10 best practices of freelancers

For over a decade I marketed my services as a freelance writer. Today, I’m a lot more specialized but technically I’m still a freelancer (because I’m not an employee).

I’ve been at this game a while and I love it. And, unfortunately, I’ve seen many others come and go.

Here are 10 best practices of those who freelance or are thinking about it:

1. Work at home.

When I tell people I write for a living, many tell me how envious they are that I can go work at a local park or a local cafe whenever I want. They picture me sitting there, sipping my frappa-mocha-cappa-whatever while I think about the perfect word.

It doesn’t work that way. You get paid to produce, not to mull over the perfect word while you sip a barista-pulled dark roast. Work in a very focused home office (or, occasionally, at a client’s office). Save the park and the cafe for client meetings or breaks.

2. Freelancing is selling.

Your ability to write will not get you hired. The only thing that will get you hired is your ability to find people who need content and to present yourself as the very best option for them. Most freelancer I know who have failed or struggled or given up, have done so because they didn’t realize how much selling was required.

That happened to me the very first time I started my freelancing business. I simply wasn’t prepared to sell. So when my first freelance biz folded, I got a job in sales, learned to sell, and then restarted freelancing when I was ready… and the difference was profound.

3. You need to master your time.

No employer is looking over your shoulder. You’re the last line of defense for your own productivity. So when you set a deadline, work toward it. Put in time every day until you are done. Projects don’t write themselves and you’ll get even more productive work done when you do a bit every day instead of piling it all on just before it’s due. Set a timer and write for that period of time each day.

Full disclosure: This is a best practice that I have not yet fully achieved.

4. Figure out what gets you paid and do it over and over.

Newbie freelancers spend too much time researching, thinking, crafting, pondering. Stop doing that. You get paid to produce. You get paid to write. Of course you need to research and think and craft and ponder but the money is in the handing over an excellent piece of content. Therefore, you need to think very carefully about what you do that actually gets you paid and focus on that.

Systematize your research by building a research checklist and a library of categorized links to great content. Become good at thinking quickly about the project. Stop trying to craft something clever and instead work on something effective. Focus on what gets you paid and minimize, automate, or delegate the rest.

5. Protect your body.

You’re sitting all day, writing. That can be bad for your weight, your back, and your wrists. Invest in a good chair and an ergonomic keyboard. And maintain good health by eating right and working out and getting a good sleep. You don’t need to invest in a lot of stuff to get started as a freelancer but you’ll be far more productive when you invest in these things.

6. Build a marketing system.

Freelancers can too easily fall into a boom/bust business. When times are good, they focus on writing for their clients and they skip out on the marketing. This is fine while they have clients but once those clients’ projects wrap up, they need to be replenished with something else… and until they are, it can be a very dry period.

A strong marketing system (emphasis on SYSTEM) ensures that new clients are always coming in and replacing those that leave. Keep it simple and work on it every single day.

7. Raise your rates.

One of the things that saved my business early on and convinced me to make a living as a freelancer is a practice I adopted with my clients: To replace my lowest paying client with a highest paying client. So if I had 10 clients, I would wrap up my lowest paying client and try to find someone who paid even more than my highest paying client. This ensured that my income always trended up. Sure, it didn’t work that way all the time, but it’s still a practice I adopt to ensure my income is headed in the right direction.

8. Start early.

When you get a client project, do something big on the project within the first 12 hours. Just get started. Do some research, crank out an outline, maybe write the first chapter. Whatever. Just get some action on it in the first 12 hours and that will help you think about it when you’re not working on it, and you’ll complete the project sooner and at a higher quality.

9. Specialize fast.

If you start out as a freelancer, that’s fine. Nothing wrong with that. But my recommendation is to find a specialization as quickly as you can and zoom in on it. You’ll get paid more and the work is actually easier (because you’re not starting at zero with every project).

Sure, at the very beginning it doesn’t hurt do be a generalist — just to get your feet wet and find out what you’re interested in writing about. I would have never discovered my niche if I hadn’t done that. But as soon as I specialized, everything changed for my business.

10. Write, dammit.

I don’t believe in writer’s block. Never have. Maybe it exists for fiction writers, I’m not sure, but it doesn’t happen to me. Am I lucky? I don’t think so. I understand that freelancers get paid to produce. So I sit down and write. I start typing, even if I’m not 100% sold on what I’m putting down. That first paragraph might be rough but I can always go back to fix it later. The most important thing is getting started and building momentum. The rest gets fixed in the editing process. So just write, write, write, write, write, write, write.

Learn how to be a freelance writer — Step by step

Every month or two, someone contacts me and asks me how to become a freelance writer. I love it and I’m happy to coach someone along that path.

Recently, someone else asked me for some help and as I was replying to them, I thought to myself: “I’ve written this out before… several times”. So last week I gathered my notes and “system” together and published it on a Squidoo lens in a step-by-step format that someone can follow.

Check it out!

LEARN HOW TO BE A FREELANCE WRITER — STEP BY STEP

Feel free to leave a comment on that lens and let me know if there is any information you’d like me to include!

How to be a successful, profitable freelancer by building a freelance sales funnel

The secret to being a successful, profitable freelancer is to treat it like a business. Set aside time to work, set aside time to live. Manage your expenses and income. And most importantly, build a sales funnel and fill it with contacts from your target market.

If you’re thinking about becoming a freelancer, or if you are already one and trying to improve your success, start by creating a sales funnel. A freelance sales funnel will help you to focus your time by marketing in the right ways to the people who are most likely going to buy from you. And, by constructing your sales funnel effectively, you will reduce the amount that you need to sell (and increase the amount of people who come flocking to you).

ANSWER THESE QUESTIONS TO BUILD YOUR FREELANCE SALES FUNNEL
Start with the Audience stage of your sales funnel.

  • Who is your target market?
  • Where do those people spend time?
  • What problems do they have?

Next, think about the Leads stage of your sales funnel.

  • How will you know that they are Leads?
  • How can you show them that you are an expert at what you do?

Next, think about the Prospects stage of your sales funnel.

  • How will you know that they are Prospects?
  • How can you offer your services to them?
  • What specifically will you sell to them?
  • How can you provide your Prospects with the assurance that you can be trusted?
  • How will you know when they’ve agreed to buy from you?

Next, think about the Customer stage of your sales funnel.

  • How will you know that they are Customers?
  • How will you deliver your services?
  • How will they pay you?

Lastly, think about the Evangelist stage of your sales funnel.

  • How will you know that they are Evangelists?
  • How can you get them to buy from you again?
  • How can you get them to promote your services for you?

MY FREELANCE SALES FUNNEL
I’m now going to write out the sales funnel I used when I was a freelancer. I’m only going to give you the most basic version of my sales funnel. There were other elements, but you can build out and scale up (or down) your sales funnel as you see fit. But here’s a starting place if you want it:

  • Audience: I would search Guru.com for freelance writing projects posted by business owners.
  • Leads: When I found a particular project, I added it to my Watchlist (a sort-of short list that is built into Guru’s interface).
  • Prospects: This was a multi-step stage of the sales funnel for me: I would submit a proposal and then point the business owner to my blog. We would usually exchange emails or a phone call and then he or she would accept me as the professional for their project.
  • Customers: I would write the content they needed and submit it. When they were happy with it, they would pay me.
  • Evangelists: This was another multi-step stage of the sales funnel: I would usually connect with them on LinkedIn and Twitter, solicit at least one testimonial from them, and offer them additional services from time to time.

That’s it! That was a very basic version of my sales funnel. Over time, I added other elements at each stage, but if I ever had to start back at zero all over again, I’d do the same thing with this basic sales funnel.

If you’re a freelancer, feel free to adopt this sales funnel and apply it to your business. You don’t have to be a freelance writer — it works for all kinds of freelancers, consultants, coaches, and more.