This post really focuses on writers who make a living writing more than it does people who want to write their memoirs, but as I do the second readthrough I realize that the tips in here stretch far beyond writing. These are six things I learned during my writing career that I didn’t put much stock into when I first began; even now a couple of these can be difficult. But, the fact is, each of these learnings is extremely important to a young writer whether you focus on memoirs and biographies or you are a blog, quiz or content writer.
To be fair, I’m cheating a little. This post, in its original version, was published on my other blog Life of the Ghostwriter. But, I’ve had several writers contact me asking for more of the business-side of writing along with the tips for people who want to write their life story. So, we’ll see how it goes and hopefully, the content is beneficial for both!
So, before I begin riding on a tangent, I’ll stop myself and bring on “Six Lessons that Helped Me Improve My Writing Business.”
One lesson that took me way too long to learn is that loyalty does matter. I remember early on having a client who supplied me regular work. He was the type of person who would send me five things to do, as soon as I finished he would send me five more. That kind of consistency can be hard to find and when you do find it you better hold on. However, when a better paying gig would come up, I would put aside this loyal client for the better-paying work.
I didn’t think anything of it really. I figured that I had done so much work for my client they would gladly accept late deadlines and less work as long as I would eventually come back. I was wrong. Of course, I was wrong. My clients depend on me because their clients depend on them. And so, I lost one of the more valuable long-term clients for a short-term solution.
No Bueno. When you find a client who is loyal to you – trusts your work, pays on time, and supplies you with regular projects you hold on to that. It matters.
Stick to Your Guns
This is a lesson many new people need to figure out sometime in their first year. Figure out how much money you need to make in a year, and stick to your guns when it comes to your rates. One habit many young writers get into is trying to take on as much work as possible at nearly any price. Whether we are looking for experience, positive feedback, or simply a paying job this is a common tactic by beginning writers.
The other obstacle is a beginning writer’s fear of overpricing his or herself and scaring potential clients off. When I started out I did this too. And yes, I had a ton of work. But, that’s because I was a bargain. But, what I found when I raised my rates is that nobody balked at the new prices. And the clients willing to pay those prices tend to be better clients who understand and respect your needs as a freelancer.
Don’t Chase the Money
When I talk about chasing money, what I am saying is you shouldn’t go after just any job to pay your bills. It is okay to discriminate until you find the job or client who works for you. Nearly all of my work is from referral and invitation now. However, there was a time where I would take jobs I knew I would hate, be bored with, or not care about the client because all I was looking at were dollar signs. And guess what? Those projects never turned out well.
So, figure out what type of projects or niche(s) you want to focus on and go for it. Now, I am a firm believer that a modern writer needs to wear many hats and master several niches. However, it doesn’t hurt to focus on one or two and pick up other work to fill in the gaps. But, never take a job just for the money – especially knowing you are stepping into a bad deal.
Never Talk Bad About Other Writers
To be fair, this has been a rule of mine for a long time. I think it’s bad etiquette. However, clients have told me about pitches that other writers have given them about how all other writers stink except the one giving the pitch. The truth is there are tens of thousands of great writers out there. There are different levels and approaches, but for one writer to comment on another without having any idea – that’s not right and will push people away. I gladly tell clients there are a lot of great writers. The goal is to find one who fits your needs and is comfortable to work with.
The reason I think writers talk bad about their counterparts is that the number and level of competition have grown exponentially in the last 15 years. Access to writers is more than ever before. This also allows for anyone to brand their self as a writer. It also allows for scam artists to flourish. Those are the things to watch for. So, instead of trashing writers trying to make a living, a better approach may be to share with potential clients tips on how to determine if a writer is good for them.
Crappy work will make you a crappy writer
This goes back to the whole, don’t chase money deal. I’ve found myself taking on work that was mind-numbing and not worthwhile because I needed or wanted steady pay. However, what I realized is that there was no creativity, nor was their thinking involved. This type of will may bring you a little pay, but will also destroy your creativity.
One project I can think of was a client needed me to produce hundreds of articles on credit, debt, and credit repair. When I was done I sure knew a lot, but writing articles that are similar over, and over, and over again killed the creative juices. I did it for three months and felt numb afterward. I actually took a creative writing class to get those juices flowing again.
So, if you are an eager beaver looking to become a writer by rewriting articles, be forewarned, that you will inadvertently suffer in creativity.
Learn to pay yourself a salary
Regardless if you set yourself up as an LLC or Sole Proprietorship, learning to pay yourself a salary will be indispensable for future you. As long as you stick with it, you will make a good life as a writer. There are simply too many jobs out there for someone who works hard and is always on the lookout.
That being said, the writing life comes with a lot of ups and downs and you need to manage that. One month you may make $15,000 and the next month you could make $1,500. It seems like a good problem to have with big months, but if you happen to have a couple low months you’ll be kicking yourself for not balancing out your salary.
Another consequence is that being paid like this will quickly diminish your perspective on budgeting. You will soon tell yourself, “I’ll just use the money I make in two days to pay the utility bill.” But, it doesn’t work that easily. It certainly doesn’t for me.
So, if you must, struggle for a couple weeks or months to build up an account with money to pay your salary. I prefer to pay myself weekly. As you grow you can deposit all earnings into this account, pay yourself a salary, and get back on track with your financial savvy. While it takes a while to build, setting up a goal such as six-months salary in an account you’ll draw from is a good start.
It may sound great to get money rolling in every few days, but when you hit a slowdown (which you will) you’ll understand all those people who you laughed at when they said, “You’re better than me, I need to know I have a steady income.”
Adapting to these suggestions won’t make or break you. However, they can save you a lot of time early in your career if you can integrate them into your business strategy. It can be hard when you first start out, and even after you’ve been in the business for awhile. But, for any business owner, it’s just as important to keep your focus on a long-term goal as it is to know where your next paycheck is coming from. You are going to have ups and downs in your career, just remember to be patient, be loyal and stick to your guns!