Getting and Managing Clients for Your Freelance Writing Business
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The following excerpt is from Shelby Larson’s book Moonlighting on the Internet. Buy it now from Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes
Shelby Larson presents the most reliable and proven ways you can create an extra paycheck for the short term and establish a continual revenue stream for the long term with your own website. In this edited excerpt, Larson offers her expert advice on which sites might be good for finding freelance writing gigs and how to manage them once you land them.
As a freelance writer, especially a new one, one of the hurdles you have to get past on a fairly regular basis is finding new clients to keep yourself busy and profitable. Although there are a number of mainstream websites that freelancers of all types can frequent to find jobs, such as Elance or Freelancer, here are a handful of sites you can visit to specifically locate freelance writing jobs.
Pros: You get a wide diversity of projects on this site, so you can build a better resume. Writers also get direct access to editors, clients, and a very supportive staff. Writers are paid weekly. There are lots of opportunities for other types of work.
Cons: Jobs pay less than you could get freelancing independently, and writers must accept pay via PayPal, although because they use the mass pay option, contractors don’t pay fees on their incoming payments. It can sometimes be a slow ramp up to regular work until you’ve established yourself as a reliable resource.
Pros: Almost every second job is for some magazine, newspaper, or publication; there’s a minimum pay rate of $10 per 500 words, although average pay is much higher.
Cons: There are many work-from-home jobs, but writers outside the U.S. are disadvantaged by the high number of location-specific gigs.
Pros: They have a great list of blogging and telecommuting gigs. The rates on offer are usually much higher than what you’d find on other freelancing websites. You avoid dealing with the middleman like on Elance or Freelancer, while enjoying high client response rates.
Cons: The search filter isn’t that great, so you have to scan every job to find what you’re looking for.
Pros: It has a great search filter and pulls lists from multiple sites and job sources.
Cons: This is a really popular site, so the job quest can be fiercely competitive.
Pros: The site lists jobs by pay.
Cons: Jobs aren’t posted as consistently as on other sites—there are often two- to three-day lapses in postings.
Pros: This is less of a job board and more of an online hub/community that provides jobs, support, and business resources for freelance writers.
Cons: The site requires an application for access.
Pros: This site saves you time by listing high-quality writing jobs from multiple sites and sending you directly to the application phase.
Cons: The response rate is not as high as it is on some other sites (ProBlogger, for instance).
Managing clients and projects
While how to get clients is a huge question all new freelance writers have, you also need to have a plan for how you’re going to manage the client and the project from the point you close the deal through project completion. Every client is potentially a returning client, and you want to make sure they have a fabulous experience.
Right from the onset of the project, it’s critical that you have a realistic understanding of what your client actually wants. You’ll get clients with various degrees of specificity on what they’re looking for, but they almost always have some idea of what they want, and they’re not always great at letting you know what that is. You’re getting hired to write for them, but it’s a true gift to yourself and your client if you can create an intake process that helps your client paint a picture for you of what they truly want.
Not everyone uses an order form for each project, but I do. I’m a firm believer in order forms. There really isn’t a wrong way to do an order form. The most important thing is that you design them to get the information you need. In my company, we have three different ways to handle order forms:
1. Emailed form. With some projects, we simply email them a form full of questions and require them to fill it out and email it back to us or upload it to one of our project management platforms. This is especially useful if your client is a little older and less tech-savvy, or if your client wants time to think about it.
2. Online form. Google Docs has a free way to create interactive forms. Some of our projects are hosted in this format. We send them a link, they fill it out and hit submit, and the content is compiled and sent to us. This is perfect for clients who are a bit more tech-savvy or who are going to fill out the order form in one sitting.
3. Phone meeting. We get some clients onto our recorded phone bridge and talk them through the form. This is ideal if the topic is especially in-depth or the project is very large. It’s also a great fit for clients you suspect will be intimidated and not put much information on the form or who’ll sit on it for long periods of time instead of sitting down and filling it out for you. If the project justifies the budget, we’ll transcribe this information.
However you decide to do it, getting proper information from the client at the outset will save you the pain of unhappy clients or having to do multiple revisions.
When it comes to successfully juggling clients and projects, there’s nothing that will cause you more pain than not properly managing their expectations. You need to be crystal clear about what they can expect every step of the way.
First, you should clearly define the timeline for your client’s project. While a deadline/project due date is important, a timeline is much more than that. You really should have some sort of intake document that lets them know your process. A good writing project should have regular milestones where you check in with the client so they can approve the direction you’re taking. Trust me, if the client doesn’t like something you’re doing, it’s far less painful to learn that partway into the project instead of at the very end, after you’ve written the whole thing. You should anticipate and appreciate course correction.
Your timeline should clearly identify the different parts of your process along with estimated completion dates. Some of your process may include research, checkpoints, writing, final draft due date, etc. Be sure to pad your timeline. However long you think the project will take you, add on extra time; there’s no crime in finishing early, but I guarantee life will get in the way and slow you down.
Next, consider a revision policy. It’s important to define what revisions will come out of your pocket and what will cost your client extra money. You can do this however you want, but it’s less important what your policy is than it is to make sure you have one and that your client is clear on it.
Finally, you’ll definitely want to request testimonials from your clients. There are few things more powerful than social proof. You should always ask for testimonials, and you shouldn’t feel weird about it. They can always say no, and some will, even though they love your work. Do not underestimate the powerful benefit of a testimonial.