If you listen to the news media, we’re living in “tough economic times” right now. But, if you keep listening to the same outlets, when aren’t we (according to them)?
You however, and of course your writing business, don’t have to suffer through the “tough times” the media prescribes. In fact, you should completely ignore this so-called “trend” for small businesses altogether.
I’ve identified what I think are the 5 primary reasons you aren’t where you want to be as a freelance commercial writer (FLCW). Work to improve these and your writing business will improve right along with it.
The first couple are fairly obvious, and written about quite a bit on this blog, but the last three, well, from my experience teaching younger copywriters…not so much.
1. Inconsistent marketing (not marketing in the down times and the good times).
You know you need to be marketing your business whether you “need” clients or not. But most FLCW’s don’t. Why? Partly human nature (we get lazy), and partly due to our inherent need to make the task of marketing our business harder than it is.
Getting business as a FLCW boils down to getting consistent in making contact with the people who can assign you projects within an organization (see Chapter 5 of Peter’s book). It’s really that simple, but we tend to bog down the simple process of contacting people with complicated “what ifs” and self-imposed obstacles.
In short, we market when times are tough, when we “need” clients, but not when we should be marketing… when times are good.
2. Poor mindset (the economy is bad; no one is paying our rates, etc…)
This is a big one.
As noted above, the news media can be pretty influential. What makes headlines usually isn’t positive… and, cumulatively, it can affect how we think and act. This information enters our subconscious even if you claim you don’t “really” listen to it.
For example (and I’ve seen variations of this on this very blog in the comments):
“Magazines aren’t paying our rates/good rates.”
(I know this isn’t a FLCW’s main business, but the same principle can apply to our business)
To which I say… so what?
Subscribing to a trend completely out of your control shouldn’t even be a part of your mindset (yes, easier said than done). But let’s just say it’s true that magazines (or businesses, publishers, whatever…) weren’t paying the rates they used to.
Do you really want to tie the success and/or failure of your entire writing business to a trend completely out of your control? I’d rather adapt, learn new skills, change my marketing plan, etc., and try to make the best of the situation. If this means you stop writing magazine articles because the pay doesn’t match your business needs, then do that, and develop a different part of your writing business.
The bottom line is this: there is and will ALWAYS be a certain market for writing services that will pay premium rates, period (until Armageddon that is).
3. Lack of proper systems (such as a system for gathering referrals)
Most all successful businesses are systematized, and a freelance commercial writing business is no exception. You have to set up systems within your business, and adapt those systems as your business grows or changes.
One of them is a system for gathering referrals, which allows you to land new clients much more easily. Not to mention, it helps avoid the well-chronicled famous “feast/famine” scenario.
Keep this referral system simple.
For example, as part of my own referral system, I make referrals a condition of doing business (learned from Jay Abraham). I tell a potential client: only when they are more than satisfied with my work and results, I would like the opportunity to speak with three of their colleagues or friends about the possibility of working with them. At that time, and again, based on their satisfaction with my work, I will have them get their address book or contact manager out and provide those three referrals.
Sometimes, when the client was satisfied with my work and it came time to provide referrals, the client actually called the referred potential client themselves… and “pre-sold” them on working with me.
It’s not a perfect system, but it has worked very well and made it very easy for me to keep a steady flow of new clients coming into my business. This isn’t the only system I have set up in my writing business either… but I do think for all of us a solid system for referrals is a good one to implement.
4. Lack of good health (get out and walk/exercise for at least 45 minutes a day, this is a solitary business so network etc…)
This is one I didn’t follow fully myself until almost nine years into my business as a freelance commercial writer and consultant. I was a solid networker, but the health part, well, that didn’t happen fully until 2010 when I encountered some health issues.
But know this: both person-to-person relationships and your health are SO important to the success of your writing business.
This is a solitary business for the most part; there isn’t really a “water cooler” to hang out at offline where you can shoot the breeze with other writers.
So you have to devote an amount of time (even if it’s small at first) to connecting with your fellow writers and consultants and talking shop, developing friendships, and just hanging out sometimes. You’re NOT alone, you don’t have to do this alone, and you don’t want to.
On to your health… Don’t take it for granted. I did, and in 2010 found myself in a state of poorer health. Nothing drastic mind you (thankfully), but I had taken my health for granted.
In 2011, I decided to do something about it: a challenge was issued to me by my body, and I accepted.
Fast forward to today. I’m walking 2.4 miles every day, drinking plenty of water, and moderating my plate size and portions. I’m also getting better sleep. The result? I lost 67 lbs. in 2011 (from Jan-Dec), and I feel like I can take on the world. My life has new, fresh perspective and I can do things I wouldn’t have thought possible two years ago.
Don’t get me wrong, it was hard work, and I went through hell developing the habits required to maintain my new lifestyle. But we’re only on this Earth an average of 75 or so trips around the Sun. How many do you want to have left?
But, there’s a good business reason to do all this…
When you’re healthy and social, it shows to your potential clients. You radiate confidence and discipline, and quite frankly, there’s a shortage of both in most business arenas (not just writing). Finally…
5. Lack of a money-management discipline.
If you’re making money, but you’re spending more than you make… you’ll be poor. If you make more than you spend, you COULD be rich.
Now, I’m not a financial advisor, and this is NOT financial advice, but you need to develop a money-management discipline of some sort (outside of “generate income, pay taxes, pay bills, have entertainment money,” etc…).
What do I mean? Talk to a financial person (someone who specializes in working with small business people or writers). Get a plan together, and follow it.
If you can’t afford it (I think you can’t afford not to), at least research and learn about the subject. A good book I can personally recommend: “The Money Book for Freelancers, Part-Timers, and the Self-Employed: The Only Personal Finance System for People with Not-So-Regular Job”
Can you think of any other reasons you aren’t achieving your goals as a FLCW?
Do you have a personal story that might benefit anyone who participates in this discussion (e.g. personal successes, failures, etc…)?
Any other books you might recommend for further reading?
Any stories about personal interaction with someone that changed your view of this business for the better?
Since 2001, Joseph Ratliff has been a direct response copywriter and marketing consultant for small businesses. He irregularly blogs at The Ratliff Report™. You can download some success-oriented articles and reports on the “free resources” page on his site. If you’re new to the writing business, you can check out his 17-page essay for new writers (titled “The Writer’s Lifestyle”) on the Essays section of his website.
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