Stop Making Excuses, Start Making Changes

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Every now and then I talk about the excuses freelance writers make for their lack of success when they're not happy in their careers (and how they need to take personal responsibility if they want to change that). Let's talk about the latter half -- making changes.

It's not enough to knock off the excuses. You stopped blaming the economy for your lack of work. Great. You stopped blaming low-rate writers for underbidding you and costing you jobs. Fantastic. You stopped blaming your busy schedule for the fact that you can't work enough billable hours. Wonderful! But where do you go from there?

Changes That Can Improve Your Freelance Writing Career

You have to take action. If your freelance writing career isn't where you want it to be, then something you're doing (or not doing) is holding you back. What that is will vary from one freelance writer to the next. Here are a few ideas for changes you can make to your freelance writing career though. Maybe one of them will be the right option for you!

  • Change the hours you work. -- You might consider yourself a night owl, but that doesn't mean it's the best time for you to work. I used to be one myself. Then I got a biological reality check. I didn't want to hear it when people told me getting up very early would be better. But do you know what? It was! I get nearly twice the amount of work done each day, and I still have far more time for my own projects and my personal life, not to mention more money because of the increased productivity. I get up at 4am, and it's a "magic number" as far as I'm concerned (yours might be 3am or 6am... I don't know). There really is a huge difference when you're working with a well-rested mind -- not one that's been up and processing all day and evening. And you still get the benefits of working late at night (it's dark, it's quiet, and there aren't many distractions). It wasn't an easy change for me early on. I'd say it took a good week or two before it went from being something I was making myself do to a natural habit. Once you hit that phase, you'll wonder why you didn't do it sooner.
  • Change the freelance writing rates that you charge. -- We've talked so much here about why you shouldn't under-charge for your freelance writing services that I'm not going to get into it again. If you aren't earning enough, chances are good that you aren't charging enough. That's all there is to it.
  • Change the market you target. -- If you're afraid to raise rates, because you're worried clients you work with won't want to pay you more, you could very well be right. That doesn't mean what you're charging is right though. It means the target market you're reaching out to is wrong. Your target market has to consist of people who are looking for the services you offer, but also those who can afford the rates you plan to charge. It's not either-or. This can be one of the most difficult changes to make in a freelance writing career, because it can literally mean starting over. You might have to re-launch your professional site, put together a different portfolio that appeals to the different market, and be prepared to try new marketing tactics to reach your new potential clients. And on that note....
  • Change your marketing plan. -- Sometimes the only reason you're not succeeding is that your marketing plan is a bit off. Maybe the strategies you've been pursuing really don't work well with your target market. You might be cold calling Internet businesses where people don't always answer their phones (they might prefer an email pitch). You could be blogging to showcase your expertise in your niche when you're targeting high-level executives, where a white paper might be far more effective. Look at your target market. What to do they? Where do they go (online and off)? What are the most efficient ways of reaching them in a way where you can make an impact? Those are the types of things your marketing plan should focus on. If they're not, make a change.

What other types of changes would you like to make in your hunt for freelance writing jobs? What changes have you already made, and have they worked out for you? Share your stories and other advice for making changes in the comments below.

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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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5 Comments

  1. Lori January 14, 2010 Reply

    Super post, Jenn! I tweeted it.

    I especially agree with the marketing advice. I hear writers complain that they can’t find higher-paying work, but if they’re looking in the same places, that stands to reason. More often, it’s because they’ve not bothered to put together a marketing plan.

    I’m about to change my hours. I dropped a dead-end client and have my mornings free again. Time to put the work into the morning and save the afternoon for phone calls and marketing.

  2. Jennifer Mattern January 14, 2010 Reply

    The real shame of it is that some writers think marketing is so much more difficult than it really is, so they avoid it. They get this image in their heads that if you market yourself you’ll come across as some skeezy self-promoter. Networking is marketing. Blogging is marketing. Just about everything you do with social media these days is marketing. There’s no excuse not to have a marketing plan, but because an occasional fool makes folks think marketing is all hard selling, it’s one of the most neglected necessities in freelancing.

  3. Dan Smith January 14, 2010 Reply

    If I could only pick one of these four points to pass on, it would without doubt be the first – changing the hours you work.

    Like you Jenn, I used to think I was a night owl. When I got the opportunity, i’d stay up until the early hours of the morning, get up at lunch and then proceed to work.

    It started to dawn on me, however, that when I started hitting 9pm, my work production was decreasing massively. Whereas I might have been producing one or two articles an hour before 9pm, it would take me around 2 hours to produce one after this time.

    Whether it’s because there’s a few added distractions after this time for me or simply that my brain starts to think it’s too late to work, either way I know that I get far more work done if I make an early start.

    Great post – tweeted.

  4. Veronica January 15, 2010 Reply

    I completely agree on these. As a freelancer you have to know where to set the boundaries and you have to know what you need to live the lifestyle you want. However, with that being said, when someone starts out wrong it isn’t always that easy. It isn’t easy when doing these mean the electric getting shut off or not being able to get diapers. It’s great for the long-run, but sometimes you just have to do what you have to in order to make it through tomorrow. Even if it means making $20 or $50 that day.

  5. Jenn Mattern January 15, 2010 Reply

    I actually disagree about that. I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to wonder if you’ll be able to pay your rent or put food on the table at any given time. But doing potentially irreparable damage to your freelance career by taking shit gigs is not the way to go about it. It’s just another excuse.

    If someone is doing so poorly that they can’t pay their electric bill, frankly they’re not equipped to be a freelancer — at least not full-time, and at least not yet. If the situation is that dire, get a part-time job while you get your freelance career off the ground.

    By taking the “I’ll take any gig that comes along to make ends meet” approach, you put yourself into that rut of having to take on more and more low-paying freelance writing jobs just to pay the bills, leaving little time to pursue more serious opportunities.

    This is precisely how so many of the writers I meet in the webmaster communities end up burning out and quitting altogether, and how the word gets spread that there’s no good money in freelance writing. People jump in with out a well thought out business plan, and then they find themselves scraping the bottom of the barrel for gigs, and losing the ambition to do any better because it’s a constant race to earn the bare minimum they need to survive in any given month. That’s not a freelance career. That’s hell.

    No matter what a writer’s excuse is for not doing something better, it’s just that — an excuse. It’s not a solution. It’s not even a temporary one when it condemns them to repeating that same cycle far longer than necessary.

    Just my $.02 on that issue.

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