5 Super-Easy Ways Freelance Writers Can Stand Out

Carol Tice

One freelance writer bug stands outDo you feel overwhelmed by all the competition out there for freelance writers?

I recently got an email from a writer who told me she was frantic to find a niche where she could somehow be noticed despite all the “entrenched” writers who would be nearly impossible to beat.

Actually, it’s not like that.

Mediocrity is the norm in much of the freelance-writing world, and there’s plenty of opportunity to stand out. If you don’t believe me, go to your Chamber of Commerce, get a copy of all the brochures out of the display, and go home and read them all. You’ll see they’re not all exactly Shakespeare.

Besides simply writing competently — which in itself can make you stand out in some industries — what else can you do? Here are my top five favorite easy ways to win clients over:

1. Don’t be a flake

I wish I had a dime for every writer who told me they got an editor’s feedback on a story with some edit requests, or they got a request to pitch an editor — and then they freaked out and never sent anything back. Just walked away from the opportunity. Because I’d be retired now and not needing to write this blog post.

Why do writers do these things to themselves? I don’t know, but it means you can win points by simply being responsive.

Tell you a scary story about this point — I recommended a colleague once not long ago, whom I’d happily worked with on a previous gig, to a prospect I didn’t have time to take on. I knew her writing and interviewing skills were great, so I didn’t have any hesitation about passing her name on.

Unfortunately, the client got back to me later to share that after many delays, this writer had totally flaked out on him. She never turned in the assignment! He ended up having to change his whole project around because time ran out and her piece had to be scrapped.

Of course, I was mortified to hear someone I referred let a client down. And you know I’m never recommending her again.

You’ll be amazed how far simply being reliable can take you in the freelance-writing biz. Because a lot of writers are busy being artistes and blowing their deadlines.

2. Proof your work

I know — you’re thinking, “Doesn’t everybody?” No. They don’t.

You’d be surprised how many writers think the first thing they jot down should be turned in, or emailed off to an editor as a pitch. If you’re bad at proofing, try to swap some writing with a friend and get them to catch your typos.

Well-proofed work makes editors less suspicious that your article is sloppily researched and reported. Instead, they’ll think you’re brilliant.

3. Don’t be a diva

Writers who’re used to writing on their own blog or their novel have a tendency to fall in love with their words.

This emotion has no place in the world of freelance writing. Here, you write to please a client. Whatever they want is what you need to deliver.

After they hate your first draft and want 20 things different in it, the correct response is, “Sure thing.” Not a big snarky tantrum about how they’re killing your precious prose.

Also don’t be a boundary-pusher, always asking for more time or a cover byline. Just do you work well, and you will be rewarded.

4. Don’t be a basket case

Mentoring 1,000+ writers in my Freelance Writers Den community has taught me this: A great many of us are a tad on the mentally fragile side.

Look at a writer sideways, and often, they implode. One rough week with an annoying client, and they’re ready to pack it in. One rejection letter, and they’re devastated.

For instance, here are a couple of emails I recently got about rejected queries:

“Just got my first rejection and am heartbroken. I feel really bad, but know I should just man-up and carry on. I worked really hard on my pieces.

“How long did it take before you could just take it on the chin? This feels terrible, but I don’t want to waste time mourning.”–Michelle

“If a fairly large, local consumer magazine responds to a query with a note saying that they don’t see a place for the story in their mag but good luck placing it elsewhere, is it safe to assume it was a decent query, or is it typical for editors to send out generic rejections like that?

“It’s my first real attempt at getting into a consumer magazine, and I’m feeling despondent about the reply I got (after 2.5 weeks).”–Talia

As a freelance writer, you can’t do this to yourself. You can’t sit counting the days until you get a response from an editor. And you can’t fall apart every time you have a setback.

You also can’t waste time trying to read the tea leaves in a rejection letter to suss out what the editor’s secret meanings might be. You’ll never really know.

The correct response to a query rejection is to continue on immediately, as if nothing has happened. Ideally, you did that the moment you pressed ‘send’ on the query, and have another dozen queries out by the time you hear that ‘no,’ so it isn’t your whole world crumbling that this didn’t work out.

This is business, and you need to be mentally tough, deal with disappointment fast, and keep right on marketing. Learn more about writing queries, too. Michelle sounds like maybe she was sending in completed articles instead of writing a query, which generally gets poorer results.

If you don’t need a month off to second-guess yourself or to mourn that one single query letter wasn’t accepted, you’ll be able to get a lot more work done that could find you clients.

5. Up your skills

At this point, there are plenty of writers who can write a blog post, or a short article. The question is, what else do you know how to write that commands higher rates?

If the answer is nothing, think about learning a specialized area — how to write case studies or annual reports, for instance. I’ve done both and they pay great.

Or hit the motherlode of reliable, great pay and learn how to write a sales page. Clients will always pay well for writing when they can see it directly results in more sales and income for their business.

Maybe this one is a bit less easy than the other four tips I’ve listed, and might cost a few bucks. But investing in your business is a major way to move yourself out of the mass of starving writers and create a viable niche for your freelance writing business.

How do you stand out as a freelance writer? Leave a comment and share your approach.

Freelance writing success


  1. Kevin Carlton

    Going by your post, Carol, and by my own experience it seems not many writers have the all-important ability to think from the client’s perspective.

    You’d think this would be prerequisite for a freelance writer.

    But it appears to be a rare commodity. And one that will set you apart from many other writers.

    • Carol Tice

      Great addition to my list, Kevin!

    • Katharine

      You’d think it would be a prerequisite for anyone in any business, but that’s definitely not the case!

  2. Willi Morris

    I do realize now the simplest things are what makes a writer stand out. Reliability was one an editor noted about me, and it seemed so silly – why wouldn’t I turn in my work on time except for an emergency? But a lot of people don’t honor deadlines. That’s something drilled into me at J-school.

    What sets me apart also is my knowledge and enthusiasm for administrative assistance. Being a huge fan of the Microsoft Office suite I think is a bonus. πŸ™‚

  3. Jane

    Proofing is something that most of the freelance writers (that I had experience with) usually miss! Freelancers don’t realize how badly this hits their reputation πŸ™‚

    Very valid points here! Thanks for sharing.

  4. Dan Stelter

    This is extraordinarily difficult to do, so I find it interesting. One tactic I’m using is that I have SEO and digital marketing knowledge. So, I can analyze client’s websites and tell them what to do to design-wise to make them sell better and techniques to get more search traffic. Many also don’t know how or why to build a list with their blog.

    I also tell clients I can communicate complex financial concepts and make them interesting to read (many times companies write this in dense language).

    Not sure if this differentiates me from other writers a lot, but it’s worth a try and focuses on client needs.

    • Carol Tice

      I think you’ve got two great skills there that make you stand out, Dan! I have that translation ability to — I just wrote a document where the gig was translating online educationese into English, and another where it was cable/broadcastese. The willingness to dive into a sector’s jargon and explain it to the public is always in demand.

      • Stephen Quinn

        Carol, how do you find clients that need someone to do this type of work?

        • Carol Tice

          Those two particular gigs came through my Forbes blog, Stephen, and are rooted in my years of experience reading business filings and financials. An M&A consultant reached out to me through reading me on the blog, and I did some case studies. Then recently, he referred me two of his clients for these projects.

          Most of my leads are inbound at this point. Try to get published in the biggest visibility places you can — you never know who’s reading. See if you can find a way to do a sample project where you translate a complicated topic into English, so you can show your skill at it.

    • Kevin Carlton

      Really love those selling points Dan.

      I make a similar play on these skills on my own website.

      And I think a lot of prospects like it – because you don’t just look like any old other copywriter.

  5. Lori Ferguson

    Don’t improvise–if the editor asks you for a 350 word profile, don’t submit a 1,000 word exposΓ©.

    • Carol Tice

      Love it! We’re just talking about this in Article Writing Masterclass — how important it is to turn things in close to your assigned wordcount.

      • Katherine Swarts

        I collected “expert opinions” from dozens of publishers during my 10+ years of freelancing for Children’s Writer, and I can hardly remember an assignment where someone didn’t mention the “diva” variant whose opening line is, “I know you don’t normally publish fiction, but I’m sure you’ll find this worth making an exception for.”

        • Stephen Quinn

          Truthfully, I am amazed by this attitude. But, apparently it is prevalent. There’s no way it will work.

  6. Sherri

    “This is business, and you need to be mentally tough, deal with disappointment fast…” Oh how I needed to hear this. I think a lot of writers do.

  7. Jules

    I think you’ve made some excellent points here, and I’m planning to pass this along to a few of my freelancer friends. As an editor, I can’t stress how important it is to proofread, especially if your work involves complex sentences. I’ve found that reading your work aloud or switching to a different medium for proofreading (such as printing your work out in a format as close to the final layout as possible) can be a huge help.

    It’s also a good idea, as you recommended, to have a friend proof for you. So I hope you’ll take it in that spirit when I mention that you have a small typo in the last line of section 3: a “you” that should be a “your.” I’m only pointing it out so you have a chance to correct it. πŸ™‚

  8. Daryl

    Send your clients a thank you note.

    Seriously, something short and sweet – thanks for your service, custom, or whatever.

    Something to show that you actually APPRECIATE the relationship that you two have built.

    They will appreciate it, and it will be memorable!

    • Carol Tice

      Great one, Daryl!

    • Stephen Quinn

      Thanks, Daryl. This one is a keeper.

      So many good responses in this thread.

  9. Janet Hartman

    Follow-up on rejections that give you an opening. An editor once e-mailed me: “The subject doesn’t sound unique, so initially, my feeling is to pass. If you want to gamble and hope that your presentation of the routine subject can make the sale, go for it.”

    I did submit my short piece and she bought it.

    • Carol Tice

      I’m a big fan of jumping on “positive” rejections, Janet — nice job on that one!

      • Stephen Quinn

        Janet – I agree that this was the thing to do. I would have done the same thing.

        Also, generally speaking — Linda Formichelli’s blog post describes five possible helpful results from one query letter — which could advance the freelance writer one more step forward.

        This might be a way to overcome the “basket case” syndrome. It’s really good. It is entitled “The One Person Who Rejects You More Than Editors Do”.

        Here is the URL: http://www.therenegadewriter.com/2014/05/17/the-one-person-who-rejects-you-more-than-editors-do/

  10. Doreen Akiyo Yomoah

    I’m shocked at number 1. I’ve been working on one particular now for like, 2 months. I felt like a loser and failure because I mean, this is supposed to be a journalistic article, I should’ve been able to turn it around in 3 days and it’s been weeks. But I’m still doing it! I can’t imagine just not turning it in- I’d be severing a relationship with a potential long-term client by doing so.

  11. Allen Taylor

    Great post, Carol.

    That first one will put any writer in the top 20% percentile. I was shocked the first half dozen times a client told me they were impressed that I actually followed through on my promises. I still get shocked when I hear it, and I’ve been full-time for eight years.

    It’s amazing how many writers flake out easily. Just a couple of weeks ago a writer wanted to write for me. She called me and I told her to go to my website and fill out my contact form so I’d have her e-mail address, then I’d send her a short application. I never heard from her again. Easy stuff, but few people actually do it.

    • Carol Tice

      It’s amazing how when you give one of those little personality tests — can you follow basic instructions? — how many people flunk.

    • Stephen Quinn

      Allen and Carol – these different types are certainly interesting.

      I met a girl who has a journalist degree, but not working in that field. I asked if she still writes. She said – what she can write about related to her current job is limited.

      Then I said I don’t want to see a writer go to waste and that I could point to her to good paying freelance writing markets (thanks to the Den and this blog-site, by the way).

      So, I gave her my email address and website URL. It’s been more than a week and I haven’t heard from her.

      Up until now (reading this post and responses) – I thought it was me. But now I am thinking maybe it isn’t me at all.

      I was going to recommend this and other quality blog-sites, as well as the Den, by the way — just so she could be amazed at what is available.

  12. Beti Spangel

    1) I do my damnedest to turn an article in early.
    2) I send a short thank you note (handwritten if possible) to anyone who gave me time in an interview.
    3) Stick to your word count.
    4) Give your editor what they ask for. The first time I submitted an article to a major magazine editor, I sat there for a week biting my nails. Is it right? Will she like it? Will she want half of it rewritten? Did I miss my mark? Does it suck? Do I suck? Then I got an email from the editor saying “Great job. I appreciate it when a writer gives me exactly what I’ve asked for.” Moral of the story: stay on target. And leave your nails alone.

  13. Katherine Swarts

    Hey, I’m a better entrepreneur than I thought! I can claim a great track record on points 1, 2, and 3 at least, and I’m now studying social media writing a la point 5. (Actually, I’m a basket case AND a diva at heart, but so long as I sound dignified in professional communications, what the client doesn’t know won’t hurt you.)

  14. Katherine Swarts

    I’d add one more: be dependable! I heard it straight from one of the biggest names in freelance writing (www.wellfedwriter.com): Such obvious things as reliability, punctuality, and detail orientation β€œare actually fairly rare in the business world. So you can really stand out, with absolutely no experience, by using that secret weapon [‘excellence’ is his term of choice]. And those are the qualities sought by clients for whom money is second priority, for whom the most important thing is the predictable superior outcome.”

  15. Margie MD

    All of these points are spot on. I recently had to chuck a whole section of a story, find a new source and rewrite it. This was right after having a brand new baby (I finished everything well ahead of going in to the hospital only to get it kicked back because they wanted a source in a specific city. There was nothing wrong with what I wrote).

    I was about to say I wasn’t willing to do it and take it as a loss without getting paid, but I collected myself before responding, did the legwork and eventually saved the piece. I decided I’d rather not burn a bridge. My hourly rate went way down for that assignment, but it’s led to lots more. The editor keeps sending these types of stories my way, which saves me on marketing time. Being willing to track down sources and come up with my own story ideas helps me earn a lot of points with my editors in general.

    • Carol Tice

      Margie, I feel like I did so many crazy assignments in the first three months of my firstborn’s life! You look back and don’t even know how you did it.

      But as you point out, sometimes you have to look at the big picture. I’ve never wanted to flake out and let a piece die, either, no matter what crazy hours I had to work to save it. The result is that I got tons of repeat assignments, and at this point consider many of my editors personal friends.

  16. Nadia McDonald

    Freelancing is a very lucrative career! It involves great content, connecting effectively with the niche using social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, building relationships and so much more. It is difficult to stand out in my opinion because of the overwhelming task to make an editor impressed by the work presented. There are tons of links, videos, clips etc that are available to inject creativity into the work, however writers like myself lack some good traffic. In recent weeks, I’ve covered and did my research on social media and bringing in traffic. The information totally blew me away. There are many ways to stand out in my opinion. These include amazing content with a sizzle attention grabber for the niche, clips, videos, properly researched material, testimonials, a growing email list and traffic on social media.

  17. Luana Spinetti

    Oh Carol, #1 was really unfortunate. I can imagine how you and that editor felt.. Guess she didn’t even tell the editor she couldn’t take the assignment anymore, right?

    I know I do my best to tell clients when I can’t make it to a deadline, so we can schedule another day or just replace me with another writer. I don’t like to screw up others’ work.

    I have a native English speaker in my family who helps me with proofreading. She also helped me write this post on the topic: http://www.writersmind.eu/12-items-proofreading-rubric-beta-reader-friends/ I appreciate that, because other than typos and spelling mistakes, I get stuck on idioms all the time.

    As for requests for edits, I don’t mind them. Actually, I welcome them, because they make for a chance to learn more about writing and the English language. πŸ™‚

    These days I’m working on sales pages for my ebooks and for the “bundle” offer on my professional website, so I’m definitely looking forward to your free webinar and (hopefully!) sales page bootcamp. πŸ˜‰

    – Luana

    • Carol Tice

      Definitely hope you can make it to the sales page bootcamp, Luana! I want about every freelance writer I KNOW to take that…really great, lucrative skill to have. One of those things that can be a game-changer for your freelance income.

      • Stephen Quinn


        I have a feeling this bootcamp can really make a difference.

        • Carol Tice

          Since I know a writer who charges $2,000 per landing page, Stephen, I should say so! Specialized writing skills can really change your income picture.

  18. Beat Schindler

    This is an uplifting post – because these 5 super-easy ways … are super-easy.

    Once you make it over the hard part, numbers 1 and 4, that is. Maybe the main reason why some fail here, is because being in business ultimately and invariably leads to the dreaded word – work. On the downside, flakiness and basket-case don’t just kill freelance writing careers, but peoples’ dreams and lives, too. As you say, it means you can win points by simply being responsive – in more than one way. [Response-ability happens to be a pet project of mine :-]

    Proofing your work – quality. It costs me $50 to have a 1,000 word-piece proofed by a professional. It weighs on the budget, but if I’m not willing to invest in quality, what am I in business for? The best alternative, I agree, to team up with somebody in a win-win scenario.

    Overall I feel the owner is on clarity. All the more so that language is less and less so. If you told someone “writer” or “friend” (or “author”, “editor”, “proof-reader”, “publisher”) 20 years ago, they’d know what you’re talking about, possibly wondering what kind of typewriter or pen you might be using.

    Tell someone you’re a writer or content creator today, or that you have 3,700 friends – and the next thing you know there is a blank stare – sign of a confused mind. Having written a tweet makes you a writer? Shakespeare was a content creator?

    Luckily for freelancers. “Freelance Writer” is miles clearer than just “Writer” alone – but as your post and the comments-section confirm again and again, you’ve got to nail it down even clearer than that: what big problem in the market are you proposing to solve?

    I wish I had done the work to find the answer – when I started out. Not one to cry over spilled milk, I only mention it here as a possible contender among opportunities to stand out: Clarity.

    • Carol Tice

      I love that you added clarity to the list, Beat. We’re editing drafts in my Article Writing Masterclass right now, and I find myself saying that over and over.

      Writers are writing things like, “Then some guy drives up,” or “If you’re like 6 million other people…” And I’m saying, “You don’t mean some guy – you mean a tow-truck driver, right?” And “Why 6 million? Is there a reason for that number?”

      Imprecise language is a big problem.

    • Stephen Quinn

      Beat – “what big problem in the market [am I] proposing to solve?” looks like really good perspective to have as a freelance writer.

      In fact, at this moment, if I had to sum up “what is a freelance writer” in one sentence – I think that should be the answer – because it is very much related to what businesses are actually doing.

      They want to solve problems. Businesses are interested in the bottom line. Does it solve the problem – or does it not?

      • Beat Schindler

        Stephen Quinn – I agree all the way. Makes you wonder how do we even notice a question like this? (By the way, β€œWhat big problem in the market are you proposing to solve?” borrowed from Seth Godin). It’s always been there, the question, then suddenly one day we actually hear it. Funny, isn’t it?

        Personally I had been in business for years when it hit me. My ego took a big hit, but other than that, focus on what the market (urgently, desperately) needs BEFORE focusing on what “I” am and what I have to offer, has proven to be a smart move.

        By the way, “to sum up yourself/freelance writer in one sentence” – you might find value in a guest post I just wrote on this very topic. For all it’s worth, you can find it at http://www.webuildyourblog.com/blog/

        • Beat Schindler

          forgot the title of my guest post: “Resource Guide: 7 Simple Techniques To Grow Your List Of Subscribers”

        • Carol Tice

          It’s funny that I’m reading this now…I was just interviewing someone and explaining what I do and said, “I serve the freelance writer community. I help them find better income.”

          Solve other people’s problems, and you will never go hungry. πŸ˜‰

          • Stephen Quinn

            Carol – I’m beginning to “see the light” πŸ™‚

        • Stephen Quinn

          Beat – How do we notice a question like this in the first place? I think it is because when one of us does – we are ready to hear it. When we do hear the question, it shapes our perception. For me this was and still is a moment of insight.

          Yes, although the question has always been there, it easily escapes awareness. It seems the most simple things have a tendency to do this. I am just glad I heard this now rather than five years from now.

          So, now I am working on “What big problem in the market [am I] proposing to solve?” Thanks for asking. I like the concept of “big problem”- it gives me something to sink my teeth into. I do have a list of problems that I am willing to solve on my website and Linked-In page. I’ll definitely have creative solutions because it’s all a learning curve for me πŸ™‚

          Your blog post for which you provided a link was excellent. It’s true – we have less than sixty seconds to relate our story to a total stranger – a potential client. So getting to the essence of knowing what I do, and (this is a good one) — knowing “why I do”, and expressing that in less than sixty seconds will be a powerful tool. I am working on this.

          A very helpful blog post indeed. I never thought of “why I do” before.

          Those quotes from Larry Bird and Tony Robbins say so much in a nutshell – wow! If only I realized what Larry Bird said years ago, like I do now.

          Also, I clicked on some of the links – quite an education about defining my purpose. I could write more – but this page already has a blog post πŸ™‚

  19. Katharine

    As a freelance writer, #1 drives me crazy, because it makes everyone else in the business look bad! So many companies and business owners are wary of working with freelancers because of the “flake” reputation. It can be a very difficult stigma to overcome.

  20. Larry French

    Helpful article, Carol. Appreciated the insight and suggestions. I like to think that I stand out because of the depth to detail and perspective my writing provides. Keep up the good work.

    • Carol Tice

      Right on, Larry!

      For a long time, I felt my depth of research and interviews was a standout factor. I over-interviewed for ages to make sure I had enough stuff, and was able to write better-resourced stories.

  21. Bryan Collins

    Good post Carol.

    Rejection never gets easier. It’s one of the reasons why I started a blog, because I can keep on going and keep on writing even if a gatekeeper says otherwise.

    I agree with you on the importance of proofreading too. This is hard to do if you’ve slaved away at something for ages.

    Kind Regards,
    Bryan Collins

    • Carol Tice

      Bryan, rejection *should* get easier over time. Personally, rejection means nothing to me. It has no impact on me. I just think, “Next!”

      It can take time to toughen up, but over time you should realize this is just part of the gig, and not take it personally.

      I agree blogging rocks for being able to just say something without a gatekeeper! It’s very empowering.

  22. UK Jane

    I can empathise with your writer who wants to stand out from the competition as this is something I often beat myself up about it. But I am taking steps to deal with this.

    Now, I will hold up my hand and say I am guilty of points 3. and 4. which I put down to my fine art background. I was a typical sensitive artist and would take it personally if someone didn’t like my work and tend to do the same with my writing. I get all precious about it, seeing it as ‘my baby’ that mustn’t be criticised which I know is the wrong attitude to take. As you rightly point out, it is about fulfilling the client’s needs and not acting like a drama queen.

    I do a good sulk though πŸ™‚

    However, I always aim to be reliable and keep clients regularly updated about their work by sending quick emails (project updates). Always aim to meet the deadline but again, let the client know if there is likely to be a delay. I see this as a two-way process.

    On the mentally fragile issue: I need to develop a thicker skin and see criticism as all part of the journey. Time for me to ‘woman up’…

  23. Karly - Design Smoothie

    Fantastic post! Great tips here – it can be so easy to get disheartened after a rejection, but you just have to remember there are plenty of other opportunities out there. You just have to go find them, and grab them with both hands when you do!

  24. Alicia Rades

    Fantastic article, Carol. I’m shocked when clients seem so pleased that I’ve met a deadline. It’s kind of like, “Doesn’t everyone do that?” (Since becoming an editor, I’ve found out the answer is no.)

    And yes, rejection is heartbreaking, but I’ve found that it’s not a reflection on *you* as a writer. I’ve had rejections only to pitch the ideas elsewhere and see the exact same article in reputable places. Sometimes rejection can lead to good things.


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