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How To Make Money As A Freelancer (By Not Chasing It)

Posted: September 15, 2014

Making money as a freelancer or self-employed person is not about just keeping your eye on the financials. It becomes easier to make money when you do everything else right!

A six figure salary. That was the goal when I started my freelance writing business. The day I became a six figure freelancer I would consider myself successful. Every publication, every article and every word I wrote was a calculative step to reach this goal.

In the first year I fell short (very short) of this objective; I was frustrated, depressed and considered myself an utter failure. I wanted to abandon it for more lucrative careers. My writing was good, so why didn’t more editors want my work? Slowly it dawned on me.

The biggest mistake I (and am sure most business owners) make was to keep our eye only on the money. When the numbers don’t rise we crumble. Instead if we focused on other spheres of our business, not only did our income multiply but our business flourished.

Here’s how you chase more than money yet end up making the big bucks.

Define what success means to you

When you decide to start your own business this is the first thing you should tick off. Without defining what success is, your business will remain dysfunctional and without clear direction. Also, one of the biggest strengths in getting this done in the beginning is it the level of clarity with which you work. For example: Success for me is not about getting my name in all the major publications like New York Times or WSJ. That would have to wait. I’m a full time mom and enjoy watching my toddler grow. If I decided to work 40 hours per week (to make the six figure income), my son will need child care.

Tackling this dilemma head on made me take a step back. Since I am not the primary bread-winner we could sustain if the next few years did not fetch the big bucks. My by-line will not appear in major newsstand magazines but I will do the writing I love while living the life I choose. That is my version of success and this makes me proud. What is yours?

Make a business plan

It doesn’t matter what kind of business you are running, for god’s sake, write a business plan; nothing like the corporate hot shots, but something simply and straight forward. If you don’t, your business and you will gain inertia. You will be stuck without moving forward. Writing a business plan also stops you from thinking of it as a hobby. If you want other people to take you seriously then start with yourself.

My freelance writing business plan includes financial goals, business philosophy, marketing strategy, prospects research, modus operandi and customer management. There are several templates available online and make sure you review the plan twice a year.

Writing a business plan also stops you from thinking of it as a hobby. If you want other people to take you seriously then start with yourself.

Are you marketing yourself?

In every business you need to market your services. When I started writing I always picked the words that were the best fit and was poetic and lyrical. Since my writing was prolific (at least according to me) I expected editors and magazines to line up in my inbox. We all know (at least the writers out there) that no such thing ever happens. If you want to write for a magazine then you need to get your face in front of them. Marketing is the bread & butter of every business.

I got my writer website setup, started sending query letters, Letters of introduction and hybrid versions of those via email and snail mail. Don’t feel shy or worry what the receiver would think. If your idea is good and you have researched your market/publication then people like receiving those mails. There are some days when everything goes into a black hole but you have to get through that hump. Eventually you will see responses and even then, you should never stop. I send these pitches every week and have a tracking sheet to list the publications.

Customer management

The golden rule in any business – Customer is the king. For my business, the customer is the editor. They rule, PERIOD. If the editor wants changes, requests more meat in my article or wants me to rewrite the whole piece with fresh ideas – I don’t sulk. I get it done, with a smile. My writing is not only about me. I also make sure my articles are always on time, written as per the guidelines and suit the style of the magazine. I’m constantly thinking of ways to keep my editors happy – should I offer sidebars, interview top sources (instead of the easier ones) and offer ideas that I can’t writer but is stellar for their magazine?

If you deliver rock solid content consistently, you will be their go-to-writer. When I start writing for a brand new publication I ensure I invest in their relationship. I connect via LinkedIn, stay in touch with their developments and am always the first to wish them on their wins. Customers require special attention and constant care but remember your business is nothing without them.

Invest in community

No matter how niche your business is, there is a community for it. For a writer, there are several hundred writing communities. Find the ones that best suit you. I’m a member of a paid community and it took me some time to get in. The gates were always open but I did not want to pay the toll. I knew their forums were excellent and they offered free courses and boot camps that would easily take my writing several notches higher but I simply did not want to pay for it.

One day my husband casually commented that I should stop mulling over it and simply join. If you don’t invest in yourself, who will? And that’s that. Sometimes we cower when it comes to membership fees but that was the wisest decision of my writing life. I have benefited tremendously from this community and would always recommend it to other writers. It is important that you earmark some portion of your income to improve your services.

Social media management

The social network is fabulous and free. Get your business page on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google plus. The social network is the best platform to advertise your services, publish customer testimonials and showcase your portfolio. Some of my high paying gigs were directly from social media. Use social media to promote your business and to stay connected with your peers. Your customers and prospects will appreciate the benefits of doing business with you when they know you are active and on top of your game.

Know your 3Ps: Priority, Productivity, Proactivity

The crucial step to prioritizing is organization. You can never work well with clutter. Make sure there is order in your business. In my business I have tracking sheets for submissions, pitches, accounts and correspondence. Every day I spend the first hour to update these sheets and this ensures I’m up-to-date on my deadlines and never get caught off guard.

Being productive is cagey. Everybody strives but rarely manages to tame this wild beast. Until recently I never figured why per hour billing was important for writers. This way I trimmed down on overreaching research and worked faster.

Every business needs some sort of calendar to ensure proactivity. Writers have editorial calendars that make sure we pitch ideas on the right time. Pitching about gardening in winter is a failure whereas pitching about girlfriends before Valentines is a sure winner. Find ways to be ahead of the game in your business.

Many of us are nurturing our business from scratch and that requires commendable effort and planning. But if you keep your eye on just the money then sooner or later you will get sidetracked. Remember if you just chase the money you will be running all your life. But if you nurse all the other aspects and perfect your business then money will find its way to your doorstep.

Pic credit: The Global Panorama (Used under a CC license)

Meera R Corera (@meeraramanathan) is a freelance writer and blogger focusing on all things India —

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Comments

11 Comments


  1. Thanks Meera. This is a very useful article for freelancers and this is just what I needed today. This morning, when I reviewed last week, I felt frustrated that I have not been productive. After reading your article I felt so happy that just like you made a difference to me today, I have been making a difference to a few people and that I should feel happy about it. Best wishes for achieving your dreams too.

    • Vanaja: Thanks for all your kind words. Sometimes we just need a shove here and a push there to get started again.. Glad I could be of help.

  2. Very insightful. So apt. Loved it! I am in the same fold as you are. Can we connect

  3. Thank you Meera. Your article is very helpful.

  4. Great article. Could you list a few of the writing communities you mention? TIA.

  5. Loved the article Meera! Very practical and helpful. Loved the goal part especially! I think the same way about the money making vs goals that really mean to me 🙂 Will hop over to your blog and read more!

  6. This was the perfect article at the perfect time. Was wracking my brains about the ‘how to’ of freelancing for days now..!!! Thanks for this well written and simplified guide 🙂

  7. Thanks Meera for the wonderful article. Have been racking my brains for months to kick start freelancing. Have found a perfect guide in your write up. Best wishes.

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