From Daily Grind to Freelance Freedom
Guest post by Daisy McCarty
My freelance story starts with a career in Corporate Procurement at a large, privately owned business in the Dallas area. I was six years into my job and my income had plateaued. Two years had passed with no raise and no discussion of any advancement. This particular company did not conduct annual performance reviews, so I took matters into my own hands. I approached my manager and spoke candidly about my hopes and plans for my career. I proposed additional duties I could take on to increase my value to the department. I asked what I could do to make his job easier. I made it very clear that I was looking for ways to increase my income potential. He told me he would think about what I said. Several months later, my pay was still stagnant.
That’s When I Decided to Play Hardball…
I finally went to my manager’s boss and asked for a letter of recommendation. Then, I told my manager I was taking half a day off to go to a job interview. I wasn’t making that up (there’s no point in bluffing when you work with seasoned negotiators for a living). I did go to an interview and was fully prepared to take any reasonable job offer. As it turned out, I didn’t have to change jobs. The next week, I got a raise. There was no discussion, the extra money just showed up in my paycheck. Yet I didn’t feel triumphant. I felt mortified.
- Did I really have to threaten to quit my job to get an extra .50 per hour?
- Was I doomed to claw my way up the corporate ladder half a rung at a time?
- Were my time, talents, and efforts really worth so little?
I determined that I would never again allow someone else to decide how much I could earn. That was the beginning of the end for my traditional career—and the start of my freelance journey. Of course, I didn’t storm out of the office. That’s just the day I started planning my escape.
How I Got into Freelance Writing
I have a confession to make. I don’t have the next Great American Novel sitting unfinished in my desk drawer. I have never been an aspiring writer. I have a passion for communication, but writing has always been simply a means to that end. It would never have occurred to me to write for a living if my sister (the real writer in our family) hadn’t clued me in to the opportunity. She had been freelancing for a while when I made my decision to leave the 9 to 5 work world. Seeing her succeed made me feel confident about giving freelance writing a try.
For many months, I worked at my regular job and honed my writing skills on the side. During that time, I wrote for ad sharing revenue at Helium, worked for the Demand Studios content mill, and took on small projects for laughable pay on Elance. It wasn’t the ideal way to start out, but I didn’t know better at the time. I had no formal education or professional experience as a writer, no portfolio clips, and no network contacts. Fortunately, I spent that transitional time learning some valuable lessons that allowed me to launch my full-time freelancing career after just a year of part-time work.
3 Success Tips from My Early Years as a Fulltime Freelancer
Here’s the best advice I can offer freelance writers who are just starting out today:
#1 Identify High Paying Clients and Projects
My experience: For me, zeroing in on successful small- to mid-sized businesses, B2B firms, and reputable marketing agencies that lacked in-house writing talent was the key to success. These clients consistently provided well-paying projects that led to repeat and referral business.
My advice: Unless you are starting your freelance writing career with a stack of portfolio clips to your name, you are much more likely to succeed if you focus on business clients rather than magazines or newspapers. Editors are spoiled for choice in selecting freelancers, but business owners are hungry to find good writers.
#2 Understand What Matters to Business Clients
My experience: I saved a lot of time and learned to write winning proposals when I realized what my clients really cared about. Business clients didn’t care whether I wrote a blog that had ten thousand followers or if I’d been published in a prestigious venue. They wanted to know if I could write the content they needed and help make their business more successful.
My advice: Determine your target client base first. Then, create relevant portfolio samples that represent the kind of projects that are “hot” in that industry. Today, that might be informational articles, web copy, white papers, case studies, industry reports, infographics, or social media content. Set up a business website to host this portfolio and offer more information about your services.
#3 Abandon the Employer/Employee Mindset
My experience: I didn’t make decent money as a freelancer until I began applying the negotiation skills I learned in my Purchasing career to the client/provider relationship. Once I started treating myself like a business services provider rather than a “writer for hire”, I saw a huge difference in my ability to charge respectable rates.
My advice: Don’t approach clients as if they have all the power in the relationship. Submitting a proposal that demonstrates the value of your services isn’t like going hat-in-hand to your boss, begging for a raise. Remember, freelance freedom starts in your mind!
Author Byline: Daisy McCarty is the co-founder of Freelance Text and the author of “Make Freelancing REALLY Pay – Communication and Negotiation Strategies That Take You to the Top”. This book helps new and struggling freelancers select the right clients, raise their rates, stabilize their income, and much more. Get free advice at makefreelancingpay.com, and connect with Daisy on LinkedIn and Twitter.
To contact Wendy McCance about a writing or social media assignment, interview or speaking engagement, please email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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