My freelance writing journey started about six years ago in my penultimate year as a law student -- and after failing at so many other business attempts. I always said I would start a business before graduating. I just believed it would be the perfect time for that type of venture. Throughout my college years, I had written for public consumption, so freelance writing made sense.
But starting a freelance writing business, like any other business, wasn’t all rosy. I followed all the expert advice out there, started a blog and avoided content mills. But I strived to put myself at the top of the food chain from the outset. And it simply wasn't that easy.
For about two years, I didn’t make any satisfactory progress. It was hard to blame it all on being Nigerian (because I had fellow Nigerians making a killing online as freelance writers), but that was exactly how I felt. I forged ahead notwithstanding, until I had what I’d call my first break. I caught the attention of MSN Africa.
Fast forward to today. The journey has been full of ups and downs, just like life. I’ve had clients and lost clients. I also decided to become a copy editor too, just to be able to deliver more value to my clients. It's also the same reason I went on to become certified as a digital marketing professional.
I had to kill my freelance writing business and former blog during a period that I now refer to as my lowest point in life. After some time of deep soul searching and re-finding myself, I had to start all over -- from ground zero. It was tough to start freelancing again with almost no clients, but I had no choice. Writing and online marketing was all I had a burning passion for.
More recently, I’ve had good luck working with some great clients. While some had few high-paying projects, some had a lot of work that compensated for their lower rates. Few were a balance of both. One I particularly enjoy working with is a content marketing agency that has tons of work and big clients like Shopify and BlueHost. In the past year alone, I’ve successfully written more than 300 articles, from client assignments to personal projects. This same fast-paced agency is responsible for the majority of these articles, and I’ve learned a lot in the course of working with them.
It has dawned on me that I must have done something good to be trusted with so many assignments, including high-profile ones, over the years. Plus, I've been able to retain this client for almost two years now. Below are tidbits from my experience of plunging into the freelance writing business and posting nearly one article a day for a year. I hope you find them useful for your business.
1. Leverage relationships.
A sizeable number of clients I’ve worked with were as a result of relationships -- personal relationships, referrals or professional relationships built over time. It was initially hard to maximize the relationship route because I didn’t want to make people feel I took my freelance writing more seriously than I did my law career. But with time, I got over that and started putting myself out there. I let everyone who cared to listen know that I’m a freelance writer.
Relationships are the low hanging fruit in business. You want to learn how to leverage relationships for success. For example, the agency I referred to earlier is owned by a long-time friend.
2. Never miss deadlines.
When you’re a freelancer, or you provide any service for that matter, you don’t want to toy with deadlines. You want to build a reputation for yourself as someone who beats, or at least never misses, deadlines.
I almost never miss my deadlines. This has made me more trustworthy and reliable to clients over time. It's gotten me more work -- sometimes more than a single person can handle.
3. On productivity.
To be able to handle a lot of work, never miss a deadline and become very valuable to clients, you must be able to fire on all cylinders. Your productivity level must be as high as possible. However, heightened productivity hardly comes naturally; it’s something you create consciously. Identify and do/use things that make you super-productive -- habits or rituals, environments, objects, etc.
Here are few things that help me remain productive:
- I’ve identified my most productive times of the day for writing as early mornings, between 4 and 6, and late nights, after 9.
- I’ve also identified my ideal work setting as a well-lit room with a comfy table and chair and moderate temperature. This setting is inspiration haven for me.
- I avoid distractions as much as I can. Generally, I don’t get notifications (email, social media and other apps) on my phone or any other device, and my devices are perpetually on silent.
- I sometimes use the reward and punishment system to get myself productive. For example, deciding not to eat dinner until I complete an assignment, or promising myself I'll go see a movie if I finish a very big task within a specific period.
- There’s nothing like writer’s block. Writing is simply “do or die” when you have a strict deadline. I don’t see myself as creative when it’s time to deliver because that might be an obstacle in itself. I see myself as a workman, like a plumber, that just has to do his job notwithstanding his moods or environment.
- I have a formula that helps me write 500-word articles within 20 minutes after I’ve done all my research. I outlined it here.
- I don’t believe in giving excuses for not delivering, not even falling sick. It’s better to not accept a job than later having reasons to not deliver.
- I’m always motivated when the pay is good, or at least fair enough. I try to avoid gigs with unsatisfactory rates, and I never force myself to write an assignment I’m not happy with.
- Even when I don’t have assignments, there’s no day I don’t write. This has helped to make writing very normal to me, just like eating and sleeping.
- I’ve learned to sleep over challenging tasks so that my mind can work on them while I’m sleeping, and I can wake up better equipped to tackle them. Sometimes I keep a task or topic on my mind all day so that I’ll be mentally prepared enough to tackle it at night.