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How to Build a Freelance Writing Client Base
The Question That Inspired This Article
From the Writer's Mailbag came this question:
“What was your approach when you first started to look for potential customers? Do you think that by concentrating on niche subjects you are more likely to get repeat business, such as for instance, a monthly column or do you write on a variety of subjects? Perhaps you might like to enlarge on that for us!
Thanks again Billy.
My thanks to Sally for asking that question. I suspect it is a question many freelance writer wannabies are asking as they struggle to make a living doing this writing gig. So, I’ll attempt to answer it using my own experience.
Please understand that what follows is purely subjective based on my path over the past three years. I do not claim it is the only way. There are so many ways to make money as a freelance writer. From magazines articles to copywriting; from blogging to passive income on sites like HubPages; all are viable sources of income, but they all take work and determination.
Freelance writing is not for the weak-of-spirit. This is a tough business, and there are millions of freelance writers trying to earn the same dollars that you are, so plan on some long hours and moments of intense frustration.
If I haven’t scared you off yet, then let me tell you how I made it as a freelance writer.
The Very Beginning
When I started out three years ago, I knew nothing. I had some writing ability, but I had no clue how to invest that writing ability and earn an income. In other words, I started from the bottom rung on the ladder.
I did, however, have a business background. With degrees in marketing and economics, and having owned my own businesses in the past, I did not start out completely ignorant about the business aspect. I decided to treat my freelance writing business like a business.
So, my first suggestion to anyone entering this field, is to write a business plan and establish concrete goals. Without a plan and goals you will just be drifting in deep waters without a life jacket, and that is a guaranteed path to drowning.
Your plan needs to be specific. You need to decide how you are going to make money. Will you make money by writing magazine articles? Will you make money by copywriting? Will you be a ghostwriter, or will you be a professional blogger? Your choices are many, but choose a few and don’t try to do them all.
Notice that I said choose a few. I’m a big believer in diversification. If my blog isn’t earning well, I still have income coming from copywriting. If those two are doing poorly I still have money coming in from passive online income sources. I try not to spread myself too thin, but I also make sure I have several income sources from which to draw a steady income.
Now Build That Platform
Your body of written work is the product you are selling, so start adding to that body of work. You need some bylines. You need some published material that gives you some credibility. Any old byline will do, as long as those bylines are on somewhat reputable sites.
I got my first paying gig on a site called Listosaur. I saw them advertising on Craigslist, interviewed, and got the job. I wrote four articles for them, all bylines, at thirty bucks a piece.
I was on my way. The door had been opened. I was, at that point, a professional writer with the first bricks of my platform foundation.
Once I had those bylines, then it was just a matter of applying for more paying jobs. There are a number of online sites that advertise writing jobs that pay. Many of them are jobs offered by content mills. They pay poorly, but they do pay. That may be the way for you to begin. I chose not to work for peanuts.
Again I went online, and I found an SEO company in Fort Worth, Texas, that actually paid decent money for copywriters. I’ve been with them for almost three years now. I found a real estate company in Los Angeles, and I have been with them almost as long.
Now my platform had some serious integrity, and so I took my show on the road.
Every freelancer should own this book
The Next Step
I wanted to try my luck with magazines and newspapers, so that’s the direction I then took.
If you take this path, start small. If you are a novice freelancer, you will not be given article opportunities by the big magazines, so don’t bother trying. Start with small online magazines, or your local alternative newspapers. They are often looking for writers, and the pay is not that bad. My first magazine article sold for $65. Since then I have sold that same article four more times for a total of $550.
My first newspaper article was with an online local newspaper. They paid $40 for my article. From there we move up to bigger newspapers locally, then regionally, and upwards to national.
Remember I mentioned diversifying. At the same time, I went out into the community and sought freelance copywriting jobs. Local businesses with websites are often quite pleased to be approached by a good writer who will do their blogs for them, as long as you don’t charge them an arm and leg. I sent emails to the local real estate companies because, remember, I was already doing a blog for a huge company in Los Angeles. That got me a few more paying customers on a regular basis.
And at the same time I developed my website and blog.
Join me on my writing blog
- William Holland | Helping Writers to Spread Their Wings and Fly
Practical tips and advice for all writers
I enjoy this young woman's practical advice
And from There You Continue to Build
I provide good copy for my customers, and I am reliable. Those are key attributes for any freelance writer. You have to be able to deliver the goods each and every time.
When I first started out, I drew up a five-year plan. I am way ahead of that plan. In my original plan, I wanted to be able to pay my bills within two years. It took me six months.
It all sounds so easy, right?
Well it’s not!
I work eight hour days, five days a week, and I run this business like a business. Anyone who wants to make it as a freelancer needs to do the same.
So let’s summarize. Here are the key points which I believe are vital:
- Build your platform
- Get bylines
- Start small and then go after better paying jobs
- Treat your business like a business
- Have a plan and goals
I would be remiss if I didn’t touch upon the remainder of Sally’s question. She asked if one should concentrate on niche topics. Just starting out, I would suggest getting money from any source you can find. Once you have a few bills being paid, you can concentrate on niches.
In the long run, I am convinced that niche writing is the way to go, especially if you have visions of having your own column one day. One of the great examples of this is my friend Deb who writes the series “Life at Boomer Lake.” Deb took her love of birds and started writing online articles about the bird population in Oklahoma, and in particular where she lived near Boomer Lake. That has led, a couple years later, to her own newspaper column by the same name.
I Hope That Helped All of You
It is difficult to write an article like this because the freelance business is so varied. Still, there are some things any freelancer can, and should do, that will increase his/her chances of success. Remember that a master carpenter did not begin as a master, but rather as an apprentice. Start from the ground floor and climb the necessary steps to the top.
I hope you found something in this article that can help you. If you need clarification, please comment below, or you can shoot me an email at email@example.com and I’ll answer if I can.
Best wishes to you all!
2014 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”