Are you one of those freelancers in the writer’s dojo who secretly thinks you’re too weak at this writing thing to earn a living?
Maybe you’re scared you’ll screw up, suck at getting clients, fail to deliver high-quality work, and basically punch yourself in the face.
Or maybe you’re overwhelmed because you’re trying to learn pro-writer combos and strikes before you’ve learned the basics.
I know what it’s like to be one of the white-belt freelancers on the mat staring down opponents like Fear, Self-Doubt, Procrastination, and Lack of Direction.
It’s scary. It’s frustrating. And if you don’t do something about it, those bad guys from the Dojo of Doom and Failure will take you down.
But it doesn’t have to be like that. After some training, practice, and a few blows to the head, I learned five moves freelancers can use to beat fear and doubt.
5 moves for freelancers to be successful
When you’re a white-belt freelancer like I was, it can be hard to know where to focus your energy. Lots of established freelancers had good advice. But I didn’t know where to start. I was overwhelmed and felt close to defeat before I ever marketed myself as a writer.
I had to rethink my approach so I could start landing strikes and getting assignments. And it was worth it.
Master these techniques, and you’ll be on your way to competing for high-paying clients with the best freelancers around.
1. Recognize and address overwhelm
When I first decided to be a freelance writer, I joined a lot of writer’s email lists. I was hoping to find something of value from the collective mind of pro freelancers.
But instead, I was flooded with newsletters, information, and free resources. I downloaded and never opened a long list of ebooks, checklists, and other content. I even bought several copywriting courses. that I never worked through.
Don’t do that.
I was overwhelmed. It was like I was trying to fight a dozen ninjas armed with throwing stars and bow staffs with my bare hands.
- Information overload puts you in a constant state of anxiety, frustration, contradiction, and fear. The overwhelming feeling was suffocating, and one morning I almost quit freelancing before I really even got started. And I started unsubscribing from a lot of those email lists.
2. Get help and create accountability
Once I had those ninjas taken care of, I realized I needed more accountability, focus, and camaraderie from other writers to be successful.
After a lot of unsubscribes and deleted emails, I found a message from Carol Tice about the Freelance Writers Den.
Joining a writer’s membership site can provide support, instruction, and accountability as long as you take the initial step and participate.
I’ve been part of The Den since June. It’s really boosted my confidence and helped me break through doubt.
An effective writing community can provide:
- A place to learn and grow with other writers
- Training to learn about freelance writing
- Support of peers
- Mentoring from pro writers
Joining clubs and member sites won’t work if you’re not active. Ask for help, find writers to work with, and offer advice, or be part of the conversations when you can.
3. Breakthrough self-limiting beliefs
Fear and self-doubt might be the biggest problem freelancers face. At least, that’s what I found.
It’s a lot like breaking a board in karate class for the first time. You’re nervous. You’re not sure if you can do it. You’re worried it might hurt your hand, or look silly to the rest of the class if you don’t break it. But it’s almost all in your head.
Self-limiting beliefs, anxiety, and confusion can be crippling. At times everyone has doubt, but it’s how you handle it that makes the difference between winning at freelancing or throwing in the towel.
Here are some ways to overcome fear and self doubt:
- Change your focus. Practice thinking like a confident, successful freelancer. When that karate villain Doubt shows up to fight, bow politely, and keep going.
- Change your self-talk. Pay attention to the voice inside your head when you’re trying to write a query, letter of introduction, or figure out how to build your writer website. Are you reinforcing doubt with words like, “can’t,” “never,” and “not good enough?” Change those words to “can,” “will,” and “keep trying.”
- Practice affirmations to overcome negative self-talk and promote confidence. Check out this affirmation where Carol Tice recommends telling yourself, “I recognize that writing is my superpower.”
4. Develop habits of productivity
If you want to be one of those successful freelancers, you have to develop habits of productivity. When I first got started, I really didn’t have a plan, a system, or daily habits to get better at freelancing. Fortunately, I figured out some marketing practices and productivity tasks to be more effective like:
- Send out 5 to 10 queries, LOIs (letter of introduction), or prospecting emails a day.
- Follow-up 3 to 5 times, or until you get a response.
- Reach out to prospects for a variety of different types of writing gigs like articles, guest posts, white papers, and case studies.
- Keep track of your marketing activity to learn your response rate and measure progress.
5. Take action
It’s one of the most important things you can do to get from where you are to where you want to be as a freelancer writer. You’ll never know what works if you don’t take action. For example:
- Write a query letter or LOI.
- Ask for referrals.
- Reach out to your past contacts.
- Make cold calls.
- Do in-person interviews.
- Attend an in-person networking event.
When I actually started applying the things I learned about freelance writing and marketing from The Den and other resources, things started to happen.
Lessons for freelancers from The Karate Kid
After all the training and studying I put myself through to be a freelance writer, I was feeling like it amounted to nothing. Kind of like Daniel Laruso in the movie The Karate Kid.
He spends days sanding a deck, waxing cars, painting a fence, and working really hard for Mr. Miagi, as a trade agreement to learn karate.
But nothing happens. He’s just tired and sore after days of manual labor. Then Mr. Miagi starts throwing punches and tells Daniel to show the defensive moves of “Wax on, wax off.” It was an ah-ha moment. He learned karate through all the hard work, but he didn’t know it until those skills were put to the test.
My Karate-Kid moment
While I was speaking with my first client, something similar happened. I landed an assignment to interview Peter Hobolt Jensen, the current digital marketing director of Moleskine, and former director of marketing for LEGO. I was ecstatic and a bit shaken.
But it turned out to be a great interview. As soon as we started talking, my self-doubt was replaced with confidence, and the article turned out great.
From white-belt to black-belt freelancer
If you want to go from being a white-belt freelancer to a black-belt pro, the process is pretty much the same for everybody.
The sooner you step on the mat, the sooner you’ll start to figure things out and learn how to keep those evil ninjas from getting in your way. Ka-pow!
John Makohen writes for B2B and wellness clients. He’s fueled by long runs, too much coffee, and likes blogging about productivity, self-confidence, and success management.