How to Take Charge of Your Pathetic Freelance Writing Career

The secret to making a predictable monthly income as a freelance writer

Writers are an interesting breed. Most of us are one-half idealistic dope and one-half pragmatic cynic.

When we get into this freelance writing thing we know it’s going to be work. Yet many of us still manage to kid ourselves into thinking how romantic and lovely it will be. We’ll work at our little desks in our quiet homes – no distractions but the smell of coffee steaming in our writerly coffee mugs, and little blue Disney birds chirping at us from outside the window. Ah, won’t life be grand?

Coffee mug

My writerly coffee mug. I call him Edgar Allen Joe.

Somehow we don’t quite envision the terror that will keep us awake all night while we worry about where our next gig is going to come from. We don’t imagine how bloodshot our eyes will be the next morning, or how we’ll want to wring the necks of the happy chirpy little birds outside the window because what are they so cheerful about anyway?

And then there’s the realization that it’s all on you. No one gives a crap if you succeed or fail. There are no guaranteed raises. No tenure. No benefits and no cost-of-living increases.

Clinging to the dream can be hard.

There is a better way

Bleak enough for you? It was certainly bleak enough for me during the years that having sixty cents in my bank account at the end of the month felt like a win.

However, it turns out that there’s a way to do this whole freelance thing without all the drama and tragedy and the murdering of imaginary cartoon birds.

This week is the week that I’m going to tell you my strategy for surviving and thriving as a PAYlance writer. (Did you take the PAYlance Pledge yet? You better get on that before you read on …)

And I have to be honest here: Once I share my seemingly simple strategy, you’re going to be all <facepalm> that you didn’t think of it yourself — because it’s actually not all that groundbreaking.

However, the key to success is in the execution. Little details can make or break your earning potential and significantly impact your peace-to-stress ratio.

How I make money as a freelance writer

I make money in two ways:

  1. Contracts with regular monthly clients to provide X services for Y dollars. This provides a predictable monthly income and a predictable monthly workflow. This is what I think of as my “baseline” work. The real beauty of this model: I have ongoing, regular work, so I’m spending less time trying to nab clients and more time earning money.
  1. Individual projects with new and recurring clients. Keeping my baseline work to set a number of hours frees me up to take advantage of interesting and lucrative projects that come my way. (That’s right – I don’t go looking for these and yes, I’ll show you how to do this.)

So you might want to know why I don’t just fill up my dance card with baseline work and coast from there. That’s certainly an option and you can use my “PAYlance” strategy to do that if that’s your bag.

As for me, I know myself well enough to admit that I need a certain amount of novelty in my work. The baseline stuff is fine and good, but I also crave work that challenges me and feeds my intellectual curiosity. Plus, to be honest, the project stuff can pay really, really well.

For today, we’re going to focus on the first part: getting regular monthly clients.

Companies will pay you to blog for them

Any company that has a blog is in the publishing industry, whether they know it or not. Many of them start blogs with the best of intentions, only to find that a blog is a hungry beast. It needs fed all the time.

Because companies don’t know they’re in the publishing industry, they don’t know that they need an editor-in-chief to run their blog. So they ask Sue in marketing to take care of it, but she doesn’t have the time. They hire Bob the IT guy’s son who just graduated from college. But, doh!  Son of Bob hasn’t yet developed any business acuity and the blog reeks of amateur hour – certainly not the image that any serious business wants to project.

After a flub or two, someone in the company starts to understand that blogs are a lotta work.

That’s where you come in.

Companies are desperate for good, dependable writers who will take the time to learn about their business goals and how to connect with their customers. If you can come in and solve a problem for them, they will not only think that you are as magical as an ice-dancing unicorn, but they will also pay you money.

How it looks

As with any goal, I think it’s important to begin with the end in mind. (I’m sure someone wise and famous probably said that first, but no one is paying me to write this particular post, so research be damned.)

Let’s take a look at how this plays out like from a boots-on-the-ground perspective.

For my regular blogging clients, I usually agree to a certain scope of work for the month. For example, I might do two blog posts and five social media posts every week. I may provide the copy to the company so they can post it, or I may post it for them.

From there, we agree to a certain dollar figure per month. There’s obviously a lot to say about setting prices, and I’m going to cover that in detail in a later post. But for now, just know that I have a sliding scale based on the complexity of the work and how long I think it will take me to do it.

Why having an hourly rate is a losing game

Here’s an important key: With the exception of one long-time established client, I do not charge by the hour.

Why is that? I assume that I’m going to get faster at any assignment over time. If I charge by the hour, I’d be penalizing myself for becoming more efficient. Why would I do that?

I also don’t charge by the word. That’s a recipe for content bloat and in the end, content that doesn’t deliver a real message isn’t serving anyone. Plus, I try not to work for companies that view writing as merely making sure they have enough words to fill a space.

How I get clients

By now, you’re probably thinking something like: “That’s all well and good, but I how do I nab these elusive contract clients?”

For me, it’s a mixed bag of referrals and pitching businesses that I think would be a good fit for my skill set.

If you don’t have a strong referral pipeline built up yet, don’t worry. In the next post I’m going to walk you through how to identify and approach the companies that need your services. (Sign up here to get blog posts delivered by email.)

And now for this week’s homework. Two parts:

  1. Take the PAYlance Pledge if you haven’t already done so. Yes, I’m serious. You need to start believing that your skill set is valuable before we move into the next phase or you’ll never make any real money.
  2. Start a list of all the seemingly useless knowledge you have but aren’t currently doing anything with. For example, maybe you started going to school for something but you switched majors. Maybe you’re really interested in wearable technology and are the person all your friends turn to for advice. List anything you find yourself googling on a regular basis (yes, even celebrity plastic surgery) and any industry you’ve ever worked in. You’ll need this list for the next post.

Have a great week!

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