The 3 Natural Laws of Freelance Writing — Understand These to Earn More

tall treesIn everything we undertake in life, some basic rules apply. Freelance writing is no exception.

The freelance universe functions under certain principles, just like the big universe in which we live.

I tend to think of these as natural laws of freelancing, sort of like Newton’s laws of motion.

Understand these rules, and it will be easier for you to create the freelance writing career you want.

Ignore them, and you’ll find yourself banging your head against the wall.

I’ve often mentioned these to my mentoring clients…but never pulled them together into one handy reference guide.

So here they are:

Three Freelance Writing Laws

1. Writing work of one kind tends to lead to more work of that same kind, from similar clients and at a similar pay rate.

If you’re writing articles for $10 about pet food, it’s unlikely you will be able to parlay that into writing $1500 case studies about financial services. Likewise, writing articles for the local paper won’t easily get you a gig writing direct mail copy for a Fortune 500 corporation.

Choose your writing niches and clients carefully, because like tends to beget like, both in topic and client quality. It’ll be easier to move up from lower-paying finance articles to higher, or to move from finance to general business…but huge leaps are difficult because they are against the natural order.

2. Getting rid of a problem client creates a vacuum which naturally attracts a new and better client.

If you stay fully booked with crummy, low-paying clients, it seems like you never can find a good one. Fire your lowest payer and use that time to do a little proactive marketing, and bingo — very often, a better client will appear almost immediately.

3. The way you treat clients will return to you, in similar treatment you receive from future clients.

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, Newton said. Others would call it the law of karma. But I’ve never seen it fail.

Be a stone pro and always be courteous, prompt, and helpful to clients, and those people will refer you other great clients. Be sloppy, late, or rude when you have a nightmare client, and you will find yourself with more substandard clients.

What other laws do you think govern freelancing? Leave a comment and tell us how you think it works.

 

PS — I’m back because I realized I left out another one of my favorite natural laws of freelancing: “Writing assignments tend to expand to fill all the available time.” Get more booked up and you’ll be amazed at how much more efficient you get.

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29 comments on “The 3 Natural Laws of Freelance Writing — Understand These to Earn More
  1. Hi Carol,
    My name is Lavanya, and I am a writer based out of India. I made the mistake of starting out by writing for content mills, an experience that I will, sadly, never forget. I am now looking for websites that pay better, since I am still a student and cannot work full time.

    I just wanted to ask whether you have some in mind. Additionally, could you please tell me how to market myself effectively? What kind of websites should I target? (I am interested in writing ebooks, or travel articles. I can also work on customer case studies). How do I keep my morale up?
    Lavanya Singh recently posted…On Being Jobless and LovelessMy Profile

  2. Anne Grant says:

    The Balloon Law: When you get a new client, especially a really big fish, don’t tell them every feature and benefit right away. They get overwhelmed with the barrage of information. Give them enough to stay interested or lead them to take the next step, letting a little air out of the balloon at a time.
    (I get sorta excited–I have been known to bust the balloon and scare them away, so I am quite familiar with this one…and the “fine” I pay when I break it.)

  3. Anne says:

    In terms of payment, you can always ask for a pay rise and say you’ll do something extra for the client. It doesn’t have to take you a lot of extra time, but if you know your client well, and you know what he/she needs, you can easily provide this additional need, for an additional fee (a pay rise – in effect).
    Anne recently posted…Can You Write For Young Kids?My Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      I think we call that upselling.

      But you suggest another great law of freelancing: “It is always easier to get more work from an existing client than it is to find a new client.”

  4. Almost spookily true! While I’ve managed to get out of the $10/500 words rut, I seem to be getting typecast as a home improvements writer. As for point 2, I recently decided to phase out a travel site because they asked me to write about an area where significant travel expenses would be involved, but wouldn’t pay them (the original agreement was to write about my area only). 2 days later, I was asked to double my output for another client. Point 3 – 3 of my best clients are ones that carried over from Elance. They all were happy to pay my drastically increased rates (quadruple) and I’m even getting paid hourly for editing and doing some backend work for them. I like to think it’s because I gave them my best efforts even when I was asking for so little. Note that I asked for those low rates. Is that another natural law? You get what you ask for or something like that?
    Rob Schneider recently posted…Does anyone really understand SEO now?My Profile

  5. Ally says:

    How about the Law of Right Fit or something like that? Basically, that if you keep your schedule full of projects and clients who aren’t good fits for you (personality-wise, your business model, your goals, whatever) then you’ll necessarily end up turning away clients/projects that ARE a good fit. One only has so much room in the schedule, so don’t be too quick to just fill it up with anything that comes along, or you’ll find yourself still scrambling for an income years down the road instead of building the kind of portfolio/business you really want.
    Ally recently posted…Q: How do we ask a disrespectful member to leave our writing group?My Profile

  6. Amandah says:

    Sounds like Deepak Chopra’s “The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success.” 🙂

    I think the law of giving and receiving governs freelancing. Give back to your community by volunteering your freelance writing services to a non-profit that could use your writing expertise. If you also do graphic design, web design, or social media, offer these services too. You’ll build up karma; it will come back to you.

    I also think the law of detachment governs freelancing. Don’t obsess over getting clients; you’ll push them away from you. Detach and let go. If a particular client doesn’t choose your writing services, another one will. It’s not the end of the world.
    Amandah recently posted…A Simple Plan to Avoiding Cancer of CommunicationMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Great additions to the list, Amandah — I think the detachment one is BIG. Way too much fretting about whether a gig is happening or a client likes you or whether you should send a query or not. It’s just BIZness. Just DO it.

  7. This is positively precious information in many areas of life. I can apply it so much, so thank you! I tend to under value my expertise and my work and then get stuck in that arena. I am posting these 3 laws or some variation thereof wherever I need to see them!

  8. Erica says:

    Here’s another one: What you do today will either help you or hurt you tomorrow.

    Basically, the marketing efforts you do today are steps towards bringing you clients. The projects you do today build the portfolio you’ll show tomorrow. (Seriously, you just never know what will come in handy.) The website and blog you took the time to build? Look for the relief on your clients’ faces when they can just point and click to get there. You look like a pro. (This happened to me Friday—not kidding.)

    Sit on your butt and wait for the phone to ring? Enjoy the Ramen noodles. When you can afford ’em.
    Erica recently posted…Cleaning out the Cobwebs, Moving FowardMy Profile

    • Erica

      I guess an alternative name for this law would be: ‘Do nothing and nothing will happen’.

      That’s yet another theme for a blog post, I suppose.
      Kevin Carlton recently posted…7 reasons why you’ll want CommentLuv on your WordPress blogMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Erica — love your new avatar, natch!

      Speaking as a fellow cartoon… 😉 I love “the projects you do today build the portfolio you show tomorrow.”

      So many writers are cranking out 100s of $5 content mill articles, never realizing the big problem — they don’t create useful clips! And your portfolio remains empty. Have worked with SO many writers with years of mill work and essentially nothing to show from it that builds their career…makes me so sad.

      Better to stock grocery shelves at night for a few months while you do pro bono samples and then be able to get real paying clients, in my view.

      • Erica says:

        Thanks Carol — I drew her by hand and a graphic designer friend made her computer-friendly. I love my little ducky. 🙂

        I completely agree. I’d rather work at a pet supply store or cell phone kiosk and build quality pieces on my free time than bust my tail cranking out stuff I couldn’t possibly show. I got lucky. I had a portfolio ready when I left the corporate copywriting world.The more I read your blog, the more thankful I am that I sidestepped the content mills. I had no idea content mills existed. Now I know to avoid them. Thank you.
        Erica recently posted…Cleaning out the Cobwebs, Moving FowardMy Profile

  9. Lisa Baker says:

    Love this. It appeals to my inner geek as well as my writer self. 🙂

    One question: what is a “stone pro”? If that’s not a typo, then I really need to know how to be one! It’s an intriguing phrase…
    Lisa Baker recently posted…5 toxins to fear in your non-organic nurseryMy Profile

  10. The more you market, the more successful you’ll be.

    And the more you sit around waiting for clients to discover your website, the poorer you’ll be.
    M. Sharon Baker recently posted…How a Service Firm Tackles Content Marketing: First Step – Rewriting Web PagesMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Love it…so what shall we name this law? “Freelance wealth increases in direct proportion to the amount of time devoted to marketing.” ?

      • Ally says:

        I like that, but would tweak it to be a little more specific in that freelance wealth increases in direct proportion to the amount of *targeted* marketing one does. Every book I read on the subject of marketing and of business success (not to mention all the trainings I’ve done) emphasizes that it’s far better to focus on just a few marketing tactics that are giving you results than just throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks or getting distracted by all the “shoulds” out there that may not actually have a good ROI for you and your unique situation or business. Makes a lot of sense to me.

        Probably intersects with Kevin’s “quantum” theory of conversion 😉
        Ally recently posted…Q: How do we ask a disrespectful member to leave our writing group?My Profile

  11. Carol, a post after my own heart if ever there were one.

    You may have even noticed in my own comments on your blog that I really love putting laws and theories to everything. They really are a great way of visualizing and assimilating what’s going on in your own freelance career (or indeed anything else).

    And, yep, I do have another one in mind right now. It’s kinda called ‘The quantum theory of conversion’.

    Now quantum mechanics may sound rather heavy, but the idea behind the above theory is actually fairly simple.

    I don’t want to go into too much detail here. But the underlying idea is that putting in a little bit of effort into lots of different things is far less effective than putting a lot of effort into just a few.

    Love to explain where the quantum bit comes in. Maybe I should pitch a guest post about it or something.
    Kevin Carlton recently posted…7 reasons why you’ll want CommentLuv on your WordPress blogMy Profile