Work Smarter and Earn More: 10 Freelance Writers’ Tips

Carol Tice

Freelance writers working smart togetherInsanity, Einstein said, is doing the same thing over and over but expecting a different result.

I see that in freelance writers a lot. They continue hanging around Elance or applying for “job opportunities” they see on Craigslist, or never marketing their services…and wonder why their writing income never improves.

If you’ve been approaching freelance writing in a particular way and that way didn’t pay off for you in 2013, it’s time to try new things.

Recently, we had a hot conversation going on the Freelance Writers Den forums about how to work smarter and earn more in 2014. I loved the tips we got on new approaches to try, and thought all my blog readers would benefit from them, too, so I’m sharing them below, along with a tip of my own. Also asked one of my good friends from my Blogger Mastermind on Skype, Gail Gardner from the highly successful site GrowMap, to weigh in with a tip as well.

Enjoy — hope these help you earn more from writing in the coming year:

Susan Springer1. Target better-paying articles, work in 1-hour blocks, and hire a transcriptionist.

“I plan to market for specific story types with a higher hourly rate: Articles with the same price tag can produce very different hourly rates.  Right now, I’m doing two articles at $1,000.  One is a one-source story, the source was supplied to me, I’ll interview him for 20-25 minutes and I can’t imagine the whole project will take more than 5 hours, so $200 an hour.

“The other story has eight sources and I had to find most of them (and spend time on dead-ends when sources didn’t work out), the word count is twice as long as the first, and there’s a resource list, so my hourly rate will be much lower.  I want to assess projects more accurately.

“I’m trying another time management tactic – working in one hour blocks when I don’t answer email, do laundry, set up a doctor appointment, get a snack, etc.  Then I must get up and clear my head for a few minutes. Then back to another focused hour.

“I’d like to think I can keep lots of balls in the air at the same time… but I’m fooling myself.  Instead, the process of getting out of a project and then back in again is truly a time waster.

“My other resolution is to use transcription more often:  It’s a timesaver which I’ve only used in crunch times in the past – will do more this year!”– Susan Springer

Bree Brouwer, freelance writer2. Focus and get efficient on social media.

“I plan to overhaul my blog to have a bit more focus than general geek stuff, which will mean I am better able to pinpoint sites I should guest post on for exposure, instead of wasting time pitching unrelated big blogs.

“I’m doing a similar process for the direction of my career. I’m deciding to focus on specific writing niches (freelance blogging, entertainment journalism, and content/creative strategy) and will stop marketing myself as anything other than these. I’ll only aim for companies within these niches, too.

“Finally, I plan to start using HootSuite to better manage my social media addiction. 😉 “–Bree Brouwer

Linda-LawnColor3. Read up on productivity and schedule your emails.

“I would recommend reading 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam. It’s my favorite time management book and has a lot of good tips on how you can fit it all in even if you work a 50-hour week and sleep 8 hours per night.”

“I’ve been using Boomerang to schedule my e-course emails for a year or two. It works perfectly and is well worth the price!”–Linda Formichelli, Hero’s Journey Content

Casey Kelly Barton freelance writer4. Outsource the scut jobs and get more exercise.

“I started doing something that at first felt decadent and unrelated to work, but it’s paying off personally and professionally.

“I hired a friend’s cleaning service and while they’re at my house I go for a speed walk or a long bike ride. It gets me out of their way, keeps the place presentable, and removes my biggest excuse for not exercising. While I’m out, I listen to Den calls and writing-related podcasts or think about stories I’m working on or want to pitch. I come back to a clean home and work space with new ideas and more energy.

“Having cleaners also means that instead of spending my family time trying to get my children to help me clean the house to my standards–or languishing in clutter and grime–we can actually enjoy ourselves. Win-win.

“As a bonus, I get to deduct part of the cleaning fees at tax time because I have a home office.”–Casey Kelly Barton

Anne Michelsen freelance writer5. Schedule social media.

“I’ve just started using Buffer to schedule regular posts to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn – something I didn’t feel I had the time for before using the app. I’ve already noticed an upswing in traffic, and it only takes about 20 minutes a week!”–Anne Michelsen

Chris Marlow copywriters coach6. Get mentored and track your time.

“Tonight I had a heavy session with my mentor ( a multimillionaire) who knows me very well. Painful as it always is, he shows me where my inefficiencies are. If you want to earn more, you need to identify the stuff that drags you down.

“Twenty years ago I kept track of what I earned from each client [on an hourly rate basis]. After a while I could see a pattern… I could see who I was making more money with and what client didn’t measure up comparatively.

“With one client I was making an average of $200/hr. For the other, it was $75. But it would have been hard to see it without keeping track, as both were assigning me lots of work.

“I decided to dump the client that paid lower and replace them with a client who could pay what my work is worth. I’ve never looked back.”–Chris Marlow

 nida sea7. Upgrade your tools and get accountability.

“My laptop is running ragged and severely needs more RAM and a bigger hard drive. I’ve already lost several writing documents during a system crash and had to start from scratch. Not fun. I seriously need to do upgrades.

“One of my main goals is to hire a coach. I need someone to help me stay accountable and ensure I’m reaching my goals. I’ve gotten over the rejection/fear thing and I like getting more clients, but I want to know how to negotiate better rates for myself without sounding like a noob.”–Nida Sea

SONY DSC 8. Turn off the Internet.

“I turn the Internet off when I go to bed at night. In most cases I work an hour or two in the morning before I turn it back on, allowing me to work uninterrupted.” –John Soares, Productive Writers

Screen Shot 2013-12-26 at 1.28.21 PM9. Collaborate more.

“The best way to address the feast-or-famine cycle of freelancing is by collaborating. You can share work, refer to each other, take that big job you can’t quite handle by yourself. You can fill in the slow times by helping someone else.

“The other advantages are you can learn a lot from the other people you work with — you don’t have to go research every tool you’re going to use. You already have a core group of collaborators who have the answer or know where to get it. They can support you when all the other people in your life think you’ve lost your mind and can’t figure out why you don’t get a regular job — you’ll have those people who understand.”–Gail Gardner, GrowMap

carolticeavatar5 10.–Analyze your marketing.

“One of the most life-changing things I did as a freelancer is after one busy year, I analyzed my client list and how I got each client. What types of marketing were bringing me the best clients?

“That analysis led me to stop looking at Craigslist ads forever, as I saw responding to online job ads only got me lower-quality clients. Instead, I concentrated on what was leading to better clients — for me, that was blogging for popular blogs, in-person networking, and sending queries.

“The year after doing that analysis was the first year that I cracked six figures as a freelance writer.”–Carol Tice

How will you work smarter and earn more in the coming year? Leave a comment and share your tip.


  1. Melissa Weir

    Helpful list — thanks!

    I have a bad case of coulda, shoulda, woulda so I obviously need an accountability partner..

    I’ve never considered outsourcing to house cleaners as a productivity tool. Can’t say I spend too much time cleaning. But I spend a crazy amount of time bothered by the grime and thinking I should be cleaning!

    New year, new tricks, better results. Cool!

    • Karen J

      Good catch, Melissa!
      The amount of time, energy and concentration taken up by “being bothered” by anything – no matter how *minor* – is an invisible but very real drain.

    • Carol Tice

      I am allergic to both dust and cleansers, and think of having housecleaners as a great investment and time-saver for me. I don’t clean very well and then I start sneezing, and the dust can’t just be left or it makes me ill.

    • Gail D.Bertrand-Meir

      I enjoyed the article and the many suggestions. I am not new to writing, but I am new at charging for it. I have been approached and have decided to throw my hat in the ring, all the while, taking little steps. My frustration lies in the pricing. I would be working for professional people, adding to their photography, descriptive mostly. Is their such a thing as a starting point in this industry? Another thing that is rather new with me is writing online. I have done so for years, but not online. Is their a way of protecting my work? Lastly, I am now confined to bed due to disability, and that is another reason I need to charge for my work. I have done much work on behalf of organizations…but now, it is for pay. I feel like I have let my guard down a little, but I am certain that it is part of the process online. I do appreciate your time and I thank you for keeping me on your mailing list. This is part of my resolution for the upcoming year…

      • Carol Tice

        There are many starting points in this industry, Gail. Doing photo captions sounds like a good starting point to me.

        The key to pricing — charge something. Then figure out what hourly rate that worked out to, and next time, charge more. Try to get at least $35-$50 as a newbie, and raise it rapidly. Professionals aim for the $100 an hour neighborhood. Not that you tell clients hourly rates — try to bid by the project instead.

        Think you can find more pricing tips at this tag:

        • Melissa Weir

          Carol, this is a great piece of advice. I ruminated over pricing my first couple of jobs for so long I nearly lost the sales. I still have the tendency to overthink pricing, and I’m not sure if that’s because I’m a noob or because I’m slow or for some unknown reason. Something else to work on in 2014…

          Happy New Year to all!


  2. Lori Ferguson

    Lots of thought-provoking ideas here–THANKS Carol! I, too, hired a transcriptionist this year (thank you for the fabulous rec Linda Formichelli!) and that one act saved me tons of time and aggravation. One thing I’m going to do more of in 2014 is leverage my existing contacts and gigs to greater advantage. Silly as it may sound, I’ve started chatting more with friends I know at my gym and have gotten nearly half a dozen new gigs from these casual conversations. I keep hearing, “You’re a writer? I had no idea!” That’s gonna change… 🙂

    • Carol Tice

      I’m always surprised how many times I ask writers if they have reached out on LinkedIn and connected with every former and current editor and let them know you are looking for referrals and additional clients. Probably 95% of writers tell me, “No.” But marketing will never be easier than asking people who already know and love your work if they would recommend you if they hear someone is looking for a writer.

      • Lori Ferguson

        I’ve worked my LinkedIn clients and editors like a “big dog,” but these more recent gigs have literally come from “water cooler” conversations. My perception is that I’m always talking about what I do, but clearly perception and reality parted ways at some point. An easy (and fun) challenge to tackle for the new year… 🙂

  3. John Soares

    Very good advice here Carol. Thanks for including my tip!

  4. Helene Poulakou

    In 2014 I’ll combine words with visuals (SlideShare, videos).
    They’re engaging and shareable, and they help showcase a writer’s abilities in more fields (like script-writing, for example).

    • Carol Tice

      I’ve learned a lot about Slideshows writing for the Forbes blog…they can be HUGE traffic drivers!

      Thanks for adding your tip. 😉

  5. Daryl

    Concentrate on revenue earning activities.

    I think I did a decent amount of work on my blogs in the last year – but I didn’t concentrate as much on pitching and other revenue generating activities.

    This year I’m looking to streamline things and putting more effort into pitching and winning gigs as opposed to writing and marketing blog posts.

    Hopefully with the revenue generated I’ll then be able to hire another blogger to work on my blog while I focus on generating more clients.

    • Carol Tice

      I’m thinking about some changes for this blog, too — subscribers, watch for a survey form to go out to you so I can learn more about the best way forward for MALW.

  6. Anne

    Thanks Carol – this is great advice and I’m honored to be included! I’ve been looking into hiring a transcriptionist myself. Do you have any advice on how to find a good one?

    • Carol Tice

      PM me in the Den and I can tell you the one we use for our events. I know lots of people try Fiverr or one of those places…but I think it’s more hit or miss there.

      • Williesha Morris

        Believe it or not, I actually do transcription for clients as a VA. My claim to fame is transcribing medical conference notes by my boss. She is Puerto Rican with a very heavy accent! Would love clients who need that.

        I do it now for myself, and although it does take up a ton of time, I do it for practice, along with other admin-related tasks.

        Never thought of deductions for housekeeping! Awesome!

        I try to analyze my hourly rates as much as possible to see where things are slowing me down. I’m not a huge fan of automation for all social media. But I definitely should spend more time doing it.

  7. Lynn Silva

    Thank you for some wonderful tips!

    I’m ashamed to admit that I cannot (yet) sit for an entire hour and simply write. I started working on this in August. I started with 10 minute increments. I’m now up to 40 minutes. I can actually sit and write for 40 minutes straight. It’s taken me months to discipline my body and mind to do this. Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever be able to increase this. Sure, I can sit longer, but my productivity decreases. I zone off, repeat what I’ve already written, add irrelevant things, etc. It’s so frustrating, but I keep trying and eventually, hopefully, I’ll be able to focus more than 40 minutes at a time.

    All of these tips are things I need to implement and I’m grateful for each one. Thanks again…for a wonderful year of truly awesome blog posts.

    • Carol Tice

      That’s funny — I have the opposite problem. I sit there writing and shriveling up, forgetting to eat, drink, or pee — or being unwilling to break my flow for any basic human needs. Which becomes ridiculous after a while, but once I’m going I hate having to stop!

    • Karen J

      Good for you for building up considerably from 10 minutes, Lynn!

      On another hand ~ “an hour straight” is a handy but completely arbitrary period of time ~ maybe 40 minutes (or 45, or 30) is your point of diminishing returns (at least for the time being)?
      There comes a point where concentrating on the “80%” that’s going right is far more productive than hammering away at the “20%” that somehow “should be different”. Again, “being bothered by” can be a huge drain on time, energy and maybe even dollar resources.

      Happy New Year to you!

      • Carol Tice

        Good point! Everybody’s different. I know people who get things done in 15 minute bursts with breaks and that’s their mode.

  8. Deidre M. Simpson

    Thanks for the helpful tips. I had to rethink my marketing and social media. I found a way to be active on social media every other day and pitching more to potential clients with the time saved.
    I asked the head of a local organization if I could speak at one of his events.

    • Carol Tice

      I love that idea – taking some days and staying off social media to do other activities.

  9. Paul Bains

    Thanks for the blog! It is v. useful and encouraging. Not quite sure what Susan Springer means about ‘transcription’ though. I’m sure I’m missing something?

    • Carol Tice

      If you record interviews, getting someone to type up a transcript for you instead of devoting hours to that yourself, Paul.

      • Paul Bains

        thanks, Carol, I knew that 🙂

        • Paul Bains

          btw, isn’t there voice recognition software that will work with recordings now? I’m sure this has been around for a while…..

  10. Casey

    Thanks for putting this post together (and for including my tip)! I was so glad to find out about Buffer and Boomerang from this discussion in the Den. Buffer in particular is saving me a lot of time and mental energy on social media.

    • Carol Tice

      I use Hootsuite myself, just because it’s the one I heard about and learned to use. It’s particularly great if you have something you want to promote and know you want to tweet about it for a week at various times — huge timesaver to just plug all those in at once.

  11. Bonnie Nicholls

    I plan a few things:
    1) Change the About Me and home page of my web site. I just reviewed the web site advice in the Writer’s Den, so I have to make some serious changes.
    2) Create a marketing plan to support these goals for my writing projects: Learn something new; charge more per project; increase my exposure in new markets.

    I’m having a friend with a marketing background review my plan. I just can’t figure it all out by myself. And that’s something new too. Ask for help.

    • Carol Tice

      You know, I think every writer would do well to have a friend who’s a hardcore marketer. You just learn so much. For me, those people are Derek Halpern and Danny Iny. I find any time I hang out with them, I learn something great I can implement in my business right away.

  12. Rob

    Want to hear something spooky? After putting it off for months, yesterday I sat down and wrote one article on my business site. The idea was to attract clients to the site with articles. After finishing “Why Hire a Freelance Writer?” I posted it on Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. Last night, an email arrived. “What are your rates?” it asked. He had been following my Sihanoukville Journal for months, but didn’t know I was a freelance writer! Now we’re working out the details of a bunch of stuff, including sales.

    Seems to fit the “work smarter, not harder” theme, because my other plan was to canvas dozens of larger businesses in SE Asia. This guy has 3 sites, all of which I can contribute to.

    • Carol Tice

      Hi Rob —

      Wahoo! Awesome on that. Inbound marketing…I think writers underestimate how great it can be.

      You mean your blog doesn’t have a ‘hire me’ tab? If it does, make it bigger. Turn it red, like I have with the ‘writers community’ tab on here. Make sure they see it.

    • Bonnie Nicholls

      Thanks for sharing that story. I want to start that too. I kind of did things backward. First I started a blog about my neighborhood. Then I started a web site about my business and put my blog there (probably not the smartest thing, since the blog isn’t about writing). Now I want to write some articles about writing, but I don’t want to start another blog. It’s hard enough keeping up with one. So I’m looking to write some articles or tutorials about the writing process.

  13. Natalie Dyke

    Thank you so much for this Carol. For my whole life I’ve known I was meant to write. It’s the only thing I’ve always been effortlessly good at. I’ve been freelancing since I was little helping friends with homework, my family with letters, my dad with company brochures, friends with countless websites … I just wasn’t getting paid for it. This year I finally took the leap but it’s so overwhelming and I’ve been losing motivation lately.

    Thank you for this and all of your other emails that always ignite the fire within me. For your honest advice and ever so helpful tips. Thank you so much

    • Carol Tice

      You’re welcome! Come on back and let us know how it goes in 2014.

      Personally, the problem that my family was going to lose our house and/or starve if I didn’t find writing clients has kept me pretty darn motivated!

  14. Dan

    I’m working at finding more effective marketing methods. I priced myself in too low in the first place, without realizing it, and now I’m recovering from it. Once I find the most effective marketing methods, then I can get more clients and replace the undesirable ones with better ones.

    Looking to grow my income, work fewer hours, and feel happier and healthier in 2014.

    • Carol Tice

      Right on, Dan.

      You know, my rates weren’t super-great the first few years I freelanced. All I did was keep finding one better client and dropping the lowest payer. Just kept doing that, until I was making great, pro rates. That’s really all there is to it.

      The more you market, the faster you can do that process of swapping in high payers and dumping the losers. Best of luck with it in 2014!

  15. Clare Xanthos

    As a newbie freelancer, I’ve found Elance useful for starting out, however, I completely agree with your points on marketing yourself to get highly paid work. Your site is a great resource for those who want to make a decent living out of freelance writing…I finally got around to starting a blog as a result of the advice on here, so I’m hoping that will help. I also plan to start on the query letters!

    • Carol Tice

      Sounds like a plan, Clare!

      As you may know, Elance and oDesk recently merged…and I’ll definitely have something to say about what that means for freelancers in a post coming up.

      • Clare Xanthos

        Thanks, Carol, I look forward to reading it. I actually did a short post on that issue as my very first blog post, so it will be interesting to hear your thoughts on the topic!

  16. Kristen Hicks

    I like the suggestion of working in 1-hour blocks.

    I sometimes feel bad not answering client calls when they come in, but I find that dropping what I’m working on to take a call decreases my focus and productivity. As a writer, none of those calls are ever an emergency and responding within one business day is acceptable for the vast majority of people I’ve worked with.

    I don’t necessarily think in terms of 1-hour blocks, but I do approach my to-do list with a thought to the balance of work and non-work items. As in “Once I finish these three items, I’ll spend a few minutes gardening/making lunch/reading a non-work related blog post etc.” Actually putting the non-work stuff on the to-do list can help me focus on getting through the work tasks to reach those breaks.

    • Carol Tice

      My carrot is Bejeweled…I don’t get to play until work is wrapped up!

      • Kristen Hicks

        I actually pictured a carrot covered in jewels before I realized you meant the game, haha.

  17. Lorraine Reguly

    I like the idea of hiring someone to clean and get exercise at the same time. Excellent tip. 🙂

  18. Karen J

    Carol ~ I like your tip to Dan, to replace one low-paying client at a time.
    I’m sure you’ve addressed it elsewhere… How does one tell that low-payer that they’re “low man on the totem-pole”, as-it-were?

    • Carol Tice

      Well, I don’t put it that way — I just say my rates have gone up, and now they are X for this type of work. Sometimes they’ll come up, and you keep them. But mostly, they say, “Oh. Guess I need to find another writer.”

      If they’re nice people, I try to refer them another writer — the perfect way to end it.

      Keep it professional, give them notice so they can find a replacement, keep the relationship positive. You never know where those people will end up in their next job, or how that company’s fortunes might change.

      • Karen J

        Thanks, Carol!
        Your answer brings to mind another tip (that some may need more than others [blushing] ~ have someone else “read for voice” before you submit – especially as you branch out into other-than-your-usual types of writing. That may not reduce your re-writes, but it *will* avoid irritating an editor!

  19. Emelia

    This article was worth reading from beginning to end. I plan never to look into content mills again in 2014 and write more on my blog. I realized that I fail terribly in social media marketing so I will pick two networking sites (Twitter and LinkedIn only) to focus my marketing efforts. I will be focusing on guest blogging this year, hoping it will lead traffic to my site and ultimately good paying clients.

    Thanks for your informative blog Carol.

    • Carol Tice

      Glad you found this helpful, Emelia! I think those are the top two social media platforms to use for writers. There are things to be said for Google+, but so far I’m not seeing the kind of people on there that I want to connect with.

  20. Kyle Taylor

    Not sure if I could ever turn off the internet for more than a few hours to try and get some writing done, lol, because yeah it is a distraction. I think working smarter rather than harder is the key and emulating how companies work is best long-run strategy. Rather than trying to do it yourself for instance, you could save a lot of time and energy outsourcing some social media tasks to the types of companies listed at for example. Any freelancer can always do better getting rid of stressful and negative and low-paying jobs – when you feel yourself dreading life when you see an email from a certain client, it’s time to ditch them or increase your rates until you no longer feel bad. Getting some exercise is also a great tip, and what helps with that in the long run is cutting out sugar from your diet. If you eliminate 80% of your sugar you’ll be in a much better position health-wise than most other people.

  21. Joe Jamieson

    This is a great post for a number of reasons. The reason I enjoyed it was because it didn’t suggest a fundamental shift in mindset as many posts do. The tips provide actionable, manageable tweaks that anyone can apply.

    Even if you make tiny steps, as long as they’re in the direction you want to be headed, they’re steps worth taking.

    It’s about consistently sculpting things to suit your needs more appropriately.

    “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

  22. Alex Taylor

    Great topic with excellent advice Carol.
    Your reliable stream of valuable information for writers, you have been both helpful and inspirational to so many writers. There are so many grateful writers who appreciate all you do!
    Good work….


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