I’ve been a freelance business writer since 1992 (with some regular jobs simultaneously). During that time I’ve experienced substantial success but not the level of financial achievement that many other writers boast of.
To put it differently, I know how to market my services and can implement my proven methods consistently to generate lucrative assignments when I want them. I wrote about these techniques in my book, Real Skills, Real Income, and they have worked for other people as well.
I am amazed at all the freelancers who claim to be making the big bucks. I can’t fathom how they are doing it when they are much more successful at laying out how they expect all this cash but seem to deliver so little. Their demands for what they expect—lots of money, assignments that are well defined, customers that are not demanding, flexibility—are so high.
At this point, the competition is global and the price wars are intense. Plus all the ways of communicating with prospects are so glutted—email, voicemail, phone calls, social media, job boards, Google SEO, networking—that businesspeople are looking to block the noise, not intensify it.
I’ve been thinking about how I’d go after assignments if I were starting out today. I’ve come up with four steps that I believe still work today, but all take dedication and sustained work.
The four steps
First, select a niche, whether an industry or type of writing, that is lucrative and takes specialized knowledge and experience. This is usually a business or scientific area, not consumer information. You must be able to discuss it intelligently with corporate prospects on the spur of the moment.
Second, make a personal connection with the prospect. This can be difficult to achieve. It may even direct the choice of niche.
It may cost money to accomplish this, such as joining a professional organization or attending their conferences. These relationships set you apart from the competition, even if other routes, such as incessant but poor quality emailing, are less expensive.
Third, serve the client. Note that this isn’t the same as being a servant, but it is about going the extra mile. The best freelancers are finicky about staying on top of their client communications, meeting deadlines, accepting and implementing input, and such. Certainly there are limits, but if you are charging appropriately, it feels okay to do more, even if you are charging a flat fee by the project instead of by the hour.
Fourth, take on the complex project. If a piece is well spelled out, including topic, expected word count, and instructions about treatment, that’s easy work. Higher paying projects frequently demand more than writing, including project management, online research, interviewing experts and company personnel, input on photos and graphics, and more. Easy work means low pay; complex projects merit higher rates of pay.
What is the right fee?
How much money should an American freelancer charge? There is no magic number and I’m not going to select one here, but it’s certainly more than $5 or even $10 an article.
And no, the right figure has no relationship to the writer’s income requirements. Who will pay a writer more merely because her cost of living is higher?
A writer must be worth more and must name the fee. Then she must collect the money reliably. Ideally, part or all the fee should be paid upfront. This gives the writer confidence and security in carrying out the assignment.
It’s a competitive marketplace. We’ve got to excel to compete.
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