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How to Fill a Hole in Your Schedule (the Query-Free Freelancer Way)

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You have a fairly packed freelance writing schedule. You have client orders lined up for the next several weeks, and things look good. But then something happens. A project is cancelled. A client suddenly becomes non-responsive. You get a request to postpone something. Whatever the reason, you suddenly find yourself with a hole in your schedule -- one that needs to be filled now at the last minute.

Something like this happened to me last week. It involved blogging work for one of my regulars. Due to personal problems he was unable to post all of the articles written last month. So he now had a backlog and needed to postpone some content orders for his main blog until December.

While I keep a waiting list, it really wasn't what I wanted to do right now. After all, this is for a limited-time opening -- for one-off projects. And most on the waiting list are looking for ongoing work (like press release writing for Internet marketing firms or ongoing blogging gigs). It would also mean rushing those prospects when they might not be ready to move on something immediately. Besides, that would mean getting to know a new client's business, products or services, and target market. There's nothing wrong with that. It's a basic part of the job. But with only a few weeks -- not to mention time off for the Thanksgiving holiday this month -- there just wouldn't be time to do a new client's business justice, or at least not in most cases with the prospects on my list.

So I decided to take a few other approaches to make sure my income wouldn't suffer much, if at all, this month. And these are tactics you can use too, should you ever find yourself with a last-minute hole to fill in your freelance writing schedule. Better yet, these tactics don't involve bidding sites, job boards, or querying while you hope someone gets back to you before the opening passes anyway.

Suggest an Adjusted Project

In my case I knew the client in question owned other blogs. I've written for several of them in the past. I casually mentioned them, and asked if he would need content for those again while we took a break for the main site. As it turns out, he did.

That led to an order equal to about a third of our normal monthly number of blog posts. Now this is also an older client who has a long-standing bulk-rate negotiated with me (I don't offer those anymore). And since he ordered less than the minimum for that bulk rate, the per-piece rate was higher. The combination led to about 40-45% of the original order being placed income-wise. That took a nice quick hit at the hole in my schedule, and I didn't have to look beyond the initial client.


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You can do the same thing. If your client cancels a certain type of project, but they hire you for different things, see if they might need something else. For example, at this time of the year let's say they cancelled a couple of blog posts. But they've hired you to write email marketing copy before and you know they have a newsletter. You might pitch them on content for a holiday newsletter instead.

Reconnect with Past Clients

Another option is to reach out to past clients you've worked with. That doesn't mean you have to pitch or query about specific projects. Don't put that kind of time into it. Just touch base. Say hello. Mention that you happen to have an opening. In my case I chose to reach out to just a few of my previous clients. I let them know about the opening, that it was limited and projects would be first-come, first-served, and I offered them a very limited-time special. I rarely offer sales, but I'm a big fan of limited discounts when it comes to quickly filling in holes in my schedule. The trick? Make sure the sale is for a limited time only. You don't want a sale rate to turn into a regular expectation. In that sense I find they're better for existing clients, although I did offer the discount to one new prospect as well. Also, don't offer the special to too many people. Leave regular clients alone. This is only about bringing in new one-off projects (or long-term gigs perhaps, but with the sale only applicable for the first order). It's not about discounting work you already have. It's about enticing people to hire you when they otherwise hadn't thought about it.

Remember that this isn't about pitching or querying. It's more about keeping in touch and reminding them that you're out there. Sometimes just the mention of what you do will spark an idea in a client's head -- "yeah, I haven't promoted this product effectively and the holidays are coming up, so I could really use some copy for a new email campaign," for example. The best thing is that existing clients are often faster to respond than new prospects, so you won't be left waiting around wondering (at least in my experience). I sent out a couple of emails early Monday morning, and as of a few hours later I'd already landed one one-off project with a past client.

Just Wait

Okay. So this won't work for everyone, but if you've already gotten to that query-free freelancer status you know it won't ever be long before you get another email or phone call from a new prospect. I get several each week. Normally I just refer them off to colleagues by default, because I don't have any openings.

This week -- yes, just since yesterday morning -- I did have to turn a few away, partly because I already filled enough of my schedule hole that there was no way I could fit their projects in and give them the attention they deserved. I also didn't feel I was the best fit for two of them, so I referred the prospects to other colleagues. But there were several others that came in between Thursday of last week and this morning. One is a possibility, and for two others now I'm just waiting on a final confirmation. They all appear to be one-offs, so I should be able to work them in if they come through. It's not ideal to have to start from scratch with someone when time is limited though, so I definitely suggest reaching out to existing clients first.

By the way, I didn't have to do anything to find these leads. They came right to me. Haven't considered going the query-free freelancing route yet? Well, that's a perk you should think about. While a lost gig might sting initially, you know things will always pick back up quickly. Oh, and this doesn't just work for new prospects. As of Monday afternoon the initial client who cut back this month got in touch wanting too more projects too.

Become Your Own Client

If you absolutely can't find a new client and can't land a gig with an old one, don't stress too much yet. When you have a hole in your schedule, immediately turn at least some of your attention to your own income-generating projects. Review a new affiliate product or two on your blog (unless affiliate ads are a big no-no in your niche). Write a short e-book and sell it for a few dollars using a service like E-Junkie.com. My very first e-book took me one afternoon to write, and it sold quite well at $17 (around 20 pages or so). Why? It was information that a specific target market wanted, and I was in a position to offer authoritative content in that niche.

A day or two of heavy promotion can get the income rolling in. Even if it doesn't fully replace the lost income you were expecting, it can lessen the blow. And if you do find good client leads in the meantime, you can always back-burner the e-book and go back to it later.

If you suddenly find yourself with a hole in your freelance writing schedule, don't panic. Get creative. Applying to every gig you see advertised can do more to increase your stress and worry than solve it. But by all means if you see a gig somewhere that looks like the perfect fit, go for it. Just don't feel like pitching and querying is your only way out of a bad situation. It might work, but it can take much longer than other options. And remember, one door closing (even temporarily) might be the opportunity you were waiting for. You never know when another one's going to open.

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Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, and indie author. She began writing for clients in 1999 and started her first blog in 2004.

She owns 3 Beat Media - a publishing and client services company which operates All Indie Writers as well as several other websites and blogs including The Busy Author's Guide and BizAmmo. Jenn comes from a background in online PR and social media consulting, having owned a small PR firm for several years before choosing to pursue a full-time writing and publishing career.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names in the areas of children's fiction, mysteries, and horror fiction. Jenn is an active member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA) and currently serves as the organization's Assistant Coordinator of Promotions and Social Media.


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10 Comments

  1. Sarah Charmley November 3, 2010 Reply

    Hi Jenn,
    As usual, a great useful post. I’m still at the query writing stage rather than the query free stage, but it’s something to aspire to…!
    Thank you.

  2. Terez November 4, 2010 Reply

    This was very helpful information. I really like how you suggested an adjusted project to your initial client. You had to know your client’s needs and respond to them. It showed me that as a freelance writer, I have to build a relationship with my clients and not forget about being a solution to their problems.

    • Jennifer Mattern November 4, 2010 Reply

      Exactly. If freelancers want to make themselves indispensable to clients, they have to be able to anticipate a client’s needs and show they know what the business needs to keep growing. When you show clients you care that much about their businesses and not just about making a quick buck, they keep coming back. Unlike the countless drones willing to write anything and everything for a few bucks as long as they can churn it out quickly, writers like that aren’t easy to replace.

  3. Lori November 4, 2010 Reply

    This is perfect. It’s what I’ve been telling some of the newbs who ask what to do with free time. I’m sitting here with time to myself, waiting for a client to make up his mind what he wants me to write. I’m using it for NaNo. I should be using it to find more work. But hey, priorities are all screwed up post-vacation. :)

    • Jennifer Mattern November 4, 2010 Reply

      Hey now. If I can work in 2500 words per day on my book (non-Nano-related) plus keep up on client projects, marketing, and blogging, you can still find new clients while taking part in NaNoWriMo. :P Even a wee bit of reaching out each day can make a big difference.

  4. Jennifer Mattern November 5, 2010 Reply

    Well, I’m happy to say that by just the 4th of this month I replaced all of that expected missing income from the postponed portion of the original gig, and then some. And that was still with turning down a few clients, and even having to pass on a previous client’s project because I couldn’t work in a rush gig (off and already have plans today). I’m still waiting to hear from one of the new prospects who said they’d get in touch when they’re ready to move forward. It might happen. It might not. They do know the opening is only a limited time thing, so we’ll see what happens. So see folks? Query-free freelancing friggin’ rocks. ;)

  5. Jennifer Landsberger November 6, 2010 Reply

    I’ve been browsing a bunch of back articles, and have a completely unrelated question. (Sorry).
    Uh, I made freelancer 101 mistake by writing for Associated Content and the Examiner. (I need more than a few dollars a day to live off of.)
    Even though they are publishing credits, will putting them in my query letters actually hurt my chances of editors considering my articles?
    -or- should I leave them on there since they at least show I’ve had something published besides reviews and devotionals?
    Thanks in advance for your time,
    Jennie

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