Create Your Ultimate Freelance Success Plan: 2016

A re you ready to earn a heck of a lot more from your writing in 2016? Good! You might think it...

Are you ready to earn a heck of a lot more from your writing in 2016? Good!

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You might think it would be impossible for me to write a single post that tells every freelance writer out there how to find better clients and get paid more in the coming year…but that’s exactly what I’ve got for you.
How can I do that, when some writers are brand new and others have been at this game for years? When some write for magazines and others for businesses? Well, I can do it because there are basically only three types of freelancers:

  1. Aspiring freelancers who want to quit day jobs, but haven’t taken the plunge yet.
  2. Freelancers who don’t have any good clients yet — they’re writing for $5 a blog post or $20 an article…that sort of travesty.
  3. Freelancers who have some good clients, but need/want more or better-paying clients.
There is an approach to creating a freelance success plan that will work optimally for each of these types. Because ultimately, marketing isn’t that hard to figure out (though many writers whine constantly about how difficult marketing is, in lieu of actually *doing* marketing).
Let’s solve this today! Here we go:

1. Marketing for aspiring freelancers

Have you been learning, learning, learning, hoping you’ll discover the one best, fastest, lowest-cost, easiest and most effective way to find great freelance gigs?
Let me save you some time: It does not exist. Or it might, but by the time you figure that out, it could easily be 2025.

The way you quickly find your best niche — and find good clients — is to write a lot and start marketing.
When I’m asked where freelance writers should start, my answer is always the same: “Somewhere.”
Start somewhere. Begin taking action.

Whether it’s asking the local paper if they’d like coverage of city council meetings, or it’s pitching businesses case studies you could write, it’s time to stop fantasizing that the luck fairy will kick your freelance career into gear and start DOING.

The actions you take will give you vital information about what works and doesn’t, who hires freelancers and at what rates. That will allow you to start figuring out where you fit in the marketplace, and start finding paying gigs.

Finding a community

I know what you’re going to say: “But that will take a ton of time!” Yes, it might.
Unless…you connect with a community of freelance writers who can tell you about what’s working out there these days. What going rates are. How to negotiate the best rate. And so on.

Besides saving you oodles of wasted time falling for scams or pitching the wrong types of clients, joining a community will help you not feel like a lonely freakish weirdo that you want to freelance. Instead, you’ll be surrounded by other freelancers who completely get what you’re going through.

For many writers, that makes all the difference in giving them the confidence to keep going while they ramp their business. Start putting your name out there and letting people know you want to freelance, and I guarantee you, you’ll earn more from writing in 2016 than you did this year.

2. Marketing when you have lowball clients

I am constantly asked if I can provide a list of websites writers can ‘apply’ to where they offer fantastic pay rates and lots of steady, readily available work. Also, if I can provide a list of such websites that will hire ESL writers based in places such as Africa, India, the Philippines, or Asia, at great rates.

Sadly, no such lists exist. Mass websites where thousands of writers compete for jobs — from Elance to Craigslist ads to content mills such as WriterAccess or Demand Media — always have low rates by nature. This will never, ever change because the model of making writers compete by the hundreds for the same job drives rates to the floor.

Also, getting clients through an intermediary always means you earn less, because that platform is taking a nice, fat cut of the fee.

Please recall that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting a different result. Stop asking where the better content mill is — there is no such thing.

If you’re a writer who’d eked out a subsistence income on these sites, but you’d like to start earning a real living, you will have to change your whole marketing approach from passive to active. You’ll need to learn how to leave the underworld of freelance writing and find your own clients.
In brief:
“Passive” marketing is applying to online job ads you see, or responding to posts on Elance. You are at the mercy of whatever ads or offers get posted. Your freelance life is something that happens to you, while you stand on the sidelines bemoaning the lack of good offers.
“Active” marketing is things like:

  • Building a great a great LinkedIn profile, and then being active on that platform
  • Sending out queries and letters of introduction
  • Going to in-person networking events and following up with people you meet
That sort of thing. You go out and beat bushes, look under rocks, put your writer website in your email signature, tell every warm body you encounter you want clients, until you find great clients who love you and pay you professional rates.

Making the massive mindshift

This requires a major mental shift. You need to stop imagining a great gig is sitting around on some wide-open website waiting for you, and start treating this like a business. In my Den 2X Income Accelerator mastermind program, we actually have a “Mindset Reset” training that’s one of the first steps in the course, where we retrain your brain with new concepts about how freelancing works and your value to clients.
Do the retail shops in your town just open the door and expect customers to flock in? No. They place ads. They sponsor events. Offer discounts. They blog. They’re on social media. They team up with other businesses and cross-promote each other. They do a million things, and they never stop doing them.
Take a page from their book and realize that if you want this to really pay some bills, you’ll need to up your marketing game.

If all your clients are crummy, you can’t rely on referrals. The good news is you CAN start with no clips, quickly build a starter portfolio, and find good-paying clients in a short period of time — if you know how. And if you start actively marketing your services.

Which of these proactive marketing methods will work best for you? Only trial and error can tell you.
Start with the marketing methods that speak to you, that seem doable and not terrifying. Try different marketing approaches and discover what types of marketing you find reasonably pleasant to do, and which make you feel like you may vomit.

Remember, the best kind of marketing is the kind you’re willing to actually DO.
Maybe for you, that’s LinkedIn reach-outs on InMail, or maybe it’s sending out email queries. See where you get a response, and where the better clients come from. Then, do more of that.

3. Marketing when you need more good clients

For established freelancers who have some decent clients, but really need to take it up a notch, the road to marketing success is a little different.

Begin by analyzing the clients you’ve had in the past year. See who your most lucrative clients were, both in terms of net dollars and hourly rate. Then ask yourself:

Where did my best clients come from?
This analysis should lead to a revelation about which clients you want to keep, which you want to drop, and what types of marketing have worked best for you. Once you’ve identified what’s working in marketing, do more of it.

The types of marketing that led to less-desirable clients, you should drop. Yes, it’s that simple!
The other trick to really moving up is that you’ve got to learn how to identify better-quality prospects. Once you learn how to locate the magazines that pay $1 a word and up, and the $100 million and up businesses, you’ve taken the first critical step toward marketing and getting hired by clients who’ll pay you well.

Set goals and get serious

One of the biggest problems freelance writers have is that they don’t understand the volume of marketing that needs to happen to really move your career forward.

I talk to a lot of writers who’ll tell me their marketing plan is along the lines of, “I plan to send out three letters of introduction this month.”

When the way to really make things happen is to send 300.
Or they go to one networking event or conference a year, when they should attend 12.
The way to ramp up your marketing is to start setting aggressive monthly (or even weekly) goals and getting accountability for them — find a freelance buddy, join a writer group, call your best friend once a week and confirm you checked off your to-do marketing items.

Yes, you may fall short of those monthly goals. But in the meanwhile, you’ll find yourself stretching and doing way more marketing than you ever did before as you strive to hit those targets.

Whatever type of freelance marketing plan you’ve created, if you want to earn a lot more, do a LOT of marketing. This is a numbers game. More lines in the water ups your odds of catching fish, right?

Tons of marketing = many nibbles = you have choices = you can turn down low-payers and only skim the cream.

That’s how you end up being fully booked, in demand, and able to name your price on rates.

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