Marketing 101 for Freelance Writers #1: The Essential First Step

Carol Tice

Quick: What’s the difference between a freelance-writing hobby and a freelance-writing business?Learn the essential first step to a freelance writing career.


It’s just that simple. Writers who actively market their business find more and better clients, and end up making more money.

Businesses do marketing. Hobbyists do whatever they feel like doing, or whatever falls in their lap.

We talk a lot on this blog about marketing. But I felt the information was scattered about.

So I’m getting organized.

This post kicks off an 18-week series of posts on savvy marketing strategies for freelance writers. I’m going to offer my best marketing tips and talk about what’s working right now, in our crazy-making, fast-changing new-media world.

Today, we begin with the most important step. Without doing this step first, the rest of your marketing is likely to fail.

Believe in your product

The first step to marketing your writing is pretty simple.  Ya gotta believe ya got something to sell.

Something special.

When you’re a writer, what you’re selling is you.

You have to believe in you, or you won’t market your business with any real energy.

Fear will hold you back. I’ve asked about your fears before, so I know many writers are dogged by them. Here’s some of what you’ve told me:

You’re afraid people will figure out you’re a fraud.

You’re afraid you’re not good enough.

You’re afraid because you didn’t go to journalism school.

You’re afraid you don’t have enough clips to be taken seriously.

You’re afraid you’ll screw up and ruin your chances of being a paid writer.

You’re afraid of being laughed at.

Lots of writers want to skip this step, of beating back their fears and building self-esteem. They want to try to fake a positive attitude about what they’re putting out there.

But then, you won’t be prepared to face all the “no”s and take the rejection and just keep right on rolling. Which is what successful freelance writers do.

Become an unstoppable force

Here’s the attitude you want to approach your marketing with: You’re not going to let anything stand between you and your freelance-writing career dreams.

If your positive-feelings tank is a little low, how can you fill it up? Here are a few techniques I recommend:

  1. Make a gratitude list.
  2. Make a list of all your strengths as a writer and as a person.
  3. Flip through your portfolio and look at what you’ve written in the past.
  4. Look in the mirror every morning and say, “Damn, I’m good!
  5. Learn more about the business and craft of writing.
  6. Avoid negative, toxic people and spend time with people who think you’re great. Kids are good for this.
  7. If you need to, talk to a therapist. Release old demons. Learn to love yourself and appreciate your uniqueness.

To sum up, get your head on straight. Because people are attracted to people who feel good about themselves.

Prospects can smell that desperate, insecure attitude on you a mile away. So lose it. Then, you’re ready to market your business and get great clients.

Next time, I’ll tell you about the easiest type of marketing you’ll ever do — and it’s a method that gets great results, too.

Why will it work for you? Because you know you’re awesome.

Need more marketing help? Here’s a place where you can get a bunch…

Join my freelance writer community


  1. Sue

    Thanks Carol this is perfect timing. I am in the process of getting myself organized and being pro active with my marketing is the next step on my agenda.

  2. Cathie Ericson

    As we all know, working alone and on projects for a variety of clients, you don’t have the opportunity to build as many strong ‘work relationships’ and get the affirmation that is often needed in this business.

    Anytime I get an email with a positive comment, I copy and paste it into a file I have named “kudos.” It’s great to see them all amassed.

    They say everything from “thanks for making me look smart!” from an agency partner for whom I did background research to “This is great! I passed it on with very minor edits!” to “Do you have a background in journalism? You really should look into it” from a newspaper editor for whom I now contribute weekly items.

    On those inevitable assignments when the client and I are not clicking eye to eye, or periods when work is slower than I would like, remembering my track record of positive relationships and outcomes keeps me going.

  3. Elizabeth Creith

    I keep a book in which I write every nice thing that is said about my writing, or about me as a writer. This reminds me of how I look as a writer to others on those days when I feel like a fake. I maintain an up-to-date list of my sales and I brag about the ones that people will recognize. (This is allowed!)

    I also remember that in many cases it doesn’t matter whether you know more than anyone else on a topic – often it’s the person who has the nerve to write or speak about something who gets the gig, not the big expert, who may be unwilling or too busy.

    • Carol Tice

      Thanks for adding these great suggestions, Elizabeth and Cathie!

  4. Karen S. Elliott

    This looks like it’s the start of a beautiful 18-week friendship!

  5. Marie

    Good tips. Also, speaking to smelling desperate… I believe one of the very best times to rev-up your marketing efforts is while you’re working on an assignment, not afterwards. If prospects can “smell” desperation, they can “smell” employment also. So, “reach up” to higher paying prospects while you’re actually working.

    • Carol Tice

      Oh, definitely. I find the minute you say, “Sure, I can help you…my schedule should clear in a couple of weeks,” you’re in a totally different negotiating position. You’ve let them know you’re a busy, successful writer and they can take a number if they want your time.

  6. Ruth - The Freelance Writing Blog

    Great post Carol, as always. I absolutely agree with these points, but I do think that perhaps the most important way to grow as a professional writer is by learning to seek and accept constructive criticism.

    We can market ourselves more authentically and transparently when we value our areas of strength, but also acknowledge our areas of weakness and vulnerability.

    I know I’m a strong writer. I’m determined, hard working, fair and outgoing. These are my strengths. But I have a LOT to learn, and I need to be open to feedback and input from my colleagues if I’m going to grow my business.

    • Carol Tice

      Right on —

      I came into this out of songwriting, and used to head down to Hollywood Boulevard weekly for the honor of having my song lyrics shredded by a writer group. When I came into journalism, I was completely accustomed to changing, sculpting, and accepting critique on my work. Judging by some of the comments I’ve seen in Freelance Writers Den lately, that is a big advantage for me. Some writers don’t seem able to get over it when people change their precious words, and that’s a big liability in our line of work.

  7. Chris Richards -

    I love the phrase “Damn I’m good”. I’ve never said it looking at myself in the mirror, but it’s a great booster after producing something good.

    Learning more about your craft is an excellent way to feel more confident. Know it well and there won’t be any surprises, when talking to a prospect.

  8. Samie

    This is why I absolutely love your blog. Somehow you manage to time things perfectly. :p

    I’m starting my marketing campaign this week to move from ‘hobbyist’ to full-time, and THIS has been my biggest issue and I’m well aware. While I’m very confident in my fiction writing skills, I’m less confident in my non-fiction writing. It’s not -that- different in the end though. If I’m awesome enough to publish novels and short stories, surely I’m awesome enough to also do copywriting and journalism?

    Love this.

    • Carol Tice


  9. Barry Pearman

    I do a couple of things.
    I weekly do a little exercise I have developed called ‘Cup fillers/ drainers’ where I look over the week and review what has drained my life and what has filled my life. Then after doing this for a number of weeks/ months I look for patterns. Some guidelines are on my website under free resources.

    I also have inspiring quotes and pictures as my desktop background. I trawl for great quotes everyday. When I find one I file it in a freemind mind map I have developed. I also place it in a file ready for marrying it with an inspiring relevant picture. Once married its off to the desktop to inspire me. My desktop background changes every 5 minutes.

    • Carol Tice

      I love it! At my house we have a tradition of discussing our highlights of the week over Friday night dinner…great way to retain more of the good stuff. They say human nature is to dwell on the negative, so we need to make an active effort to counteract that by recalling positive thoughts.

  10. Mandy Harris

    Thanks for these great tips, Carol!

    I practice positive thinking. Sometimes, I wear a rubber band on my wrist that I lightly snap whenever I catch myself in a negative thought.
    I also strive to feel healthy physically to keep my mood up.
    I don’t hang with negative people.
    At the end of the day, I make a list of my blessings and ten things that I did well that day.

    • Carol Tice

      LOVE these additional tips!

  11. Megan Hill

    Looking forward to this series!

  12. Lindsay Woolman

    Hi Carol, thanks for doing a post about fears and mindset. This is my biggest obstacle by far. I feel like this is kind of the framework for your business and if it’s not there, you have to build it. I find it hard to follow good advice when I’m feeling negative. So, nice to see a post about the “head game” of writing and marketing. Would like more this subject!

    I’ve been thinking about doing something like an advent calendar based on gratitude, or writing one personalized holiday card or thank you note a day. Thanks for the encouragement.

    • Carol Tice

      Great ideas!

  13. Janis Meredith

    I write a post that I know is good (aren’t they all???:)) and re-read it. Damn, I’m good!

  14. Danielle Barcilon

    Carol you have the uncanny ability to speak directly to my issues.How comforting to know I’m not alone in my self sabotage and that there’s hope for all of us. Keep spreading the message of strength! I’m ever so grateful.

  15. Sybil Holloway

    I love this post, Carol. It’s so on target. I’m trying to move from a hobbyist mindset to that of a serious freelancer/business owner. I agree that marketing is the key. Your suggestions are very helpful. Thanks.

  16. Denise Loughlin

    Am posting a comment to say thanks for the info and sage advice to help me launch my dream career, replacing what the heck with hell, why not? Really enjoy the advice, voice and writing style, looking forward to your next insights1

  17. Miguel Leiva-Gomez

    The fear factor is definitely something that affected me before, but now I’m sending really daring proposals to clients and pushing it forward! I already have a steady income stream from other clients, so why not get a little more aggressive in my proposals? If a client doesn’t like my approach and finds me over-confident and pompous, it’s their loss. I already have four very good ones and can wait a while before adding another.

    • Carol Tice

      Right on — I once did a post about the three magic words that make your freelance writing career take off, and those words are “I’m fully booked.”

      That’s the first goal for any freelancer. When you have work, you’re in a position of power to turn down gigs, swap out clients, or as you say — bust a move and pitch clients who might just say yes to your proposals. It gives you a lot of confidence.

  18. Miss Britt

    I’m looking forward to this series, and yes – my insecurities definitely stop me from marketing myself as a writer. I feel like ANYONE can do what I do, although I’ve been told repeatedly that’s not true.

  19. Kristen Hicks

    Glad to hear you’ll be focusing on this for a little while.

    It seems like we’re all trained from a young age to embrace humility and avoid bragging about ourselves or seeming arrogant. Then, of course, once we reach adulthood and the professional world it’s suddenly a necessity for success to do just that. It’s hard to get over the learned aversion to selling yourself and your talents with confidence.

    Knowing your strengths and touting them isn’t arrogance, it’s just smart.

    • Carol Tice

      You know, reading this makes me have an insight: I think this is a real big problem for women even more than men. Our cultural bias is to not be bragging about ourselves — be modest and quiet. I think it’s something to overcome as you get into being a solopreneur and marketing your business.

  20. Scott

    Getting that email that says “This looks great!” is such a boost in confidence. Whenever I start to feel down about anything, especially when getting turned down for gigs I just remind myself, “It doesn’t matter, I’m still significantly more awesome than they are.” Works like a charm.

  21. Steve

    To sum it up. We need perseverance (willing to endure to see the bright side of the day), faith (believe on your products) and keep the steam going (continue to progress on your success). Hehe, I will keep this three in mind, makes it more easy to remember.

  22. Josh Sarz

    Sounds really awesome! I can totally relate with all those fears and doubts that you’ve listed. You’re right. Those will just hinder our growth as writers, and we will never really get to where we should be in our life and our career.

    Great post, Carol. Have a wonderful weekend.

  23. Harry

    Great advice.

    Don’t forget to set goals and keep track of them. That’s one of the most important things you can do to ensure your freelance success!

  24. Thomas

    ‘Look in the mirror every morning and say, “Damn, I’m good!“’

    I do that anyway, and it has nothing to do with writing…:-)

    Great post, Carol!


    • Carol Tice

      Well good for you, Thomas! I meet a lot of writers who really need to pick up some positive self-esteem building habits.

  25. Daisy


    These 7 tips are exactly what I would’ve ‘prescribed’ for my job search clients. Everyone, at some point or the other, need some picker-uppers to remind them that they have value.

    Thanks for sharing!


  26. Trevor Speer

    I can relate to some of the comments that have talked about the pressures to conform to a standard of modesty contradicting the need to self promote for the sake of business. It is hard for me to be confident because I have a perceived “know-it-all” stigma, but when I let my guard down and get lost in a passionate speech I end up making the connections that make life meaningful!

    If you feel embarrassed about being perceived as a show off then consider these five tactics for ensuring that you are being modest:

    1. Pick your battles-you don’t need to correct and clarify everything.
    2. Be to the point- Inability to express yourself succinctly leads people to wrongly think you love the sound of your own voice.
    3.. Eliminate “you should” from your vocab (unless your a mom, they are the exception).
    4. Even if you think you really do know it all, always have the mindset that someone is better than you until proven otherwise. A mentor once told me “if you see a guy in the lobby with a broom assume he is the CEO”.
    5. Be supportive and interested in other people’s work- make them talk so much that they feel like the show off!

    • Carol Tice

      Hi Trevor —

      Welcome to the blog!

      I’m always telling people your #5 when people tell me they don’t like talking about themselves. I say, “So don’t!” Ask people at networking events what THEY do, have 2 sentences prepared about what you do, and you’re done.

  27. Leela

    Just the reality check I need as I take baby steps in the world of professional writing. So far it’s only been ‘word-of-mouth’ that has garnered assignments, but like you rightly pointed out, that approach will keep me tied to the hobbyists post when I am actually writing for a living.
    Love your clear, ‘directionfull’ guidance Carol!
    Thank you!


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