These Pro Rules Will Help Even Part-Time Freelancers Earn More

Freelance writer works at home with babyIt’s only been a couple of years since I decided to start freelance writing to supplement my full-time income. I have a degree in writing, so I figured I’d put that degree to work.

What I quickly learned was that my degree meant nothing in the freelance world.

After half a year with no prospects, I decided to seek out successful freelancers and learn from them.

Here are the five most useful freelance rules I learned:

 

There are many ways to do this thing

No one has found a singular path to a freelance writing career, but successful freelancers have paved the way for those that come behind them.

By following the blueprint specifically geared toward part-time freelancers in Linda Formichelli’s Write Your Way Out of the Rat Race, I’ve been able to create an actionable plan to help me organize and really put my spare time to work.

Because I’m limited on time, adhering to a schedule is really important. If I’m taking a class, I do my best to dedicate a couple of hours a day to this. I also dedicate one day a week to devote a couple of hours after work to marketing. I choose another day for coming up with ideas and another for research/interviews. I schedule the same days and times for these activities to establish a routine.

Consistency is key

I learned that I had to remain consistent in my marketing and pitching before the gigs started coming in. I carve out specific times for marketing, pitching, and writing.

Last year, with no plan, I had only two writing gigs. This year, I lined up seven gigs.

Keep learning and improving

Since I spent an entire college career learning how to write, I thought it wasn’t necessary for me to take any more classes or trainings. I was wrong.

There are so many different opportunities for a freelance writer, and not all of it is taught in a classroom. I recently enrolled in the Article Writing Masterclass, because I want to write for magazines. I’ve learned how to dissect a magazine’s content and how to write headlines.

These skills have provided me with the tools I need to figure out exactly what a publication is looking for (definitely didn’t learn that one in the classroom).

Be informed

Don’t pitch blindly, or contact an editor before you’ve done your homework. I learned the hard way that pitching blind could not only ruin my chances at an assignment, but could also ruin my reputation with that publication.

Editors know whether you’ve done your homework or not, and the chance to pitch that publication later on may be ruined. Patience and the willingness to research are essential in this business.

Don’t settle

Content mills and low-paying gigs will not give you the freelancer’s life you’re looking for.

When I first started this journey, I was writing for a publication that paid 5 cents a word. They wanted heavily researched articles for very little money. Listening to freelancers with experience taught me that these gigs weren’t going to bring me the income I was looking for.

I decided to drop that job and focus my time on finding clients who were willing to pay well. I’m currently working on an article for a print publication that’s paying me 60 cents a word. Now, that’s better.

What have you learned from successful freelancers? Tell us in the comments below.

P.S. Do you write for content mills? Take my survey about that, and I’ll send you a free e-book.

Nicole Slaughter-Graham is a part-time freelance writer who hopes to make the jump to full-time freelancer in the near future. She also blogs about her love for reading and literature at Many Hats.

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32 comments on “These Pro Rules Will Help Even Part-Time Freelancers Earn More
  1. Rue says:

    Nice post, Nicole. You have some great points here.

    The challenging part is that I know that freelancing will always (hopefully) be a part time job for me. My main aspiration is to continue touring, and to have additional part time income that I can take on the road with me. A ‘kick in the ass’ would be well advised for anyone who wants to make a full-time living being a freelance writer. But for those of us who see freelance writing as an excellent way to make part time income while primarily focusing on other aspirations, it’s not so easy to think of all the marketing that must be done when the end goal is to make an extra few hundred dollars a week with a job that can be done remotely.

    With all the work that needs to be done with my other projects, I cannot imagine devoting more than 6-8 hours a day on marketing and writing. Is this feasible? I’ve been looking into SEO writing.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Rue, if all you need is to make a few hundred bucks on the side, you shouldn’t have to do so much marketing.

      SEO writing is a dying niche, thanks to Google algorithm changes, and it’s very low-paid, FYI.

  2. Pimion says:

    Nicole, thank you for this great post! All your tips are helpful, still the one that resonates with my thoughts the most is about constant learning and improving. You should never stop in rapidly changing world of freelance writing – learn, learn, learn.

  3. Hi Nicole ,
    This is first time I am visiting your sites , Actually i was searching on freelance writers and here i step in to your post .
    I really liked the way you have written this post.

    Yes , true that consistency is the key, but we must forget about learning.
    I think for me keep learning is the key. I think every person is learning each every moment of his life, no one is perfect in any field
    Like writers must know what is latest trend , as freelancer he must understand his audience . This is nothing but learning.

    Perfect pitching can give you good positive response.

    Thanks for sharing this informative post with us.
    Pritam Nagrale recently posted…Different & Interesting Ways to Make Money as a Travel WriterMy Profile

    • Nicole Slaughter-Graham says:

      I agree, Pritam. Learning is so important. With the ever-changing technology, rules and resources, learning is key.

  4. Laurie Stone says:

    What I love about writing is you never stop learning. Its a lifetime commitment and scheduling work is a big part of effectiveness. I’m always tweaking here and there to get the most bang for the buck. That never ends either! Thanks for the post.
    Laurie Stone recently posted…The 6 Most Shocking Things about Having Adult Sons…My Profile

  5. Daryl says:

    Hey Nicole,

    I really love your advice. I only wish your “Consistency is Key” could be put in bigger font, highlighted, and centered. It’s wayyyy too easy to start and stop, but if you’re going to be truly successful,you need to put in for the long haul and dedicate yourself daily.
    Daryl recently posted…No Gigs, No Problem – How to Make Money From Your Freelance Blog Without Freelance Writing ClientsMy Profile

  6. Evan Jensen says:

    Hi Nicole,
    Thanks for sharing your story and tips to build a freelance business working part-time. I’ve had some good wins pitching and sending LOIs, but have a hard time doing this consistently. How did you get past “shirking phase”?

    • Nicole Slaughter- Graham says:

      Hi Evan,

      The realization that I wanted to freelance for a living made the difference. It was when I decided that I wanted this to be my job that I was able to set myself a schedule. I go to work from 8 AM to 5 PM. I knew I wanted to freelance, but I thought I could just do it whenever I felt like it. Wrong. I had to be willing to carve out specific hours for freelance writing in order to make any headway.
      Once I came to this realization, it became clear to me that I had to make a schedule. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. My 8-5 is easy because the schedule is provided for me. It really takes some discipline to sit down and make my own schedule to write and market and pitch– and I think that’s what it comes down to- discipline.

  7. Heather says:

    Great advice. Creating a schedule is, I think, the key. I also wondered whether you lined up any free gigs to use as clips when you first started out? I am right at the beginning of my freelance writing career and have a couple lined up – but definitely don’t want to overdo it.

    I definitely need to get more disciplined when it comes to organizing my work though. Thanks for the post.
    Heather recently posted…The number 1 way to find your perfect careerMy Profile

    • Nicole Slaughter-Graham says:

      Hi Heather,

      Yes, I did do some free work when I first started out to build a portfolio. All of my work on the Lifehack website and for USA Today College (which you can view by clicking the link in my byline) was free, but it was great exposure. I started getting into freelance writing when I was in college, but I was a non-traditional student– older with a family and full-time job– so I had limited time to devote to marketing and pitching. Writing for Lifehack and USA Today College provided me with some clips that have really made a difference.

      I did quite a few of those articles because they were fun for me. I don’t think its necessary to do as many free articles as I did when starting out, though. I’ve heard countless stories of people just starting out getting paid gigs out the gate. It’s kind of a “what works best for you” situation.

      And, yes! I cannot stress enough how much setting a schedule has helped me

      -Nicole

    • Be careful: content mills (and more than a tiny handful of outright plagiarizers) love to present themselves as “the perfect opportunity to build up clips/exposure.” Anyone can get “published” in the sense of putting one’s work online for the public to read; but you can’t put it “any old place” and expect to impress anybody that way. Look for a well-known site that specializes in your own niche(s) and is regularly referenced by your existing and target clients–easy enough to pinpoint by following their social media activity. I have a mental-health niche so I write for PsychCentral.com and the National Alliance on Mental Illness–and post links to those clips on my website.

      Speaking of social media, I know several people who have gotten good results through the article-writing “Post” feature on LinkedIn and other social sites; be sure not to leave that section of your profile completely empty.
      Katherine Swarts recently posted…Seven Deadly Sins of Self-AbuseMy Profile

      • Nicole Slaughter-Graham says:

        Agreed, Katherine. I recommend that as well. Site like USA Today have a great reputation, and I got practice on pitching and signing agreements by writing for their college section on the site. I can also link back to them on my site, which is great.

  8. Holly Bowne says:

    Nice post, Nicole. All your points are great! But I particularly relate to your message of keeping a schedule and maintaining consistency. I’ve recently begun doing this–creating more of a “set process” regarding my marketing and writing each week. And even though it’s only been about a month, I’m already starting to see a difference.

    • Nicole Slaughter- Graham says:

      Agreed! Setting up a process really has made all the difference. I shirked it for a while, but the more I do it, the better I become at it– and the more work I get.

  9. Rob S says:

    5 cents a word is pretty good compared to what I got when I started out on bidding sites. That’s not to say it’s enough. It’s not. 10 cents isn’t really enough. Even if you knock out 500 words in half an hour, you have to factor all the other things you have to do as part of your business. Electricians in Australia have call out rates to compensate for the driving time it takes to get to a small job that might take only half an hour to complete. Although they’re only “working” half an hour, the job really takes two hours when you factor everything in.

    I still write for around 20 cents a word for some steady clients, but I get scheduled assignments from them and don’t have to chase the next gig. Since I write for them regularly, I know what they want and everything goes quickly.
    Rob S recently posted…On Writing a Spiritual MemoirMy Profile

  10. Brian Spare says:

    Hey Carol I resonate with your 5 Pro Rules.Fortunately I have had the sense to stay away from content mills but think I was never tempted. I have a modest income that keeps me going and I write regularly for a local magazine that that pays well for a publication of its kind but no where what Forbes pays. Still I am learning loads about article writing and maybe that is worth more than money. I am working hard at becoming a successful author but my goal for some time now is to become a successful freelance copywriter.
    Brian Spare recently posted…Time For A New DirectionMy Profile

    • Side thought spurred by this comment’s starting with “Hey Carol”: Would you consider giving guest posters a byline right after the post title? I also get confused when I start reading a post under the assumption Carol wrote it herself, then come across a statement (e.g., “I have a degree in writing”) that makes it clear the writer was someone else–and I still don’t know who until I reach post’s end.
      Katherine Swarts recently posted…Seven Deadly Sins of Self-AbuseMy Profile

  11. Harris says:

    Great article! This comes in really useful to me as a part-time freelancer myself. I guess what’s most important is the discipline and consistency – have a plan in mind and stick to it. Good things will happen!

    • Agreed! I found that consistency has been my greatest asset in this thing

    • Nicole Slaughter-Graham says:

      That’s right! Just stick to it. Consistency has made all the difference for me this year. It really is a numbers game, which is something I’ve learned from both Carol and the author of Writing Your Way Out of the Rat Race, Linda.

  12. Bob Bales says:

    I am pretty new to the Freelance writing field and I agree with your statement about companies wanting to pay miniscule fees. I continually see ads stating experienced writer needs to have 3 years experience, degree in journalism, submit articles needing no editing, well researched, ability to write in AP style, capable of meeting deadlines and can produce 5 articles a week, minimum word count 1500. Will pay $10.00 per article.
    Bob Bales recently posted…Travel Apps You Should Be UsingMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Bob, when you see those ads, the thing to do is…ignore them.

      Even better, stop looking at ads. Most good-paying clients don’t find writers through ads, but through referrals, and from being approached by talented writers.

      • Rossana says:

        Hi Carol. Love your work and advice. I recently submitted my first personal essay that I thought was well written and it was rejected! It was a political essay and when I queried the editor and gave him the title he said to send it over and was looking forward to reading it. I was so sad about it!! Anyway, is it ok to ask the editor for feedback because I would like to know why they did not like it? They probably wouldn’t respond anyway. What do you say?

    • Nicole Slaughter-Graham says:

      Agreed, Bob. I’ve found that researching publications and pitching generate the best income for me. The postings just don’t bring it in.

      • Hi Nicole

        Can you expound on “researching publications”

        • Nicole Slaughter-Graham says:

          Hi Julia,

          I’m happy to. “Researching publications” is something I learned in the Pitch Clinic class that Carol offers. I pick out publications that I think I might want to write for, and I comb through them. I take a look at everything from the titles of their sections to their headlines and even look at the ads they post. This gives me a feel for what the publication likes to publish.

          If I have an idea that I’m working up, I then research what kind of publications I think might be interested in them. For instance, I just worked on an idea about nonprofits the help vets, and then I went online and searched out publications the publish stories about vets. I looked at the websites and the magazines (if available online) for each publication to figure out which one would best fit my idea.

          After this research is done, and I feel like I have a match, I attempt to find an editor to contact whether it be through the website of the magazine, LinkedIn, or a good ole google search.

          I hope this helps!

          -Nicole

    • If journalism schools taught even a little about the realities of business freelancing, no writer who fit that qualification list would be desperate enough to answer that ad. Probably their “3 years experience” is all content mills too, or at best volunteer work for groups and nonprofits who never think of paying writers.
      Katherine Swarts recently posted…Seven Deadly Sins of Self-AbuseMy Profile

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