How to Become a Freelance Writer: Separating Fact From Fiction
Freelance writing is quickly becoming a popular career choice for those who want to work outside a traditional office and traditional hours. Different people freelance for different reasons and have a variety of goals in mind. Sometimes, a person may decide that the freedom they gain freelancing outweighs the income they make. They don’t want a boss looking over their shoulder all the time telling them what to do, nor do they want to have to fear for their job being at the mercy of managers. They may not make as much as they did at a traditional 9 to 5 job but they are willing to trade whatever amount they lose to feel that they can make the decisions about their own livelihood. For others, freelance writing is a way to leave the limits of a 9 to 5 job behind along with minimal pay raises that only occur at most once a year so they can reap all the benefits of their efforts and determine what direction to take to realize the greatest reward.
You have probably seen a lot of posts and articles out there about how freelance writing is a great career. And easy, to boot. The articles suggest all you need to do is sign up with an agency, look on job boards, hook up with bidding sites and the next thing you know, the money is rolling in. You may have read how you don’t need to work full time or put more that a few hours in a day to become financially secure and even have extra income to take vacations with, buy a new home or car and just enjoy your wonderful new life.
While freelance writing can be a great job, like everything else, it depends on whether it is a good match for you as well as how much you are willing to put into it. It sounds amazing, the ability to work anywhere at any time, make your own schedule, charge whatever you want and have time left over to do whatever you want. Yet sometimes things sound great because we aren’t doing them - as they say, the grass is always greener. There are several things to consider before deciding to quit your day job and jump into freelance writing. The first thing to clarify is what freelance writing actually encompasses.
What is a Freelance Writer?
A freelance writer is someone who gets paid to produce all types of text and copy. Generally, this type of writer works at home although sometimes clients prefer they work in their office. Freelancers usually set their own schedule and work to a deadline so as long as they have the assignment completed by the deadline when and how long they work is up to them. This is ideal for those who work best during non-traditional hours such as late at night or early in the morning.
The writing you do as a freelancer may be for a different client every day or you may have set clients who want the same writer for longterm work. I have several clients that I have kept for over ten years. Usually, to keep yourself afloat, you’ll need to constantly be looking for new clients since as a consultant you won’t likely have a regular clientele at least not at first. This is an important point because if you choose to be a freelance writer you will probably be required to market yourself and possibly your clients as well. The most successful freelance writers combine artistic wordsmiths, marketer-advertisers, and business owners into a single individual. Your success at marketing your brand can be influenced by the way in which you refer to yourself.
The Labels We Use Influence Others Perceptions of Us
When I first began to market myself as an editor (despite having done the job of one for years), I was self-conscious and tended to downplay what I could do. I felt that I wasn’t employed by a high power publisher, the criteria for using the title “editor” in my mind, and so I should be clear about this. I stuck the term “freelancer” in front and, in an attempt to make my skills seem broader so as to land more jobs, I added “writer.”
There is an Over-Abundance of Freelancers
What I didn’t realized then was just how many people plug themselves as “freelance writers.” According to the The Freelance Writer's Handbook, (2015), there are more than 50,000 people who call themselves freelance writers in the U.S. alone. Another 30,000 call themselves freelance editors of one type or another. There are no estimates for how many people go by both terms but you can bet it is quite a few as well. In fact, everywhere you look nowadays, it seems there’s a freelance writer or editor (or both). Whenever someone makes small talk with me in a coffee shop or on the subway and asks what I do, there’s always someone who will jump into the conversation announcing they are also a writer or they are trying to become one.
A Business Like Any Other
What all this means is that there is plenty of competition out there and you must make sure to establish the right perception in clients minds in order for them to take you seriously and not jump to the next “freelancer” who they can get cheap. A large number of people who call themselves freelancers don’t think of their services as a business because they work from their home or the nearest cafe, and they operate solo instead of being part of a larger organization. .But the truth is they are operating a business, even if it is a small one and like any business, they should expect to be paid what their services are worth. Changing the title they use to describe themselves often helps both in terms of competition as well as how you see yourself.
Labels Affect How We See Ourselves and How Others See Us
When you call yourself a freelancer it effects your own perceptions of yourself as well as the customers. It fails to make you or the customer believe that you are a professional who knows what you are doing and who doesn’t put up with being taken for granted or not being treated as an equal. This leads to a power differential with the client in charge, which is not the best situation, especially if you are freelancing to give yourself more freedom. You want clients to view you as part of a strategic, advantageous partnership not a low-cost temporary and easily replaceable line-item. Otherwise, you have put yourself back into a situation which may be much like the one from which you have just freed yourself.
The words we use communicate the message we impart based on both surface understanding as well as at a level below the surface. We’re often sloppy when we speak with others and once we establish a certain perception it is often impossible to go back and alter that perception. The way others see us starts the instant we introduce ourselves. If we are careless about what we say then or communicate the underlying message that we don’t take what we do seriously that speaks volumes to a potential client. What they say is true: You only have one chance to make a first impression. Make sure it’s the impression you want to make. Describe yourself as the skilled professional you are and you ,as well as others, will view you that way.
Pricing: The Most Important Influence on Your Business Satisfaction
One of the big dilemmas you face when of starting your career as a consultant is figuring out how much to charge – and convincing potential clients you’re worth that amount.
Do you start at $15/hour? $25/hour? $50/hour? Where do you look to set your price and do you build in special rates for different situations, large or lengthy assignments, return customers or first time customers? Are there different ways of calculating your the price for your services and if so, which is the best to use? What if you overprice your services and the client balks? Do you have to charge what seems to be the going average for similar services and if not how far above that average can you realistically go? How do you convince clients that the price you are charging is fair? Can you negotiate your price or is it best to set one price for all your clients and raise it across the board when you decide to increase prices? How do you decide the time is right to raise your prices and how do you inform clients of this?
The Importance of Pricing Your Services Correctly
Determining how much you will charge for your services is one of the most important decisions you can make. It underscores not only how well you can support yourself but also how happy you are with your business and what kind of relationship you have with your clients. If you feel that your services are under-priced and the client just wants to pay you as little as possible for your time and effort you will come to dislike your work and resent the client.
Getting your fee structure down before pitching to clients is important as it can be hard to correct this after you have started working. Clients are reluctant to change the agreed upon price even for subsequent jobs that are negotiated from scratch. Keep in mind that once you set a price for a client, if you want to keep them and want them to use your services exclusively you will often need to have your price remain the same.
That’s not to say you can’t charge more for new clients but if you are getting multiple clients from a single source, and they compare notes learning that you are charging some more than others you may lose all of them.
Focus on Value
When considering the value of your services, consider how skilled you are at listening to what the client wants, asking the appropriate follow up questions to clarify their goals for the assignment and then creating a product that perfectly matches what they want. When you are able to do this without the need to revise the product after delivering it to the client the client will often be willing to pay more than if they need to ask for changes to satisfy what they feel they explained at the beginning. Obviously, quality also goes into a client’s evaluation of the value you are providing them.
In addition to how well you are able to deliver what is asked for the first time and quality, a client will define value based on two other things:
They will think the fee is great if the value the believe they are receiving is higher than the price they are paying
They will think you are overcharging if the price they are paying is higher than the value they believe they are receiving.
Balancing the price/value equation can take time. If you are charging more than market value for your services you need to ensure what you are providing is better than the average services others provide. So when considering how much to charge, you need to determine how your services stack up compared to others doing similar work.
While everyone wants to make as much money as possible you need to charge what is appropriate for the value of your services. After all, if the client thinks your price is too high, they can go to the internet and easily find others who provide the service you do for a price they find more acceptable. You will never get anywhere by standing on principle convinced your price is fair if you never have any clients. There are several ways to determine how much you will charge for your services, some of which are more likely to limit client objection or resistance to your fees.
Keep Your Excitement from Fading
Unfortunately, the excitement that often goes along with starting your new consulting business can fade quickly. When it does so, the reason is usually related to finances. Late payments, stubborn clients who resist paying the amount agreed upon, arguing over payment terms, and the need the spend time on tasks related to money collection are just a few of the issues that you may run into. Added to that is the reality that your expenses remain fixed or increase while your income as a consultant will fluctuate. The best way to limit this significant source of stress is to set your fees as appropriately as possible the first time.
The best thing you can do as a new freelance writer is be committed to continue learning. Whether it’s advice on writing, business issues, pitching stories, or collecting payment, it’s important to keep developing your skills. Research relevant topics and find others who are successful at the type of writing you want to do and learn from them. Learning what strategies others used that were beneficial at establishing a writing business as well as learning what strategies were not helpful will keep you from reinventing the wheel.
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© 2018 Natalie Frank