Don't Short Change Yourself
Do Not Undercharge
Many fledgling freelancers provide steeply-discounted services in hopes that doing so will help them attract long-term clients. Contrary to their mistaken opinions, strong client bases are built around respectful relationships and an appreciation of high quality work. Should you decide to garner clients by offering bargain basement rates, you will only succeed in building up an arsenal of clients who love bargain basement rates. As soon as you begin to charge more, they'll turn to someone else who offers incredibly low rates.
Lackluster sustainability aside, attracting clients with low rates is less effective than you might think. There are thousands of freelance writers who offer low rates. Many of them are based overseas and have very low costs of living. Even if your writing is of higher quality than that provided by many other "cheap" writers, you will have a difficult time establishing a reputation for offering high quality content. People simply don't turn to inexpensive writers when looking for quality.
Do Not Discount Your Work
There will be times at which you will be compelled to offer discounts. Perhaps business is slow. Perhaps a potential client cannot afford your full rates and wants to negotiate. Though temptation to temporary lower your rates will abound, you should avoid discounts altogether.
Clients who receive discounted work will still expect top notch services. They will still be demanding. And once you set a precedent for offering discounts, they may expect more discounted services in the future and go elsewhere the moment you return to charging your full rate. While working for clients at reduced rates, you will be less motivated (knowing that you are not being paid at the rate you deserve), and still, you must turn out your best work- or risk damaging your reputation.
Should it get out that you offer discounted services to some clients but not to others, you may also breed resentment amongst present and previous clients. Avoid the politics and drama entirely by always charging a consistent, fair price.
While maintaining your rates, you can still accommodate clients' budgeting needs by paring down your services. Should a client want you to write three reports and edit five company blog posts at a reduced rate, you can counter with an offer that accommodates his budget and your rates by only writing one report and editing five blog posts, or writing two reports, but editing nothing.
Do Not Do Free Work for "Coverage"
You are likely to be approached by individuals who invite you to contribute original content to their publications for free in exchange for coverage. Unless these publications have incredibly high viewership and would be likely to introduce a significant number of potential clients to your work, politely explain that you will only write when compensated for your work. For the most part, you will gain just as much visibility by publishing content on your personal blog or website as you will by publishing your content on another site.
Should you be tempted to provide free services in an attempt to build up writing samples, client experience, and references, work with nonprofits or organizations you actively wish to support. They are far more likely to appreciate your work, give you more leeway, and provide favorable, genuine references.
Do Not Misallocate Your Time and Resources
Avoid Job Listings
Most successful freelance writers' clients come through personal and client references, not responses to job applications. During the period in which you are still building up your reputation and initial client base, your time would better be spent reaching out to friends (to ask for referrals) and contacting companies directly (with proposals) than searching for and applying to job listings.
Though crafting pitches and proposals for individual businesses can be draining and take more thought, intelligent, individualized emails are far more likely to catch clients' attention than responses to job ads. Job postings get a lot of competition and give you little leeway with regard to differentiation. By reaching out to clients directly, you can more effectively control the manner in which you are perceived.
Do Not Prioritize Promotion Over Client Work
Engaging with others via social media can feel very productive. While you may be proud to have accumulated a large number of followers on Twitter or to have established a popular Facebook page, those accomplishments do not translate directly to income. Freelance workers of all types often get mired in activities like these that do them little professional good.
You will find that there are:
- Things you do that don't translate to income (such as engaging in heated debate about Oxford commas in a popular grammar forum)
- Things that could translate to income, but are hard to measure (such as attending a networking event or publishing an article providing analysis that would be interesting and relevant to potential clients)
- Things that could translate to income, and are easy to measure (such as emailing proposals to potential clients)
- Things that do translate to income (such as doing billable freelance writing work)
Prioritize tasks that yield concrete benefits and are easy to measure. When engaged in activities that do not directly contribute to your income, set clear limits. Professional development and online engagement are important, but what matters most is that you are creating (and earning from) valuable work.
Do Not Fail to Optimize Your Earning Potential
Freelance writers need all the income they can get. Ideally, every hour of your work will be billable. While few arrive at such an optimized level, you can still gain a great deal from seeking out and capitalizing on new money making opportunities.
Leverage travel time on vacations to get some writing in. When attending, speaking at, or covering a conference, pitch writing projects related to the conference's city and the event itself to other clients. Utilize time in your hotel to get work done in an environment free of typical distractions. If you don't feel compelled to write all the time and have no interest in finding new opportunities to create content, you should rethink your choice to become a freelance writer.
Avoid Suboptimal Clients, Projects, Jobs, and Industries
- From clients with whom you do not get along well
- About which you have zero passion
- Offered through freelance job websites
- In over-competitive industries
As tempting as it may be to accept a lucrative contract, working with a bad client can be ruinous. Even a bad client who pays well can ultimately be a net loss when it comes to damaged reputations, unforeseen demands, refusal to pay, and personal stress.
Though freelance writing is risky and requires that you forego certain comforts such as built-in health insurance, consistent work, and steady income, it does give you the freedom to choose work about which you are passionate. If you do not exercise this freedom, why have you chosen to be a freelance writer? Should you take on uninspiring job after uninspiring job, you probably won't create the high quality content that leads to great references and new clients, nor will you have an easy time turning out high volumes of work.
Freelance job websites compete based on price and typically force you to bid against other freelance writers to win a contract. In addition to lowering your earning potential, forcing you to compete, and emphasizing their brand over yours, freelance writing sites take a cut of your earnings (by either charging clients a fee or sharing revenue with you). Serious freelance writers do not waste their time with such sites.
As enjoyable as it may be to write about food, fashion, or the entertainment industry, such niches of the writing world are flooded with competition and not likely to yield a large number of reasonably-paying jobs. You can still make it in one of these industries by focusing in on a more specific niche (e.g. a specific type of cuisine or a handful of long-running television shows), however you can gain a greater competitive advantage by looking into other industries and niches of the freelance writing world that address under-served (and higher-paying) markets.
Don't Ruin Your Own Reputation
Because your digital identity can play a crucial role in helping you get new clients, you must make sure it sparkles with professional polish. If you must share content online that clients might not appreciate, do so under private accounts and different names. Carefully think about the impact a tweet, Facebook post, or random upload might have on your attractiveness to clients. If something does not help to move your professional life forward, make it private (or better yet, do not publish it at all).
Because you are a freelance writer, you must also be extremely careful about the quality of your prose- even in informal blog posts and social media updates. Never let your editing guard down. Read sentences aloud before unleashing them upon the world. Have a friend read your articles and blog posts before they go live. Should a potential client discover even one obvious grammar mistake in your public work, you aren't likely to hear from him.
Never Give Up
Without persistence and an ability to work through rejection, you will not go very far. Building up a client base, gaining experience, sharpening your skills, accumulating a respectable portfolio, and garnering favorable references will take a great deal of time. Without signifiant tenacity, you are not likely to gain traction on any front.
If you are not sure whether you have what it takes, ask yourself whether you would be willing to write on a subject for free (and without gaining any recognition) for months on end. If the answer is no, you may want to investigate a different line of work.
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