Facts: You’re a good writer. You’re a smart cookie. You’re a hustler with a can-do mindset. So… why is it so hard to find new writing clients?
The frantic search by freelancers to land lucrative gigs seems never-ending. If you hang around Facebook groups and Quora pages long enough, you may start to wonder if this whole full time freelancing thing is total BS.
Posts and comment threads are bursting with frustrated writers who feel ripped off by an impossible dream and are ready to go back to their cubicles. I mean, is anyone getting clients out there?
Well, yeah! They are. Every day. And now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s move on to the obvious question…
What are successful freelance writers doing differently?
The answer isn’t complicated: They’re staying flexible. And flexibility/adaptability might just be the theme of this entire post.
(Don’t worry, I’ll go deeper than that so you can get some more specific answers.)
There are many blog posts out there by thriving freelancers that attempt to outline best practices for career and income growth, but most don’t mention something crucial: the fact that different strategies work for different freelancers.
Your industry, your services, and your rates are all variables that need to be tested over time in order to find your client-finding sweet spot.
Successful freelancers know that this is an ever-evolving process, and they change things up if their current strategy isn’t working out.
Not surprisingly, this need for trial and error problem solving can be frustrating. So frustrating, in fact, that it’s enough for some writers to throw in the towel completely. But don’t do that.
Instead, make a cup of tea, sit back, breathe deep, and prepare to take a long, honest look at your freelance strategy.
There’s a reason (or perhaps more than one reason) you’re not getting work while other freelancers are. You just need to figure out where the blockages are and unclog ’em.
Here are five questions to ask yourself if you’re not getting writing jobs—before you hit the panic button.
1. Is the price right?
I’m addressing this at the top of the list because I’m willing to bet this went through your mind the last time a proposal you sent out got rejected:
“Oh, sh*t… are my rates too high?”
Putting a dollar value on services trips everyone up, and there’s no shame in that.
When you transition from the corporate world, you tend to transfer over a comparable hourly rate or do some quick research on other writers in your niche to arrive at a number. When that number doesn’t fly with potential clients, it’s normal to freak out and drop your rates lower.
But before you go descending to bargain-basement status, remember that clients expect you to charge for the value you deliver. Put a pin in that idea of lowering your rates, and consider the fact that they might be… (wait for it) too low!
Frantic freelancers tend to charge less than they’re worth to avoid getting passed over for cheaper content mill style writers. That’s a mistake.
Good clients aren’t interested in bargain prices. They’re looking for writers that have an in-depth understanding of their industry and their audience.
They’re looking for professionals they can count on—and they know that it won’t going to be cheap to find them.
If your price tag is too low, you could actually be deterring them by not properly representing how awesome you are.
Think about it: Would you trust a doctor with an absurdly low price? Or get a $5 pedicure? Or get your brows microbladed in someone’s basement for $100?
And while bargain hunting might be ingrained in your head from shopping for cheap decor at target, you also know that it’s smarter to pay more for quality when it really matters.
2. Is my niche on point?
I can’t write a blog post these days without coming back to how freaking important niches are. 😉
Adjusting your niche can make a huge difference in the number of clients that pay attention to you. I learned this lesson first hand when I narrowed my own niche. The difference in my own income from generalist to niched specialist was mind-blowing.
Previously, I’d do anything from social posts for wellness brands to blogging for vintage furniture companies. My portfolio was a scattered mess, and response from high-end clients was lackluster.
Once I zeroed in on my ideal market and updated my entire web presence and portfolio to reflect this, I not only landed a higher percentage of the gigs I inquired about, but clients also started coming to me.
Let me tell you, there’s nothing more beautiful than waking up to an inbox full of people who want to pay you.
Seriously though, niches are another conundrum that manages to confuse freelancers to the point where they end up throwing in the towel before they even get a chance to see their own potential.
Don’t be that freelancer.
Being too broad can make you seem like an undesirable generalist, making high-quality clients run the other way. Being specific but not aligned with your ideal client’s needs won’t help you either.
Figure this puzzle out by weighing your skills against your interests and then examine what there is an actual market need for right now. A growing market need, that is! Don’t attach yourself to any sinking ships or bet on print medium making a huge comeback.
Between your skills, interests, and the market, you should find your niche sweet spot. And again, don’t be afraid to experiment and tweak until you find the right place to build your foundation.
A word to the wise: Don’t google around to find the highest paying niches and just go with that. Research is good, but doing your own research and aligning your niche to your skillset is the best route to developing a sustainable career.
Go forth and niche!
3. Am I stuck in the dark ages?
This one probably isn’t your fault, so don’t sweat it.
If you’re like many freelance writers, you’ve spent a good portion of time in a corporate job, bending and twisting to fit into the archaic infrastructure planted during the industrial freaking revolution.
Yes, you read that right. Systems made standard in the 1700s—1800s are still being used to control… ahem, I mean to employ the masses.
Freelancers live and work on their own terms, and as the freelance and remote workforce grows exponentially, this modern way of life is becoming the norm.
Creative, specialized jobs are being handled by a generation of skilled problem solvers that don’t fit into the mold of the traditional office employee.
The problem is, once you leave the traditional workforce and enter the freelance world, you may try to whip out that old school currency—a dusty, out of touch resume and generic cover letter, for instance—only to find that these go-to documents don’t quite cut it anymore.
So what does work?
First, consider the fact that we’re now living in the “connection economy”, as my hero Seth Godin so accurately puts it.
Businesses and freelancers that are going to be long-haul successful cannot rely on shady tactics and quick fixes to land clients and grow.
Instead, you must have the emotional intelligence to make a personal connection with whoever is screening applicants.
☕️ A resume and cover letter can be the very first impression that a person has of you. So why do yours seem boring, out of date, or written in a robotic voice?
☕️ Your writing website is a one-stop-shop to, again, make that first impression and turn a lead into a client. Why isn’t it up to date and easy to navigate?
☕️ A project proposal is a chance to show a client you actually care about their company and the problem you’re trying to solve. So why is your pitch all about you?
You get the picture.
The future of doing business as a freelancer lies in personal relationships, an ever-expanding network, and your ability to be human in a sea of robots.
4. Do clients know where to find me?
No one hands you a map when you start freelancing that shows you exactly where clients are hiding. There’s no whistle you can blow that’ll make ’em come running, either. Despite this, clients are not elusive, fabled creatures that only appear when your back is turned.
They’re real, and they are ready to pay freelancers to solve their problems.
I know client-hunting can feel like the most intimidating and unpredictable part of being a writer, but if you’re letting it scare you into a state of inaction, you’re in for some elusive, fabled income.
Nobody wants that!
In addition to hunting for leads, you should also be spreading the word about your writing services and adequately representing yourself as an expert in delivering writing services in your niche.
That means having a functioning website—with SEO-optimization, if you want to get found via organic search, and believe me, you do!—social profiles for your writing business (Linkedin is a non-negotiable), and an Upwork profile (yes, I believe having an Upwork profile can be a huge advantage. Why miss out on those leads?), in addition to any other ways you can stand out in your niche.
Think author profiles on relevant content platforms, listings on resume uploading sites, etc. Get creative! Show up everywhere your ideal client is looking. Be impossible to miss.
You can also show up in Facebook groups and online communities (ie: Reddit and Quora) to answer questions people are asking in your niche and connect with potential clients there.
Finally, does your network know you’re a writer? Your family, friends, ex-coworkers, peers?
I’ve had a lot of work come from referrals someone made when they met a business owner who needed writing services. Be that person who pops up in the minds of others when they hear about an opportunity.
Basically, you increase your odds of finding work and being connected with projects when you put yourself out there.
Your online presence should make it easy for your ideal client to say, “Where has this writer been all my life?!”
If you’re not EVERYWHERE, then this is an area you could be improving upon.
5. Am I actually trying…?
I couldn’t finish this post without including the obvious: it’s a lot easier to complain about not getting clients than to do the consistent work it takes to find and secure them.
Remote jobs are growing every day, and clients are posting up opportunities constantly.
Still, I see freelance writers putting themselves down and throwing in the towel way too early on a weekly basis.
In one writing group I’m a member of on Facebook, a content writer made a long, heart-wrenching post about being at her wit’s end. She was done, she said. She was giving up. She simply couldn’t find enough writing jobs to sustain her lifestyle.
I always try to offer some suggestions or motivation when I see posts like that, because closer to the beginning of my career, I was the one struggling to see how this would all work out.
I know what it feels like!
I clicked over to her profile, which had a link to her portfolio. I guess you could say I wasn’t completely surprised by what I saw.
This writer’s client acquisition process was completely random. Her profile was an unprofessional mess, and her website was pure chaos. On top of that, she was targeting a wildly broad niche. And it took me a few minutes of searching to figure out what that broad niche even was.
Long story short, she was taking herself out of the game before giving herself a chance to succeed.
Complaining is tempting, especially in public forums. Solidarity feels nice when everyone is facing similar challenges. I don’t judge anyone who spends some time lamenting to other writers about their client-finding woes, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to wipe those tears and apply some strategy.
Re-strategizing takes a lot more determination than complaining, but you ARE capable!
You’ll be surprised how things start clicking into place when you start working smarter.
Did any of the questions above shed some light on what needs work in your freelancing strategy? Let’s wrap this up so you can take action on what you’ve uncovered.
It can be seriously frustrating when you’re putting in the energy to build your career and you keep coming up empty. Many of us were sold on the promise that the freelance life would be easy—a reprieve from the 9-5.
But in many ways, it’s more difficult.
Those rampant “10 Steps to Freelancing” fluff pieces leave out something very important. The idea of working for yourself is so romanticized that writers forget to consider the amount of problem-solving required to sustain a self-employed career.
Once you go freelance, projects aren’t coming down the pipe from your boss. That paycheck isn’t guaranteed unless you’re securing work.
Most of us haven’t been trained in the art of seeking out and securing clients regularly, so while it seems like an appealing, empowering challenge, the reality of the situation can hit you like a ton of bricks.
When you’re just starting out—or even if you’ve been at this for a while and haven’t hit your stride—a freelance career ends up feeling like two fulltime jobs. Securing work can be time-consuming. And then, you have to do the actual work! Aaah!
The truth is, even the best freelancers out there have moments where they’re struggling to secure gigs. The difference between the pros and the amateurs? The pros overcome dry spells by taking a step back and reassessing their game plan. Then, they can adjust their approach.
The good news is, even if you’re just starting out, you can do the same.
Let me know if the above tips work for you. I’d love to hear from you in the comments or over in our Freelance Writing Cafe Facebook group.
HERO IMAGE LICENSED VIA CREATIVE MARKET
ADDITIONAL IMAGES VIA PEXELS & UNSPLASH
This post originally appeared on Day Job Optional in May 2018. It has been edited for Freelance Writing Cafe.