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Monday, May 24, 2010

How to Fail in your New Freelance Business

Here’s what no one tells you about starting a freelance business. At the onset--and for some time thereafter--you're going to spend the majority of your time marketing, whether that means researching and writing query letters, making cold calls to potential corporate clients, sending LOIs (letters of introduction) to trade or specialty magazines, and/or contacting book packagers or other potential ghostwriting clients. And that marketing time never pays off…unless it turns into assignments.

Hey, I don't want to have to market myself. I’d be a happy little clam if I never had to write another query, LOI, or book proposal. I’d just sit at my desk (better yet, play basketball outside with my son) and field offers of work on my Iphone. And some work does come to me…a lot, actually. But even today, the majority of my work still comes as a result of me selling me, and marketing my business to potential clients. It's time I have to put in to remain busy and successful.

What about you? Remember that marketing yourself is only one aspect of your business that doesn’t produce income. There’s also business management tasks like sending invoices, following up on late payments, filing, organizing giant piles of papers on your desk (maybe that's just me), tracking expenses, keeping up on email, doing online networking (like this blog), replacing office supplies, you name it. My point is that when you launch a freelance career, only a small percentage of your time will be actually writing for money, so you need to market yourself as efficiently as possible.

My first six months of my writing career, my time broke down like this:

Marketing (including research, writing queries, cold calls) 75–90 %
Writing for pay (including research/interviews/writing) 10–20 %
Business management tasks 5–10%

Get the idea? The vast majority of my time was spent marketing, but once I started getting assignments and developing regular clients, that percentage started to drop as the percentage of time I spent writing for money went up.

Within 18 months, I had a handful of steady clients, which significantly reduced the amount of time I spent looking for new markets and researching and writing queries. Plus, my queries were more likely to result in sales. All good news.

Now my time broke down like this:

Marketing (including research, writing queries, cold calls) 10–20%
Writing for pay (including research/interviews/writing) 60–80%
Business management tasks 5–10%
Speaking/teaching 5–10%

If your marketing never results in assignments, or doesn’t result in enough assignments, your freelance writing business will tank before it ever gets going. That’s why you have to make the most of your marketing time—and next post I’ll talk about how to write queries that will boost your chance of getting paying work.


  1. Can't wait to read the next post. We are each our own best have to believe in your own product (yourself) so others will want it!

  2. I'm the rare breed of writer that actually enjoys marketing. Marketing is a large part of what we do, and if I didn't enjoy it for the most part, I think I'd have given up long ago.