Freelancing Mini-Series – A Simple 5-Step Guide to Finding Ongoing Work as a Freelance Writer
Whether you’re a full-time freelancer or consider yourself more of a side-hustler, there’s always one looming concern; where will you find that next client?
This is especially true for freelancers either at or before the intermediate career stages. But even for some more experienced freelancers, the threat can still loom large if you didn’t take certain steps to properly position yourself in the market.
If this is a concern for you right now, fear not. Once you know how to present yourself effectively, you can increase your proposal success rate to a point where finding new clients is never a concern.
Here are 5 utterly simple strategies I’ve used to grow my own freelance business.
1. Change your Mindset
First must come a shift in your mindset. It’s easy to jump on websites like Elance, see people in countries like India who can make a living writing for $1/hr and think “I can’t compete with that.”
You know what? You’re right, you can’t compete with that. But the real question is: why are you trying to compete with that in the first place? This is not a race to the lowest price.
If your aim is to make a living as a professional writer in a developed country, not only are you not competing with these freelancers, you’re categorically not interested in working for the people who are hiring them in the first place. These writers are typically hired by people who are either misinformed or who have very low budgets. The moral of the story is don’t work for penny pinchers.
You want clients who are well-informed individuals with money not just to spend, but to invest. You’re a professional, and your writing produces results. And results mean your writing pays for itself.
This shift in perspective alone can “make the pond seem smaller”, and even large ponds like Elance seem smaller because you immediately cut out around 80% of the job pool.
2. Choose your Strengths, Stick to Them
So, you now know you’re a quality freelancer, looking for quality clients, and you’re not out there competing with some vast pool of people willing to work for peanuts. Next, it’s time to ask yourself a question… What are your strengths?
There’s a school of thought in freelancing that says “the riches are in the niches” which is another way of saying that it’s better to specialize than to generalize. And specialization means choosing your strengths and sticking to them. If you like, there can be some niche overlap (as long as it makes sense).
For example, let’s say you’re a medical student looking to make some extra cash as a freelance writer while at University and you’re also interested in fashion. Positioning yourself as a freelance writer who specializes in medical and fashion is pretty tricky. There’s no congruence and it sends a confused message to your target clients. They’ll be like…
Plus, you dilute your writing time, spreading your experience over two entirely unconnected niches and create an unrefined portfolio (which we’ll come to in the sections below). Let’s see another example.
Say you’re a tech writer who specializes in content marketing and press releases for tech companies, it might be easy for you to also write for marketing companies. There’s a lot synergy in the overlap between technology and marketing, especially these days with so many advances in digital businesses.
In order to do your job as a content marketer for tech companies in the first place, you must study marketing. So in this case, it would make sense if you wrote for marketing companies, too.
3. Positioning and Branding Yourself
Once you’ve decided on your strengths, it’s important to position yourself accordingly. That’s another way of saying “make it obvious to your potential clients what your strengths are”.
For example, let’s say your name is Joanna Green and you’re the medical student mentioned above. You might decide to give yourself a freelancer brand name of “Evergreen Medical Content” and choose a tagline something to the effect of “Medical Student & Wordsmith For Hire”. No ambiguity there.
Whatever your angle, decide what is it based on your strengths and then stick with it in your branding. So, where does that leave us? Let’s see a quick recap. So far you have:
- Decided you’re not completing with the lowballers of the world
- Decided to specialize your writing in a niche that plays to your strengths
- Decided to target a particular type of client that wants what you offer
- And now, you’ve refined your brand and tagline to make it plain as day what’s on offer
When you apply to roles looking for specifically this type of content, you’re now immediately recognizable as an expert in your field. People won’t glance over your proposal in favor of cheaper ones, because they see you as an experienced pro. And experienced pro’s get paid well to come up with the goods. They don’t scramble around for cheap work.
Now that you’ve got their attention, you need to ensure your portfolio and social proof are in place to back up the claims made in your proposal and branding.
4. Build your Portfolio
It goes without saying that your portfolio should contain your best work. But the principles discussed above apply here, too. For example, if you dilute your portfolio with a mix between fashion and medical writing examples (even if you’ve written some absolutely killer pieces on fashion), it’s confusing and lacks synergy. Your portfolio should be congruent with your brand name and tagline.
That said, here’s an awesome tip to building a profitable portfolio. Let’s say you take on an article for $50 that would take you around 1 hour. Sure, you could spend 1 hour writing a $50 article, perhaps around the agreed 500 words. Or, you could do something else.
Instead, imagine you’re getting paid $75 for the article. Write an absolutely killer piece, 750 words, additional research or insight. Okay, so it took you 1.5 hours. But let’s consider what you get in return.
For starters, you get a glowing testimonial to build your social proof because you exceeded the client’s expectations. More importantly, you’ve created something outstanding as a portfolio piece you can show off to future potential clients and tell them this is the kind of article they can expect for $75. Now, it’s easier to secure higher paid jobs because you have a quantifiable example to show to people.
That extra 30 minutes pays serious returns on investment when people go to check you out. By taking the initiative and purposely creating exceptional work for your portfolio, you can watch your success rate improve dramatically. #Winning.
On that note, always be on the lookout for opportunities to go the extra mile in general. Whether that’s offering feedback on their website, marketing material or product will vary based on the situation at hand. But by taking the initiative and demonstrating your interest in their results, you’re more likely to hold more valuable retainers over longer periods of time.
5. Networking and Outreach
Finally comes networking and reaching out. But remember, only with all of the above points in place is it worth investing time in nifty strategies to dig out quality clients. Whether that’s from local business events or seeking out likely potential clients on LinkedIn, don’t spend time on networking until you’ve got your house in order.
On that note, referrals are a veritable goldmine for the discerning freelancer. The kind of freelancers who build up exceptional portfolios are the ones who do exceptional work for their clients and take care to build the relationship.
If you’re doing great work for your clients, don’t be shy about asking if they know anyone else who you might need your work. If you position yourself properly and go the extra mile for your clients, you’d be surprised just how happy they are to reciprocate.
Have you used some other methods? I’d love to hear about ‘em so I can put them in my arsenal!