Make money writing seems to be an all-too-common promise these days. But not all freelancers are writers, and not all small business owners are bloggers. Still, there’s no doubt that things like, building a blog and writing updates on social media, lead to more traffic and more sales.
Whether you’re trying to build a client-based business, or growing your own brand of products and services, getting started as a freelance writer is an important foundation for everyone — no matter what career field, niche, or passion.
That’s how I got my start four years ago when I launched this blog, and that’s how countless other solopreneurs have been able to quit their full-time jobs and become their own boss.
Thankfully being a writer or blogger can also mean publishing podcasts or videos, so don’t think you only have to choose one platform to express yourself. And yet, writing is still at the core of an online business, there’s no denying that.
This is a philosophy that Sarah Greesonbach shares as well, and teaches this perspective in her new book, The Sweet Spot: How to Build a Freelance Business That Makes Life Sweeter.
She details exactly how she went from starting a brand new freelance business, to making five figures in her first year, while only spending 10-15 hours a week working. I’m telling you this because I want you to know that it is possible to make a good living without doing soul-crushing projects, or becoming a workaholic.
If you’re interested in replacing your day job’s income and pursuing a full-time freelance career, here’s how to do it successfully.
Don’t worry about scaling
If you’re like me, you don’t want to be the richest, most successful person on the planet, you just want to make a decent living and provide for your family. Not everyone seeks fame, recognition, or riches, some of us just want to change lives and be the breadwinner.
Or perhaps you DO want to scale but you’re in the beginning stages and just aren’t ready, or don’t know how. Either way, don’t worry about scaling right now. Focus on building a solid foundation for your freelance business, otherwise you’ll grow too big too fast and end up folding under the pressure (either through financial ruin or physical stress).
“It’s easy to get excited about opportunities and jump on all of the potential right away,” explains Sarah. “But sometimes that can blow up in your face. When you divide your efforts, you divide your power to make a difference. That goes for life and for business! The first thing I’d advise is to figure out your ultimate business goal and make decisions accordingly,” she warns.
Sarah’s advice is spot on! What do you want your business to look like and how do you plan to make money writing (in whatever form that takes)?
“If passive income is your goal, get into ebooks and courses and things that can help you grow your income in this particular way,” says Sarah. “However, if you want to work with people and be known for your personal service, put your time into developing that craft rather than a series of products.”
In other words, find one direction and go with it. You can always change your direction later (hello, it’s called pivoting!). You may even change your mind next week, and that’s okay.
“But you should do so with a very clear goal of bolstering and building a platform you want to stand on in the end,” explains Sarah.
Build systems and processes
No one is a bigger advocate for building a system and outsourcing work than I am. When done right, you ensure that contractors and team members perform tasks exactly how you want and to your standards.
You may not think this is an important step in the beginning but if you’re already in the habit of creating a detailed process for each function now, once you’re ready to grow you’ll be more than prepared to take on the additional stress and work.
“You’ve got to know your strengths and know your weaknesses and adjust accordingly or you’ll drown in the hustle of it all,” says Sarah.
“I’m very type-A and organized,” she explains, “so I very quickly looked for systems I can use to outsource my brain power (to calendars and tables, etc). However, someone more creative might not be able to do that naturally. If you really want something, find people who can do what you aren’t good at and ask them for help (and/or barter for services!),” says Sarah.
Marcus Aurelius sums it up nicely:
Because your own strength is unequal to the task, do not assume that it is beyond the powers of man; but if anything is within the powers and province of man, believe that it is within your own compass also.
Ask your network for referrals
We all know the importance of nurturing your personal network and reaching out to clients and customers on a regular basis. But in addition to this, it’s also smart to reach out to your network regularly and ask for referrals.
This is probably the most effective, but commonly-overlooked tip in the online business space. Reach out to your colleagues and clients, and ask for referrals. It’s that simple!
“Not only are referrals more likely to convert to real business but they also naturally guide your work towards like-minded and likable people,” says Sarah. Like begets like. The people who refer to you love working with you and their friends love them. Their friends are then more likely to love you from the start without that awkward ramp up time in which you have to prove yourself,” explains Sarah.
Another way to get high quality referrals is by doing free work. But you have to be strategic with this tip and be able to transition this free work into paying gigs and other referral opportunities.
“Be very, very careful with free work. I have done it (and I still do it as a barter system) but only for very particular opportunities,” says Sarah. “Make sure it:
- Will lead to more work from referrals,
- Is work you would die to have in your portfolio, and
- Has a very specific scope and time period.
The last thing you want is to grow your business but then be tied to vague commitments you made to someone else for free work,” warns Sarah.
Compete on value not price
While I was reading through The Sweet Spot, one of the best insights I came across was that freelancers and other business owners should stop competing on price and instead compete on value. I’ve talked about this a lot before on the blog, but I rarely hear it from an outside source.
Submitting inquiries via job boards, and on sites like Upwork (formerly Odesk and Elance), where you’re undercutting the prices of other contractors won’t lead to five figures. You have to find your value proposition and stand firm in what you offer. There will be clients who can pay your rates — I promise (and I’ve proven it)!
One of the best resources for understanding your value is, FreshBook’s free ebook Breaking the Time Barrier. Sarah also recommended this when I interviewed her. “It’s so compelling and even though I didn’t jump in right away, I eventually came to live out this model and it has revolutionized the value of my time,” she explains.
“If you charge hourly, you’re replacing your day job hustle for a self-employed hustle. It’s still hustle, it’s still short-term, and it’s still very full-time-job-focused. If you charge by value, you’re capitalizing on the value of what you do,” says Sarah.
“In my industry, a one-page marketing ad might only take a few hours to create,” says Sarah. “If I charge hourly, even at $100 per hour, that nets me $200. But what happens when that ad brings in $100,000 of business for your client? They go to the bank and retire — and you start the next gig hoping to pay your bills next month,” she says.
That’s the difference between knowing your value and your worth, versus throwing out a number and begging clients to pay your rates.
Earn five figures in your first freelancing year
In her book, The Sweet Spot, Sarah shares the exact templates and tips she used to make over $59,000 in her first year. She even includes a screenshot of her income and expenses, as well as breaks down where all of her income came from (a good portion of which did not come from freelance writing).
Both Sarah and I share the belief that freelance work is abundant. There is plenty for everyone. You don’t have to continue working for peanuts and only barely scrape by in order to pay the bills.
Sarah asks and important question; “What would you do if you knew you wouldn’t fail? Do it. Failure and fear are mindsets that have been bred into us since we first started paying attention to other people in our life,” she says.
“We fear change, we fear risk, we worry that our decisions aren’t good ones, and we especially worry that if a company isn’t giving us a paycheck we won’t get one. But work with the assumption that failure is not an option (and that any company could lay you off at any moment!) and you’ll be amazed at what you can do!”
“An attitude of plenty and of success, gives you a basic sense of peace and power that will in turn help you make better and better decisions,” says Sarah.
Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts with us, Sarah! If you want to learn more about how to make money writing and earn five figures this year, check out Sarah’s new ebook. It’s only $19!
Got questions for myself or Sarah? Leave a comment and we’ll answer it.