Writing is only half the battle. If you don’t have good systems and habits in place to actively make you more efficient and strategic about how you write, you could be spending a lot of extra energy struggling to do the very basics of your job. And struggling to do the basics of your job leads to two serious problems: feeling stressed to “write more” all the time, and never writing enough even when you write more.
Struggling to do the basics of your job leads to two serious problems: feeling stressed to “write more” all the time, and never writing enough even when you write more.
Fortunately, writers have gone before you to established systems, tips, and ideas that can help you get more done and make more money with less time and effort over time. It will never be 100 work free (as hustlers we love to work!) but you can implement activities and habits that take away some of the friction and make your work go smoothly.
Here are 8 systems, tips, and ideas collected from around the web and my own experience freelancing that will immediately increase your effectiveness as a freelance writer:
1. Create a custom search engine. If you write regularly for a client, create a custom Google search engine for their website. You’ll be able to search their blog faster and with better results to include internal links within the post. If you write regularly on a particular topic, create a custom Google search engine of high-authority websites you link to frequently. You can do this by industry (social media, technology, healthcare, etc) or by client (this client likes sites such as Inc, Forbes, and Entrepreneur; this client prefers smaller specialist blogs such as SEMRush, Daily SEO, and CEO World, etc).
2. Abide by a process: Outline, research, compose, edit. Create a process out of your writing, and even if you hate them, use outlines. I use outlines for blog posts, resource guides, white papers, and sales pages. A good outline cuts down my work by half because the content stays organized in my head and encourages succinct, on-topic sentences that move the topic forward. It also helps you ensure that you leave no holes even before your editor gets at the work. Start with the basic 5-paragraph essay (Introduction, Point, Point, Point, Conclusion) and add short logical statements of research. Then get to the composition of the narrative piece itself and finish with a final edit. As a bonus touch, create your pitches using this format. Then when the assignment is accepted you can take your pitch and turn it into a very concise outline right away.
3. Show your work. Crediting Ash Ambirge of The Middle Finger Project for this tip, it has played a very important part in feeling comfortable raising my rates and helping my clients see my value. Don’t assume math is the only subject in which you can “show your work.” You can actually add a lot of value (and show how professional you are) by “showing your work” in your writing. When you’re finished with your assignment, save it as a word doc. Then go back through and add a comment every line or paragraph to explain why you did what you did. Did you use causal language at the beginning to appeal to the target audience? Say so. Did you use “thrashing” instead of “twisting” or “fighting” because it’s more visceral? Say so. Show your client how much thought went into what you’re turning in and they will be able to appreciate their investment in you even more.
4. Let your work “cook”. Here’s how I work on my best pieces: on day 1, I do a superficial outline. On day 2, I fill out the facts and logic of the argument. On day 3, I add the narrative and stylistic choices. I let it sit on day 4, and I edit and submit it on day 5. Crunching the schedule crunches that sequence, but I never skip any parts. My best pieces get to cook a little bit and no matter how well I think I write I always find things to fix if I let it rest for a day. By starting every assignment 5 days before the deadline, you also give yourself time to adjust the schedule if need be or to finish early and let it cook for longer while you work on other projects.
5. Embrace the convenience of Google Docs. Despite my privacy concerns, I cannot count the ways in which I love Google Docs. I love the CTRL+K function to create a link that performs a Google search for your anchor test and often finds the link for you. I love quickly sharing documents with clients and stalking them a little to see when they look at it (the browser often shows “Last Viewed By” on the top). I love the in-document chat feature and the flexible comment feature. And on and on… Once embedded into my process, each of these features has allowed me to create and submit (and track edits for) projects much more efficiently.
6. …And the convenience of Google Labs (and general email efficiency). Speaking of Google Docs, go ahead and install Gmail’s “Undo Send” lab feature (Gmail > Settings > Google Labs > Unsend). It has saved me several typos and forgotten attachments, each which leads to fewer emails going back and forth. Other email tips from Tim Ferriss’s The Four Hour Workweek include the following:
Only check email twice per day to prevent switching gears frequently throughout the day. Ferriss suggests the times of 10am and 4pm so that you can catch anything serious before it becomes a problem. Being less available to the endless spiral of email gives you more time to focus on what matters.
When coordinating appointments or schedules, don’t ask open-ended questions. Provide your date availability and a few times that would work so that the next email is “I choose this day and time,” not “That one doesn’t work, how about this one?” in an endless exchange.
7. Save time with browser extensions. Browser extensions can make your life easier. Chrome has the best, but I’ve recently switched to FireFox and I am finding a number of great ones. My top time-savers include LastPass for passwords, Bit.ly for sharing pretty links to my Google Docs, and Tab Saver (Chrome) or Tab Grenade (FireFox) to save batches of assignments and research as I work on them. Each of these extensions “outsources” some of my patterns and habits allowing me to make the most use of my work schedule every day.
8. Don’t hesitate to pay for hard-earned knowledge. It’s important to verify the authenticity and value of everything you purchase for your business use, but don’t be afraid to invest some money into other people’s hard-earned knowledge. For example, early on I purchased Alexis Grant’s How to Create a Frickin’ Fabulous Social Media Strategy ($59) and Ash Ambirge’s Brandgasm Copywriting & Design Course (I paid $300 and it’s on sale for $100!). Both of these courses allowed me to gain confidence in my job and eventually allowed me to step off on my own. I’ve used paid-for and free courses from a number of other bloggers and writers that have allowed me to claim knowledge that I certainly didn’t get in college. Tap into the writing community and don’t be afraid to invest a few dollars per month in education that piques your interest.