The Gold Is in the Follow-Up

Picture this …

No more worries about whom you're going to work with next month …

A client base that's just the right size to allow you to work on your terms every month without any stress …

Almost no marketing expenses because your schedule is full and clients are coming to you …

Interesting projects in your niche that stimulate your creativity …

Clients that you never have to chase down for payments …

And a solid income that grows at a steady 5% or more per month.

What's not to like about all that?

If you're already enjoying the writer's life in all its glory, you can probably skip this article.

If not, this idea could be your ticket to six-figure territory.

I call it the "Alternative Freelance Plan."

The slow and steady route

There's nothing glamorous or flashy about this method – it's kind of mundane. In fact, follow these tips and you won't be a one-year success story.

Instead, you'll be quietly growing a solid business. In your fourth year (or sooner) as a freelancer, you'll hit that coveted six-figure mark and never go below it again.

I know because it's the path I'm taking: following up with clients.

There's a little more to it than just checking in with clients, over-delivering, and asking for referrals. I'll explain in a minute, but first, this is why I chose this Alternative Freelance Plan:

  • I spend almost nothing on marketing myself. I've been able to build up my business without adding to my expenses.
  • I stopped having to compete with the masses for "good" accounts. Many of the clients I work with never hear from other copywriters.
  • I enjoy working with a smaller number of clients on regular, ongoing projects, rather than bigger, one-time projects.
  • I don't get caught up chasing "the next big thing," whether it's a new marketing system, a hot new niche, or a type of copywriting. I'm sticking to what I enjoy and consistently growing without stressing out about what other copywriters are doing.
  • The money adds up. It may take three to five years to hit what I consider comfortable money (six figures and up), but you can get started part time and make sure you're on track before you abandon your current career.

I focus on working with clients who don't have the budget for an ad agency and can't afford the Clayton Makepeaces or Bob Blys of the world. They're also not big publishers who have dozens of top-notch copywriters knocking on their door.

They're small, but they have potential for huge growth. They understand the impact that good copy can have and are willing to invest in a good writer (me!).

That should give you a partial picture. Now, let's zero in on …

The key to keeping clients

When I started my freelance writing business a little over three years ago, I didn't have much of a plan. It was a haphazard mix of contacting people I knew via Facebook, sending out an occasional email, and connecting with local businesses through groups I was already involved in. I also put up a very basic website, and somehow people found it and contacted me.

I didn't know how to get the "big dog" clients. But I did everything in my power to retain the clients I did get.

The result? I've been working regularly with five clients over the past two years, plus a smattering of one-time projects mixed in. It's provided me with a solid income that keeps growing each month.

Here are five simple things you can do to work this Alternative Freelance Plan and "mine gold":

1. Don't over-value your services. This advice is contrary to what a lot of gurus will tell you. I've seen a lot of beginning freelance writers quote their rates higher than their skills and experience command.

This is key because if the value you provide doesn't match up with what you charged, you're only going to get one project from the client. Or you may be pricing yourself out of getting jobs altogether.

Instead, make an honest assessment of what you bring to the table. Set your fees accordingly, and as the client benefits from each project you do, increase your fees along the way.

Two years ago, I started writing a monthly newsletter for a chain of fitness studios. I didn't know anything about their business at the time and probably didn't capture exactly what they were looking for in the beginning. The fairly low project fee was based on my experience. Now that my knowledge of the industry has grown and the quality of my writing has improved, my monthly pay has more than doubled.

2. Keep in close contact throughout the project. Give the client regular updates. Let them know why you're doing things the way you are. Offer advice beyond the scope of the proposal you gave them. The more often they hear from you, the more likely they'll look at you as a trusted advisor.

3. Give the client marketing ideas to implement. They may be looking to you for advice here, especially if it's a smaller client who doesn't have a sophisticated marketing system.

For example, I have a client who owns a successful personal training business. He does a great job of getting people in his gym, but he didn't know how to build up an email list and tap into online marketing. Even though I'm not an expert, I was able to offer specific ideas that should help him double or triple his business this year. Do you think he'll want to keep me around for more ideas? Definitely.

This is another benefit of working with smaller clients (as long as they can afford your services) versus marketing giants. You are instantly seen as more of an authority and less likely to be replaced next month by the next freelancer who comes along.

4. Ask key questions like a consultant would. Even though I've never called myself a "marketing consultant" or "business consultant," I try to act like one. My goal is always simple, and I convey it to my client: "I want to help you grow your business."

How do you do this? Find out everything you can about their business: where they've been, what they've done right, and what they've done wrong. Ask them about their hopes and dreams. Ask them what they think their strengths and weaknesses are.

You can start by incorporating these questions into the initial client interview (see "The Art of the Client Interview"), but make it a part of every conversation you have with the client.

5. Assume an ongoing relationship. Right from the start, my conversations with the client are peppered with phrases like, "After we get the results from this first project, we can sit down again and strategize our next move," or "Let's start with the email marketing, and we can discuss the other ideas next month."

An ongoing monthly arrangement benefits you, of course, but it also works to their advantage. If you're producing good work, they'll be growing. The longer you work together, the more you'll understand the nuances of their business and be able to help them. And you're saving them time by not having to look for a new business "partner."

If you'd like to see exactly how to price and structure these types of plans, check out Cindy Cyr's recent article, "How to Create a Pricing Structure that Builds Consistent Income."

How much "gold" can you expect?

Using my career as an example, let's say over the course of the first year, you build up to an income of $2,000 a month.

Then, starting in year two, you slowly increase your income by 5% each month. If you retain a lot of your clients, add in new clients occasionally, and increase your fees slightly every six months or so, this is very doable.

Follow this track, and your second-year income will be $31,831. Continue growing by 5% a month, and your third-year income will be $57,155. Remember, this is after spending an entire year building up to $2,000 a month and then growing just 5% each month.

I think you could do this while keeping a full-time job if you used your time very efficiently and put in 20-30 hours a week writing. For a lot of people, $57,155 might be the point you consider making the leap to being a full-time freelancer.

Here's where it really kicks in. You've built the foundation, and if you continue growing 5% each month, your fourth-year income will be $102,665. Fifth year with the same rate of increase? $132,384.

The "slow and steady" plan isn't so bad, is it?

I've done it in a very unorthodox fashion, but if you want to follow this path with a very organized system, Winton Churchill's How to Land Clients in 21 Days program could be a perfect fit.

I just discovered the 21 Days program recently, but if I had used it when I first started freelancing, I'd be further ahead by now, for sure.

If the writer's life has eluded you up until this point, seriously consider this Alternative Freelance Plan.

You can quietly go about your business, stay under the radar, and make your debut as a freelance-writing rock star in 2015 or 2016.

I'll be there to toast you when you do.

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Published: July 5, 2012

4 Responses to “The Gold Is in the Follow-Up”

  1. Thank you for your contribution here, Steve, the fact that you are a top-notch professional shows in your writing.

    What you want to do as a copywriters is to master the technique of feeback and feed-forward.

    That can occur through a two way flow of communication between you and your client.

    Regular scheduled meetings can help but informal conversations can also lead to new ideas.

    You need to keep on being innovative by bouncing ideas off of one another and become a sounding board for each other.

    It is amazing what brainstorming sessions can do for any business.

    Archan Mehta

  2. thanks Steve for all the great tips and strategy. Its a good plan to follow! Looking forward to meeting you sometime this year in waukesha or madison.

    Guest (edna)

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