Go From Paying the Bills to Maximum Thrills (and Start Enjoying the Finer Things in Life)

The writer's life is great – freedom to spend your time however you choose, the ability to work from wherever you want, unlimited income potential, and the opportunity for creative expression.

In the past two and a half years, I've enjoyed all those benefits.

But can I let you in on something you don't normally hear?

The freelance life has some drawbacks.

I wish someone had filled me in on just a few things before I left my comfortable corporate job with benefits, good pay, and a regular schedule.

I wish someone had told me that some months I'd make $1,200 and other months I'd make $12,000. It takes some planning to even things out to a high, steady income.

I wish someone had told me that it's not always easy to be your own boss. You have to motivate yourself on a daily basis because you're not accountable to anyone else.

Don't get me wrong. I've never made a better career decision than to become a full-time freelance copywriter. I absolutely love it!

Unfortunately, I didn't rock out a six-figure year at first. All I did was pay the bills.

There's no excitement in paying the bills. No romance. No prestige.

The turning point

But … after two years of full-time freelancing, I'm in the process of turning the corner toward bigger fees, better clients, and more rewarding projects.

When things start kicking in and clients start coming to you, that's when the writer's life really starts to get fun (and lucrative).

Let me offer seven ideas for making the switch from "paying the bills" to "the good life":

  1. Write great copy to keep your clients happy. Obvious, but it's the first step. Happy clients provide good testimonials and introductions to other clients.
  2. Develop a system to retain clients for multiple projects. This is a key component of going from month-to-month thinking to long-term strategizing. I'm implementing Cindy Cyr's package plan (see her recent article, "How to Create a Pricing Structure that Builds Consistent Income").
  3. Start booking your calendar a month or more in advance. Don’t start looking for work only when your current projects end. You should always be actively booking future assignments. Using a system (Step #2) will help with this. In the beginning, you might only be scheduling projects for the following week. Then work toward booking the following month, then two months out, and so on. Having a full calendar positions you as an authority. And when clients need the project done sooner, you may be able to charge a premium for "rush" service.
  4. Determine your bottom-line project fee or daily minimum. An A-level copywriter who's booked solid might have a minimum project fee of $15,000 or more. For the rest of us, it depends on how much we need and want the work. Figure out a minimum daily amount that you need to make, but be careful of setting your fees too low. When you charge too little, clients don't take you seriously … or may even take advantage of you. Roy Furr has an excellent article that addresses this further: "Is This Mistake Keeping You Poor?"
  5. Stretch out of your comfort zone. Consider implementing some ideas we've talked about this week: speaking in public, guest blogging, writing articles for trade journals, and asking for introductions to people you'd like to work with.
  6. Create a bold plan for the coming year. If you're going to get different results than you've gotten up until now, you need to act and think in new ways.

    Don't have any clients yet? Maybe set a goal to get your first client this year. Working part time? Set a date for launching your full-time freelance career. Full-timers, think about this: earning $500/day, working five days a week, and taking four weeks of vacation would net you $120,000 this coming year. If you have a year or two of experience, that's a realistic picture.

  7. Cultivate an abundance mentality. This could be the most important idea. In his book No B.S. Wealth Attraction for Entrepreneurs, Dan Kennedy calls it an "unequivocal belief in abundance." Having an attitude of abundance or a wealth mindset means you don't feel guilty about gaining wealth.

    It means you need to be an expert at something (and as Dan says, "If you know more about 'x' than your intended clientele, you ARE an expert!"). It also means you have to make yourself known. You could write a book, speak in public (as I talked about yesterday in "Offbeat Marketing for Fearless Writers"), or write blog posts and articles.

As you position yourself differently and hit that "turning point," you might discover that the results start blending into your personal life as well.

At various times in my career, I've noticed that when my income goes up, my penchant for luxuries goes up as well. Getting a small dose of nice living then motivates me further to make more money. It's a great cycle to get into!

Let me explain …

The finer things

When I first jumped into the writer's life a little over two years ago, money was tight. I love to travel and took advantage of the freelance lifestyle to continue traveling. But I was careful to only book budget hotels. Later, as business picked up, I started staying in nicer places, like the Fairmont Battery Wharf in Boston and the Renaissance Toronto Downtown.

Same thing with dining out. Two years ago, my wife settled for Friday night dates at T.G.I. Friday's® or Noodles and Company® (as I said before about paying the bills – no romance, no prestige!). Now? Well, let's just say I've returned to my romantic courtship days.

You can also use this idea to "jump-start" your career. It worked for me twenty years ago in my first sales job out of college. On a business trip to New York, I hung out one afternoon in the lobby of The Plaza, acting as if I belonged there (I know, kind of silly, but for a 24-year-old kid, a fun experience).

Another time, I did the same thing at The Drake on Chicago's Magnificent Mile. In both cases, it gave me a glimpse of wealthy living and motivated me to achieve more. Soon after, my sales numbers started going up.

Does staying in four-star hotels and eating at nice restaurants constitute "maximum thrills"? Well, it's a start. When you start enjoying nicer things (especially after a prolonged absence), two things happen.

First, you start setting up a personal system of rewarding yourself for results. Every restaurant or hotel reservation I make is in response to hitting a goal I've set for myself. I have big travel plans, which is my main form of reward. In the next three years, I want to go to Australia, Israel, Colombia, and Cuba. My wife, on the other hand, wants a new kitchen. I know exactly what income figure I need to hit so we can go to Colombia or get the kitchen remodeled. Bigger results equal bigger rewards.

Second, there's a synergistic effect. When you start doing things that people with money do, you start believing that you belong in that world. In other words, you get a taste of "the good life" (perhaps before you've truly earned it), and you don't want to settle for anything less going forward.

The next step

I'm not at the stratospheric income levels of A-level copywriters or most of the speakers you hear at Bootcamp. I'm on my way, however, and my version of maximum thrills involves traveling the way I want … buying box seat tickets to a Brewers playoff game even though they're outrageously priced … even ordering a custom-made suit for a special occasion instead of buying one off the rack.

Do you want to get out of the rut of working month to month and simply paying the bills?

It's not complicated. Work like crazy, learn your craft, and develop systems for gaining and keeping clients.

Then cultivate an abundance mentality, reward yourself for a job well done, and expect even bigger things in your life.

If you're like me, you'll get a taste of success, with more to come.

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: October 19, 2011

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