Summary of “Secrets of the Freelance Writer ” by Robert W. Bly : This classic book provides a comprehensive guide from A to Z on how to make a comfortable living as a freelance writer!
By Robert W. Bly, 2006 (4th edition), 385 pages.
Review and Summary of “Secrets of a Freelance Writer” by Robert W. Bly
Robert W. Bly: a best-selling American copywriter
With over 30 years of experience in the business, Robert W. Bly has a proven track record.As an American copywriter specializing in marketing and business-to-business (B2B), he has built a solid reputation and a wealth of experience. He has even taught copywriting at New York University.
This book isn’t the only one he’s written: other works include The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Direct Marketing, and Internet Direct Mail: The Complete Guide to Successful E-Mail Marketing Campaigns. However, it was this book in particular that put him on the map as a writer, even in the French-speaking world.
Preface to “Secrets of a Freelance Writer”
The purpose of the book is made abundantly clear in the very first sentence of the preface:
[This book was written to help you make a lot of money as a freelance writer.] (Secrets of a Freelance Writer, p. xv)
The book is specifically aimed at those who:
- Are already professional writers, but are struggling to make a living from it;
- Are just starting out as freelance writers;
- Are employed by a company as a writer and would like to leave their job to become self-employed;
- Already have an income but would like to supplement it;
- Have an interest in writing but may never have written for money and are considering a career change.
The first thing that should be pointed out is that the writing profession is in a state of flux (especially so at the time Robert W. Bly wrote this preface, i.e. 2006). The bad news is that competition has become fiercer, deadlines shorter and shorter, IT skills more demanding, and so on.
But there’s good news too:
- The demand for freelance writers has exploded in recent years;
- Anyone who wants to earn more will certainly be able to do so;
- The Internet is the new niche to invest in;
- Companies are increasingly outsourcing their editorial production (hence increased demand);
- Once you’ve mastered the technology, you’ll be more productive.
So, if you’re drawn to the experience of freelance living and writing – in all its forms – and is something you enjoy, why not give it a try ? Robert W. Bly’s book will provide you with a host of good ideas for developing your business from the ground up. It is all broken down into 17 key points!
1.1. Is there a six-figure income in your future?
Robert W. Bly doesn’t think it’s all that complicated. For him, neither genius nor even absolute excellence is indispensable. It’s true that you have to do your job well and be reasonably intelligent, but that’s well within the reach of most of us.
It comes down to three essentials:
- Humility yet pride in one’s work. It may not be literature, but there’s joy and dignity in business writing.
- Dedication, because you’re going to spend time writing, and if you don’t put any enthusiasm into the task, it will show in your writing (and therefore in your income).
- A business-oriented approach, in other words, a taste for business and sales, because prospect research and managing a portfolio of clients are all part and parcel of the profession.
1.2. The ugly truth about “traditional” freelance writing
First-time freelance writers often think they’ll make a living by writing books and articles (either as part of a literary career, in journalism, or even web journalism). However, the truth is that this type of activity pays very little, or at least requires a great deal of effort before it is profitable.
What’s more, many writers tend to fall too quickly into a poverty mentality.
[The first step to making a lot of money as a freelance writer is to avoid the “poverty mentality” that so many writers have. That is, the belief that (a) freelance writers actually make very little money ; (b) they deserve to make little ; (c) it’s impossible to make good money as a freelance writer unless you hit it big with a bestseller or a movie script ; and (d) therefore, you won’t make much money as a freelance writer.] (Secrets of a Freelance Writer, p. 4)
On the contrary, Robert W. Bly urges the novice writer to have self-confidence and consider that he or she can and deserves to make a good living from writing. To illustrate this, he gives a few examples from the United States.
1.3. A new type of freelance: high-profit writing
This way of making a living from writing involves corporate writing, i.e., writing for small and large companies. So stop looking to magazines, newspapers, and novel publishers. Instead of the term corporate writing (or copywriting), the author prefersthe term high-profit writing. Here’s how he defines it: [High-profit writing is work done for a client who will use your text for business purposes. Writing can be used to motivate, educate, inform, or persuade. Most commercial writing is created to sell or help someone sell a product or service.] (Secrets of a Freelance Writer, p. 5)
Many types of writing are involved (see Chapter 4)! And many institutions can call on you too (in fact, your clients are not necessarily limited to companies in the strict sense of the term – see Chapter 6 for more details).
1.4. The pros and cons of freelance commercial writing
Here are the advantages highlighted by Robert W. Bly:
- You earn more money than with traditional writing;
- Commercial writing has a bright future ahead of it;
- There is a wide variety of content to write;
- There is strong demand from both large and small businesses;
- The level of professionalism is consistently high, and the client-writer relationship is often first-rate;
- Invoices are rarely, if at all, overdue;
- You are given ideas for writing;
- You enjoy the new dignity of being a writer, alongside the money;
- You do not have to depend on others, you are in a position to go out and find people to work with on your own.
Here are some disadvantages that the author points out:
- You don’t get a byline, so you’re not the acknowledged author of the texts, but the client (most of the time) is;
- The commercial style of writing can bore those with literary ambitions;
- The ideas don’t come from you, they come from the company (your creativity comes mainly in the formatting of the text itself);
- The final form of the text depends on the company;
- Payments may take a while to arrive, but they do;
- There may be conflicts between a client and a writer over the work or the text itself;
- When work piles up, it can be stressful;
- You’re a jack-of-all-trades in your own business – you work mostly alone and are on all fronts;
- The work is sedentary, which can lead to health concerns that should not be ignored.
2. Tips for Beginners: Getting Started
2.1. Will clients hire novice freelance writers?
Clients are very diverse (in their demands, expectations, perceptions, etc.). So it’s entirely possible that, even without any experience, you’ll manage to land a few contracts. Here are a few things Robert W. Bly has learned from his own experience:
- A third of clients are interested in reliability, ability, budget, and deadlines – even before they look at your portfolio, which they do routinely request. If you can convince them of the above, you’ve already won;
- A client who endlessly asks for samples of your texts is not actually looking for a genuine writer, but for content they can copy (you’ll also find a good third who do this);
- Another third of clients know who you are because they’ve heard good things about you from other people (friends, family, acquaintances, etc.). This makes it easy to get hired.
At first, you might only be hired by companies with small budgets, but that’s a start! There are plenty of companies out there to help get your foot in the door.
2.2. You may not be as inexperienced as you think
You may also be unknowingly devaluing your experience. Are you positive that you have never actually written before? Sure, you probably weren’t a professional writer, but what did you do? Many jobs involve writing texts. You may have had to write:
- Business letters;
- Reports, memos, emails, etc.;
- Published or unpublished articles, etc.
Do not ignore this type of experience; make it known and put it to good use. Just one more piece of advice from the author:
[The one thing I definitely wouldn’t show to a commercial client is unpublished short stories, novels, plays, or poems.] (Secrets of a Freelance Writer, p. 18)
2.3. If you have no experience, go out and get some
How do you go about it? You have several options:
- Work as a volunteer for NGOs (writing newsletters, for example);
- Collaborate with others in your community or neighborhood associations;
- Write articles for trade journals related to your area of expertise (and which can introduce you to potential clients);
- Offer to help your friends who have small businesses.
You can also retype work you’ve done for yourself or on the job. Do this properly and tell your client what type of text it is, if they ask. You can also have fun reworking existing texts (or advertisements) to improve them and show them to prospects.
2.4. Building your portfolio
You can now start assembling all the texts you’ve written over the course of your career (before and after your career move). In fact, you probably won’t need many samples, just the most significant ones.
When someone asks you for samples, most of the time you’ll be able to send your three or four most relevant texts. If they are already familiar with you, they might not even ask!
Nevertheless, it’s important to build your portfolio, just in case. If you are a complete beginner, refer to the previous point.
2.5. How to find your first client?
Robert W. Bly’s advice is simple:
[By all means, concentrate your initial sales efforts in areas in which you have a strong interest, aptitude, connections, or some prior experience. For a beginning writer, this is the best place to start. After all, if you have a strong interest, you’ll be more enthusiastic, and when it shows up in your writing (as it invariably will), the client will take notice and appreciate it.] (Secrets of a Freelance Writer, p. 22)
However, don’t be too restrictive either: for example, if you’ve worked (or have an interest) in the field of health and in particular cancer, avoid being too specific and just mention health-related themes.
2.6. How to respond to a prospect who asks: “Who are your clients?”
Use the subtleties of language to say what you’ve done in the past: you have to tell the truth, but you can nevertheless extend the concept of “client” to all the experiences you’ve had in the past.
Have you written an article as a volunteer ? Say where or for whom. In short: don’t lie, but don’t dismiss any of your experience either!
2.7. Get some high-profile names on your client list as soon as you can
It’s true that impressive names attract attention. As soon as you’ve got a bit of experience under your belt, try to approach some of the big names in your field (or beyond). Even if the work you do there isn’t on a grand scale, include that prominent name in your list of clients/experience.
2.8. Should you work for a client for free?
Sometimes you can write while offering to charge if and only if the client is satisfied. This can be a way of building trust and securing a first contract. Prospects ask for this from time to time.
If you don’t like that idea, you can ask for a “kill fee“: in the event of rejection, you’ll still pocket 10% (for example) of the total price of the text. If the client doesn’t agree, walk away.
This must not become a habit, especially if you’re starting to build up a reputation worth flaunting.
2.9. Creating your first marketing materials: specific considerations for beginners
A beginning writer won’t provide the same details as an experienced writer (who will be able to highlight all his/her experience, clients, achievements, etc.). For commercial visibility, focus on:
- Who you are;
- Your credentials (everything about your work prior to switching careers, for example);
- Your capabilities;
- The services you provide;
- The types of projects you can handle;
- Your clients (or experience);
- The benefits of working with you;
- Your added value compared to the competition;
- Your self-confidence.
2.10. Putting your best foot forward
You don’t have to explicitly say you’re a beginner! Instead, be willing to affirm your previous experience. Project confidence and self-respect.
2.11. Characteristics of a successful home-based entrepreneur
To be a freelance writer, you need to be able to enjoy solitude. Generally speaking, freelancers:
- Like to work alone from home;
- Are motivated by money;
- Are not interested in business details ;
- Do not want to supervise others.
2.12. Building a nest egg before taking the plunge
If you’re lucky enough to be able to save, do so to ensure your financial security in the first few months of business. Robert W. Bly suggests having between 6 and 12 months’ income saved up before starting.
3. Setting Up Your Freelance Writing Business
3.1. The nine most common reasons clients hire freelance commercial writers
To know how to act and succeed in working with clients, you need to understand the potential reasons why they hire you. Here’s a non-exhaustive list to give you an idea.
- Overworked: your client’s team of writers can’t handle any more work.
- Understaffed: the company can’t find anyone in-house to do the job immediately.
- Quality: the job would be better done by a freelancer, especially one with specialized skills.
- Results: the copywriter’s work can be monitored and measured more easily.
- Fresh perspective: an independent freelancer can provide expertise and an original point of view.
- Inability: quite simply, the company is unable to carry out the work on its own.
- Dissatisfaction: you’re replacing other freelancers or the in-house team, deemed inadequate.
- Price: you offer to do the job cheaper than if it had to be done in-house.
- Flexibility: the company needs someone right away, and you readily accept the conditions.
Even a surgeon has his first time operating on a trusting patient, so why shouldn’t you be able to find your first client?
3.2. Should you be a specialist or a generalist?
[My experience is that specialists are almost always better paid and more in demand than generalists. The reason has to do with the nature of the freelance business. When companies hire a writer, they don’t really care that much about his or her training or specialty, because they can always train him or her in their way of writing as part of the team. Above all, they’re looking for creativity and talent. But when companies or advertising agencies need a freelance writer, it’s for a specific project. They don’t want to have to train him or her… They want a writer who can immediately step in, pick up the slack and do the job on his or her own, unsupervised – quickly, correctly, and competently.] (Secrets of a Freelance Writer, p. 39)
There are two kinds of specialties: by industry or by type of writing. So you can specialize in information and communication technologies, healthcare, tourism, financial writing, etc., or focus on emails, newsletters, community management, corporate reports, press releases, and so on.
Of course, if you don’t yet have a specialty (no previous training or professional experience), it’s perfectly acceptable to start out as a generalist and slowly work your way up. Some areas and content will interest you more than others.
Furthermore, it is not advisable to systematically reject opportunities that may arise, even if they are outside your field of expertise. Diversifying your portfolio can bring a whole new dimension to your work and help expand the boundaries of your creativity.
3.3. Building your portfolio and samples file
Keep your texts, classifying them by specialty. Send the most relevant to the client (by industry or type of text). Gradually build up a library of samples that you can select at any time.
Today, a digital version of your portfolio is all you need. If – by any chance – you’re asked for written documents, send copies, as you’ll probably never see them again.
3.4. Setting up your office
[Over 90 percent of the freelance writers I know work from home. They do it for obvious reasons: when you work from home, you don’t pay office rent, you have a commute of less than 60 seconds and your work is always at hand, whenever you feel like doing it.] (Secrets of a Freelance Writer, p. 47)
However, it can be a good idea to work outside the home. That’s what Robert W. Bly prefers to do. Why? Because he’s away from all possible distractions: children, housework, TV, and so on. This forces him to focus on his work and enables him to be organized.
So, a word of advice: if you want to work effectively from home, make sure you have a distraction-free office with all the electronic equipment you need, where you can work comfortably and in a completely professional manner.
It goes without saying: these days, you cannot work without a computer. It is your most important tool, and your work effectively depends on it. Make sure you get the best you can afford because you certainly don’t want to end up having to replace it in a few months’ time.
You want a high-performance device in terms of memory, processor, hard drive, etc. Don’t forget the accessories: printer, scanner, fax (probably less useful today). And of course, you should also consider carefully when choosing your word processing software and Internet access provider.
3.6. Creating a reference library
Depending on your specialty, build up a library of books and online resources so you can work more efficiently with all the necessary or useful information at your fingertips. Make sure it’s up to date (especially in certain specialties such as law or health).
If you work across several fields or sub-specialties, organize your library so that you have easy access to all your data. Also, keep on hand any content that you have already written for clients, as well as any information that comes from their companies (brochures, etc.).
4. Tasks of the Freelance Commercial Writer
Here are the tasks you might have to perform as a freelance commercial writer. The figures provided by Robert W. Bly relate to the USA and are therefore not very relevant to the contemporary French-speaking world.
In any case, take the time to find out which types of writing are best suited to you, and find out how much you could earn doing such work.
- Advertising: write advertising texts.
- Advertorials: an advertising article (longer than a simple advertisement).
- Annual reports: a demonstration of a company’s achievements over one year.
- Books: either to advertise a company or a celebrity.
- Booklets: shorter, they outline the benefits of a product or service.
- Brochures: the typical flyer you find in any store or hotel, for example.
- Business plans: the detailed blueprint for a business in the making.
- Success stories: write down the success story of a product or service.
- Catalogs: details of a company’s products.
- Commercial e-mails: to attract new clients, for example.
- Television commercials.
- Packaging for products found in retail outlets.
- Sales pages for websites.
- Manuals: technical information for products or services.
- Multimedia presentations: conferences, PowerPoint, etc.
The list goes on and on! In fact, it’s getting longer by the day. Old-school writer Robert W. Bly doesn’t mention it, but today’s professional writers can write scripts for podcasts or YouTube videos, subtitles, and the like. This, of course (the author cites it at the end of his list), includes content for websites! Freelance web writing has a bright future ahead of it.
5. Setting Your Fees
5.1. Flat-rate or hourly rates
Many writers offer flat-rate rates, even though at first glance this seems less advantageous for them. In fact, they are the ones who assume the risk of working overtime, and therefore of losing money.
However, a savvy writer knows what the client is willing to pay for a service (for example, writing a brochure), and how much time it will take.
As a result, he/she can adjust the price without having to disclose the hourly rate (which the client might not accept) or the time it will take to complete the task. For these reasons, flat rates are preferable.
[People understand that a single price is tied to a single product, which is one of the most common ways in the world to sell something.] (Secrets of a Freelance Writer, p. 77)
5.2. When does an hourly rate make sense?
Sometimes it does indeed make sense. Under what circumstances? Here is an indicative list.
- You’re the acknowledged expert in your profession: you can charge whatever you like.
- You can’t properly estimate the time required, so it’s best to err on the side of caution.
- A project that’s too small (editing, proofreading a page, etc.): the client will probably prefer an hourly rate.
- Non-writing tasks: in this case, you can propose an hourly rate that seems appropriate according to your skills.
5.3. Determining your hourly rate
[Everyone should have an hourly rate. Writers who get paid by the hour need to establish what they’re going to charge their clients. However, even writers who charge by project still require an hourly rate. If you charge by project, your project estimate will be based on multiplying the number of hours the job will take you by the hourly rate you want to earn.] (Secrets of a Freelance Writer, p. 79)
Robert W. Bly suggests a calculation based on your hourly wage, if it’s relatively similar to what you’ll be doing as a freelancer. In this case, you divide your annual salary by 2 ,080. To obtain a minimum hourly rate as a freelancer, you need to multiply the result of this first calculation by at least 2.5 (to take expenses into account). This will give you a starting point: the minimum acceptable hourly rate for any job.
Then look at what the competition is offering, and assess your own level of expertise (are you a beginner or not, etc.). In addition, pay close attention to your clients’ feedback; these various indicators will help you to adjust your hourly rate and decide on the price of your services.
5.4. How to set your project fees
Follow much the same logic: learn from your competitors/colleagues. See if this corresponds to the calculation you made based on your hourly rate. Don’t forget to estimate the whole project, not just the writing, that is to say, the research, editing, writing, and proofreading.
5.5. Four factors that affect pricing
In summary, what are the main factors to bear in mind when deciding on your fees?
- Your status: be honest about where you are in the business (inexperienced, novice, experienced, etc.).
- The going rate for the type of service: what clients are generally willing to pay.
- Competitors’ prices: what do your colleagues charge?
- Financial need: do you need (or want) to get into the business?
If you don’t particularly want to work in a certain field or on a certain type of product, or if you’re already overworked and financially comfortable, don’t hesitate to charge more. In fact, it’s a natural way of sorting things out and discarding less interesting projects without regret.
Also, as a beginner, learn not to underestimate yourself too much. You may be surprised at what clients are willing to pay!
5.6. Terms and conditions
It’s essential to send such a document, at least once you’ve agreed on the price. So, it is up to you to decide how you want to be paid, how much proofreading you are willing to do, etc., but also what you promise your client, and include all of it as part of the price.
It is imperative that you make it all clear as to avoid conflicts and wasted time. Therefore, while it may not always be easy to put to the client, it is necessary to do so. As a vendor, you are responsible.
5.7. Presenting your rate structure to your potential clients
[Once I’ve decided whether I want to work with a potential client, the next step is to tell them that I’ll send them detailed information about my services. The material I send includes a one-page fee schedule and my general terms of business. I also keep a PDF of my fee schedule, which I can send to the client if they want to see it right away.] (Secrets of a Freelance Writer, p. 91)
You have some leeway on your fee schedule if you indicate a price range rather than a single price. This will allow you to calculate the price of each specific project within this range, to reflect the difficulty of the work involved. In this way, you can present your fee schedule as a basis for estimating the cost of the service.
5.8. Quotations and fee negotiations
Remain flexible, despite your fee schedule. Think carefully about the value the assignment brings to our career, and whether it makes financial sense. Consider, for example, offering discounts if you want to secure a project. Above all, resist the temptation to undercharge, especially when you’re just starting out.
5.9. Should you extend credit?
This is a common practice among freelancers since you are paid after the work has been completed. You can ask for part of the payment in advance (for example, by offering solutions via PayPal or credit card). In all cases, you run the risk of not being paid in full.
To minimize this risk, the best protection is to have a document stating clearly your terms and conditions, signed by the client.
6. Finding Your Markets
6.1. Large corporations
These are the biggest employers of commercial writers: banks, insurance companies, textile firms, or any other type of organization. They have a constant need to communicate both externally (advertising, for example) and internally (internal reports, memos, etc.).
For larger companies, you’ll want to contact the head of advertising or the head of public relations, for example, as a matter of priority.
6.2. Small businesses
For medium-sized and small companies, you can contact the owner or managing director directly, or the marketing manager if appropriate.
Smaller companies generally have a smaller budget, but the challenge may also be more interesting, and you’ll be in more direct contact with the company’s project. As a result, their managers may ask you to multitask.
6.3. Advertising agencies
Freelancers are often asked to write TV commercials, brochures, etc. Here too, there are both large and small entities. Smaller agencies are likely to pay you later, as they wait to be paid by their clients and have no cash flow.
What are the differences between working for a direct client and an advertising agency? Robert W. Bly shares a few observations made from his own experience:
- More pressure to meet deadlines;
- More back-and-forth (proofreading, etc.);
- More variety in assignments;
- Lower pay (but client contact);
- Your work is fully integrated and better presented (design, etc.).
6.4. Other potential clients
Here’s a list of other potential clients to look out for when you start out as a freelance commercial writer (online or offline).
- Public relations firms
- Multimedia producers, audiovisual agencies
- Graphic design studios
- Government agencies
- Non-profit organizations
- Online freelance sites
- And we could add to this list professional bloggers and other web entrepreneurs, whom Robert W. Bly doesn’t mention!
Depending on the country or region in which you operate, you can spot interesting prospects and – if you go about it the right way – start driving business!
7. Prospecting: Generating Sales Leads
This is probably the most old-school strategy (unless you go knocking on every prospect’s door!).
[When you cold-call a prospect, don’t give them a sales pitch. Instead, ask them a series of questions that will qualify them as decision-makers, and set up the next steps in the sales process. That’s how it works.] (Secrets of a Freelance Writer, p. 113)
Ask satisfied clients to leave you a testimonial. You can use these in future communications. You can start by writing a quick letter to the client, asking if he or she appreciated the service and if everything was satisfactory. If they respond positively, you can ask them if you can use this testimonial in future advertising.
7.3. Personal letters
In the age of the Internet, this method is now outdated (see section 7.7.).
You can invest in advertising in specialized magazines or newspapers related to your field of expertise (if you have one). A particularly popular technique today is to pay to appear at the top of search engine results (such as Google): this is called SEA (search engine advertising).
This is also one of the oldest – and even more ancient – ways of advertising: word-of-mouth and interpersonal networking. You know someone who knows someone who… and just like that, you have landed a new assignment!
In recent years, Facebook has extended this networking system.
7.6. Premium benefits
Offer a gift to your prospects and clients.
[The purpose of giving premiums is twofold: first, to create goodwill by giving someone a gift, regardless of the price tag; second, to serve as a constant reminder of you and your services.] (Secrets of a Freelance Writer, p. 129)
7.7. Dedicated hotline
You provide free information about your services to prospects and clients. This brings them to you if they have a question and may prompt them – if the answer provided is to their liking – to hire you.
7.8. Sales brochures
Another marketing classic.
7.9. Keeping track of prospects
Create a file with as much information as possible about prospects who have contacted you and asked for information. You can use software to keep track of this data and follow up with them.
7.10. Online discussion groups and forums
You can use forums to make yourself known by offering quality information and answering questions from people who come to you to find an answer to a question.
7.11. Email marketing
Let prospects (on your list) know from time to time that you’re still thinking about them. In addition, you can create a newsletter that includes important information about your services. Want to find out more ? Go to Chapter 10!
Today, this is one of the most appealing forms of presentation for a professional writer. More on this in Chapter 9!
7.13. Think outside the box
[If you’re inspired and have a great idea, test it out! Too often, we save ideas for later, then lose interest or enthusiasm. Try something new once in a while if it can be tested at a reasonable cost.] (Secrets of a Freelance Writer, p. 141)
8. Self-promotion: Building Your Reputation and Visibility
There are other ways to gain visibility. These are more gentle ways that don’t directly emphasize the promotional side but do help you build a reputation and therefore a larger portfolio of clients.
You can write about a subject you know well, for example in a magazine specialized in your field of expertise, which potential clients will read.
8.2. Open letter or reply
You can also respond to an article published in one of these magazines, giving you a platform to express your opinion and demonstrate your know-how.
8.3. Lectures and public speaking
Another solution is to become a speaker. Many authors use this medium to communicate and share their knowledge, while establishing themselves as experts in their field.
This can go hand in hand with the previous one. By demonstrating that you know how to teach students, for example at a university level, you’re implicitly showing that you know what you’re talking about, and that institutions trust you.
Another of Robert W. Bly’s proposals concerns seminars. Today, there are many seminars promoted on LinkedIn or other social networks. These usually involve freelancers getting together and discussing a theme at the crossroads of their disciplines, preferred topics, etc. Thanks to YouTube and other video distribution platforms, this type of content is becoming increasingly easy to publish.
8.6. Free booklet
Offer your prospects a book: we discussed this point in the previous chapter. Don’t promote yourself ; just reveal interesting information that others can use (your colleagues, clients, etc.). Sharing is one of the keys to gaining recognition. In this age of blogs and websites, consider offering an e-book to those who make it to your home page!
[Regularly sent, self-published newsletters are a powerful way to build your reputation and name awareness with a select audience (the people receiving your newsletter) over an extended period of time.] (Secrets of a Freelance Writer, p. 157)
Thanks to the internet, you can now easily send such letters, on a regular basis, without having to print and post them.
9. Creating a Website for Your Freelance Writing Business
9.1. 7 steps to creating an effective website
Here are the most important things to remember when you decide to create a professional website:
- Register a domain name: use your own name rather than something generic.
- Design the site to address the needs and interests of your prospects: convincing is the goal.
- Organize the site so that information is easy to find: you don’t want to lose your potential client in the maze of a poorly designed site.
- Ask yourself what a client might ask you before committing, and make it available on your website: create tabs for each type of client, for example.
- Make your portfolio the most prominent aspect of your site: with tabs for different types of text, for example.
- If you’ve written articles, let visitors read and download them: for transparency and added value!
- Have a page with images and descriptions of the books you’ve written: if that’s the case, of course.
9.2. Main sections of your website
Here, according to Robert W. Bly, are the key features to include within your professional website:
- A home page;
- A registration form (for your newsletter);
- A confidentiality agreement (stipulating that you do not share the email addresses with other companies);
- A description of your services;
- A short biography;
- A list of your clients;
- Testimonials ;
- Articles or books;
- A contact form;
- External links.
9.3. Getting your website up and running
Below are the main steps to follow (you can get help here) to get your website up and running:
- Register the domain name;
- Create the site architecture;
- Write the content;
- Create the site design;
- Make sure the site is properly hosted;
- Appoint a webmaster.
9.4. Should you have a blog on your website?
[How does a blog make money for you, the writer? By helping boost your visibility on the Internet. The hope is that some of the people reading your blog will be potential clients – and that what they read impresses them enough to convince them to hire you for a writing project.] (Secrets of a Freelance Writer, p. 177)
You can set up a professional blog relatively easily. Include an RSS feed to which people can subscribe in order to receive your new articles on a regular basis. Search engines like Google love blogs, and they’re good for SEO (search engine optimization), provided the articles are optimized.
Avoid being all over the place: your blog should have a specific theme and stick to it. Provide useful or up-to-the-minute information on your chosen topic. You can also collect interviews with colleagues or interesting people, etc., or give your informed opinion on a particular issue, etc.
10. Writing and Publishing Your Own E-zine
The e-zine is another name for your newsletter but may be a little longer than the latter. It’s all about self-promotion, while bringing information and added value to your prospects or existing clients. Every month, you send them an online magazine full of practical information!
10.1. Affiliate deals
The principle is simple: you share an advertisement from another brand on your own website or, as Robert W. Bly suggests here, in your e-zine. If one of your prospects or clients clicks on the link and follows through with the purchase, you receive a share of the sale proceeds (between 15% and 50%, depending on the brand).
The advantage is that it’s passive income (you don’t have to do anything or produce anything to earn it). Be careful, however, not to overdo it. Your subscribers will quickly let you know, either by complaining or by unsubscribing from your list. And that’s not what you want.
10.2. Writing and designing your e-zine
Here are the author’s tips for creating your e-zine:
- Use a text format rather than HTML, which is easier to handle;
- Schedule your publication once a month;
- Don’t overdo it: five or six articles, each with a reading time of one minute, is enough;
- Opt for the formula of 80% original content and 20% of plugs for products and services;
- Write about things within your specialty (as a writer or in a specific field);
- Ask feedback from your subscribers – they’ll be happy to help;
- Choose your email headline carefully;
- Vary your articles and their titles to create interest and diversity;
- Create a brief description of your e-zine’s content (one sentence) at the beginning of the text;
- Make it easy for your subscribers to unsubscribe should they choose to do so;
- Invite your subscribers to share the e-zine with their friends and acquaintances;
- Include a short presentation of yourself and your services.
10.3. What should you include in your e-zine?
Once again: information about your area of expertise. If you’re a web copywriter, talk about SEO and HTML, for example. If you specialize in tourism copywriting, find relevant information about both tourism and copywriting. What else ? Here’s another list, completely indicative, of what you may want to include in your e-zine:
- Replies/comments from your subscribers;
- Announcements of your upcoming conferences;
- Recent projects you have completed or participated in;
- Stores you recommend and resources you use;
- Websites that you like and that might be of interest to your subscribers;
- Book reviews relevant to your field of interest;
- News from your field;
- Personal publications (a new book or article recently released);
- Inspirational quotes.
11. Closing the Sale
There’s no one way to make a sale. Some prefer to meet, others prefer to email and then phone, or simply rely on their website and/or social media: it’s up to you.
However, a program of regular emails to prospects (with or without a phone call) is a good way to ensure that your prospects remember you.
Naturally, as a solo freelancer, you don’t necessarily have a lot of time to dedicate to this task. That being the case, Robert W. Bly provides three ways to make this follow-up more effective:
- Plan and schedule your e-mails and other approaches;
- If you don’t plan ahead, send updates to some of your prospects when you have exciting news to share (publication of a book, etc.);
- Ask your prospects and clients for permission to add their email address to your subscriber list to automate the follow-up process (they’ll receive your newsletter/e-zine every month).
11.2. Meeting with prospects
There are two approaches to managing business meetings: the conventional way, which focuses on the writer’s portfolio, and a different approach, the “consultative selling” approach. Bly considers the consultative approach to be superior. Why?
Because this approach focuses on the prospect’s needs, not the writer’s achievements. ”Tell me about your marketing problems,” the consultative writer will say. Then he or she will identify the problem, summarize it, and offer to help. Act like a consultant, not just merely a writer!
11.3. Drawing up a quote
Some projects are straightforward, and you can simply apply your own fee schedule. In other cases, when the project is more imprecise or more complex to cost, it may be a good idea to ask what the client’s budget is.
[If the available budget is too small and incommensurate with the required work, it saves me from having to draw up an estimate.] (Secrets of a Freelance Writer, p. 213)
Of course, you shouldn’t be too inflexible, especially if the project interests you for other reasons. In any case, don’t feel obliged to set a price as soon as the client has given you the go-ahead to work on the project. You can give them an estimate, but tell them that you need a little time to calculate the precise amount and draw up the quote.
11.4. Putting the agreement on paper
Write down the price, the deadline and all the other key information about the project and the working contract you will be entering into. This reassures both you and your client. A signed contract is the best way to work with peace of mind. Do the same with your terms and conditions; ask your customer to sign them.
11.5. What if the client says your prices are too high?
[Don’t be too quick to lower your prices the second the client balks, hesitates or complains that the prices are too high. If you reduce your prices to what the client wants, he or she will be led to think that the initial price was exaggerated and will challenge you on every subsequent price you propose. A better way to overcome resistance is to find out what the client is willing to spend, and offer a discounted service based on that budget.] (Secrets of a Freelance Writer, p. 215)
The more experience and clients you acquire, the less you’ll need to negotiate your prices. You’ll be able to make exceptions for a particular client at times, but the pressure won’t be as great as it is when you first start out. Never lose sight of the fact that you’re providing a professional service, and therefore are entitled to fair compensation.
12. Running Your Freelance Writing Business
12.1. Scheduling and completing the work
The question “how long will it take you?” is certainly the second most recurrent question after “ how much does it cost?”. In fact, it depends very much on your writing speed, as well as external factors that may come into play (do you need to conduct an interview to complete the project, or do you have another pressing matter to attend to before you begin?).
You can create a road map with likely deadlines for each type of assignment or set a fixed period (e.g. two weeks, whatever the job). Most importantly, do not miss any deadlines!
12.2. Handling urgent requests
This depends on your ability to handle stress. If you can’t stand the anxiety associated with urgency, refuse this type of proposal; if, on the contrary, it spurs you on, then why not?! Ideally, you should always allow yourself a little extra time to complete an assignment without worrying.
Never start a client relationship on the basis of urgency, as this will give the client the impression that they can always get urgent projects completed without exception. Only do this for clients with whom you have an established relationship, and even then, only occasionally.
12.3. Meeting deadlines
To avoid falling behind schedule and keep your clients happy, here are some tips from Robert W. Bly:
- Never take on more work than you can handle;
- Never overload your schedule (leave extra time);
- Keep a list of ongoing projects with their dates, visible near your desk/office;
- Do the same with an electronic or paper calendar;
- Set your deadlines for Monday or Tuesday (this leaves the weekend to work, just in case);
- Plan for the unexpected;
- Make arrangements with trustworthy colleagues in the event of a problem.
More often than not, the client either accepts the text as is, or the changes are minor and he/she prefers to do it himself/herself. However, if there is a disagreement about the text, you need to be able to revise your work if necessary. Of course, the more significant the changes, the longer it will take.
[Revising a text requires work on the part of the client, and the client needs to understand this. The writer cannot produce a satisfactory revision without the client explaining, in detail, what’s wrong with the text and what changes he/she wants.] (Secrets of a Freelance Writer, p. 224)
You can do this by numbering the lines of your text and asking, for each line, what the problem is. These days, you can also use document-sharing software to make comments directly online. Just make sure that comments are precise.
12.5. Building the client-writer relationship
[Your goal should be to win customers, not assignments. While it’s always good to get assignments, your income will grow more broadly when you build a stable relationship with regular clients who keep coming back to you again and again.] (Secrets of a Freelance Writer, p. 225)
Here is Robert W. Bly‘s advice for doing just that:
- Seek out clients who can bring you a steady stream of work;
- Do what it takes to keep these clients happy;
- Build a personal relationship with them;
- Send them gifts or thanks if they recommend you to others;
- Get involved in your clients’ activities;
- Send your clients copies of your most relevant articles;
- Cultivate relationships with as many people from your client’s company as possible;
- Never be discourteous, but remain patient and friendly;
- Remember that clients have the power to continue or end the relationship, for whatever reason (whether good or bad).
12.6. Managing your time
For a freelancer, every hour counts. So think carefully about your time management. Once again, the author offers plenty of good advice:
- Organize your office with everything you need close at hand;
- Keep files that concern current projects in close proximity;
- Consider getting secretarial help if you need it;
- Keep in mind that your money comes from the time you spend writing and creating your projects (eliminate unnecessary tasks);
- Group together errands and things to do outside the office at a specific time of day;
- Make good use of the software and technological tools that you require;
- Experiment, test and settle on a routine that works for you;
- Avoid accepting too many proposals for activities outside the office, so as not to be overwhelmed;
- Set priorities;
- Take breaks when you are tired;
- Use practical names for your documents and organize your files efficiently;
- Get enough rest and respect your body’s limitations;
- Make room for your personal life – your loved ones need you too.
12.7. Overcoming writer’s block
One way to overcome writer’s block is to recharge your batteries by working on different projects at the same time. The diversity of tasks prevents burnout and encourages the flow of ideas.
Often, anxiety stems from the idea that the work is too large or difficult to complete. You can also break it down into smaller tasks. In this case, create a weekly schedule (for example) for the project, with a daily time slot dedicated to each small task. Take it one step at a time.
If it’s a lack of knowledge that’s holding you back – for example, if you have to write about a subject that you know nothing about, or if it’s a new kind of text which you haven’t yet mastered – ask your colleagues for advice.
12.8. Invoicing the client for services rendered
Corporate clients, unlike magazines (which operate on a freelance basis), require invoices. You’ll need to create invoices with some essential information (this may vary from country to country, so ask around and inform yourself).
Be sure to send your invoice soon after the project has been completed. Make sure the client has given you all the relevant information and that they don’t have any special requirements that you may have overlooked.
12.9. Collecting outstanding invoices
Some clients pay later than others. Normally, you won’t have a problem, but if you do, here’s what you can do:
- Send a polite letter to the client requesting payment of the invoice;
- After two weeks, send another letter;
- If that still doesn’t work, try a phone call;
- If that works, send a certified letter laying out the information and the agreement made over the phone;
- If there is no response, send a final formal letter stating that legal action will be taken (e.g., send a formal notice).
13. How to Ensure Your Client’s Satisfaction?
Of course, your writing must be relevant. As such, you’ll need to gather the relevant information (related to the industry, the product or service, the company, the subject matter in general, etc.). Collect any material from your client that might prove useful (PowerPoint presentations, old brochures, etc.).
13.2. Ask questions
Feel free to make inquiries when you can’t find information in your client’s source materials. You may also want to draw up a list of questions to ask your client about the product and its potential buyers.
13.3. Should you submit an outline of the text?
You can propose a document in which you summarize and present how you are going to build the project and write the text. This document could include:
- A headline;
- A content overview;
- An exhaustive list of points covered;
- A call to action;
- A description of the text’s target market or intended audience.
13.4. Sometimes breaking the rules can pay off big
Certain well-established copywriting rules can sometimes be broken if by doing so it adds value to the text. Most of the time, it’s better to follow them , but professional copywriters are wordsmiths and may occasionally break such rules!
- Be concise: this is the rule of thumb (use it 90% of the time). But feel free, from time to time, to also add words that help accentuate the message and get your point across.
- Avoid jargon: it certainly makes communication easier. Sometimes you simply can’t do without it in order to convey a concept.
- Mention a benefit in the headline: this is customary and highly recommended. However, you can also choose to focus on another point (for example, targeting the audience you want to talk to).
- Use simple words: yes, always. Well… almost always. Sometimes using a complicated word can increase the prestige of what you’re selling.
- Use short sentences: a golden rule ! Well, again, not every time… If you are discussing complicated matters, you may have no choice.
- Avoid negative sentences: most of the time, you’ll do fine, but be creative and think about the situation you want to describe. Will you be more effective and convincing with a negative sentence?
- Don’t knock the competition: it’s a business rule that’s gone out the window these days, especially with competitive advertising.
- Get straight to the point: but what is exactly the point? Does the consumer-reader know what the problem is? Is it obvious? Think about it before you write.
13.5. Improving your writer productivity
[The faster you can write, and the more work you can turn in at an acceptable level of quality, the better you can earn a living. Furthermore, becoming a fast writer makes it easier to meet deadlines, which are getting shorter every year: today, everyone’s in a hurry, and everyone wants the work by yesterday. If you can accommodate short deadlines, you can potentially appeal to a substantial portion of the market that is keen on promptness.] (Secrets of a Freelance Writer, p. 250)
How can you simultaneously improve the quality and productivity of your writing? Here are some additional tricks of the trade from Robert W. Bly:
- Write during your peak energy hours (morning or evening, depending on the person).
- Set aside sufficiently long time slots without interruptions.
- Detail what you’re going to write.
- Before writing, work out the mechanical details (linked to your computer or word processor).
- Copy and paste certain sections of material from your clients to help you work on your text.
- Write the easy sections first.
- Save copies of your old projects on a hard disk (your old texts can always be used again).
- Think about the work you’ve done for other clients: could it come in handy?
14. Keeping Clients Satisfied
14.1. Do the best job you can
Increasing productivity does not mean sacrificing quality. You have to give your best, not only because it’s in your clients’ interests, but also in your own. Disappointing them is your worst nightmare. Above all, you want to keep them and build up a good reputation in the trade.
[If a job takes many more hours than originally anticipated, my advice is to take the time it takes to write the best copy you can. Don’t worry about profit. The client is concerned with the quality of your work, not with your profit or loss.] (Secrets of a Freelance Writer, p. 257)
14.2. Never miss a deadline
Reliability is as essential as quality. So do not miss deadlines! Here are a few more suggestions from Robert W. Bly for delivering work on time:
- Don’t take on a project if you know you won’t be able to meet the deadline;
- Don’t take on more projects than you can comfortably handle;
- Negotiate excessively short deadlines with clients;
- Do your research as quickly as possible;
- Arrange any interviews or meetings at an early stage in the project;
- Work evenings or weekends if necessary;
- Hire help with administrative or other tasks.
14.3. Give clients more than they expect
This doesn’t mean you have to give away your time or ideas! However, you can offer your clients things when it’s convenient or doesn’t take up too much extra time. Often, they’ll be appreciative, and they may even assign you additional projects.
Remember to maintain a writer-consultant mentality, not just that of a mere writer.
14.4. Make sure you offer the best possible client service
[Client satisfaction is not something you practice once a month and can let slide once things are going smoothly. It’s an attitude, a way of doing business, that must be diligently applied to every moment, every minute of your working day.] (Secrets of a Freelance Writer, p. 260)
So you need to nurture the service that surrounds the text itself (i.e. the product you’re offering). Why do this? Simply because clients are highly attuned to the relationship you have with them, and not just to the quality of the texts you provide them with.
14.5. Differentiate yourself from the competition
The most important thing is not to be a master or a genius in your field, but simply to be good (or original) enough to stand out from the competition. You can do this by improving your client service, by becoming a specialist, etc.
14.6. Listen to your clients
Do you interrupt or get impatient to speak as soon as the other person has finished ? Mistake. You’re not listening. And clients don’t like that. They need to be listened to and reassured that you understand what they want. Take the time to study their proposals and respond to them in a constructive manner.
Doing more for a client doesn’t mean doing what you don’t know how to do. For example, as a copywriter, you’re not supposed to design a brochure, manual, or any other text.
Sometimes, clients may confuse your service with that of an agency and ask for a “complete package” including text, layout, printing, etc. To avoid this problem, you can publish and send a brief description of your services to your clients as early as possible in the sales cycle.
What does that mean? It means that you propose a list of the things you do and don’t do, offering resources for what you don’t do (for example, referring them to graphic designers you work with) and explaining to them your work and delivery methods.
15. Common Problems and How to Handle Them
15.1. You and your client have fundamental disagreements about how the project should be done
To remove this problem, make sure from the outset – when your client is still a prospect – that you are both on the same page when it comes to conducting business. During your first exchanges, pay close attention to what his/her style, philosophy, tone, and approach to the project are. If you feel uncomfortable about it, decline the offer. This will save you a lot of trouble later on.
15.2. You and your client have a fundamental disagreement about the terms of the working relationship
This is similar to the previous problem but concerns working methods. If you don’t like endless meetings, for example, say so directly to your client and – above all – try to find out their work practices beforehand. You can then choose to work with them on a sound basis, or you can refuse to take on the project.
15.3. The client doesn’t like your text copy
Revisions are normal. But what do you do when a client doesn’t like your text at all and rejects it? This can be difficult, especially if the client talks down to you.
The first two things to do are to remain calm and to ask the client exactly what they don’t like about it. Explain that you need to understand precisely what’s wrong with the copy so that you can revise it.
If the client is irrational or acting in bad faith, do your best to revise it, send the invoice, and move on to the next client!
15.4. The client is late with payment
Different companies have different payment practices. Even if you indicate “Payment due within 30 days ” on the invoice, some clients may take a little longer. In this case, check the company’s policy.
If time passes and nothing happens, proceed as suggested in Chapter 12. Another method is to offer an incentive in the form of a small discount for prompt payment (e.g., a deduction of x% for payment within ten days).
15.5. The client refuses or is unable to pay the invoice
In this case, you’ll have to go through the proper legal channels. Wait two weeks, then send a first letter. If you still haven’t heard from the client in two weeks, repeat the process. After that, take the necessary legal steps. The more documents you have (contract, client’s bank account information, estimates, etc.), the stronger your court case will be.
15.6. The client requests an unrealistic deadline
[The definition of an “rush” job depends on the writer and the client. For me, two or three weeks is an acceptable deadline, although I try to leave the three weeks only for difficult or complex projects. I almost never promise anything in less than one or two weeks, and a turnaround time of less than a week after receipt of the project is, for me, a “rush” job.] (Secrets of a Freelance Writer, p. 276)
While it’s good to be flexible, there are limits. You could end up with a poorer quality of work, and lose out in the end. So, don’t over-compromise. Assess your work schedule carefully.
If it’s a regular client who’s important to you, always negotiate courteously. If they insist, you can either refuse (at the risk of ending the relationship) or accept, politely letting them know that you will have to charge a higher rate for urgency.
15.7. Your prices are too high
Do not underestimate yourself! No professional should be ashamed of their rates. You’re doing quality work that requires unique skills and deserves fair compensation.
And always remember that you are not a charity trying to save the world; you are doing business.
Lastly, don’t let your customers think you’re overcharging them — because that is what they’ll think if you’re too quick to lower your prices.
15.8. The client doesn’t want to sign the contract
Sometimes the client uses urgency to avoid having to sign a contract. Busy as you are, you think it’s pointless or wasteful to get them to sign an agreement. However, if you have a document already prepared that you can send with a push of a button, it won’t cost you a thing.
[With email and fax, there’s no reason on Earth why the customer couldn’t receive, sign and return the signed contract to you within minutes of your phone call.] (Secrets of a Freelance Writer, p. 281)
15.9. Some people in the company are uncooperative
Go about it stoically. You’re just passing through, which is both positive (you won’t have to deal with this lack of cooperation for long) and negative (as an outsider, it would be easier for a superior to blame you, rather than a team member).
If the matter escalates, simply inform a superior of the attitude of the individual or group in question. Do so in a formal, professional manner. Don’t let your emotions get the better of you.
15.10. The client cancels the job midway through
Include a specific cancellation clause in your contract. This will enable you to send an invoice for the work carried out in complete transparency. You can base the amount due on the progress of your work. For example:
- 10% of the total amount if the job is canceled immediately after it has begun;
- 25% of the total amount if you have started work but have not yet submitted any text/copy;
- 50% if you have submitted an outline but not a draft;
- 75% if a first draft text/copy has been submitted, but without revisions made;
- 100% if the text/copy has been submitted and revised.
15.11. The project requires more work than you imagined
It happens all the time. That’s why it’s important to have a clear idea of the project from the outset and to estimate the time and workload involved. However, if the job really does turn out to be much more complex than expected, what can you do?
Whatever you do, don’t tell the client you’ve underestimated the job, as you would only be devaluing yourself in their eyes. If the scope of work remains the same, do the best you can and leave it at that.
You’ll only be able to reach a new compromise if the client has actually changed the work objectives or the amount of content to be delivered along the way. In this case, you can inform the client that such changes would result in a corresponding change in rates. Adjust the contract accordingly.
15.12. The client wants the entire package, including design and printing
You can either refer to point 14.7 (notify the client of what you do and don’t do in advance), or you can actually offer the “complete package”. In this case, you must either do it yourself (which, in Robert W. Bly’s opinion, is a waste of time and money) or outsource the extra tasks to specialized freelancers. Bear in mind: there’s no obligation to do this, and you can easily find clients without offering additional services.
16. Building Your Freelance Writing Business
16.1. Going into new markets and areas
Freelance writers often begin their careers in a field closely related to the one in which they were employed. Later on, however, they may seek to broaden their horizons in terms of assignments. How should you go about it?
The best way is undoubtedly to work, at least initially, through advertising or marketing agencies, as they have a wide enough range of clients for you to dabble in different specialties.
Word-of-mouth also works, and can gradually take you out of your comfort zone. You may find yourself dealing with types of text (magazine articles, for example) that you’ve never experienced before.
[The good thing about doing something new is that it’s fun, exciting, interesting, and challenging. Furthermore, it gives you additional experience which you can then use to sell yourself in order to get more assignments in such fields.] (Secrets of a Freelance Writer, p. 289)
Needless to say, it will take a little more working time because you’re not used to it. But it’s worth it. Try to balance your schedule between the familiar and the new.
16.2. Increasing profits
There’s no magic formula that will miraculously increase your profits. The following are Robert W. Bly’s key suggestions:
- Write faster: this comes with time and organization (and sometimes a few technical devices).
- Increase your rates: this isn’t easy to do; give it a try if you can justify it, but stay within a certain limit.
- Try to obtain royalties (effectively): you can sign a contract guaranteeing you a return on every publication that uses your texts.
- Hire assistants: this can save you time on certain tasks so that you can work harder on the more important and lucrative ones.
- Start your own business: this is a step beyond freelancing, so it’s up to you to decide whether you like the idea of taking on more responsibilities and tasks.
- Find additional profit centers: act as a consultant, write books, etc.
16.3. How to avoid burnout?
[In some ways, freelance writing is easier than other jobs: no boss, no commute, interesting work, and you decide your own hours. At the same time, writing is very difficult. Every assignment brings with it new ideas, new deadlines, and new words to create from scratch. Unlike a teacher, who can teach the same lessons every year, a writer is always inventing something new. And that can be tiring. ](Secrets of the Freelance Writer, p. 296)
Below are a number of ways to help save your time and energy:
- Go on vacation;
- Reduce your workload;
- Venture into different projects;
- Have an active social life;
- Add variety to tasks;
- Find a source of additional income;
- Reduce working hours (work part-time);
- Change career path.
16.4. Continuing your education
Freelance writers are true “ information gatherers ”: in order to find new ideas for their texts, they must constantly keep abreast of advances in their field, in particular by reading magazines and other books.
More generally, freelance writers are curious about everything that’s going on around them, and they also seek to learn through observation: by spotting the ways in which people interact with each other, they gain experience in business relations.
Writers can also draw inspiration from those who are succeeding alongside them. This helps to show the way forward.
16.5. Be persistent and never give up!
Freelance writers shouldn’t focus on the short term, but rather on the long term, while remaining tenacious. Some days are fruitful, others not so much. Sometimes you generate a lot of contacts only to end up with a few clients. That’s just the way it is!
The important thing is to keep building your network and earning a living, little by little. Perseverance is worth far more than genius or talent: it’s what gets you to where you want to be.
Naturally, there will be times when you’re afraid – and therefore will need courage – and times when you’ll make mistakes – and therefore will need smarts.
Even if you already have enough clients, keep looking out for new ones. The more options you have, the more you can pick and choose the ones you find most interesting or lucrative.
17. Becoming a Millionaire through Writing, Saving and Investing: Parting Advice
17.1. The key to your financial independence: start saving now!
To reach the $100,000 (or euros) a year the author promises, you can follow the advice given in the previous 16 chapters. ‘You can do it’ is Robert W. Bly’s motto. If you want to reach the million mark, then you’ll very likely need to save and invest. Follow the advice of your bankers and insurers.
Try to save between 10% and 40% of what you earn from your clients. Remember, you will have to pay taxes. In addition, as a freelance entrepreneur, you need to insure your pension yourself. Start as soon as you can.
How? By investing in government bonds, shares, and so on. But also by investing in real estate or taking out life insurance, for example. The author advises:
[Don’t sacrifice your life for money … But make the accumulation of wealth a priority of your existence.] (Secrets of a Freelance Writer, p. 311)
Three fundamental points of advice, borrowed by the author from Michael Masterson:
- Increase your income.
- Develop equity, whether through real estate investments or businesses you own.
- Reduce your spending, so that your income always exceeds your expenses.
17.2. Putting your career in perspective
Here are Robert W. Bly’s final recommendations for a successful freelance writing life. A sort of recapitulative list to end on a high note!
- Do your best.
- Keep your promises.
- Meet deadlines.
- Prioritize your tasks.
- Help your clients.
- Take care of yourself.
- Focus on what the clients wants and give it to him or her.
- Keep your files in order.
- If you feel something is wrong or feel uncomfortable, walk away.
- Save and invest your money.
- Enjoy time with your children while they’re young and still enjoy your company.
- Stay dedicated to your craft and know-how
- Be a lifelong learner – of writing, business and the topics you write about.
- Don’t be arrogant, but humble.
- Learn how to say no. Don’t overbook or overcommit.
- Expect and learn to live with ups and downs.
- Remain cool, calm, and collected. Don’t allow anger to interfere with your thoughts and actions.
- Bill on time and make sure you get paid.
- Treat others fairly.
- Get things in writing.
- Make sure others treat you fairly.
- Do work that you enjoy.
- Give your clients more than their money’s worth for every job you do.
- Manage a variety of assignments while developing as a specialist in one or more fields.
- Charge fair prices.
- Don’t undercharge.
- Be prepared to walk away.
- Keep in touch with your clients and prospects.] (Secrets of a Freelance Writer, p. 313-315)
Conclusion to “Secrets of a Freelance Writer“
Robert W. Bly’s “Secrets of a Freelance Writer” is a classic of its kind.
Reissued three times since its first publication in 1988, it has inspired a large number of freelance writers throughout the U.S. and Europe. As such, it is a must-read for any aspiring freelance writer (web or otherwise).
That said, some parts could use updating. Considering that it hasn’t been republished since 2006, the whole subject of the Internet remains insufficiently covered when read today. In addition, there’s plenty more to be said when discussing all the various writing techniques. Nevertheless, this in no way detracts from the quality of the book, and you can easily supplement this reading with other more topical or technical works.
Highlights of Robert W. Bly’s “Secrets of a Freelance Writer“
A very well-written book that is as enjoyable as it is relevant, which zeroes in on the most effective ways of making a comfortable living from freelance writing while offering a wealth of advice on productivity, self-promotion, and client relations.
Strengths and weaknesses of Secrets of a Freelance Writer
Strong points :
- The quality of the writing.
- A large number of list-based practical advice .
- The writer’s sincerity, which can be felt on every page.
- A somewhat dated book – since 2006, the situation of the freelance writer has been largely transformed by the exponential development of the internet and social media.
My rating :
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A handy guide to Robert W. Bly’s Secrets of a Freelance Writer
The 12 main sections to include on a professional website from Secrets of a Freelance Writer:
- Home page
- Registration form
- Confidentiality agreement
- Description of your services
- Short biography
- Client list
- Articles or books
- Contact form
- External links
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) concerning Secrets of a Freelance Writer
1. How has Robert W. Bly’s Secrets of a Freelance Writer been received by the general public?
Reissued three times since its first publication in 1988, Secrets of a Freelance Writer is a classic of its kind. The book has been a great success with the general reading public and has become one of the leading references for freelance writers throughout the USA and Europe, bringing worldwide fame to its author Robert Bly.
2. What has been the impact of Secrets of a Freelance Writer?
This book has inspired a countless number of freelance writers in the USA and Europe. Among other things, it has empowered many people to change careers and focus on the business of freelance writing.
3. Who is the target audience of Secrets of a Freelance Writer?
This book is aimed at freelance writers and anyone who wants to become one.
4. What is copywriting according to Robert W. Bly?
In his book, Robert W. Bly defines copywriting as text created for a client who will use it for commercial purposes.
5. According to Robert W. Bly, what are the key steps involved in getting your website up and running?
The process involves the following:
- Register the domain name;
- Create the site architecture;
- Write the content;
- Create the site design;
- Make sure the site is properly hosted;
- Appoint a webmaster.
The advantages of freelance copywriting versus the disadvantages of freelance copywriting
|Advantages of freelance copywriting||Disadvantages of freelance copywriting|
|Earns more money than traditional writing||You don’t get a byline, so you’re not the acknowledged author of the texts|
|Can find people to work with on your own||Ideas don’t come from you, they come from the company|
|There is a wide variety of content to write||Payments may take a while|
|High level of professionalism||When work piles up, it can be stressful|
|Top-notch client/writer relationship||The work is sedentary, which can lead to health concerns that should not be ignored|
Who is Robert W. Bly?
Robert W. Bly was born on July 21, 1957 and raised in Fair Lawn, New Jersey. Robert W. Bly is a copywriter, specializing in marketing and business-to-business, with over three decades of experience in business-to-business, high-tech, and direct-response marketing. Over the years, he has amassed a wealth of experience and a stellar reputation, and has even taught copwriting at New York University.
He became a self-made multimillionaire while still in his thirties. A renowned author, the book Secrets of a Freelance Writer, made Robert W. Bly famous among the writing community. In addition to this work, he is also the author of over a hundred published books, including: The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Direct Marketing, Careers for Writers, The Copywriter’s Handbook, and more.