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Thursday, June 3, 2010

The 80/20 Rule

Ever heard of the 80/20 rule? It’s an old business axiom that says that 80 percent of your work will come from 20 percent of your customers. I’ve found it’s true for freelancing, and it’s one of the reasons I focus on developing relationships with editors and other clients. Just as I don’t want to write about a topic only once (instead, I reslant the idea to maximize my time and research), I don’t want to work for a client only once. That's a waste of my time.

Here’s the thing. First off, it’s much easier to get work from an editor you’ve worked with before (assuming you did a good job, of course.) Case in point: I recently sent four story ideas in an email to an editor I write for regularly. Each was just three or four sentences, a far cry from the page-long, heavily researched query I’d send to a new market. She emailed me back the next day, assigning all four ideas. Marketing time for all four assignments? Virtually nil.

Second, you’re more likely to get more money because editors often pay their regular contributors a higher rate than “one-shot” writers. I know I get a higher per-word rate from many of my markets because I’ve already proven myself—and my editors know that I can be counted on in a crisis. (I’ve turned around a feature in three days to help out an editor who had another freelancer flake out.) That makes me more valuable than "Writer X," or someone new (i.e. unproven) to the editor.

Third, when you build a relationship with an editor, he or she will often come to you with ideas, which saves you time having to query. In my fantasy life, I’d never have to pitch again; I’d just sit back, accept assignments, and write. (Hmm, my fantasy life is rather lame, isn’t it? But I digress.) And it’s not just editors who come back to you—a client I ghostwrote a book for several years ago hired me last fall to ghostwrite an article for him for a trade publication. I love work that drops into my lap like that.

Finally, clients who know you and know your capabilities are happy to pass your name along. That same ghostwriting client recommended me to a friend of his looking for an editor for his book last summer, and that led to a lucrative and fun project for me. Another editor at a custom magazine gave my name to one of her colleagues and that led to more work. If I can get my clients doing my marketing for me, I have to do less of it myself. Bonus!

So how you turn your one-shot clients into steady ones? Stay tuned...that will be my next post.