Freelance Writing Career

A decade ago I listened to a famous writer speak about how to succeed as a freelance writer. Some of the things he said lasted with me. He said, “The single biggest mistake writers make is they give up too soon…You’ve got to pick your niche. You’ve got to focus. Most of all, you’ve got to hang in there.”

His statement sums up why many new freelance writers give up too soon: they don’t focus clearly on what they want. Writers who neglect to create a concrete, viable plan, find themselves being lead to failure by an abstract “to-do-list” – a “to-do-list” that lacks power and authority to lead them triumphantly to their destinations.

A popular question in the business world is: Do we fail to plan or plan to fail? Generally, we fail to plan. This causes us to fail.

If having a business plan is important to survive and thrive as a freelance writer, why do so many writers refuse to create one? My friend, Gayle Richardson, a communications consultant in Washington, D.C., says, “…writers don’t take their businesses as seriously as they should. They get lazy with details. They use the excuse, ‘I’ll get to it tomorrow.'” The other reason, Richardson adds, is, “Their actions don’t produce immediate results, so they give up without much effort.” To succeed, Richardson advises every writer to “learn from your failures… find your niche… keep working at it… opportunities will multiply.”

Freelance writing as a career is not a hobby and it’s not a get-rich-quick business. Any writer who’s been freelancing for more than three years will tell you it’s hard work. Freelance writing is a home-based (and these days, a mobile) business “shoehorned into an expanding market of opportunity,” says Richardson. Companies are still downsizing to cut costs. Outsourcing is on the rise with no limit in sight. Technology has made marketing easier and finding jobs more accessible. Freelancing, in general, is spreading like never before in history. “Work at it for two or three years non-stop and you will have a sound, profitable writing business,” says Richardson.

But, to have a sound, profitable writing business, you must start with a plan. Having a concrete plan will help you to define your writing business, your market, what you’re interested in writing and what you’d like to write, how to turn prospects into paying clients, and what type of marketing to use. A business plan also lets you know how much you want to charge (or need to charge) for your time, and how much you want to earn in one year.

What it takes to plan your business is some time each day. That’s it. And don’t expect immediate results. Having a business plan will not produce immediate results. That’s why it’s a plan, constructed piece by piece each day, to create a specific, workable, flexible road map to your goals. Not every piece of your plan will fit perfectly together at first; you will need to test and debug pieces of your business plan for workability, and then restructure it to make it fit perfectly.

Now is the time to begin your business plan. Right now. No excuses. Get yourself a pen and paper. Jot down your ideas, emotions and inspirations as they emerge from you. Now is the time to define your business, what you want to do now and in the future, and how to do it. This is the time, right now, in this moment, we will define your future. So let’s start! Don’t be lazy!


Before we begin to design your writing business, we must first define the most important element of success: yourself. After all, your writing business is an extension of your desires, interests, passions, skills, and personality.

DEFINE YOURSELF: Who are you? Don’t look into the past. Your past is incomplete and does not equal the present moment or the future. Look at the present moment and, most importantly, into the future. Describe who you are now and who you see yourself becoming in the future. Describe your feelings and emotions – not your intellect. Don’t write down, “My name is Janice Hill. I’m 44. Two kids. Married.” Write down your traits and characteristics, your values and beliefs – let your inner subconscious awaken: “I have a fiery passion to succeed. I see myself having my own freelance writing career in one year. I want to become financially independent. I want to be my own boss. I want to design my own days and live my own life. I can do it because I have what it takes.”

DEFINE YOUR INTERESTS: “I love writing, non-fiction and fiction. I enjoy managing projects and putting literature together, such as reports, newsletters and manuals. I love working with people.”

DEFINE OTHER CHARACTERISTICS: What characteristics, beliefs and values do you have or would like to develop that will assist you in attaining your goals? Maybe you have an M.A. degree in marketing. Perhaps you’ve managed a large project with a previous employer? Maybe you’ve won some awards that already focuses on your areas of interest? Or look at other people who’ve achieved success. How can you model their characteristics to produce similar results?


Defining your writing services can be easy or difficult, but not impossible. It hinges mostly on your past and previous skills and experiences. Lacking education or skills right now can be frustrating for beginning writers – but don’t give up. Your interests and passions are just as important. For now, let’s define how you can offer your skills to clients.

DEFINE YOUR CURRENT SKILLS: What skills do you currently use that you can associate with writing? How can you offer these skills as writing services? Maybe you’ve launched your business and you’ve prepared your own promotional material, such as a website, a series of articles, a business letter, brochure, or a sales letter. These are skills you can include as writing services.

DEFINE THE SKILLS YOU’VE ACQUIRED: Define the skills you’ve acquired from current and past jobs, volunteer help, internships, etc. Your skills may include leadership skills, managerial skills, marketing skills, speaking skills, computer skills, negotiating skills, secretarial skills, research skills, and writing skills.

DEFINE EDUCATIONAL SKILLS: Go back to your college years or recent schooling. What types of assignments and projects did you write and complete? What courses did you take and what did you learn from them? How can your major and related courses define your writing skills. How can you offer these skills to clients?

SEMINARS AND WORKSHOPS: Perhaps you’ve attended a seminar on effective feature writing or a workshop on developing a marketing/public relations campaign. How can you transform what you’ve learned at seminars and workshops into writing skills that you can offer to clients?

DEFINE YOUR INTERESTS: Define your current interests and future interests. What types of writing do you enjoy? Would you like to specialize in a specific area of writing? What do your future interests include? Do you want to learn how to write certain types of copy?

Group all of your skills and interests together to create a clear picture of your strengths. You may want to divide your writing skills into two columns: one for current skills; the other for skills you need to acquire. Maybe, as one of your skills, you had written a press release for one of your past employers. Ask yourself if writing press releases as a writing service interests you. Maybe, at a workshop, you had learned how to write and prepare a brochure. Are you interested in writing copy for brochures as a service?

Maybe you feel marketing is one of your strengths. Maybe you are interested in promoting yourself as a marketing consultant, writing copy for press kits, media kits and direct mail packages, and carrying out large advertising and publicity campaigns on a retainer fee?

I don’t know what your writing services are going to be for you – only you can define them. What I do know is that your writing services should be an extension of your skills and interests. Otherwise, you will not cultivate your passion for writing, and your interest in writing will die with your business.

Another way to define your writing services is to research what is actually out there – and most importantly, what is not out there and if there is a market for it.

The most common writing services that writers often pursue include writing copy for: magazines, direct mail, publicity kits, press releases, sales letters, brochures, ads, advertorials, annual reports, corporate speeches, newsletters, technical manuals, pamphlets, training kits, websites, seminar and workshop literature, SEO copy, and so on. By no means is this a complete list. This barely taps into the large reservoir of writing services that a writer can offer today.


Defining your market means answering the question, “Who is interested in investing in my creative services at my rates?” You will yield better results if you can define your market specifically. If you don’t define your market or know who your prospects are, you will either get no business at all or you’ll tap into the wrong market and waste your time.

One writer pitched herself as a generalist who could write sales letters. Because she did not bother to define her market, she blindly and precariously marketed her services to the wrong market. Instead of soliciting prospects who would have paid her $500 to write a three page sales letter, she instead solicited prospects who wanted to pay her between $50 and $75 for the same job. You can avoid this pitfall by understanding the different “variables” that create the “right” market.

They are:

1) TYPE OF INDUSTRY. We can divide freelance writing – especially freelance copywriting – into different types of industries, such as health care, entertainment, pharmaceutical, technology, lifestyle, medical, high-tech, media, publishing, advertising, and so on. You do not necessarily have to select an industry, but it will help define your overall market.

2) TYPE OF CLIENTS. Different clients pay different rates – and their needs can also be different. Some major clients include: corporations, ad agencies, graphic design firms, PR agencies, government agencies, the non-profit sector, Fortune 500 companies (including magazine publishing companies), etc. To which clients will you be pitching your services? Indeed, a client is a client, no matter if it’s a corporation or an ad agency or a magazine, but be aware which clients outsource work more regularly and which ones pay better.

3) MARKET SIZE. You must know whether this market needs this type of writing service, whatever it is. If the market for this writing service is narrow, it will be more difficult to get work. One type of narrow market is writing for the legalized gaming industry, yet it keeps growing in popularity and this market is steadily expanding with freelance writers. If the market is enormous, you will face lots of competition. One enormous market is SEO writing (search engine optimization writing). Competition in this market is fierce. The size of the market can affect your overall marketing strategies. You may need to decide on using different marketing techniques – such as specializing in one area – and using different marketing materials or website content to pitch yourself to these prospects.

4) LEVEL OF PAY. If you’re seeking corporations as potential clients and your pay rate is at the low end, you can forget about it. Corporations will overlook you as a low-pay, low-rate, bargain writer (or what’s called in the writing world, a “bottom fisher”). Your level of pay usually reflects the type of clients and the type of market you’re going after. So when you set your fees, adjust them accordingly to what the market will pay you.

5) YOUR INTERESTS/INSIGHTS. Your overall interests and insights can help define your own market, sometimes called a “niche.” Your own research into different types of industries and clients may uncover other types of markets to which you can pitch your writing services. If you have insight or an intuitive “feeling” that this type of market is perfect for what you do, then go pursue it. Do not limit yourself to raw facts and data – your own interests, insights and intuitive feelings can be as powerful and rewarding.


By now you have questions about how many writing services you should offer and if you should only focus on a specialty. I cannot decide for you. Only you can decide. Most writers specialize in one area – usually derived from their primary interests – but also offer additional “general” writing services.

To help you decide which writing services you should offer and ones you should avoid, use the following process of validation.

Ask yourself:

1) Does this writing service earn writers a lot of money?

2) Is there a large market for this type of writing?

3) If I offer this writing service, how fierce is my competition?

4) Do I have the skills necessary to offer this writing service now?

5) Can I promote myself as a specialist with this writing service?

6) Can I use this writing service to branch out into other areas?

You do not want to offer a writing service that does not make a lot of money, or where the competition is fierce, or where the market is too narrow. You also might not want a writing service that requires you to invest a lot of time and money to learn (or to keep up with constantly), such as high-tech industrial writing. High-tech writing, by itself, is a specialty, and one should not offer it as a general writing service. If you desire to specialize in high-tech industrial writing, then by all means go pursue the opportunity and make a fortune. Also consider if the writing service has “flexibility” to it, which will allow you to branch out into other profitable areas. For example, you may want to offer writing sales letters as a writing service; but you can also find sales letters in direct mail packages. You may, one day, branch out from writing sales letters to writing direct mail packages to boost your income. The same is true with writing press releases. One day you may decide to branch out into writing press kits, media kits, and other publicity packages.


The next question, as I am usually asked by writers, is how to tap into your market. My answer: there are many ways – too many ways. Because tapping into your market is beyond the scope of this article, I will cover briefly what you need to do.

Understand that getting a client to invest in your writing services for the first time is a multi-step process, in most cases. Again, don’t anticipate immediate results. Understand that selling your services to a business is a person-to-person contact. Avoid focusing on selling your services to the business; instead focus on selling your services to the client, the key decision-maker. That’s why it’s important to get the name of the person in charge before you make initial contact. This point is especially true if you are pitching an idea to a magazine; always pitch to the person in charge, the editor, and always know the editor’s full name.

Tapping into your market requires some knowledge on:

1) LOCALITY. If you decide to write for businesses or ad agencies, you should know where your market is located. Your market can be divided among many places, but which areas are more accessible so you can reduce costs? Not all of your markets will be local or within your state, especially if you are freelancing for magazines. For this reason, most writers set up their businesses in a way that makes receiving work easy, such as establishing your own business website. If you discover that your market is located close to you as well as in other states, you must decide on your marketing strategy: will you first target the market nearest you, or will you target both areas at once. Locality is not a concern if you decide to freelance write for magazines, however, writing for local publications can be a big plus.

2) RESOURCES. You need to research what types of resources are available so you can gather contact information of prospects within your market. Again, the type of market affects the different types of resources available to you. If you’re writing for magazines, you can tap into Writer’s Market Online to locate freelance work. If you’re writing for ad agencies, you can peruse the Yellow Pages of your phone book or search online business-to-business directories. You can also use online job search engines, services marketplaces like, and job boards. Digging up prospects may require extensive research, simple observation, or both.

3) GETTING QUALIFIED LEADS. If you lack resources to find prospects for your type of market, you may decide to “test” the market. You can do so in a variety of ways. The old-fashioned ways still work, such as advertising in the newspaper or trade magazine, sending out promotional material, using PR techniques, or networking at special events, trade shows and seminars. I got many new clients advertising my freelance services in my local newspaper. These days writers prefer generating leads via the Internet, as it is more effective and less costly, such as using a blend of e-mail marketing, online public relations, search engine advertising, networking on discussion forums, replying to job posts, and so on. Using some of these methods will solicit contact information of prospects who show interest in your services.

4) PROSPECT LIST. Once you gather a good size of qualified leads – (prospects who have shown interest in your services or have made an inquiry) – you need to create a prospect list. Your prospect list is the bulwark of your business; it contains full names of prospects and how to contact each one. Using repeated offline and online marketing techniques, you will use your prospect list to get yourself work; turn prospects into paying clients; promote yourself to likely prospects; and create and maintain rapport. Establishing rapport with a prospect usually leads up to getting an assignment.

5) MARKETING MATERIALS. The type of marketing materials you use depends on your marketing strategy. Because preparing marketing materials is beyond the scope of this article, here is what most writers have as “basic” marketing pieces: a cover letter (or introduction letter), sales letter, business card, samples, client testimonials, capabilities brochure (or a menu of writing services), and results of past projects. Today most writers have their own websites showcasing these pieces (or similar pieces) of marketing materials. If you don’t have a business website yet, build a free portfolio at

6) MARKETING APPROACH. Writers use two ways to get work from clients: either the prospect approaches the writer with the job, or the writer approaches the client with an idea for an assignment or project. The first approach works if you have built a reputation for yourself. Clients seek you out as a result of a referral, or having read something by you, or searching for a writer with a certain specialty. The second approach is more common. Most writers secure work by marketing themselves aggressively and contacting the prospect with an idea, inquiry, query, and so forth.


The most familiar and useful way beginning writers get clients is via networking as well as through people whom they know. Try this direct approach first. You will save a lot of time and money. Also pitch yourself to any previous employers to see if they are interested in your writing services.


Defining your writing business consists of two parts: the surface and the substance.

The surface of your writing business is its image. Your skills, writing services, type of market, and who you are – your values, beliefs, desires and interests – all assemble facets of your business image.

A strong business image is crucial: you need to define your overall business image in a way that prospects view your business the same way you do. For example, if you want prospects to approach you with public relations projects, you should present yourself as a public relations specialist, not a writer who offers PR services plus an assortment of other writing services.

If you want clients to look at your business as “professional and current with today’s technology,” your promotional materials and marketing efforts better reflect it.

You can define your business image by defining:

1) BUSINESS NAME. You can use your full name or create a name. I named my earlier writing business, “The Write Talent” because I drew in clients who wanted the right talent for the right writing job. When designing a business name, make sure it conveys a positive message about your business.

2) BUSINESS SLOGAN. This is optional. You can design a slogan that pitches your business image to prospects. For example, my slogan was: “The right talent for the write job.” Brilliant, isn’t it?

3) YOUR TITLE. Most writers simply use “freelance writer” as their title. What a bore! Spiff it up! Use communications consultant, PR pro, marketing specialist, high-tech copywriter, direct mail writer, freelance entertainment writer, or so on. Use a descriptive word in your title to help define you and your specialty if you have one.

4) MARKETING MATERIALS. When preparing your marketing materials (i.e. promotional materials and/or informational materials used to sell you and your services), remember this: quality counts. Your marketing materials (including your website, blog, and e-mail messages) must not contain errors and it must be professional looking; otherwise, clients will associate your sloppiness and amateur image with your level of skills.


I always emphasize the importance of marketing every day and keeping track of your bookkeeping duties; otherwise ignoring these two aspects will result in an unhealthy business. You must maintain a watchful eye on the pulse of your business or you risk making lousy decisions that can crumble your business to the ground.

You can define the substance of your business (i.e. how it operates) by defining:

1) BUSINESS BUDGET. You must set up a budget so you know how much you can spend and how much you must save.

2) OVERHEAD. How much will it cost you to run your business? Advertising, office supplies, rent, computer equipment, etc. are part of your overhead. If you’re not careful, overhead can drain your business of expenses. Define what is a healthy and an unhealthy overhead for your business.

3) EARNINGS. How much do you anticipate to earn per hour, per project, or per day? You must establish your rates so you know how much you want to charge for your time, how much you can earn in one year, and how many assignments you need to reach your daily, weekly, monthly and annual financial goals.

4) MARKETING. When you market, you stop yourself from earning billable hours from clients. Yet marketing is crucial because it generates work for you. As a rule of thumb, many writers set aside two to three hours per day for marketing alone.

5) HOURS OF OPERATION. How much time will you work a day? The amount of hours you invest in your business will also affect your budget size, overhead, how much you want to earn, and so on. Determine if you want to freelance part-time or full-time.

6) BOOKKEEPING. I saved the best one for last: bookkeeping. Yuck! Set up a bookkeeping system that is most convenient for you. Accurate and current bookkeeping will tell you the status of your business: is it healthy or unhealthy? Bookkeeping will also tell you if your current marketing strategies were effective and if you need to change them or not. If you’re unfamiliar with bookkeeping, go to your local Small Business Association and get a free consultant. If you need an accountant, then use one on a part-time or an infrequent basis.


I hope this article allowed you to see that you have what it takes to build your own writing business. Right now, glimpse into your future. Do you see yourself living the life you desire and doing the things you enjoy most in life? Do you see yourself with your own writing business a couple of years from now, working for dozens of high-paying clients, and finally earning what you are worth? Yes, I know you do. You want to succeed. It’s one reason why you are reading this article.

On a piece of paper, chart your pathway to success. First, define where you want to be, what you want to be doing, and what you want to have in your life (both tangible and intangible items) in one year, three years, five years, ten years, twenty years, and so on. Secondly, set goals with deadlines to achieve these things. Having a deadline with a goal ensures that you will remain focused on your progress. Thirdly, define the reasons why you must achieve success – and why you must not quit. Squeeze all of your passions, emotions and desires out of yourself. Listen to your feelings and allow them to help define your future.

Defining your future can be the most motivating factor that will help you attain success. Every time you look into the future and know you’re making progress to a specified destination, you will feel joy, excitement and control in your life that you’ve never felt before.

Howard Vernon, a respected philosopher and psychologist in the 1960s, stated: “What you want in life also wants you.” Success already wants you – it’s just a matter of reaching it with the right strategies and mindset.

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