How One Freelance Writer Went From Hungry to Overbooked in 18 Months

Carol Tice

How One Freelance Writer Went From Hungry to Overbooked in 18 Months. Makealivingwriting.comI’ve written a lot on this blog about how I market my writing business.

But I’ll let you in on something: Since last summer, I haven’t had to actively market my freelance writing business.

Today, most of my new clients come to me through referrals, Google searches for a freelance writer, LinkedIn, or Twitter.

I’m usually fully booked several weeks ahead, and able to pick and choose the gigs that pay the best and that I like most. My family would tell you I’m overbooked, and I should drop a few clients!

But it wasn’t always that way.

Here’s the story of how I got new clients:

Flashback to early 2009. I had just lost a large Web copywriting client, the economy was in the tank, and all of a sudden I need to find a lot of work.

The short version of how I fixed this problem:

I marketed my ass off.

I kept marketing like mad, until I was fully booked.

Then, I kept marketing to find better clients. I started dropping lower-paying clients and substituting higher paying ones. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Result: Instead of seeing my earnings drop after I lost that big client, I kept earning more money each year, straight through the downturn. Last year was my biggest earning year as a freelancer, and this year I am on track to beat it.

How exactly did I do that?

OK, here’s the full story.

It took about 18 months to rebuild my business to where I wanted it, where all my gigs paid great rates and I had all the work I wanted. I created a multi-pronged, aggressive marketing plan and kept at it relentlessly. I probably spent at least 8 hours of each week marketing.

Here is how I spent my marketing time:

  • Scanned online job ads. I didn’t send dozens of resumes daily to any and all ads. Instead, I tried to find at least two to four real tasty-looking leads to respond to each week. I developed a system for doing this rapidly and zeroing in on the ads that were really worth my time. From that time on, I got a response to nearly every resume I sent. Over time, I learned to look at better job boards — the paid ads on LinkedIn, and niche job boards for copywriters and business reporters, since that’s my specialty. I also figured out a few creative ways to approach the ads, such as responding to full-time ads and asking if they needed a freelancer. I got two good gigs that way.
  • In-person networking. I tried quite a few groups — went to a BNI meeting, BizBuilders, my local Chamber events, Seattle’s MediaBistro and Linked:Seattle, too. For me, MediaBistro rocked — I got a couple of great clients there that provided ongoing work.
  • Improved my website SEO. Besides adding “Seattle freelance writer” to the header of my writer site, I made a commitment to update my site each week, usually by adding a new published article link. In short order, I ranked at the top of my local market’s search for a freelance writer. If you’re wondering if this can really make a difference, it can: Two Fortune 500 companies hired me off Google searches in the past year.
  • Sent query letters. I targeted both existing publications I wanted more assignments from, and new publications I wanted to add to my credits. I sent queries on a regular basis. Many assignments at $400-$800 an article and up followed.
  • Stuffed my LinkedIn profile with search terms. I think it used to say whatever the most recent gig was as my bio! But now it says “freelance writer, copywriter, ghostwriting, blogger…” It’s a laundry list of every possible search term people might use to look for a writer. It helped: One of the publications that found me searching LinkedIn for a writer was Alaska Airlines Magazine.
  • Used “who’s viewed my profile?” on LinkedIn. If you haven’t used this tool, you can get some information from it on who has been on your profile. When any of those visitors smelled like a prospect, I’d send them a message through LinkedIn — “Hi, were you looking for a freelance writer? Let me know if I can help!” Almost every one of these notes got a response, as people are fascinated that you can tell they were looking at your profile.
  • Reached out to editors on Twitter. This turns out to be a great, casual way to approach editors. Some responded, some didn’t. One gives me $2,000 article assignments now.

What a long list of stuff, huh? The more ways you market, the more lines you have in the water, and the more fish you’re likely to catch. Pretty simple.

You may use a different array of marketing strategies. Everybody has their own marketing groove. I know one writer who gets all his assignments pitching editors on the phone. That’s cool.

But don’t buy into the attitude of hopelessness you hear on many writer chat boards. All gigs don’t pay $5 or $20. Just not true. Good pay is out there, if you commit to getting out and finding it.

What have you done to get out of the hopelessness and negativity and book great clients? Tell us in the comments below.



  1. Carol Tice

    Hi all —

    I just want to apologize that I’ve had a mysterious site outage for much of this morning. Thankfully we seem to be back up and running. There was a huge memory spike…not sure the cause yet, but I got to buy more memory and thanks to the Dreamhost techs, we’re rolling again!

  2. Linda Bryant

    I found this blog incredibly motivating and encouraging. You are so often able to shine a laser beam on common freelancing dilemmas. This is just a thank you!

    • Carol Tice

      Wow, thanks Linda! And thanks for hanging in to leave a comment on my weirdly sluggish site today. Still working on getting it back to normal.

  3. Hajra

    The best thing I like about your posts that everything you write about is workable and applicable. You aren’t talking about something that takes a lot of effort to put into practice. Very informative. Thanks a lot for being the amazing writer you are!

    • Carol Tice

      Hi Hajra —

      It’s funny you say that, since at the time it certainly seemed like a decent amount of work to me! Aggressively marketing your business definitely is a commitment.

      What isn’t that much work is making a mental change — from passively taking whatever job ads bring you and getting up and saying, “I’m going to go out and find clients.” That’s a big mind shift that brings really great results for everyone I know who’s ever done it. Once you realize, “I have a business. My writing is a business. I need to go out and market it,” everything starts to get better.

  4. Bill Swan

    Well, there’s the partial “to-do” list for those who ask you how to get new work.

  5. Karen S. Elliott

    This is great stuff here … I’m copying and pasting into my “make money” file! Thanks!

    • Carol Tice

      Ooh…I love that you have a ‘make money’ file!

  6. Pinar Tarhan

    Hi Carol,

    I just wanted to say that you just became my writing hero! I read this post and then dug through the freelance writers connection’s archives and read your post on 7 Ways to Find Better Writer Pay. It was written in 2010. Yes, the advice is still as valuable, but I couldn’t resist the challenge of googling “Seattle Freelance Writer” and guess what? You are still number one on the first page. Wow. My congrats:)

    • Carol Tice

      Thanks Pinar — I didn’t reference WM in this post so not sure how you got the connection…but more about my past relationship with WM and guest posting in general is coming up in a post Wednesday…that will probably blow a lot of people’s minds.

      Yes, I’m still owning my market slot for freelance writer. I think many writers don’t realize how relatively easy that is to do, and how valuable it can be for bringing you great clients. I have to stress that I am barely versed in SEO tricks either — just a question of mentioning my search term a few times, and keeping my site refreshed. I was relieved to see my ranking stuck even though I recently did a total revamp of my writer site and relaunched it.

  7. Pinar Tarhan

    I dig around my favorite sites a lot, and I have a thing for posts that don’t lose their value over time 🙂 And these two posts are really connected:)

    I’ll keep the seo trick in mind:)

  8. Ollin Morales

    OUTSTANDING. Yet again.

    You’re a freelance machine, you are Carol. I have one question – actually a lot. Bear with me here:

    I’ve been trying to find my freelance writing “voice” or “niche,” I’m not sure what to call it or if there is such a thing when it comes to freelancing. I know there is for fiction and blogging.

    I guess there is an overwhelming amount of job opportunities out there. Maybe it’s just me, but often I find it so overwhelming it’s hard for me to apply to just one, because I’m afraid that’s the wrong one to apply for – and so I’m just wasting my time.

    I guess–and maybe this is just my own personal issue–I’m more of a focused person. If there’s too much going on I tend to lose my inertia.

    But if I am focused and I am given one task to do, I can literally go on for hours without any type of ADD. Focusing is hard for other people, but it isn’t for me.

    So for me the trouble with freelancing has been that I have trouble focusing one a “type” of freelancing.

    For instance right now I’m doing comedy, I write content for one comedy website. When I tried doing “political” freelancing, I didn’t get a response from more political websites, so I thought that this meant I was more of a comedy writer. But now I’m not getting much response from comedy clients either.

    Am I approaching this all wrong? Should I just spread myself out like you have done? Is that the only way to go about it? Is it possible to find one focus–say freelancing for online comedy websites–and just be fully booked with those kinds of articles? Or is that just pie-in-the-sky thinking?

    I have zeroed in on what kind of genre, publisher, and audience I want for the fiction book I am writing, and I guess I am trying to apply that same focus to freelancing. Is that just not how to approach it?

    You give TONS of useful tips in each article, I guess I’m asking if it’s possible if you can approach freelancing for those among us who are very focus-driven–and need one clear task to start with or one target to shoot for.

    Or is freelancing just not for the focus-driven? Just for those who are willing to spread out and be flexible.

    Thanks for listening to my ten thousand questions. Feel free to use them as jumping off points for future posts if you wish.


    • Carol Tice

      Hi Ollin —

      Your questions are not uncommon — I hear them a lot from writers looking to grow their income.

      I don’t feel that spread around. I’m basically a business & finance writer. I have a few specialties within that — real estate, franchising, legal, insurance…but that’s my basic wheelhouse.

      In the Webinar Tuesday, we’re going to be talking about exactly this topic — there are a million job ads in the naked city, but which ones should you take the time to respond to? A lot of writers are overwhelmed with all the options and do nothing as a result, or dabble here and there and their earnings don’t get any traction because they’re not building a reputation in one area.

      On the Webinar, I’ll be teaching my system for spending no more than 5 minutes a day on the online job ads, making that productive, and then moving on to better ways to find good-paying clients.

      In general, I think comedy is a tough, tough niche to earn a living in — just ask every starving would be rom-com screenwriter in Hollywood. I’d probably want to have another writing area up my sleeve, too.

      • Ollin Morales

        Thanks so much Carol.

        It’s already a relief to know that my questions are common. I thought there was something wrong with me for feeling overwhelmed and I need to get with the program already.

        Phew! I’m going to read up more on the webinar. I should be available though–if not I’ll make myself available. 🙂

  9. Miss Britt

    Carol, thank you for these very specific ideas!

    I struggle with letting go of existing clients in order to make room for higher paying ones. I end up just keeping them all on my plate and then being overloaded and having no time for marketing!

    • Carol Tice

      I try to have a monthly number that is the nut I need to make. If I look at my month and see I have enough booked without whoever the lowest payer is…it’s time to say a fond farewell. Sorry, I just don’t have time for you anymore. I’m afraid all my other clients pay me at higher rates, so my new floor for this type of work is X. Maybe we’ll work together again sometime in the future…it’s been great. Sayonara.

  10. Carrie Schmeck

    Printed, posted, and ready to follow, one step at a time.

    Such perfect timing. Was feeling low yesterday, knowing I need to market my writing, overwhelmed at the number of ways to do it, and wondering if it will make a difference at all. Ironically, my niche is marketing yet I suck at marketing myself! Strange bedfellows.

    Your post was just the encouragement I needed to do what I know to do (and to copy what worked for you, too). Thanks!

    • Carol Tice

      Hi Carrie —

      Glad you found the post inspiring. I think it’s funny that everyone had this reaction to reading about my grueling marketing schedule!

      But it’s not about copying what I did (except in the sense of — do a lot of marketing), but doing a lot of marketing in the ways that make sense for you, testing things out, and keep shifting to new approaches until you find what’s working for you. Best of luck with that!

  11. mrinalinik

    Hi, Carol. Just curious – how do you contact editors for work via Twitter? Do you follow publications, then e-mail editors?


    • Carol Tice

      Well I don’t count emailing editors as contacting them on Twitter…since that’s not on Twitter.

      I’ve done things like (after following them, of course), sending a tweet saying, “Hi, I notice you’re an editor with BLA. Are you the person to pitch for X type of story?” Some will respond, some won’t…but I billed $14,000 in the past quarter to one market I connected with that way…certainly worth a try, yes?

      If you have any common connection with that editor definitely mention it as well, as in, “I notice we’ve both worked for X before. Congrats on your new gig. Could I pitch you a story about BLA for them?”

      There’s something casual about Twitter reach-outs…sometimes I think you can slip under an editor’s defenses and make a connection quickly.

      Obviously, if it moves to a pitch you go to email…don’t try to send a pitch chopped up into 10 tweets or something!

      See more about how to connect with influential people on Twitter on my Entrepreneur blog today….


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