How I Became A Freelance Writer Again: 7 Steps to Earning Big

How to Find Success as a Freelance WriterEarlier this week I related the story of how I first blundered into my career in freelance writing. I eventually used my freelance clips to get a full-time, staff-writer job at a trade publication.

I worked there for five years, then at a business weekly here in Seattle for another six and a half. But after all the editors who’d hired me there left, the party was really over. By fall of 2005, I was ready to try freelancing again.

Only unlike when I was starving teen songwriter, the stakes were higher. I had three kids! And my husband wasn’t earning so much since our move to Seattle. I really needed to replace my full-time writer salary through my freelance work.

Here’s how I did it:

1. I had a couple of small freelance gigs I’d done on the side while working my full-time job. One was writing for a sister publication to the trade-pub I’d worked for, and they paid quite well. These became my initial earning base.

2. I called all the companies I’d covered at my business-journal job. I wasn’t looking for work, I just wanted to say hey, thanks for the memories, and the help, and for being a great source. To my surprise, several of them referred me work! One of them asked me to ghost-blog for him and write some advertorial articles for his company’s Web site. I hardly knew what a blog was back then, but I gave that a whirl. I didn’t know it yet, but that blogging skill was going to come in real handy.

Without hardly realizing it, I had become a copywriter. Once I figured out I was a copywriter, I started learning more about copywriting from Peter Bowerman‘s free Well-Fed Writer e-newsletter, and from others. Soon, I had a $1 billion private company as a copywriting client. I started to make more than I had as a staffer.

3. I networked with previous editors, including those ones I loved back at the business journal. They connected me with The Seattle Times and other publications that became major new accounts for me. When those editors went to new publications, I connected there, too.

4. I learned how to work the online job ads, only taking the time to target ads that were really perfect for me. This paid off in some great new clients. In-person networking at Media Bistro events in Seattle paid off well, too. I learned which events worked for me and which were a waste of time.

5. I turned every new article assignment into an ongoing relationship. When I turned in stories, I was always ready with more pitches. So I got more assignments. If a publication I wrote for was a sister-publication to other magazines, I wrote for those, too.

6. I thought big. When I ended up interviewing the editor of a national magazine for a local Seattle publication, at the end of the interview I just flat-out asked her if her magazine was looking for freelancers. I’ve probably earned more than $50,000 over the past five years from my willingness to ask that one question! I connected with her publication and was soon getting $2,000 article assignments.

7. I never stopped marketing. I found new networking forums to belong to, I went to Chamber of Commerce events, I checked online job ads, I asked around. Even when I’m fully booked, like I am now, I never stop sending queries and resumes out.

Some lessons here for other writers contemplating going freelance:

Start freelancing before you leave your job, so you have a base.

Tell everyone you know you’re freelancing.

Be willing to try new types of writing.

Get advice.

Never stop marketing.

Don’t waste time online.

Be brave.

Aim high.

Have you started freelancing in the past few years? If so, how’d you do it?Share the lessons of your success in the comments below.

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Photo via Flickr user = Bruce Berrien =

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8 comments on “How I Became A Freelance Writer Again: 7 Steps to Earning Big
  1. gina says:

    Thanks for the post. I am still trying to sort out what “freelance” writer means. I know Peter Bowerman is all about Business to Business writing. How much B2B do you do? Or do you apply his principles to all types of assignments? Thank you.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Interesting question Gina. I’d never really sat down and thought about how many of my business clients were B2B-type businesses and how many sold to consumers!

      I’d say my early clients were one small B2b and then a very large B2B.

      In the past year, I landed a very big consumer retailer, and also an airline magazine, so I think of that as B2C also…plus one more major corporation that’s B2B.

      As far as what “freelance” writer means…it just means you don’t have a staff writer job. Freelance writers do every kind of writing on earth, not just B2B copywriting — they write technical manual and textbooks, brochures for bakeries…as long as you’re not a full-time staffer somewhere, you’re a freelancer!

      I know Peter well, and I don’t have the sense that he’s ‘all about B2B writing.’ He’s all about freelance copywriting…could be for any type of business. Or at least that’s how it sunk into my brain.

      There’s no question that B2B is a great niche. It seems like there’s another level of sophistication to talking to other business owners that often commands better rates.

  2. easy diets says:

    Just wanted to thank you for your wonderful post; this is the type of thing that keeps me motivated through the day. I've been searching around for these posts unpon heading about them a buddy and was thrilled after I found it after searching for some time. As a blogger myself, I'm glad to see others taking initiative and adding to the community. Just wanted to comment and show my gratitude for your contributions as it is extremely encouraging, and many people don't get the praise they deserve. I know I'll come back to read more and will spread the word to my friends.

  3. Long Ostrov says:

    I am glad to stumble upon this blog. For some time, I have toyed with the idea of trying to start one just like this too, however I am not having the know-how on how to do it. What is this “blogging” thing? Is it hard to learn? Do I have to be smart in computers to have a blog? I am trying to hammer together a blog for my ESL for students website. Can it be added seamlessly into an existing website?

  4. I want to quit my regular job and want to do freelance. Actually i am good writer. I have written few articles in magazines also. So i thought i can try freelance market to get more exposure and earn more money. Is this correct decision? Your advice really appreciated.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Based on the Bangalore job-ad you've linked to here and the English grammar problems in the comment above, I'd say work on your English skills as a start if you want to freelance for English-language publications.

      But also, stayed tuned on this blog for next week, when I'll be answering a question about freelance writing opportunities when you are not a native English speaker!

  5. diane says:

    Great advice but I am curious as to why you suggest avoiding online. I have not only made several deals on line but I have learned so much about writing and freelancing through sites such as yours. Can you clarify what you mean by not wasting time online.

    Thanks

    diane

    • Carol Tice says:

      Sure, Diane!

      I think there's a tendency for a lot of writers to spend way too much time looking at online ads and forums, and not nearly enough time networking in person, cold-calling, direct-mailing, and using other proven methods of finding work. Also, that they spend too much time poking about online job ads and Twitter etc. and not enough time WRITING!

      I'm not saying avoid online — heck, I'm making the bulk of my money on online content of one type or other. But keep the online browsing-and-learning time under control.

      Personally, I try to keep it to a half-hour to an hour a day. The rest of the time I want to be sending queries, networking, and most of all, writing. There's a point where the online research becomes just wasting time that should be better spent on activities that are more productive than answering vague, two-line Craigslist ads. That's all I'm saying.

      I try to keep it down by really limiting the number of sites I hang out on. I'm sure others have their own methods. But the wonderful world of online job ads and writer communities can easily take up all your time! I'm just saying, don't let it eat your life.

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