Laura returns with another solo podcast to share the most common mistakes made by freelance writers. She offers advice in several areas of freelance basics, including the way you position yourself and your services to potential clients, as well as managing your own expectations going into the freelancing world.
Learn from the best as Laura shares her personal experience as both a freelancer and a project manager, hiring and managing other writers. If you’re just getting started in the freelance writing business, this podcast is a must-listen!
Hi everyone! And welcome to the Better Biz Academy Podcast. Today, I am going to be talking about some of the most common mistakes that new freelance writers make, but more importantly I am going to open this show with kind of an announcement about the changes that are happening in my business and how it relates to this podcast. It’s been a long time since I recorded a solo episode and it's now late summer when I am recording this and getting ready to publish this podcast in August. I moved at the very end of April/beginning of May to a new house and even though this was our fifth move, for some reason, although we were more organized, it was also a lot more work for me. There were a lot of new things to set up. I was in the new house by myself for a month, unpacking boxes. No internet at all during that month; that’s been an ongoing challenge. We are not able to get internet faster than 3mbps, which has some pros and has some cons. So, on the pro side; we don’t spend hours mindlessly streaming TV, like we used to and we are much more intentional because we have to have blurays or we have to have something downloaded in order to watch it. It has, to some extent, kind of affected my business, but now I am just doing business differently. So, I work outside the house a couple of mornings per week, places where I can get fast internet and that's been actually really great for me because it encourages me to be more productive. There has also been a much more of a distinction between my work life and my home life because I am physically leaving to work at least a couple hours a day, a few days a week outside of the house. Now a lot of my work actually don’t need high intensity internet. I can do a lot of my research on slower internet, where I can gather the materials that I need outside of the house then work on it at home. So, it’s actually made me more productive. I am working less hours, I don’t feel chained to my computer all the day and that has kind of prompted some pretty major changes in my business along with what sort of happened when I moved. So, when I moved, I had put into place new marketing tactics and had put out some proposals to some major retainer clients, right before I moved, kind of to set me up for once things got settled down and I was working again after taking about two weeks off to get through this process of moving and home inspections and filing the damage claim for everything that movers broke. So, what happened was; way more of those proposals than I was prepared for, were accepted and I doubled my revenue in the span of one week. When I say revenue, I am referring to monthly recurring retainers. I occasionally do accept one-off projects from clients when they are the perfect fit, but I measure my revenue based on the volume of recurring retainers I get. So, in a span of one week, I locked in three really crucial clients that doubled my revenue. So, I had quite a bit more work to do as a result of that and I just saw the potential for things to grow with my freelance business, honestly, so much more than other aspects of my business. It was really clear that that's where my focus needed to be.
Now, identifying these internet problems in advance helped me to plan ahead for this podcast. So, all of the episodes you are listening to were actually recorded months before. So, batch recording and doing all these episodes with people I was interviewing in March and April set me up to have everything distributed over the summer. Made things super easy for my team who handles the podcast and all of that and it also gave me a buffer so that I didn’t have to worry about one more thing when I was in the midst of this move. Now many people also know that with my freelance business, I am also writing my PhD dissertation. I am currently planning a wedding and I have started doing a lot of physical strength training with a trainer and swimming about 200 to 300 laps a week. So, my schedule is pretty full right now and after getting through this entire move process, which somehow swallowed up all of the months of May and June, it became clear to me that something had to be reduced or cut so that I could focus on other things. And one of the other things that’s been reduced and cut is this podcast. So, we are reducing the number of podcast episodes from two to one per week. However, I am going to do my best possible effort here to make sure that the podcast episodes you are listening to are really laser focused to the help that you need growing your freelance business or outsourcing to other people. So, for now these will be solo episodes. That's what I am able to record. I do not have the internet capability to interview guests and just after seeing the podcast go live and interacting with people who are listening to it and monitoring download numbers and all that, it’s really clear what I need be focused on; the episodes that are more popular. And so, when I do interview guests, I will be very picky about who is allowed on the show and the type of expertise they have because my end goal is to help you as much as possible. So, my business is really reliant on my freelance writing and I think that’s part of what helps me be an authentic coach and course creator for freelancers because I am still very much in the trenches with all of you. I am not just talking the talk and only making a couple of hundred dollars per month in freelance writing income, writing a few blog posts. I very much still live this lifestyle and choose to do so. It’s a better choice for me than focusing my business completely on creating courses and making money that way. So, I am scaling back that portion of my business and allowing some other people from my team to take a bigger role with handling the content that I create, including the podcasts, the videos and the blogs. I will still be creating all of it, of course, but the way it will be distributed and handled will kind of be taking me out of the process so that I can focus on some other things that are more important in my business journey at this time. And I am working on some really cool stuff that are personal goals for me and I am really excited to sort of reclaim control of this podcast and my company the way that I want it to look because I have always been adamant from day one that I wanted to build a company that was my vision and my goals and that other people may not always understand that or accept it, and that's okay. That's one of the biggest benefits of owning your own company is being able to make major shifts in your business, much like I am doing right now. So, the good news for you is you will still get high quality content, created directly by me based on my personal experiences, outsourcing and freelancing and working with clients, but it will be reduced somewhat. So, you will still see at least three new pieces of content every week, but it will no longer be five.
So, that's enough of chatting about that; let's get into the meat of this particular episode. I want to talk about mistakes that freelancers tend to make when they are brand new.
Not perfecting the pitching and work sample process
Now I have had the chance to work with a lot of freelancers that I have coached through the `process, but I have also worked as a project manager many different times. So, right now, one of the big clients that I landed a couple of months ago was in a project manager role, hiring and managing other writers. So, I have looked at more than 188 writing applications for people who wanted to participate in that project and it was kind of shocking how bad some of the applications were. Obviously, in a situation like that, you have about 30 seconds or less to impress the person who is opening your email. So, if you have not gone up around the pitching and the work sample process appropriately, you are getting deleted before they even get to know you and you'll probably never know that, right. So, a lot of these people - I would allot a certain amount of time to look at their writing samples or their pitch. I would open the email and there would be rampant mistakes. I am talking grammar, spelling, misplaced commas, no formatting in the blog posts that they would submit is a huge one, not submitting writing samples that were relevant at all to the client's interest. So, this can be a sticky situation with the writing samples being relevant. I don’t mean that if you are applying to write for a parenting blog that every writing sample you send needs to be about parenting. However, it could be about relationships or budgeting for your family or things that are similar, right. Don’t send me a blog post about a new heart monitoring device that’s highly technical and all about biology and technology. I can't tell from that sample whether you are going to be able to write for this specific client I have in mind. So, if someone is asking for business samples, send business samples. In the case of the project I was working on, we were hiring SEO writers and people sent me things that has nothing to do with SEO. Highly personal blog posts about their decisions to get divorced etc. I can’t tell that you are going to be able to meet the style and tone requirements for a client form that. So, I open your email, I see the mistakes or I see a writing sample that doesn’t give me enough information and I just move on to the next because my opinion and that of many project managers and people hiring content writers is if you can’t follow the directions and do a little bit of intuitive thinking about what the client is looking for, you are not worth working with. So, I know that's harsh for people to hear, but it is the truth and I also share that more than 80 of the writing samples or emails I received had spelling, grammar and punctuation issues. Unbelievable! and many of these were coming from people who said, "I have been a freelance writer for four years, seven years, ten years." Proof your work before it goes out. If you spend hours working on any one thing in your company, truthfully, it has to be your writing samples. That's your calling card. That alone can convince people to work or not work with you. So, you simply cannot afford to have writing samples or a pitch that is poorly written. You are wasting your time sending pitches if the materials are not in line with what the client is looking for. Creating a couple of basic work samples that you can use again and again are really valuable. When I got started, I had never been paid to write anything before, so what I did was I created three SEO blog samples. I picked the titles, I wrote the blog posts, I highlighted the key words, I wrote the meta descriptions, I used formatting throughout because I wanted to show the client, what they could expect when they worked with me. Now those samples landed me thousands of dollars’ worth of work and I was never paid to create them. However, that investment of time is well worth it. I am just always shocked when I am in a position to help somebody hire for a freelance project and people submitting their applications just do not spend the time to really make it worthwhile and really high quality. It is so important to do this and you cannot afford to let it go. So, something to consider.
That's one of these big mistakes that I want to talk about - it’s one of four. So, the first one is they're putting any effort into their writing samples; more important than your website, even more important than your pitch in some situations, although your pitch is crucial too; that needs to be well written. I cannot tell you how many pitches I got that were once or two sentences and didn’t even include any writing samples. That's an automatic delete, folks! I have no idea if you can write because you sent me one sentence and no samples. Don’t do this. Please, don’t do this. You will not land clients. I can promise you that. And when I see people floundering after months or years of submitting to projects and they are not getting any response, it breaks my heart when these are the reasons because these are completely preventable and fixable. Like, why are you sending emails to clients to become a freelance writer when there is no writing sample attached. You are not going to get hired. It’s not a mystery why no one is getting back to you. That's the reason. I can end the suspense right now. That's why people are not getting back to you. So, put effort into your writing samples. Far too many freelance writers make the mistake at the outset of their career of not putting time into their samples and it’s just not writers either. Your web design portfolio should be fantastic, if you are a designer. Your logos as a graphic designer should illustrate that you have put time and thought into this. Show work. It must be done in order to land the client.
Starting a freelance Writing Career with Unrealistic Expectations
So, the second thing that I see new freelancers do that just cost them business and a lot of opportunities is they want to believe that this is a quick fix to solve their financial and job problems. So, this is for a total beginner, someone who may not have even created those all-important samples yet. And I'll give you a real-life story about this. So, I have a Facebook friend who is interested in becoming a virtual assistant and that's great. I have got lots of materials on that, I work with VAs all the time, there is lots of great stuff out there on the internet. Even if you don’t resonate with me, I know of several other wonderful courses and books that can teach you how to become a virtual assistant. Well, her message to me was that she was being laid off in two weeks and wanted a way to replace her day job income immediately.
Having unrealistic expectations like that puts a tremendous amount of pressure on you to generate revenue quickly before you even know what your offering is what the demand in the marketplace is. You should never view freelancing as this quick fix - "Oh I can start this business today and I'll have hundreds or thousands tomorrow." It takes time and work to market a freelance business. It took me weeks before I landed my first freelance writing job and I was paid $120 for that. So, all of those sunk hours before I got that $120 gig were just ramping up and marketing. So, I want you to keep that in mind; this is not your quick fix. This is going to take time. If you are in a job now that you are unhappy with or you see that you want to take time off from work and still have more income when you have children, things you can see down the pike, start marketing now. Start your business now, not in a crisis situation where you need money tomorrow because freelancing is not your quick fix to make money tomorrow.
Now, existing freelancers can generate revenue quickly when they already have the marketing machine of their business set in place and where they already have clients they can turn to and ramp up the work or ask for referrals and things like that. But if you are brand new, you have to start small and scale up. I know very few people who were able to land their first client their first or second day. Okay, it just doesn’t happen like that. You have to put in some effort. So, if you see the potential for, "Hey I need extra money", "Hey I am hoping to take some time off in the future and still have revenue coming in", "Hey I am super unhappy with my job, I want to do something different", start now, start small now, create those samples, create the marketing plan, land your first couple of clients.
Trust me when I say that if you cannot do this while you have a day job, if you are not able to fit it in a couple of hours per week and make that commitment and stick with it, you are certainly not going to be self-disciplined enough to work full time for you as the CEO. So, start now, get the practice, get your prices in line, get the experience of working with clients, figure out how quickly you can do things in reasonable deadlines. This business is much much easier on you, when you start when you already have a financial cushion. Then it becomes like a game or fun to shoot for the moon, when it comes to making income. You already have that safety net of your job and then if you get fired, you can take things from part time to full time or you know that you have already put in those couple of weeks or months of work to build up your business to the point of going full time. But don’t do this as your get rich quick, I am going to make a ton of money off of this tomorrow. It takes time and like I said, I don’t know anybody who has been a true overnight success with this. So, that's the second thing that I see way too many new freelancers do; they view this as oh I can make thousands tomorrow, I am not going to have to do a ton of work, easy peasy let me just jump in this. I don’t have a website, I don’t have work samples, I don’t have a marketing plan, I don’t even have any clients, but somehow, I am going to make all this money tomorrow. Unrealistic.
Giving up on the freelance dream too soon
So, this kind of ties into point number three of my four things that freelancers do that are huge mistakes at the outset of their business'. This one is giving up too soon. Now this one I see a lot in Facebook groups, especially as it relates to Upwork, but also to cold pitching and other forms of marketing your freelance services. Someone will say, I have been pitching or applying to jobs on Upwork for two weeks and I haven’t landed one yet and I am kind of thinking okay, first of all, you are asking the wrong question. The question is, are you submitting the best quality materials to the most ideal clients, most likely to hire you? Because you should not expect that you are going to land dozens of clients immediately out of the gate, especially out on a competitive platform like Upwork. It takes time. Back in 2012, I did not count the number of jobs that I applied to before I landed my first one, but it was easily at least a dozen. It was probably more than that. I think it was probably 20 or 40 jobs that I applied to before I landed one. So, if you go out and you do what I call blitz marketing, you apply to a hundred jobs on Upwork, you don’t get any of them, then you don’t market for a month and you wonder why you have no clients. It’s because consistency is key in the freelance marketing world. You have to always be marketing your services, even when you are fully booked. So, right now I am fully booked with freelance clients. I cannot work with one more person for at least another month. However, I am still marketing to fill those spots, should they open in another month or two. Never give up on your marketing and it's more important that you don’t give up on your marketing at the outset of your business, before you have clients because you will spend 85% to 90% of your time at the outset of your freelance business, marketing. You don’t have any clients yet. You have no work to turn in. You have to do a huge amount of marketing to land clients. And I'll give you further proof of that. I am in a mastermind with a number of other sort of high level freelancers and they are pitching up to 100 companies per week - 20 to 100 is sort of the average for what people in there are pitching. So, they may land a couple of lucrative retainers out of that every single month, but they have to cast a really wide net and put in the effort to write a really great pitch in order to even get phone calls from that and write proposals and land the gigs. So, you are always going to need to be marketing. If you have marketed for a couple of weeks and not had success, I strongly suggest you invest in having someone look at your materials. 9 times out of 10, when a freelancer comes to me and tells me that they are not getting any responses, I find the problem immediately in their pitch or their writing samples or whatever freelance samples they have within just a couple of minutes. I can identify why they are not landing business and the number of times that we have tweaked that information and then have them go out and market again where they've landed gigs, it’s remarkable. It’s almost a guarantee that they are going to land clients. I have had so many people with this experience that we fixed their materials and within a couple of days they have got three phone calls scheduled, they have got a client who is already signed the contract etc. I cannot overstate the importance of the materials that you send out and the way in which you do it. It makes a difference. So, don’t give up too soon. This is much like not viewing this as your quick fix to solve your financial or job problems. This is a long-term game and you need to treat it as a business. So, do not give up too soon. Now if you have been pitching for two years and you have never had a response to your emails or even one phone call scheduled, there is definitely something wrong in there that we need to talk about. Either your samples and your pitch are not up to par or this simply isn’t for you. But if you have been at it for a week, I don’t really care to hear that you are not getting any responses and you are so frustrated and you are just going to give up because clearly this is all a scam. You are not making the effort. You are not taking this seriously and treating it like a business. So, when you are ready to treat it like a business, then you can be more reflective over what you have submitted and determine whether that's really in line with what the marketplace needs.
So, now we have covered three different things that new freelancers do that are huge mistakes. The first is; you don’t put any effort into your writing samples. The second is believing that this is a quick fix or a get rich quick scheme. The third is giving up too soon before you have really put in the work to land the clients.
Focusing on services offered instead of value provided
Now we're on to number four and this is a biggie. A huge one. Usually if someone is not landing business and their samples seem fine, it’s because they are not client focused. I see this across the board with freelancers, but it’s especially true with virtual assistants. They don’t communicate the value they provide. Instead they communicate the services they provide. This might seem similar but these are very distinct differences in how you approach freelance marketing. So, virtual assistants and freelancers who are successful can position themselves as providing amazing value to the client. If you just say, these are the services, I do. I schedule your Facebook posts; I make images in Canva. That communicates nothing about the client to the client. By the way, the client is the person who is going to hire you. So, yes, we want to impress them. We want to speak directly to them and their pain points. Now that same virtual assistant offering social media and graphic creation services can spin the entire pitch and proposal on its head by saying, I take things off your plate so you don’t have to worry about it. I use your brand guidelines and industry best practices to create images that pop in Canva and then schedule them on your social media platforms to drive engagement and increase your following. Do you see the different there? The value of the services provided is being positioned to the client in a way that shows the benefits of hiring that person. It’s not just "I do this and you pay me". It’s "here is why paying me gives you such a return on your investment". It frees up your time. It ensures that you know that someone is creating materials that are directly in line with what you need and the most powerful marketing techniques available. That is a whole different conversation that piques the client's interest. So, if you are not client focused, if you are currently just talking about the things you can do rather than how you do it and how it affects the client, then you are making a huge mistake. A lot of freelancers do this. They think it’s all about just saying "Well, here is the service that I provide." Every freelancer says that. Every freelancer out there, with some where exceptions, is capable of providing the services that they land clients for. It’s obvious that if you are a social media VA, you can schedule social media posts. That should go without saying. So, what makes your scheduling and creation of social media posts different from the competitor. I see this all the time when someone posts in a Facebook group, "Hey I need a virtual assistant" and then 20 people respond and say, I do that, I do social media. Okay great, so do the other 19 people who replied to this post. What makes you different? You have got to prompt the client to contact you directly rather than just saying, here is what I do. You must talk about how you do it and the benefits that it has for the client. So, with a lot of my clients who are attorneys, one way that I position this is, I talk about their time saved. Not only as this going to drive traffic to their website and engage with their readers when I write blogposts for them, it’s something they don’t have to worry about. Why? because that’s a huge pain point for my clients. They are busy. They make their money representing clients and going to court and writing briefs etc., negotiating settlements. They don’t want to waste their time writing blog posts. Frankly, they don’t even want to worry about it at all. So, when I come in and I say, "Yup! I take this off your plate. You never have to think about it. You don’t have to worry about revisions. I'll even post it to your website for you. So, all this material is going out as if you wrote it, but you never have to think twice about it." That's a major selling point. I am not just talking about a service. I am talking about an emotional benefit as well for the person working with me. So, you can position this in different ways based on the clients that you have. You need to think about their pain points. Why are they even considering hiring someone and outsourcing? Why would they choose to work with you? When you can speak to these specifically and be client focused, you have a much better chance of landing business with a new freelance client.
So, I am going to wrap it up there because those four key things keep so many people from landing business and it's so disappointing when I come across somebody who is making one of these mistakes and they have been at it for months and never really considered that they need to tweak something on their end that it’s not a problem with the clients, but it’s actually a problem with their approach, their samples, their pitch or their view of a freelance business. So, let's recap really quickly. Don’t give up too soon in your freelance business. It’s going to take some time to get traction. Don’t assume that this is an easy way to replace your day job income in just a couple of days. Again, it’s going to take some time. If you put effort into anything in your business, make sure it’s your writing samples or your freelance samples because your clients will judge you completely based off of this. And finally, when you make a pitch, make sure that it's focused on the client. What are the challenges that the client is experiencing or the pain points that he or she is struggling with at the time they are reading your email or your Upwork job response?
I'd love to hear what challenges you are having in your freelance business or what topics you'd like to see covered in a future episode. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to ask any further questions about marketing your freelance business. I look forward to continuing to serve you and remember, I have got a weekly podcast as well as a weekly YouTube video and a blog post. You can find all of that on betterbizacademy.com.
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