Freelance writing isn’t a “traditional” career, so to speak, so finding a model for success can be difficult. Many freelancers have to stumble upon their success strategies through trial and error.
But if you’ve found your way to this blog post, you may be able to save yourself that trouble. I’ve been a freelance writer for 10 years and can offer some advice based on that experience. Here are several key things I’ve learned.
1. The importance of having your own website
Using a free blog site like WordPress.com simply isn’t going to cut it. To be a successful blogger, you really need your own .com domain. Free blog sites don’t look professional, and they offer you very little freedom when it comes to customizing your blog. There are a limited number of layout options, and the better options usually cost money anyway.
Having your own domain gives you the freedom to personalize your site and the opportunity to monetize it, so you can earn income from your own website in addition to writing for other websites. It’s also surprisingly cheap to have your own domain name. Most hosting companies will offer a discounted or even free domain name with a basic hosting plan that will run you something like $2-5 per month.
2. Don’t be scared about charging higher rates
When you first start out, it may be tempting to offer lower rates in order to get more clients, but it’s not worth it in the long run. You’ll be stressed because you’ll have to work more hours in order to pay the bills, and you’ll be frustrated because your clients don’t appreciate you for what you’re really worth.
Working for lower rates also can also negatively affect the quality of your articles. You’ll be rushing to complete a large quantity of assignments, so you won’t have time to perfect your writing, and you won’t be motivated to deliver your best work to someone who’s underpaying you. This could weaken your writing portfolio, making it difficult for you to find new, higher paying jobs.
3. You can raise rates for established clients
If you’ve been with a client for a while and have been producing good work on time, it’s absolutely okay to raise your rates. I once decided to raise my rates by 10 percent across the board, and 90 percent of my recurring clients were fine with my new prices. Losing that other 10 percent didn’t matter because those clients were more trouble than they were worth.
4. What’s better – more clients or fewer high paying clients?
Based on the previous two lessons, you can guess what the answer to this question is. It’s better to have fewer higher paying clients. This system will be much easier on you because you will have fewer assignments and invoices to keep track of, and you will be able to devote more time to each assignment. You will also be able to form closer relationships with your clients, giving you more creative freedom.
5. You need an organized invoicing system
Forget to send an invoice, and you may not be able to pay your rent on time. An organized invoicing system ensures you’ll never miss a due date, and you’ll receive your payment quickly. I use Freshbooks for my invoices.
It’s not free, but you won’t have a percentage of your payments deducted, like you do with PayPal invoices (of course, if you choose to accept payments by PayPal, you’ll still be hit with the fee). Freshbooks is also nice because it makes it easy to keep track of expenses and generate income reports for taxes. They do offer a 30-day free trial, so you can try it out and see whether it’s worth the money.
6. How to save for retirement on an uneven salary
As a freelancer, your income is not going to be the same from month to month, or even from week to week, so you can’t plan on sending a fixed amount of money from your checking account to your retirement account each month. Instead, I deposit a percentage of each invoice payment into my retirement account (which I have with Wealthfront).
Related: Retirement options for freelancers
This system works for me, but bear in mind that I’m not a financial advisor. You might want to consult with one before establishing your own retirement plan.
7. Find a way to be found
Getting noticed online is difficult. You can’t just start a blog and expect people to come running to it. Word of mouth is a great way of establishing yourself, but you also need to do some pretty intense marketing.
Marketing for your blog includes SEO work, social media, and even reaching out to other writers by emailing and cold calling. That last one may sound intimidating and time-consuming, but you can’t neglect it. The most effective way of promoting yourself as a writer is to tap into someone else’s audience. More on that in the next point.
8. Form connections with other bloggers and journalists
Being re-tweeted by a blogger with 100,000 followers will bring you far more traffic than sending out a dozen tweets to your measly 300 followers. Try to form connections with bloggers who have big followings, and encourage them to promote your work.
You should also reach out to websites that cover similar topics as you and offer to write guest posts for them. This gives you the opportunity to show your writing to a larger audience.
“Many bloggers and writers don’t realize the benefit of reaching out and making these connections,” Chris from CutCableToday.com said. “I’ve grown the traffic to my site exponentially through reaching out to write for other sites in my industry. Now I have bylines on multiple larger sites, like VICE, with great links that drive traffic back to me.”
Chris also recommends following the hashtag #JournoRequest on Twitter, as there are often journalists looking for sources.
Finally, reach out to journalists and ask them if they would be interested in covering or citing your work. Connections with journalists are especially valuable if you publish original research, which those journalists might want to use as a source.
8. Get active on LinkedIn
You can and should do outreach via email or on social networks like Twitter and Facebook, but don’t neglect LinkedIn—the whole purpose of this social media site is networking. On LinkedIn, you can connect with other individual bloggers, writers for popular websites, and journalists. Most people on LinkedIn are willing to form connections with people they don’t know, so never hesitate to reach out to someone who could be a useful contact.
9. Never stop learning
Life-long learning applies to anyone, any field of work. For freelance writers who primarily work online, keeping up with the times is even more critical. Technology and the internet landscape change faster, and if you want to retain clients and expand your business, knowing the newest trends is important. Keep your edge through online learning, by reading case studies, following websites of other freelancers, and trying out new things.
Being a successful freelancer takes time, patience, and confidence. Remember to keep trying new strategies, and don’t be afraid of the hard lessons you’ll learn along the way.
This post was written by Eric Brantner, who has spent the last decade of his life as a freelance writer, blogger, and digital marketer. Now focusing more on the blogosphere, he has started many successful blogs, reaching millions of visitors in the process. He shares what he has learned along the way on Scribblrs.com.