"Master Dayton" might be humorous, (I mean if Ph.Ds are called "Doctors," shouldn't MFAs be called "Masters?") but in all seriousness I have made a living freelance writing and after several years I have tons of information I want to share to help out my fellow writers, regardless of age, experience, goals, situation, or background. This blog isn't pretty-but it will help if real freelance writing information is what you want.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Finding Private Freelance Writing Clients

Freelance Writing Work: Finding Private Clients

One of the major parts of building a successful freelance writing career is building a list of private clients. This can be one of the hardest and scariest parts of building a freelance writing career, as well. But private clients often equate to steady work and much higher wages than any other form of writing. There are many, MANY people out there who are willing to pay much higher wages to find one very good and very RELIABLE freelance writer to deal with all of their work.

Many of my private clients pay me double or more what they originally did when I was first hired, because I set myself apart as being talented and completely reliable. The second part is even more important than the first. Average writers who are completely reliable are 10 TIMES more valuable than fantastic writers who may or may not hit deadline. If you can be above average and prove yourself as THE go-to guy (or gal), you can find some excellent pay. I don't have any private clients who pay less than $36 an hour, and on some jobs I get paid as high as $60 to $65 an hour. Even if you don't hit those levels (and early on it will be difficult, especially in this economy), having steady solid work from private clients makes a huge difference and is worth pursuing.

There are a few important rules you need to make sure you hold yourself to before you search for even your first private client.
  1. Always get done before deadline. There is absolutely no exception to this rule. Almost any successful employer or business I worked for agreed that C+ work done on time is ALWAYS better than A+ work delivered even a few hours late. Missing deadlines kills businesses, and great writing won't resurrect them.
  2. Come through in a pinch. Proving that you can deliver on short notice can move you to the top of the list. Two private clients I write for both originally used several freelance writers. Once it became clear I was willing to turn any reasonable project around in 24 hours, I took over ALL the work for both. Sometimes this means you'll get a job at 9 pm and be staying up all night so they have something in the inbox by 10 am the next morning...but this type of coming through not only lets you charge more, it means they'll send all the high paying quick turnaround work to you.
  3. Defend your specialties. Everyone has their specific niches or specialties - those topics or subjects that they know more about than other people. As a writer, you need to know the areas where you can excel, because these niches are the first places you're going to look for new clients. If you're good at a niche, work to become great. Expertise shows.
  4. Be confident. Many writers like the idea of working from home, and part of that can often come from preferring to be one one's own as opposed to having people looking over your shoulders. That being said, finding private clients means practicing some common exercises that many people find hard nowadays: cold calling and pitching. You need to appear confident because when cold calling you're already pitching yourself without any permission and no foot inside the door - which makes it all the more important to come across as confident, professional, and with true value to offer.
  5. Be Prepared. Be prepared, because on cold calls I find my success rate is about 3% - and I have a really good radio-style voice that gives me a little bit of an edge in the "vocally charismatic" arena.
These five rules are critical before even starting the search. The next section, about places and techniques for finding private clients, are based on past experiences I've had. This isn't a step by step guide for a major reason: while I can give general advice and tactics that have worked for me, finding private clients is going to be different for individual people, and changing technology and economic times means that the best ways to find private clients (and the demand for reliable writers) is going to shift and change over time. Everything I'm writing here is true, as far as I know, in my experience from 2005 to 2010. Starting in 2011 and on, who knows?

But those five freelance writing rules for finding private clients still stand. You will get rejected much more than you get accepted, but even a few consistent private clients can make a huge difference. So here is my best advice for finding or increasing your number of private clients.

Use old connections. This is a great piece of advice, and the ideal way to actually get started into freelance writing, if possible. Did you just walk away from a company? Get downsized a few years back, but know they need an online presence? Do you have friends with companies that want to set up websites? Former employers, friends at other companies, or any type of old connection can often be used to find work. You might be surprised how often these connections can lead to work, but only when you ask point blank. My best private clients to date are actually my former employers in Austin, Texas. Just because there was no longer enough work to justify a full time writer on staff didn't mean there wasn't more writing work that had to be done. Those old connections (and their recommending me to friends) leads to thousands of dollars of work a year for me.

Forums. Don't spam online forums, but in many online forums you can offer services or find work even by casually mentioning that you are a writer, especially in niche forums (those forums about topics you are a specialist in) and online marketing forums, who are often ALWAYS looking for talented writers. With the latter you may have to start with a discounted rate to prove yourself, but if you prove your mettle you can pick up some very profitable long term clients.

Start out at auction site. This is how I found many of my earliest clients. Personally I have a lot of experience with Elance.com and Guru.com and can vouch for both, but many writers I know also like oDesk and Rentacoder as well. These sites may not seem like a natural place for finding private clients, but many employers come to these sites looking for quality writers not only for one project, but for several. It's not uncommon to have employers who use Elance or Guru for all their projects to come to you first for any new work, and they're willing to pay extra to have a writer who is consistent and provides quality work. Sometimes all future work is done on the auction sites, I've also had these employers contact me directly and start paying me directly to work for them. That way you save 6-10% on commission fees and you have more private clients who often recommend you to their friends, as well.

Surf websites in "expert niches" and find sites that may want more content. Sometimes I'll stumble on a website by accident while doing research. Sometimes they have a blog but no content, or a really nice site but no content, or a nice set with terrible content. I'm not shy - if the writing sucks I'll offer my superior services for a reasonable professional price. Look around niches you know a lot about and see if you can find a lot of sites that might want contact. You might only get 2-3 responses for every 10 or 20 e-mails you shoot, but even 5 test articles at $15 each is a nice little haul in for a couple hours of querying. Any long term contract you get is bonus. I broke into travel writing this way, and while no one contract was large, there were 4 sites I wrote for who each wanted 15 to 20 articles a month at $15 each - and they were simple, I could do two in an hour, and added up to good grocery money.

Set up your own online presence. If there's one area I should personally do better in, it's this one. You can set up a professional website or blog (or both) to set yourself up online. In addition, while building passive income by writing for sites like HubPages, Squidoo, and Xomba you can talk about yourself in your profile and even offer your services. If nothing else, leave a business e-mail to let clients get a hold of you. Just from HubPages and Squidoo I've been interviewed as an expert in writing, working from home, literature, and history on various radio shows and online radio shows, and was almost in a USA Today story. You will be amazed at the ways people will find you online as long as you have a presence there.

Cold call local companies. This is one of the most intimidating ones on the list, and many people find it hard to believe that calling is better than e-mail now - but cold calling is MORE effective than ever just because of this change. So many people shoot an e-mail when looking for work or asking a question that having the guts to call not only makes you stand out and look more professional, but gives you a better chance of success. You might be surprised how many companies want a freelance writer, or didn't think about it but are willing to give you a shot once you call. If you know anything about SEO to go with freelance writing, your chances of success sky rocket.

Advertise in local papers. And I don't mean online. While I believe in having an online presence and how important that is, I'm not a fan of online ads since people look for cheap work here, and many people look for people to rip off. Many people still swear by Craigslist, and I'm not saying it can't work, but a great way to find local private clients is through local papers. People still look at the want ads or ads offering services, so put yourself out there.

Advertise in trade magazines of your niche. Sometimes it's best to just pitch magazines, but depending on the niche, it might be worth advertising yourself as a professional online writer who specializes in that magazine's niche. Chances are that people who run popular websites in the niche still look through specialty magazines for ideas. An ad for a freelance writer custom made to their niche could easily be too much to resist.

Business cards at coffee houses. Remember all those billboards at Colleges full of fliers and business cards that no one paid attention to? Well there's one place I've found where those actually get read and picked up. Coffee houses. Post up some business cards, or a flier explaining your services, and you might be surprised how often this leads to some good work.

Read the best books on the topic. This is kind of a no-brainer, and don't worry I'll list the ones I feel are the best. If I miss one, feel free to add the information in the comments section.
First, I would strongly recommend Peter Bowerman's book, "The Well Fed Writer." This gives a ton of great information about finding clients, and the cold calling advice is invaluable. I know Bowerman also wrote a sequel to The Well Fed Writer, but I have not read it at this point so I can't personally vouch for it. Once again, if anyone reading this post can give a review good or bad, please include your opinion in the comments section. Robert Bly's two books: "Secrets of a Freelance Writer" and "Getting Started as a Freelance Writer" are both also extremely useful and should be extremely helpful to beginners. I also strongly recommend Jenna Glatzer's "How to Make a Real Living as a Freelance Writer." The emphasis here is on magazines, but the chapters on research, marketing, and pitching should be read by everyone who wants to make it as a writer. The reason I recommend these books is because these writers have landed more private clients than I have by far - and the best way to get information is right from the expert's mouth!

Be persistent. It takes time to build a strong client list, but private clients seem to be the most profitable as well and taking the time to build that list will help you on your way to a strong full time income as a freelance writer. Push through the early rejections and over-deliver every time you get a chance to prove yourself.

That's it. That's all the advice I can give about tracking down private clients, and it's what has worked for me. Hopefully this helps all of you, and keep on fighting for that dream. It's worth the long struggle when the hard work pays off and you get paid handsomely to make a living writing.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Creative Writing, Brief Update

3 Poems and a Brief Blog Update

Hey all. Appreciate the kind comments and e-mails. I'm always encouraged by stories of people finding work, taking their first steps, and finding success in the world of freelance writing. I'm currently working on a blog post on how to find private clients as a freelance writer, since that is a topic that is getting a lot of interest from readers. This is taking a little bit longer than I expected, thanks in part to several real world projects that popped up as well.

So until I get the next post wrapped up, I thought I'd answer the second request that comes up a lot, and share some of my creative writing.

For those of you who are new to the blog and have no interest whatsoever in creative writing, feel free to check out early and try the following posts:

50 Things Every Beginning Freelance Writer Should Know

Why I'm Not Ashamed to Be a Freelance Writer

The Truth About Freelance Writing

Demand Studios Review

Constant-Content Review

For the rest of you, the following are three poems I wrote while living in Alaska, one of which was published, one which won a contest/award, and one which would have been published had the journal not folded two weeks before publication. Such is life :) Hope ya'll like it, and be gentle. Poetry is my fourth creative writing skill behind fiction, creative non-fiction, and screenplays. Also if the formatting gets screwed up - blame Blogger and Microsoft Works for not playing nicely.

Arctic chills in spring,
familiar fragrance, burning meth
lazing thru loose floor boards
and shoddy dry wall.
Sit on empty red milk crate
grading freshman papers
Gut-wrenchingly bad.
The poets are in hiding, and
future leaders have lost all sense of soul.
Muffled mattress squeaks,
inevitable result of meth perfume,
Harbinger of sad quiet sex
once distracting, now ignorable
like a drip, drip, dripping faucet.
Until one very early morning red and blue lights
cascaded thru open shades
and splashed our walls.
We laid awake and trembled
like deer who just missed the headlights.
They took them away,
one in a bag.

New neighbors came.
Summer brought back familiar smells
and not-so-quiet mating,
snorting like animals,
Summer papers were a little better.

Remembering when I was astray, the warthog,
burning spoons and shooting syringes,
Tap, Tap, Tapping the Mainline Florida,
and, oh God, how I loved to touch you . . .
until you rode off one Tuesday
on back a Harley to somewhere;
left me to finish the degree I started
and forgot about half way through.

I moved out of state, two thousand miles to teach,
but never enough for a better apartment
with a river view like we talked about;
but what would an adjunct do with money anyway—
and what’s the point of a river
with no one to share?


Cabin’s cold even in summer
Alaska's like that,
but the shiver indistinguishable from a shudder
and not due to forty degree nights.

Marshall bought bread at
Wal-Mart, evil empire of commerce,
but prayers sanctify
organic whole oats
or refined wheat flour
into the twisted flesh of
a broken Savior and
grape juice in blue plastic
Dixie cups transforms into royal
blood prepared for cannabilistic ingestion.

Prayers drip off heavy lips
like the tears bursting from
closed eye lids too light to hold back
the deluge behind the levy.

Bless us. Forgive us. Help us.
Word torrents rush out and
old tongues mix with new,
older than Aramaic,
harder to translate,
always ends with Abba.

You want a whole piece? I asked,
surprised when he didn’t tear it in halves.
I have a lot of sin to cover, he replies,
and knows I do, too.

Naked body cannibalized
piece by piece,
by greedy ravenous teeth,
thanks given,
spontaneous prayer bursts forth
from sanctified vessels;
the cabin walls can not
contain it.

We erupt and do not care
who hears.
Bullied into silence long enough,
but not in our temple.

The blood is sweet and
gushes down eager throats,
but some remains on the bottom,
speckled, you can never quite
get it all, and not all can ever
quite get it and therein lies the
problem and maybe the solution.

North of Noah's Flood

Technically Fairbanks, Alaska,
is a desert, my professor says,
and I’m not sure he is right,
but there is so little rain,
and they say come in, but this
isn't even drizzle, it's mist, and
even then it only comes twice
a summer.

Then there was 2006,
and it was different.
On Monday I spread my arms
and yelled joyfully at the sky as
it drenched me and
every other Midwesterner
dancing in the rain and even the
Alaskans thought we were crazy,
these people who didn't know to come in,
and danced like wild pagans
praising an indigenous Christ-like God
and the rain is home.

That was the only good rain in three years;
but then the skies poured again,
and Thursday twice more.
Lightning made buildings shake
and I wonder about cabins with tin roofs as the
skies won't stop dumping,
coming in sheets and flash flooding
in ways even Iowan farmers
would fret at,
wind blowing weighted trees sideways,
Trees gyrating wildly,
already bent near breaking
from many winters snow,
cabin's tin roof poor shield
from lightning and logs.

Wind howls and man,
I have never seen this here—
no one has—
and man oh man are those trees
making me squirm.

We've never seen a storm like this,
and some wonder aloud
if the world is ending.
Maybe it is.
Us crazy bastards,
not even we dance in this.
The desert becoming
an ocean,
and us without an ark.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Truth About Freelance Writing

The Truth About Freelance Writing: What a Writing Career is Really Like

There are many different important freelance writing topics I cover with this blog, and while they are all perfectly valid, I wonder how many beginners stop and think about why they want to be freelance writers. More to the point, I wonder if they understand what a freelance writing career is really like, or if they hold a romanticized notion of what a writing career is really like. It's not that being a freelance writer isn't great - there isn't another career out there I'd rather be doing (and I fold my passive income work into the general term "freelance writer career" as well), but that doesn't mean this doesn't come without its own set of costs or difficulties. Some of these difficulties are easy to overcome if you really don't care what other people think, and this is a job that I thoroughly believe is much easier if you are single as opposed to raising a family.

So I wanted to take some time in this post to explain the truth about starting your own freelance writing career, and explain both the positives and the negatives: and how sometimes they can be the exact same thing. This post isn't meant to force people to jump in and become writers, nor is it here to try to scare you away from pursuing a freelance career whether it is part time (which I think is probably right or better for most people, especially starting out) versus full time. This post will hopefully simply lay out the truth about what a freelance writing career is like, both good and bad, and give you a better idea if this is the right road for you - or indeed since there are many different ways and routes to becoming a full time writer, which specific road might be the one you're most comfortable with pursuing.

First of all, the disclaimer: there are ALWAYS exceptions to the basic "rules" of any given industry, and freelance writing is no exception. I've met a couple of people who just were in the right time, right place, starting out and were good enough to turn it into a full career very quickly. Over 99% of the time, this isn't going to happen. And the majority of the time someone leaves a snarky comment on a writing blog about how quickly they made $50k+ a year right out of school writing, notice the less than stellar writing and lack of a URL linked to the name. There are more trolls claiming to be successful freelance writers than there are really good freelance writers making a living. Most successful freelancers I know are more than friendly and go above and beyond in sharing their time and advice with newbies. In fact, there's only one I've run into who isn't. All the others are more than happy to help someone who is willing to do the work needed to prove they're really dedicated to making it.

Not everyone will experience all of these, but based on my 5+ years experience as a freelance writer, I'm going to go over my experiences as a freelance writing and mention not only the positives and drawbacks of being a professional writer, but also go into the things that I think others could have issues with as well.

Common freelance writing beliefs or questions

#1: Freelance writers can work anytime they want. This is one of those freelance writing beliefs that is both true and false. Yes, you do get to set your own hours. This means if you get up one morning in April and the water levels are finally down after a wet winter and the trout streams were stocked for the first time all year, you can choose not to write that morning or even the early afternoon. Pure freedom, right? Wrong. A more accurate description of this common belief is that: freelance writers can move their working hours around any way they want. You can go fishing when the fishing is good, but that means you won't be going to bed at nine at night. You'll be staying up until 1, 2, 3, or maybe even 4 a.m. making sure you get your needed writing in and get any assignments done on time. The work MUST be done, and it MUST be done on time and on deadline when applicable. So yes, you can move your schedule around and it helps to lead a richer and fuller life, IMO, but you WILL make up for it. Flexible Schedule? Absolutely. Work whenever you want with no consequences? Not bloody likely.

#2: The Respect Issue. There are generally two, and only two, reactions you get after telling someone you are a professional freelance writer. The first reaction is what most non-writers or beginning freelance writers imagine: surprise, interest, and a strong sense of respect, often out of interest in what you do and how you pull it off. The second reaction is a little (actually probably a lot - I'm fortunate in that I'm surrounded by family and friends who more or less gave up on me ever going the conventional route for a job or life by the time I was 17) more common and surprises many beginning writers: smirking, arrogance, or absolute disdain. Don't be surprised if many people look down at you, believe you can't get a "real" job, or will never believe you no matter how easily you can prove that you're successful. Don't be surprised if everyone who looks at you with disdain thinks they could do your job easily, even though most can't. And you will NEVER convince them otherwise. I'm making double per month what some people who know me are, and they still snicker and make fun of me for being "just a writer." If you crave or need the respect of others, sad truth is you just might not have the skin to be a freelance writer. That's a hard truth, but it is one you need to be aware of before making an unwise jump into the freelance writing business.

#3: You get to write what you want. No, you don't. This doesn't mean you can't start your own blogs or write specialty articles, but most people will never be able to make a living writing articles on only things they are interested in. Even if you are very capable like Celeste Stewart over at Constant-Content and can write excellent high quality articles on topics you choose and sell them: they still have to be in topics in demand. I might be able to write 20 great articles on the historical philosophical and political ties between the Kingdom of Morocco and the United States, but no one is going to buy them. You are allowed to turn down jobs you're not comfortable with, and I 100% suggest that you do just that, but getting clients means writing the way they need you to write for the jobs that they need you to do for them. Period. That's the only way you can make it as a full time freelance writer.

#4: Freelance writing is easy. This is a misnomer. Personally, I find the writing part easy and natural. I've literally been writing since I was 3 years old and have never wanted to be anything else other than a writer. But there are always jobs that are harder than others, and writing is only one part of being a freelance writer. Taxes, finding clients, pleasing clients, dealing with problem clients, finding more work, adjusting with ever-changing markets, writing online, writing offline, learning different writing styles, editing, budgeting, loneliness, self-motivation, discipline, providing own benefits, marketing, and balancing life and work are all important aspects of being a writer, and balancing all of those is NOT easy in any way, shape, or form. And if you're stuck doing technical writing, you're making a lot of money but the writing itself won't be easy either.

#5: Freelance writing is lucrative. This is one where it's hard to nail it exactly, because freelance writing can be lucrative. It can be extremely lucrative, especially on a per hour basis. However getting to that point can be very difficult and take a long time. I started out at about $4 an hour while learning the ropes. If you've followed this blog and some of the other excellent resources online that were not around back in 2004 or 2005, then you should be able to start at quite a bit more than that. But even then, getting to $20 an hour or $30 an hour or more can take a ton of work, a lot of time, and working for countless 50, 60, or 80 hour weeks or more building up your portfolio, looking for better long term clients, and constantly working not only to keep up with the rent, but to keep pushing your freelance writing business towards more growth and more movement.

A Writer's Market article from several years ago mentioned that a stunning number of freelance writers would never make enough in a year to pull them above the poverty line. Somewhere in the 75%+ mark. Making above 30k as a freelance writer puts you in the top 10%. While the top writers make six figures - there's no question they are in the top 1% of all earners. Passive income can muddle this up a bit, but even in that field there are far more trying to make good money at writing and blogging than are actually making it.

As a part time job, second income, or hobby that's used just to fill an IRA or save up for a vacation once a year, freelance writing is a great gig that is very lucrative and attractive for limited goals such as these. As a long term freelancing career, it's hard.

Other points of interest to beginning freelance writers:
There are several other points I want to make from personal experience, because there is so much that can be covered on this topic, but it's hard to dive into everything fully for people who haven't been through the same, and as with all things, different people react differently. Loneliness is a major problem for many people, while it's just not that big a thing to me. Additionally, I'm willing to do more with less because I don't have a family, which makes many things simple for me that are harder for others (like insurance, day care, extra expenses, working at home while trying to balance family life, etc).

Going in a bullet point format, here is a final list of tips. If there's any point or number of points that you want to know more about, or if there's even something else I haven't covered completely, feel free to ask a question in the comments section. I'll do my best to answer based on my own experiences.

More truth on the freelance writing experience:

  • Develop a thick skin. Even if you are one of the best, you'll get rejected a LOT. If you take it personally, you'll burn out too early to ever see success. Develop a thick skin and go from there.
  • Recognize you could get lonely. Freelance writing is a long lonely job. Take a break and spend an hour at a book store, take a walk in the park, or go out for a cheap meal. Just being around people often helps, and you need this to keep your sanity over the long run.
  • The money will be hard early on. Very hard.
  • Private clients will pay the most, and will be the hardest to find.
  • Some types of writing, like technical and sales copy writing, will pay far better than others (like content writing). The more expensive the writing, the harder it is to break into that market.
  • You pay self-employment tax. This varies greatly based on circumstances, but a basic rule of thumb is that you will pay 12-15% more than you are used to.
  • You must have self-confidence, because many people who think they are helping you will inadvertently (or maybe even intentionally) put you down during the hard times when you need support the most. At these times only your own self confidence and determination will see you through.
  • Get a community. A supportive online community can be very helpful during the rough times - but don't go there so often that you spend more there than actually writing.
  • Be open to learning multiple styles of writing. This makes cobbling together clients and a solid writing resume, as well as a working income, much simpler.
  • Specialize in a popular niche to really get some private client attention.
  • If you don't know what cold calling is, learn it. This remains one of the best ways to find private clients who can become your biggest paychecks.
  • Never undersell yourself. If in doubt, charge 20-30% more than you think you're worth. I was stunned when I did this and saw my workload double, then did it again and saw the demand stay exactly the same. Don't work for less when clients have already decided you're worth more. I've been told by clients who pay me $36 an hour that I don't charge nearly enough. Good to know.
  • You have to learn to concentrate on the very short term, in a one-step-at-a-time method to keep your work running smoothly and keep yourself sane but if you want to succeed long term you have to be able to keep an eye on the long term picture without getting overwhelmed. It can be a tough balancing act.
  • Learn what passive income is right away and devote a MINIMUM of 10% of all your working time towards building this passive income. Start with HubPages, InfoBarrel, Suite101, and Xomba and go from there. It may take two years to see big results, but you'll kick yourself in the butt for not doing more while being thankful you started at all.
  • If you have the choice, start at part time and go from there. If you're a college student and money's not an issue, jump right in.
That's it for this new post on learning some truth about freelance writing. I hope you found this useful, and feel free to leave any comments or questions you have.