“Financial Self-Sufficiency As a Freelance Writer (STILL?) in Six Months or Less”??

Okay, need some input here. As you all know, the subtitle to The Well-Fed Writer is “Financial Self-Sufficiency As a Freelance Writer in Six Months or Less.” When TWFW came out in 2000, that subtitle was no hype. After all, I was paying all my bills through commercial freelancing less than four months after hanging out my shingle.

Given the upcoming release of the updated version of TWFW (1Q/09), I’m rethinking this. Can someone, starting from scratch, indeed create a financially stable income stream from this business in 180 days or less? And if not, what would be a fair number?

I can hear you: “Well, it depends.” Course it does. Everyone’s starting in a different place. For someone coming out of, say, a corporate marketing position, with a pile of samples from their old job, a bunch of contacts and perhaps a few clients who’ve already whispered, “Count on me if you go solo” in their ear, I’d say six months is mighty doable. Obviously, someone with little of any of that is going to take a whole lot longer.

I can count on the fingers of one hand, minus 2 or 3, the number of folks who’ve bitched at me in the past eight years because it took them longer than six months. So, I’m not terribly worried about a bunch of whiney “You promised!” emails. I just want to be straight with people. I say it was easier when I started way back when, but that could have been my imagination: you’re in a groove, all pumped, nothing’s going to stop you, maybe it just seems easier. Can’t be sure. Hence the question. And yes, Jon, I know, if I think it’s easy, I’m right. And if I think it’s hard, I’m also right… 😉

But if it is a bit harder, conventionally speaking (and by definition, being a book title, it has to speak to everyone), I’d like the title to reflect that. And it needs to reflect how long it would take that mythical average person starting out – sort of a generally-speaking number. I’m sorta leaning toward 12 months. Sounds realistic, but still has a bit ‘o the “wow” factor (more so, of course, if you never saw the first one…).

What magic number would you put in this title? Twelve months?

If you’ve been in the business for more than 5 years (and preferably at least 7-8), do you think it’s harder than when you started, and if so, how so?

49 replies
  1. Daniel
    Daniel says:

    I started freelancing in earnest about 3 months ago with virtually no contacts or samples. I’m doing it part time while I work full-time to support my family, and I can guarantee you I won’t be self-sufficient in 6 months. If things go well – maybe in a year. If things go so-so, maybe 2.

    But, I don’t think I’d recommend a title “Financial Self-Sufficiency As A Freelance Writer in Two Years or Less”. One of the things I liked about the Well-Fed Writer was that you showed what you did in 6 months, you explained why it worked for you that quickly, but you never made me feel like I would be a loser or that I should give up if it took longer. I think whatever number was in the title – you were great at letting me know that my mileage may vary, and that made a huge difference in my faith in my ability to make it work – even if it’s slower growing.

  2. Joseph Ratliff
    Joseph Ratliff says:

    Peter,

    Honestly, it isn’t fair to put that specific of a number on “how long to self-sufficiency” really is…is it?

    A person’s drive, their willingness to “pound the pavement”, and their unique talents and abilities etc…are all contributors to how long it would take ANYONE starting out in my opinion.

    You could be a fresh newbie…

    You could be a seasoned salesperson (ring a bell Peter?)…

    You could be a corporate administrative assistant…

    It doesn’t matter in my opinion. If you want to shorten the length of time to financial self suffiency, you will find a way.

    A “fair” number for EVERYONE, no matter what Peter?

    I would put this in the title:

    The Well Fed Writer 2
    “The Writer’s Road Map To Financial Self Sufficiency”

    Because that is what your books are Peter, blueprints to financial self sufficiency as a commercial writer. It’s up to those reading your books to determine how long of a path they take to self sufficiency.

    Just my two cents.

    Joseph Ratliff
    Direct Response Copywriter (7 years)
    Internet Business Growth Specialist

  3. John Paul
    John Paul says:

    Although I’ve only been in business less than a year, I hope you don’t mind me responding. I tend to agree with Joseph…not sure if you can pinpoint a timeframe for everyone as it depends a lot on the individual’s background, personality and attitude. For me, I had several years of corporate writing experience, so I was comfortable with the writing part; however, marketing myself has been more of a challenge. Plus, I came out of an emotionally draining corporate experience, therefore I had to factor in some “recovery time” during my startup phase.

    Honestly, I never paid much attention to the “Six Months or Less” subtitle – like Joseph said, your books are more of a blueprint and I didn’t expect things to necessarily happen that quickly. Everyone takes a different path.

    John Paul

  4. Todd Eastman
    Todd Eastman says:

    I’m drawing a blank on your new title, but I did want to offer my own insight on whether it is harder to become a successful writer. I do think it is harder these days, because there are so many writers willing to write for next to nothing. Getting started is difficult when you see ads asking for your resume and 3 sample articles, just so you can write 500 word articles for $5 a piece. Most people are now savvy enough with the Internet that they know they can find someone to write for them with little effort and little money. I think the days where you could cold call prospects and get any kind of reasonable return on your efforts are gone. Now it is more about networking, getting referrals, and just getting your writing out there for the world to see.

    Todd

  5. Michele Jiménez
    Michele Jiménez says:

    To put a time limit on it is attractive and encouraging, and makes me more inclined to pick up a copy. But I think you underestimate the importance of marketing. In your bio (or at least one of them), you downplay your marketing background, but I I think it was critical to your relatively quick success. Of course, motivation and hardwork were also crucial, but I think your insight into marketing was definitive.

    People are always asking me “Are you a translator?” No. “Are you a journalist?” No. I’m a writer, through experience, who happens to know, through interest, a little about the world and how it works. But packaging this into a product that potential clients understand has been an ongoing challenge for me. Yes, I do say I’m a copywriter and name the kinds of products I have produced (brochures, newsletters, feature articles, etc.) but inevitably they come back to the first two questions. “So, you’re a translator?” “So, you’re a journalist?”

    I now believe the importance of marketing (and niching) cannot be overemphasized for the solopreneur!

    Michele Jiménez
    The corporate news specialist

  6. Jennifer Allan
    Jennifer Allan says:

    Interesting blog – I’m experiencing the exact same angst in my writing career. I sell real estate for a living and also write about selling real estate – well, my career began in a boom time when there were buyers lined up outside the door of any property with an Open House sign. We had nothing to SELL those buyers (because listings sold in nanoseconds), but it was much easier to meet people with a bona-fide real estate need. Today – not so much, so I’ve had to rethink how I coach, train and motivate rookies. I sold 25 houses my first year, without undue effort, but today’s rookie – no way that’s going to happen unless they’ve inherited their business.

    Anyway, I know this doesn’t answer your specific question, but I want to say that I think it’s admirable you’re questioning the appropriateness of making promises that may not be realistic for most of your readers. Good for you!

  7. jill gormley
    jill gormley says:

    HI Peter,

    Although I found your books enormously helpful when I was beginning, and still turn to them, the subtitle had the effect of eroding my confidence a bit.

    I was pushed into freelancing by the sudden loss of my job (about a week after I closed on my first house) and I came to the business with lots of writing experience but no marketing experience–reaching out to others for work when my spirits were low was a huge obstable for me and it took me awhile to overcome it. I can relate to what John Paul was saying about needing recovery time, and I also agree with Michele that being comfortable selling and marketing will speed self-suffiency.

    It took me about a year before I could pay the bills without dipping into savings, and about 18 months before I could actually put money away and feel that I was making a comfortable living. Missing the “six months to self-sufficiency” mark–and I missed it by a wide margin–had me doubting myself. That was my problem and I got over it, but since you asked I think it’s best to avoid a specific timeframe.

    Having been in business for myself a little over three years, I can’t speak to whether it’s harder or easier now than in the more distant past. I suspect it’s harder in some ways, easier in others. If I had needed to actually go out and meet prospective clients when I was feeling so low I’m not sure I could have worked up the courage–all my first few clients came through email approaches, and that route wasn’t open when you were beginning. It worked for me, and success with those first few gave me the confidence to incorporate other marketing approaches that you recommend, but in the beginning, I don’t think I could have faced cold calling, personal meetings, Chamber of Commerce events, etc.

    I look forward to the updated book-it really is such a valuable resource!
    Jill

  8. Rick Middleton
    Rick Middleton says:

    I worked in publishing right out of college. I’m thinking most publishers would flip a lid and try to keep the aggressive promise of six months right there in the title. Ever noticed how many diet/relationship/how-to books use very ambitious targets on their covers (Find Your Perfect Life Mate in Two Months!)? They are appealing to people’s desire for instant success, and the hype may work to boost impulse sales but probably hurts the writer’s credibility at the same time.

    However, there is something to be said for being reasonable in your claims. I would state it this way: “Financial Self-Sufficiency in Your First Year”. Not sure why that sounds better than 12 months, maybe its just me.

    In regards to your question about whether its easier or harder: I don’t know right now. The economy is challenging. I would love to raise my rates right now (since I am paying more for food and gas and life), but to take a rate increase to clients who are being pushed to spend less on projects seems like a non-starter. My fees have been flat for several years, and I wonder if other writers have seen the same thing?

    Overall, though, I think the business offers the opportunity for someone to make a good living. It seems like “freelance failure” is most often chalked up to lack of a marketing/business plan, lack of confidence, inability to perform well under pressure, discouragement, even cash flow issues that aren’t dealt with strategically. Is it ever “lack of available work out there”? I don’t think so — it seems like everyone, even companies that are having bad years, needs something written or revised. Especially in the age of the Internet, a company’s “virtual brochure” is always out there, and 95% of corporate communicators will say “our website needs work.” Is anyone EVER happy with their site, or their materials, etc.? LOL. Which means writers are always needed.

  9. Craig
    Craig says:

    Peter,
    I’m not your targeted demo here, as I’m just getting my ducks in a row to make the move to full time FLCW, but I’d like to chime in. I wouldn’t reinvent the wheel here; if the sub-title has worked for you, I say stick with it. I don’t think it’s disingenuous to put the 6-month number out there. Ok if someone read only the title of your book and:
    1) Immediately quit their job on the spot
    2) Stopped on their way home and picked up a business license
    3) Hit the computer big box and grabbed MS Word
    4) Hung their shingle before they walked in the house
    5) Said “O.K. only 5 months, 29 days, and 4 hours until I’m self-sufficient?

    Well they may end up disappointed. However if they:
    · Read your book (and others)
    · Avoid many of the mistakes that you (and others) made first starting out
    · Have their marketing plan together along with some presentable samples
    · Take some time to prepare mentally and financially for self-employment
    · Are ready to really get after it

    Before the shingle-hanging ceremony, I don’t see why 6 months of full-time work couldn’t produce a steady income and financial self-sufficiency. Working a full time sales job I gave myself a year to get ready to start my 6-month clock. Does that mean it will be more like a year and a half? I guess if you look at it that way, but I see my time now as a part time FLCW as preparation for the big move. If I’d just walked away from my day
    job and poured 60-70 hours a week into this I’m sure it would happen quicker. Maybe even in 6 months.

  10. Teresa Hall
    Teresa Hall says:

    Peter,
    If you were writing the second go-round of TWFW for a client AND his original book had seen the success your book has, would you advise him to change the title?

    The Well Fed Writer is known as a must have book for freelancers and you don’t have to be in this field long before you know that. TWFW was the 2nd book I bought, and incidentally, the book I first read to get going was also written by an author who did it from scratch to $5000 a month in six months. You have achieved what you have achieved and it deserves to be in your title.

    One more comment and I’ll stop: if someone has enough on the ball to make it in this business and yet they take every word in a book as a guarantee that it will happen that way for them, then perhaps they don’t really have enough on the ball to make it in this business after all.

    Keep the title Peter- The book is a must read and you are known as the “go to” guy by many people out here. Thanks for your willingness to show us that it can happen in six months!

    Teresa Hall
    Write About Everything

  11. Jeff Durosko
    Jeff Durosko says:

    Peter – agree with Teresa. Why mess with success? TWFW was also the second book I bought and TWFW2 was the next. I think that anyone who has the chutzpah to make this jump better have enough on the ball that (or enough in the bank) that this almost HAS to work for them within the first year. My plan was that I’d give it a year and see what happened. I had enough business in month one to pay the bills and now nearly three years later am earning more than I ever imagined possible. I think that’s because I wake up every day worried that it will all go away and I will have to go back to the corporate world. Fear is a great motivator.

    Your books are inspirational and I don’t think a watered down message serves anyone. Thanks!

  12. Star
    Star says:

    I have been at this 26 years. Some days I have delusions of adequacy, other days doubts. The biggest problem is you need to market even when you have work. Work comes and goes. I know you poohpooh this, Peter, but I also think Craigs has lowered rates and created some nifty amateur employers. Someone wrote me the other day and offered me $2 for something. I said that is less than a hundredth of my fee. And–this is also funny–they said it had to be in Australian-English and that there was a set of this on MS Word. Oh-kai, mite.

  13. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    Honestly? It took me a month from quitting my full time job to financial self sufficiency. I was five years out of college. I’d moonlighted for about two years before then, but it wasn’t particularly lucrative at the time and I didn’t have any high-paying industry contacts to lean on. Then again, I was very young, my expenses were very low, and I had no debt–so “financial self sufficiency” didn’t take a long journey for me.

  14. peter
    peter says:

    Wow – GREAT stuff, all of you. I’d love to comment on all of it, but am in DC for a conference this weekend, and need to scoot. But heck, if I’ve got 9 comments the morning after posting, this thing should go on for awhile… Thanks again for the contributions!

    PB

  15. Marci Diehl
    Marci Diehl says:

    Hmmm. I’m sitting here listening to this conversation and pondering. The comment that connected was Star’s — at this 26 years. If you count my first professional work as a magazine writer, very part time and definitely not self-sufficient then, I’ve been making money at writing for 28 years. But I didn’t become financially self-sufficient (without my initial investor, my uncle, who became my business “angel” for the first two years when I started my commercial writing business) until 11 years ago. But I achieved my goal!

    Yes, I think there are varied circumstances and challenges for different FLCWs — background, drive, learning curve, location, how you market yourself…. all of the above mentioned comments. So to say “six months or less” –combined with Star’s bizarre experience with Craig’s list (wow… $2!) — makes me think that putting that short a time frame on financial self sufficiency COULD give the impression: “So easy anyone can do it!”, which is not true, and maybe… just maybe… might nurture the idea that what we do is a) easy and requires little skill; and b) maybe isn’t worth the fees (to the client) we need to charge. Yikes! We don’t want that.

    Here’s the thing — when people ask me what I do, I tell them I’m a writer and a creative developer for advertising/marketing/PR projects. I put together teams of other professionals to produce everything from videos (I am the scriptwriter/director) to brochures, to ad campaigns, to revamping or recreating websites… and a lot more. I act as senior copywriter, creative director… whatever that specific project requires. I’m not an art designer, nor do I design websites. But I am the thinker in the project. In fact, 90% of my time is spent thinking and coordinating and all the other stuff (the creative development) and about 10% actually WRITING.

    My point is, that’s how I make my living. It’s not — for me — about cranking out copy as a product. I have a client right now (new) that is sending me to represent them at trade conferences and events. I’ve never traveled for a client that way, but I’m working on a part of a state grant they got, and my people skills are just what they need. Yes, the project requires writing — PR, research and developing a new web site. But it’s also bringing me into contact with other potential clients. I got this project because someone local saw my website and emailed me their RFP, but the fact that I got recommendations through the relationships I’ve built regionally really sealed the deal.

    Building the relationships can take a long time. It’s about integrity and trust, being known to do excellent work and being easy to work with.

    Also, what comprises financial self-sufficiency can be relative. Someone in a large metro area needs mucho dinero to be self sufficient. Someone in a small community in a rural state might get by happily with less. Cost of living, ambition, what your freedom’s worth, if you’re single (I am, my kids are grown and I make what I need for now), or if you’re trying to support a young family — it’s all about what each FLCW needs and wants in doing what we do.

    Anyone looking for a quick fix or instant success within 6 months…. best of luck. Being a FLCW full time requires the same qualities and business sense that being any kind of entrepreneur takes. If you get that, you’ll find your way to success within your particular timeframe; if you don’t, you’ll go out of business pretty quickly.

    Marci Diehl, 13 years as a FLCW
    DoubleVision Creative

  16. Kimberly
    Kimberly says:

    My experience is somewhat similar to Jill’s. I was freelancing for a couple of small publications not nearly making enough to pay my living expenses. When my husband’s business tanked because of the Georgia drought last August, I got the push I needed to go full-force. Within three months I was making a full-time income. And I worked (still do!) extremely hard. I think a lot is changing in the industry. That coupled with whether or not someone is ready to roll up their sleeves and put in the required effort determine how quickly they will be self-sufficient. You could leave the subtitle as it is because it’s still possible to become a self-sufficient writer in six months, but you need a consistent marketing and business strategy to do it.

  17. Sharafat Ali
    Sharafat Ali says:

    Most people who can read and write, cherish a common desire to be a writer. I had been an Accounts professional retired from service some twelve years back. Following this, I took up legal consultancy that paid a dividend. Now with my failing health, I am not in a position to concentrate on this profession; I took up writing which sometimes gets published. However, to establish oneself into this profession is a Herculean task. More so in India and considering the hurdle, I started surfing the web and this blog drew my attention. A novice, I believe, may make a breakthrough in an spell of three years provided his commitment is 100 percent and he has behind him the lady luck smiling. With this comment, I would request the readers to put me on the path to a web site that may provide me with ‘write-and-earn’ guidance.

  18. Cori Smelker
    Cori Smelker says:

    I have been freelancing for 10 years and almost from the beginning have made the same if not more than I made when I worked for ‘the man’. I make more now than most companies could or would offer me, and I work my own hours. I think in some ways it might be easier to ‘break’ into the market now than it was 10 or 15 years ago because more companies understand the work at home concept. 10 years ago it was almost unheard of for an employee to tele-commute because the bosses were afraid they would lose control. As tele-communiting has become more mainstream, the whole idea of hiring a freelance person who works from their laptop and is accessible through web-cam, email, iPhones etc. is now not so alien.

    But whether I believe it is harder or easier is irrelevant – it is what YOU believe. Do you believe you can achieve success in 3, 6, 12 months? Or do you think you’ll still be pounding the pavement and making little to no money?

    One really great motivator for me to make a success at writing is that we have a large family, and when I decided I wanted to work from home it was apparent that I either made my monthly goal, or I would have to go back to work full-time and neither my DH or I wanted that. He was great (when the kids were little) at making sure I had time to get my work done once he was home. Another motivator, now that the kids are all in school, is that he is now freelances too. So we are motivated to work, and find new clients because we don’t have his salary to fall back on.

    I think finding a motivation is always a good thing. If you don’t have a motive, then it is sometimes hard to take that extra step and plunge into the world of freelance work.

  19. peter
    peter says:

    Thanks again folks, for all the wonderful feedback. As you see (and I’m smiling as I write this), I’ve ended with a scenario I knew was a potential hazard of putting the question out to the “Mastermind”: Wildly varying opinions on how I should proceed. Several (Daniel, Craig, Teresa, Jeff) encourage me (some pretty strongly) to keep the title because it’s inspirational, it’s specific and, of course, it’s true (in my case). AND (in some cases), even though it may have taken them longer, they didn’t feel deceived or disheartened by the title.

    Others (Joseph, John Paul, Marci) correctly point out that it IS tough to put a number on business start-up as a FLCW, given the myriad sets of individual circumstances at play here. True enough. And Marci added that, given the complexity of the business and what what many of us actually do for our clients, boiling it down to “freelance writer” can be limiting. Also true, though given that this is a book title, I have to put what we do in a category and “freelance writing,” while not technically true in all cases is close enough.

    Marci also wisely pointed out that using the six-month verbiage can have people infer that what we do is easy, when we all know it’s not (though most of us would agree that, as freelance writing arenas go, commercial writing is arguably, the most lucrative and accessible writing opportunity out there).

    I suppose the key here is what that “Six Months or Less” is presumed to imply. The wide range of opinions here is proof positive that some people saw it as inspirational, knew that it was MY story and didn’t assume it was etched in stone for them or anyone else. Others saw it as a gauntlet being laid down – and certainly something they SHOULD be able to accomplish.

    Given that most people didn’t necessarily feel that the business is SO much harder to launch now than it ever was (so much of THAT conversation being one’s own inner dialogue), the issue of whether “six months or less” is deceptive TODAY is somewhat moot. Meaning that if the six-months thing (as a subtitle) worked eight years ago, it should be OK to use it again. Given the general perception that the business start-up hurdle is roughly the same today as it ever was, those who weighed in here against using the six-months verbiage (and for excellent reasons), regardless of whether I did it in that amount of time, would probably have had the same objections eight years ago.

    Food for thought. I’m leaning toward keeping the six-month verbiage but perhaps saying on the back cover that the author did this in less than six months (and that results may vary). Some informal (as in, not boxed-off or anything) “disclaimer-y” verbiage of sorts.

    Thanks much for all your thoughtful, insightful brilliant contributions. Means a lot to me.

    PB

  20. Devon Ellington
    Devon Ellington says:

    Arthur Miller said something to be in the early 90s that I was too frightened to do at the time, but now I realize was correct: “you’ll never be a real (meaning full-time) writer until you have to rely on it for your livilihood.”

    I’ve run two full-time careers, one on Broadway and one freelancing, for several years now. During the stagehand strike last year, I was only writing full-time, and I’ve been self-sufficient — it hasn’t been easy, I’m not rich, but I’ve built a firm foundation.

    If you are willing to make it THE priority in your life — not make excuses about time, other obligations, and all the reasons freelancers have for not working to maximum capacity — you can do it. And that means setting boundaries with your family as much as anyone else.

    There’s nothing wrong with writing “on the side”, but your career will have a different trajectory than if you just jump in and do it.

    If I had listened to Arthur (with whom I was lucky enough to work) back then, I’m sure I would have made the leap much more quickly. I was too scared. However, I’m grateful for the Broadway experience I’ve had in the interim, which has made me a better writer (i.e., a full-length play I wrote in three days was picked up to go into a theatre company’s repertory by a producer the same day I sent it). So it’s a trade-off.

    You can ease into it, as I’ve done, and then it takes longer than six months. You can jump in and if you make it your number one priority, you can do it. I have several friends who did just that.

    The work is out there; you simply have to be creative in your searches. If you rely on listing boards and pay for bidding sites — no, you won’t. If you do your own leg work and don’t let anything stop you, you can.

    When writers come to me and ask how to build a career in this business, I ask them, “How badly do you want this?” The harsh reality is that most of them don’t want it badly enough. They want to live the fantasy of writing The Great American novel in a coffee shop, but not do pay the dues, put in the legwork, and put in the mindwork that it takes to build a career.

    Writing is just as, or more demanding as a life in the theatre. There’s a saying “The theatre is a jealous mistress”, which is true.

    I think you should keep the title the way it is. Yes, it’s much harder than when the book first came out, because of the economic downturn and the fact that hundreds of fly-by-night sties are trying to get 20 articles a week for $1/apiece.

    Your book was what gave me the courage to leap; if I’d followed it to the letter, I believe I could have made the leap in six months. I believe it can be done even now . . .if you want it badly enough.

    The harsh reality is that you have to ask yourself, “How badly do I want this? What am I willing to do to get there?”

  21. Karen Wormald
    Karen Wormald says:

    After reading TWFW twice, I quit my full-time job with some pathetic-looking samples and no contacts and began earnest marketing pn June 1, 2002. By that December, I stopped needing money from savings to pay bills. Peter, reading that you succeeded in less than 6 months made me feel like Wily Coyote, jumping off the cliff and running in mid-air, not realizing I could fall. I expected to succeed in 6 months and did it.

    However, when I thought I’d be sitting pretty in my 7th year of freelancing, things have been nosediving since early 2007. I’ve lost clients I haven’t been able to replace. Every marketing strategy seems to fall on deaf ears. So I would say it’s harder for someone starting out today because companies have a steady stream of wannabe freelancers (or find them on the Web) and are tuning out seasoned pros because at the end of the day, they really don’t know good writing from bad. They just want cheap.

  22. peter
    peter says:

    Karen,

    Sorry to hear that things have gotten tougher for you. But that said, and at the risk of stepping on toes here, I’m guessing that the clients you lost weren’t the kinds we really need to be going after (i.e., those who truly understand and value what a professional copywriter brings to the table).

    But your story brings up a really good point (though one, I suppose, that might be viewed as painfully obvious…): Before online job sites “commoditized” writing to a large extent, there were always clients who hired writers and paid them decently even though, and this is key – they hated that they had to, and didn’t really value the craft of writing or good writing in general – “okay” was good enough for them. But they did so because there were precious few ways for those clients to find cheap resources. Once those resources (like elance and guru, etc) indeed existed, they were gone. I suspect your clients fit into that box.

    Those of us who’ve been in this field for a while probably all had clients like that, but we may not have realized it. The absence of the cheap sites threw all clients into one big group. But, we’ve all had the GOOD kind of client, too – the one for whom good writing isn’t just important, it’s a crucial component of their competitive advantage. And those clients would be about as likely to hunt on elance for a cheap writer as they would to hire their janitor to do their writing. And, needless to say, THOSE are the ones we want.

    PB

  23. Karen Wormald
    Karen Wormald says:

    I agree with you that the job sites have cheapened writing to an unsustainable level. However, the major client I lost was a hospital for whom I edited a bi-monthly employee magazine, and a quarterly physican magazine for 4 years to the tune of about $18K a year. Their budget was slashed, the entire Marketing Dept. laid off, and all ties with local freelancers severed.

    Unfortunately, what I’ve managed to hold on to are clients who eat up a lot of time for little pay. It’s gotten so bad that I’m signing on with contract agencies who will take a big cut of my hourly rate. I see it as the only way to get my foot in the door of good companies, make contacts, and possibly foster some long-term relationships.

    The agencies tell me they’re getting more call for off-site freelancers, which is what I’d prefer to remain.

    I feel like I’ve been burned by too many small businesses with big dreams and little wallets to have any enthusiasm for pursuing them, whether they recognize good writing or not.

    I’m not alone. Other freelance graphic designers and PR people tell me they’re starving in this town (Richmond VA). They are surviving by finding clients on the Internet.

  24. Rick Middleton
    Rick Middleton says:

    Karen makes great points. Although I love the idea of helping small businesses and charities, I’ve noticed that many businesses and small/medium non-profits, after they’ve received several large invoices, will just decide professional writing is too expensive. Large corporations seem like the one place where marketing budgets are large enough to provide steady work for writers on an ongoing basis. Even some very large charities will start counting pennies after a while. It’s one of the cold realities of this business.

  25. Lori
    Lori says:

    I think the ratio of beginning-to-self-sufficiency depends entirely on how hard one is dropped on one’s arse. I was a full-time editor one day and a full-time freelancer the next with relatively little warning. It was sink-or-swim time, and I chose to doggie paddle. :))

    Can you become self-sufficient in 180 days? Sure. But you’re going to have to have a plan and work that plan. Most times we plan like we mean it, but we stop short of actually doing anything remotely resembling that plan.

    Right now, I’m working more than I have in years. Recession be damned, the work is there. Companies are calling me instead of the other way around. I’m still marketing like I’m out of work because we all know this is a cyclical business – today’s success is quickly followed by tomorrow’s dry spell.

  26. peter
    peter says:

    Thanks Lori,

    The work IS there. Karen, I’m NOT trying to minimize the pain you’ve experienced by the loss of such a large client. That’s a real bottom-line hit, no question. But, that said, I refuse to extrapolate larger trends from such unhappy occurrences. And just because other creative services folks are saying it’s tough doesn’t mean there’s no work.

    From my long experience, I’ve noticed that many creative folks who’ve been in their professions for years got used to things being a certain way. They got their business a certain way, from the usual suspects or KINDS of suspects. And when there are economic upheavals, those dynamics shift, and given the systems they’ve used up till then to land business, they conclude that it’s all gone in the crapper. And I say it ain’t necessarily so.

    Sure, some companies dump their freelancers when things are tight, but how long can they do it all in-house? And for every company that does that and muddles along, there’s no doubt another one that realizes they can’t afford to stop creating strong marketing materials. That the money they spend on that aspect of their business isn’t a cost, it truly IS an investment.

    Not to mention another scenario: all the companies that have been using an expensive agency to execute their creative projects. Many will decide that that expense isn’t worth it, but a company that was willing to invest the serious money it would have to take to hire a top agency is a company that knows it has little choice about doing it. But, they DO have a choice as to HOW they do it, and those kinds of companies are excellent prospects for a writer/designer/PR team of freelancers.

    I’m hearing plenty of folks tell me how busy they are these days – smack dab in the middle of the “recession.”

    And as for those clients willing to hire the $5-an-article writers, screw ’em. Seriously. They Are NOT Our Market. I keep hearing people talk about those kinds of writers and the clients who hire them as if they’re part of our world. They were never part of mine. Maybe they once were part of yours, but if so, good riddance. Now, you can focus on finding REAL clients. And they’re definitely out there.

    There isn’t a company out there who doesn’t have one or more communications challenges that people like us could help them with. Get creative. Bark up different trees. Talk to successful, busy freelancers and ask them what they’re doing. You don’t REALLY want to have to go get a job somewhere, do you? 😉

    PB

  27. Sharafat Ali
    Sharafat Ali says:

    Most of the comments furnished by the freelancing community paint a bleak future for its members whose bread and butter depends upon writing alone. To my mind, in all independent professions, ‘survival of the fittest’ matters. Today there are more pens chasing insufficient papers. The result is obvious scarcity of work. However, there are signs of hope as well in the form of a popularization of English that’s riding on the wave of globalization that is and will generate more writing opportunity. Hence, don’t worry, be happy.

  28. Lori
    Lori says:

    Karen, I wonder – when did you last update the marketing plan? I’ve had to revamp mine a few times in order to get more work in. I found myself looking in the same places, which had dried up completely. It wasn’t until I started looking into different genres and different industries that I began to work my tail off again.

    Try rethinking where you’re looking. That may open things up for you.

  29. Karen Wormald
    Karen Wormald says:

    Good pep talk, Lori and Peter. I have never taken one of those 1,000-words-for-$5 gigs, but I will confess that my efforts to beat the bushes tend to wax and wane when nothing happens. I’ve phoned, e-mailed, sent flyers, teamed with graphic designers to send prettier flyers (they got new work, I didn’t), mailed glossy postcards, tried a 4-page direct mail letter. About the only thing I haven’t tried is standing on a street corner naked with a sign saying, “Will write for clothing.” (That’s an idea! If you saw me naked, you’d know a lot of people would want to see me covered up!)

    I also offer editing and proofreading services, and some of my clients use me only for that, although at a lower hourly rate than copywriting. But it’s better than nothing.

    Anyway, I agree with you that it’s just a matter of knocking on more doors until I find the ones who will let me in.

  30. Star
    Star says:

    None of us are taking $5 jobs–but we are living in a world in which some people think this is a fee. It has changed things. I know you don’t agree, Peter…I guess we just have different POVs. My clients over the years have been Apple, IBM, Gannett, WebMD–and now it’s a different ballgame. Nuts. I hate sports.

  31. Lori
    Lori says:

    Star, I agree. They are part of our world whether we like it or not. They influence the market in more ways than we care to think about. That’s why I’ve stopped looking in online markets – that’s where the worst offenders are. Out here in the real world there are people who actually value our skills and don’t mind us placing a fair price on them. 🙂

  32. peter
    peter says:

    Lori and Star (and everyone else),

    That’s what I was trying to say: In a larger sense, sure, they ARE part of our world, but I don’t consider them an issue for me and the clients I deal with. There are enough companies with enough money so that money isn’t the issue. The issue is getting excellent work from a partner who is easy to work with, reliable, and lets them focus on their jobs. In much the same way as we’d hire a more expensive plumber if we have a broken pipe, not try to skimp on a cheaper one.

    My point is that $5 route will only work for people who are happy with mediocrity or “just enough.” Unless you’re saying that these $5 writers truly ARE delivering the same quality as you or others did for a good rate. In which case, we’re all in trouble.. 😉 But I don’t see that happening at all.

    And I think much of the issue is project types. Can that $5 writer put together a passable article? Probably. But marketing brochures? Capabilities pieces? Direct mail campaigns? Effective web content? Sales sheets? Case studies? Now you’re getting into arenas far out of the skill sets of the low-ballers.

    PB

  33. Kimberly
    Kimberly says:

    You’re right, Peter, but some writers are only familiar with the mediocrity many online clients are offering. I was at a writer’s forum posting about my experience with a prospective client who was attempting to lowball my rates. I explained to this client that I was charging industry rates and perhaps wasn’t the right writer for him if that was beyond his budget. The client agreed, and we moved on with the project.

    Several writers on that forum told me I was crazy to ask for “so much money” and predicted I would lose the job. I told them I refuse to go below average industry rates. I expect to be paid what I am worth. Why not? I have no problems paying a professional accountant, doctor or lawyer for their invaluable skills. I am quickly learning that means working with companies and corporations willing to pay for our experience and skills.

  34. Mike Klassen
    Mike Klassen says:

    I kind of think the subtitle almost has to stay the same. Otherwise you’re somewhat obligated to revisit this question every 12 months and keep updating the subtitle based on the general feeling of what the market is like for new writers. Once the genie is out of the bottle…

    (Of course, the different versions could become collector items. “Hey… I got the limited edition Three Months or Less version!”)

    I’d almost suggest adding two words: “Strategies For” to the subhead. It lacks the “wow” factor of the current subtitle, but, at least in my mind, softens what can come across as an ironclad guarantee.

    Or, you could play it safe with, “Financial Self-Sufficiency As a Freelance Writer in Six Months or Less… or More… Kind of Depends on You.” 😉

    Nah… like I said… keep it the same.

  35. Star
    Star says:

    I agree–online advertisers pay nothing or $25 for an ad and have no skin in the game. If writers want to take this stuff or bid down to it, whatEVER. Apparently, the newbies don’t know any better or think they are worth more. The worst is when they think, gosh, I can do three an hour and that comes to $15 an hour–yipee! But Peter asked did we see a change–I have. I get my work through queries and direct mailings, though I still sometimes write to those low-renters and say…you know, hey.

  36. Eileen Coale
    Eileen Coale says:

    Weighing in a little late here, but here’s my nickel ninety-eight. I say keep the title the same. One of my favorite copywriting models is Maria Veloso’s (see her book, “Web Copy That Sells.”) As part of the process of developing copy points, she asks, “What is possible?” You answer that question by painting a picture of what is indeed possible, and that makes a great selling point. Your title, “…In six months or less” speaks to what is possible. With that in mind, and from a marketing perspective, the title works. There ain’t no guarantees in life, but certainly enough people have done it to make the claim credible.

  37. Linda M. Reynertson
    Linda M. Reynertson says:

    I just finished making half of my 50 phone calls per day as advised in the 2000 edition of the WFW, and I have to say that I found the best, most common sense advice in this book that I have seen anywhere. I am only in my second full month of full-time freelancing, but I felt so confident in phoning. Why? Because someone like Peter Bowerman said to do it! So please don’t second guess yourselves – any of you. The dedication and the methods still work – as long as you do. Don’t give up. And I’d say leave the title as-is. Most people don’t really want a get-rich-quick-scheme — they want to know of a good, solid way to earn money by work – yes, hard work when necessary. Peter, thank you so much for giving inspiration to a new full timer – I have 3 new paying clients — all obtained by direct mail WITH phone follow-up. AND my phone calls today gained 3 requests for actual samples. And, I’ve only just begun.
    Linda Reynertson

  38. Joe
    Joe says:

    Peter,

    If you’ll give me six months, I’ll answer your question. I plan to make the jump from corporate hack to FLCW in July, so I should be able to testify to new readers just about the time your new book edition hits the shelves. I’ve spent the past six months laying the groundwork, letting certain potential clients know I am available for freelance assignments now, and I have to say the response has been surprisingly strong and tremendously satisfying. I’ve been billing and collecting regularly for about three months now and I am at the point where I just can’t take anymore work and keep the full-time job.

    I’ve been reading the responses here very closely, and following some other blogs, as well, but I will say that I am open to any advice that can be offered from more experienced freelancers out there — particularly on how to deal with the health benefits issue for my family in a way that won’t break me from the start.

    Joe

  39. The Freelance Writer's Blog
    The Freelance Writer's Blog says:

    Peter, I started working as an SEO writer last October (2007). Within the first few days, I landed my first client (article writing). Within the first week, I had landed two more clients. I made over $2,000 from one client alone the first month — and have gone on to hire more writers to work under me since then.

    I’ve never been busier as a freelance writer, and I’ve been doing it since 1993. I have also never had an easier time in landing clients. So, I think a lot of success has to do with the niche you target.

    Yuwanda

  40. cathy
    cathy says:

    Hi Peter —

    I’ve been freelancing for 17 years come August 2. I honestly don’t remember how long it took me to get to the point of financial self-sufficiency. Probably under a year. But then, I was really concentrating on magazine work then, not commercial writing so much (although I happily added that with a major hospital client within a year or so). These days I do almost exclusively commercial stuff, mostly in healthcare (Hi Star!) and environmental fields.

    I do remember a freelancer friend telling me that it would be about two years before I “stopped worrying” about making a living as a freelancer. He was exactly right. After two years, I knew it was going to work, and didn’t worry about it anymore.

    Those online job sites are a joke, pure and simple. I don’t know how anyone could take one of those $5 for 1000-words jobs. Even starting out I was never that crazy! I’d like to think that they are not affecting the ability of “real” writers to make a living, but I’m not sure. I do think my clients value good work, and most of them would never go near so cheap a writer. But who knows.

    Cathy in Boulder

  41. Bob
    Bob says:

    Two comments:

    Six months, twelve months…isn’t the point that you can make a living with FLCW much faster, more reliably, and more remuneratively than with the query-to-editors game? Subtitle could be: “A Faster Way to Financial Self-Sufficiency”.

    For those who are losing client work, you may have to compete to take business away from other ad men/women. Why not devise a “switch pitch” to attack prospects who now use an expensive agency with fancy offices in the high-rent district, and cherry-pick some portion of their account. You won’t win any nice guy awards, but that’s business, baby.

  42. Gary Parkin
    Gary Parkin says:

    Not sure if I’m qualified to comment but I thought you might be interested. I’m just starting out as a freelance copywriter in the UK and I’m on what they call the “New Deal” scheme. This has been set up to help the long term unemployed back into work. As part of this scheme, I can have a go at running my own business whilst still being on unemployment benefit or welfare.
    What this all boils down to is this: I have exactly six months to make a success out of my copywriting business or it’s back to the grind of a normal job.
    So, if you want to know if your title is still accurate, ask me in December.

  43. peter
    peter says:

    Good luck, Gary! Though, as you can see from all the notes that came before, everyone’s situation is
    different. So, while I certainly WISH a six-month launch for you, it’s not a guarantee…;)

    PB

  44. Brian
    Brian says:

    Well, it hit me in March. I’ve had TWFW for a couple years and kept saying that “One of these days, I’m going to…” then my job went to Mexico and India. For the past year, I’ve been a stay-at-home Dad but am getting antsy. I decided I needed more biz ‘sense’ (procrastination) and read this other book (forgive me Peter:) that was scaring the cr@p out of me. So, I tossed it down, got some website software, reread TWFW and set September 1st as the start date. I’m working on my site and coldcall script (I was ops mgr of an inbound/outbound b-b and b-c contact center for 7 years so I actually have no fear of the calling aspect). I want it so bad so I plan to succeed. That said, I do see the online sites have absurd ‘fees’, so I plan to stay away from them unless it helps me get a decent sample…but I’m pretty good at ‘rethinking’ some projects from my past job to put in my portfolio, so hoping I can bypass them altogether.

    Keep the title. It has helped a lot of us, and it has inspired a few of us to just do it.

  45. Jeju Smith
    Jeju Smith says:

    As a new SEO, i can say that it is not really easy doing this kind of work (specially when you’re just earning for $5..) You can think that, Is This A Joke?…well for me,as a starter…i understand it. what should i do now is to focus on my job and satisfy my clients and most especially to improve my career…i know i can do this…if others can do, why can’t i..?

  46. Anna Robeson
    Anna Robeson says:

    I have been writing for over two years, but I became self-sufficient a year ago. Nevertheless, I used to work a lot (9-10 hours a day), and I always tried to become better. By better I mean that I started to learn more about SEO and social media marketing.
    I think there is no time limit for these things, it really depends on how motivated people are.

    Anna.

  47. Peter Bowerman
    Peter Bowerman says:

    I agree, Anna,

    There are so many factors involved in how long it takes, and someone’s motivation/ambition level is a key one. AND, how good someone’s skills are. I occasionally hear form someone who’s been at it for a year or two, has made thousands of calls, and still isn’t getting any traction. And in those cases, I have to wonder if their skills just aren’t very strong (or they’re doing something really off-putting when talking with prospects!).

    All the best as you continue to grow your business!

    PB

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