When you were first presented with the idea of freelancing — being able to do your own creative work, meet amazing people, set your own schedule, and of course, being able to travel and work from anywhere in the world — did you ever imagine what the actual practice of freelancing would look like?
By now you know what the image of complete and total freedom really looks like. You know that to be really successful in this business you have to know how to deal with clients, stay on top of your personal finances and accounting, build relationships in the industry, non-stop marketing of your business, as well as perform all the administrative tasks needed to keep things operational.
If you’re like me, on occasion, you may have felt like you might as well be working at a “real” job. That’s what it feels like when you’re overwhelmed with all the ins-and-outs of the business and still operating as an amateur.
However, the moment you start operating like a professional and start implementing bulletproof systems into your writing business— systems that will enable you to start living that freelance life you always dreamed about. You know, the creative writing, setting your own schedule, and traveling part — that is when everything starts to change.
With that said, consider for a moment the different systems it takes to ensure that your body is functioning properly. You have a neurological system, skeletal system, muscular system, nervous system, and the list goes on and on (there are 11 systems total to be exact). All of these systems within our bodies are of equal importance. So too are the systems required to ensure that your writing business remains functional and operational.
The following 5 systems are essential for any freelance writing business to function at peak performance.
1. Customer/Client Relationship Management (CRM) — Communication System
This system is what I consider to be the foundation for building a thriving freelance writing business. As you have probably already found out, enormous amounts of time and mental space are used to communicate with clients, and forming positive client relationships is the backbone of any successful business.
That’s why it’s important that you systemize your client communication process. Setting up an effective system is all about recording or logging the exact steps of the process you use to do your actual job. Without a system in place, it could feel like you’re reinventing the wheel with every new client.
However, once a system is implemented it eases the workflow. When you are first starting to set this system up the easiest way to do this is to create a checklist, which will then evolve into a template to work off of.
You can create a checklist by dissecting what happens from the moment a prospective client reaches out to you for your writing services to when you start working on the project, and all the way to the point when you receive payment for your work.
Here’s an example of what a checklist might look like:
1. Prospect responds to your initial inquiry
2. Initiate service consultation, or sales conversation
3. Send proposal or package details
4. Follow up 1
5. Follow up 2 (often where the agreement is made)
6. Send invoice
7. Confirmation of receipt and project date
8. First revision follow up
9. Second revision follow up
11. Finished project approved
12. Send “Thank you” email
13. 1 month follow up to circle background and inquire about additional work
When you first start setting up these systems there is quite a bit of work involved, but it’s worth it once they’re implemented.
With that said, from the outset, I would suggest writing out a checklist of a number of client communications like this because not all situations are going to be the same. You can then identify where there might be communication breakdowns as well as other types of situational scenarios where you can then create templates for each of these different situations.
Once you have these templates in place you won’t need to spend time thinking about what to write or say; you will simply follow your checklist and templates that you have set up for that particular scenario or situation.
2. Impenetrable Accounting System
“If you don’t pay attention to your finances someone else will.” — Grant Cardone
Accounting is not the most favorite topic to talk about when comes to freelance writing, but make no mistake, establishing an effective accounting system is essential and will save you a ton of time and money down the road.
Personally, I look over and analyze my finances on a weekly basis. I know that this particular type of analysis may not sound like fun, in fact, it can be quite boring. However, boring or not, it is something you must do if you want to stay in business for the long haul.
Often times, I record my transactions manually. This method is effective for me but can be very time-consuming without a template or checklist in place. Because I know exactly where each dollar in my business goes, I know what categories and areas I need to focus my attention on during each weekly analysis.
Now, whether you use the Online system that your bank provides or the system that Paypal uses or even software like Quickbooks, these mobile and web applications make it extremely easy for freelance writers to manage their hard-earned money effectively.
It is all about finding what works best for you. You can even set up automatic follow-up invoices for outstanding payments through these types of software applications.
To that end, I would suggest setting up a system that is similar to what is taught in “Profit First: Transform Your Business from a Cash-Eating Monster to a Money-Making Machine.”
Being in business for a while I am sure you’ve probably heard the saying, “Pay yourself first.” Well, this book gives you the exact formula for being able to do that effectively without neglecting any other important expenses that you need in order to keep your business running smoothly.
In short, establishing an accounting system and designating a fraction of your time to maintain it will work wonders for your freelance writing business.
3. Networking and Relationship Nurturing System
“You put yourself in the right place tomorrow by networking today with your colleagues and friends.” — Joe Sweeney
Truth be told, nurturing strong relationships will certainly lead to more guest post opportunities, more clients, speaking gigs, even larger audiences for book launches. Really, the possibilities are endless.
Moreover, the people you surround yourself with will motivate you to take your creative work, as well as your business, to the next level. People like Nicole and Clay Akers do this for me every day. And people like Sinem Gunel continue to inspire me.
If you’re thinking that you have to be aggressive in order to approach top influencers at every business conference that you go to, I would suggest reconsidering that notion.
Personally, I prefer nurturing my relationships organically, one person at a time. And truth be told, most of us writers tend to be more introverted than extroverted.
With that said, I’m reminded of two important books that I think you should consider reading (if you haven’t already). One is by John Maxwell entitled, “Everybody Communicates, Few Connect.” One key takeaway is how he suggests recording or journaling important moments that you have shared with someone.
In other words, if there is a souvenir that you’ve gathered from your time together — say a ticket stub to a concert, for example. You can keep it, and down the road, when you all meet up again, you can pull that item out and, in essence, relive the moment again. It is a way to establish a close-knit bond that is not easily broken.
“Never underestimate the power of networking; your success is directly proportional to the size of your social circle, be it work or at play.” — Joe Sweeney
The second book I would highly recommend reading is, “Networking is a Contact Sport.” It was co-authored by Joe Sweeney and Mike Yorkey.
I love what Joe said, “The difference between networking and not working really is just a single letter.”
We’ve all heard the saying that your net-worth is highly dependent upon your network, and that couldn’t be more true.
However, how do you make that contact (or connection as John Maxwell describes it) when we are forced to social distance?
Well, truth be told, you can still make that intimate connection you need in order to establish a strong relationship through virtual means just as you can face-to-face. Moreover, being able to collaborate and share each other's work can often times have much more of an impact online than it does offline.
In the small business space, this would be similar to say a motel or hotel displaying brochures and flyers of restaurants or recreational activities available around town in their lobby. And these other establishments would likewise follow suit.
In our particular space, this would look something like this: Instead of posting your next article on social media, you share an article from a writer you truly admire? Believe it or not, just following through with this one simple tip will certainly get the attention of some of these big influencers you’ve been trying to reach, but have been falling short.
With all that said, the most important question to ask when creating a relationship nurturing system is: who exactly are you trying to influence? Is it clients, friends, other freelancers who could promote your business?
You might also what to consider the values and philosophical viewpoints you want the people in your professional and social network to have.
From there, you need to find a system where you can store all your contacts and keep them organized. One that will also allow you to add notes about each of your contacts so you can keep track of the important moments that you’ve shared together — such as the concert ticket stub mentioned earlier.
You’re also going to want to figure out how often you want to be in contact with your social network. Is it once a week, or will every couple of months do the trick?
With that said, it’s likely that your communication frequency will largely depend on the type of relationship you have with each contact. For instance, how often you communicate with a close friend from church will be different from how often you communicate with, say, a past client.
Lastly, you should always be looking for ways to grow your circle of influence and social network for we have gently been asked to be “fruitful and multiply.”
To that end, be vigilant to social opportunities as they present themselves, but also remember to focus on growing your relationships organically; there’s not much point staying in touch with someone you don’t necessarily care for.
In fact, it is has been said that we are the average of the five main people we spend the most time with, and according to research by social psychologist Dr. David McClelland at Harvard, “The people you habitually associate with determine as much as 95 percent of your success or failure in life.”
I don’t know about you, but I would much rather surround myself with people who are doing BIG things, with people that are achieving success in the areas that I would like to be successful in.
4. Robust Marketing System
Now, if you’ve been reading my stuff for quite some time now, you may have already come across several of my articles providing marketing tips and strategies. Nevertheless, this particular section isn’t about those things. I’ll get back to sharing more of those tips and strategies at a later date.
Until then, once you have identified some marketing strategies that work best for you, the next thing is to ensure you always have a full pipeline of new leads flowing into your business, and into your sales funnels.
For example, you may found that email marketing, article marketing, and social media marketing are the main marketing avenues that bring the most attention to your writing business, and provides you with the most writing assignments.
If that is the case, are these the marketing avenues something you use only when you’re low on future work, or do you have a system in place that runs on autopilot and keeps these writing opportunities flowing into your business even when your sleeping?
If not, here are some questions to consider from each area:
- Do you have a report or checklist, or cheat sheet, or video series, or even a mini-email course that you can give away to your audience in exchange for their email address?
- Have you signed up for an email service provider like MailChimp or Aweber? Have you gone over your budget to determine just how much you can allocate towards this particular type of service, or are you only able to use the free package that these companies provide?
- Have you embedded signup forms on your website to capture email addresses? Or, better yet, have you set up a designated landing page (or squeeze page) for the sole purpose of promoting your freebie or lead magnet?
- Have you set up an e-newsletter template for each time you publish a new article or have some valuable new information to share with your list? Have you taken the time to schedule a specific day where you write out a month's worth of e-newsletter content?
- Likewise, have you taken the time to schedule a specific day where you write out a month’s worth of articles in advance?
- Have you determined how often you’re going to publish your articles? Will it be one, two, or three times per week, or month?
- Have you thought about what day or time your articles are scheduled to go live every week or month? Have you set up a content schedule so your readers know what day and what time to expect your next article?
- Do you have a checklist and/or template in place for writing articles?
Social Media Marketing
- Likewise, have you taken the time to schedule a specific day where you write out a month’s worth of social media content? Have you created a list of content ideas for each social platform?
- Have you signed up for a social media management tool like Buffer or Hootsuite where you can schedule your post for each social platform you use and then let it run on autopilot?
- Have you determined how often you are going to post on each platform?
- Have you figured out what time your audience is on social the most so that your post are always being sent out at the right time, where they are most likely to engage with what you share?
Going through these questions with a fine-tooth comb will give you a birds-eye view of your robust marketing system, of which you can tweak over time.
5. World-Class Business Administration System
“Productivity is not about getting more things done; it’s about getting the right things done.” — Michael Hyatt
I’m of the belief that the three most important people that every business owner should have on their team are, 1) a personal trainer, 2) a personal therapist, and 3) an executive assistant (which, we will be highlighting here).
In Michael Hyatt’s book, Free to Focus, he talks about four zones of productivity, 1) The Desire Zone, 2) The Distraction Zone, 3) The Disinterest Zone, and 4) The Drudgery Zone. Each zone is measured by your passion and proficiency meter.
In other words, “Passion and proficiency provide a helpful grid for evaluating our tasks. When passion and proficiency for particular tasks run high, that is your most desirable work. When they are both low, our tasks feel like drudgery.” — Michael Hyatt
In short, amazing things begin to happen when you focus on the things that you do best, the things that bring you the most joy, and the things that you excel at the most — while eliminating or delegating the rest.
Now, some administrative tasks include email management, task management (the dreaded to-do list), and file management just to name a few. For most business owners, and especially writers, these are areas or tasks that would typically fall within our “drudgery zone,” which is why I would recommend delegating this area to a trusted and skilled executive assistant.
In other words, your executive assistant would become your World-Class Administration System. However, until then, there’s endless detail involved, but here are a few quick tips to help you streamline your business administration system.
The key to staying on top of your email is having a way to process messages into tasks and then archiving the rest. You can do this in Gmail using To-dos or you can even use third-party software like Flow-E.
Unroll.me is also a great way to manage your newsletter subscriptions.
Managing tasks can appear to be overwhelming at times, but it really is not as complex as we oftentimes make it out to be. As you probably already know, there are hundreds of task management apps out there to enhance your productivity, but the truth is, they all, essentially, do the same thing. It doesn’t matter whether you use Trello, Wunderlist, Asana, Basecamp, or Workflowy.
The first thing is to identify your main projects, both business and personal, and then break it down into actionable steps required to finish each project. It is the same way with setting and achieving goals. You start with a big picture with a specific deadline, and then break it down into actionable next steps that you are going to take in order to get you closer to achieving your goal.
If you use a mobile application to do this, and once you’ve mapped out everything you need to do, I would suggest writing out the important tasks from your software down onto a sheet of paper or notebook because there is something about writing something down that engages our imagination and brings out the creator in each of us.
It’s easy to get caught up in shiny new tools, but remember that having the right software is not going to make your freelance writing business take you to the next level. Actually rolling up your sleeves and doing the work will.
I would recommend using something like Google Drive to store and organize documents so that it is easier for your clients to see what you’re working on while you are working on it live. This allows them to be able to see your workflow in action.
Moreover, I would suggest using something like Dropbox to store completed files like video sales script, a control sales letter piece, music, tax files, etc. The key here is to eliminate all loose files. Every file should be in its appropriate folder.
“A place for everything, and everything in its place.” — Benjamin Franklin
Again, if this is an area that falls within your “drudgery zone” I would suggest delegating this task and consider hiring an executive assistant. But, until then, consider spending this afternoon cleaning up your files and see how much time you save by not having to look for things.
So there you have it — 5 systems every freelance writer needs running in their business in order to operate effectively.
Now, I would like to encourage you to try and implement at least one of these systems in your business this week. I recommend you begin by allocating at least 30 minutes per day to work on the one system you decided to focus on — or if you want to try and implement all five of these systems, I would suggest setting aside 30 minutes of your time to each system. No more, no less.
With that said, which systems do you currently use to make you more proficient and productive in your business, as well as provide you with more margin in life to do things that you really love?
Share in the comments below so we can get a conversation going!
William Ballard is one of the most sought-after business and leadership coaches in the world. As founder and CEO of William Ballard Enterprise, his core business development and leadership programs are designed to be a catalyst for entrepreneurs and leaders who want to enhance performance and make a meaningful difference in their business, their lives, and the world.