Getting started in freelancing
By jennifer on in The Writing Craft
Today’s post is from freelancer writer Randy Hecht, who, like many writers, juggles a number of different types of writing assignments to keep her bank account fat, or at least out of the red. For more about her, click here.
A writer contacted me this morning to ask for advice about succeeding as the owner of a writing business. Notice that I’m framing the discussion in terms of being the owner of a writing business, not a freelancer. If your goal is to support yourself financially this way, that’s not just a semantic distinction; it also reflects the mindset that can help determine your earnings. So the first thing you have to ask yourself is not whether you want to be a freelancer. It’s whether you want to be a business owner.
A full time freelancer can expect to spend 1400 working hours a year, or 175 8-hour working days, doing income-generating work. Some of the rest of the year’s working hours/days will be consumed by administrative, accounting, and business planning/management tasks, but the majority of that time needs to be devoted to marketing.
If the idea of spending a lot of time on sales and marketing doesn’t appeal to you, business ownership is probably not a great choice for your full-time job. Yes, there are alternatives, like subcontracting, working through an agency, or using freelance bidding sites, but all of them involve taking a significant cut in income. By engaging in active, rather than passive, marketing, you can establish a direct relationship with clients who are willing to pay well for your services — and that pay goes to you, not to a marketing intermediary.
Figure out which companies and industries are most likely to need to buy what you’re selling, and network within those industries, not among other writers. Listen when they speak — often, their comments will reveal needs to which you can market. Develop as many one-on-one relationships as you can, because in the end, people are far more likely to offer an assignment to someone they know than they are to Google for the contractor whose website’s keywords best match their search terms.
When you market, be sure you are speaking to prospects about their needs and the solutions you offer their companies. Don’t tell them what you do. Tell them what your skills can accomplish for them — how your services can help them to increase revenue, improve efficiency, reduce costs, or achieve some other tangible business goal. Show them that you know their companies and industries. Position yourself as a valuable resource in their plans for growth.
Be realistic about how your abilities mesh with your goals. Some areas of writing — pharmaceutical copywriting, for example — are open to freelancers only after they’ve gained substantial experience in a staff position. Don’t allow yourself to fall so in love with a subject area that you’re blinded to its viability as an income generator. There’s writing you do for love and writing you do for money, and they don’t always intersect — and you need both the love and the money to sustain your business.
Finally, plan for the long term. Too many aspiring writers take the copycat route and follow what they perceive to be the money trail attached to the trend of the moment. That’s why there are so many writers out there who claim to be experts in, say, green business, frugal living, and SEO. Many of them are just trying to board a train that’s already left the station. Instead of trying to claim a share of income from a trend that’s already hit, look for ways you can get ahead of the curve and bring something new to the market. It may take longer for you to see results that way, but those results will have legs that will support your business’ viability and profitability long after today’s trends have faded to nostalgia.
Hope that’s helpful to you, and best of luck mapping out your strategy for owning a successful writing business!