How to Grow Your Freelance Writing Business by Working Less

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Freelance writers make lots of mistakes, especially when they’re starting out online.

Mistakes are useful. They’re fertilizer for entrepreneurial growth. They keep you learning and moving forward.

However, if you fail to make the right mistakes — and to learn from them — you may as well just keep your writing as a weekend hobby.

You want to make the mistakes that teach you how to build a better writing business or show you things you only learned because you were reaching.

What’s one of the biggest mistakes a freelance writer can make?

Let’s find out …

Do not ignore your most important client

One of the biggest mistakes a freelance writer can make — and one most writers constantly fall into — is ignoring their most important client.

Oh sure, most writers take care of the person they think is their best client. The client who pays them the most per word and gives them the most notice between projects, or the most glowing referrals.

And you might be right. That might be your best client, but it isn’t your most important. Not by a long shot.

Your most important client is the one who will stay with you forever. The client who will help ensure you make more each year than you did the year before. Your most important client will help you do all of that, but only if you promise to never ignore them.

Who is your best client?

Your best client is you.

And are you taking care of yourself? Do you make sure your needs are met?

Do you set aside at least an hour every day to tend your projects and build your assets — the same assets that will accumulate over time and help you build streams of steady, passive income?

Probably not, most working writers don’t.

It’s bad enough when you’re freelancing, tearing through so many hours that you don’t have the time to write for your muse or build your assets, whether that means publishing fiction to Kindle or creating eCourses you can sell to your list.

But at least busy freelancers are paying the bills.

They’re growing their businesses and building their reputations.

While busy freelancers who spend all their time cranking out copy are ignoring their permanent assets, at least they have an excuse.

They’re working hard.

A case study in “working hard”

I used to run a small chain of flower shops in Long Beach, California.

There were often times when I felt I had to do everything myself, from stripping roses to answering phones, even sweeping up the shop.

But if I wasn’t booking a wedding, negotiating a better price for international roses, or helping a hapless husband build the perfect bouquet for his beautiful wife, I was costing myself and the business money.

Of course I’d learned all this before I started my writing career. Yet for some reason it took me a couple of years to figure out that the same principles held true online.

For the first year, I couldn’t justify the expense in my head.

My writing business wasn’t generating enough money to outsource, or so I thought. I quickly fell into the same trap I’d fallen into many years before in the flower business.

One excuse followed another until I finally realized that the more I wrote for myself, the more I could ultimately make in the long run.

Yet, that would never happen if I spent all my time inside my WordPress dashboard instead of building my future.

There is never any good reason to spend needless minutes mired in menial tasks that keep you busy and fenced from your future, drowning in tedium and leaving you with a finished product that probably isn’t as good as what you could have paid for.

Do any of the tasks below look familiar?

Are you needlessly spending time on any (or all) of these, because you think you should?

  • Coding your website
  • Audio or video transcription
  • Blog design
  • Accounting
  • Cover art design
  • Editing

You might be decent at accomplishing the items on that list.

But if you’re a writer, none are your specialty.

By outsourcing that kind of work and paying a specialist a reasonable rate, you will be buying yourself more time for the work you can charge top dollar for.

Outsourcing also gives you time to write and create the bigger assets that will make you money over time, rather than just once.

Top-notch content for your own site. Superb client education material. The kind of great marketing you create for your clients, but never write for your own business.

To truly grow as a writer, you must be willing to hand off any menial tasks that strip your time away from what you’re best at –- writing.

The less you write, the further you’ll be from realizing your goals and dreams.

It’s time to work smart

You must be willing to eliminate from your workday any mindless tasks that cannot make you money or help you grow your business.

Every task you keep for yourself is adding distance between yourself, your passion, and the true future you could be building around your writing career.

Outsourcing travels in every direction.

When you write copy for a client who doesn’t want to do it themselves, they are outsourcing their work to you. For you, writing is easy. For them, it isn’t.

Some of the things you don’t want to do, aren’t especially good at, or take you far too long, are tasks other people are exceptional at and enjoy doing: coding, WordPress development, blog design, research, and all the other stuff your writing business needs to grow.

Let others handle the heavy lifting of your business so you can spend your time writing a better tomorrow for yourself instead.

Don’t spend your time sweeping the floor with your future.

About the Author: Sean Platt is a content marketer and cofounder of outstandingSETUP. Get his free report 9 Website Building Mistakes You Should Avoid.

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Comments

  1. Strategic outsourcing is the key to growing a successful freelance business. Bottom line. Great article!

  2. I agree to an extant, but that’s not to say that acquiring new skills (like how to set up, manage, and design a site on your own) are to be totally avoided.

    • I agree. As with any business, you should be able to do any job, if needed. You never know when someone’s going to be sick or an emergency comes up and you’re the only one on-call to do the work.

    • You always have to look at the opportunity cost.

      What are you not doing when you spend weeks trying to figure out how to create an ok-looking header in Photoshop? If you’re a writer, what writing work are you putting off? What isn’t getting done on your writing portfolio? What clients are you not following up with the way you should?

      • True, my only point would be to not knock something completely off your radar until you try it.

        Personally, I feel like I’d be giving up too much control not knowing how the fundamentals of my site operate, and since I didn’t invest a ton of time in learning “the ropes” to the backend of my site, I’d say it was relatively little time well spent.

        Definitely agree when you get to a certain point though, there are just some things are time is much better suited for, no point in trying to be some sort of renaissance man/madame when you could be honing your true craft.

    • At this point, I avoid learning as many new skills as I can!

      I want to get better at what I’m good at. If I’m now writing or publishing, right now then I’m wasting my time.

      Doesn’t mean I don’t want to learn a lot of other things, because I do. But I wasted a ton of time trying to do it all.

      • I hear you Sean, especially since I believe that you can’t ever really be good at something unless you are disregarding other pointless endeavors and focusing on what you are good at.

        My point is that one shouldn’t be ready to totally abandon acquiring a new skill before trying, some people can catch on to things quicker than others, but if you find you are wasting too much time on things that really aren’t beneficial for you to learn, then outsourcing is most definitely your best bet.

  3. One critical point to remember is, “Never outsource your core competency.” It has been suggested that I hire other writers to boost my own productivity. But I am not in the business of editing; I am the writer my clients hired. Outsourcing other activities is one thing, but outsourcing my core competency is not wise, at least at this point in my career.

  4. One of the best things we did as a company was choose to collaborate with trusted people who could take care of aspects of our business which we had trouble keeping on top of. We outsourced our design, SEO and PR and we stuck to the core copywriting. Sometimes companies are willing to exchange services too, which keeps costs down and allows you to build an even greater business relationship with your collaborators.

  5. Oh, how true those words! The same advice I’ve given to others over the years was staring me down in your article like a dog about to launch into a dogfight. I had to look away first. To think I actually wonder where those days go? It is mind-boggling how much time can be spent on a task unrelated to writing – especially when it isn’t our area of expertise. What takes me an hour to figure out and actually execute on WordPress can be accomplished by my wonderful web designer in 5 minutes. What can be said, however, about the time I spend reading Copyblogger because it’s more fun than working?

  6. I’ve been in business for over 10 years and early on I received the following bit of wise advice: make a list of (a) things you’re good at *and* that you like to do, (b) things you’re good at, but you hate doing, and (c) things you suck at, and hate doing.

    Only do items in your A list. It should be a short list. Hire people to do things on your B and C list.

    Consider if there’s anything in those lists that you can stop doing altogether.

  7. My two favorite entities! Copyblogger and Sean Platt! We push ourselves because we believe that we have to do it all ourselves, ignoring the need to free up our time to focus on building our assets. Enduring that expense in the beginning will more than make up for it in the end. Love this article…thanks for the reminder!

  8. Gosh, I wish I had read this Friday. I sent my weekend migrating our servers, telling myself it was a waste of money to pay others what I can do for myself. The reality is that the only writing I did was migration code. Guess I need to go back and write a lessons learned on this one – I’ll duck out on paying myself for it though.

    Great post Sean.

  9. Sean, I concur that a writer needs to get laser-focused on writing. But I also ask: If they have no view towards the work of collaborators, are they possibly missing a chance to incorporate relevant know how for getting to the forward edge of trends? I am not sure about this, so I’d like to know what you all at Copyblogger think. Speaking just for myself, before I launched my blog, I did quite a bit of experimentation to see how things go on WordPress, lots of learning (and mistake-making) about how SEO copywriting feeds into the mix, went to classes that covered some principles of blog design, and so forth. I know that in the medium-term, these things are better outsourced. Kudos to you for pointing out that a blogger’s BFF can be a web designer, an accountant, et cetera. But, where do you strike a balance between trying out the granular details for oneself and then leaving it to the pros, and just not going there at all? Please enlighten me!

    • Yes, early education is important when you’re starting out online, but you want to move past that phase the second you can. Otherwise you are wasting your time, and not improving in the areas that can make you the most money.

  10. I worked for years as a freelance writer. All the work was done with online clients, and it was one hell of a tough way to make a living. I agree with pretty much everything in this article – I wish I’d read it all those years ago when I was working crazy hours to earn just enough to get by.

    If I was starting out right now as a freelance writer working exclusively online, I’d do a lot of things differently.

    * Concentrate a huge chunk of my time on finding high-quality, high-paying clients
    * Building a team of 4 or 5 high-quality writers I can outsource to – to spread the workload
    * Focus heavily on the highest paying forms of writing: no articles, blog posts, or blog comments. Just sales letters, products, ad copy etc.

    I think a decent living could be make with that approach, without working yourself half to death like I used to.

  11. This piece makes me feel a lot better about not being a good coder. :) Although, I think it is a good idea for a writer to have at least a little knowledge about all the things you mentioned. I’ve seen dozens of clients post ads on freelance writing boards who want their copywriters to have a little bit of coding knowledge (if you don’t, you’ll get overlooked in favor of someone who does). That being said, a writer should primarily focus on writing for himself and his clients and outsource the rest of his tasks if they take too much time away from his craft.

    I wholeheartedly agree that it is vital for a writer to continue to write for himself even while he serves his clients. If you are not working on building passive income streams or maintaining your online image (through a blog or other means), you will put your future in jeopardy.

    • I think it’s a good thing for a web copywriter to be able to deliver copy that’s marked up with simple HTML. But I also think it’s a good thing for copywriters to get out of the freelance job board scene as quickly as they can. They’re a great place to build your chops, but at some point you want to evolve your marketing and client prospecting so you can snag the bigger-value clients who can’t find what they need on the boards.

  12. Sean, It’s amazing how this advice works across other aspects of life too.
    Getting other people to anything that saves you from doing it yourself means being able to devote precious time to the stuff that really counts.
    Outsourcing might not be something you need to do all the time, especially if you’re bootstrapping it, but on a short term or temporary basis it enables you to make huge strides forward. I find that doing it in waves or surges helps with focus and takes advantage of the ‘massive action’ thing.

  13. I totally agree with Sean. While I truly enjoy the coding, image editing and troubleshooting, (started my web career in ’98 as a developer) my core competency is writing and editing web content. I’m seriously looking to outsource the rest. As Sean rightly put it “You must be willing to eliminate from your workday any mindless tasks that cannot make you money or help you grow your business.”

  14. It’s definitely like the old time is money cliche`. We tend not to realize it initially and when we are still trying to complete a post three days after we started it or a book a year later…the light bulb goes off. Great post, and so true.

  15. Thanks for the brutal honesty – you are so right! I loathe accounting and record-keeping, so I handball this to a bookkeeper for a few hours a week. Of course, I check over it each month, but I no longer get bogged down in the boring stuff. This frees me up with more time to write and create.

    Great tips in this article. Cheers!

  16. As an option you can just run your business with a fiew people (like friends or something) that can do those things: accounting, design, coding, etc. It works.

  17. Only a fool would ignore his clients, whether they were great ones are just run-of-the-mill ones.

  18. Is someone suggesting that clients should be ignored?

  19. Sean,

    Let me compliment you for contributing such a wonderful post on this fab blog. I really enjoyed reading it.
    I would like to take this opportunity to raise several isues here. These issues need to be discussed at length.

    First, what you have just described is called “the art of delegation” in business parlance. Focus on your core competencies and outsource the rest. That is a great idea, but it may not always work out for you. Finding your core competency is one thing, but it is equally important to be an all-rounder. That is, you need to be able to have a cluster of skills. The role of the generalist is truly valuable in this information age.

    Second, you can learn these new skills at your own time and pace. Maybe you can set aside some time on the weekends. For example, students often learn that cooking is a great skill to have when you are living on your own and away from home. Cooking is a key skill and it is not a waste of time. You can build on those skills without sacrificing your core competencies. You don’t have to become a “Renaissance Man” on company time, but only on your own time.

    Third, focussing on a narrow area of specialization can quickly turn old. It is better to diversify your portfolio. For example, learning how to type and use a computer helped me as a writer. Previously, I used to outsource that work, but now I can do it on my own. It is not always wise to outsource what you don’t know. You can always learn new skills and it will help you in the long run. If the issue is time management, you can learn those new skills in your free time. It does not have to be an all or nothing proposition. I did not allow the pressure to get to me when I learned new skills. You can pace yourself and schedule your time in a relevant and appropriate way. For example, get the “value added” and “top priority” activities out of the way first thing in the morning or late at night when people are still asleep in their beds.

    Finally, several gurus in the personal growth and professional development sectors have pointed out the importance of scheduling an hour every day. This hour is quiet time for reflection and analysis. It helps to jot down and maintain a list of activities and a calendar. Thinking for one hour every day can help you focus. You can also use that hour to go for a casual stroll. Later, you can meditate or practice yoga for some time, drink a hot beverage and wind down. When we schedule that hour, it helps to keep the discipline. And then the subconscious mind can perform its miracles.

    It was great to read your post. It helped me to think about things I had lost sight of. Please keep up the great work.

    Cheers.

  20. That’s so true. I’ve often ignored my most loyal client just because some other higher paying gigs came my way. Big mistake! Thanks for this post.