The Question That Doubled My Freelance Writing Income

Carol Tice

It was 2009, and I was at one of my first in-person networking meetings, hoping to scare up some new freelance writing clients.

As the economy went down, nearly every editor I worked for either got laid off or the publication folded altogether.

The one big copywriting client I had, that was billing $2,000+ a month like clockwork, sacked my editor and decided to hire an agency to develop their content.

I needed to replace a big hunk of revenue, fast.

So I tried networking

So there I was, at an evening get-together hosted by my small-town Chamber of Commerce, drink in hand, trying to figure out this whole networking thing.

I went up to one well-groomed, middle-aged blonde who had on a killer business skirt suit and heels. She looked like she knew what she was doing.

We chatted about her business a while.

Then, she asked me a simple question that changed my life.

Here’s what made my worldview shift

“Who’s your ideal client?” she asked casually.

I knew immediately that this must be a standard networking question.Β  People you meet networking want to know who you’re looking for, so they can refer you (so that in return, you’ll love and refer them).

The problem was, I’d never really thought about it. I’d had a fairly serendipitous career up the downturn, mostly taking whatever gigs came my way.

Who was my ideal client, anyway?

“I don’t really know,” I stupidly stammered.

But when I went home, I started thinking about it.

I had plenty of experience and clips. Why was I at a tiny-town Chamber meeting, hanging out with solo accountants and people who sold Pampered Chef?

They weren’t my client. I had already written for national magazines and a $1 billion global company.

Aiming higher

From that day on, I set my sights higher. I hopped on the ferry and headed into Seattle.

I tried different networking groups, and paid close attention to what sort of businesses and publications I found there.

Eventually, I found good networking groups, where my ideal clients hung out. I met editors of huge-circulation publications, and editors for top companies’ websites. I got a client that sent me thousands of work over the next several years.

In short order, I replaced my lost income from that fired editor — and much more.

As I hung around better-quality clients, my mindset about earning started to change, too.

When I started, I figured if I was lucky, I could maybe replace my staff-writing income of $50,000-$60,000 a year.

But swimming in that higher-quality pool of clients, I started to see how huge and potentially lucrative the freelance-writing marketplace really is. Some of these larger companies had tons of work they freelanced out.

It made me realize something big:

Freelancers earning potential is unlimited.

I could earn more. I should earn more!

So I set a goal of earning more each year — and made it happen.

Hang out with better-quality clients, and you won’t just find better gigs. It can change your whole outlook on how big you could take this.

Who’s your ideal client, and where do they hang out? Leave a comment and let us know.



  1. daniel

    Fantastic story– unique change of mind set.

    You know what Carol?

    Our change of mind-set is really Important and I think that is what made you become what you are today.

    Thanks so much– I was really inspired

  2. Sophie Playle

    Hmm… It seems like such a simple question, but one that so few people can answer off the top of their heads! I’ll have to go away and think about this, too. Thanks for the ponder-point.

  3. Debra Stang

    Unfortunately, my ideal client is a first-time novelist looking for help polishing his or her manuscript before publication, but there’s usually not much money there.

    As far as business writing goes, I enjoy working with mental health/medical/dental providers to produce information that clients can read and understand. I’ve also written training and newsletter material for agency staff, and even a couple of sales letters, although those weren’t my favorite projects.

    • Vinil Ramdev

      Well Debra, it is always great to choose a client who has the buying power. I used to focus on small businesses and first time entrepreneurs but they usually don’t have the money. So my focus now is companies with revenues greater than $5 million, national and regional business magazines, and trade publications with big budgets.

    • Carol Tice

      Well I think they’re not ideal if they don’t have any money! More like your favorite hobby type project.

  4. Deb Lamb

    I’ve thought about that very question a million times. My answer to that is not quite tweaked, yet. There are so many who are my ideal clients. I’m having a hard time drilling it down. Any suggestions? I enjoy reading this blog. I’m a ghostwriter and I must say, you provide some excellent advice I can follow. I appreciate that! Make it a glorious day!

    Deb πŸ™‚

    • Carol Tice

      I’d bet there are some common themes–you like mid market or bigger companies or lifestyle magazines…or something.

  5. Amandah

    This is a great question to ask. Knowing your ideal client will save you time and headaches in the long run.

    My ideal client evolves over time. I want to work with business owners and entrepreneurs who know what they want. These people know they need blog posts, articles, newsletters, etc. but don’t have the time to write them. They know who their target audience is and understand that it takes more than SEO and social media to rank.

    • Carol Tice

      Um…and that have a budget?

      I’m fascinated that nobody so far includes good pay on their wish list!

  6. Erica

    Excellent article!

    As a fairly new freelancer, this is one that I need to ask myself right now. Thanks – this could be a serious game-changer.


    • Carol Tice

      Definitely was for me.

  7. Sandra

    I see how this would change things if you’ve been in the game for some time. But if you’re starting out, as I am, it’s very easy to slip into a “Who do I think I am?” mentality and cross out the big names on the target list. But I see how asking onself that question can put you on the right path to better assignments and bigger cheques.

    • Carol Tice

      I think if you’re just starting out, your ideal client is a small business, or a small local paper or newsweekly or local lifestyle/city magazine. It’s probably not productive to target major corporations if you don’t yet have a portfolio of even a half-dozen samples.

      Then you ask, “How can I come in contact with these clients? Where do they hang out? Where could I meet these editors and business owners?”

      Over time, the answer to the question will change, and depends on where you’re at in your career. But having clarity about who you’re going after helps you move forward faster, instead of just randomly trying to get anybody and everybody to hire you.

      • Sandra

        Yup, makes sense. Thanks for the input!

  8. Lucinda

    My ideal client is a huge company or companies that need me to write consumer health content. I love turning complicated medical and health subjects it into content the average reader can understand. I also love to write alternative health pieces. My ideal client will also pay me monthly on retainer.

    Of course my client would value my work and expertise and pay me handsomely! It would be great if I could make $2000 a month writing consumer health pieces. If I could make more that would be even better.

    I just haven’t found those clients yet. πŸ™

  9. Marissa

    Another great result of asking yourself this question? You start to specialize! Rather than trying to be a jack of all trades (and master of none), you’re honing in on a specialty. Instead of scraping the bottom of the barrel for jobs in industries or niches you don’t enjoy, you start to hone in on the industry, writing style and clients that make the most sense for your business.

    Carol, this blog post could not have come at a better time. I’m going through a similar experience as you described with in-person networking. I’ve had some success with my local market but at the end of the day, the local small business is not my ideal client. It’s too time-consuming to try to learn a new industry with every project, and to be quite frank, this is a business. I need clients with bigger marketing budgets and ongoing projects. I need to be known as the go-to writer in my industry, not just the local freelancer who takes on budget-friendly web copy projects.

    I do love Chamber events, though, so I’m having a hard time completely letting them go.

    • Carol Tice

      I know what you mean — the people are nice! But they don’t need to hire us.

      And I so agree about specializing.

      I think looking for clients is so overwhelming, so if you have the revelation — oh! My client is a rehab clinic, outpatient treatment center or physical therapy practice…you can focus in so much better. And now you know to go to their conferences, instead of general networking events.

      • Marissa

        Yes! I just got back from a conference in my niche and learned so much. Instead of spending 20 minutes educating local business owners on what it is I actually do, I made high-level contacts in the tourism and hospitality industry. I also attended some eye-opening education sessions that will help me better serve clients in this industry.

        And that’s really the only way to command the big bucks as a freelancer. You need to know your target market. You need to study the trends, network with the major players and become an influencer. Then, new clients won’t just hunt you down — they’ll already know your value, too.

        • Carol Tice

          I just came back from a writers’ conference, my first, and learned a lot as well. So much value in getting out and meeting people that can set you apart and give you more sophisticated knowledge than the average writer.

      • Anita

        This makes a ton of sense – thinking about your ideal client, specializing, and networking in the right places. I think it IS advice for the newbies too. Yes, just starting out we may have to work with very small businesses and start-ups, but the goal is to get experience and clips and move on. Last week I met with a couple just getting their business off the ground and one of them tossed out the term “joy currency” (as in the joy of helping us out is part of your pay.) I’m glad one of the two didn’t expect me to live off of that. Last year I had another start-up ask me if I were interested in deferred compensation. No, thank you, I said. Good thing since they haven’t generated any income in a year, I recently heard.

        One who can pay professional rates is definitely a characteristic of my ideal client.

        • Carol Tice

          Great to hear, Anita! As you learned, working on vague promises of future money is not a way to feed your family.

          Yes, you might need to do a few initial free samples, but then you have a portfolio and you should be finding paying work.

          I find even just readjusting your thinking from solopreneurs to looking for businesses with at least 3 employees, you get into a better class of prospect.

          • Anita

            Thanks for the at-least-3-employees guideline. I plan to apply that as I market my services.

            I haven’t done any free work, but I’ll do my first few pieces in a new genre for half price. That seems to be an arrangement that solopreneurs and I can both live with.

          • Carol Tice

            No prob! I find a lot of writers get stuck in the solopreneur trap — I even meet a lot who proudly tell me that’s their specialty. But most solopreneurs don’t have much money – you’re really limiting yourself.

            More ideal is companies with over $5 million in revenue, but as a first step up and easy qualifying — just see if they have any employees. If so, they’ve got a bit more on the ball, and likely more of a real marketing budget.

  10. Paolo

    “Who is my ideal client?” That is a very good question. I gained a handful of clients, but not the bigger ones yet which still need to work on. It’s funny how you plunge head first into a task, then get hit by a simple question that very few can answer.

  11. Laura Roberts

    Good question! I would definitely say my ideal client is one with a clear understanding of what s/he wants, and knows how much she will have to pay for it; someone with experience working with freelancers; someone who is able to communicate clearly what they’re looking for; someone who is not going to constantly make follow-up phone calls or emails to check up on me or clarify points or try to slip in extra work after we’ve already established in a written contract what services I’m providing. In terms of content, if they’re looking for travel or lifestyle pieces, that would be the most ideal of all!

    • Carol Tice

      I like how you put good pay and easy to work with ahead of what topic matter you want. It’s funny how if they’ll pay real rates, and aren’t a micromanager or boundary-pusher, how I could get interested in about any topic to work for them. πŸ˜‰

  12. Barbara McDowell Whitt

    Carol, you and Judy Dunn have helped me with blogging and for that I am grateful. Years ago I was attending a morning coffee as “the sole representative” of the infants’ and children’s furniture store I worked for. I could go on my own time, before the store opened at 10:00 AM. One morning our event was at a bank across the street. I had learned social skills (among book people) many years prior to that. I knew I was being eavesdropped on by a friend who was the director for the business association that sponsored the event. I said to one of the bankers, “I really like this opportunity to network. To me it’s like a spiritual thing. After all, some of Jesus’s disciples were working their nets when Jesus first approached them.” Beginning with the following month’s newsletter the AM Coffee announcement was called AM Networking.

  13. Ruan

    This article really inspired me and I think this is going to be my game-changer too.

    I have not asked myself that question to date and I think the biggest reason for that is inexperience. My name is still fairly unknown within freelance writing, online specifically as my experience comes from local clients in South Africa.

    So who is my ideal client then?

    1. He must have a clear idea of what they want.
    2. He must not be afraid to invest in his business to acquire outstanding quality, both time and money.
    3. He must accept my terms, both in the content creation process as well as when billed.

    For the rest; I’ll need to give it some more thought.

    Anything you would like to add to my list there, Carol?

    Thanks again for the inspiration!

    • Carol Tice

      Sure -is there a particular industry you’d like to target? Focusing on one or two sectors helps you build expertise and makes it easier to get gigs as you go — if they’re all in healthcare, or automotive parts, or aviation, or financial services, or whatever.

  14. Kenneth

    Inspiring quest there. What hapρened after? Thanks!


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