I’ve been freelancing for five years this month, and I’ve learned a few things along the way. So to celebrate my five years as an independent writer, here are my five secrets to a successful freelancing career.
1. Do Good Work
It sounds simple, but so many people don't do it. A freelancing business is built on referrals and networking, and delivering bad work is the fastest way to sink your ship.
So I’ll say it again: if you want to be successful as a freelancer, you’ve simply got to be a good writer. That means learning to research, edit, rewrite, redo, tear up, whatever…until you get it right. Over time you’ll gain the ability to do this more quickly, but it’s always going to take some time. And you need to be prepared to work hard.
2. Be Organized
You can’t be a successful writer if you can’t keep your commitments straight. Before you even start freelancing, figure out a system to keep yourself organized. Whether it’s plain old pen and paper (I'm quite partial to my day planner) or something more sophisticated like Outlook reminders or a smartphone app, figure out what you need to do to keep on top of your work.
You will lose clients if you miss deadlines, fail to communicate, or forget about projects. Don’t be one of those people. I’ve met some terrific writers who come across as flaky or MIA, and they can’t succeed in the business.
3. Cultivate Relationships
Nobody wants to work with a robot (ok, most people don’t want to work with a robot!). Yes, we are writers and introverts. But we are also business people who are forming relationships with other people in order to get a job done.
How can you fully understand a client or a company if you don’t get to know them? How can you develop trust and rapport if you don’t move beyond rote greetings and churning out of content? How can you create a great feature story if you don't understand the publication or the deeper goals of the people running it?
Don’t be a writing service, be a writer. Be a human being. Be someone you would want to work with.
4. Specialize Without Limiting Yourself
If you’ve got an area of specialty, use it. When a company seeks outside help with technical writing, they're more likely to hire someone who says "I specialize in technical writing" over someone who says “I’m a general freelancer.” So figuring out what type of writing you're good at or what particular industry you excel in is to your advantage.
With that said, don’t limit yourself either. I have found a lot of value in being flexible and in cultivating a wide range of writing styles. So I think the ideal balance is to have a couple of specialty areas, but to still maintain diversity in your work. Not to mention it keeps your job fun and challenging.
5. Don’t Accept Low Rates
If you want to go bankrupt in about a month, go ahead and accept those $2 fees for a 500 word blog. Heck, go ahead and accept the $15 or $20 fee. You'll quickly learn that you won't be able to buy groceries or pay your electric bill, and you'll be left searching for a new job before you lose the roof over your head.
Low rates devalue the entire market and are the fastest way to job burnout, low quality work, and an inability to manage your time. Any client should pay you enough money to do the job well (that means researching, writing, rewriting, editing, etc.). The fee should also cover your taxes, allow you to pay yourself, and let you take time to do the administrative tasks necessary to stay in business - stuff like invoicing, communicating with your clients, networking for new business, etc.
It may take time to find the clients that pay, but take the time. Don’t settle for anything less.
Freelancers, do you have a helpful tip you'd like to add? Please leave it in the comments!
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