How to Get the Most Lucrative Writing Clients, Part I: 5 Traits of Top Payers

Carol Tice

Earn Big From Freelance Writing Clients

What exactly does a great-paying client look like, anyway? To earn more, you need to find better-paying clients. To find them, you need to know what you’re looking for.

Here’s a way to think about clients that can serve as a guide: Take out your 1099 forms from last year and look through them. Which one has the biggest number on it? That’s your top client.

I’m going to take a flier here and bet that client gave you work in more than one month of the year. Likely, you did work for that client for many months, or possibly every month, all year.

Next, consider how many hours you spent to earn that big paycheck, and determine that account’s hourly rate. If you’re working too many hours to earn one of those big annual fees, then you want to swap that client for one with a better hourly rate.

To earn more, you want to find big, ongoing clients that will throw you a large quantity of steady work in the course of a year at professional rates.

Having major clients brightens your earning picture in multiple ways. Managing a handful of large-volume clients is far easier and less time-consuming administratively than managing many small fry. You spend less time marketing, maximize your billable hours, and you have more financial security.

Here are five traits I find the best clients — whether corporations or publications — have in common:


  1. They  have used freelancers before. You are not breaking this client in. They understand how to work with contractors and respect them as professionals. When you quote them rates like $1oo a blog, $1 a word, or $100 an hour, they don’t bat an eye.
  2. They have a large volume of potential work. This is the difference between writing one article, and selling a monthly column. Or writing one Web page, versus writing for a company Web site with thousands of pages that need constant updates. The best clients have steady work you can rely on every month. I’ve had both publications I could count on for $2,000 or more a month of assignments and companies with that much work in billable monthly hours, or more. For the most part, these publications have a large circulation, and the companies are medium- to large-sized (though a well-funded startup can have quite a volume of work as well).
  3. You can grow the relationship. This publication has special sections, a quarterly specialty publication, it’s spinning off books or ebooks, or it’s adding Web content. The company is opening new branch offices, or creating new products that will need Web sites. No matter the client type, the bottom line is it’s an expanding, thriving organization. As you make yourself invaluable to your first editor, you can gain access to others and keep growing your earnings from this one client.
  4. They’re receptive to project proposals.As you learn more about this client’s needs, you can propose projects they haven’t even realized they need done yet, and get them assigned. Whether it’s starting a new monthly column in a magazine, or creating white papers or ghostwritten articles for CEOs, your handlers are sophisticated enough to value your ideas and have the budget to greenlight content that you can demonstrate will help the organization.
  5. They have a large and/or moneyed readership. The company that was my most lucrative account to date had an audience of pension-fund managers, actuaries and insurance companies. The publications have served wealthy venture capitalists and well-off business owners. Think of finding a professional association where members are doctors, lawyers, or university professors. Find organizations where money is flowing in, and they can pay a living wage.

Have I missed any traits of lucrative clients? Leave a comment or question below.

Now that I’ve described what a great client looks like, next week I’ll discuss strategies for connecting with these big-time clients. Subscribe to Make a Living Writing, and you won’t miss it.

Photo via Flickr user MShades


  1. Joseph Ratliff

    Another trait of a lucrative client, is they understand the business you’re writing for.

    For example, as a direct response copywriter, I work with clients who already understand the value of a marketing copywriter to their business. Companies who market via direct mail, who maintain lists, who already market online etc…

    This way you don’t have to “educate” the client and try to convince them your service will benefit their business.

  2. Anne Wayman

    Carol, I’d add “willing to pay my rates.” Of course, if you’re looking at existing clients that’s a given. Good list of traits to look for… the other site, of course, is being willing to charge enough.

  3. Carol Tice

    Hi Joseph —

    Great addition to the list — they’ve already done your KIND of writing work.

    I can definitely testify it helps. I’ve been the first pro blogger for several clients…and it’s a big ramp. So the hourly rate doesn’t work out as well.

    On the other hand, if you enjoy blogging, the amount of opportunity available to help companies start up their blogs is HUGE.

  4. Jean Gogolin

    Hi Carol,

    You’ve alluded to this, but make sure your primary contact at the client has enough authority to make decisions about giving you assignments and paying for them. I also ask for referrals once I’m sure a new client is happy with my work, and sometimes I also ask for an endorsement on my website or LinkedIn page. Both count for a lot.

    • Carol Tice

      Hi Jean —

      Thanks for visiting!

      Certainly agree with everything you've said…but you're veering into some marketing issues there. For this post I just wanted to focus on how to know a big-money client when you see one.

      Next week, I'll talk about how to connect with these seemingly rare beasts…and one thing to consider there is definitely whether you've found the decisionmaker within the organization! Nothing worse than getting stroked off by someone who turns out to need to take the idea to a committee somewhere for approval they may or may not get.


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