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.

8 Lessons Freelancers Can Learn from WWE Superstars

Controversial yet undeniably successful. There’s a lot that freelancers can learn from World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) superstars.

One: Own your awesomeness
WWE superstars have more self-confidence than a souped-up housecat. And they’ll tell anyone who’ll listen.

“I’m the best there is, the best there was, the best there ever will be.”
Bret “Hit Man” Hart

What could we do with a fraction of that chutzpa? Instead of giving in to self-doubt so often, let’s have more faith in ourselves.

Two: Your brand is your business
The Undertaker, The Miz, The Big Show, The Rock — WWE superstars speak and act according to how they want the public to perceive them. Every detail, every word, every gesture is part of their brand.

Define yourself as a professional and present yourself accordingly. It’s the foundation on which you build your authority as a freelancer.

Three: Be an unapologetic marketing juggernaut
WWE superstars spend more time marketing than they do wrestling. Social media, interviews, photo shoots, charity work, special events, YouTube, Tout, networking, the list goes on.

Too many freelancers don’t market enough. We need to embrace it. With both arms.

Four: Grow a rock-hard hide
There is no universally liked WWE superstar. They’ve all been booed and cheered by millions around the world. Does it faze them? Nope. They play into it based on their persona.

“Doubt fucks everything. Take a foundation, no matter how strong, sprinkle generously with doubt, and watch it crumble. Me? I’m unfuckwithable.”
CM Punk, WWE Monday Night Raw, February 21, 2011

This quote is going up in my office. How far could we go if we stopped letting our fear of being “booed” keep us from trying?

Five: Know your audience
“Finally! The Rock has come back to [insert city and cheers].” Everywhere they go, WWE superstars know how to make the crowd love them or hate them because they know what the audience cares about.

As freelancers, we’re only half the equation. Clients and prospects are the other half. How well we understand them determines how well we can address what they care about.

Six: Know the business
Like freelancer writers, WWE superstars are contractors, not employees. If they want to stay in the business, they’re responsible for knowing all aspects of the business.

We are more than writers. We are walking, talking businesses. We need to know how to run our business inside and out. And adapt as needed.

Seven: Make the ordinary extraordinary
John Cena’s Five Knuckle Shuffle? A punch to the forehead. Seamus’s Brogue Kick? A kick to the face. The Rock can make a crowd go wild by raising his almighty eyebrow.

Why can’t we add a little extra flare to what we do?

Eight: Give it your all
In the 1998 Hell in a Cell match with The Undertaker, Mick Foley was being wheeled out when he got up and went back to finish— with one of his own teeth stuck up his nose. He retired shortly after, but still…that’s dedication.

We need to have the same dedication to our own success.

I admit it: I can up higher in almost all of these areas. How about you?

Choose Your Audience Before You Choose a Client

The first step to getting the things you want out of life is this:
Decide what you want.
Ben Stein
American actor, writer, lawyer and political commentator

When I was looking for my first office job, I met a man with a plan. He was a job hunting guru out to make a living selling his career books and networking tools.

Mr. Job Hunting Guru was a seasoned pro who exuded empathetic authority – he’d been there, done that and could teach me how to get to the other side.

He knew his material and how to reach his target audience (I and several others met him at a job fair). To hold our attention, he hosted free seminars during which he doled out shiny pearls of wisdom. Even his sales pitch sounded like he was just trying to help.

Three months after I met him, he asked me if the company I worked for had any openings.

His plan hadn’t worked.

Mr. Job Hunting Guru needed a job.

His target audience – the entry level unemployed – could not afford what he was selling.

We wanted to. He and his seminars were undeniably impressive, and his pricing was reasonable. But we simply couldn’t afford to cough up the money for his other products.

Just like Mr. Job Hunting Guru, you are your own business in charge of your own marketing plan.

And as a business (not a writer, a business), your target audience consists of two kinds of clients: those who can afford you and those who can’t.

I’m not going to tell you how to find clients. There are as many ways to do that as there are grains of sand in the Sahara. And I don’t mean that you should only target big-bucks glossies or Fortune 500 companies.

But whatever your freelancing marketing plan is, focus your efforts on clients with more than dust bunnies in their wallets. Because like Mr. Job Hunting Guru, it doesn’t matter how good you are if your target audience can’t foot the bill.

So target those who can.