3 Secrets to Quickly Grow Your Freelance Writing Income

How freelance writers can earn more cabbage fastDoes it seem like it’s taking forever to get your freelance writing career to where you want it?

While some writers have the knack of getting clients in weeks flat, you still struggle to make enough income.

And time is short, and the bills keep coming. For many writers, a clock is ticking. If you can’t figure out how to make an income, soon you may have to scan the classified ads and find a day job.

What makes some writers build a real income fast, while others can’t seem to cover the gas bill with their writing?

Over the years of coaching more than a thousand writers, I’ve found there are three basic things freelance writers who ramp their earning rapidly are doing that starving writers don’t do.

Those three things are:

1. Use What You Know

I often meet former professionals — lawyers, accountants, insurance brokers, nurses — who are switching to freelance writing.

To them I say “Great — you have a built-in lucrative niche you can get started with, where you have demonstrated expertise.”

The only catch? Many of them say, “Oh, but I don’t want to write about X. I want to write about [homeschooling/raising Schnauzers/quilting/battling mental illness/other low-paying niche here].”

There are two factors at war in the world of freelance writing — the desire to follow our writing bliss and write about whatever we feel passionate about this week, and the desire to make this a full-time living.

In general, they don’t both go together. At least not at first.

To earn the most the fastest, identify the best-paying markets where you have expertise, and write on those topics. You know the hot-button issues, the lingo, the experts to interview. It’s like water rolling downhill.

If you don’t like that niche, switch later on, once you’ve established a base of good-paying clients. That will give you the breathing room to explore other topics.

When your business plan out of the gate is, “I want to dabble and write about whatever I want,” that is not the straight shot to the big cash. Sorry to break it to ya.

2. Use Who You Are

Many freelance writers labor under the misimpression that they know nothing of value to the freelance marketplace and so cannot command good rates.

The complaints fall into three main categories:

“I’m too young.”

“I’m too old.”

“I’ve been out of the marketplace too long.”

But whoever you are, there is a way to capitalize on your uniqueness.

Turn what you think of as a weakness around and realize that whoever you are, there are magazines written for your demographic, and companies trying to sell you stuff.

Been staying home raising kids and now you’re back to working? Career transition is a popular magazine topic and there are companies that help people change careers and re-enter the workforce, too. All potential clients.

What you read, where you shop, those corporate newsletters you get in the mail — those are your easy, obvious markets.

Think how many products and magazines there are aimed at 20-somethings! And also how many now market to the over-50 set. If that’s you, then you are tapped into the mindset that client wants. You speak their language.

Stress that when you pitch, and you’re on a fast track to landing clients who will pay well for your inside line on their audience.

ย 3. Do a Lot of Marketing

I know. This one seems obvious.

But I have this same conversation with every writer who isn’t earning well. It goes like this:

Me: “Oh no, you’re broke? Well, tell me about what marketing activities you are doing now, so I can think about what new approaches you could add to earn more.”

Writer: “Actually, I haven’t really been doing anything to market my writing.”

I’m not kidding. Same thing, every single time.

Many writers are waiting for the luck fairy to bring them freelance writing gigs. I recently talked to a writer who said she’d taken my classes and followed my blog for over two years…but she had yet to take the first step to market her writing and find clients.

Why, why, why?

Freelance writing is a business, just like opening a hardware store. Would you expect a hardware store to survive if it never placed an ad, had a grand opening, put up a ‘sale’ sign, sponsored a Little League team, or got the owner to a Chamber meeting? Of course not.

Yet magical thinking pervades the world of freelancing. Many writers believe we’re different because we’re creative, so gigs should fall from the sky.

But that isn’t what works — at least not quickly. What works? Marketing. Boring, unsexy, old-school marketing.

I meet few writers who are consistently marketing who are broke.

No one’s saying you have to make cold calls. If you hate that, send emails or do in-person networking. Build an amazing writer website and LinkedIn profile.

And if you don’t get a response, learn more about marketing.

Make a commitment that for you, marketing is like brushing your teeth — it’s something you are going to do every day. Because you’re building a business, and that’s what businesspeople do.

What all three of my tips have in common is they are the easiest and most reliable, proven way to get to a decent freelance income.

And they all go together. Actively marketing what you know and who you are, to the most likely receptive markets that pay well. That’s what people do when they’re serious about building substantial freelance writing income, right away.

What’s helped you grow your freelance writing income best? Leave a comment and tell us about it.

27 comments on “3 Secrets to Quickly Grow Your Freelance Writing Income
  1. Jane Hendy says:

    This is a great article! I have the ‘what I know’and ‘who I am’ sorted and, in terms of marketing, I have the website and social platforms spluttering into exsistence, and I am trying direct mail through letters of introduction as my main marketing tool (not marketing myself is my biggest downfall).

    The thing I am finding the most difficult is getting the name and direct email address for the people I want to contact for work. My niche is education, which is fantastic because it is my passion, my hobby and my job, and I have honed in on my targeted clients. I have written a letter of introduction, which I am personalising with each contact I send it to.

    The trouble is they all have contact forms on their websites. I have been using the contact form to ask for the contact details; is this ‘the done thing’ or am I just closing doors before I even get to them? So far, I have mostly been ignored. I want to send dozens of emails but instead I’m spending hours looking for someone to send them to… and I am no internet research slouch ๐Ÿ˜‰ Is this the norm or am I doing something horribly wrong?
    Jane Hendy recently posted…Learning a language โ€“ ListeningMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      You need to find a real person’s name and email. I find I can usually do it within 5-10 minutes for nearly any editor or marketing manager.

      Try LinkedIn if Google doesn’t pay off for you…great place to search for names.

      Or, stop wasting an hour online and simply call the company and ask.

  2. Ruth says:

    Oh, marketing. I feel like marketing is like anti-depressant medication, which a lot of people stop taking when they feel better. When I first started freelancing, I marketed like crazy. Then I got what I thought would be a long-term nonprofit client and stopped. They ended up downsizing me due to a lack of strategy for the work I was doing and other internal changes in the organization and aโ€” factors beyond my control. Boy did it suck when I realized I’d put all my eggs in that basket.

    Sooo… Learn from my mistakes, don’t stop marketing just because you find a few gigs! I figure I can always find time for small projects, and don’t see anything wrong with telling clients/editors that I’m all booked up but will get in touch with them when I have an opening. That just makes me look all important and in-demand, and gives me a jumpstart on future work.

    PS The good part is if you learn to market for yourself effectively you can sell those sell marketing, web copywriting, blogging, social media or whatever skills to clients down the road. I tell them “if I can do it for myself, I can do it for you!”

    • Carol Tice says:

      Great analogy! So easy to get complacent and stop marketing.

      And I’ve always said the 3 magic words in freelancing that make your income take off are: I’m fully booked. Once you’re there, you start to be able to pick and choose, and everything gets better.

  3. rana says:

    Great article!! Any advice on how to price writing projects? I could use all the help I can get.
    rana recently posted…PR Advice from Danielle Alvarez of Alison Brod Public RelationsMy Profile

  4. Hey Carol,

    All such solid tips and always the most obvious ones when you step back and think about it!

    I’m definitely guilty of feeling the “too young” one but it’s always just another cliche excuse to make not working hard enough feel better, lucky I can identify that and move forward.

    Like you said in our emails, freelance writing is BUSINESS and how many businesses do you know that aren’t advertising or marketing in some shape or form? Yeah, me neither.

    I think a trap a lot of us fall into is we think the internet is a massive world with thousands and thousands of potential clients so it must be easy to land one right? but one “hire me” tab on an unknown blog aint gonna do jack and that’s when you’ve got to get aggressive and start leveraging who you know, what you know and just getting out there!

    Great post!
    Jackson Anderson recently posted…Pitching, What Is The Worst That Could Happen? 8 Experts Expose The Truth!My Profile

  5. Heather says:

    As a person who didn’t have a job since college because of health issues, I’m still not sure how I can leverage really old retail experience. It’s not that I haven’t tried pitching trades, but the retail world seems a lot different. In other words, I’m trying to figure out how I can market myself! Maybe I could find a way to write about health or how to write really awesome papers professors will love? I have experience with that!

    • Carol Tice says:

      Yeah…we think students get expelled for using those papers you write for them. Really not a viable marketplace.

      Knowledge of how to navigate the healthcare system can make you valuable to healthcare companies, in my view…they do a lot of materials that talk to patients.

      And retailing basics never change. Don’t discount that side of your knowledge, either. Lots of retail trade pubs out there you could look at.

  6. I totally agree that doing a lot of marketing is crucial. I was recently trying to help a reader of my content marketing writing blog who needed income quickly. She told me that she had sent out a lot of LOI’s in the past 6 months but had gotten nothing. I asked her how many and she said about 30. I told her that wasn’t many at all and she should be sending out at least double that each week.
    Jennifer Gregory recently posted…Setting Your Content Marketing Writing RatesMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Yeah…folks have to build up those marketing muscles and understand it’s a numbers game and really crank some volume.

      One of my favorite interactions was after a post where I talked about a LinkedIn strategy that had worked for me. The writer said, “Oh, I tried that once but it didn’t work.”

      Me: “I tried that continuously every week until it worked.”

      That’s the difference between dabbler and freelance writing business.

  7. Mike Johnson says:

    Carol is right on. Especially tip #1.

    I oversaw 55 7-Eleven stores and quit the corporate world to become a freelance writer. I’d been writing inspirational articles as my passion on the side. To jump-start my new writing career, I got a 10-hour-a-week job as a typist at the local weekly newspaper. Soon the newspaper was having me do minor reporting and soon I was writing front page articles. The pay was abysmal but the experience was tremendous.

    I realized that if I was ever going to support my family I needed to find higher paying writing. So I looked at what I already knew — how to manage convenience stores. I pitched my experience to a convenience store trade publication and they gave me a $300 assignment. This far surpassed the $7.69 I received for selling my first inspirational column.

    The trade publication kept giving me assignments and then a monthly column. They also owned baking industry magazines so I was soon writing for those. The work was interesting and the pay was strong.

    Those clips piled up and helped me earn a 6-year assignment writing a how-to customer service newsletter for a publisher that sold it to other companies to train their employees. One of my core skills in the corporate world was improving customer service. So I used what I knew and publishers hired me on that basis, along with my prior writing clips. Soon they asked me to write cost-control and marketing how-to newsletters. I was now earning more than my corporate job but doing it as a freelance writer on my own schedule from home.

    Your past experience and current knowledge have value to someone. Using those skills to jump start your writing income is solid advice. Once you’ve established a steady writing income stream, that security and confidence helps you sell the other types of writing that gives you more pleasure.

    Mike Johnson
    WorldsBestWriter.com

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Mike — love your branding there! More writers need a boost in the self-confidence dept.

      And trade pubs are the marketplace so few writers know about, and there’s so much opportunity there. Personally, I spent 5 glamorous years writing full-time about home improvement retailers. Great learning ground and they pay well, because how many people can they GET to write about trends in shower curtains? Once they find you, just like in South Pacific, they will never let you go.

  8. Carol

    Instead of these people saying to themselves ‘I want to be a writer’, they perhaps ought to change the wording a bit to ‘I want to MAKE MONEY as a writer’.

    That way, as you kinda say, they might stand a chance of ultimately making their dream a reality.
    Kevin Carlton recently posted…3 dangerously destructive writing habits every copywriter should avoidMy Profile

  9. Right on! This advice is exactly what launched me. I am still making my way through how to use the expertise and I am still shy about marketing but I love the hint about email marketing. Specializing within an expertise is where I am headed next.

  10. Lisa Baker says:

    Fabulous post. One thing I’ve observed and experienced is that you don’t necessarily have to do all three of these things. Me, for example — I’m *totally* guilty of not doing #1 right — I’ve chosen a niche that generally doesn’t pay that well (although, to be fair, I don’t have much experience I could have leveraged for higher-paying niches…but I have enough experience with technical and B2B stuff that I could have used to break into some really good pay if I’d been willing to go that route). But — I *love* marketing and happily do it all the time (I’m an extravert and a future-oriented dreamer, so I’d much rather network and imagine new gigs than work on the gigs I already have), and I am doing #2, so with those two combined, I’m doing all right. Plus, I enjoy doing the research to find the high-paying markets in my niche — and I firmly believe they exist in every niche if you look hard enough! I do know my income would be a lot bigger right now if I’d gone a different route, though — it all depends on how quickly you need to build up your income.

    And I have a friend (a designer, not a writer, but I think the same principles apply) who did #1 and 2 so well that he barely ever had to do #3. He established a reputation as the ONLY guy who does design for a small, high-paying niche…so the clients just flow in. But, of course, the way he got that reputation was with an SEO website — so it took a little more time.

    I think it’s good for writers to look at these three principles as a baseline. Do all three, and you WILL get income fast. Do two of them, and you can still build a business, but it will go more slowly. But just one of these probably won’t cut it, unless you’re just insanely lucky.
    Lisa Baker recently posted…The Top 10 Annoying Toys That Are Guaranteed to Appear in Your House If You Have Little KidsMy Profile

  11. I love your stuff Carol, always, always great practical tips and advice!

    I am a former grant writer, who was always marketing the programs of the non-profit where I worked. Not just in grant proposal but face-to-face, community meetins and phone calls with program directors, etc.

    I took that into my freelance career and I landed so much long-term work in a matter of mere weeks.

    Websites are great and much needed into today’s world. Just make sure to get out there and pound the pavement, as well!

  12. John Soares says:

    Excellent advice Carol.

    Points 1 and 3 were crucial for me. I’d been teaching college for several years, so writing ancillary materials for college textbooks was a natural niche. And I learned to overcome my fear of marketing so I could sell myself to the right editors at the best textbook publishers.
    John Soares recently posted…How My Computer Screen Background Photo Inspires My WritingMy Profile

  13. Great advice Carol!

    These tips are simple, yet very actionable. Many freelance writers will have overlooked these.

    It’s easy for new writers to forget that they are also running a business. Like any other business, you need to follow demand.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Laura –

      I actually got that comment in a Den forum just yesterday, “Gee, I guess I need to start treating my writing business like a business.” YES, YOU DO! It barely dawns on many writers that they’re running a business, which is I think how they end up not doing much marketing…they don’t get the connection.

  14. Daryl says:

    I guess so many people want to get away from what they do in their “day job” or former career that they simply overlook the possibility of writing on that topic. I mean, if they really loved their job that much, they probably wouldn’t have switched to freelance writing!

    That being said, of course using your professional experience is probably the best way to demonstrate your authority in competing for that gig, so you’re totally right Carol – use what you know!

    (Wow…I just got the capcha comment wrong! Need to get back to my first grade math methinks)
    Daryl recently posted…The 5 Rules For Writing Kickass ContentMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Yeah, a lot of people want to get away from that field they just got out of…but then it’s going to take longer to build the freelance income. So you have to decide which matters most.

  15. Martin says:

    Carol, that paragraph about marketing is incredibly true in any field. I tried to freelance in IT and was surprised that business does not come from sky. Now I am trying again to start freelance career but marketing and sales are things I focus most on. I am spending a lot of time to create A+++ website, I am going to place gigs every day etc…

    Why that? To customers my technical skills does not matter much as long as they do not know about them ๐Ÿ™‚

    I think it is not an easy job to create website. Most people are looking for information on website, explaining pictures and short movies, they want a nice design etc… It is not so simple to create website which will convert your visitors to customers but this is different story.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Martin —

      Based on the above, you may need to work on your English if you’re looking to earn in this language…quite a few grammar errors. Definitely have someone proof your website copy!

      There is a lot to creating a website that converts — which is why I created a whole 4-week bootcamp about it, Build a Writer Website That Works, for my Freelance Writers Den members. If you’re interested in that, click that “writer community” tab up top and get on the waitlist for the next time we open. I often only tell that list when we open for new members.

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