7 Steps Freelance Writers Need To Repeat & Repeat For Success

by Anne Wayman

writing secretsI was tempted to call this 7 Secret Steps to Freelance Writing Success, which might grab more page views. We all want secrets to writing success, don’t we?

Sometimes we even hope those who are already successful will let us in on their secrets – or what appear to be secrets.

As near as I can tell in the freelance writing game there are no real secrets. Oh sure, when you’re just getting started there are some things you need to know, but that information is easily available here and on a multitude of other websites and in hundreds, if not thousands, of books.

I write about getting started in freelance writing, and becoming successful at it often. Here is one way to work at freelance writing that, if you have even the ability to do reasonably good writing, will work over time.

Look for a writing job

Looking for a writing job or freelance gig means lots of things. You could, for example, use the job search list here or over at All Indie Writers or both on a daily or at least weekly basis.

You could also write a book proposal, do some telemarketing of yourself, send a carefully cultivated, short letter offering your writing services to a list of companies that interest you. You could send query letters to either consumer magazines or trade magazines or both. You can even go knocking on doors of companies or light industry or retail shops to offer your writing services. 



If you do even one of these things consistently, over weeks, and months, something will most likely break through and you’ll be offered a writing job.

Apply for a job

Actually, book proposals and queries and cold calling, etc. are all sort of applying for a writing job. When you looking at job boards, and you find a job that interests you, follow the instructions, compose a brief cover letter, and send it off. Keep looking and applying. 

Don’t expect responses unless they think you can do the job – the competition is fierce, but not impossible.

Understand the terms offered and sign a contract

When someone offers you writing work, be sure you understand what they want, when they want it, what they are paying and when to expect payment. Make sure you’ve got a contract, even if it’s just an email, that covers the basics. If it’s a new client, get a deposit. Heck, get a deposit even if you’ve worked with the client before.

Do the writing

That’s right, you’ve got to do the writing you agreed to do. That means getting it done as best you can without obsessing, and getting it to the people who are paying you.

Do any revisions

Clients will often ask for revisions about what you submit. You can set a limit on the number of revisions – say three or four for articles and blog posts – and you should because some clients are impossible.

Get paid

Although you’ll hear many horror stories about writers getting stiffed or having to go to great lengths to get paid, that’s not the norm. Most clients pay when they say they will or with a single reminder. Expect to be paid, be professional, and you won’t run into many, if any, non-paying clients.

Ask for referrals

When the client has paid or even before, ask them if they’ve got any more work coming up – it’s always okay to ask. You may be pleasantly surprised.



When you know they are happy with your work, ask for referrals – which can be as simple as “who do you know that might need my services?”

Now repeat this over and over again – and that’s the most likely way to build a freelance writing business.

What’s your take on this? Do you follow this scheme? What do you do differently? Etc. Let’s talk about it in comments.

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

yourfriend February 25, 2014 at 10:10 am

Hehe Get Paid

I liked that one :)
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annew February 25, 2014 at 10:14 am

it’s important… I like your tech site actually… some helpful info there.

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Ashe February 21, 2014 at 4:41 am

I love this topic and all the nitty-gritty details you guys are talking about.

In my own work I think I’m rather confident in my writing abilities. It’s my client relations and negotiating skills I’m most worried about. Love the tips here. Thanks everyone!
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annew February 21, 2014 at 4:33 pm

I know the feeling… feel free to ask questions.

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Jenn Mattern February 19, 2014 at 7:40 am

Thanks for the mention Anne. :) And good post. No matter how we each go about it, it really is a never ending cycle, isn’t it?
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annew February 19, 2014 at 8:21 am

Glad you liked the post, Jenn, and yes, the cycle seems pretty much never ending.

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Helene Poulakou February 19, 2014 at 12:18 am

Well, so much for pampering clients for me! The actual work of writing is not hard in itself, but having an introvert chase after clients is (more often than not) too much.

So, no more writing gigs — just submissions to contests and to publications, and that’s it. Not answering to anyone but to yourself, what a relief!

Translation is my main job, of course, this doesn’t change — but the clients in this area are much more decided on what they want / need, the job is more clear for them & for me.

I’ll complement translation with language-teaching (I’m certified for this one also), and I believe it’ll go well.
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annew February 19, 2014 at 7:41 am

I love it when folks figure out what works for them and then makes that work. I’ll bet translation is much more clear in terms of what needs to be done – way less room for wishy washy clients.

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Helene Poulakou February 19, 2014 at 10:19 pm

Way, way more clear, Anne!
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annew February 20, 2014 at 6:57 am
Dan Stelter February 18, 2014 at 12:44 pm

I guess I must have had worse experiences with clients running away with money. I request 50% to get started, and 50% when a mid-way milestone gets reached. My projects typically don’t run larger than $2000 though.

That’s interesting to know on the revision limit – I see all sorts of different things writers do – 2 revisions, unlimited etc… Personally not sure where to set mine – it’s unlimited right now, but I might look to cut that in the future.

Good info regardless.
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Paul February 18, 2014 at 1:12 pm

Hi Dan,

Good to hear from you again!

Two revisions is usually my limit. Rarely will I go past this point as I do my best to get the scope nailed down before I begin. Anything beyond two revisions simply means the assignment was misunderstood.

As Anne stated, sometimes clients can be difficult or unaccustomed to working with freelancers.

~Paul

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annew February 18, 2014 at 1:43 pm

Dan, I set revision limits because I hate revising in circles… which can happen… so I set at 3 and I’m pretty flexible, but if my writing gets turned over to a committee I want to be able to bill for the extra work.

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Paul February 18, 2014 at 11:36 am

I pretty much follow these steps with only a few minor differences.

The one thing I don’t ask for is a deposit from a repeat client, unless the task is very time consuming.

For the most part, I will ask for a 10% deposit on assignments under $1000 – maxing out at 30%.

Milestone payments are also nice (for me) but can be cumbersome for some clients.

Listen to your clients and listen to your instincts. If they don’t accept your business savvy, you might want to move on.

Thank you for the sage advice you always give Anne.

~Paul

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annew February 18, 2014 at 1:41 pm

Paul, you’re right… deposits are really on a case-by-case basis… I like milestones too on big projects. And a huge yes to following your instincts!

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