“You don’t know what you don’t know.” Not exactly the most mind-blowing piece of advice when you’re trying to go from broke to well-paid professional writer.
This quote frustrates me every time I hear it—of course you don’t know what you don’t know.
As a newbie writer, I spent way too much time making mistakes, working for low rates, and racking my brain trying to figure out how to find well-paying clients. I didn’t know.
Fortunately, I’ve learned a lot from the school of hard knocks and other professional writers. And I thought it was about time to give that tired quote a makeover for up-and-coming freelancers:
“Here’s what you don’t know, that I do. Learn from me, and you’ll be ahead of the game.”
Ready for some mind-blowing epiphanies about being a professional writer? Here are 11 things you need to know:
1. You need to know your hourly rate
Why? $25 an hour as a freelancer isn’t the same as a day job that pays $25 an hour. “If you aren’t going to make a lot of money, just get a job.” That’s counsel from my self-employed dad.
Here’s why that’s great advice:
- Uncle Sam takes around 33 percent of every sale you make for taxes.
- On top of that, you won’t be paid for the time you spend marketing yourself and communicating with would-be clients.
- Plus, you’re responsible for providing your own benefits. So, if you’re going to do this freelance writing thing, then charge professional rates.
2. Your work IS valuable
If you’re used to writing for text brokers or unscrupulous marketing agencies, then your pricing confidence is probably in the toilet.
Don’t feel bad charging clients 10x those mill rates. Your writing services will boost clients’ sales and save them money. How? By lessening their need for more expensive forms of advertising.
Here’s an example: River Pools, a swimming pool company in Virginia, sunk $25,000 into creating a new blog. But they saved $225,000 because that blog replaced costly radio and TV ads.
3. A writing community will help you improve
The more you interact with other professional writers who charge pro rates, the more you’ll learn to do the same. And most are more than willing to cheer you on and give encouragement when you hit a wall.
It’s one of the reasons Carol Tice created the Freelance Writers Den.
4. Job boards should be springboards, not crutches
There’s a right way and a wrong way to use job boards. The wrong way is to use them forever. FYI – the best writing gigs won’t be listed in a public post available to hundreds or thousands of writers.
- Find your first client or two from a site like problogger.com, or the Junk Free Job Board inside the Freelance Writers Den, then move away from job ads and market yourself.
5. The best gigs come from proactive marketing
The Well-Fed Writer Peter Bowerman put it to me like this:
“If you’re committed to sitting on your rear and bidding on projects, then, income-wise, writing will never be more than a hobby. If you want to make money, you have to proactively reach out to clients.”
- It’s a simple formula. The more you put yourself out there and market your services, the more leads and well-paid assignments you’re going to get.
6. Query letters and LOIs are your bread and butter
If you want to be a well-paid professional writer, these two things are the bread and butter of landing assignments:
- Query letters. Learning to write a query and pitch a story idea is the foundation for landing the kind of magazine assignments that pay $1/word.
- LOIs (letters of introduction). Reach out to prospects and introduce yourself and your writing services with a letter of introduction. It’s one of the best ways to get a conversation started with a prospect about their writing and content needs, and book some work.
7. Don’t take silence personally
Whether you’re pitching ideas to editors or sending LOI’s to companies, you won’t always get an immediate response.
Why? Editors, CEO’s and small business owners are busy. Their silence isn’t a sign you should call it quits. Some will get back to you, some won’t.
- The key is to pitch an idea or introduce a service then move on. Rinse, repeat.
8. You can’t always hide behind your computer
Gathering interviews and building client relationships requires real conversations with real people. So, get good at phone calls and video chats. People need to hear your voice and see your face.
9. Mistakes won’t kill your career unless you let them
Everyone makes mistakes. You’ll learn more from one mistake than a thousand successes. So, don’t let your mistakes defeat you.
For example, Freelance Writers Den member Jennifer Theuriet recently sent out a well-written LOI (with a typo) to a rising company in bootcamp-style fitness classes. And that typo didn’t even matter. She got a quick response and set up an interview.
10. Be a writer, not a waiter
It’s advice Carol Tice frequently dishes out about taking action instead of waiting around hoping for rainbows, unicorns, and well-paid writing assignments.
But I know what it’s like when you’re starting out. It’s easy to get caught in the trap of studying the art and ignoring the work.
Here’s a piece of advice: Study less, write more.
11. You’re ready to be a professional writer now
The only way you’re going to know what it’s like to be a professional writer is to be one. So, go. Put yourself out there. And get started.
From broke newbie to professional writer
If you want to go from broke newbie to professional writer like I did, save yourself some time and headaches. These mind-blowing epiphanies changed the way I think about being a professional writer to help me move up and earn more.
Holly Hughes-Barnes help businesses and publications speak to other women like her. She specializes in writing articles, blog posts, and case studies that build authority and rapport.