You might have started your writing business because you love to write.
You might get a lot of positive feedback on your writing.
And you might have even picked up many great writing gigs over the years, solidifying your status as a professional writer.
But something is missing.
It’s difficult to balance writing for your existing clients and attracting new clients. Consequently, your writing income varies at different times throughout the year and the work you love to do never quite feels sustainable.
TET: the backbone of a sustainable writing business
Whether you’re just starting your writing business, or you’ve been building it for a while and are hoping to make it more financially secure, I have 15 tips that support a healthy, productive solopreneur venture.
To make the advice manageable, I’ll list five tips under three important categories for anyone working for themselves: Technology, Education, Tools (TET).
The success of a writing business depends on so much more than your ability to write.
Educating yourself on the business of writing and content marketing gives you a huge advantage over other (directionless) writers.
My Writing Business TET Talk below — not to be confused with a TED Talk 😉 — will show you how the right knowledge combined with the unique value you offer clients can create a powerhouse business that allows you the freedom to be yourself and do work you care about.
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Writing Business Technology
Technology makes most modern writing businesses possible.
And getting set up with the right digital services doesn’t require a ton of technical knowledge. Instead, this section will focus on core business logistics that depend on some sort of technology.
My goal is to help you feel thankful for easy access to these solutions, rather than overwhelmed by a bunch of new things to learn.
As you’ll see, the main components you need are pretty simple.
1. Set up your internet, email, and phone accounts
We’re really starting at the beginning here, but I don’t want to skip the basics.
Intermittent, possibly not secure, internet access at a coffee shop just doesn’t cut it when you’re ready to get serious about your writing business.
Having a reliable internet connection at a place where you can always work — whether that’s at home or an office space — will give you peace of mind that you can communicate with your clients whenever you need to.
I also suggest having an email address and phone number for your business.
While you’re passionate about your work, separating business from personal communications is one step that can help prevent burnout.
Rather than having your entire day be one mix of business and personal tasks, you can get in the habit of managing business and personal items at different times.
2. Invest in hardware and software
This one is all about asking yourself questions to find out what you need to do your job well.
You can have a first-priority list with absolute necessities and a second-priority list for possible additions in the future.
To create your first-priority list, you may ask yourself:
- Is my computer able to perform every function needed for my business?
- Does the camera still work if a client requests a video call? What about my microphone and speakers?
- Is the writing software I use sufficient? How about my accounting software?
To create your second-priority list, you may ask yourself, what would I need if I wanted to:
- Start a podcast as a content marketing channel for my writing business?
- Make YouTube videos?
- Host live events?
3. Build a beautiful, secure website for your writing business
If you were setting up a brick-and-mortar business, you’d be checking out real estate at different locations.
One of the perks of a digital writing business is that you don’t necessarily need to rent or buy a physical space in order for you to do your work.
What you do need, however, is a beautiful, secure website that’s fast and easy to use. Then you’ll have a professional place to welcome prospects.
4. Prioritize your social media accounts
To complement your digital home, you’ll have social media accounts.
But attempting to have a presence on every site can be time-consuming and distracting.
Find out where your prospects hang out online and focus your social media efforts on those sites. Ultimately, you’ll share content on those platforms that will bring visitors back to your website.
5. Select a payment processor
What’s the best way for clients to send you money?
You don’t want to use a system that’s super easy for you but a pain for your clients, or vice versa.
Envision how your ideal scenario would play out once someone wants to hire you, and then select a digital payment processor, like PayPal or Square. That’ll be your standard procedure.
More on outlining your terms of service and payment policy below.
Writing Business Education
If you’re using content marketing and copywriting to build your writing business, you’ve probably already realized an unpleasant truth:
We live in a day and age when there is plenty of outstanding content to consume.
Your ideal customers and clients have multiple lifetimes worth of content to consume, right at their fingertips.
So it begs the question:
Why should an audience choose your great content over the competition?
That’s where having a broad understanding of digital marketing comes into play.
The good news is that we’ve narrowed down this range of competence to three core areas we teach inside Copyblogger Academy.
It’s what we call the trifecta of core skills
Writers with a good understanding of these three skills end up with higher-quality clients who are happy to pay a premium. These clients are also more likely to give you ongoing work.
This makes growing and scaling your writing business far easier.
Interested in mastering these three core skills?
Find out more about joining us inside Copyblogger Academy here.
Since ongoing education is crucial for writing business owners, let’s look at entrepreneurial actions you’ll need to learn about and perform.
1. Draft a budget
This is another one that helps you separate business activities from your personal life.
How much money do you need to run your business?
When you set aside funds for business expenses, you’ll have a realistic picture of what you can spend money on now and what you might need to hold off on until a later time. Then you’ll have an idea of how much money you need to save for certain items you eventually want to invest in.
Review your budget on a regular basis, since you may need to adjust how much money you spend on certain things.
For example, if an emergency expense comes up, you may have to borrow money from the amount you typically spend on social media ads, and pause those ads until you’re able to replenish the social media ads portion of your budget.
2. Determine your prices
Every project you work on will have different factors that affect how much you charge for your work, but the right type of preparation makes negotiating fees with clients much easier.
Check out our article 5 Stress-Free Steps for Pricing Your Services by Beth Hayden.
You’ll learn how to:
- Perform research and determine your hourly rate
- Estimate how many hours the project will take
- Add some margin to cover additional expenses, overhead, and surprises
- Communicate the price clearly to your client
- Track your hours and adjust future pricing accordingly
3. Outline the terms of service and payment policy for your writing business
While “terms of service and payment policy” may sound like boring business details, I consider them a fun opportunity for you to stand out as a professional.
If you want to have an exceptional service business, you cannot casually respond to any form of business communication or informally agree to any business transaction.
Check out my article Service Business Fundamentals: Impress and Score Your Next Client.
- How to become a master of assessing, communicating, and managing expectations
- The “service business as go-to collaborator” model
- How to present terms of service that help you convert prospects
4. Become the Editor-in-Chief of your website
You knew this one was going to be here.
Remember that beautiful, secure website that you built? That’s your publishing company, so make sure you manage it like an Editor-in-Chief.
My article Why Marketers Need Content Editors will show you how to become your own content editor, and you can pick up blog editing essentials in 40 Quick Editing Tips.
5. Avoid this common marketing mistake
I’m especially enthused about sharing this one with you because it will save you a lot of time.
Many new service providers (myself included, back in the day) create marketing materials that try to convince someone that they need a certain service.
For example, writers would speak to someone “who doesn’t know they need a professional writer” and try to persuade that person into thinking that hiring a professional writer is better than writing your own content and copy.
It’s a reasonable starting place for business newbies, and not a terrible mistake, but think about creating marketing materials for those who are already looking for a professional writer.
Prospects who already value professional writers are much easier to convert to clients.
Your job is convincing them that you’re the right person to hire. You don’t have to first convince them that they need to hire someone like you.
Writing Business Tools
Our final section will help you with the day-to-day activities of being self-employed.
These are practices that help you become more creative, productive, and confident.
Small changes to your writing habits can make a big difference when something unexpected happens and you have to roll with the punches.
Let’s roll …
1. Have an idea notebook
You’ll write down way more ideas than you’ll actually use, but it’s smart to document your thoughts about:
- Content ideas
- Marketing experiments
- Potential business partners
- Social media communities
- Books you want to read
- Your ideal clients
- Extra value you can provide
The pages can look messy and only make sense to you, but the notebook is a resource you can open if you ever feel stuck and don’t know where you should put your effort next.
2. Break down writing business tasks into lists
I wish I could sell lists as my own product called “Overwhelm Begone!”
There are often many different parts to a project or many different steps you need to complete before you can finish a task or achieve a goal.
My simple method to immediately avoid overwhelm is listing out every step that needs to happen. If you need to delegate tasks to other people, map out their roles in a sublist.
I include even the tiniest tasks because once they’re written down, they’re out of my mind and I can use that portion of brainpower for something else.
If you only had one thing to do at all times, I understand that breaking down that one thing into a list would be unnecessary. But when you have a lot going on, lists help ensure that everything gets done properly.
3. Use systems and processes
Like lists, systems and processes help you swiftly take care of business.
Here are some examples:
- A spreadsheet can help you monitor the stages of every project you have or organize your content marketing ideas.
- Your email policy can inform clients upfront about how quickly you respond to emails, so you can prioritize your workload.
- If you have trouble remembering to do a weekly task, assign it to a certain day of the week and stick to that routine.
4. Create a sample workday
Working for yourself gives you a lot of freedom, but it’s also stressful if you don’t manage your time properly. It will feel like you’re working all the time, and you’ll lack that balance I mentioned earlier.
So, if you keep the items you need to tackle on any given workday in mind, it’s a reminder that there’s a time to hustle and a time for leisure later in the day.
Your sample workday may include:
- Responding to work emails
- Writing for practice
- Writing for clients
- Meeting with clients
- Reading blogs about writing, content marketing, and your industry (if you write for a specific niche)
5. Filter out unsolicited criticism
They mean well, but sometimes they’re just mean.
I’m talking about the people you interact with who will make negative comments about your professional writing services. You know, the ones who know nothing about your industry or actually being a professional writer.
I don’t want to get too snarky, because a lot of them likely just want to protect you.
It’s difficult for many people to understand how writers make a living, so it’s a lot easier to discourage a writer from going down a path of uncertainty.
But you’re smarter than that. You know you don’t have to do this alone, and you don’t have to go down a path of uncertainty.
If you want to start the writing business of your dreams, you’ve come to the perfect place. Copyblogger has helped accelerate the careers of writers just like you since 2006.
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Reader Comments (18)
Good advice. I really need to start carrying a notebook with me for ideas as I’m like a goldfish at the moment.
Sonia Simone says
As a fellow goldfish, I can attest that this is a useful practice. 🙂
Stefanie Flaxman says
I could have called it a “focus” notebook too. 😉
Once you have your ideas written down in one place, it’s much easier to narrow down your top priorities and select one to focus on.
I loved this article Stefanie – give yourself a pat on the back!
I started carrying an idea notebook around a year ago and like you, I would recommend to anyone. It’s amazing how many ideas seem to pop into your head when you are relaxed and away from your workstation!
Stefanie Flaxman says
It’s so simple, but so helpful. 🙂
Sarah Charmley says
Simple clear advice. Thank you, Stefanie. I love lists and they are definitely a way to move forward when you are wondering what next.
Speaking of secure sites (per the Technology point #3), does Copyblogger have any plans to switch to HTTPS?
Stefanie Flaxman says
We’re looking at SSL for all of our site properties and any transactional portions are already secure.
Michael LaRocca says
I love the part about creating marketing materials for those who are already looking for a professional writer. That must be one of the best demonstrations of the 80/20 rule there is. Rather than spend your time marketing to people who resist your service, wouldn’t you rather just be writing?
Stefanie Flaxman says
I’m glad you liked that one, Michael! I remember how beneficial that shift was for me.
Namrata Choudhary says
Lists always are the best way to manage all the tasks and perform to the fullest. Thanks for the article. Good Read!
Brooke Harper says
Are these your secrets based on your experience, Stefanie? Because they sound so good – well planned and mapped out. I always believed that writing would be a great business; whether you build your own website or start as a freelance writer to gain experience and exposure. Sadly, some of those who go for freelance writing are often paid so badly (and cheap) by other companies that it discourages them in the long run. This article would surely encourage them to push on.
Stefanie Flaxman says
Thanks, Brooke. The tips are based on my experience.
I’m glad you pointed out how writers can get discouraged if they are paid poorly.
I think a common theme throughout the post is having professional standards for your writing business. One standard I didn’t explicitly mention is knowing your worth and avoiding clients who aren’t a match for your services and don’t have the budget to pay for your high-quality work.
Our Certification program helps writers provide more value to their clients, so they don’t have to get stuck working for low rates. 🙂
Liz Chou says
Good read! Thanks for the sharing! The ideas are all very practical! I once did a personality test and find out am actually a ESFJ personality. Surprisingly, I found myself maybe not a good fit for writing stuffs. Well, after reading this, I think I will find a way to figure out how to keep myself writing.
Matthieu Gauthier says
Thank you for all this infos.
I usually have trouble breaking down tasks into lists, but i will try it and hope it will improve my work.
Nisha Garg says
I am a big fan of Copyblogger, you guys simply post great content on each topic. The article very well explains and the sub points are just amazing and very much useful.
Great work, Thanks!
Elizabeth Roberts says
Point number 5 right on spot Stefanie. Whoever is looking for a good author/content creator will know who to hire by reading their content. If you are good they will come to you.
I hardly breakdown tasks into a list and I usually end up mixing things up. Thanks for sharing.
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