Drownproof your freelance writing business with these 5 essential tips



Are you struggling to get ahead as a freelancer?  Barely keeping your head above water?  Kicking and splashing, but nobody’s coming to your rescue?

You’re not alone.  Both in freelancing… and in struggling.

More people are working freelance today than ever before. It’s no mystery why: anyone can connect online and get jobs easily without leaving your chair.  But the bad news is that the competition is getting stiffer, too.  Some estimates say that 40% of America’s workforce will be working freelance by the year 2020 – and that’s just 4 years away!

While there are no separate stats for freelancers, some 50% of small business in the U.S. fail – and that includes us freelance types.  Are you one of them? 

Will you drown?  Or rise to the top of the heap and create your own small, medium or large successful writing or other freelance business?

Do any of these lines sound familiar?

  • “He only paid half what I thought he would!”
  • “They cancelled halfway through!”
  • “She added a ton of information after I’d done most of the work!” 
  • “It took way longer than I thought it would… I don’t want to think about how much I made per hour on that job.”

I’ve said them all, too. 

Although I’m a writer, I believe the following tips apply no matter what you’re doing. If you’re in business for yourself, you owe it to yourself to be as business-like as possible. That way, there are no surprises. 

  1. Price yourself honestly and fairly. Be utterly transparent about your pricing. No surprises! But take your time to set pricing that’s fair and that you can stand over the long term (don’t make this guy’s mistake!). Don’t be afraid to edge your prices up with time and experience. Existing clients can keep paying the same (for a while, but you can increase those within reason as well over time), but new clients can be charged new rates.
  2. Find out exactly what they want. If I’m writing, that usually means usually word count, but it could also include things like audience, call to action, and references, if it’s an academic paper. If I’m editing, some people want a light edit, others want a deep-scrub kind of edit that sometimes involves me writing or rewriting sections of their text.
  3. Find out when they want it. A boss taught me this very early in my working life. He said, “Whenever someone hands you a project, your first question should be, ‘When do you want this by?’” If you can’t do it by then, be honest. Don’t be afraid to go back and forth on this.  A client might say they need something “right away,” but different people have different definitions of “right away.”  Today?  This morning?  Next week?  Make sure you find out!
  4. Never take on a deadline you can’t meet. Don’t be afraid to say no. Or if it’s going to cost more to have a job done extra-fast, be clear about that up-front. “There’s a $20 charge for rush jobs” is never a problem. This puts the ball back in their court, let them know that what they’re asking goes above and beyond. They’ll have to re-evaluate and decide if it’s worth it. But if you absolutely can’t do what they’re asking by when they need it, just let them know.  Tough luck this time around, but at least they’ll know you’re honest.
  5. Keep track of everything! Don’t trust your memory. It may work fine if you only have one or two jobs on the go. But you’re hoping to build that, right? Once you have more clients, more work coming in, more assignments tugging you one way or another, you’ll need a way to keep track and prioritize. This could be high-tech, with an app, or low-tech – a piece of paper with a list of your tasks for the day – or some combination of the two.  Add new jobs to the calendar right away, broken down into relevant milestones, if possible.

At the core of all of these tips is one simple truth: If you don’t know what the client expects, you will NEVER meet that client’s expectations. (Unless maybe you’re setting up shop as a freelance psychic???)

Not all surprises can be prevented; that’s why it’s called living and learning. There are always going to be jerks in the world trying to take advantage of freelancers.  But if you don’t follow these steps, you’re setting yourself up for disappointments on both sides. 

If you have any no-fail freelancing tips, I’d love to read them in the Comments, below… or click the Contact link on the right-hand side to get in touch directly.

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