How to Grow Your Freelance Writing Business by Working Less

How to Grow Your Freelance Writing Business by Working Less

Reader Comments (37)

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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?

  5. 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.

  6. 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!

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. This piece makes me feel a lot better about not being a good coder. ๐Ÿ™‚ 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.”

  13. 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.

  14. 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!

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

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