How One Freelance Writer Got $3,000 From a Simple Request

by Editor – 31 Comments

Freelance writer makes a simple requestBy Angie Mansfield

I was a frustrated freelance writer.

Late last year, I was finally starting to gain traction in my freelance writing business, but I still wasn’t as busy as I wanted to be. I was doing okay. But I wanted to take that next step to being able to tell my lowest-paying clients, “Sorry, I’m fully booked right now.”

As it was, I felt like I had to take their cheap gigs in order to fill in the gaps. I needed to replace them with higher-paying gigs to do more than break even every month.

The Rave Review

My chance came when I asked one of my freelance writing clients for a testimonial. I was fresh off of my initial project for her, an article and blog post based on her CEO’s book.

In her opinion, I’d knocked it out of the park, and the testimonial she wrote for me was nothing short of glowing.

Instead of just thanking her and going on my merry way, I thanked her — and then told her I had a little time in my schedule coming up. Would she mind sharing my contact information with colleagues who might need my services?

The Referral

Turns out, she wouldn’t mind. In fact, she was thrilled to send an email introducing me to one of her clients.

And what a client: A small marketing firm that has run direct mail campaigns for a few little companies you might have heard of — Lowe’s, Petco, and RiteAid, among others.

Here’s the first thing I learned about referrals: They make the process of closing a deal extremely easy.

My new client didn’t ask for clips. She didn’t ask what experience I had. She just responded to the introductory email to ask if I was available for an immediate assignment!

After getting over my initial shock at how easy that was, I took the gig — to the tune of $1,000 extra for January.

The Hidden Bonus

If the story ended there, I’d have counted it a solid success. A new, lucrative client always is.

But it didn’t end there. When I told my first client that I had some time available in my schedule, it also prompted her to send me more projects herself.

Not only do I credit her with helping me land that extra $1,000 from her referral, but she sent me another $2,000 in projects of her own.

All from one simple request in response to a positive testimonial.

The Moral of the Story

I haven’t stopped marketing. I know that, eventually, these current projects will be finished and my clients’ editorial calendars may slow. I’m continuing to send out LOIs, telling prospective clients that I’ll be available in after this current workload is finished.

But now I know that referral requests should be a part of my marketing plan, too. Which reminds me, I need to ask that new client for a testimonial … and a referral.

Angie Mansfield is a freelance blogger who’s thrilled that “Freelance Blogger” is a real title. By day, she helps businesses create blogs and marketing materials. By night, she helps fellow geeks (and freelancers) de-stress on her blog, TranquiliGeek.

Is This Missing Piece Stalling Your Freelance Writing Career?

by Carol Tice – 28 Comments

missing puzzle pieceI get a lot of email from aspiring freelance writers as they set out on their journey.

“I am totally doing this freelance writing thing!” they tell me. “I’ve always wanted to be a writer. It’s time to quit the job and go for it.”

A year later, they write me again. And they have not gone for it.

They are still right where they started…lacking the nerve to put in their notice and leave that day job. Or earning peanuts writing for content mills, because it’s easy.

Loads of people want to be freelance writers. They read books, they read blogs, they take classes.

But when it’s time to actually get out there and market your freelance services and find clients, or time to do some writing…nothing happens.

Something is missing. To understand what it is, you first need to understand this:

Here’s what freelance writing really is

Writers love to dance around this and say it’s all about our creativity, our freedom, our muse, writing about what we want. To which I say, baloney.

That’s writing a novel. Being a freelance writer is something else.

Freelance writers are in business. Plain and simple.

Maybe you didn’t lease a storefront, but you are in business just the same. Your family’s ability to eat rides on your success.

And all business involves one key ingredient. If you don’t have this, your freelance business cannot succeed.

To circle back, why has that new writer not taken the plunge? They were so excited by the idea of freelance writing, after all.

It’s because they had an insight about what this path will entail — and it stopped them dead in their tracks.

Leaving the ‘secure’ world of corporate employment and starting their own business involves taking a risk.

So they make their plans, but then, when it comes right down to it, they balk.

Why? Because they don’t see themselves as risk-takers. Instead, they are risk-averse.

Without the willingness to take risks, you cannot make a go of this freelance writing thang. It will fizzle and die on you.

3 Ways to take the fear away

Fear of risk is the death knell for aspiring freelance writers. If you want to do this, you have to take risks. So you’ll need to build up your tolerance for risk.

Here are three tips on that:

1) Reframe the question

You’re thinking that embarking on a freelance career is a big risk. Now, flip the equation. How much of a risk is it to stay in your current job? Or if you are writing for content mills, how secure is that situation?

Corporations are increasingly fickle when it comes to their workforce. You could be out on the street in the next economic downturn, or just because a new boss doesn’t like you. Any random reason, really.

The content mill could close or change their rules. Happens all the time.

Yet most people think of having a steady job as the ‘safe’ option, and marketing their freelancing as the ‘risk.’

My experience coaching laid-off writers for nearly a decade now says that’s wrong.

Also, when you look five or ten years down the road, what do you want to see? How about at the end of your life?

You can look back and regret how you stayed stuck in a job you hated, or be reflecting with satisfaction on the fulfilling life you’ve had, living your dream career.

For those of us with kids, there’s also the question of what you’re modeling. Do you want to show them they should go for their dreams, and they can achieve whatever they set their minds to? Well, that message will be stronger if you’re doing that in your own life instead of punching a time clock.

When you think about it that way — with the long view of how you are spending the precious moments of your life — taking a ‘risk’ on freelancing seems less scary.

Writers who worry about the risk of putting their work out there are worrying about the wrong thing.

2) Understand inaction

Most risk-averse writers I know dither and procrastinate a lot. They keep trying to edge their way around their fears, to stay safe, to keep from doing the scary stuff that might fail.

And they are missing an important fact: Not taking action is also a risk.

It may feel safer, but it’s not. It’s just another form of risk.

While you are not moving forward, others are. Prospective clients who might have loved to work with you are finding someone else. New competitors are sharpening their skills, learning about industry changes from interacting with clients, and doing their marketing.

Each day you don’t act, you get older, and farther away from your goal. Because inaction breeds more fear.

In the vacuum of inactivity, you think up more reasons why it’s too risky. What will I do for healthcare? you think. How will I pay for my kids’ college?

Stop thinking you’re playing it safe by waiting and watching. In fact, you’re risking your chance to make freelance writing your career, every moment you wait.

3) Take calculated risks

As it happens, I am a fairly conservative person when it comes to risk-taking. So this third one is something that’s really worked for me.

You can do things to lessen your risk. For instance, finding the next, better-paying client before you drop the lower-paying one.

You can also find mentors, or join a writer community where you can learn more and avoid the freelance pitfalls. That knowledge reduces your risk that actions you take will flop or be a waste of time.

Like the writer I just heard from this week, who reported she’d wasted a year bidding on Elance gigs and only landed three of them. She wanted to know whether I thought bid sites were a waste of time! Only someone with no mentors or writer network could have wasted that much time without wising up.

With some savvy in your corner, you’re not taking foolish risks where you end up starving. You are taking considered, well-thought out risks.

You learn to go after clients you have the best chance of getting. You figure out the marketing method that works best for you, because you’re willing to risk trying out a few things and learning from the results.

This as sane, smart risk-taking. As you learn more, you build the confidence to bet on yourself.

Take little leaps

You can condition yourself to risk by starting small. Think of it as jumping over a puddle before you try to tightrope walk over the Grand Canyon.

Maybe it’s sending one query letter, or posting one blog comment. Writing a 300-word article for your local newspaper.

Make a list of small risks you could take to move your freelance writing business forward. Then, start checking them off.

You want to start exercising your risk muscle because as you build a freelance career, you’re going to need it.

Because take it from me — the risks only get bigger as you become more successful. As your portfolio builds, you have a reputation that could be damaged if you screw up.You end up with thousands of blog readers who stand ready to applaud — or trash you — each time you post.

You decide to invest money to produce an ebook – money you may or may not get back. But it’s good to invest in yourself to grow your writing business. It’s a smart risk you should take that could provide an ongoing income.

To sum up, it’s all risk. Every moment of life is, really.

Each stage of building a good freelance income will bring new risks.The more practice you get at taking risks, the better you get at developing your spidey-sense of what choices will pay off best for your freelance business.

So get used to risk now. Stretch your risk muscles and learn to tolerate that feeling of discomfort you get just before you jump. That’s the missing skill that takes your freelance writing career straight to the top.

What risks have you taken in your freelance writing business? Leave a comment and tell us about it.

How One Freelance Writer Broke Into Her Dream Niches

by Carol Tice – 22 Comments

Freelance writer dreams of successBy Jessie Kwak

If you’re just starting out as a freelance writer, breaking into new magazines can seem like a chicken-and-egg scenario.

You’d love to write for Redbook, Psychology Today or Popular Woodworking, but editors want to see clips in the field. How do you get clips in your target niche before you’ve broken into it?

I started out as a travel writer, but I wanted to branch out into better paying markets – so I started figuring out how I could use my travel writing to do so. Using a combination of strategies, I slowly began building a portfolio that has helped me break into some of my dream niches, like personal finance, business, cycling and beer.

How did I do it? Here are my tips:

Pitch a topic you’re an expert in

My first sale outside the travel writing niche was to a regional parenting magazine, ParentMap. It was, of course, an article about travel with kids, but now I could add “writer for parenting magazines” to my skill set.

To break into personal finance, I pitched a piece about how a 6-month backpacking trip taught my husband and I to talk about money. The editor loved it, and now I’m writing another piece for them on how to budget for travel.

The plus side of these articles is that they’re not just travel pieces – I can use them to break into writing about personal finance and relationships, too.

Say you have a few clips writing business profiles, but you’d really like to break into food writing. Take a look at the magazines you’d like to write for – could you pitch one a profile of the new sustainable sushi restaurant down the street?

Almost any beat from accounting to technology can be slanted to fit a variety of other niche magazines. It’s a great way to break into a new market.

Pitch new topics to your current editors

After I wrote a few travel pieces for ParentMap, I pitched my editor a piece about teaching your kids to ride a balance bike. That earned me a clip I’ve used to attract clients in the cycling industry (another major dream niche of mine).

If your editor at the local home and garden journal likes your regular container gardening articles, try pitching her a piece on the latest crop of hi-tech gardening gadgets. If she assigns it, you’ve just landed yourself a clip writing about technology that could help you break into another great-paying niche.

Pitch articles that combine niches

I keep a wish list of magazines I want to write for, and whenever I’m pitching a new piece – whether it’s to a current editor or a new market – I figure out how to make it slant toward multiple niches.

Wanting to break into writing about beer, I pitched a travel piece to Beer West Magazine. With the ability to say I’d written for a beer magazine under my belt, I pitched the Brewer’s Association trade magazine a piece about getting startup capital for your brewery through crowdfunding.

Voila! A clip that shows I can write about breweries, small business startups, and crowdfunding, and now I’ve cracked writing for trade publications.

This isn’t hard to do, but the trick is to do it consciously. You need to make every hard-earned clip count, especially in the early stages of your writing career. Don’t sell yourself short by only pitching ideas that can be used in a single niche.

How have you broken into new niches? Tell us in the comments below.

Jessie Kwak is a freelance writer in the Pacific Northwest. She writes about the good life: travel and the tourism industry, outdoor adventures, food and beverage, and (of course) cycling.

Become the Best Ghost Blogger Ever in 30 Minutes Flat

by Carol Tice – 21 Comments

A half hour is all freelance writers need to become a great ghost blogger.Does the idea of writing as a ghost blogger for a client make you nervous?

I hear from a lot of writers who wonder how that’s done. How do you successfully write as someone else? And how do you keep from becoming a schizophrenic if you’re ghost blogging for multiple clients?

I’ve also heard from quite a few writers who’ve tried ghost blogging but ended up with unhappy clients. The posts just didn’t ‘sound’ right. Something was off.

And they ended up losing the gig. Which really hurts, especially if you’ve lined up a good freelance blogging client who’s paying $100 a post or more.

I hate when that happens! So today, I have a couple strategies to share that will solve this.

2 Steps to perfect ghost posts

There is an easy way to do this ventriloquist trick, where your writing comes out sounding just like the client would have written it. Your client is ecstatic, the posts are easy to write, and this gig becomes a nice, ongoing deal.

It’s a two-step process that I’ve done many times, and it works like a charm.

I caught on to these tricks fairly early on in my small-business ghost-blogging career, sort of by accident. Once I tried these techniques, I was blown away by the results.

Clients universally raved about my ghostwritten posts. “That sounds just like how I would have said it!” they’d say.

How can you do this? It takes a little time. Really, very little! A half hour ought to do it.

Here’s how to become a terrific ghost blogger — fast:

Make an appointment

Tell the client you need a half-hour chat with them to get the blog rolling. You probably need to talk to them anyway, just to map out the topics you’ll write about and firm up a publication schedule.

Lots of freelance writers have an aversion to client meetings and talking on the phone, and try to get this figured out on email or instant chat. Do *not* do this with ghost blogging clients.

Instead, get them on the phone, and start a conversation. Tell your client you’d like to ask a few questions to learn about their business and get up to speed. Some questions that work great:

  • Why did you start your business?
  • Who are your customers and how do you solve their problems?
  • What are the biggest challenges in the business today?
  • The biggest opportunities?
  • What are you hoping to accomplish with the blog?

Get a business owner talking about what they do and their marketing goals, and you’ll hardly be able to shut them up. You’ll hear their passion coming through and learn why they love what they do.

Either record this conversation or take lots of notes. Pay particular attention to words and phrases they use repeatedly. Note industry jargon and ask what it means.

Presto: Now you have a written record of exactly how your client ‘sounds.’

Pick up those words and phrases and industry lingo and use them in your ghosted blog posts. If they like to start sentences with, “Anyways…” or say “sooner than later” a lot, use it in your post.

The results will amaze you. Clients will wonder how you got it to sound just like them!

Simple: You listened, and you used their words in their posts. No surprise, they love it.

Do an exercise

One more thing while you’re having that client chat that will help you is to ask them one key question. This will help you to write the posts so they’re in the tone and style the company wants.

Yes, you can study their existing marketing materials for a bit of this, too. But pose this one challenge to your client, and you’ll nail it.

Ask the client to describe what they want customers to feel about their company when they read the blog. What are they trying to convey about their business, at the emotional level? Ask them to use no more than five adjectives for this description.

Is their company friendly? Approachable? Authoritative? Innovative? What are the most important values they want to impress on readers?

Make your client give you a list of descriptors, and it’ll be easy to craft prose that delivers on their vision.

Now when you sit down to write ghosted blog posts, you aren’t facing a blank page. You have ideas, you have their own words in front of you as a swipe file, and you understand the tone they want to set with their blog.

What are your ghost blogging tips? Leave them in the comments.

P.S. Need to learn more about freelance blogging? Grab my new e-book, How to be a Well-Paid Freelance Blogger, for 50 percent off!

How to be a Well-Paid Freelance Blogger