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The 80% Rule and Freelance Writers

80% Rule and Freelance WritersI first ran into the 80 percent rule over at MarksDailyApple… an excellent site about the Paleo diet. The idea there is that if you follow the eating plan 80 percent of the time you’ll be way ahead of the game.

I loved it because I knew I could do that. It allowed for transition time, a learning curve, mistakes and just plain old resistance. It’s worked for me. I now follow a low carb diet with, for the most part, real ease, way more than 80 percent of the time and am getting the results I want, slowly.

It turns out that the idea behind the 80 percent rule is the observation that 80 percent of our results come from 20 percent of our efforts. I don’t know how scientific that is, but it’s one of those notions that feels right. It’s based on the Pareto principle, sort of. In business, for example, it is said that 80 percent of your business comes from 20 percent of your clients. Which isn’t exactly the same as I understood it in relationship to diet.

The 80% rule and freelance writers

How might this apply to freelance writers? Although some say we get 80 percent of our work from 20 percent of our clients, that doesn’t seem to fit me. Besides, my first question is, even if that’s true, how did I get those 20 percent that send me 80 percent of my work? Obviously I had to be doing a bunch of marketing to find them.

While I do tend to have long-term clients, how much work I get varies tremendously because most of them are either entrepreneurs or want coaching with their writing or want me to ghost a book.

Entrepreneurs tend, in my experience, to have work for me sporadically. Coaching rarely goes on for a long time, although many do come back for a tuneup. Ghostwriting a book is usually a one-time project for each client. Occasionally someone will want a second book. I don’t even know how I would track this in terms of the 80/20 rule.

Gauging writing effort

I also have no idea how to assign my writing effort a percentage. A percentage of what? Time per X number of words? How trashed out I feel after a writing session? Some writing is easier than others, but what does that mean in terms of the 80/20 rule? Not much is my hunch.

On the other hand

Even though I don’t have a clue how to quantify my writing when if comes to the 80/20 rule I still find it valuable – in this way:

It reminds me not to expect 100 percent or perfection from me, or from anything else actually.

I suspect it wasn’t intended this way, but I truly find it helpful – to remember that the desire for perfection is a trap that will imobolize me and keep me from getting anything much done.

What’s your experience with either the 80/20 rule of with perfection? Tell us about it in comments.

Write well and often,




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{ 1 comment… add one }
  • As a web copywriter I find that repeat business jobs also tend to be small jobs – 3 or 4 billable hours is typical. The big 20+ hour jobs are where you write all the copy on a new website; those are things the client only wants done once.

    It used to be the case that when you were writing content for an SEO campaign, that would account for regular work for the duration of the campaign. Increasingly, though, good white hat SEO is about producing one really awesome bit of content that you can drive a lot of links to, rather than regular blog updates. So instead of doing five 400 word articles you’re doing one 2000 word information resource. I am pretty happy with this because it means my work is more interesting and that kind of content also looks better in a portfolio.

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