I don’t have a lot of secrets online. I write about how much money I make, my faith in God, and the things that scare me. But when you are embarking upon a career in freelance writing, you’ll soon find out that there are some things that the world doesn’t need to know.
And I’m not just talking about what keeps you up at night or what you ate for breakfast. I’m talking about strategic things that 1) make you smarter when you don’t share them and 2) make you look like a newbie when you do.
In a world where vulnerability and disclosure are hot, hot, hot, here are three secrets you actually need to keep to yourself if you want to be a successful freelance writer:
Secret #1: That you can write anything for anyone
Now, I can absolutely write anything for anyone.
I’ve written tweets, slogans, white papers, blog posts, blog post intros, webinars, webinar abstracts, and data reports, and I’ve written them for my niche (human resources) as well as marketing, construction software, shipping and logistics, website design, data security, cloud solutions, medical surgery foam (seriously), and more.
But do you know what’s on my portfolio and my LinkedIn profile? I write white papers and articles for HR. That’s it. And that’s why I can propose projects and rates (and project rates) that blow my $20-an-article rate of the past out of the water.
It’s not crazy to say you can write something and be able to do it. In fact, if you’re a writer, you’re just good with words. You can make them dance in any format on any topic in any place on Earth…
But the minute you say that — the minute a client reads that on your website — they drop you in a big, bottomless cavern known as “generalist.” And generalists don’t get paid much.
The minute a client reads that you can write anything for anyone on your website, they drop you in a big, bottomless cavern known as “generalist” — And generalists don’t get paid much.
It’s far, far better to niche in both topic and format and say so. It will take a little time, and it will take a little trial and error, and yes, you will have to turn away business, but that’s the only way to command a higher rate and actually enjoy the work you do.
(Spoiler alert: Your niche will change over time! And that’s okay!)
Secret #2: That you’ve been writing and reading since you could crawl
Again, I was a writer when I was a toddler.
I wrote a short story about an iguana in elementary school. My favorite hobby in middle school was correcting my older brother’s papers. My idea of a good time in high school was taking an apple and a book, biking up the street, and reading for hours in the outdoors.
But that wholesome, beautiful story about a young woman’s weakness for word wrangling has absolutely nothing to do with marketing manager with $15,000 to spend on content this quarter. In fact, it distracts that manager from the job she needs to get done with soft, meaningless, Nicolas-Sparks-style words.
Your personal history and soft, meaningless, Nicolas-Sparks-style words distract your prospective clients from the jobs they need to get done.
Instead of talking about how young you were when you got your first red pen, talk about your years of experience and the projects you’ve worked on. Talk about the results your clients got, or the things your clients don’t need to worry about when their writer is on-time, polished, and thoughtful.
You don’t have to sterilize business and be all about the analytics all the time, but the time for sharing who you are and building a connection is after you land the work based on what you can do for them (and after they have paid you ;-)).
Secret #3: Why you can’t make that meeting/take that assignment/be their slave
Sometimes my calendar is booked because I’m going to a doctor’s appointment. Sometimes it’s booked because I don’t have nanny coverage. And sometimes it’s booked because I’m going to be eating a delicious snack. Do you know what my clients hear from me?
“I’m so sorry, but I’m unavailable at that time.”
Same goes for a project that 1) seems like it’s going to be a pain in the tookus, or 2) will conflict with my ethics, or 3) will make me roll my eyes too hard every day for several weeks as I try to schedule 5+ subject matter experts and their entourages.
Over-sharing about your calendar is both annoying to the person you’re scheduling with (seriously, they don’t need to know) and chafes at your professionalism. In fact, it’s just an example of how new freelance writers can get caught up in the negative worldview of freelancers. You think:
Everyone knows freelancers are unreliable, so I have to prove to them that I’m reliable by giving them every detail about my calendar and every legitimate excuse I can.
Everyone knows freelancers are desperate for work, so I have to explain in excruciating detail why I won’t take this particular assignment and how grateful I’d be to be considered again in the future.
Nope! Stop. Sometimes the most B-A thing you can do is sit quietly and say, “I’m sorry, that’s not going to work for me.”
What are your secrets?
So, what about you? Do you have any secrets you’ve kept from clients from day 1? And what other secrets do you think freelancer writers should keep close to the vest?