Freelance Writing Tips

3 Lessons I Learned Landing My Biggest Client

Today I’m researching a rather unsavory piece on flap surgery. If you don’t know what that is, I urge you not to image search it. At least, not if you have a weak stomach. Two years ago, I probably wouldn’t have expected to be writing about something so graphic, and yet here I am. Freelancing opens many doors, including some you never expected to walk through.

The flap surgery piece is for my biggest client. How big? Let’s just say I’ve had lengthy client relationships and high paying gigs, but not always together. This client combines the two quite nicely.

And to think that I almost missed out on working with them.

Landing the Client

In December of 2016, I applied for a gig through Reddit. Although I’d been freelancing for over a year and a half at that point, I still struggled when it came to offering bids. I wanted to land higher paying gigs, but I didn’t want to scare potential clients away by asking for too much.

Apparently, you might scare them away by asking for too little.

When I hadn’t heard anything for a while, I followed-up. My contact told me that they were asking for quite a bit of work, and based on my bid, they were concerned that the lower cost meant lower quality. However, they were willing to give it a shot and paid me more than what I’d originally asked.

As my relationship with this client progressed, I had to challenge myself in a variety of ways. My first article was about cosmetic surgery trends from around the world. This was new territory for me, as I’d never written on beauty trends before and am not much of a beauty connoisseur. Still, I gave it my all.

In time, I started writing more and more substantive articles, which required me to interview professionals and read medical literature. Every month seemed to push me out of my comfort zone a little further.

Now, I take great pride in the work I do for this client and eagerly accept challenging topics. And all because I believed in myself as a writer, I was willing to try something new, and I didn’t take silence for an answer.

Lesson One: Don’t Sell Yourself Short

Pictured: What you’re worth…probably.

If you spend a lot of time on Upwork, which I do, you’ll fall victim to the assumption that gigs go to the lowest bidder. And why not? Some clients certainly treat contracts that way. But there are others who will see a low bid and assume that you’re just not a valuable writer. And why should they value you as a writer if you don’t value yourself?

Of course, sometimes we’ve got to do what’s necessary to make sure we get work. But you’ll tire yourself out on low paying jobs if you don’t start asking for more. Before you say that you can’t afford to miss out on work, consider the fact that you can’t afford to pull 60-hour weeks making an effective rate of $10 an hour. Not forever. At some point, you’re going to need to take the leap.

Key Takeaways:

  • Job searches should focus on quality over quantity.
  • You don’t need to go all in. Experiment with higher bids and see what happens.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for more information about the type of writing required, so you can tailor your bid to the client’s needs.

Lesson Two: Follow-Up

Pictured: How I think email works.

As high school cheerleaders are want to say, “be aggressive.” You don’t need to go knocking down your client’s door, but there’s no harm in asking for an update to an existing proposal. It’s too easy sometimes, especially when we have a habit of applying to dozens of jobs a week, to just let unresponsive prospects go by the wayside. After all, if they wanted us to work for them, then they would have said so.

The truth is your prospect is busy and hiring a writer for his project is not necessarily foremost in his mind. After all, his job description is not “freelance finder.” Presumably, he’s got a lot more on his plate than you realize. Now picture the same busy prospect getting a reminder from a freelancer that there’s a job that needs doing? There’s a good chance he’ll just hire you on the spot because he’s obviously too busy to scour the proposals.

Of course, it’s also possible your prospect just isn’t sure about you. In that case, your follow-up could convince them that you’re motivated to do a good job. Whatever the reason, you almost certainly won’t lose anything from trying.

Key Takeaways:

  • Always follow up at least once if you don’t hear anything.
  • Use the timeline for the project as a guide. If it’s a rush job, you can justify following up that same day. Otherwise, give your client some breathing room.
  • Be as polite and professional in your follow-ups as you were in the initial proposal.

Lesson Three: Step Outside Your Comfort Zone

Pictured: This fish knows what’s up.

Most good freelancers will tell you that you need a niche, be it health, technology, education, politics, or something else. This can be a great way to market yourself to certain industries, which can help you land higher paying gigs. However, it shouldn’t act as a roadblock to work. If a solid opportunity lands in your lap, then give it a chance, even if it’s not the “niche” job you were looking for.

As a former English teacher, I initially went into freelance writing with an eye toward education. And while I’ve done a significant amount of writing on that subject, I branched out into small business and technology shortly after I started this career. By the time this client came around, I’d done very little writing on health, but instead of sticking to my niche, I went for it.

I continued to push myself further, taking on more and more complex (and graphic) subjects. I also challenged myself to conduct interviews, something I’d had little to no experience with. When new projects came along, I said “yes,” and I was always ready to adapt.

Key Takeaways:

  • Your niche is a guide for targeting clients, not a rule.
  • If you’re never uncomfortable with or anxious about new tasks, then you’re not challenging yourself.
  • You’re never going to grow as a writer if you don’t push yourself to write new and better things.

I’ve applied these lessons in a variety of situations with a variety of clients. I carefully track my earnings, so I can determine my effective hourly rate on different projects and use that to inform my proposals. I keep a chart on when and how often I’ve followed up with prospects. Finally, I relish new topics and tasks. After all, freelancing is the spice of life.




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