How this Little Ducky Went Freelance: Part 2

I’m free! I’m free!
Oh crap — now what?

In my last post I shared why I went rogue and how I set up shop as a freelance writer. Now it’s time to cover the scary parts: setting rates and getting clients.

Once you’ve got your shop set up (or at least finished the heavy lifting), you have to price your product and get the word out. And at first, I didn’t know how to do either. So I looked it up and discovered:

  • There’s no one way to freelance
  • There’s no one way to set your rates
  • Your rate depends on several factors that no one will tell you about
  • Too many pros are so focused on innovative new ways to find clients, they tend to avoid going into the basics
  • No matter how much you research, you’ll still have to figure it out yourself

Tons of information, no straight answer? Perfect. Here we go.

Chapter 2: Hanging Out My Shingle

Setting My Freelance Rates

Fresh from the corporate pond, I had no idea what to charge as a freelancer. In my research, I found the FreelanceSwitch Hourly Rate Calculator.

So I plugged in what I thought were the right numbers. And it said I should charge $1,294 an hour.

No way I could charge that with a straight face. I don’t blame FreelanceSwitch — I screwed up somewhere.

I was still confused. I didn’t want to misrepresent myself. I’d been writing professionally for almost ten years. But I’d had the copywriter title for only two years. And I was new to freelancing. I wasn’t sure which pulled more weight.

So like most new freelancers, I used my corporate rate as my baseline and raised it just enough to account for paying my own taxes. But that’s not enough when you’re no longer on a steady diet of 40 hours a week.

Result? My savings ran out. I had to find another cubicle.

On the bright side, the people here are much nicer than in my last cube. No dementors.

Not a paid link, just an award-winning, handy book

I picked up the newest copy of Peter Bowerman’s The Well-Fed Writer. In it, he offers a simple formula for setting your rates:

  • How much do you want to make a year?
  • To reach that goal, how much should you make each month, week and day?
  • Write down that daily amount.
  • Refer to it every morning and ask “How will I make $[X] today?”

The key here is “How much do you want to make?” Not “How much do I need to make to scrape by on microwavable noodle dinners?”

New projects are now based on my new, higher, more professional freelance rate. I’d share, but I have a strict policy of not publishing it where clients can see.

As for what lies behind your rates, read the blog post The Deadly Math Mistake That Will Make Make Your Freelance Business Fail by Carol Tice of Make a Living Writing. She goes into detail about what you need to consider when setting your freelancing rates. Clear and straightforward.

  • Your Takeaway
    Read Carol’s post. And if you can get FreelanceSwitch calculator to work, go for it. If not, try Peter Bowerman’s formula. But charge more than your corporate rate. Especially if you like to eat.

Disclaimer: The Peter Bowerman link is not a paid link. I just wholeheartedly believe that every copywriter, freelance and corporate, should buy and read that book.

Finding Clients

Image courtesy of
There are clients in there somewhere

Like most freelancers, I feel safer pondering the dark abyss of a black hole (up close) than asking people to hire me.

But sometimes, you just have to dive in anyway.

Route #1: Creative staffing agencies
Unlike advertising or marketing agencies, these are staffing agencies that specialize in placing creative talent in full time, contract or freelance gigs.

These agencies had always worked for me in the past. I already had solid relationships with several of the biggest and knew that they were always trying to fill freelance gigs.

But when you act like a job seeker, you get treated like one. And creative staffing agencies are used to primarily dealing with job seekers.

Over and over again, I did the song-and-dance routine instead of negotiating on equal ground like a freelancer. After a couple months, the need to change hit me. Literally.

I’d just finished an interview for which I had to drive an hour, pay $25 in parking and change into my interview clothes in the parking garage (long story) so I could spend an hour hearing about how I “hadn’t engineered my career and had done “too much contract work.”

When I emerged bleary eyed and a little shell shocked, I twisted my ankle and did a face plant on a downtown Seattle sidewalk. As I sat bawling and gathering up the spilled contents of my purse, I decided I was fed up with the whole thing.

New tactics were in order.

  • Your Takeaway
    Don’t make creative staffing agencies 100% of your marketing strategy. This is not the route for everyone but it can help fill in the gaps when you need some extra work. If you do use them, approach them as an independent freelancer from the start. Communicate clearly and be selective in what you will and will not accept.

I’ll go into more detail about working with these agencies in a future post.

Route #2: Networking
Networking scares the bejeezus out of most people. Fortunately, my career has survived enough embarrassment for me to not worry much about making a fool of myself anymore.

If I can survive the CEO catching me brushing cookie crumbs off my chin like a hyperactive squirrel, I can say “hi” to perfect strangers. (Yay me!)

Three particular kinds of networking have paid off for me: person-to-person, online and referrals.

My person-to-person networking primarily consists of contacting former employers and former colleagues. Since much of my background is in marketing, most of my former colleagues are either marketing managers or can put my name in front of their marketing manager.

This landed me my first three clients and still drives most of my business, even now that I’m back in a cube.

Also handy? Random conversations with random strangers. Connect with someone and then hand them your business card — with your title, website and contact information.

“Sorry it’s all I have, but please send me that recipe. It sounds yummy.”

My most successful online networking has been my participation on a local professional email list run by my target audience: SMB tech companies.

I don’t blatantly advertising on this list. Instead, I chime in on their email threads when appropriate. And just like my business card, my email signature has my title, website and contact information. I’ve gotten several gigs from this list because when they have writing needs, they’re already familiar with me and know that I speak their language.

Now that I’ve put myself out there more, I’m getting referrals from:

  • Former colleagues
  • Current colleagues who don’t freelance on the side
  • Current clients
  • Prospects who passed on me before
    A big reason why it’s important to take “no” gracefully

Referrals are just plain awesome. For one, the person doing the referring can tell you what the client’s like to work with. Second,  the ice is already broken which means you don’t have to worry about your initial sales pitch. And third, it’s business that came your way while you were off doing something else.

I love the smell of efficiency in the morning. Goes great with bacon.

  • Your Takeaway
    Whatever your background or experience, you already have a network of people that like you, trust you and want you to succeed. Taking advantage of it is not the same as asking for a handout. Just remember, you’ll get the best results when you’re not looking for the immediate sale.

Coming Up

The trilogy concludes with Chapter 3: Now What? I’ll take an honest appraisal of where things stand and what’s next. Stay tuned.

4 thoughts on “How this Little Ducky Went Freelance: Part 2”

    1. Thanks, Willi. And that number was after I’d spent half an hour finagling and re-entering numbers. Had to chuckle.

      Offline networking can be scary. But ask yourself this, “What’s the worst that can happen if I make a fool of myself?” Usually, it’s only that the other person says no. And we’ve all survived that a time or two. 🙂

  1. Hi Sandra – I fell into that email list by accident several years ago. As with any type of networking, it takes time to build trust and relationships, but it’s been an invaluable resource beyond even finding work.

    Yeah, if I ever get to meet Peter Bowerman, I’m going to have to give him an apple (for the teacher).

  2. Everyone’s journey is unique and you’re right, there’s no one way to do this. Your online networking strategy is interesting, I never would’ve thought of that. I’ll add my vote for The Well-Fed Writer. It’s a great resource that I turn to often.

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