8 Lessons I Learned in My First Year of Freelancing

8 Lessons I Learned in My First Year of Freelancing

Entrepreneur, JS, Medium, Sales & Marketing, writing

I got my first freelancing clients almost on a whim, on October 31st, 2016. I began working with clients in the evenings and weekends for November, December, and January.

Once I realized that being a writer was a viable career for me and people were willing to pay me, I made plans to quit my day job as a Director of Business Development at a recruiting firm.

Friday, January 27, 2017 was my last full-time day at my day job.

I was a freelancer.

Though I did a lot of research and asked many questions, I had a lot to learn. Now that I am at a year of freelancing, here are some things I have learned. Use this and make new mistakes and learn new lessons, instead of the ones I’ve made for you.

1. If someone is willing to pay you, then you are skilled enough.

When it comes to freelancing, especially something as subjective as writing, many potential freelancers question their abilities and whether or not their writing is “good enough” for them to be a writer as a full-time career.

Instead of trying to find a way to judge your writing, use your clients as a barometer. If people look at your writing samples and are willing to pay you, then you are definitely good enough.

Pack away the insecurity and focus on improving and on the work for your clients. There is no point in questioning yourself so much, and that insecurity can lead you to not marketing yourself or not having the confidence to attract new clients.

2. You are definitely not charging enough.

Pricing yourself is an exercise in frustration sometimes. You do tons of research on what other people are charging, you try to undercut them, but then you may find that the lower price makes it not worth your time.

As a freelancer, time is your commodity.

Whatever you’re charging, it’s too low. I have seen it time and again from freelancers, including myself, where we are charging one price, but then the actual time the project takes is more than we thought, or there is more research involved or the project is longer, and suddenly your “decent prices” are only getting you $20 an hour.

Charge more. The good clients will pay you for your skills.

And remember: Just because writing comes easily to you does not mean it should be cheap. If clients could do it themselves, they wouldn’t need to hire you. Your skill is valuable.

3. Learn to identify “bad” clients.

The clients who email you at 3 am expecting an immediate response, or who are constantly changing the specs of the project. The ones who are never happy.

The ones who harass you about your prices over and over until you offer a discount.

Just say no. It’s difficult to turn away clients, especially when you are new to freelancing, but the hassle and difficulty in dealing with them and the extra time it takes for you, on top of the lower rate, will bring you down. Not only that, but they take away from the clients who would be paying your regular rate and be great to work with and appreciate you.

Here is a piece I recently wrote about how to identify the bad or negative clients before you start work.

4. Your business will continue to evolve.

When I first started freelancing, I was doing almost entirely one-off articles and blogs for clients and charging per-word prices.

A year later, I have evolved and changed the work I do as I learned more what I enjoyed and how it makes sense for me. Now, I focus on monthly retainer clients and having long-term relationships with them instead of one-time projects, have developed a book coaching service, and have been able to try things I never thought I would — like writing a comic book!

Be open to new experiences and allow yourself to evolve and grow and change as the work you enjoy evolves. Do not force yourself to stick to just one type of work. Try new things, get creative, stay interested.

5. You don’t HAVE to have a niche.

One piece of advice I saw a lot of at the beginning of freelancing was to “just pick a niche and specialize!”

I prefer significant diversity in what I work on, so instead of focusing on one industry or type of client, I chose to be a generalist. This has allowed me to have a ton of experiences and learn new things.

I have blogged for law firms, medical cannabis companies, business consultants, life coaches, real estate investors, cryptocurrency and blockchain companies, professional speakers, and more. I’ve edited fiction, nonfiction, and even a children’s book.

As a self-described jack of all trades, I have gotten to explore opportunities I would never have if I’d just stuck to sales, marketing, and career coaching, which my 10 years of corporate experience prepared me for.

Don’t be afraid to try something new and to be a generalist! It’s so much fun having a diverse client base and getting to work on something different each day!

6. Building good relationships is the backbone of my business.

I like to know my clients. Who are they? Why do they love what they do? What are they hoping to get out of the writing services?

Creating a monthly retainer business model has allowed me to have longer relationships and really get to know my clients as people.

I have weekly calls with each of my clients to manage expectations, discuss the tasks and work for the week, and stay connected.

Having been in corporate business development for so long, I deeply acknowledge and understand the strength and use of a great relationship with the people you’re selling to.

Really make a point to get to know your clients as people. Ask questions and be kind and genuine. That relationship is so important! Nurture it!

7. You don’t need a portfolio.

Portfolios are not a bad thing, you CAN have one. But you don’t NEED one to get started as a writer.

As long as you have writing samples, you are good to go. You can publish those samples on a blog or site, or you can just have them as PDFs you attach to emails.

Much of my work is ghostwritten, so even though I have tons of published blogs and articles, none of them would be able to go into a portfolio.

When I first started, I grabbed pieces from my personal blog and wrote a couple samples, and that is all I had to show. These days I direct people here to my Medium blog!

8. Just write. Get started now.

The best thing I learned through my freelancing journey so far is that you don’t need to be super prepared or have a website and business cards and a fancy briefcase.

You can just go out and find ONE client. As soon as you have one, find another.

Figure out the rest as you go. You can research contracts and build a WordPress site later. For now, go out with your writing samples and find a client. The rest will come after.

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Relationship Building for Freelancers: How to Get & Keep Clients

Relationship Building for Freelancers: How to Get & Keep Clients

Entrepreneur, JS, Medium, Sales & Marketing

Apparently, most writers aren’t good at marketing and many salespeople aren’t the best at writing. Or at least that is what people keep telling me.

I am lucky enough to be both, which has been extremely successful for me. It has truly been my superpower, which allowed me to be my own boss and get my business up and running very quickly.

Relationship building is an extremely important skill. Many people who consider themselves extroverted or a ‘people person’ may also find that they are strong at job interviews and good at networking in group settings.

However, more introverted people may find themselves at a surprising advantage in the one-on-one relationships and phone calls which freelancing often requires.

95% of my work and communication is done via email, text, slack, Facebook messenger, etc. And while I am an outgoing, talkative person, this mode of communication is fast, easy, and best of all — does not require pants. But there are ways to be great at phone calls and written communication.

Phone Calls & Relationships

When it comes to winning over potential clients, I believe in the power of a great conversation.

When a prospect is asking me about pricing and information, I don’t just shove my website in their face and tra-la-la away to my next task.

I ask them for a time to jump on a phone call. Instead of giving them a straight-up price, I explain that prices depend on needs and scope of projects, and that monthly retainers are often less expensive than paying per project, per word, or per hour. I say:

“The price depends on your exact needs and can also be impacted by how long we plan to work together. Are you available this afternoon or tomorrow to jump on a short call with me? I can do 3pm EST today or 1pm-4pm tomorrow.”

What I have done here is set them up to expect individual, customized attention and pricing for their needs, and after mentioning the call, instead of leaving it open-ended, I have provided specific time frames.

People are psychologically more likely to respond to the specific timeframes than just a general request for a phone call. It also shows my professionalism. I am available right away, but at specific times. I know my schedule and keep it. I am also punctual.

Once I get them on the phone, I’m golden. I love talking to people and it shows. I smile while I talk to them, I ask and answer questions. I show them my value by giving free information. For example, if we are discussing blogging, I’ll throw out a couple of facts and statistics about SEO and content marketing. If they want book coaching, I tell them what the process looks like and give them information on general lengths of books in different genres and discuss pros and cons of traditional versus self-publishing.

Another thing I do is weekly phone calls with each of my clients. It is a chance for us to check in, update them on my work and progress, and sets and manages expectations on both sides for the week ahead. It also serves to continue to build and solidify our working relationship.

Email & Relationships

Because most communication is done over email, I make sure to let them know what I am up to or ask questions when I need. I am professional but personable over email, saying “hey” and using their first name, unless they have specified not to or are much more formal.

My clients never need to ask what I am working on or where I am at with their work because I make sure to let them know.

I offer free email support to my book coaching clients and make sure to respond to people in a timely manner.

Once they are my clients, I stop selling them. They know what my services are and if they want additional ones, they always let me know. I don’t try to promote my other services or upsell them anymore unless they ask. I might say offhandedly, “Hey, you may not have thought about it, but some social media management would work really well with what we are doing now and would promote your company faster and better. Here are a couple of examples ___. Let me know if you want to discuss it further, and I am also happy to recommend a couple of other fantastic people.”

Because that shows it’s not about ME. It is about what is best for THEM and their company. I’m not saying it just to make more money, I even offered to refer them to someone else!

That is because honesty, trustworthiness, and transparency are the pillars on which I have built my business. I am not afraid to say “I don’t know,” and then go find the answer. I am not so self-centered as to think I’m the only person who can do what I do or even the best at it.

I am selling prospects on working with me, specifically, not with a writer in general. They don’t only need to know the benefits of writing, they need to see what working with me will be like. How well do I communicate? Do I remember information from previous conversations (I do, I take notes)? Do I listen to them and understand their pain points and have ways to solve those problems? Do I talk more about them than myself?

Clients & Relationships

You should be approaching a client relationship in a similar way to a new friendship. You want them to like you and you don’t want to scare them off.

Sales is not about just getting that dollar amount. It is about getting someone who WANTS to work with you and KEEP paying you that dollar amount.

But it’s more than sales. As a solo entrepreneur, how I represent myself to anyone is literally the face of my business. I am myself, but professional. I am knowledgeable, able to show strong writing samples, and deeply understand the process and the business of writing.

Being nice, kind, a good listener, asking the right questions, showing your value — that is how you get and KEEP a client.

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Where Do Freelance Writers Find Clients?

Where Do Freelance Writers Find Clients?

Medium, Sales & Marketing, writing

One of the questions that I get asked the most and see on writing forums all the time is “where do you find clients?”

I’ve talked about this before, discussing ways to start making money right away as a writer.

But something I keep seeing even more of recently is this: “I got my first client! The pay is terrible, but it’ll be a professional piece for my portfolio!”

It’s awesome that you got your first paying client, but you have to get out of the mentality of doing something for low to no money just for your “portfolio.”

I am a full-time professional writer and editor, and I do not have a portfolio. I have writing samples and links I can send people, and even PDFs.

Instead of focusing on needing pieces for a professional portfolio and spending the time and energy even making a portfolio, start with having a couple of articles completely written, edited, and finished. Even if you’re just posting them on your blog, or your Medium page, or holding on to them as PDFs.

Write a couple of samples. That is IT. Once you have a couple articles, you can use those as samples when marketing yourself to new clients.

Things that are a waste of time before you have any clients: a professional website, a fancy portfolio, a marketing budget, and professional headshots.

I spent exactly $0 before getting my first 4 clients.

I spent $0 before getting the next several clients after that. In fact, the first money spent on being a writer was getting a new laptop once it was clear that I could make money as a writer. And I only got a new laptop because I was using my husband’s computer and he wanted it back.

Marketing and a professional website are useless at first because no one is searching for you or knows who you are. Don’t spend your time (or money) on that yet. Eventually, you’ll want a website, I’m not saying it’s useless! You just don’t need it to get started.

Respond to ads on Craigslist and Reddit. Give them your writing samples. Same goes for reaching out to people on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, or other social media.

Here is a message I was sending:

“Hi, I’m Jyssica and I am a professional writer and editor! I am located in NYC and am available for new projects immediately. My 10 years of sales experience means I write well-suited-for-marketing copy and can work with you to create website or ad copy, blogs, and more. I also edit books! I noticed your website’s blog has not been updated in 6 months. Would you be interested in a couple of blog posts? I can provide writing samples. When are you available to talk?”

Bam. I have introduced myself, given an example of why I am an expert, identified a specific area I can help them with, offered writing samples, and asked to set up a call.

Sales 101. Identify a specific need and offer a solution.

I sent variations of that message directly to businesses over social media, especially LinkedIn and Instagram, and got a good response rate. Most people answered, “what are your rates?”

My response was ALWAYS that the rate depends on their needs, as I can charge per word, per project, or monthly rates, and they depended on the scope of the work and their budget. My next sentence was always “Do you have 15 minutes today to talk? I can get an idea of your needs and we can discuss prices.”

By giving people individual attention and focusing on their needs, I found new clients quickly. And for free.

Don’t undervalue yourself just to make $10. Spend an extra few days finding clients and marketing yourself and make more money.

Market yourself. Most writers don’t make their salary from content mills. Instead of signing up for a content mill and calling it done, do that as only one tiny part of an overall strategy for finding clients.

Making money as a freelance writer is absolutely possible, and it can be a sustainable career choice. But if you decide not to market yourself or try to find clients, you will find that it will be a much slower process to making a decent living.

I’m not just throwing words around for no reason. This strategy worked for me.

I was making just about the same salary from when I was in corporate sales by my fourth month of being a freelance writer.

Photo Credit: http://bsnscb.com/money-wallpapers.html

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Social Media Marketing

Social Media Marketing

JS, Sales & Marketing

Social media is extremely important these days. If you don’t have social media accounts and a website, how will people find you, ask questions, learn about you, and buy your product?


With more and more business and commerce happening online, you MUST have an online presence to compete.

 

More than that, social media is a fun, free marketing tool. It’s a great way to engage directly with your audience, talk back and forth to individuals, look for new products, services, and clients, and share fun pictures and content that show you off in a great way.

 

Since you control the posts, you’re able to have fun with what you’re sharing. Share work content, fun behind the scenes pictures, pictures of your office, and more. Share personal anecdotes and moments, and really connect with your audience.

 

Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and more are ways that really allow you to show off your brand and grow in an organic way, creating a loyal fanbase and a way to share things on multiple platforms, to different audience and target audience members, and allows you to interact in a very real way with people.

 

As our economy has recovered and as technology has progressed, it is clear that online shopping has become the norm. From clothes, to groceries, to office supplies and books, the trend is only moving further towards an all-online life.

 

You must use social media to stay relevant, so why not enjoy it? I love using Instagram and connecting with people, posting pictures of my work and my cat, pictures I find online that make me laugh, and pictures of my real life. Who I am on social media is no different than who I am in real life. I represent myself as accurately as possible.

 

I also post links to my articles and posts, and market my writing and editing business. As odd as it may sound to some, Instagram specifically has been amazing, and I have gotten many clients from meeting and talking to people on there. Others from referrals, and classic sales emails and calls.

 

When using social media for marketing, try to follow the 80/20 rule, where 80% of your posts are either informative or fun, and only 20% are your products or services and “sales-y.” If you come off as only a salesperson, people aren’t going to want to engage with you.

 

While social media isn’t the only tool in my sales and marketing kit, it is a major one, and one that I enjoy utilizing. It’s also something I do for my clients, helping with expanding social media, and social media management. Posting and sharing and hashtagging and engaging with people.
If you’re interested in checking out my social media, here is my Instagram, Twitter, and Linkedin!

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