Stop Doing This Now to Explode Your Freelance Writing Income

Carol Tice

freelance writer belittles herselfToday I’ve got a question: How’s your freelance marketing going?

Not so good?

I talk to a lot of writers who, when you press them, finally admit they’re not doing any marketing at all.

What’s happening is, writers go to market their services…but then they don’t. Something stops them.

Something inside their heads.

Talking yourself out of it

It seems that when many writers sit down to make a marketing plan and start sending those query letters or letters of introduction or making those cold calls — or whatever you do — a bunch of toxic thoughts crop up.

I’ve seen a real epidemic of these negative ideas from Freelance Writers Den members lately. For instance, one writer targeting universities for copywriting work wrote:

“I get ready to call, but then I assume they all have grad students or interns or a marketing staff.”

Or this one, from an experienced freelance writer whose income has been stymied by her lack of marketing:

“I talk myself out of looking for clients because I figure ‘no one will hire me,’ or ‘the market has changed.'”

Another writer commented:

“I just can’t imagine why a company would both hire and PAY me.”

Finally, here’s an email I got this week:

“Pay rates at my established clients have gone down… Companies I used to work with no longer do newsletters, annual reports, etc., or theyโ€™ve taken them in house. Other companies only want to work via content mills. Everyone wants work done well for rock-bottom rates. Iโ€™ve always been able to make a living wage as a freelancer. Now I question if this is a sustainable career after all.”

It’s enough to get you feeling depressed and hopeless, hm?

But you can snap out of this — and you need to, to grow your freelance writing income. To do it, I’ve got one big tip for you today:

Stay in reality

The important thing about those first three thoughts above is that they do not represent reality. They’re just things you’re saying to yourself — that clients don’t need you, that you don’t merit compensation. That freelancing is a mirage, and couldn’t possibly be real. These are ideas that exist only in your head.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics would not be projecting that freelance workers will outnumber people with jobs by 2020 if there was no living in this.

Also, in the case of that last one, beware of extrapolating that your very limited personal experience accurately represents what’s going on in the vast freelance marketplace. Your few clients who don’t pay freelancers well anymore are not “everyone.”

Yes, the marketplace evolves. Clients who once paid freelancers well decide to go another direction — I had one $95-an-hour client decide to fire my editor and go with a multimedia agency for content instead, for instance.

But there’s always another side to that coin. Meanwhile, two other businesses decide they’ve had it with what they’re getting for cheapo rates and gets serious about commissioning truly quality content at professional rates.

I know, because my Den “Share Your Success” forum is full every week of stories of how writers at all career stages are getting raises, finding better clients, and earning more. Freelance writing is a real career, people. Not just for established writers like me, but for new freelancers, too. You can earn a living at this.

Of course, it’s easier to have a pity party about how your existing clients are no longer great than it is to make 100 cold calls, eh?

And that’s what this sort of negative self-talk is all about — finding an excuse to avoid marketing. It’s easier to insist there are no good-paying clients than to haul your butt to a networking event or conference and put in the shoe leather to find them.

Meanwhile, out in the real world, every survey done of companies reveals that they love using freelancers and forecast they will use more freelancers in future. There’s also evidence that freelance rates are rising.

There’s one other thing to take to heart here:

Clients need you

I don’t care if you are fresh out of college or you’ve been writing for 20 years. No matter where you’re at in your freelance writing career, there are clients who would love to have your help and are happy to pay for it.

When editors get together, do you know what they talk about? How they wish they could find more reliable, talented, responsible writers with fresh voices and ideas.

Remember, the vast majority of freelance writing gigs will never be advertised. They’re hidden. So you can’t conclude anything about the market by reading Craigslist ads or checking the Elance listings.

Instead, envision a magazine editor slumped over her desk, wishing she had time to grow her stable of good writers. A small business owner overwhelmed with the 24/7 demands of keeping his business alive, looking over his rudimentary website or abandoned blog in despair. These clients are waiting for you to reach out and show them the solution is a freelance writer.

They’re waiting for you to get in touch.

Stop the self-sabotage

Here’s the key thing to do: When you’re tempted to spin a bunch of gloomy webs that keep you stuck where you are, just stop doing that. Right away.

There’s a simple truth in freelancing: Marketing leads to good clients. Not marketing leads to starving.

If you can stop sabotaging your marketing efforts, your income can grow exponentially. I’ve seen writer after writer dig into marketing and report back a year later that their income has doubled, tripled, or more.

Suddenly, you have your pick amongst the prospects you’ve attracted, instead of scrabbling desperately for whatever crumb a low-paying client tosses your way. More leads mean you can say “no” to losers and keep only the great clients, which also results in better income.

Take your foot off the brake

Imagine you’re in a car and you’re standing on the brake hard, all while saying, “I think cars no longer go. I can’t seem to get anywhere! Guess it’s time to give up and go back to using a horse-and-buggy.”

This is the scenario negative-thinking freelance writers are trapped in. You’ve got to take your foot off the brake and put it on the gas to get down the road. Suddenly, you discover cars work just great.

I’ve yet to meet a writer who does consistent, effective marketing who doesn’t get better clients. So stop the internal monologue that’s keeping you from getting out there to meet the clients who need you.

Are you marketing? Leave a comment and tell us what you’re doing to find good clients.

Get Great Freelance Clients


  1. Heather

    Great post, Carol. For marketing I’ve been sending out targeted LOIs to nonprofits based on KeriLynn’s post on email marketing. I’m not rolling in paid assignments yet, but I am getting requests for clips, etc. Obviously there is a need for freelance writers, though, which gives me hope!

    A little advice for those of us who do negative self-talk: when negative thoughts pop up, pretend a cartoon character or any funny voice (parrots work for me) is making the comment. That might help people take the thoughts less seriously.

    • Carol Tice

      Ha, that’s a fun tip, Heather!

      • Catie Watson

        This post came at just the right time since I’m moving away from Elance and other job bid sites. The resources on this website and in the Writers’ Den have provided a roadmap as I chart my new freelance path. Thanks for sharing your expertise and positivity!

        • Pooja

          Hey Catie,

          Glad to hear you’re moving up from Elance and friends. My experience is once you get going and do it “right”, you’ll find more clients than you can handle, mainly through one simple strategy of referrals. And there are a ton of other ways to boost your income. The magic word is “start” ๐Ÿ™‚


    • KeriLynn Engel

      Thanks for the mention, Heather- I’m so glad my post helped you! I’m still sending out at least 10 LOIs a week, too, and am constantly talking to new prospects.

      I LOVE your tip about picturing a cartoon character! Definitely going to try that ๐Ÿ˜€

  2. Gail Gardner

    Writers need to listen to Carol. Some of us have never written for content mill prices and never will. The going rate for 800+ words written well has risen over the years. It is now $100-$150 for very good writers and $500+ for the very best. With what you do here, many of you can be consistently charging $150-$500+ provided you keep improving and growing your connections.

    Carol most likely as launched more paid writers than any other mentor. Not only does she teach – she also gets you the connections to get hired. Be realistic about your abilities and keep improving while charging what you are worth today. I find that many excellent writers don’t realize they are and others can get higher paid work by working with a proofreader.

    Stick with Carol – she knows how to get you jobs that better than what you will find elsewhere. And be sure to develop friendships with the best other writers as they are likely to pass work your way and recommend you to clients who can’t quite afford them. That is how a $100 writer can get clients willing to pay $300.

    • Carol Tice

      Aw shucks Gail! Thanks for the testimonial — and definitely agree on the referrals! I have a friend who was referred a book contract through his network, and I personally subbed out $6,000 on a government contract project I wrote a couple years back. You should Google your writing niche, city, and ‘freelance writer’, ie “Seattle healthcare writer” or whatever it is, and start connecting with the writers you see on that search. Find out where they hang out, network, meet them for a coffee…start learning from them about who in town pays well, who’s a sleazebag, etc. Save you untold agony and possibly lead to better pay!

  3. Clara Mathews


    Thanks for the encouragement. I have been fortunate to get most of my clients from referrals. But recently the work has started to dry up Now I starting to market myself by contacting leads.

    I picked up a book called, Get Clients Now. It has some great tips and an actionable plan for marketing yourself and finding new clients.

    It is hard. I hate cold calling, but it is better than working for peanuts in the content mills.

    • Carol Tice

      Not familiar with that one, Clara — who’s it by?

      I personally have never done cold calling — I like LinkedIn marketing, in-person networking, and sending query letters.

  4. D Kendra Francesco

    Good, as always. Timely, too! You definitely have your fingers on the pulse of freelancers. Went to the Forbes article – and found one more tip I can use. (I also picked up your tip about typing in city, niche, and freelance writer.) Thank you.

  5. Becky

    I agree with all your tips. There is a market out there for almost all of us. One thing I do find interesting is that the owner of can be quoted as an authority on rising rates when his landing page is advertising freelancers at less than $6.00 an hour. Egads, what were they earning before rates went up?

  6. Angela Booth

    Wise words, Carol: “Marketing leads to good clients. Not marketing leads to starving.”

    Marketing doesn’t need to be difficult.

    It can be easy. Established freelancers have a gold mine in their current and past clients. Get in touch with clients, and stay in touch. Send an email message, or a tweet. Make them a proposal after thinking about what else you could do for them. Every business needs to communicate: their business depends on it, and if a client has hired you once, chances are he’ll hire you again.

    Also, ask your clients for referrals. Just say: “I’m growing my client list. Who among your contacts might need my services?”

    New freelancer? Hooray! You can work with anyone — as long as they can afford you.

    Cold calling works, but it can be intimidating. Instead, think about the products and services you USE — if you love something, you’ll do a great job writing about it.

    An example. We use a garden maintenance service. They do an amazing job for us. I’m thrilled with the way they’ve maintained our garden this past year. The service is a franchise. If I were a new freelancer, I’d be calling the head office of the franchise to say: “Your operator does a wonderful job on our garden — just thought I’d let you know. By the way, I’m a freelance writer. I’d love to help you to promote your services. Do you need any promotional materials, or a training manual?”

    Vital: “no” often means — “I don’t know.”

    If a prospect tells you “no”, and you think you’d be a good fit working with them, stay in touch. Many companies will contact you a month or months later, with a gig. One client contacted me four years after I contacted him.

    To get writing gigs, reach out, and keep reaching out. Wonderful clients are out there. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Carol Tice

      Great tips, Angela — and great to see you here!

    • Pooja

      Wow, thanks for that neat little tip about the products you USE and garden maintenance franchise example, Angela!


  7. Linda H

    This one hit home for me. I’ve said all these things and it’s stymied my marketing, so my business suffers. Every time I think about why I’m not making money I remember you telling people to market, market, market. I get a lot of referrals, but I need to market myself too. I used to write for several magazines on a regular basis, then was hired by Corporate America based on that success. I need to redirect my thoughts and get going. I see these thoughts reflected in many areas, not just by freelancers. Great post, Carol. I’ll reread this one often and share it with my peeps. Many of my clients need these pointers too. Thanks!

  8. Katherine Swarts

    I would personally add “I should be doing more/I don’t do enough” to the list of negative thoughts that drain precious energy, consume valuable time, and are all too eager to establish themselves as a self-reinforcing habit. “I don’t do enough” thinking will also dilute your focus, erode your self-confidence, nurture fretting and impatience, and ultimately lead to a “nothing ever works so why bother trying?” mentality.

    Remember, you are responsible for only your own actions and capabilities: not for controlling EVERYTHING that happens or for meeting humanly impossible standards.

    • Carol Tice

      Yeah…I also don’t do enough. I never feel “caught up” or “done.” After years of it, I realize that I am simply over-ambitious. It can be mentally helpful to get more realistic about what can truly get done. That’s certainly what I ask my 1 on 1 mentees to do in goal-setting — look at your month. Are you having a surgery? Going on vacation? Having a baby? Be *realistic* about what can be accomplished this month.

      I should probably take my own advice on that more!

      • Katherine Swarts

        Well, you’ve just disproved another common hindering attitude: “I have to get ALL my habits in order before I can have any hope of real success.”

        • Carol Tice

          Hahahaha…yeah, people are always asking me what my productivity tip is that I use personally. And it’s: “I work a million hours.”

          Nobody’s got it all together. N O B O D Y. It’s all about doing what you can. Some days it’s an achivement if I can manage to do one dang thing toward my writing.

          For the first years I was launching my freelance writing back in the ’90s, I was a severe asthmatic! Hey, I should totally do a post about that. ๐Ÿ˜‰ I could barely MOVE. That’s when I broke in.

  9. Ashley Denefield

    One thing I always say and stand by is, “There’s always room for you.” There’s always an opportunity for a unique voice, a fresh perspective, or another hard-working, business-minded individual with writing talent and an unyielding passion to succeed. I think what many are afraid of is rejection. The “no” seems daunting and a blow to self-esteem, but when we remind ourselves of why we write, why we want to be in business for ourselves, why we dare to help people through our gifts, then the “no” is irrelevant. If you are on the “write” path, a “no” will be fuel instead of defeat.

    • Carol Tice

      I believe that so strongly, Ashley. I think of it as playing “Match Game” — you’re just looking for where you’re needed in the marketplace. Which gives ‘rejections’ a different context: Just haven’t found that match yet.

      It’s not a commentary on your ability. Writers have to work on their self-confidence if they don’t believe they’ve got something to offer on the page, so that they can do this for a living.

  10. Pooja


    Can I just say I LOVED the analogy of how some writers are trying to drive with brakes on? Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?

    Thank you!


  11. Peggy Carouthers

    I’ve been talking myself out of plenty of LOIs and cold calls recently, but I just sat down and worked at it yesterday. After I finished the first, it was easier to do more, and I sent out three LOIs for the week already. The nice thing is that once you do the first LOI, it isn’t so scary anymore. I think that these tips are really valuable to newbies who are struggling to get started. The hardest part is sending the first one.

    • Carol Tice

      “After I finished the first, it was easier to do more.” EXACTLY. Doing leads to confidence. (And results!)

      Sitting around thinking negative thoughts about how there might not really be a freelance market out there doesn’t.

    • Carol Tice

      Wow, that IS a great post! What an excuse-buster.

  12. Pete Boyle

    Thank you for this Carol.

    Exactly what was needed today!

    I’ve been having something of a crisis when it’s come to my client sourcing methods, especially due to the responses, or lack thereof, I’ve been receiving.
    Reading the above has helped put me back into my usual state of mind and stop questioning myself.

    I’m going to hold on to the below quote when I’m starting to wonder if freelancing is a ll i hoped it would be!
    “No matter where youโ€™re at in your freelance writing career, there are clients who would love to have your help and are happy to pay for it.”

    Thanks again!

    • Carol Tice

      Glad I could help! If you’re not getting responses, you might want to learn more about effective queries or letters of introduction (not sure if you’re pitching companies or publications). We have a forum in Freelance Writers Den where we review and help people improve their queries. Also coming up in a month or two is my Pitch Clinic class with Linda Formichelli — you can get on the waitlist to get the details on the next session of that here:

      • Pete Boyle

        Thanks Carol!

        The Pitch Clinic sounds very interesting. I may just have to get on that waiting list!

  13. Karla McNeese

    Launched my portfolio site today, joined LinkedIn, and I’m thumbing through sites trying to decide who to send queries to and what to pitch them. I overanalyze too much. I need to jump and let the net appear already.


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