My Number One Tip for Financial Success in Freelance Writing
How I went from starving artist to self-sufficient entrepreneur.
For years, I struggled to make enough money to keep the lights on. I bounced rent checks, borrowed money from my parents, and cried myself to sleep.
Freelance writing can prove brutal, especially if you don’t have a game plan.
And sometimes even when you do.
My freelance writing career seemed stalled before it even started, destined to become a cautionary tale for similarly ambitious young writers who thought that they could beat the odds and find success.
Everything came to a head when a client stiffed me on a $2,000 invoice. It was the largest project I’d completed to date, a ghostwritten e-book over which the client had raved.
Now he refused to answer my emails, phone calls, or letters.
Just as I was about to start browsing the classified ads for jobs in the fast-food sector, my parents invited me to their vacation house in the Texas Hill Country. Desperate for a reprieve from the constant sense of failure and doom that dampened every moment of my waking existence, I accepted.
There’s something about the Hill Country that soothes the soul. Maybe it’s the cleaner air or the beautiful windmills scattered across verdant pastures. Perhaps it’s the kind folks who live in that corner of the world.
Whatever it is, I felt whole again. And I started to think of freelance writing in a new light.
What If I’d Approached My Career in All the Wrong Ways?
Like a typewriter, I’d been mired in a world that had long surpassed me. I was following in the footsteps of freelance writers and other scribes who had begun their careers years before me.
I needed a fresh approach — one that would help me get ahead of my competition without completely throwing the rule book out the window.
From the dining room of my parents’ vacation house, I turned on my laptop and started to research. In a spreadsheet, I compiled lists of freelance writing markets, using one column for the company name, another for the URL, and a third for submission/acceptance guidelines.
Thus armed, I began submitting my resume and samples to each of those websites. Within two days, I had offers from 10 different content marketing agencies that wanted me to write for them.
I’d put too many eggs in too few baskets, as they say, relying on one or two clients and agencies to ensure my financial success.
That’s the worst thing I could have done. The work was too sparse, the clients too unreliable.
However, that wasn’t the secret sauce. Getting clients or gigs is actually the easy part, especially given the proliferation of such agencies on the web.
I Made Myself Indispensable to as Many People as Possible
After I started working for a few of these agencies, I realized I had an opportunity to stick out of the crowd.
Instead of minding my own business and accepting work as it arrived, I took a more proactive approach.
I emailed the CEO of one agency and offered to write for the corporate blog — you know, for free. The company, in return, offered to pay me instead, and I became a regular contributor.
At another agency, I emailed a few suggestions to the head of content acquisition. The company implemented three of my tips, all of which streamlined the content-creation process and made the company a better place to work.
If another writer failed to submit an assignment, I offered to complete it on a rush basis. Should a client get frustrated with another writer’s quality, I’d offer to perfect it.
In short, I made myself indispensable to as many people as possible. I became the go-to writer for any problem or massive request.
Ambition Just Ain’t Enough
I was always ambitious. You probably are, too. But in the competitive arena of freelance writing, it’s just not enough.
You need a work ethic that puts everyone else’s to shame. You need a willingness to deliver more than you promise.
However, you also need aspirations.
I felt comfortable in my role as a content-mill writer. The agencies sent me assignments, I completed them, and I got paid. Easy peasy.
It was also a grind. I began to feel burned out and frustrated with the endless cycle of assignments that never felt like they were leading to something better.
I wanted to help clients solve specific problems and achieve particular goals. I wanted to be part of the process instead of just a cog in a machine.
Part of me wanted to stay hidden in the shadows. I feared taking on more responsibility because, after all, I might fail.
It occurred to me, though, that I might actually enjoy a challenge.
So I joined LinkedIn. I joined Medium. I created an online portfolio.
Suddenly, I was receiving more offers for work than I could handle. And I landed my dream job, which involves editing and project management.
It’s Been a Long Road
If you’re struggling to find freelance writing success, I feel your pain. It’s hard for everyone.
Or most of us, anyway.
In my opinion, the best thing you can do is make yourself indispensable to numerous people and agencies. Make sure you’re the first to volunteer for the difficult assignments.
Don’t work for free or accept jobs you can’t complete. You need discernment as well as ambition.
And if you think that you’re ready for something bigger, open yourself up to those opportunities. I’m not a huge proponent of the Law of Attraction, but I do believe that we can shut out possibilities if we try hard enough.
Feel free to get in touch if you’re struggling with your freelance writing career. I’d like to help.
But most of all, don’t give up. You’re too talented for fast food. And if you’re a good writer, you owe it to yourself — and to potential clients — to share that gift with the world.