4 Cornerstones of Freelance Success

I am constantly encouraging freelancers to be more professional in their approach to building their freelance businesses.

It is not enough simply to have a writing skill and then poke about for work in a haphazard manner. Certainly, you can make some money that way. But it isn’t the way to build a profitable, 6-figure freelance business.

A profitable freelance business has to be planned, structured, and developed in a consistent, methodical way.

Right now, whether you are just starting out or have been freelancing for years, it makes sense to step back, take a close look at your freelance business, and consider whether or not it is built, or being built, on the following four cornerstones.

Cornerstone #1: Build on what you do best

A mistake many aspiring freelance writers and copywriters make is to choose a writing or industry niche for all the wrong reasons.

For example, they might choose the financial industry and sales letter copywriting simply because someone told them, “That’s where the money is at.”

There may well be money there, but you won’t get your hands on much of it if you don’t know the financial industry and are not a natural at writing strong sales letters.

The only way to build an enduring, profitable business is to focus on what you do best. Think of the industries you know best, and then be honest with yourself about what kinds of writing or copywriting you really shine at.

Remember, clients outsource to freelancers because they are looking for high-end skills they don’t have in-house. If you build on what you do best, you’ll be able to offer that high-end skill.

Also, when you work at what you do best, you are more likely to enjoy your work. You will have pride in your work. You’ll know you are producing great work for your clients. And you can’t do that if you focus on writing niches that simply don’t suit your skill set.

If you are best at writing editorial content, build on that. If you are best at writing sales copy, build on that. If you really shine at writing white papers and case studies, build on that.

Cornerstone #2: Identify the best clients in your niche

Within any industry niche, some companies are going to be better clients than others.

This is true whether you are targeting companies in the financial services industry, the food services industry, the IT industry, the tourism industry … or any other.

As a freelancer, you want to target companies that not only have the money to spend on freelancers, but that also recognize the value of good writing and good copy.

When asked once what my favorite type of client was, I replied, “Any client that totally gets my value.”

If a client gets your value and the value of your contribution, they are more likely to pay you a decent fee.

These clients will also be a lot easier to work with. They will give you a decent brief and will rarely haggle over your fee.

But if you target companies which are unsophisticated marketers, you will waste countless hours trying to get a decent brief, and many will pressure you for the lowest fee they can get away with.

Cornerstone #3: Market yourself consistently

It’s not enough to be good at your craft. As a freelancer, you work alone and also have to focus on marketing your services.

I guess every freelancer knows this. They know they have to reach out for work, whether it be through cold calls, direct mail, email, social media, article marketing, or some other means.

But what most freelancers don’t do is make marketing a fixed and ongoing part of their business week. Marketing is not something you do once, once a quarter, or simply when the need becomes urgent.

Profitable freelancers market their services in a consistent and methodical manner.

Myself, I advise freelancers to set aside specific blocks of time each week. Those blocks of time become sacrosanct. These are the hours you devote only to marketing your business.

As soon as you schedule these blocks of time and devote all of that time to marketing, you will be amazed by the difference it makes. By making time, you’ll be able to make a lot more calls, write a lot more articles, send out a lot more emails, and so on.

And as I said above, devote that time to reaching out to quality prospects only.

Cornerstone #4: Build and nurture enduring relationships

This is the one area where most freelancers fail badly.

Freelancers who have been in business for decades, pre-Internet, know that building a close relationship with clients, often face to face, is key to securing repeat business.

Freelancers who have started out more recently often fail to “get” this.

Today, when clients might be thousands of miles away and communications are by email and phone, it’s all too easy to ignore the importance of creating and nurturing those close professional relationships.

For example, while talking with a marketer recently, he said he really disliked it when a freelancer submitted the work and sent in the invoice but never bothered to follow up and see how the project was performing.

Another marketer told me that he really, really liked working with freelancers who worked with him beyond the boundaries of the exact brief for a job. He loves it when a freelancer he’s working with calls him out of the blue and says something like, “Hey, I was just thinking about your business. Have you ever tried X, Y, or Z?”

In both cases, these marketers are looking for people with whom they can have close, professional relationships. They want the freelancer to be engaged with their business. They want to feel they are working with someone who cares about their business and their success … often beyond the strict boundaries of any given project.

In other words, give more. Don’t just take the money and run. Don’t give only what you have been paid to deliver.

Few freelancers take the trouble to put in this extra mile. If you make a habit of working this way, it will give you a competitive advantage.

Summing it all up …

Building a successful freelance business is about more than just writing or copywriting.

The most successful freelancers are very deliberate about everything they do.

They build on what they do best.

They seek out the best clients.

They market themselves consistently.

And they invest in building strong professional relationships with their clients.

I recommend you do the same … and that you start doing it today.

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

At last, a professional organization that caters to the needs of direct-response industry writers. Find out how membership can change the course of your career. Learn More »


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Published: September 5, 2011

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