3 Ways to Succeed as a Freelancer by Conducting Experiments

Carol Tice

by Linda Formichelli

I see it all the time: Aspiring freelance writers stay stuck in newbie-land because they don’t know precisely what to do. They fear that they need to always be doing the exact right thing at the exact right time — or why bother?

Guess what? There is no one exact right way. There is only the right way for you.

And how do you find out the right way for you? By experimenting.

Here’s how:

1. Ask “What If?”

Successful writers don’t take anything for granted. Sure, they learn all they can from the pros, but they also use their imaginations to develop new and better ways of writing, marketing, and conducting their business.

Pros come up with new theories and test them out. “What would happen if I pitched editors on the phone?” “What if I snail mailed sales letters instead of sending e-mails to copywriting prospects?” “What if sent my clients gifts for Valentine’s Day instead of Christmas?”

Experimenting with different tactics by asking “What if?” will keep you from following the crowd like a writer sheep. For example, while everyone else is bombarding clients with cards and gifts at Christmas — and getting lost in the rush — you might stand out by sending your gifts on a different holiday.

I did this myself: One year on tax day, when I calculated that Family Circle made up most of my income that year, I asked myself, “What if I sent them a Tax Day gift to say thank you?” And I did.

You can be sure that my Tax Day gift stood out a lot more than the crush of holiday cards and candy they received in December — and I went on to write close to 20 articles for this magazine.

Buck Conventional Wisdom

Following conventional writing wisdom will only get you so far. You never know what will really work for you until you experiment with different ways of doing things.

It helps to know the rules that everyone else is playing by, but you need to tweak the tactics you learn to make them fit your own circumstances and personal style.

For example, when I first started out I was writing one-page queries like all the writing books and magazines advised writers to do. But only when I started experimenting with longer queries — up to three pages — did I have success with the coveted women’s magazine market. I bucked the conventional wisdom — and it paid off.

What you read a piece of advice, remember that’s what worked for some writers (or even for only one writer). That advice is usually a great starting point and will get you on your way — but you can only do as well as the other writers who follow that advice. To reach the highest level of success you can, try out different tactics and see how they work for you.

Ready, Fire, Aim

Most new writers take the conventional approach “Ready, aim, fire.” The problem is that this becomes “Ready, aim, aim, aim, aim…” That’s because you don’t want to take action until you’re absolutely sure you’re doing the right thing — which means you never take action at all.

The personal development blogger Steve Pavlina recommends taking the approach “Ready, fire, aim.” It means you choose something to do — anything at all — do it, see what happens, and correct course as necessary. It’s the only way to discover what works.

For example, instead of not pitching editors because you’re afraid your queries aren’t perfect, just start sending them out. Send out dozens. You’ll learn quickly enough if you’re doing it right from the reactions you get from editors. Lots of acceptances and “nice” rejections that invite you to keep pitching? You’re doing it right. Lots of form rejections? Something’s amiss. Tweak your tactics and keep trying.

It’s better to get out a bunch of “almost there” marketing and experiment with ways to make it work than to hold off until everything is perfect — which will be never.

Have you ever experimented with different ways of writing or marketing? Let us know in the comments.

Linda Formichelli writes the Renegade Writer blog, and teaches the Freelance Writers Blast Off Class for Newbies with me (registration for our January class closes next week).


  1. Rae

    Love the tax day gift idea. Can I ask you to share ideas of what sorts of gifts you send to clients? I honestly wouldn’t know where to begin with choosing a gift for someone I know virtually nothing about…

    • Linda Formichelli

      Glad you like the idea! I sent them a box of brownies from Fairytale Brownies, but I’ve also sent editors magnetic poetry kits and gift cards to Starbucks. Last year for Christmas (I know, I know — pretty typical) I sent 20 or so of my editors a $5 gift card to Starbucks and invited them to have a latte on me. Got a great response!

    • Carol Tice

      A $10 Starbucks card always works for me, personally.

      I once sent one to a marketing manager who I knew had gone to a lot of effort to find nurses I could interview at their hospital, for a recruiting package I was writing for them.

      • Rae

        Linda and carol, thank you so much for taking the time and energy to respond. I appreciTe it. Yep, brownies and Starbucks sounds good!

  2. Erika

    “Ready, fire, aim” has been a good tactic for me. I was inspired by one of Carol’s cold-calling webinars. I can’t remember who the speaker was, but she called and emailed firms she knew something about, but didn’t do a ton of research. I still avoid cold-calling, but my query letters to corporations have gone from being long and over-thought to being more like, “I’m an experienced freelance writer. You do X. I write about X for these companies. Do you ever hire freelancers on a regular or contract basis?” I got some good responses, and the process doesn’t take me nearly as long as it used to.

    • Linda Formichelli

      Erika, that’s exactly the way I do it! My letters of introduction are like 3 short paragraphs: “I like your website/magazine/etc. Do you hire freelancers? Here are my creds. May I send you some clips?”

      I’ve seen some longer LOIs that are really great, but this one works for me.

      • Dianna O'Brien

        As one of those aim, aim, aimers, can I assume then that you would not be searching trade publication magazines to be sure they take freelancers, but just gather the editor information to send that LOI?

        • Linda Formichelli

          Yes! That’s why I always ask in my LOI, “Do you assign articles to freelancers?” 🙂

          • Dianna O'Brien

            And shall I assume you recommend sending the LOI by email? I now have my heart set on writing for Pit & Quarry. 🙂

          • Linda Formichelli

            Yes! And don’t knock Pit & Quarry…I’ve written for some with weirder names…

          • Dianna O'Brien

            Actually, I meant my comment. I would so LOVE to write for Pit & Quarry. I’ll even be in Europe this summer, in case I need to visit a quarry to two.

    • Carol Tice

      Thanks for sharing your success story, Erika!

      I do find newer writers tend to go on too long, especially in explaining themselves. Where it should really be straightforward to explain what you do. The creative part is writing it in the company’s style so they see that you understand their culture.

  3. Ken

    Hit the nail on the head, especially with the “ready, aim, fire” So many get caught up in being “perfect.” DO something and something WILL happen. You’ll either learn a different method or you’ll impress a client and land that gig you want.

    Advice from seasoned pros, like yourself, is great. However there comes a time when you need to take all that advice and wisdom and put it into action in your own unique way. Even if you stumble along the way, you are still moving forward instead of staying stagnant.

    • Linda Formichelli

      Yes! A lot of people are stuck in learning mode. I shouldn’t knock it because a lot of them pay me to teach them, but eventually you need to just try it out on your own and correct course when necessary.

    • Stacey Herbert

      Hi Ken, a lot of what you said struck home with me. Like getting caught up in the ‘research’ stage, when it’s really just an excuse for not putting my head down and just doing – something. I made myself a promise that 2012 was the year I put a stop to that. Good insight, thanks

      • Carol Tice

        If you’re having trouble finding a direction, check out the Blast Off Class Linda and I are about to start…that’s the whole focus of the class is you emerge with a marketing plan, you learn about effective marketing including query letters, you target markets you’re going to go after, and you know how to move forward.

  4. Joshua Monen

    Thank you for this post! I also see far too many writers stuck in the “planning” mode instead of just doing something.

    I had an idea last summer…start a hyperlocal website for my town of 18,000 people. Then I could interview local business owners and write an article about their business on my site. At the end of the interview I would ask about their marketing efforts and let them know I’m a copywriter and marketing consultant.

    I chose a deadline (Sept 1, 2011), purchased the domain name and then started telling people about it (this forced me to actually deliver what I promised).

    This has proved to be a successful way to land jobs in my local area.

    Lesson: you never know unless you try!

    • Carol Tice

      What a great creative strategy for meeting prospects! Also ‘senders,’ as Carol Roth calls them. Everyone you write about may not need a copywriter, but they’ll sure spread the word about you. And soon, every business in town will have a printout of your story taped to the wall…so be sure to make your format for bylines have extra-big type.

      Hyperlocal sites are hot, I have a friend who just bought a URL for our island and I bet he’s going to do really well with it.

      But those of us in small towns also need to market in our nearest big city, too, in my view. I’ve gotten way more great, large clients that way.

  5. Maureen

    I’d suggest making a list of what you’re good at or skills you think might be of value in the freelance community. For example, I write online as a freelancer and have a few gigs on Fiverr for administrative assistant-type work doing mail merges, etc. Those are skills I have and tasks I can complete from home.

    • Linda Formichelli

      Good idea! You definitely want to consider what it is you offer and what about your offerings sets you apart.

  6. Stacey Herbert

    Hi Linda, this post was really on time for me. Only last night I was thinking about what I could do differently to last year and different to my competitors. Don’t have all the answers yet, but there were some great suggestions here. Thanks

    • Linda Formichelli

      Thanks, Stacey…I’m glad the post was helpful to you as you plan your 2012! Here’s wishing you much success…

  7. Tony Scott

    Thanks for this great article, I know the things that I need to do to be an accomplished writer. I think all I need is to gain a lot of confidence and courage to do unconventional things.

    • Linda Formichelli

      Yes, confidence is importance. You can have a ton of talent but if you don’t have the confidence to get your work out there, you won’t succeed.

  8. Debra Weiss

    Linda, thanks so much for your Ready, Aim, Fire advice. Like other writers, I get bogged down in focusing on the aim. When I saw your post yesterday, I knew I had to do something so I sent out that query I’d been obsessing about for two weeks. It felt great to get that off my plate and now I can concentrate on more queries! 🙂

    • Linda Formichelli

      YAY! Please circle back and let us know how it went with your query, please? And send out some more because it’s a total numbers game!

  9. Deborah

    Due to a death in my family, I was unable to watch the free webinar when it first came out. But, I set time aside to view it today. Unfortunately, when I clicked on the link, I discovered that the viewing time had expired. Had I known this from the start, I would have “made” time to watch it.

    Please notify people, in advance, if there’s an expiration date on any of your products.


    • Carol Tice

      Sorry Deborah — I’ll send you a link to it if you’re already registered. I felt like I said it was closing end of Thursday so many times I was becoming annoying, but sorry if those messages missed you.

  10. Anne Wayman

    Doing something, anything, is better than not – good ideas.


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