Reader Questions: Business Growth, Time Management, and More

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on January 20, 2014 in Freelance Writing Business
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In today's post I'll answer several reader questions recently submitted by Wendy Komancheck, a freelance writer who specializes in writing for landscapers and related businesses.

These questions came as a follow-up to my recent post, "How Writers Can Stay Productive Even During Sick Days," where Wendy brought up the issue of not being able to take sick days because she doesn't get paid time off. She mentioned that it was unlikely her current client base would pay more than they already do. So I made two suggestions:

  1. Set aside more money from your working time so you can take time off without an income shortage (this goes for both vacation time and unplanned sick leave).
  2. Tweak the market you're targeting. If you aren't making enough to cover time off, you aren't charging the right rates. And if your current market won't pay the rates you need to charge, you need to target new clients with bigger budgets.

With the latter suggestion I mentioned that targeting a different type of company would allow her to charge more while staying in her same specialty area -- something Wendy wanted to do.

Here are her follow-up questions to that discussion. Because of their general nature, my hope is that other readers will equally benefit from these suggestions, applying them to their own freelance writing businesses.

These are my questions:

  1. How do I manage the growth of my business?
  2. How do I keep control over my time? I still want to be part-time because I have children at home–yet, this feels like a full-time job–especially now that I’m reading on how to be a better content marketer. Thus, I feel like my business has starts and stops. Sometimes, I’m super-busy and other times it gets really slow. Granted, I’ve only been a content writer for a year, but I felt that I had more control when I wrote for trades and my local media b/c of deadlines. And as a content writer, I feel that my business is controlling me.
  3. And how do I keep my big picture in mind while tending the details of where my business is at right now?
  4. Shoot, I do have one more question: When is it time to hire a business/personal coach?

Thanks for any help that you can give!

Managing Business Growth


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Managing your business growth depends largely on how you choose to grow your freelance writing business. For example, if you're simply tweaking your target market, you shouldn't have to change much. You manage your business the same way you have in the past. You simply reach out to different people.

In this case, for example, Wendy might spend less time sending queries to landscapers in her area and spend more time sending pitches to other companies. Here are some suggestions of potential clients for a writer in Wendy's specialty area:

  • Professional landscapers / hardscapers
  • Lawn mowing / Basic yard maintenance
  • Gardeners
  • Fall and spring clean-up specialists
  • Tree pruning companies
  • Pool companies
  • Snow removal companies
  • Regional nurseries / garden centers
  • Regional botanical gardens
  • Local hardware stores
  • Local farmers / farmers' markets
  • Engineers familiar with local codes and enforcement
  • Plumbers (who might install outdoor irrigation systems)
  • Electricians (who might install outdoor lighting solutions)
  • Equipment rental companies
  • Deck and fencing companies
  • Local companies building and selling garden sheds
  • Seed companies
  • Lawn care equipment manufacturers (mowers, tractors, tillers, leaf blowers, etc.)
  • Other related product manufacturers (mulch, pesticides, fertilizers, etc.)

As you can see, you can find a lot of diversity even in a pretty specialized niche.

Another option for growing your writing business is to take on more clients in your current market. If you don't want to put more time into that work, you can bring on subcontractors. Last year I was receiving blogging requests from existing clients, but they wanted me to cover topics that I had no interest in covering (and which were outside of my specialty area). So I started bringing in subcontractors. It allowed me to bring in income that would otherwise have been unavailable due to my own limits.

One thing I would suggest is that you don't replace long-standing clients you're happy with until you've started bringing in higher paying clients. That might mean putting in some extra hours temporarily, or cutting back on your regular contracts without eliminating them entirely. But when you're working with different types of clients, you have to build new relationships. If they don't work out, it's helpful to have something to fall back on. That said, if you have clients you're unhappy with, replacing them quickly might be your ideal situation. 

Of course there's something else you can do to manage business growth: improve your productivity so you can get more done during your working hours. I have an entire section of this blog dedicated to productivity and organization with plenty of tips and resources. Here are a few to get you started:

Controlling Your Time

You can absolutely earn a full-time living as a writer even when you only work part-time hours. While I put in extra hours from time to time, I only schedule 28 hours of work in a typical week. I've been doing this for several years now, and I get far more done in that time than I used to get done when working 60+ hours per week. When you give yourself a limited schedule, it's amazing how well you can adapt and force yourself to be more productive.

Busy and slow periods can happen. But you don't have to let them control you. The most powerful tool you have is your ability to say "no." If you're busy, don't take on more work immediately. Say "no." Try to schedule some new projects a bit further out.

In your case, you specialize in a seasonal area which can make things trickier than usual. The key for you might be to start marketing well before your rush period. By getting clients lined up early, you won't get overwhelmed during your usual busy period.

I would also think about marketing pushes for off-season times. For example, many nurseries (in this area at least) are busy during the holiday season selling custom arrangements and Christmas trees. For that matter, you could also target tree farms in the lead-up to the holiday. Through the rest of the winter you might target snow removal professionals. You could target larger companies at pretty much any time of the year.

This won't immediately ease things during busy periods. But by attracting more clients year-round, you won't have to cram so many clients in during the big landscaping seasons to keep your annual income up.

When Content Marketing Overwhelms

To manage the details of your business right now, I suggest getting on a strict routine. The more organized you are, the more productive you're likely to be. Content marketing doesn't have to (and it shouldn't) control you. Quite the opposite.

Some of my personal favorite tools are to-do lists (from long-term ones on a white board to daily index card lists), schedules, and timers. The first two help you map out a plan. The timer keeps you focused and on track.

For example, lay out your content marketing plan for the week, and give yourself a set amount of time for certain things (like time spent on social media). Set your timer. Do as much as you can. And when it goes off, stop. Move on to other things. If it's your blog schedule that holds you back, you might be trying to do too much. Again, set a timer. You'll figure out how long it takes you on average to write a blog post so you can better schedule your time moving forward. You can cut back your number of planned posts if necessary. And timing yourself alone might train you to write faster.


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If your content marketing still seems to be dominating your time, scale it back. Again, you might be trying to do too much. You're better off using a few tools and tactics that work well for you than trying to promote your content everywhere you possibly can (if you don't have the time to use every tool effectively).

You want to streamline as much as possible. By sticking to a schedule or a routine, you allow yourself to improve your productivity over time, freeing up more time to focus on big picture changes and growth.

Hiring a Business or Personal Coach

I'm not personally a huge fan of hiring business coaches, so take this with a grain of salt.

It doesn't sound to me like you have an issue that would require a coach, at least not right now. Your issue seems to be one of time management, likely affected by the seasonal nature of your specialty area. I think adjusting your long-term client targeting strategy would get you past a lot of the ups and downs that seem to be overwhelming you at times.

That said, some people learn best with one-on-one assistance. If you feel you're one of those people and you'd rather go that route, by all means, hire a coach. I would simply suggest making some changes on your own first. At the very least, you'll be able to go to a coach down the road and tell them what you've already tried to grow the business.

When choosing a coach, I would never recommend one who focuses on very general coaching for writers. Instead I'd suggest finding a mentor or coach who is familiar with your unique specialty area, especially if you're paying for their services. If you can't find one with knowledge about your niche, you could find a coach who specializes in the type of writing projects you're taking on within that niche.

Another option to consider would be hiring a marketing specialist during your slower period to help you overhaul your marketing plan to account for the typical fluctuations you see. This would be more of a one-off service than ongoing consulting.

Of course you could always free up more of your time for high-level business tasks by hiring ongoing help too -- someone to help manage your blog, an editor to help you deliver better work to your clients faster, someone to help manage your social media accounts, or even a subcontractor to assist with projects under your guidance. Those might prove to be more cost-effective options because they directly free up time, meaning you have more billable hours.

But again, if you think having a business coach is what you need, go for it as soon as you feel you've exhausted the options you can pursue personally (like a new marketing plan or target client list) and as soon as you have the budget for it.

Do you have questions about your writing career? Would you like to have your question featured on the All Indie Writers blog? Please fill out the reader Q&A form with details and your question, and I'll get back to you. 

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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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15 Comments

  1. Lori January 20, 2014 Reply

    Great post, Jenn! Especially glad to see your suggestions on where to market. Too often I think we get stuck looking at clients in a very literal niche — the blinders view, as I think of it. But there’s so much potential work on the periphery that we never really see.
    Lori recently posted…Free Advice Friday: Writing Contract LanguageMy Profile

    • Author
      Jennifer Mattern January 20, 2014 Reply

      Absolutely. I’ve yet to see an example where a writer has to change their specialty area to find more clients, or even to find better paying clients. Sometimes all we need to do is take a step back and look at the big picture. There are likely more potential clients in our specialty areas than we realize.

  2. John Soares January 20, 2014 Reply

    Excellent advice Jenn. I especially like what you say about choosing a coach that has a lot of experience in one’s particular niche.
    John Soares recently posted…Want to Be a Better Writer? Just Relax…My Profile

    • Author
      Jennifer Mattern January 20, 2014 Reply

      I can’t imagine doing it any other way. If you’re not at all familiar with someone’s target market and the challenges it presents, it’s tough to tailor advice to their needs. At the very least I would hope a coach would make it clear up front if they don’t know the market, so the client knows exactly what they’re paying for in the form of more general advice.

  3. Cathy Miller January 20, 2014 Reply

    I’ll second & third Lori & John’s comments. I couldn’t believe the list of possible markets you came up with. I like the idea of outsourcing functions over the idea of a coach. Freeing up your schedule from time-consuming tasks makes sense to me.

    Great tips, Jenn.
    Cathy Miller recently posted…Beating Blind Hog Marketing ObjectivesMy Profile

  4. Alicia Rades January 20, 2014 Reply

    It’s encouraging that so many writers like you are making full-time incomes working part-time. I’m still in the “putting in extra hours stage.” Thanks for all these useful tips and for sharing with everyone!
    Alicia Rades recently posted…Why You Can’t Start Your Successful Freelance Writing Business For Free [Win a Free Mentoring Session!]My Profile

    • Author
      Jennifer Mattern January 20, 2014 Reply

      One of the best things you can do if you want to earn more money while working fewer hours is to look for ways to improve your productivity. I recommend time-tracking for at least a week. See where all of your time really goes during the day. You might find some surprises, like a crazy amount of time on social media or email. It’s easy to get caught up in certain things without realizing what time sucks they are. This way you know what to cut back on or what to streamline in some way. Over time, combining more productive working hours with higher paying clients will do the trick. :)

  5. Anne Wayman January 20, 2014 Reply

    The 40 hour workweek is so artificial… I really can write well only about 4 hours a day… then there’s the business of my writing business… rarely more than a couple of hours… plus marketing which can expand as much as you’ll let it.
    Anne Wayman recently posted…Backups May Save Your… Freelance Writing CareerMy Profile

    • Author
      Jennifer Mattern January 20, 2014 Reply

      It definitely depends on the writer. I’m generally at my best from 5:00 – 8:00 in the morning, and I’m okay until 10:00. After that, I find I get more distracted. So I try to save the things that can become time sucks until then. One of the reasons I start working so early though is that I’m completely zonked by the early afternoon. I could never go back to working a standard 9:00 – 5:00 shift.

  6. Ashley January 21, 2014 Reply

    I agree with everyone who was impressed with your list of target markets who could use this type of expertise. You’ve just provided an excellent answer to the question of whether to specialize — no, you don’t have to be bored or limited if you choose a niche!
    Ashley recently posted…The MLK Guide to an Effective Call to ActionMy Profile

    • Author
      Jennifer Mattern January 21, 2014 Reply

      Exactly. There is plenty of diversity out there, no matter what you specialize in. And that specialized expertise will still usually lead to higher paying gigs. Win-win. :)

  7. WriterWendy January 22, 2014 Reply

    Hi Jenn:

    I just have to say “thank you!” I put myself on a strict schedule (sounds like diet–which I guess I put myself on a time diet), put up a white board (and I want to buy another one), and started using timers again! And you know what? I’ve been more productive in the last three days than I have been in the last three months.

    I get very distracted because I love social media–LinkedIn is my “drug” of choice. I also love to read information about writing–especially content marketing writing. So, I get easily waylaid(as my step-mother used to say) and needed that kick in the pants to get organized again.

    And I’m pro-specializing–for the very fact that there are a lot of great writers out there–and I needed to stand out from the crowd. I’m in year two and experiencing a lot of growth because I’ve broken down my niche the way Jenn suggested. The two things I want to change this year: Send LOIs to some of the bigger players in the green industry and start marketing to business owners’ vendors. These are my long-range plans that are written on my whiteboard.

    I also have my secret sauce that brings the clients knocking on my doors rather than me pounding the virtual pavement! If you’re looking to learn more about specializing, Jenn is a great resource.

    Thanks, Jenn! :)

    • Author
      Jennifer Mattern January 23, 2014 Reply

      It sounds like you got off to a running start on the organization and productivity front. Good for you! :) The key, as with most things, is making sure you stick to it. There’s nothing wrong with spending time on social media or reading content we’re interested in. We just need to make sure it doesn’t dominate our work day. It took me years to scale back on what I was reading, how I was accessing the content, and how much I was commenting. While I don’t have time to comment as much as I’d like, I can at least share worthwhile content (usually via Twitter) a bit faster. While I’m trying to make more time for comments, it’s the first thing I cut during the day if I’m running low on time. Another thing I did to scale back was to stop subscribing to comments on 3rd party blogs (with rare exceptions). When updates were coming to my inbox all day, I found I was getting pulled back into those conversations and away from my actual work.

      As for your growth plans, it sounds like you have some great strategies in mind. Best of luck with it all, and feel free to stop by and update us on your progress or ask any questions you might have. :)

  8. Aras Androck April 5, 2014 Reply

    Amazing how much market you can touch with freelance writing. It truly is a profitable business if you take a closer look.
    Aras Androck recently posted…The Revelation Effect The #1 Mentalism and Mind Reading Trick – $47My Profile

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