How One Freelance Writer Blew It and Went Broke

Disappointed business man shows business going brokeI try to keep this an upbeat blog full of helpful advice on how to earn more as a freelance writer.

But it’s not all sweetness and $1-a-word assignments out there.

Sometimes, freelance writers get into big trouble. And then, they write me.

Below is one recent letter I got that really broke my heart (edited for length). I wanted to share it because I think this writer’s experience holds some cautionary lessons for all freelance writers:

Dear Carol,

I am a writer โ€“ an online B2C and B2B copywriter. ย In 2012 I graduated with a BA in communication science. By that time I had already acquired eight years of experience in writing and four in sales. Seems great, right? Far from it.

I’ve worked on both a freelance and full-time basis, the [former] of which I’m once again pursuing. In hope of making a success this time round, I’m treating my freelance career as a business and I’m in the process of registering my own company [and choosing a business name].

My rates are neither high nor low. I communicate in a professional manner and my writing speaks for itself. ย However, every client that shows interest in my service ends up choosing some dollar-a-job wannabe who can barely string a sentence together.

I can’t understand why so-called businessmen sacrifice the quality of their content to save a few bucks. It makes just as much sense as using a hammer and chisel to avoid the cost of dental expertise.

Where on Earth are all the legitimate businesses hiding?

I’m literally down to my last penny.–Dylan

This sort of letter makes me sad because it’s too late for me to help. And it’s probably too late for this writer to stick with freelance writing.

It’s time to get a day job.

Once you’re flat broke, it’s nearly impossible to make this work. You need money to live on while you build your business.

If you didn’t get the hang of finding good-paying writing clients on your own and you have no money to invest in even a cheap ebook on freelancing, you are out of options.

Where did this writer go wrong, and how could he have prevented this situation? I see two big missteps that led this writer to go bust:

Chasing the wrong kind of clients

When all your prospects go with the lowest-priced offer, your marketing is off-target.

You’re swimming in the wrong client pool — the one where startup websites are slapping up SEO-optimized junk content in hopes of driving clicks to their ads. And it’s not working, and they have no money to pay writers.

Likely, this writer was getting clients off the big online freelance-writer job boards, Craigslist, content mills, or race-to-the-bottom platforms such as Elance. On this stage, you compete with hundreds of other writers from all over the world, including places where the cost of living is far lower.

This is not where you want to look for clients. As he notes, you’ll keep getting beat out by $1-a-job desperados.

To find the sort of clients who pay professional rates, you have to identify successful businesses with real marketing budgets to hire freelancers. The kind of businesses who can’t hire someone who’s semi-literate to slap up garbage — they need sophisticated content that builds their authority in their industry and gets them customer leads.

Then, instead of waiting for them to advertise that they need a writer, you reach out to them — send an email, call them, meet them at a networking event — and pitch them your services.

If you don’t know how to do that, you need to learn.

Instead, this freelancer engaged in a form of insanity — repeatedly doing the same failed marketing approaches and expecting to get a different result. Until the money ran out.

No writer website

Now that he’s gone broke, the writer reports he is getting up a writer website and taking his business seriously.

Putting up a writer website should be the first step in launching a freelance writing business, not an afterthought. Without a professional-looking writer website, it’s difficult to impress quality clients that you are worth good rates.

The lack of a website no doubt contributed to his finding himself competing for lowball clients — and losing out.

Looking over the website mock-up he sent me, my heart sank again. There were branding, design, and usability mistakes in the site that were going to make it fail as a tool for getting him found by prospects and showing his work in the best light.

I see this all too often, in the hundreds of writer websites I’ve reviewed in the Den. You don’t need just any old, slapped-up writer website — you need to build a writer website that works to get you clients.

If you don’t know how to create a site that gets you found by prospects doing online searches for freelance writers — and impresses them once they click over to your site — you need to learn.

But if you’re out of money, it’s hard to make this important investment in your business, much less pay for hosting or design or Web support.

What to do if you go bust

If you go broke trying to be a freelance writer, is it the end of your writing dreams? Not necessarily.

I know plenty of writers who ended up going back and getting a day job for a while, to rebuild their savings.

Some freelanced on the side while they worked, to build their knowledge of freelancing and their client base. Maybe they got up a freelance website and started learning how to turn that into a client magnet.

The smart ones invested some of their income to learn more about how to freelance smart and find better clients.

Then, they quit and returned to freelancing, often with better results. As long as you’re breathing, there’s always a chance to try again.

What do you think this writer should do? Leave a comment and add your advice.

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53 comments on “How One Freelance Writer Blew It and Went Broke
  1. Ronald Gary says:

    All this makes so much sense! I haven’t begun to look for work. I’m putting together a website and hard copy portfolio. (My website is only a first draft! I’m sure it needs work.) I study everything I find, first, like your blog. When I’m ready, I will cold-call and hit the streets with my portfolio in hand.

    It’s so true–going to posts/ads for writers is the easy way out, so lots of writers flock to them. The easy way never pays off.

    Love your blog!

  2. Dylan says:

    UPDATE:

    I recently attended a motoring event in the Kalahari Desert, wrote a story about it, and submitted it to a major car magazine.

    The editor got back to me within thirty minutes! They featured the event last year and weren’t going to this year, but they loved my write-up so much that they decided to use it for their column in their November issue ๐Ÿ™‚

    And yes, it’s a paid job โ€“ more than I have ever been paid per word.

    It also looks like I’ll soon be writing ad copy for a major food chain. Hold thumbs!

    Did I blow it? Nah!
    Am I broke? Not anymore!

    Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom in order to become truly hungry for success. Do that and you’ll perform better than ever before. You’ll do things you never thought you could do.

    Prior to these developments I met famous crime writer, Ian Rankin, at a literary festival in Cape Town. I asked him what advice he’d give to an aspiring writer, to which he replied: “Read a lot, write a lot. There are no rules.”

    I do read and write a lot, but I’ve always followed the rules.

    “There are no rules” is my new mantra, and it’s working.

  3. Willi Morris says:

    So blown away by the comments as a result of this great post. I wish I had more to add other than read my blog on how I have struggled to get started. Such huge advice I’m going to have to refer back to it. Wow. Everything has been said already, but I will throw in my encouragement that getting a day job isn’t a failure. It’s just a means to an end – your success as a writer.
    Willi Morris recently posted…How to Begin Your Freelance Life: My Story โ€“ Part 1My Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      You’re so right, Willi — and thanks for sharing your perspective on it. Have to say this comment thread is shock full of great tips and inspiration.

      I guess I need to go on vacation and leave it to all of you more often! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  4. Such good advice!
    Audrey Howitt recently posted…A Whispered MomentMy Profile

  5. Mitch says:

    I think first of this writer should stop going with the title “copywriter” or “Freelance writer”,
    and start going with something like, “social media marketer” and or “seo expert”.

    a writer can sell many services not just writing and articles.
    there’s a thin line between bloggers and seo experts. promoting blogs is seo. he can sell seo services.
    also he can manage social media sites and write seo or marketing social media contents.

    look up big sites like askmen . com , these kinds of sites have millions of visitors per day and have at least a 100 freelance writers and social media marketers and seo specialists .. these are perfect target for his kind of services.

    Many thanks and Best wishes!
    Mitch recently posted…Loading, Web Design Lebanon, full-service marketing and advertising companyMy Profile

  6. Dylan, please don’t give up on your dream. You graduated in 2012 and you need to give yourself time to make it. Some people start seeing results in a year or two, others take 3-5 years before they see any success. Rome wasn’t built in a day. I know successful freelancers and it took time for them to get there.

    Carol, I read awhile back on “Time” magazine that the future of work would be full of freelancers. This is something you have claimed on your blog as well. I really don’t get why more companies don’t offer freelancing options.

    Yes some jobs demand that you appear on campus to work such as healthcare, electrician, construction, etc.

    But there are a lot of office jobs such as accounting, data entry, clerical, call center customer service, programming, graphic design, sales, insurance, and other cubicle work can be done at home with today’s various technology. In some of these fields, they are slowly starting to offer freelancing/telecommuting.

    We have land-lines, the internet, Skype, instant messaging programs, smartphones and virtual private networks and we could use those options to communicate with managers and people from other departments.

    Think how much employees could save on gas, parking tickets, work wardrobe expenses, lunches, etc. if more corporations offered freelance work.

    Yes the downside would be you would have to pursue your own benefits but these days it’s easy. I opened a Roth IRA account in two minutes via my bank’s website. I didn’t even have to speak to anyone over the phone or go into a branch.

    There’s a website called http://www.ehealthinsurance.com where you can shop for individual health insurance. Another website https://www.brighter.com allows you to compare dental prices in your city.

    We will see more options in healthcare for individuals as freelancing becomes more mainstream.

    Also corporations are only worth working at if the board of directors, CEO, supervisors and employees are ethical and provide a positive work environment. I mean look at what happened to Enron.

    I know people that have quit their professional white-collar jobs because the environment was toxic to work in. It seems to me that you can be vulnerable whether you work for a corporation or whether you freelance.

    Job security these days whether you freelance or not, is about having knowledge/skills, networking, having competence and confidence in what you are doing and selling yourself even if sales isn’t your profession. In truth we are selling ourselves all day long to potential mates and even our current mates, friends, and jobs.

    Another thing that can give people a sense of security whether or not they freelance, is by staying out of debt and living within their means. It takes trial and error to figure out what works for your lifestyle & household but it can be done. It took me awhile but I learned that living within my means doesn’t mean deprivation.

    If you have a safety cushion of 2-6 months or hopefully a year’s worth, you can feel safe in going into freelancing or finding another corporate job if your company collapses or lays you off.

    I kind of wonder if more Americans freelanced would we would become an anti-debt society once again like our grandparents were?

    Anyway I’ll stop chatting ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Dylan says:

      Well said Jaime. You’re right.

      And don’t worry, I won’t give up on my dream ๐Ÿ˜‰

      All the best.

    • Carol Tice says:

      This letter from Dylan has really inspired some passionate conversation here!

      Jaime, I do believe we will see more and more freelancing for corporations…and it’s because as much as they’d like to control us, there are too many advantages to hiring freelancers. They lose competitively by staying rigid and demanding everyone warm a chair at HQ.

      It saves them money on facilities and healthcare to work with freelancers. It also allows them to get a pool of more talented people who wouldn’t be caught dead with a ‘job.’

      And there are environmental tax credits to be gained by reducing their company’s commuting pollution.

      Many big corporations have social responsibility goals and annual reports they file about their progress, and letting workers work remotely helps achieve them.

      Every trend indicator you look at points to more freelancing. Learning to run your own successful freelance business is THE survival skill for the coming decades. Everyone who learns it now has a leg up on all the people who only figure out the reality 5 years from now or so, or whenever the next downturn comes.

  7. Jon Patrick says:

    First, my prayers go out to Dylan. While the easy answers, and probably most correct, is to pick up some side “paycheck” work to keep food on the table while working tirelessly to build up your prospects, the overall theme can be ….
    … Learning experience.
    I’m not casting stones, trust me, but being in a position where you have to make this succeed but are running out of money is a great time to reflect back – what do you know now you should have known then? To start a website first? How to prospect? How to write a proposal?
    Also, when push comes to shove, working 18 hours a day on cheap content-mill stuff to keep a roof over your head might be better than standing on principal and holding out for your fair-rate with no prospects.
    Best of luck!
    Jon Patrick recently posted…My Day with the Surface RTMy Profile

  8. I love this post because it’s real life and the comments are so revealing about different writers’ experiences!

    Generally speaking, I agree with Andy. Actually, I’m of the school of thought that getting a full-time job is actually riskier than freelancing. People seem to think that freelancing requires the sort of skills that are only achievable by a few superhuman individuals. That’s not true and puts so many people off at the first few hurdles.

    To freelance you need to be constantly prospecting and you need to complete the work to a high standard and deliver it on time. Then you need to prospect some more. That’s pretty much it. It’s hard work, yes, but requires no more motivation than the average day job worker has to conjure up to get out of bed each morning and sit at their desk for eight hours a day – with their boss breathing down their neck, telling them what to wear and what time to take their lunch.

    A lot of making a success out of any sort of freelancing, in my experience anyway, is just a case of finding out what needs to be done to get a steady stream of clients, thinking a bit outside the box to bump up your monthly fees where applicable, and getting the job done. Then encouraging referrals amongst your happy clients! Nothing most people can’t handle.

    I wish you all the best Dylan in riding out this particular hurdle. You seem like an articulate, hardworking individual that’s willing to learn and do what it takes to succeed. You’ll be just fine.
    Kirsty Stuart recently posted…Why Being a Freelance Writer is Like Training for this Damn Half MarathonMy Profile

  9. Thanks for this helpful article on overcoming fear.

    Over the past decade I have worked helped successful individuals publish their first books more than 100 times. No matter how successful someone is, we all have to understand, quickly recognize, and know how to defeat the top 5 professional fears. They are:
    1. The fear of silence
    2. The fear of sharing
    3. The fear of selling
    4. The twin fears of rejection and failure
    5. The fear of success

    Not surprisingly, most (not all) successful individuals initially assume they are the exception to the rule. โ€œFear? Who me? No way.โ€

    โ€œNo fearโ€ isnโ€™t just a Millennial motto for the adventurous. Itโ€™s a way of life. I know all this, yet yesterday I got hit with 1 of the 5 professional fears and responded 180 degrees opposite of what I know to do in such situations.

    I still believe โ€œNo fearโ€ is a way of life, but itโ€™s an imperfect way. Every time we give into fear, we need to humbly acknowledge it, remind ourselves what to do next time, and then move toward that โ€œnext timeโ€ as quickly as possible.

    โ€“David Sanford

  10. Rob says:

    We all have opinions based on personal experience and advice that’s worked for us. I got my start on Elance and after learning how appalling the rates were there, started looking elsewhere. However, in retrospect, I can see that a lot of good things came out of that phase of my new career:

    * I gained experience at writing for online publications.
    * I gained confidence from positive feedback.
    * I was able to use my testimonials to my advantage.
    * I found niches I wouldn’t have otherwise pursued.
    * I owe much of my current stability to one client I originally found on Elance. They gave me a chance there at a cheap rate (a quarter of what they pay me now). I’ve made over $40,000 from them in the past 3 years and am still counting.

    I’m not saying Elance is the be-all-and-end-all. I agree with Carol and others who recommend finding quality clients. I’m just suggesting that we have to be creative, adaptable and, most importantly stay positive.

    My daughter started freelancing on the side because her job was so boring. Now she is an editor for a website, gets a good salary and tons of freebies from clients like weekends at resort openings, tickets to gigs and even a free car for two weeks. An old editor of mine quit her job to freelance. Part of her job was doing YouTube videos. Now she’s getting some acting jobs for TV commercials and loves it.
    Rob recently posted…On smoking, writing in longhand and Elmore LeonardMy Profile

    • Jim Bessey says:

      Your headline grabbed me, Rob,

      So I had to surf over and have a look. Great-looking website!

      Carol: This is a wonderful post. I’m really enjoying reading all of your readers’ helpful replies to Dylan’s dilemma. I have a feeling this story will have a happy ending.
      Jim Bessey recently posted…How quickly can you resize an image for your blog? (Challenge Accepted!)My Profile

    • Dylan says:

      Hi Rob,

      You couldn’t be more correct. We all have our own experiences and advice.

      I’ve never sourced work via listing sites like Elance but I did write for DMS before Panda came along. The pay wasn’t bad considering the exchange rate, and I’ve used some of the articles I wrote as samples which have helped me land permanent and freelance contracts. It also helped me get into the rhythm of writing every day.

      You’re so right about being positive. Negativity is probably my greatest weakness and I’m constantly working to overcome it โ€“ thanks for the reminder.

      All the best to you and your daughter.

  11. Shauna says:

    Carol, I have been a freelance writer since September 2012. I have just recently set up a website where I combine my professional services (for hire) with a blog. I initially started earning a living via the $1 and $2/500 word articles and stopped doing so. It takes a lot of time and research to put out a quality article about whatever topics are thrown your way. I once had a client tell me (when I told him I couldn’t put out ten 500 word articles a day that I was proud of) that his content writers aren’t concerned with quality, not was he. Excuse me????? Why bother? Yeah, you lose copyrights when you take this avenue, but writers should write with pride.

    I have since found your site and am taking your advice as to where to find good paying clients. I am also increasing my marketing efforts. I just had some car magnets made up to promote my business when I’m out and about.

    I would love for you to give me feedback on my site, but when I enter it into the bar above, I get an ‘unrecognize’ message. I’ve verified my site with Google, so I don’t understand. If you’re willing, my site address is http://shaunalbowling.com.

    Thanx!

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Shauna —

      Those $1 clients don’t care because, as I said below, their content is just for robots to read, not people.

      You’ve GOT to tell me if you get a client through the door magnets strategy! I’ve thought of trying that in the past but never ended up doing it.

      I’m sorry that I am not able to provide free website or blog critiques for the many people who ask me each week, on email and comments and elsewhere.

      However…if you want to turn your writer site into an inbound marketing machine that gets you great clients and are wondering how you make that happen, you might want to check out the upcoming Den bootcamp — I will be doing critiques of students’ sites as part of the class:

      http://freelancewritersden.com/landing/writer-website-that-works

      • Shauna says:

        Thanx, Carol. I’ll look into your program. I meant to do so before now, actually. I’ll let you know if the car magnets work.

  12. Dylan’s got a story to share with a few twists that writers can identify with. He can either freelance on many subjects, or write about his freelancing attempts and see which one hooks readers.

    How may businesses have been up and down, then up. Dylan’s been on that ride.

    Thanks, Carol
    David Gillaspie recently posted…Baby Boomer And The Oregon DucksMy Profile

    • Dylan says:

      And what a ride it is! Perhaps I should start working on a personal blog, alongside my business blog.

      Thanks David.

      • Karen J says:

        Dylan ~
        My vote on that “perhaps I should start a personal blog alongside… ” is a wholehearted “Yes!”

        Not only would it provide another playground for your writing muscles, it also exposes you to a whole ‘nother slice of the web-world, many of whom may not be “actively looking for a writer” at the very moment they’re reading about your kids or whatever, but may “know people who are…”. and there’s your ticket to those “unadvertised needs” that Carol raves about!
        Big caution, though: Don’t write on your personal blog with “I’m doing this to get a gig” at the top of your mind – it’ll come through, and that’ll keep people from connecting with you on that personal level that’s so important for the “Know, Like and Trust” factor to develop.

        I like the voice of Dylan who has come back to clarify the original post! Thank you for doing that. ๐Ÿ™‚
        Karen J recently posted…โ€œMake Good Art!โ€ โ€“ Neil GaimanMy Profile

        • Dylan says:

          Thanks Karen ๐Ÿ™‚ I’ll definitely start a personal blog but first, I must get my business one off of the ground. I’m learning about design and even a little coding, which is a job in itself. It’s so exciting though!

  13. Dylan says:

    Hi Carol,Thank you. Your honest critique has struck my nerves. And I am sincerely grateful. I asked for your words of wisdom and you delivered.

    You’re right about everything, and I’m glad that my experience may now serve as a lesson for others to learn from. I had no idea you’d write about it. In hindsight, I wish I had approached you with a clearer mind. I told you a lot, but there’s a lot I didn’t tell you.

    Please, allow me:

    I’ve only just begun. I approached you an hour after losing a contract that I hoped would enable me to get through the month while I worked on my site. Needless to say, I was in a bit of a state โ€“ a momentary lapse in inhibition. I generalised, declared failure prematurely and projected old frustrations onto my current circumstances. I was a mess.

    My website is still under construction. It actually shouldn’t be live (a stupid mistake on my part) and I can assure you that it will do everything I want it to do once it’s complete (I read your blog every day, so there’s no excuse). Fortunately, I’m lucky enough to know two designers/developers who have agreed to tweak and polish it as a favour once I’ve set the foundation. Then I’ll start marketing, which brings me to my next point.

    I’m still a ghost. That shoddy client happens to be my previous employer who went bust and retrenched me a few months ago. He approached me knowing that I haven’t officially opened my doors but yeah, I should’ve known better. Once bitten, twice shy. I will be targeting the right clients, aggressively. I don’t know where they’re hiding but I’ll find them. You can bet on it.

    As for being broke, well, that’s the way it is for now. But once again I’m truly fortunate โ€“ I have my wife’s full support. She is an angel and I haven’t the words to express how grateful I am for her confidence in my dream. We’ve both helped each other through rough times, so I guess you could say we’re business partners too. Of course, there is a deadline to all of this, in which case I will certainly get a day job if I fail to show progress in the next few months. I do believe, though, that I’ve got what it takes to make this happen.

    Carol, looking over the email I sent you, I admit that I was being over-dramatic. I have a habit of being too hard on myself, getting my hopes up too quickly, and becoming disillusioned by setbacks. Man if only I could score a penny every time I beat myself up. I’d be rich!

    All that being said, your critique โ€“ and the advice shared by these beautiful people โ€“ is invaluable. I’ve never received support like this. It confirms that my plans have potential and, more importantly, it serves as a solid reminder of what needs to be done, not to mention what to avoid.

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Dylan —

      I’ve been off at a weekend camp with my family, and am just seeing this. I’m glad you had a chance to see the post and all the great feedback from my readers. They always have great insights, I find. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Glad to hear you’re not quite at zero dollars and still have a little breathing room left. Hope these tips help you.

      But just to clarify, I was NOT talking about finding a staff writing job. Those are increasingly scarce, a trend I don’t think will be reversing itself. Freelancing is the future for most creatives, every trend study I’ve seen bears out.

      I was talking about getting ANY job that will pay the bills. I know writers who have variously worked as a bar back, pumped gas, delivered newspapers in the early morning, and stocked grocery shelves at night, to name just a few part-time gigs.

      I never want to hear a reader of my blog ended up out on the street because they were pursuing freelance writing. If you’re out of money, sometimes it’s time to retrench.

      There are also readers right here who have moved back in with parents to save money and make pursuing freelancing possible…and I did it myself at one point, long ago.

      I was also lucky to have a supportive spouse…but it’s important not to let the family finances go into a hole on this. Budget carefully, market HARD, and supplement with part-time work if you need to.

      • Dylan says:

        Hi Carol,

        So sorry for the delay in replying to you. I too went on holiday — whale-watching from the cliffs of a small town in South Africa. Bliss ๐Ÿ™‚

        I agree with all that you’ve said and I thank you for your input. You and your community are bursting with knowledge and good ol’ practical advice. Love it!

  14. Traci says:

    Being broke and having no money to invest in your freelance business is a miserable and very frustrating predicament. Sounds like a good time to work on your organic SEO with one hand (if you can do it on your own), and making calls with the other. Another idea would be signing up for a free landing page to post a few samples and contact info.
    Traci recently posted…Why I save junk mailMy Profile

  15. Erica says:

    Been there, done that, wound up back in a cubicle. First things first, he needs a job to get back on his feet. Then he needs to identify his target audience and speak to them as he maps out his business plan, marketing plan and website.

    Knowing some aspects of freelancing will only come with time and practice (qualifying clients, building relationships, etc.). But he needs the tools before he can build his house.
    Erica recently posted…Embracing imperfect writing conditionsMy Profile

  16. Randy Kemp says:

    You need to understand there are two skills involved: Writing and running a business. The second involves other skills, like entrepreneurship and marketing. There’s many places this writer could have gotten low cost or free help. In the US, SCORE and SBA give good business training and free advice by zip code location and online. There are good books available on Amazon and your local library by authors. Just look for books under tags copywriting, writing, business writing, freelancing, etc. Pay particular attention to overall user satisfaction ratings and total users giving ratings on Amazon. Join some LinkedIn groups devoted to copywriting and writing (i.e. AWAI for example). I could go on but this is a good start.
    Randy Kemp recently posted…Will the real Peter Parker ever return?My Profile

  17. Andy says:

    I’m going to deviate here a bit, because it’s all well and good to say “go get a job and start over” – but in today’s economy, getting a job (any job) can be just as hard as building a freelance business.

    Maybe he’s got no choice but to make freelancing work?

    My personal experience has been that clients hire me when:

    A) They know, like, and trust me (networking)

    B) They NEED you right now – “right place, right time” (prospecting)

    C) They’ve been referred to me by someone they know, like, trust, etc…

    My guess is that only “B” is relevant to him at this moment…

    My advice to this writer would be (thanks Peter Bowerman!) to focus his prospecting on other service providers that already serve well-paying clients, but need copywriting services as well (Graphic Designers, Website Developers, Consultants).

    Treat prospecting as a full-time job. If he’s calling, emailing, contacting these kinds of prospects eight (or more) hours a day, eventually he’ll be in the “right place at the right time.”

    It’s not easy, but it can be done.

    Re: His website. I’ve found WordPress and Weebly are both excellent resources for someone who needs to get a website fast, and free. Are they the best option? No. But they’re much better than nothing.

    • Dylan says:

      Andy, you’re correct. I live in Cape Town, South Africa, the bell-end of the world’s economic turmoil. Full-time writing jobs are pretty rare, and those that are available are only open to juniors. I’m thirty now. I recently got my degree after ten years of part-time studying (woopeee!), that while accumulating eight years of freelance and full-time writing experience. Potential employers now deem me overqualified. Go figure…

      Besides all of that, though, I’m pretty much set on giving this everything I’ve got. As I said to Carol in the bit that she took out (it was a long email), I haven’t really got anything to lose. And even if I could get a day job, I’d only do so as a last resort. Then again, the only reason I’m in a position to stick to my guns is because I’m lucky enough to have the support and resources I need to get the ball rolling. And by lucky I really do mean blessed.

      Andy, thanks for suggesting a flip-side to this scenario. It gave me the courage to speak up.

      • Andy says:

        Dylan,

        Glad you found my words helpful. Freelancing is hard – but so is NOT freelancing! When I started out, I pursued both full-time employment and my freelance practice – guess which one worked out?

        I literally had no other option but to succeed as a freelancer – which gives me a somewhat different perspective from those who are A) blessed to have employment or B) longtime, established freelancers.

        Good clients are HARD to find at first, but they do exist. And once you land one, it becomes easier to land more (in my own experience anyway…)

        Treat it as a numbers game, make a good impression on everyone you interact with, and eventually you won’t be a ghost anymore. It just takes time – and lots of work before you see the payoff.

        Best of luck to you.

  18. Sandra says:

    I agree with everything that’s been said: he needs another job to tide him over and start rebuilding savings.

    It also sounds like lack of marketing was an issue. He has the skills so he shouldn’t have ended up taking crap assignments.

    He needs to not only fix the website, but have a marketing plan. The plan should start off knowing who his prospects are and where they hang out. From there, formulate a plan: cold calls, emailing, social media, networking, etc. Pick 2-3 tactics, execute, test them and keep things moving.

    Revising his site and having a marketing plan should change things over time.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Solid steps there, Sandra!

      I think we’re going to assume as a 2012 grad that he’d never run a business before. I’ve always thought having run a home typing business back before I tried freelancing really helped me, because I already understood a lot of business fundamentals like the need for marketing and how to charge appropriately and qualify prospects.

  19. Dylan should pick a specialization. If he markets himself as an expert in a specific type of project or a specific industry, he can command a better rate because he’s an expert. He can also position himself as much more valuable than lower-bidding competitors.

    I think he also needs to take a breather and understand that this isn’t a fast road to riches. He graduated in 2012. How much time did he give it before completely throwing in the towel? And how much marketing was he actually doing? And where was he finding those clients?

    I’ve found that there are plenty of people in the “real world” willing to pay real rates. But I didn’t discover that until I got off my duff and started putting myself out there…a lot.
    Prudence Shank recently posted…Whatโ€™s The Difference? How One Phrase is Undermining Your Marketing EffortsMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Right on, Prudence…and I think your experience is pretty typical. Once you start prospecting and finding your own clients, it’s amazing how much easier it is to get paid professional rates.

  20. Daryl says:

    He definitely needs another job to tide him over until he can get his business going.

    I agree that any professional writer needs to make an investment for basic things such as hosting and registration, and if he’s broke he won’t be able to make that investment.

    Not to mention the fact that freelance writer isn’t a get rich quick profession – if you want to succeed you’ll have to put in months, at the very least, to reach a place you can depend on the income.

    The writer definitely targeted the wrong type of clients if he found them choosing cheap writers over him, so hopefully he won’t make that mistake again, or he’ll just end up in the same situation.
    Daryl recently posted…Why Freelance Writers Should Select a NicheMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Right on, Daryl! Diana Burrell recently called freelancing “The worst way to make money quickly,” and I agree.

      Failure to qualify prospects is probably one of the biggest errors I see in writers. That and only applying to online job ads, where prices are almost always low and competition high.

  21. It sounds like he’s got a good start in that he’s trying to see it as a business and he’s willing to learn from his past mistakes. With his good previous experience, it doesn’t seem like it would be hard for him to get a traditional job to pull himself back from the brink. From there he could start clawing his way back up as a freelancer in his spare time. (If he knows how to live on a budget, he could even get away with working part-time to give himself more time to work on freelancing.) Take it from someone who has seen a lot of choices end in devastation in the last year. Sometimes hitting rock-bottom makes you realize you do survive things, and can even take away fears and reservations that held you back before.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Great ideas there, Lindsay!

      I’ve also heard from more than one writer who tried freelancing in a half-hearted way, went bust, had to go back to the day job, and it only made them hungrier to do it right the second time around.

      I’m sorry the writer who emailed me didn’t ramp his website and other marketing first off…think the result might well have been better.

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