Do you feel overwhelmed by all the competition out there for freelance writers?
I recently got an email from a writer who told me she was frantic to find a niche where she could somehow be noticed despite all the “entrenched” writers who would be nearly impossible to beat.
Actually, it’s not like that.
Mediocrity is the norm in much of the freelance-writing world, and there’s plenty of opportunity to stand out. If you don’t believe me, go to your Chamber of Commerce, get a copy of all the brochures out of the display, and go home and read them all. You’ll see they’re not all exactly Shakespeare.
Besides simply writing competently — which in itself can make you stand out in some industries — what else can you do? Here are my top five favorite easy ways to win clients over:
1. Don’t be a flake
I wish I had a dime for every writer who told me they got an editor’s feedback on a story with some edit requests, or they got a request to pitch an editor — and then they freaked out and never sent anything back. Just walked away from the opportunity. Because I’d be retired now and not needing to write this blog post.
Why do writers do these things to themselves? I don’t know, but it means you can win points by simply being responsive.
Tell you a scary story about this point — I recommended a colleague once not long ago, whom I’d happily worked with on a previous gig, to a prospect I didn’t have time to take on. I knew her writing and interviewing skills were great, so I didn’t have any hesitation about passing her name on.
Unfortunately, the client got back to me later to share that after many delays, this writer had totally flaked out on him. She never turned in the assignment! He ended up having to change his whole project around because time ran out and her piece had to be scrapped.
Of course, I was mortified to hear someone I referred let a client down. And you know I’m never recommending her again.
You’ll be amazed how far simply being reliable can take you in the freelance-writing biz. Because a lot of writers are busy being artistes and blowing their deadlines.
2. Proof your work
I know — you’re thinking, “Doesn’t everybody?” No. They don’t.
You’d be surprised how many writers think the first thing they jot down should be turned in, or emailed off to an editor as a pitch. If you’re bad at proofing, try to swap some writing with a friend and get them to catch your typos.
Well-proofed work makes editors less suspicious that your article is sloppily researched and reported. Instead, they’ll think you’re brilliant.
3. Don’t be a diva
Writers who’re used to writing on their own blog or their novel have a tendency to fall in love with their words.
This emotion has no place in the world of freelance writing. Here, you write to please a client. Whatever they want is what you need to deliver.
After they hate your first draft and want 20 things different in it, the correct response is, “Sure thing.” Not a big snarky tantrum about how they’re killing your precious prose.
Also don’t be a boundary-pusher, always asking for more time or a cover byline. Just do you work well, and you will be rewarded.
4. Don’t be a basket case
Mentoring 1,000+ writers in my Freelance Writers Den community has taught me this: A great many of us are a tad on the mentally fragile side.
Look at a writer sideways, and often, they implode. One rough week with an annoying client, and they’re ready to pack it in. One rejection letter, and they’re devastated.
For instance, here are a couple of emails I recently got about rejected queries:
“Just got my first rejection and am heartbroken. I feel really bad, but know I should just man-up and carry on. I worked really hard on my pieces.
“How long did it take before you could just take it on the chin? This feels terrible, but I don’t want to waste time mourning.”–Michelle
“If a fairly large, local consumer magazine responds to a query with a note saying that they don’t see a place for the story in their mag but good luck placing it elsewhere, is it safe to assume it was a decent query, or is it typical for editors to send out generic rejections like that?
“It’s my first real attempt at getting into a consumer magazine, and I’m feeling despondent about the reply I got (after 2.5 weeks).”–Talia
As a freelance writer, you can’t do this to yourself. You can’t sit counting the days until you get a response from an editor. And you can’t fall apart every time you have a setback.
You also can’t waste time trying to read the tea leaves in a rejection letter to suss out what the editor’s secret meanings might be. You’ll never really know.
The correct response to a query rejection is to continue on immediately, as if nothing has happened. Ideally, you did that the moment you pressed ‘send’ on the query, and have another dozen queries out by the time you hear that ‘no,’ so it isn’t your whole world crumbling that this didn’t work out.
This is business, and you need to be mentally tough, deal with disappointment fast, and keep right on marketing. Learn more about writing queries, too. Michelle sounds like maybe she was sending in completed articles instead of writing a query, which generally gets poorer results.
If you don’t need a month off to second-guess yourself or to mourn that one single query letter wasn’t accepted, you’ll be able to get a lot more work done that could find you clients.
5. Up your skills
At this point, there are plenty of writers who can write a blog post, or a short article. The question is, what else do you know how to write that commands higher rates?
If the answer is nothing, think about learning a specialized area — how to write case studies or annual reports, for instance. I’ve done both and they pay great.
Or hit the motherlode of reliable, great pay and learn how to write a sales page. Clients will always pay well for writing when they can see it directly results in more sales and income for their business.
Maybe this one is a bit less easy than the other four tips I’ve listed, and might cost a few bucks. But investing in your business is a major way to move yourself out of the mass of starving writers and create a viable niche for your freelance writing business.
How do you stand out as a freelance writer? Leave a comment and share your approach.