Posts Tagged ‘mailbag’

How to Get Skeptical Clients to Hire a New Freelance Writer

Posted in Blog on June 18th, 2014 by Carol Tice – 18 Comments

Skeptical business womanWhen you’re a newbie freelance writer, it can be hard to see how to take the first step. How will you talk that first client into hiring you?

At first, many prospective clients you pitch will turn you down. Which can be discouraging.

And yet, somewhere in the back of your mind, you know it must be possible to break in and get hired — because every writer once had no clients.

One writer recently complained to me about her troubles breaking in.

I’m getting responses from prospects,” Tina told me. “But this is what they say: ‘Great — you talked us into it. We need a freelance writer! But you’re not the right writer. You don’t have enough experience.’ How do I get them to hire me?”–Tina

If you’re a new freelance writer who’s getting this response, there are three basic problems you may have. Here’s what they are, and how to fix them:

1. Targeting the wrong clients.

When you start out, you need to pitch your writing services to clients you are a perfect fit for. But that’s not what most new freelancers do. Instead, they apply for everything and anything — and then wonder why their response rate is so poor.

The way you sell a client on hiring you as a newbie is to show your connection to their subject. Maybe it’s a magazine for veterinarians — and you used to be a veterinarian. Or it’s an article for a parenting magazine about how to talk to your child’s teacher, and you’re a teacher. It’s Web content for a shoe store, and you used to work in a shoe store.

That’s one way to focus your marketing, to clients where you’ve got some inside knowledge most writers don’t have that makes you perfect for the gig.

One other way is to focus on likely first markets. Many new writers start out pitching major national publications, which rarely work with new writers. Then, the writer wonders why nothing’s happening.

When you’re a new writer, you want to go for some easy gigs you stand a good chance of getting off the bat, so you can start building your portfolio. In my new e-book on breaking into freelance writing, there’s a rundown on what these easy, break-in markets are. They include:

  • The newsletter of a charity of professional organization where you belong, give, or volunteer
  • Alternative papers
  • Small businesses you patronize
  • Small-town newspapers (may be daily/weekly/biweekly)
  • Business journals (especially in smaller or more rural markets)
  • Businesses owned by family or friends
  • Free-box publications such as employment newspapers

These places are often hard-up for writing help and would be thrilled to have you revamp their Web pages, cover the city council meeting, or write a play review. These are also all places that give you a real client you had to please, and who could give you a testimonial to impress future clients.

All of these types of first gigs are preferable to writing junk for content mills that will never impress a prospective client.

2. Not making your case properly.

Another problem new writers experience is that you’re pitching markets you have expertise for, but you don’t successfully convey that expertise. You want to flash your knowledge throughout your query letter or letter of introduction, starting right at the top.

Also, it pays to prospect locally, if you can — your nearness is another positive you can have going for you that a lot of the competition won’t.

Finally, count any writing experience you have, whether it’s from your blog, your day job, the college newspaper — anywhere.

Then put it all together into a pitch like this:

“As a freelance writer who had a 15-year career in financial services, I was intrigued by your new payment solution. I looked you up and saw you’re based right here in my town.

I noticed you’ve set up a blog, but that it hasn’t been updated in a few months. As it happens, I’ve been blogging for years. Would you be interested in having a freelance writer with a banking background keep that updated for you? I’d be happy to drop by and discuss it with you.”

Simple as that. Now, you’re not just any writer — and you’ll notice I said nothing about being a new writer, either. You’re simply the best writer for them, because you understand their industry and the type of writing they want, and you’re nearby.

3. No portfolio.

This is the problem that plagues every new writer. You need clips! If you don’t have any luck finding paying gigs right off, the best way to break this no-clips, no-job cycle is to do a little pro-bono work.

When I say that, I don’t mean you should sign up to give free samples to some website. You’ve got to do pro bono right — and that means a small, definable project for a good company or publication with a good reputation, where a clip from them will impress prospects. The scenario also has to include their never telling anyone you weren’t paid, and they’ve got to be willing to give you a testimonial and refer you business if they’re happy.

Put these three steps together, and you should be able to overcome objections to your newbie-writer status, build your portfolio, and start getting paying gigs.

What’s keeping you from getting gigs? Leave a comment and tell us about it.

Freelance writing success

3 Big Reasons Your Freelance Writing Dreams Go Nowhere

Posted in Blog on June 15th, 2014 by Carol Tice – 41 Comments

Freelance writer dreaming instead of doingMany people dream of becoming freelance writers. The problem is, that’s all most of them do — dream.

Somehow, the idea of becoming a paid writer never gets off the ground.

I find there are three major reasons why freelance writing dreams don’t come true.

You can spot all three reasons in this email I recently received, from a writer who’s been reading my blog for more than two years. This was sent in response to the news that I had a new class coming up:

“I’m not taking this class because I never took the last class I bought. But I refuse to give up hope that the day will come when I can make a living wage from writing. And the day will come that I actually make a plan and follow it, so that my puny dream can come true.”–Lois

These sort of letters make me real sad. This is not what I want to hear from writers who’re years into learning about freelance writing!

Did you spot the three problems here? Let me call them out.

1. No plan

When you have access to materials that could help you create a plan for launching your business, but you never use them, you’re not serious about this.

Action plans are what make dreams come true. Not pie-in-the-sky musings, not trying a bit of this and that. You need a concrete list of proven, doable steps that will bring you closer to your goal.

Many freelance writers I’ve met need help developing an action plan, because the freelance world is complex and multifaceted. Without a plan, it’s easy to gravitate to the Underworld of Freelance Writing and waste a lot of time writing quickie work for little pay.

One of the reasons many wannabe freelance writers lack an action plan is that this is not a one-size-fits-all sort of career. There isn’t one universally workable, best, fastest way to become a freelance writer. Your best moves will depend a lot on you — who you are, what you know, how much writing you’ve done, the sort of clients you want.

The freelance writers who launch successfully take the time to learn enough about this industry that they can create a business plan. It maps out where they want to go, and includes a marketing plan for how they’ll get there.

The freelance writers who don’t make progress are simply faking it along, trying this and that, and hoping to strike gold.

2. Stop the negative self-talk

I’m sure you picked up on the smacktalk attitude that permeates this writer’s message. “when I actually follow a plan…”

So here’s the thing: Sitting around beating yourself up about what you don’t know or haven’t taken action on yet is not going to help you take the plunge into the uncertain world of freelancing.

Negative self-talk is an epidemic among freelance writers. No matter how much we’ve accomplished, our focus seems to be on what we haven’t achieved.

This past week, I coached a successful freelance writer with years of experience writing for newspapers, regional magazines, and trade publications. She’s looking to move up to higher-paying national magazines, but confessed she “feels like a failure” because she’s only billing $2,000 a month.

I know hundreds of writers who’d kill to be in her shoes — to have a portfolio of legitimate clips and steady clients with good assignments, as opposed to content-mill junk. But all she could see was where she hadn’t made it to yet.

If you’re running yourself down about your shortcomings, it’s time to pop that tape out of your brain and install a new one. Create a ‘brag sheet’ of accomplishments you can refer to. Make a list of your strengths.

Whatever action you take to reprogram the negativity, know that there’s only one of you in this whole wide world. Appreciate that nobody else can write it like you — and that out there are clients who would probably love your help.

Instead of being your own worst critic, become your own biggest champion. Then, you’re ready to get out there and freelance.

3. Take your dreams seriously

What really smacked me in the face in this writer’s missive was the phrase “my puny dream.”

Honestly, that statement shocked me.

If you could only take one thing away from the more than 600 posts on this blog, I want it to be this: Your dreams are not puny.

They are huge.

What could possibly be more important than envisioning your ideal life and then striving to live it, in the precious few days you have on this planet?


It’s sad and cruel to belittle what you want most out of life.

It’s also a dodge to make it feel somehow OK that you’re not going after what you really want.

No matter how many sarcastic cracks you make, you know that deep down, your freelance writing dream is still there. That tug you feel in your gut is your soul, trying to pull you onto the road where you belong.

There’s really nothing you can do except either bear that pain, or get started.

What’s standing in the way of your freelance dreams? Leave a comment and let’s talk about it.

Freelance writing success


5 Signs a Freelance Writer Should Become an Agency

Posted in Blog on February 11th, 2014 by Carol Tice – 26 Comments

Freelance writer has hired a team to write for himIf you’ve been watching a lot of Mad Men, you might start to dream of expanding your freelance writing business into an agency. That show certainly makes working at an ad agency seem glamorous, no?

The agency model sounds alluring. You find clients, then sit back, let others do the work, give it a quick little edit, and boom — make a big cut of the fee.

Or at least that’s the dream, as expressed by this writer who recently wrote me looking for input on his plan:

“I’m starting a writing and editing business.  My business model is to outsource to trusted friends and people in my network who are willing to help.  They all have advanced degrees, are amazing writers, and are also subject-matter experts.

“Can you give me your take on outsourcing?”  -Evan

Sure, I can: Starting a freelance business from scratch with the idea that you will instantly be an agency is not going to work.

The agency model works when there is a high volume of projects, as 50 percent or more of the pay will be going to other people. The volume needs to be high enough that by taking a 30-70 percent markup on each gig, you can make a living.

Needing to charge more to cover both the writer’s fee and your own cuts the client pool down. You’ll need to find bigger companies, in general, with the budgets to pay these bigger fees.

Especially if you’re hiring your friends, it’s going to be hard to take a big markup, as you’ll want to pay them well.

To sum up this little math exercise, you might need three or four times as much work or more to make close to the living you would have if you simply wrote for a smaller stable of clients.

Why newbies can’t be an agency

The big problem is, when you first start out, it’s hard to find clients. Any clients. Much less good-paying ones.

It takes a lot of marketing hustle to get those first few clients. Then, it takes more time to find good-paying ones that have a steady stream of work.

Give up most of the income from your writing gigs at this point, and you won’t have much left.

That is not to say that writers should never switch to the agency model. Some have done so quite successfully.

How do you know it’s time to consider becoming an agency? Here are five clues:

1. You have too much work

You’ve built your freelance business and you’re working too many hours now. Or you’re turning down gigs and leaving money on the table…money you might keep some of if you hired subcontractors.

You have enough client volume that you could earn a better living keeping a percent of all that than you do turning down gigs and writing only the best ones yourself.

2. You love marketing & have a great rep

When you’re an agency, you have more mouths to feed. You can’t ever have downtime, or your stable of writers will drift away and possibly be unavailable the next time you need them.

You want to have enough contacts that tapping them will bring you a large volume of ongoing projects. Your network will want to send you clients because you’ve established your credibility as a freelance writer and have a great reputation.

Barring having an amazing network up your sleeve, you’ll need sharp marketing skills and an eagerness to devote many hours to marketing and finding clients.

3. You know many freelance writers

While the writer above imagines his business can run off the aid of his personal writer friends, that path is fraught with problems. Are you going to be able to tell your best friend the client hates their writing and the copy all needs to be rewritten? Do you think you can even be objective about your friends’ writing?

What you need as an agency head are professional contacts with lots of writers.

Remember that good writers are often fully booked. They may not be available when you need them, or at rates you can afford to pay as an agency.

4. You like managing people

This one is important. As an agency head, you won’t be writing. You’ll be shepherding projects.

Your job is to:

  • talk to the client and find out everything needed to do the gig
  • find and hire suitable writers
  • train them up on your needs and the writing needs of this client
  • keep them on track
  • call them when they blow their deadline
  • call another writer when that writer flakes out
  • stay up all night editing the late work to make deadline
  • explain to the client why their project is late

…and so on.

You are a manager. Do you communicate clearly? It’s important because now you’re playing telephone — often, you’re talking to the client and then telling the writer what they said. The writer has a question which you relay to the client, and then relay back the answer.

There is more opportunity for miscommunication than when you were writing for clients, so you need really stellar skills here.

5. You prefer editing to writing

Unless you hire an editor as well, you will be combing through your writers’ work and getting it in shape to be turned in to clients.

You might think that’ll be an easy gig due to your awesome writers, but don’t bet on it. You’d be surprised the junk even pro writers turn in on occasion.

There’s also the issue of changing client needs and priorities, where they assigned 1,000 words but they’ve decided last-minute they want 750. Guess who’s going to fix that? You.

Why I’m not an agency

As it happens, I’ve asked myself these questions, starting back in mid-2011. I’d built my freelance writing business so big that I had way more leads than I could handle myself. It’s great to be able to pick and choose your clients…but I’d reached a point where I was turn down some nice offers.

I scaled back on active marketing, but I was still turning away leads that came from my writer website and LinkedIn profile.

As I thought about it, I realized I’d been on the other end of this equation — I’d been a subcontractor for another writer who’d just gone to the agency model. Formerly a very successful corporate speechwriter, as an agency the man was a complete mental case, routinely screaming at and randomly firing some of his new ‘team’ almost every week.

Recalling how unhappy he was trying to manage my project convinced me becoming an agency was a stress nightmare I wanted to avoid.

I don’t enjoy managing people and editing as much as I enjoy writing, and most of the good writers I know wouldn’t want to write for lower-than-usual rates to be subcontractors.

It’s harder to get and keep good subs than the writer above imagines.

Instead, I focused on raising my rates and being selective about client projects as my route to higher pay. And I send my extra leads to the Freelance Writers Den job board.

Yes, I could keep those gigs and take a cut, but I believe the headaches would not be worth it.

Ever considered becoming an agency, or worked for another writer? Share your experience in the comments.



How to Boost Your Sagging Motivation for Writing

Posted in Blog on December 8th, 2013 by Carol Tice – 37 Comments

Tired young businesswoman falling asleep behind the deskYou’re all fired up to be a freelance writer — in theory, at least.

But sometimes, we all get the blahs. You stare at the blank screen or page…and nothing.

You’re willing to do almost anything else — if you just didn’t have to sit down and actually write anything.

It’s crazy, since supposedly this is the life you want.

But it still happens. You feel like a deflated balloon.

You’ve lost your inner drive to get the writing done.

For instance, here’s a comment we got recently inside Freelance Writers Den:

“I’m having trouble staying focused. I don’t have a lot of time to write because we’re getting ready to move in 10 days and I have a toddler at home.

“But even when I have time, I find my thoughts wandering to everything else but writing. Then, I end up Googling unrelated stuff, playing Candy Crush Saga, or reading everyone’s Facebook posts.

“I’m normally great about staying focused, so this is really frustrating to me. Any suggestions for how I can get my focus back?”–Andrea

Like I said, it happens. So what’s the solution?

To find out, this writer needs to ask a few important questions to figure out how to kill the malaise and rediscover their love of writing. Here are some basic issues I’d look at:

Are you too tired?

Lack of sleep is the quickest creativity killer out there. Stop staying up late doing online chat or playing Bejeweled (talking to myself there) and map out eight or more hours for rest.

As someone who often tries to get by on six and a half and who recently slept 10 hours one vacation evening, I can tell you it will make a difference.

Got enough child care?

I’ve discovered that many writer-moms have fantasies about how much writing they can get done while also doing child care. Because really, you will get little writing done– and the whole time you’ll feel like an evil giant has a hand on either side of your brain and is trying to tear it in half.

And the amount of marketing will probably be zero.

Whether you try a babysitting co-op, do a swap with another WAHM, hire a sitter, pay for more child care programs, or get hubby to shoulder more kiddie time, the bottom line is the same: You will be amazed at how productivity soars once you can actually think for five minutes without someone who needs feeding/changing/reading/holding/singing/bathing/your every waking moment of attention.

Unrealistic expectations?

Whether it’s imagining you’ll crank out articles while tending three kids under age four, while packing moving boxes, or after you get home from a day job, writers tend to be over-ambitious in imagining what can get done.

Then, when we fall short of our high standards, we get depressed and want to write even less.

So get real about how much time you’ve got for writing and what you can accomplish within it. Then, start scheming about how to get yourself more writing time so that you can check off more from your list.


The number-one thing new freelance writers tell me is that they look at all the things they should be doing and all the options in the freelancing marketplace, and feel totally overwhelmed.

If this is you, it’s time to put on the blinders, screen out most of what’s going on, and focus.

What do you want to do most? What resonates for you as a type of writing you would do well?

Too many writers try to write all different kinds of things and in every industry…but being a generalist is a ticket to nowhere. Think about your interests, life experience, and past jobs, and take the easy road by writing in subjects you know. You’ll find good clients more easily and move up quicker.


Sometimes the sudden lack of writing motivation comes because you’re burned out. You’ve just been clocking too many hours, and the creative well is dry. The fun has gone out of writing.

If so, it may be time to see if there’s a low-paying client you could drop to give you a break.

Not eating right?

There’s a stereotype of freelancers sitting home guzzling coffee by the gallon and munching ice cream or Doritos all day while they work…because it’s easy for freelancers to get into bad eating habits, home alone all day with the fridge like we are.

And many of us get on deadlines, get stressed, and start inhaling whole candy bars instead of nibble carrots. I wonder how I know that…

Anyway. If your energy is low, try eating to nourish your body. Banish the junk food, don’t over-caffeinate, and take in lots of fresh fruits and veggies. You may find the ideas start perking again pretty quick.

Don’t have a home office?

If you don’t have a comfortable space that’s set up for writing, it can hit your productivity. You never feel quite ready to do the writing. I have one writer friend who tries to write while parked on her couch in the TV room amidst eight other activities, and it’s a disaster.

See what you can do to find a dedicated space that’s all yours for writing. Even if it’s an alcove in the dining room. I know one writer with a small home and many kids who rented a room in a friend’s house and headed down the street for writing time. Which brings us to…

Tired of your home office?

Sometimes working from home can become a rut. There are no coworkers. Some people find that deadly dull and unstimulating.

Consider writing from a park, a coffeeshop, a co-working office. Change up the routine and see if that doesn’t shake a few writing ideas loose.

Doing writing you don’t enjoy?

Finally, sometimes the lack of writing energy relates to the type of writing gigs you’ve taken on. Maybe you’ve written all the blog posts about surety bonds you can reasonably do, and it’s time to find new clients.

Recognize if your mix of writing assignments is wearing you down and head the problem off before a client fires you. Maybe some creative writing of your own can provide balance, or it may be time to do more marketing and switch to new paid writing gigs.

Whatever the root cause of the motivation slump, rest assured — every writer has fallow times. And they will end.

How do you get your writing mojo back? Leave a comment with your tips.