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How I Saved My Writing Business When I Was Convinced It Was All Over

A guest post by Greg Scott is a freelance writer who lives in Japan and writes at www.gregscottwrites.com

I faced one of the biggest challenges in my ghostwriting career last year when I raised my rates.  They went up a couple of bucks because I now had the skill and confidence to charge what I was worth.

The only problem is that my clients all disappeared.  Nobody wanted to hang out with me anymore.  They only liked me because I was cheap!

I ran special offers, lowering my standards yet again and working for less than I was worth, and the same clients would always bite.  But only when I dropped my prices for them.  Otherwise, I checked an empty inbox every day.
What was I to do?  I had to find new clients. I realized a couple of things about my business:

  • I hadn’t been spending time growing it; I basically hadn’t been treating it like a business at all.

 

  • I’d been doing nothing at all to get new clients.  I was just waiting for them to come to me (they were when I was charging $10 or less an article).

 

 

I knew I had to do something but instead I spent three or so days in a strange kind of depressed fog.  I took my daughter to the park, wrote songs, went on long walks and tried to avoid thinking about my business.  After I’d decided that I’d failed, my business was finished and I should try to find a job again (ugh), the moment of clarity came. I was sitting on a Wednesday morning slurping my first thick cup of coffee looking out the window.  I realized I’m not a businessman or a marketer.  But what am I?  What can I do? I’m a writer.  I can write.I decided then that I’d just write.  I’d write my way out of this and not worry about what was going to happen. I had just a little bit of editing to do that day and then no more jobs.  Instead of getting on Elance or making another special offer to work for less than I’m worth, I just started writing. I devoted my usual work hours that day to writing.  I wrote about writing and just dumped everything I could think of out of my brain and into a bunch of blog posts.  Then I started writing about SEO and making money online (one of my specialty topics).Next, I wrote about self-improvement and self-growth, another specialized topic and interest of mine.  From there, I started writing about Japan (something I hadn’t done in a while).  I wrote about meditating, relieving stress, how to deal with career frustrations, working at home with kids – just anything and everything I felt like writing.

After several hours of unusually focused writing, I had a whole pile of blog posts sitting on my hard drive.  I decided to start shopping them around.  I told myself, ‘These are REAL blog posts and they’re dear to me.  I won’t sell them for less than what they’re worth.’

Then I decided, ‘Forget it, I’ll give them away.’  I started surfing the web, reading blogs and contacting blog owners.  When that little voice said, ‘You’ll get rejected’ or ‘This blog’s out of your league’ or some other nasty self-defeating thing, I ignored it.

Then I turned off the computer and went for a huge walk.  There’s a long, winding trail near my house and I walked all of it.  It’s called ‘Shiki-no-michi,’ which means ‘four seasons road.’  It winds all over the town where I live and has a section devoted to each season.  The whole walk is 7km (a bit over 4 miles) of changing natural scenery.  After the walk, I spent the evening playing with my kids.

Amazingly, every single blog owner that I contacted said, ‘Yes.’  I kept emailing people until all of the blogs I’d written were gone.  These guest blog posts brought more traffic to my site than ever before and got me exposure to whole new audiences, including new clients who were willing to pay for good writing.

Here are a few lessons I learned:

  •  No matter how much work you’re getting, keep working on growing your business.  Don’t let flush times make you lazy.
  •  Go out and get new clients; don’t just wait for them to stumble upon your site (even if many of them do).
  • If you’re going to raise your rates, inch them up and don’t DOUBLE them like I did (as I said, I’m a clueless businessman).
  • When things look bad and you don’t know what to do, write.
  •  Go for lots of long walks.

When you face challenges in your writing career (and there will be many), take action and you’ll get yourself past them.

What do you do when your writing business slows way down?

Greg Scott is a freelance writer who lives in Japan. His professional site is www.gregscottwrites.com.  He writes about working at home, self-improvement, Internet marketing, language learning and writing.  He also blogs about living in Japan at www.blogitjapan.com.  When not writing, he’s either at the park with the kids or playing loud rock and roll music.

Two newsletters:
Abundant Freelance Writing – a resource for freelance writers including 3x a week job postings.
Writing With Vision – for those who want to get a book written.

{ 29 comments… add one }
  • If you have limited knowledge on running a business. It would be smart to get advice from professionals.

    • If one can afford to hire a pro, and even then it’s difficult to choose the right one… lots of good information on the web, etc. Also hard to choose what’s right.

  • Business is a really hard thing to manage. It’s like a little kid that needs a lot of attention and sometimes you need to have some extra help to make it even better. Advisers for example.

    • Yes, Scott – the business side is a bit like raising a child… except the business never grows up and moves out.

  • Great suggestions. I’ve been looking for some things I can do to get more people interested in my writing. This coming year one of my resolutions is not to let my day job bog me down so much that I don’t have energy for writing. I would like to get enough supplemental income that I can either change jobs or go part-time.
    Elizabeth West recently posted..Favorite Movies to Watch at ChristmasMy Profile

  • This is fantastic advice! I think too few writers stop to consider the fact that other bloggers may be happy to run and promote their content. We freelancers can be so focused on scouring classified ads for potential clients that we forget there are simple ways to bring new clients to us.
    Julie M. Rodriguez recently posted..Making a Living or Saving the World: Two Sides of Internet MarketingMy Profile

  • Wonderful post, very readable, accessible, identifiable and honest. Lots of long words, I know, but every one of them applies. Honesty is wonderful and it’s good to see you are doing well now. Best of luck for 2012!
    Allison recently posted..Why it’s well worth checking your writing income historyMy Profile

    • I’m really into honesty these days, Allison. It’s helping me. Best of luck in ’12 to you too.

  • Hello Greg,

    Long walks have always worked for me; perhaps they let energy flow and shift from my previous point of attention, or it’s just that the blood circulates and the brain gets more oxygen. 😀

    I was thinking about writing a mini ebook, sort of mini-report, to advertise my writing services in certain online venues; guest posts were second in order. The whole point is, there are several categories of buyers – don’t ever think that a group of people (e.g. those that only get interested in cheap offers) is the sole one on earth.

    A pen is a powerful tool and people actually wish they could do what we’re doing – and spare themselves writing fees too…

    • Yes, Helenee, I think it’s the motion. I get lots of ideas driving, riding trains and just moving around. You get too sedentary sitting at the computer!

  • Loved this post — as writers trying to make a living so much of our time is devoted to marketing, that we often forget the craft. When we revert to the craft, the business will follow. Again, lovely post, thanks for sharing.
    Ahlam recently posted..5 Paralyzing Factors Keeping You from SuccessMy Profile

    • That’s so true, Ahlam! You get caught up in running your business and all of that, and you lose sight of why you’re doing it in the first place. I think writing is my refuge.

      • Meditation is my refuge… walking is, other things… and writing sometimes, but it’s also my business.

  • Lori, thanks and yes it does feel great!

    David, to answer your question, most of what I do is long distance. Pretty much all of the writing actually. Here in Japan I do some proofreading, editing and occasionally ‘lite’ translation. I’m always looking for clients here in Japan who need any kind of English services.

  • Amen. Super post. It’s about finding a new perspective and driving yourself through your own doubts.

    Congratulations. Feels good to conquer that, doesn’t it? 🙂
    Lori recently posted..My Very Own, Highly Subjective List of Top Blogs I Like and Maybe Even So Will YouMy Profile

  • Really great post Greg. I think you really went about the whole thing in the right way. Now if I could only find a way to make freelance writing my full-time work. But what also intrigues me here is that you live in Japan! Do you write for the Japanese market, too? Or do you do all of your work “long distance.”
    I am interested in how you succeed here because currently I also live “out of the country.”
    Ann, I really like the blog and I am starting to follow it more and more.

    David Goldman
    David Goldman recently posted..Why I Have to Write About Steve Jobs, TooMy Profile

    • Thanks David – I’m having a ball with these guest posts.

  • Kat

    Thanks Greg, this is a really insightful, honest and informative post. I think another point (which has become somewhat of a business cliche) is to spend time working ‘on’ your business, rather than ‘in’ our business. Which is essentially what scieditor has said – devote a small portion of your time to building your business.

    I like your final lesson, too – go for lots of long walks. So often we sit at the keyboard, frustrated or worried or glum about our work (or lack thereof!) It can be in those rare precious moments away from the keyboard, when we clear our head and absorb nature, that we can reflect and find clarity. I have made some of my best decisions while strolling and stepping away from work.

    The Shiki-no-michi walk sounds amazing, by the way! I’m jealous that you have something so beautiful nearby!
    Kat recently posted..A wake-up call from a windscreen washerMy Profile

    • One thing I’ve learned is that you don’t spend even a second at the computer spinning wheels. The minute you’re frustrated or you get writer’s block, you get out of the house. Your brain’s telling you it’s time for a break. Thanks for the comment!

    • Kat, I don’t know where you are, but I’ll bet there’s something wonderful nearby you can do for a walk… . Just read your blog… you get to row… well done.

  • Thanks so much for the comments.

    scieditor, in the past I’ve found myself envying younger writers I know who aren’t getting all the writing work they want right now. They’ve got time to write for themselves and build their business.

    Grady and Cathy, I’m glad you guys liked the story. It seems like the longer you freelance, the more you learn that your mindset is more important than any writing or marketing skills you can learn.

    Thanks a lot for reading!

  • This is the exact argument my colleagues made last month when I asked if I should work for half my rate. In the end, I decided to spend my “unpaid time” building my business and my skills – working toward clients that paid _more_, not less.

    So, while I wait on authors and production departments, I do as you did, I draft blog posts. I also upgrade my software skills and editing skills, I even read and catch up on podcasts. Some of the blog posts I wrote have gotten me a lot of exposure. One even landed a paid writing gig (out of the blue). The professional development made me better at my job. I could not have done any of that had I been busy working for less pay.

    Last year a business adviser told me to spend 10% of my time building my business. Though I have as much work as I can handle, I can certainly spend that 10% bookkeeping, updating my CV/website, building skills, and working toward higher pay. I don’t always get in that 10%, but the advice has put me on a more fruitful path.
    scieditor recently posted..How to Find Freelance Editing WorkMy Profile

    • Good for you! Keep us posted. The 10% figure is interesting. It’s lower than I would have expected, but with reasonable consistency it should work.

  • I know the easy thing to do when it seems like you are not getting the results you expect is to give up. But you didn’t. You just kept at it, and found success. Thanks for sharing how you managed to turn your business into a success!
    Grady Pruitt recently posted..I’ve Reached My Goal… Now What?My Profile

  • Great lessons here, Greg. The reason you succeeded, in my opinion, is best expressed in your line –I’m a writer. I can write.

    When you know that, the rest is details. Too much self-doubt paralyzes us. I’ve always said it take a bit of a bulldog attitude to succeed at freelancing. When I gave myself permission to walk away from underpaying gigs, it was very freeing.

    When you do lose clients, you mourn a bit (if they are worth it), then you dust yourself off and go find new ones. Loved your post, Greg.
    Cathy Miller recently posted..Learn From Lieutenant Colombo to I.D. the Killer ClientMy Profile

    • I thought the same thing, Cathy, it’s the decision most of all.

    • Cathy and Grady, I forgot to say thanks… ‘thanks’

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