How I Found a Steady Stream of Writing Clients in 9 Months Flat

3d White currency symbol diceI’d freelanced off and on for years. But every time I got close to plunging into it full time, I got scared. I pulled back for the security of a paycheck.

Then, about a year and a half ago, I knew it was time to go for the life and career I’d always dreamed of.

Within 9 months, I built up a steady stream of regular writing clients — three online magazines, two regional publications, and one B2B company — including Sparkle, RENO magazine, House of Gems, and the Jewellery Editor.

I continue to contribute to these publications, anywhere from once a week to once a quarter.

Among them, I average between $1,200 and $1,600 a month, which I supplement with online teaching and workshops. I also generally have at least a couple one-shot pieces to write each month, too.

I’m able to avoid the feast-or-famine cycle that kept me from going full-time long ago. Here’s how I did it:

Start from a solid foundation

First off, I did some work to make sure I didn’t start freelancing full-time from a place of desperation.

I had some money saved, but I also completely revamped my life by moving to a small, secluded place on the high desert. Now, I have minimal expenses.

Not everyone can move to pursue a writing career, but everyone can find ways to cut back on expenses. Find what you can do without, then learn to budget and simplify.

Invest in yourself

Getting help at this early stage can make all the difference.

Find blogs that can give you actionable advice for getting started — and avoid common traps that keep you stuck in low-paying gigs. Seek out a community of writers where you can share and learn.

Consider a mentor or training courses to gain the skills you need to market yourself to the right clients.

I’m willing to eliminate Starbucks from my lifestyle, but I won’t cut back on training. It’s what propels me forward.

Choose a niche

Not everyone agrees you need a niche, but it worked for me.

But, I didn’t decide beforehand exactly what my niches would be. I made a list of everything I was interested in or felt I had expertise in. Then I began researching publications and pay rates. Then, I targeted my pitches.

In a previous try at freelancing, I’d written for a now-defunct gemstone trade magazine. Because of this background in jewelry, one item on my list was gemstones. It was number five on my list, but that’s the one that bit first. In the past year, I’ve written well over 100 articles for the jewelry sector, on everything from sea glass to profiles of international designers.

A few months ago, I felt ready to break into another niche. I made a new list. This time, out of my queries on various topics, an agricultural magazine picked me, based on a description I wrote of my local cattle ranches.

Build on your relationships

Be responsible and communicate with your editors.

Recurring work from existing clients is, for me, one of the greatest signs of freelance success. You get it by working well with others.

Believe in yourself

This may be the most important step of all.

Freelancing is a leap of faith, and you’re going to hit highs and lows. How you ride them can make all the difference.

Learn to say no to low-paying work, keep marketing, and practice believing you are awesome and deserve all the great work coming your way.

How do you avoid feast-or-famine cycles in your freelance career? Tell us in the comments below.

Leslie Jordan Clary is a freelance writer, photographer and editor of Our Daily Zen newsletter.

Freelance Writers Den

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37 comments on “How I Found a Steady Stream of Writing Clients in 9 Months Flat
  1. Ian Marshall says:

    I’ve just discovered this blog and think the advice is extremely helpful. I’m hoping to build an audience in a niche around yoga and meditation after just completing a three month teacher training course and beginning to teach in a centre that I’m setting up with my girlfriend.

    This has given me a lot of inspiration as I want to carry on my freelance writing alongside this to create a lifestyle that has always been difficult for me to find!
    Ian Marshall recently posted…My spiritual journeyMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Glad you found the blog, and find it useful, Ian!

      If you’re building a blog around your yoga niche, I can recommend A-List’s Kickstart Your Blog course. A-List is who I learned to grow this blog from. 😉 You can read about my experiences with them on that link.

  2. Yolanda Joy says:

    I definitely think anyone scared to take a leap into freelance writing full-time should just do it – if you really set you’re mind to it it’s quite easy to find work. I’ve been freelancing for 6 months now and have reached that steady, ongoing pace with returning clients… it’s only daunting at the beginning but get’s easier when you score your first job!
    Yolanda Joy recently posted…5 Ways to Hire a Freelance Writer OnlineMy Profile

  3. harish desai says:

    I have the above blog. I wish to monetize it. Please tell me how can I do it? Also, I have been writing for the last 5 years, however, I have not been able to break even. I tried freelancing for one year doing nothing but writing, however, I was not able to do well. Therefore, I have taken up a job once again. Although, this reduces my time to do my writing, at least I have the security of a regular pay check.
    harish desai recently posted…SIX SIGMA CONSULTINGMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Harish, the topic of how to monetize a blog is a complex one, and there’s more than one answer.

      For building a blog that you *can* earn from, I can recommend A-List’s Kickstart Your blog course. A-List is where I learned to build this blog. 😉

      But big hint: Sticking up a bunch of AdSense ads is not a successful strategy for the vast majority of bloggers. You’ll need to be more creative than that.

      Another hint: You’ll want to start by making your blog publicly available. I clicked on it and it indicated it can’t be viewed without an invitation from you.

  4. Jeremy says:

    I find clients that require recurring content, like content creation for blogs and social media duties…
    Jeremy recently posted…Top 5 Resume Writing TipsMy Profile

  5. Hi Leslie, this is great advice for beginning writers but there is also information in there for those who have been around. It is always worth going back to your original ideas for a niche and choosing another to diversify. This will definitely help avoid the ‘feast or famine’ problem that copywriters face.
    Sarah Charmley recently posted…Author Interview – Meet Carys JonesMy Profile

  6. I really agree that finding a niche can be immensely useful for getting work. I’ve evolved into having several niches where I’m specialised enough to be able to ask higher prices. It’s definitely worthwhile.
    Philippa Willitts recently posted…Don’t work for free – people die of exposure!My Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      I have about 9 different niches at this point. 😉 You always want more than one so you’re diversified as the economy changes. Think of what happened to everyone in the real estate writing niche around 2009, for instance.

  7. Roger Smith says:

    I wonder whether feast or famine ever really ends in this business. I’ve been freelancing for seven years now. I got over the initial hump and it’s gotten steadier over time; 2014 was my best year yet, but then my bread and butter gig evaporated. So far 2015 is an uphill struggle to recover and get to the next level. I have a niche but it feels too narrow. I need another one. Or several. Leslie, your tips are well taken. Thanks for this timely article.

  8. Marte Cliff says:

    As a real estate copywriter, I write for individuals and companies rather than publications, so much of my work is one-time projects. (I write a LOT of agent bios.)

    On the other hand, I do have a number of clients who come back regularly for updates, more web pages, etc.

    After being in real estate for 19 years, I went into copywriting intending to pursue other avenues, such as animal rescue and alternative health. I did do some of that, along with other projects that expanded my knowledge of the careers people follow. But… somehow I migrated back to a niche in real estate.

    Now, in addition to writing custom work for clients, I have a full line of 40+ pre-written real estate prospecting letter sets for sale at prices that even new agents can generally afford.

    To stay in touch with prospects I mail a weekly real estate marketing newsletter, and I blog on Active Rain – which is the real estate industry’s social media site.

    I absolutely agree with you that it’s wise to have a niche and to market to that niche. Writing for a variety is fun, but not as efficient in terms of reaching prospects.

  9. Sylvia says:

    Thank you Leslie for this much needed confidence builder. I’m also a freelance writer wannabe who has been too afraid to go full time for fear of losing my day job’s steady income. That job is now history and I have been (happily) forced to finally go all in!

    The first thing I did after the initial panic subsided, was head here to sign up for Carol’s Case Studies bootcamp. I have been devouring the amazing amount of top quality content in the Freelance Writers Den.

    I look forward to posting a success update in the forum one of these days.
    Sylvia recently posted…Food Truck Business PlanMy Profile

    • Welcome to the trenches, Sylvia! One of the big things that propelled me into freelancing was when I realized how insecure my steady day job really was.
      Leslie Jordan Clary recently posted…HomeMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Welcome to the Den and to bootcamp, Sylvia! Glad you’re finding our materials useful.

      Check out my Facebook page later today for a snapshot of some of the recent posts in that ‘Share Your Success’ forum! Look forward to seeing yours there soon. 😉

  10. technically I’ve been doing freelance work for the past 4 years but I never had a very high paying client. I’m starting to narrow down my niche and write really targeted pitches, where I explain exactly what I can do. I think it’s really a matter of constant marketing… never stop. I’m trying to turn my blog into a source of income and also use it to market my writing service. We will see how it goes. Great article!

  11. Gina Horkey says:

    Nice work Leslie! Sounds like you figured out the best jumping off point for you to combat the fear and move confidently forward. Good luck as you continue your successful freelance journey:-)
    Gina Horkey recently posted…January, 2015 Freelance Income ReportMy Profile

  12. I’m a freelancer who writes for a major newspaper publication and get paid well for each of my pieces, but I wonder: How different does a piece need to be for me to market it as “new and fresh” to another? Another question…I’d like to begin syndicating my stuff so I needn’t worry about the mechanics of getting each into a publication and yes,my work qualifies as niche market material. How would I go about discovering to what newspapers I should market so they’re not in the network where I’m currently published?

    • Carol Tice says:

      Colleen, I gather eByline has a self-syndicating option you might want to look into — otherwise, you’re pitching papers one at a time, or you need to sign up with one of the big syndicates. If your original client paper has a syndicate, just ask them what papers are in that, and find out what your rights are to syndicate beyond there.

      The answer to how different it needs to be is…completely. Every word should be different. No quotes can be reused, either. It could be on the same topic and use the same sources and interview notes, but you’d need to write a new story, unless you’re selling reprints.

    • Hi Colleen — I think for a piece to be “new and fresh” it needs to take on an entirely different angle. I’ve re-written and re-sold a number of jewelry articles, recently one on “space inspired jewelry” to an astronomy blog. Each time I’ve completely redone the article with different quotes. Syndication is reselling the same article to many places and I don’t know much about how one goes about that.
      Leslie Jordan Clary recently posted…HomeMy Profile

  13. ABM = Always Be Marketing. I really try to spend some time every day looking for opportunities, scanning ads for writers and bloggers needed, as well as contacting legal marketing agencies directly. (I have a law degree and blog for lawyers.) Both these techniques are paying off, slowly but surely. How I loved getting an email from one client this week, thanking me for posts written on short notice, “Thanks so much, you saved my life this week!” She already knows I’m not interested in last-minute assignments in the future, but helping her out this week was one way I could make sure she didn’t forget me and my excellent, timely work for her.

    • Mia — Marketing is a major part of my workday too. That’s great that you were able to help a client out! It will no doubt lead to some more work.
      Leslie Jordan Clary recently posted…HomeMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Riding to the rescue can be a great way to earn, and to get loyal clients — I used to be known as a ‘rush’ specialist, for years. Remember to charge twice as much as normal for that. 😉

    • Elke says:

      Hi Mia,

      I also have a legal background. What type of legal articles do you write?

  14. Daryl George says:

    I think investing in yourself and choosing a niche are both very critical – even a small investment with the right mentor will end up paying off in the long run, in my experience. Yet many freelancers are too afraid to invest a few dollars in something that will earn them far more in the long run.

    Choosing a niche isn’t easy – but building up several useful clips in one particular area will definitely propel you forward. I like your idea – find something that you’ve done, anything, and build up on that until you have a sizeable body of work.
    Daryl George recently posted…No Gigs, No Problem – How to Make Money From Your Freelance Blog Without Freelance Writing ClientsMy Profile

    • Daryl — Building on a niche really is effective. I had no idea how much it matters to be a “subject expert” until this past year. I also broke into areas that I initially knew very little about, which made it even more interesting to learn about something new.
      Leslie Jordan Clary recently posted…HomeMy Profile

    • harish desai says:

      The url given above belongs to my blog. I do not have a website. My work is available for viewing on it. I can write on technology, real estate, project management, procurement, manufacturing, etc. Daryl I have found a niche, but I am not getting constant work in that niche. Therefore, I have tried to write in more than one niches. How can I start earning from my blog? Kindly throw light on that aspect and oblige.

  15. Hi Leslie

    Thanks for sharing your story. It really resonates with me as I’m actually at a point in my freelance writing career where I’m just breaking out of the ‘feast or famine’ cycle. I’ve been freelancing full time for a few months now, but you could say that I started from a place of ‘desperation’ as you put it (having been made redundant from my full time role last year).

    At this stage, the only tip I can share about finally managing to break out of the cycle of ‘feast or famine’ is sheer persistence and determination. Perhaps starting from a place of desperation has worked in my favour in this sense; if I don’t keep on top of my game 100 percent of the time (constantly searching for new opportunities and trying to build relationships with clients), I don’t get paid!

    Your post has also affirmed the importance of some of the things that I’ve been putting off doing – such as joining a writing community (I’m off over to the freelance writers den next!)

    Thanks again for sharing
    Steph Simpson recently posted…5 Foolproof Ways to Kill ProcrastinationMy Profile

  16. Enstine Muki says:

    Hey Leslie,
    There is always the fear to dive in especially when you are not sure of constant flow of income. But you have shared some helpful point.

    I remember in 2007 when I decided to go into freelancing, I’d worked for a couple companies here and saved some money. The first few months were actually difficult so I had to depend on past savings. But as time went on, it become gradually easier.

    Welcome to Carol’s blog and thanks for putting value on the table.

    • Enstine — The first few months can be really difficult. I think it’s common to run through your savings — and run up debt as well — in the beginning. I actually only made a few hundred dollars my first six months. Then I got several gigs in a short time.
      Leslie Jordan Clary recently posted…HomeMy Profile

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