a single industry, you’re at high risk in a recession.
Companies have a way of suddenly shutting their doors in downturns — and that includes mass online job platforms (remember oDesk?). You want a fairly large, varied client base to spread your risk when the economy gets wobbly.
Imagine being a real-estate writer in 2010, for instance. Poof! Overnight, there was no work.
Branch out now and build your client list. Your top job is to be cranking a lot of marketing out the door, every week.
My story: In the last downturn, I lost every single one of my clients, one at a time, over a period of two years. Publications closed. Content marketing suddenly ceased. Rates were slashed, and I dropped clients.
But it was all OK. Because I was constantly marketing, I was able to quickly replace them all — in some cases, with better-paying gigs.
2. Ask for more
If you have ongoing clients and haven’t asked for a raise in the past 6 months – 1 year, ask now. Make your case about what you’ve learned about the company, the results you’ve seen, and how your value has grown.
Don’t put off raise requests! The stock crash seems to have stabilized as I write this, and raises are still doable. A month or three from now, who knows if they’ll still be viable.
My story: I asked for a raise and got $10 an hour more from a large, ongoing business-consultancy client. Within 60 days, the economy was tanking, and I wouldn’t have had the guts to ask.
The difference added up to thousands of dollars over the next couple of years.
3. Make your pitch
If you’ve been wanting to up-sell a client to do a more sophisticated type of writing, that’s another pitch to make right now.
Get locked in for better projects that improve your samples and command better rates, especially if you’re doing cheap web content or low-paid blog posts right now.
My story: I was doing a lot of business blogging back in 2009. Just before the crash, I pitched one of them a new free product for their subscribers — a special report that paid $2,000. That provided a nice chunk of change, at a time when other clients were scaling back.
4. Improve your looks
Know what really gets you hired? Testimonials. If you’ve slacked off on collecting them, send out those requests now.
If your clients are busy, offer to compose something they can sign off on. Seriously, they won’t mind!
My story: I sprinkled every page of my writer website with testimonials, and kept snagging quality clients in bad times.
5. Get networked
We live in a magical age for networking. Used to be, if your favorite editor or marketing manager suddenly got sacked, you lost touch. Your only contact info for them was at the company they’d just left!
Now, we have LinkedIn. Hop on there now and make sure you’re connected to all your client contacts. That way, if they end up moving on when times get hard, you’ll be able to see where they pop up next. Don’t forget to build relationships with as many people as you can at your existing client companies — that’ll help you preserve this relationship as staffing changes.
My story: When my editors got laid off, I sent them job leads. I don’t know that any of them panned out, but it showed I cared. The result is that I have editors I’ve worked with at three different magazines, over the years.
6. Follow the money
Who pays even better and markets harder during downturns? Profitable, successful companies in highly competitive spaces. These are your target markets, headed into a recession.
If your clients are solopreneurs with no employees, they’re not succeeding at marketing. That means they won’t see the value and will cut back on sales copy if they get nervous.
By contrast fast-growing or market-leading companies tend to double down on marketing when things get tough, to make sure they keep growing. They know a downturn is an opportunity to steal business from weaker competitors who scale back. These are your prime targets as the economy weakens.
The other reason to target great clients that pay pro rates? As more aspiring writers are laid off, they’ll flood into the bottom of the marketplace. Competition for those $25 blog post gigs will get stiffer, while those who’ve targeted better clients won’t see those problems. You can’t acquire the seasoning to deal with top-drawer clients overnight, so the newbies don’t tend to be a problem if you’re writing $5,000 case studies and the like.
My story: I worked for Fortune 500 companies and global private firms during the downturn. One space that paid off well for me is high-priced business consulting. While other writers were scrambling for cheap gigs, I was writing a $13,000 project of two annual reports.
7. Write on target
To keep earning in a downturn, you have to write the things your clients need most. Less essential topics or types of writing may get cut from their schedule.
For business clients, that means learning to write persuasive copy. Sales pages will never go out of style, but companies might stop doing tons of, say, soft-sell content marketing — where the payoff in sales growth may be slower and less directly obvious.
If you’re writing for publications, figure out what the bread-and-butter stories are that magazine has to deliver. Focus on those, as more tangential topics may get trimmed if pages shrink. Develop hot exclusives the pub simply must publish.
My story: In publications, I focused on having a ton of story ideas and being the go-to writer who made editors’ lives easy. While other writers were scrabbling for their next assignment, I was writing regular weekly columns for Entrepreneur.com, straight through the downturn, and also scored sponsored content assignments at $600 apiece — because I had the article ideas.
Keep calm and find freelance work
I get it — if you’ve launched your freelancing career in the past 6 years or so, you may never have dealt with a recession as a business owner before. And the first time you see the economy hit the skids, it can feel scary.
If you’re freaking out that the economy may crash, I’d say my big message is: Relax. Economies wax and wane in fairly predictable cycles. Sooner or later, what goes up comes down.
Now that you know what to do, you can take action immediately. Lay the groundwork now to make sure you don’t starve if a recession arrives.
What will you do to keep your freelance work growing? Let’s discuss on Facebook or LinkedIn.
Ever wonder what the Olympic Games would look like for freelancers? If it’s anything like the Super-G in skiing, it comes down to one thing…write faster.
I started freelancing at 17 years old. Young, right?
In case you didn’t know, that’s how old Lindsey Vonn was when she competed in her first Olympic Games. And she was fast.
By 17, I could throw a blazing fast softball. And if I could learn how to do that, I knew I could learn the business and craft of freelance writing.
I was fired up. I hustled. I sent out tons of pitches. I made mistakes. It’s the same kind of learning process every Olympic athlete goes through to get better, and carry the torch to the cauldron.
At first it was hard. Boosting productivity was a big concern. And I needed to learn how to write faster, yet still write well.
So I did what any Olympic writer would do. I took apart my writing process turn by turn, made it better, and learned to write faster. Here’s how:
Write faster, earn more money
If you can learn to write faster, and still write well, you can make more money. It’s that simple.
As a home-school graduate in my first year of college, I went from earning zero dollars to making $1,000 a month freelancing part time. Maybe that’s not a lot of money to some people, but at my age it’s nothing to sneeze at. And I’m just getting started.
How did I do it? These four tips help me write faster:
1. Take breaks to write faster
Here’s how Ernest Hemingway puts it: “When the words are flowing, walk away.”
This may seem counterintuitive, but it actually makes a lot of sense (that is, unless your deadline is tonight). Only stop writing when you know what you’re going to say next.
Think about the client project you’re working on. What do you need to add or include to finish the article, white paper, case study, web copy, etc.? Take a break. Then come back and write, and you’ll get the assignment done faster.
After five years of starting many novels but never finishing them—and five years of walking away when I was stuck—the light finally dawned. Maybe I should try this. Big surprise: it worked.
My debut historical fiction novel, Hope Is The Thing With Feathers, was selected out of thousands of entries in the Story Shares contest and published as a paperback in July 2017. Last month, it won the Story Shares Bestseller Contest and came out as a hardback.
2. Research and outline
When I landed a gig to write health and fitness articles about CrossFit, I didn’t know a lot about the sport or CrossFit culture. If you land a gig to write articles in a niche you don’t know a lot about, here’s what I would do to write faster:
Get the content, research, and interviews you need
Resist the urge to start writing until these things are complete
That’s how I approached writing for my CrossFit client. Once I had several articles planned out and all the information I needed, sitting down to write was easy. Separating research and writing into different tasks helped me write faster.
3. Track your progress
Lindsey Vonn didn’t win any medals at her first Olympic Games. But it served as a starting point that allowed her to track her progress, improve her training, and dominate ski racing.
If you want to write faster, track your progress. Pick a metric that’s meaningful to you like words per hour or pages per day. Then aim to improve each time you write.
I recently landed a client that hired me to write an ebook on yoga. I wasn’t sure I could meet the deadline. But instead of panicking, I did something else. I set a timer to go off every hour, then averaged how many words I wrote in an hour. Once I had that baseline number, the deadline didn’t seem as scary. I was able to write faster, and actually finished the project ahead of time.
4. Keep it simple
When I started writing for a devotional website about a year ago, I made the newbie mistake of using fancy language to talk to readers. Guess what? People are more likely to click away if your words are over their heads, too academic, overwritten, too salesy…you get the idea.
Know your audience and the voice of your client. And keep it simple. Using simple language will save you time, help you write faster, and be more effective at engaging readers and making clients happy.
Fired-up for freelance success
As a young, fired-up freelancer, I’ve learned a lot from trial and error over the past year. And I’ve still got a lot to learn. But if I could go back and give my 17-year-old self a piece of advice, it’s this: Learn to write faster, and you can earn more money.
What strategies do you recommend to write faster? Let’s discuss on Facebook and LinkedIn.
Hailey Hudson is an 18-year-old author, blogger, and freelance writer from the mountains of north Georgia. She loves Jesus, Harry Potter, and her beagle puppy named Sophie.
Before you write a single word or start a project for a client, you’ve got a freelance contract in place. Right?
If you’re thinking, “Wait, what freelance contract?” you’re making a rookie mistake.
I used to operate this way. Land an assignment. Do the work. Submit the piece. And then find out how much the client pays…Or if the client is going to pay at all.
If you really want to make a living writing, you can’t run a business this way.
Other service professionals like lawyers, plumbers, and accountants require contracts that spell out the details of an agreement. And so should you.
Can you take on projects without a freelance contract? Sure. But you run the risk of never getting paid, getting paid less than pro rates, spending hours chasing unpaid invoices, and sucking up creative energy that could be earning you more money.
You’re smarter than that. If you want to get paid to write, here’s what you need to nail down in every freelance contract:
My freelance contract wake-up call
How much time do you spend trying to find clients? A lot, especially when you’re starting out. At first, I would pick up any freelance work that came my way.
But if you do that, there’s a good chance you’re going to end up in a never-ending battle of writing for second-rate clients, instead of establishing long-term relationships with clients that pay well.
That’s the game I was playing. My wake-up call came when I realized my cleaning lady’s hourly rate was higher than my hourly rate as a freelance writer.
If I wanted to find better clients, I realized I had to to nail down the details of every assignment with a freelance contract. When I finally took this approach, it helped:
Clients recognize I’m a pro writer who commands pro rates
Weed out clients that were contract-shy, low-payers or both
Improve my monthly income with recurring freelance contract work
The nuts and bolts of a freelance contract
So what exactly should a freelance contract include?
If you’ve ever landed an assignment with a major magazine, you’ve probably signed a multi-page contract with a lot of legalese. That’s one way of setting up a freelance contract.
But it doesn’t have to be that complicated, and you typically don’t need to hire an attorney. But you do need to make sure your freelance contract includes specific details, such as:
Assignment details. This includes things like what you’re writing (article, blog, case study, website copy, etc.), word count, target audience, required sources, links, or expert interviews. Get it in writing. Then if the scope of work changes, you can renegotiate your rate of pay.
Contract length. For something like a magazine assignment, you might have a contract for a single article. But if you’re going to write a series of monthly blogs, or social media posts for a client, spell it out (per assignment, per 90 days, etc.)
Rate of pay. Be specific. For example: $200 per blog post. $1,000 per completed case study. $100/hour for writing, consulting, and meeting times. You want to negotiate and agree on this before you start working for a client.
Delivery method. You might think email is all you really need to deliver an assignment. But your client may want you to submit your finished piece some other way like Slack, an FTP site, DropBox, or their backend content management system.
Deadline. For most writers, a deadline can help you get stuff done. And it helps clients manage marketing and editorial calendars. But if a client wants you to drop everything and turn an assignment around overnight, that should be reflected in your hourly rate.
Payment method and timeline. How will you get paid? PayPal, direct deposit, a check in the mail, Bitcoin? And when will you get paid? Upon acceptance, upon publication, in 30 days, 90 days?
50% up front. Last but not least on my list of essential details for a freelance contract, get 50% up front. It might seem scary, if you haven’t done this before. But ask yourself this: If a client refuses to pay your upfront fee, what are the chances you’ll get paid at all when you complete the assignment? Skip over this, and you may end up expending an enormous amount of time and energy trying to track down a client to get paid.
Working for a client is a two-way street. Creating a partnership with a freelance contract might seem like a formality, but in the long-run it helps build that relationship. And I can tell you from experience, that as soon as you make it a habit to engage prospects with a freelance contract, the sooner you’ll attract better quality clients.
Need advice about freelance writing contracts? Let’s discuss on Facebook and LinkedIn.
Natalie Rebecca Hechtman is a journalist, blogger, copywriter, and screen writer. She blogs at If I Knew and runs the site My Content Marketer.
Commit yourself to big marketing numbers, and you know you are going to get clients.
Maybe it’s a bit harder in a tough economy. But work is out there, and if you market, you will find it.
It might be a slog.
You will deal with rejection.
You won’t always do it all perfectly and gracefully — you’ll make mistakes.
But if you are willing to change your habit of not marketing, your writing career will move forward in new directions.
I spoke to one Freelance Writers Den member recently who took her income from zero to $6,000 a month in a year, just by implementing a few new strategies for marketing her business that she picked up in the Den. I was blown away.
We’re talking big differences in writing income that are possible when you resolve to change your habits.
If you feel your writing skills aren’t up to snuff, you can identify where you feel you need to improve. Then, you can:
Read a book on freelance writing, marketing, productivity, etc.
Take a class from the Freelance Writers Den, or another experienced writer, to acquire new writing skills.
Or just commit to doing more writing, on your own. You can learn a lot by doing.
Yes, it’s not always easy admitting you feel ignorant about how to do something.
But if that insecurity is holding you back, the only way forward is to get more knowledge.
You might have to tighten your belt to pay for the training you need. Or it might come free.
Either way, you won’t have to stand out in the rain.
The cumulative effect of habit change for writers
A few months from now, you could be a whole new writer, in terms of writing income. Changing one habit will get the ball rolling, encourage you to cultivate other positive habits, and ultimately bring you new clients and higher earnings.
All from a small beginning. Just changing one habit.
What writing habit would you most like to change? Let’s discuss on Facebook and LinkedIn.