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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).