I’ve been a freelance writer for fourteen years now, typically supporting my income with part-time roles in communications and publishing. When I dusted off my CV last year to go in search for another part-time writing gig, I still felt the balance of freelancing and an inhouse copywriting role suited me. Eventually I got the knack of writing cover letters (hint: not everyone enjoys a pun) and I started getting interviews. But while I was a great match for the roles, no one was picking me. And weirdly, I felt relieved. Which made me think:
What the hell is wrong with me?
Meanwhile, I began to think about ramping up my freelance writing business to fulltime. The thought terrified me but, in between the heart palpitations, I felt excited for the first time in a long time.
A little confession. Five years ago I launched into fulltime freelancing and failed miserably. Here’s why.
How I’ve sucked in my freelance writing business
I was idealistic. I didn’t think of myself as a business – I thought of myself as a “writer”. At the time, I was only writing semi-regularly for one news outlet, but figured I’d just pitch to lots of different media platforms (surely others would see my genius) and the commissions would flow in. They didn’t. In fact, I was rejected so many times I felt like the fish that John West rejects.
Here’s the other thing. I didn’t consider other income streams such as copywriting until I was desperate, and my rainy-day money had hit drought status. I also didn’t market my business properly because I thought that having a website was enough. In retrospect, I was totally unprepared to run a freelance writing business. Six months later, I limped back to a part-time writing role which at the time really saved my arse.
This time round, I’m doing things differently – I’m planning, marketing, learning, listening, sharing and networking. Rinse and repeat.
Despite my failures, I don’t think I would have lasted fourteen years as a freelancer in any capacity if I didn’t do the following.
How I’ve succeeded in my freelance writing business
Freelance writer, Lindy Alexander, is a huge advocate for building relationships with editors and clients.
“If you’ve got one-off gigs, then your income and your livelihood is much more fragile than if you have recurring income.” Lindy Alexander, The Freelancer’s Year
Prior to reading Lindy’s blog, I hadn’t thought of freelance writing in terms of relationships. And yet, unbeknown to me, I’d been doing exactly that. I have two long terms clients that provide the bulk of my freelance work, one for whom I write weekly content. I also have an editor who I’ve been working with on and off for six years, and even when her inbox is overflowing with emails she still takes the time to respond to and commission my pitches.
So what’s the trick to fostering long-term relationships with editors and clients?
I’ve thought a lot about this and it’s not dissimilar to any relationship. I think the trick is being reliable, trustworthy and respectful. File your work on brief and deadline (and to a word count if applicable). People are busy, so don’t make them chase you for outstanding items. Take feedback on board and make the requisite changes (as long as the requests are not outside of the brief). Be responsive to emails. I don’t believe you have to be on call 24/7 so if you can’t respond within a few hours, try to respond within the same day. On the off chance you can’t deliver, just be honest about it. I’ve found that people are usually pretty understanding if you just let them know.
While I initially failed to diversify my freelance income stream, I did discover content marketing. I now have five years experience writing weekly blogs, eDMs, white papers, case studies and website copy. Just recently I added guest blogging and award applications to my cache of experience. I never thought I would say this, but I love writing marketing content. For the right client and industry, it’s a real buzz. I plan to continue diversifying, one day taking my business from just a service-based one to products.
And finally, there is that small thing of honing the craft of writing. I’ll talk more about this in a future blog.
So how about you? How have you sucked or succeeded in your freelance writing business?
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