When I decided to take the leap and leave my corporate communications job for a full-time freelance writing career, I knew I’d make most of my money writing for businesses. So I spent entire days creating a spreadsheet of hundreds of potential clients to pitch.
That spreadsheet hasn’t yielded a single client (or dollar). So I don’t recommend you do that!
Here are the more effective actions I took, which helped me bring in $11,000 within my first 60 days of freelancing:
Turn an employer into a client
When I gave notice to my employer, I let them know I was a new freelance writer taking on clients — and they asked if they could be my first one!
If you’re leaving your current job to become a freelancer and have done good work for your company, be sure to ask your employer if you could set up a freelance relationship. They may well agree.
Use your contacts
I followed the advice you see everywhere: network, network, network. Connections are everything — that’s why LinkedIn is worth billions.
Because I’d worked in public relations, I’d connected with a lot of reporters over the years.
I let a few journalists know I’d hopped to the other side of the communications fence and was working as a freelance writer. Several were good enough to connect me with editors – and also offered helpful advice, such as how to build a platform and remembering to pitch articles to other markets if they get rejected or killed.
And some of these referrals panned out with some good gigs. I had a temporary in-house stint at the New York Observer’s real estate reporting arm. And I got a blogging job with a marketing company that paid $250–$600 an entry.
Wear many hats
I chose to offer writing services of all kinds: PR services, editing, and newsletters, for example. I landed jobs in all of those categories — and I was careful to make sure that my role as a reporter didn’t conflict with my role as a PR consultant.
Venture outside your comfort zone
The first big writing opportunity I got was the week-long position I mentioned above, covering real estate. I knew absolutely nothing about real estate, and to be frank, wasn’t that interested in it. But I said “yes” because I wanted to get rolling earning freelance income.
After the week was over, I had over ten clips to log into my portfolio! The editor was happy with my work, and continued to give me freelance assignments.
Going out of my comfort zone got me clips, led me to other clients, and allowed me learn about an industry I hadn’t been exposed to before. That’s one of the reasons why I loved reporting — you get to learn about everything.
Say “no” to slave-wage work
Even as a new freelance writer, I didn’t quote bargain-basement rates, and I lost some clients because of it. I had determined what was a fair — not high-end, but fair — rate for my work, and that’s what I asked for.
It turned out, all I had to do was ask. I got the rate I requested from one new client, even though I knew they were paying someone else a lower rate. Why? Simply because I asked.
When clients walked away because they wanted to pay slave wages, I used the hours I would have spent working for them to find jobs that did pay.
I found some individual clients, including a lawyer who asked me to rewrite his bio and web copy, and a grad student who needed me to edit his dissertation. They came to me through referrals or inbound marketing — and the work averaged $75–$100 an hour.
Work your butt off
I thought that being my own boss and working from home meant that I would have free time to do things like cook dinner by 6 p.m., so we could dine as a family, pick my son up early from daycare, and visit friends more often, since I wasn’t beholden to a vacation day limit.
Boy, was I wrong.
If you’re trying to book serious revenue right off the bat and really get this freelance biz launched, you’ll be working like a bunny in those first months. I’m still there. But I’m looking forward to the time when it cools down a bit.
Meeting multiple deadlines for all my assignments meant turning on the computer as soon as I put my son to bed — seven days a week — and working well into the night.
The good news? Working long hours isn’t such a burden when you’re doing what you want to do, and you get paid well. Every day I smile when I think about the fact that I’m actually doing it. I’m a freelance writer.
What are your most effective quick-results strategies? Tell us in the comments below.
Jane K. Callahan is a San Francisco-based freelance writer. She writes primarily for businesses, and also writes articles and blog posts. Follow her on Twitter at @JaneKCall.