When you began your career as a freelance writer, you probably did so knowing that you were giving up some level of job security (assuming you left a full-time job to pursue freelancing). But if we've learned anything in recent years it's that very few "real jobs" are actually secure. That's often a myth.
You've probably also heard that working as a freelance writer will involve a feast and famine cycle. I used to believe that too. And when I believed it, it happened. And then I woke up. I remembered that no one controlled my career as a self-employed professional but me. There could only be famine periods if I allowed them to come -- if I didn't market myself effectively year-round or if I didn't have backup plans in place. And do you know what? Once I realized that, the feast / famine cycle stopped. I haven't had a famine period in years. You can do the same. You can make your freelance writing career an even more secure job opportunity than a full-time position. Let's talk about how you can do that.
You've seen me write about diversification in the past. I consider it an absolute essential these days if you want to succeed as a freelance writer. That said, diversification will mean different things for different freelance writers. For me it involves combining client work with projects of my own. I make money blogging and by selling e-books for example.
Diversification in freelance writing also means taking on more than one client. On the surface it might sound more secure to land one big, regular freelance writing client who pays you for nearly full-time hours -- it sounds secure because it sounds similar to a regular job. But it's not. If that client suddenly had to cut their budget, or they weren't happy with your work, you'd be flat on your ass with no income coming in. That's not security. Job security in freelancing means that if a door closes you have enough coming through others that the loss would barely be a blip in your earnings records.
That said, I'm all for regular clients. You'll spend less time seeking work and more time on billable hours when you work with regulars. The key is simply to have more than one. There's a certain amount of stability that comes from knowing you have a six month contract bringing in $1200 per month from client A, a yearly contract bringing in $800 per month from client B, and a $2000 per month contract from client C that will last at least another 4 months until that deal expires. Then your one-off projects that can fluctuate a bit more really won't greatly impact your overall earnings so much. If clients like your work enough to commit to those kinds of time frames, chances are that they'll re-sign when they expire too.
If you're not comfortable setting up things like six-month contracts, there are other similar options. For example, base your rates on how much a client orders in each month. Let's say your minimum required rate to meet your earnings goal is $100 per blog post. You could require a ten article monthly minimum for orders. This way you know if your clients are going to come back month after month you'll have a minimum set dollar amount coming it -- it won't fluctuate radically (or at least not below your minimum).
I mentioned this is a comment on another post here today, but if you take that approach of requiring minimum orders to get your base rates, you can always charge a higher rate to clients who want to purchase less than that. It takes added time up front to get to know a new client, their business, and their target market or audience. So it doesn't make sense to build a business around little one-off projects that might not lead to something more. If it takes extra time, there's absolutely nothing wrong with charging more for it. They can always take advantage of your lower regular rates if they choose to order more in the future based on your minimum order requirements.
I find that other freelance writers are often shocked to hear that I have a waiting list of prospects built up. These aren't people I went out and pitched. They're people who found me on their own and who really want me to work on one project or another. If something needs to be completed immediately and I'm not available, I just refer the client to someone who can help. But sometimes they really want you. In that case offer to put them on a waiting list if the project isn't urgent (and you'd be surprised how often a project suddenly isn't so urgent when it comes down to getting exactly what the buyer wants).
Build a waiting list of your own. When you do, you don't have to worry about one of your current clients leaving you behind. If they do, you just contact some prospects from your waiting list and see who's ready to move forward -- no gaps in work generally. And added bonus? When that first client comes back because their cheaper provider didn't meet the standards they were used to, you can turn them down or put them on your waiting list for your next opening. That's a gratifying feeling indeed. And if that client's lucky enough to get you back, it's much less likely they'll leave you again in the future.
I know you've heard this before, but it's the truth. You have to market your freelance writing services all the time -- whether you currently need work or you have a full schedule. Not effectively marketing during the busy times is one of the big reasons writers do end up with those famine periods.
It's understandable. I've heard arguments like "well, if my schedule is already full, how can I pitch my services to others?" Simple answer -- you don't have to.
Marketing doesn't mean actively pitching or soliciting work. That's direct marketing, and only one small segment of marketing as a whole. No matter how full your schedule is now, you want to keep your name out there attracting interest from new prospects. You can do that through passive marketing tactics -- like the ones we promote through the query-free freelancing way.
More passive style marketing might include:
- running your own blog;
- releasing free or paid e-books;
- releasing a white paper;
- updating and improving the copy on your website;
- commenting on others' blogs (especially where members of your target market are).
It's all about building your writer platform to build and maintain visibility and interest. Some of these passive marketing tactics can even bring in income of their own, adding to your diversification. If people contact you as a result, this is where you get the prospects for your new waiting list too. If you need more ideas, read 30 Ways to Build Your Writer Platform.
In the end, it's possible to make freelance writing far more secure than your typical full-time job opportunities. It's all in what you believe and what you choose to do about it. Are you tired of the feast / famine cycle? Have you already escaped it? Leave your stories, thoughts, tips, or ideas in the comments.
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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