I’ve been thinking a lot about why some freelance writers prosper while others, despite their obvious talent, struggle to get long-term traction. I think it’s a combination of lots of things, but lately I’ve realised that there’s one characteristic that is absolutely crucial to you earning more money freelancing, and happily, it’s one that you can improve.
The one attribute you need to earn more money from freelance writing
There are lots of ways to get paid for your writing, but earning more money freelancing is something lots of people I know struggle with.
Yes, you can raise your rates or look for high-paying clients, but there’s one particular attribute that is critical to freelancers earning good money from their writing – efficiency.
There are so many ways that being quick or speedy can help you as a freelance writer.
Often this gets presented as a one dimensional concept, but actually speed or efficiency is not just about how quickly you write words on a page.
Becoming more efficient and increasing your freelance writing income
1. How quickly you write
Ok, so let’s get the obvious one out of the way first. The quicker you are able to write good copy, the more money you’ll usually make (unless you’re getting paid by hour).
It’s not at all uncommon for me to receive a brief from one of my corporate clients to write a 600 word article. The pay is usually between $500-600 per piece.
That’s decent money – I think freelancers hoping to earn a good living from writing should be aiming for an average of 80c/word.
The bonus for me is that I can usually turn these articles around in two hours, three max.
So more often than not, it works out to be an hourly rate of $200-300.
As a disclaimer though, you need to know that I am only fast when I’m writing particular articles.
Some of my corporate clients have set templates that they like writers to follow.
So for these articles there’s not much creativity involved. My job is really just to make sure that I hit all the points in a particular brief.
I know the type of experts these companies like to feature and I have a bank of reliable case studies I can call on.
That saves me time and makes me more efficient too.
When it comes to other articles, like travel writing, I’m definitely not as efficient.
There’s no way that my hourly rate would be anywhere near $300 for travel articles.
I dare say it’d be more like $5 an hour! That’s because I want to take my time with travel articles and really make sure that my pieces are evocative and narrative-driven, and those kinds of stories take time to craft.
And that’s the balance all freelancers have to find.
You will have your bread and butter work (or anchor clients) that pay well and that you can do fairly efficiently.
But you also want some passion work or projects that are less in percentage but are special to who you are or what you want to achieve.
If you can turn articles around quickly, let your client or editor know.
One of my editors regularly comes to me with 400 word articles that he needs turned around in a couple of hours. I can’t always do it, but if I can, I do.
Again, I might spend an hour or two on that kind of article and end up making in excess of $300.
Often when we think about becoming quicker or more efficient, we just think about the physical act of writing, but I’ve found that there are other ways that your efficiency and speed can end up earning you more money.
2. Earn more money freelancing: Be one of the first responders
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen an opportunity on Twitter, LinkedIn, the Telum Media Alert or elsewhere and I’ve jumped on it.
If I see an announcement that an editor has moved jobs, and I send a quick email congratulating them.
Or, if I see a callout for pitches, I get in touch almost immediately.
Yes, these emails might not be the most perfectly crafted LOIs or pitches, but they make me visible.
They register my interest in the person and a potential opportunity.
I think sometimes we can get caught up in feeling that our first contact with someone has to be perfect.
But in fact it just needs to be good enough – a decent, polite and en-pointe introduction will more than do.
And if you’re not someone who finds it easy to rattle off a quick email, you could always craft something when you have some time and then copy and paste it when new opportunities pop up.
I’ve also managed to score lots of work by being one of the first responders to editors’ call outs on social media.
Just last week an editor posted in a Facebook group I’m part of that she was looking for writers and I was one of the first to get in touch with her.
The result? I got a commission.
I’m very hit and miss with Facebook, so I am aware that I’m missing opportunities like this all the time, but even if you just check in sporadically or so with the purpose of scouring for work (instead of mindless scrolling), you’ll be surprised at how much is out there.
3. Be responsive to emails
I have a love-hate relationship with email.
As an ambivert and someone who definitely doesn’t love speaking on the phone, I adore that I conduct most of my relationships via email.
That said, I don’t like how being a freelancer can sometimes mean we feel like we have to be on 24/7.
Sometimes I feel compelled to answer emails, even when they come in at 9pm.
I think there’s a lot to be said for having chunks of time when you are not checking your email or connected to the internet.
But I’ve found that if you can be quick at getting back to clients and editors, that is a really positive thing in their eyes.
I was recently chatting (yes, I know! Over the phone!) with an editor I work with and she commented that so many freelancers take days to respond to her emails.
As an editor of a monthly magazine, she needs and wants freelancers who are responsive.
(And yes, I get the irony of editors who want freelancers to respond almost immediately when they themselves may take 3 or 4 weeks to reply).
Part of my job as a freelance writer is to make editors’ and clients’ jobs easier, so if I can respond quickly, I do.
Even if it’s just a “Thanks, got your email. I’ll have a look at this this afternoon”.
Just let them know – communicate.
It counts for more than you think.
And that goes for being quick with turning around edits.
I aim to get my revised articles back to my editors and clients within a day or so (unless it’s a major revision they are requesting), and this is something that many editors and clients appreciate.
4. Be quick to like, comment and share
If you see an editor or client is on social media and you genuinely like what they are sharing or writing – be sure to acknowledge it.
Start a conversation with them, ask them a question, anything – as long as it’s authentic. These are really important ways that you can build visible relationships with the people you are working with, or want to work with.
I recently posted a picture on Instagram and a PR commented on it.
I replied to her comment almost immediately and she tagged another PR in her response. Can you guess what happened next? I was invited on a famil with the second PR.
5. Be fast to offer help
Something I really love about the freelance writing community is that so many writers are willing to help each other.
Because we don’t have traditional colleagues in the same way that other workers do, I think it’s so important that the communities we belong to, and freelance friends we have, are those that we can support just like we would if they worked in the next cubicle or the desk along from us.
As much as I can, I try to be quick to offer help and advice (if asked) and even contact details of editors or clients.
I’ve been in situations where I’ve been told not to share editors’ contacts details or even talk about who I write for, but I really don’t see any point in this.
Yes, some people may take the info and run, but most writers are genuinely grateful. They will either want to repay the favour in some way or will pay it forward to another freelancer.
So how does this earn more money freelancing?
I’ve had writerly friends refer work to me because I’ve done the same for them.
I’ve had others share contact details for editors or clients because I’ve shared what I know.
I really believe in being generous and giving people your time and help.
So there you have it.
Five ways that I think efficiency and speed can help freelance writers earn more money.
Do you think being speedy or quick helps your income? Have I missed any ways that efficiency can help ramp up freelancers’ incomes?
Lindy, these are fantastic tips. I believe a lot of writers (and people in general) take common human decency for granted: being responsive, helpful, and authentic. A quick ‘thanks’ every now and again goes a long way, too.
With a background in manufacturing including Six Sigma and Lean, my questions revolve around systems. I believe the more I can automate and batch, the more efficient I’ll be as a writer. I’m curious what systems of automatizing and batching you’ve incorporated within in your business?
Thanks for your comment James. To be honest, I probably don’t automate or batch as much as I could/should! The short answer is that I batch my invoices and pitches, and my social media (Twitter and Pinterest) is automated.
But I think you are totally right in that systems and habits that work for your business are the key to reaching your writing goals.
I had to Google Six Sigma and Lean – looking forward to learning a little more about them.
Another thing I do is send (yes snail mail) a Thank you card / note for the project, enjoyed working with them etc. Very few people use snail mail today. It has an impact.
Oh Lauren, that’s so true, and such a lovely, thoughtful way to keep in touch. The opposite of speed/quickness, but so important. Thanks for your comment.
I think def replying quickly and being very visible helps get you work. It keeps you in their top of mind, in their mental address book.
Mental address book – I love that Nicky.
Thanks for this article Lindy! While I am working as a freelance presentation designer, I found this to be very helpful! I think I need to start responding to e-mails faster as you noted in the article. I usually followed Tom Ferris’s advice and checked them once a day – but the fact that some clients need my help really fast I think I need to do it multiple times a day haha. Thanks again!
Thanks for your comment. Oh, it’s so tricky isn’t it. I love the idea of only checking my email once or twice a day, but I’ve found that being responsive to editors who want articles on a fast turnaround has really helped me. I guess it depends if you think that kind of speed would be important to your clients.