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.

53 Comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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!
      Cheers

  3. Lorraine Reguly

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

  4. 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.

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