We must strive to reach that simplicity that lies beyond sophistication ~ John Gardner (tweet this)
Sometimes you get lucky, but it is how you react to the luck you are handed that really makes the difference.
My online business was essentially built on that principle. I tried any number of ways to make money online before I stumbled across freelance writing, practically by accident. I didn’t really think that I could ever make a living from freelance writing and yet I submitted a few pitches via the ProBlogger Jobs Board and managed to land a client. That was (in part) the lucky bit, but it was what I did next that made all the difference.
In this post I want to show you not just how to become a freelance writer, but how to become a successful freelance writer. I want to show you how you can carve a niche out for yourself so that prospective clients come to you. I want to put you in a position where you’re never short of work. That is the position I find myself in these days, and I want to help you to achieve the same.
The Key to Successful Freelance Writing
There is just one key fundamental to successful freelance writing from which all other concepts devolve: reputation.
If you have a good reputation then you’re never likely to be short of work because you’re good at what you do and have an army of clients singing your praises to all and sundry. Therefore, in order to become a successful writer you must nurture a positive reputation.
That fact is something you must keep in mind in everything that you do as part of your freelancing career. Every word that you write, every email you send, every sample you add to your portfolio, and every client you work with — they all have the potential to benefit or hinder your growth.
So if reputation is key, how do you translate that into an effective approach to building a freelance writing business?
The Three Key Sources of Freelance Business Growth
Put simply, your reputation is driven by the work that you do for the clients that you work with.
If your quality writing is published on other blogs with your byline, that’s a potential source of future clients. If clients love your work so much that they recommend you to others, that’s another potential source of future clients. And if you have an awesome blog with an engaged and thriving community, that’s another potential source of future clients.
Every single one of my clients has either come from a byline, word of mouth, or my blog. Nothing else. In my opinion, those are the three areas in which you need to excel in order to create a great reputation (and grow a great business). And since two of them are inherent within the process of working for clients, creating a blog is the only “extra” thing you need to do.
Having said that, you don’t just want a “generic” reputation. No — you need to create a reputation that will feed future growth. That is what a lot of people don’t realize, yet it can make all the difference.
Why You Need a Reputation that Counts
The growth of your freelance business should be exponential, but that will only happen if you create a platform from which exponential growth can occur. That largely comes down to one thing: your clients.
While your blog is important, the type of clients you work with defines your reputation. If you work with content mills then you’ll be paid a pittance and will get no bylines or word of mouth referrals. If you work for low quality clients you might attract the occasional low quality referral. If you work with decent clients across a wide variety of topics then you will receive a generic variety of decent client referrals.
But if you focus on offering your services to just one or two niche markets and ensure that the majority of your clients are within those realms, you will soon establish a solid and specific reputation. You will become the go-to writer for that topic, and all the work you do will only serve to enforce your credentials.
I call this approach client specificity and it has acted as a lynchpin in the ongoing success of my business.
A Real Life Example of Client Specificity in Action
What follows is a list of the main clients I have worked with (i.e. on more than just a handful of jobs), in chronological order of when I started working with them, by the topic that they had me write about:
- Public/Private Sector Outsourcing in the UK
- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
I am sure you can see the pattern here — I write more about blogging and freelancing than I do anything else. And guess what the vast majority of new prospective clients want me to write about these days? You guessed it: blogging and freelancing.
Almost inadvertently, I have carved out a niche for myself as someone who writes about blogging and freelancing. I also write about entrepreneurship and online business for clients, because that is what I write about here on Leaving Work Behind.
Exponential business growth is driven by client specificity. I landed one blogging client that led to another blogging client, then another, then another. Byline upon byline permeated through the web across multiple sites and I soon gained a positive reputation. The same then began to happen with the topic of freelancing. By doing most of my work in very specific areas I have enjoyed a growing reputation (and ever-increasing rates too).
If I knew what I know now back when I started I would have gone about marketing myself very differently. It would have been a case of, “Hire me to write about blogging and freelancing,” not “Hire me to write for you about something or other…I’m sure we’ll figure it out.” At the time of writing my Hire Me page is hopelessly out of date — if I needed to I would completely re-word it to focus on those areas of writing for which I have gained a solid reputation.
How to Put Client Specificity Into Action
I appreciate that many of you will be in search of any client, let alone a specific one. However, it is never too early to consider client specificity.
When just starting out I would recommend that you work with anyone and everyone who will pay you a decent rate (or work for free for those who will give you good exposure). But from the very beginning you should consider what you would like to write about and make your best efforts to shape your business development in that direction.
Consider this — who would a prospective client rather be approached by: someone who markets themselves as a “generic” freelance writer, or someone who markets themselves as someone who writes on a specific topic that directly aligns with their interests?
You’re not necessarily reducing your chances of gaining clients by focusing on a smaller sector of the market — you could in fact be doing yourself a big favor. And the more clients of the same type you take on, the quicker your business will grow.
Simplicity is Almost Always Best
I quoted John Gardner at the top of this post: “We must strive to reach that simplicity that lies beyond sophistication.” That sentence should reflect the makeup of your freelance writing business.
Offer a specific service to a specific target client and you will reap the benefits before long. Try to cater to the entire market and you will attract nothing but indifference. In a way, working with a wide spread of clients is a bit like running several businesses in one. Why not make life easier on yourself and cater to just one or markets?
As always, if you have any comments or questions then please fire away below!