1. Be a business owner. You're more than a writer, you're a business owner. You're a manager, a marketer, a negotiator, a technology guru and more. Decide how much you need to charge for your services in order to cover your expenses and pay yourself fairly (even generously). Taking this attitude means that you won't be doing work for free or low pay. (You wouldn't expect the local electrician to work for free. Why should you?) Think about what you do best and what you can cost-effectively hire others to do for you: bookkeeping, errands, house cleaning, perhaps even proofreading or editing. Start thinking about yourself as a business, and you'll be surprised by what happens to your bottom line.
2. Know your competition. Find out what other writers charge for the work they do, and think about your own rates in comparison. Do some writers have higher hourly rates or earn more income? If so, learn why. Is it because they specialize? Because they're more productive? Because they know how to manage projects from concept to completion? Once you have a sense of what's going on in the marketplace, develop a pricing strategy that includes asking clients to pay you what you're worth and turning down opportunities to work for a lot less.
3. Go for your goals. Set specific goals: to land three new clients, sell a book to a publisher, place three magazine articles, bill $10,000 a month, learn a new skill. Then develop a step-by-step action plan for achieving your goals. Concentrate on process, not outcome. You can control whether you make three new business calls, even if you can't control whether they result in new business. Finally, start tracking your progress. Bonus tip: Recruit a "goal buddy." You and your goal buddy are a mutual accountability team, reporting to each other about the progress you're making towards achieving your goals.
4. Measure what you want to improve. We get better at what we measure: turnaround time, billable hours, profit margin. If you're not already doing so, start tracking how you spend your time. (Hint: It shouldn't be playing solitaire on your computer.) Also start tracking other things that matter: what type of work you get hired to do, which clients are most profitable, who refers business to you, etc.
5. Be a planner. 10 minutes of planning on the front end will save you up to 90 minutes once you're working. That means spending 10-15 minutes at the start of your day or at the beginning of a project can save you up to two hours each day. If you're looking for a way to jumpstart your productivity, begin each day by making a list of what you need to get done. Start with what's most important, not with what's easiest.
6. Deliver delight. All writers ought to be able to deliver the basics: grammatically correct sentences with no typos, correct facts, projects that are arrive on time and within budget, etc. To keep clients coming back, maintain a positive attitude, be available when you say you will be, and return phone calls and emails promptly. But what can you do to set yourself apart from every other writer? Delight your clients by delivering extras. Make copies so your client doesn't have to. Take a class to learn how to develop the PowerPoint charts your client is so fond of. Join a professional association that can help you understand the challenges your client's industry faces. Bonus Tip: Think WOW!
7. Follow the 80/20 rule. This rule says that 80 percent of your income will come from 20 percent of your clients or projects. As a result, you don't need a lot of clients or projects to make a lot of money. Go for two or three big, long-term clients or long-term projects (like writing a book), and then take on other projects (such as articles) as your schedule allows.
8. Learn to love self-promotion. Writers write because they love to. But if you want to make money as a writer, you also have to learn to love self-promotion and marketing. While you aren't likely to buy an ad in a national magazine, there are plenty of other ways you can get visibility (and even some notoriety). Write an article, give a speech, introduce yourself in a memorable way that helps people truly understand what you do. Put others to work on your behalf as well. Find "buzzers," those people who are willing to tell others about you and the work you do. After all, word of mouth is one of the best (and least expensive) ways of getting attention.
9. Be a know-it-all. Information really is power, especially in the writing world. Attend seminars, subscribe to writing publications, read bestsellers and learn what issues affect you (and your clients). If you specialize, subscribe to appropriate publications for that specialty and belong to organizations that promote it. For the most part, specialists get paid more than generalists, but being knowledgeable about what's happening in the world gives you a definite advantage.
10. Build a network that works for you. Looking to build your business? You don't always have to go it alone. Think about people you admire and respect with whom you might be able to form a mutually beneficial partnership. For instance, graphic designers often sell their services to the same people who hire writers. Find one you can partner with, and agree to share business. Or find a group of writers and agree to pass along resources and projects you can't take on yourself. You'll get their resources and the projects they can't take on. Working with like-minded people offers a slew of benefits. Helpful hint: Be sure to stay in touch with people in your network even when you're not actively working together. And remember to say "thank you" to those who help you along the way. It's surprising how many people forget the importance of those two little words.
Copyright © 2004 Bev Bachel and Jennifer Lawler
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.