Create a Rock-Solid Freelance Business

Steve Roller here, your guest editor of The Writer's Life this week.

I have some good news for you as we start off 2012: you can be clueless about a lot of things and still make a pretty good living as a freelance copywriter.

I know because I've done it.

2011 was my second year as a full-time freelancer, and I'm still amazed at the fact that clients pay me for "crafting words that get results" (my current tagline on my business cards and website).

Despite doing a lot of things wrong, both years surpassed my previous corporate income. And now it’s time to make even more.

Are you ready to cash in, too?

Lessons from "the dark side"

Come along for the ride this week, but let me warn you …

The lessons I'm going to share are things I learned during 19 years in corporate America.

I know it's not kosher to admit association with corporations these days. But I had some great years in sales with two different publishing companies and customer service and management experience with a large regional bank.

I've taken some of the best practices from those corporate jobs and applied them to my freelance business with good results.

I'm talking about strategic planning, branding, quarterly reports, and key-person meetings. Plus the importance of tracking statistics and how that translates into higher executive compensation. (And as owners of our own freelance businesses, you and I are the executives, of course!)

The chains are gone!

The freelance lifestyle is great. You get to be your own boss, which means you set the rules. The problem is, a lot of us tend to be too loose with the details.

I'm as guilty as anyone.

When I became a full-time copywriter in 2009, I reveled in my release from corporate bondage. No more meetings! No more micro-managing! No more rigid work hours!

I celebrated my newfound freedom by writing at odd hours, avoiding all forms of record keeping and goal setting, and taking a very casual attitude toward marketing myself. I enjoyed my self-imposed isolation and loved the creative side of the writer's life.

But because of my complete lack of planning, I was nowhere near the six-figure income I was aiming for.

Something needed to change.

Then it hit me.

I realized that part of my prior success in the corporate world was due to the strong structure and detailed systems I had always used.

Now it was coming back to me. Rewind about 10 years …

The value of detailed planning

  • Those marathon end-of-year sessions with my sales manager? They always set me up for a growth year, including increased income and bonuses like incentive vacations. You don't need a manager for this either. Schedule your own goal-setting day for sometime in January, and you'll reap the same type of rewards.
  • Weekly and monthly progress reports? I didn't like doing them at the time, but they kept me laser-focused on my goals, and they held me accountable not only to my manager and my company, but also to myself. I'll explain what numbers to track and how to keep score tomorrow.
  • Tracking expenses and tax deductions down to the penny? That helped me see exactly where my money was going, and it also saved me a ton of money on my taxes.
  • Yearly sales conferences with about 200 or so of my colleagues? More than a good excuse for heavy-duty socializing, I always came away with new ideas for attracting new clients. The same thing happened when I attended Bootcamp and the Web Intensive last year.
  • Strategic planning sessions every quarter with five to 10 other like-minded big thinkers? Extremely valuable. It would have taken me twice as long to achieve the same results without it. On Friday this week, I'll describe a way for freelance writers to do the same.

Bottom line: Corporate-style tools can benefit you as a writer.

My goal is to help you create a rock-solid foundation by putting some structure and detail into your freelance lifestyle. In the end, it should help you make more money this year.

Do you have an idea borrowed from a previous career that's helped you in your freelance business? A strategy that translates well to the writer's life? I'd love to hear about it, and so would our readers. You can leave a comment here.

Stay tuned this week as we focus each day on applying one key factor from the corporate world to your freelance business.

The AWAI Method™

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Published: January 9, 2012

4 Responses to “Create a Rock-Solid Freelance Business ”

  1. I just recently retired from the federal govt working a 9-5 job and one of the things I learned as a manager is that you have to be a one-minute manager every single day. You must be able to respond to your emails that require a response in one-minute and not having to look back 2-3 times during the day and saying Oh I forgot to respond to my boss's requests. You will free yourself and the stress level will be less at the end of each day leaving you time to do other pending issues in your group like mentoring your employees, serving as a resource person for another group that needs your help. By timely responding to email requests you will have saved time for other responsibilities.

    Carmen Iris

  2. As a chef for 20 years, the last few as the owner, prioritizing tasks and having a daily plan are paramount to creating success in any endeavour.
    Mise en Place (which translates to "everything in place") is a prep list that a Chef uses to ensure they are ready for service, right down to the number of spoons they need for tasting, and which utensils and knives they will be using.
    Applying this to my freelance business has been invaluable and indeed necessary to move forward with less structure.

    Scott Stembridge

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