I didn’t want to write this post. But I felt I had to.
As this blog becomes more popular, more people are sharing their personal freelancing stories with me. And one recent theme has been freelance failure.
You almost never hear people talk about this. Most of the freelancing information out there is upbeat: “Freelancing is great. You should start freelancing now.”
But for some people, there’s another side to freelancing: “I tried it. It didn’t work out for me.”
My heart goes out to these people. I know how hard freelancing can be. I started with nothing. I had no money, no job, no contacts, no clue what freelancing was or how to make it work. I began my freelancing career in desperation and out of necessity. It worked out for me, but it was a hard road.
So I cast no blame, nor do I make any judgments about those who couldn’t make freelancing work.
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If you’re like most freelance copywriters, you’re making a grave mistake that costs you thousands of dollars a year.
What is this mistake?
It’s what sales people call “churn and burn.”
That means finding a prospect, turning them into a client, getting paid for a project, then having to find a new prospect to turn into a client for a new paying project, and so on.
Obviously you don’t do this all the time. You probably have at least one or two clients who hire you for more than one project. But it’s likely that you’re churning clients more than you should.
It’s not hard to understand.
A while back, Mike Klassen, a.k.a. The Magalog Guy, called me to talk shop. We both specialize in direct mail.
I’m a writer who also designs. He’s a designer who also writes. So he’s like my doppelganger. And a fun guy to talk to.
Here’s Mike’s first post for Pro Copy Tips with advice on how to close more sales by asking one powerful question.
One of the major things I had to adjust to when I began freelancing was the fact that I was responsible for everything.
As an employee at just about any company, our jobs often have a relatively narrow focus. If you work in the accounting department, what management is up to isn’t much of a concern, at least in terms of your day-to-day activities.
As a former Microsoft employee, what the legal department was doing, for example, didn’t affect my daily activities as a technical writer.
But, as a freelancer, every aspect of your business is your responsibility. And because of that, you may have to stretch yourself past your comfort zone.
Nowhere is this more vital than closing sales. If sales isn’t in your background – and it wasn’t in mine – convincing someone to sign on the dotted line can be stressful.
Back in February, I warned you about CrowdSPRING, another in a long line of “content mill” sites that professional writers should avoid.
Today, Matt Ambrose makes his debut on Pro Copy Tips with some advice on how to avoid these nefarious content mills and earn what you’re really worth.
If you’re new to the freelance writing world, you might be worried about the poverty-inducing wages offered at “content mills” and freelance bidding websites.
Well, you’re not alone.
There’s no shortage of writers outraged at what they feel is a slap in the face for the sweat and tears that goes into a piece of writing. Some think these sites even threaten the future of the profession.
After all, how are you supposed to persuade clients to pay you $200 for an article when there’s a glut of “writers” happy to fight bidding wars over $10?
But while some writers might be happy to chain themselves to a conveyor belt and churn out 20 articles a day, it doesn’t mean you have to.
There are a number of ways you can find clients that will pay you a fair rate for your copywriting skills.
Today there’s a flood of people who want to freelance.
And if you listen to some of the freelance gurus, you’d think it’s because of the money.
It’s true. You can easily make $50K a year working just a few hours a week. And 6 figures isn’t all that hard if you freelance full-time. With a little skill, plus some persistence, you can get to $200K or $300K or more.
But that’s not why I got into freelancing.
Back in the 90s, I got into freelancing because I hated all the jobs I had.
Paint mixing guy in a hardware store. Radio account executive. TV producer. Nonprofit development director. English teacher.
So when people ask me why I freelance, I tell them it’s a better lifestyle. I’m just not cut out for a 9-to-5 job. I don’t like ties. I don’t like rigid schedules. I don’t always play well with others. So freelancing is ideal for me.
Plus, I have a ton of other interests I need time for, including politics, competitive target shooting, cycling, and gardening.
What about you?
In the world of copywriting, there’s an unspoken pecking order. And despite the growth of the Internet, direct mail copywriters are still the superstars.
Here’s an article by direct mail superstar Hugh Chewning about working as a copywriter in a business or agency, redefining yourself, and becoming more than just a hired hand.
When I was first starting my direct mail career thirty-some years ago, I wanted to become a copywriter. It was exciting and glamorous — the fighter pilot position within a direct mail agency.
Yet my mentor advised me to become a direct mail “generalist” rather than a copywriter. Copywriters, he warned, were “a dime a dozen.”
Well I took his advice and before I started writing copy, I learned about list selection, print production, how graphics affect results, what to test and how to analyze results.
Yet after all that, I make the bulk of my money from copywriting.
And over the years, I’ve tested against copywriters who wrote prettier words, enjoyed reputations more widespread and commanded larger fees.
And repeatedly, I’ve beaten them!
It was about 11:00 a.m. when we started up the mountain outside of San Pedro Sula in the northwest corner of Honduras.
The humid air lay heavy and still in the valley below, causing the fields of sugar cane to shimmer in the hot sun.
We were videotaping b-roll for a few TV spots one of my fundraising clients wanted to test. Our task that day was the same as it had been every day that week: to capture images of the devastating poverty these people suffer.
The camera crew donned their battery belts, cables, and assorted gear and we followed the narrow dirt path toward the shacks above.
As we ascended a steep rise and veered to the right, we came across a young boy toting an armload of dry firewood. One of our videographers wanted to shoot this and positioned himself in the middle of the path.
That’s when it happened. And to understand what happened, you must understand the term “wrap-and-throw.”
I won’t keep you in suspense. The answer is yes.
There’s a lot of hype about this, of course. And unfortunately, the hype has caused many would-be freelancers to be cynical about their earning potential.
Some years ago, while speaking to a roomful of writers at a local conference, I encountered one young man who kept rolling his eyes during my presentation.
When I asked if he had a question or comment, he told me that he just didn’t believe that you could earn lots of money from freelance copywriting. He said it all sounded like a scam.
I can’t blame him for thinking that. I see all those get-rich-quick ads on the Internet too, and they make me roll my eyes.
This last weekend, I went to Las Vegas to visit family and enjoy a little R&R.
I’m not a gambler and have no illusions about winning a jackpot, but I do enjoy some of the games there.
While feeding money into a slot machine at Bally’s, I started thinking about freelancing. (Slots don’t take any brain power, so the mind naturally wanders.)
It occurred to me that many of the freelancers I talk to are gambling with their future because they just don’t know how to intelligently play the game.
So here are a few of the things that popped into my mind as I doubled my money, then lost it all over the weekend.
Setting fees causes most copywriting freelancers to break out in a cold sweat. Besides getting clients, it may be the most stressful thing copywriters have to do.
Ask for too much, and you’ll drive clients away. Ask for too little, and you’ll lose respect and reduce your income. To make matters worse, no two clients are ever the same. Some are willing to pay more, others less.
So what’s a freelance copywriter to do?
Over the years, I’ve struggled with this, made every possible mistake, and discovered these 8 rules for setting professional-level freelance copywriting fees.
1. Don’t underprice yourself. This is probably the most common mistake freelancers make, especially early in their career. There are at least four reasons this happens.
First, fees vary widely from writer to writer. There is no industry “standard.”
Second, most freelancers don’t make their entire fee schedule public. This makes it impossible to separate truth from hype about what copywriters actually charge.
Third, too many writers are brainwashed into thinking that their work has little value.
Fourth, many writers charge ridiculously low fees. This distorts the perception of both clients and writers and can make even moderate fees seem high by comparison.