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Writers, by our very nature, tend to be slightly introverted. We work alone for hours at a time, often in near silence. The solitude we create for ourselves gives us the space to think and string words together. While you may have gone into the freelance life to control your own income and schedule, there’s a chance you also did it because working in an office or on teams makes you want to bang your head against your desk.
You may not consider yourself an entrepreneur or a business person, but that’s exactly what you are. In order to build your writing business, so that you earn more than what you need to support your Starbucks habit, you’re going to have to market yourself as a freelance writer and your writing business.
Image via Flickr by reubeningber
Some bloggers and writers are uncomfortable sharing their writing on their Facebook profile or in a tweet. If this is you, you’re going to have to get over any insecurity or concern you have about being seen, clogging up someone’s newsfeed, or thinking your friends and family aren’t “your” audience.
While your brother or aunt may be the only person who reads the articles or blog posts you share, they may also share what they like best, especially if you ask for shares and retweets. You never know who will see your writing. You may be connected to the marketing director or CEO of a Fortune 1000 company through your middle school friend and not even know it. The only way to find out is to share you writing.
Maybe some of your friends, family, or former colleagues still banging their head on their desks don’t understand why you’re a freelancer, but many of them are business owners or know someone looking for writing. Ask them for referrals. Let them know you’ve gone into freelance writing. Don’t keep it a secret. They can send you plenty of business.
Early in my freelance career, my mother, who is very proud of her writer-daughter, told every small business owner with a website she knew that I could write their blog. Several emails of interest came from those referrals. The rest of my early clients came from former colleagues who were happy to recommend me. The first step is to ask or encourage those recommendations.
The best business advice I’ve ever received was from a realtor who said he doesn’t work for the commission, he works for the referral. The paycheck is nice, of course, but a business grows when you do such a good job that your clients and customers tell their friends about you. The same is true in your freelance writing business.
Go above and beyond by beating deadlines, answering emails quickly, and making yourself readily available, especially in the early days of working with a new client. Offer your advice for blogging strategy, social media marketing, or anything else you can to add that’s valuable to your client. By doing this, I have one client who referred three other potential clients to me in the first 90 days we worked together.
Image via Flickr by quinn.anya
Writers should be paid for the work we do. However, there are benefits to writing for free. To make this work, you need to think strategically. First, write on a topic that interests you and you know something about — a passion, a hobby, something personal. Second, choose an outlet that has a large and/or devoted audience or that appeals to people from all walks of life..
In the past I’ve written for the website DivorcedMoms.com. As a divorced mom myself, I had plenty to share. It’s a free writing position, but it’s also not a topic I’m looking to make a career out of. After writing (and sharing) a couple of articles, a fellow divorced mom reached out to me about a writing job in a separate field. We’d connected because of our shared status as “divorced moms,” but it was my writing that convinced her to reach out.
You don’t have to be on every social media site or every online platform, but you do need to build a brand for yourself. While some clients or jobs may come from your Facebook friends, most may be referrals or responses to your own queries. When people look you up, give them something to find that is consistent and professional.
Create a website for yourself where you can share testimonials, give people a way to contact you, offer your services, and let others learn who you are as a freelance writer. Where you use social media for business, be consistent in theme and in tone. Use the same logo or profile picture of yourself (a headshot is good). Make sure you share your own content from your blog or other publications you write for, but also share good content you find around the web.
As you write around the web, whether for a major online publication or not, keep a running list of the articles you’ve written and received a byline for. These are your clips. In the beginning, keep a record of all of them. Over time, you can cull through the list and keep only your best pieces, the ones you love, the ones that showcase your best writing, or the ones that go viral.
Collecting your clips is useful in two ways. First, when you pitch a publication or apply for a freelancing gig, you’re going to be asked what you’ve written. Having an easy to reference list will help you find the links that best fit the person or organization you’re pitching. Second, you can showcase these articles on your own website to show off your writing skills, the range of topics you cover, and the places you’ve been published. Your writing clips are your résumé in the freelance world.
The freelance life doesn’t have to be feast or famine. A good mix of writing gigs and a strong, ongoing marketing efforts can help you build the writing career you always imagined. And you won’t have to go back to banging your head on a desk in the corporate world — unless you want to.