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From the Trenches: How to Grow Your Freelance Business

Success as a freelancer takes more than great writing. It takes hustle. You need to invest in your business development as much as you do your craft.

Business development is a craft that is far more complex than cold-pitching gig listings on Craigslist and other job sites.

What you need to do instead is build relationships, know the ins and outs of your market, and partner with other service providers and freelancers.

Here are invaluable words of wisdom from three writers who have positioned their businesses into true freelancing machines:

Remember that It’s a Real Job

Catherine Alford, owner at, scaled her business from zero to a healthy five figures in two years. Her strategy? Give your venture the same attention you would any 9-5.

“Too many people want to make money writing, but they do it on the side after work and treat it almost like a hobby,” she said. “Having a professional attitude and being prompt and accommodating helps a freelance business to grow.”

Alford encourages writers to roll up their sleeves and do whatever it takes to grow.

“When I first started freelance writing, I pitched website after websites showing my samples and asking if they needed freelance writers,” she says. “I did this every single day until I made enough to support myself. Today, two years later, I work mostly on client recommendations but that wouldn’t be possible if I hadn’t created an excellent reputation to begin with.”

Work from the Ground Up

Starting from ground zero is far from easy. It’s low-paying, demoralizing, and inefficient. But you have to keep going, explains Marcia Turner, a freelance writer who grew her business from $30,000 to a six-figure enterprise in a decade.

“For me, the strategy that worked was laddering, starting with assignments that didn’t pay that great but that gave me an opportunity to show what I could do,” Turner said.

“Then I used those clips to pitch magazine editors in related industries, moving from local to trades. Once I had a bunch of trades under my belt, I began pitching national magazines.”

A pivotal moment for Turner was her national magazine debut.

“Once I broke into Woman’s Day, the others were an easy sell,” she says.

Slow Down

Early in his career, Jonas Ellison wanted to get things done as soon as he could. His solution? Lightning-fast writing.

“I was focusing on turning projects around fast to impress my clients, so I’d start on the piece right away,” he explains. “Sure, I turned things around fast, but it led to copy with no real direction and way too many revisions.”

Ellison quickly realized that time was the key to happier clients.

“I decided it was much better to take plenty of extra time up front to solidify what David Ogilvy called ‘the big idea’ before starting the piece,” he said. “When I did this, less time was spent on the project altogether due to far fewer revisions and my clients were way happier with the finished product.”

His lesson? Map out your thoughts. Take the time you need to achieve clarity in your writing, he says.

“Don’t jump in on the piece of copy too soon,” Ellison cautioned. “Fully map out your thoughts on it and be very clear on what you’re trying to communicate before you start. Get a big, blank piece of paper and go nuts. Draw diagrams, arrows, scratch things out.”

It’s messy. It’s liberating.

“When all is said and done, you’ll be left with a bloody battlefield of thoughts on that once blank piece of paper,” he said. “Some will have died, but to the victor go the spoils. Take those ideas and start creating your copy.”

Image courtesy of Chiot’s Run/flickr

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