Why Some Freelance Writers Struggle to Get Clients

Why Some Freelance Writers Struggle to Get Clients

While some freelancer writers enjoy a steady stream of paying clients, many more watch weeks slip by, with crickets chirping in their inbox.

What’s the secret of successful writers?

That’s the wrong question to ask.

If you’re struggling to get hired by clients on a regular basis, you’d be better off looking for the secrets of less successful freelancers – and making sure any habits you share with them get taken care of, pronto.

Take a look at the list below. It tells you some of the ways far too many freelancers shoot themselves in the foot. And if you’re having trouble getting paying clients, you may be making one of these mistakes without even realizing it.

Mistake 1: Using passive marketing as a crutch

The internet has made marketing to many far more accessible than in the past, where marketing was mostly restricted to where you lived. Today, social media and push-button publishing lets you put your name out into the world with ease.

But there’s a big difference between “putting your name out” and “getting your name out.”

Using social media platforms just to be present is no more effective for your business than opening up an office in a physical location, hanging a sign up, and calling it a day.

Yes, you’ll catch the attention of people who happen to see you and happen to be interested enough to learn more about you and what you sell. You sure won’t make many sales, though.

Look at your current marketing strategies. Are you being active about using marketing strategies that get your name out, through your own sweat and hustle? Or are you just participating in social media in a weak way, hoping clients will come to you?

Mistake 2: Not taking ownership of closing the sale

For many freelancer writers, getting a request for a quote is like having a lottery ticket handed to them. Their eyes go wide, they get excited, and they think, “Ooh! Maybe this will be a winner!” They make their pitch and hope they hear a “Yes!” in response.

When they get a no – or worse, they don’t hear back at all, they’re crushed.

Most writers don’t understand that closing the sale is their job, and not the prospect’s responsibility. Waiting around for replies, sending hesitant emails like “So … any thoughts?” won’t get people on the path to becoming paying clients.

Clients, like potential romantic partners, need to be perused and wooed. That doesn’t mean you need to embark upon a new career in creepy stalking – but it does mean you have to be active, interested and engaged in the process of closing the sale. If you don’t know how to do that, it’s your job to start learning how.

Mistake 3: Spending too much time “looking” for clients

Sometimes the sales cycle for winning new clients is longer than most freelancer writers want it to be. That’s true for seasoned pros as well – sometimes money falls from the sky, and sometimes it takes a lot more hustle to score a sale.

When freelancer writers face a slow-moving pipeline, they often find themselves with a lot of time on their hands. That time generally gets devoted to marketing activities… and nothing else.

When business is slow, successful freelancer writers devote a portion of their non-billable time to projects that put them in a stronger overall position – projects like website improvements, product development, learning new skills, and making their portfolio more attractive. They also work on personal projects that give them a better chance to showcase their skills.

If you don’t have enough clients, you should certainly put a solid effort into hunting down more of them. Just don’t forget about working on projects that make your business more attractive to begin with.

Mistake 4: Only marketing when they “need” clients

Remember that lottery ticket from before? Just like in real life, sometimes those tickets are winners. Suddenly the cycle shifts from famine to feast, and there’s more than enough work to stay busy week in and week out.

That’s when many freelancers stop marketing entirely. They self-identify as “too busy”, or they lose sight of the fact that their previous marketing efforts brought them these clients in the first place. Some writers think they should stop marketing lest they end up with too many clients (as if such a thing exists).

Soon enough, the work is done, the clients are gone… and the cycle shifts from feast to famine. And when that shift happens, many writers end up hunting for clients with a sense of desperation rather one full of confidence.

Unsuspecting freelancers don’t realize that continual marketing is a must, even when they’re fully booked. They also need to consider reinvesting some or all of their newfound profits into better marketing, period.

What to do if any of these apply to you

First of all, don’t beat yourself up. Every successful freelancer has made mistakes in their career at some point, and many have lived through some or all of those listed above.

Second of all, be honest with yourself, and how you’re operating your business. Self-awareness isn’t the most intuitive trait for humans, much less freelancers, so pat yourself on the back for acknowledging that you’re falling prey to some of these traps.

You’ll then be able to make decisions and choose the next actions to get yourself moving in a better direction. Course-correction is part of life, and it’s fairly easy to turn any – or all – of these issues around so that you can start enjoying the sight of more sales coming into your inbox.

Of course, you do have to decide it’s time to start. Today would be a great day to begin, don’t you think?

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

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  1. #3 & #4 combined are huge. I’ve noticed that now that I dedicate a solid 2-3 hours per day to only improving my business (aside from client work, marketing, or looking for new clients), when I actually do need to actively seek out clients, it’s much easier to get hired. Great list!

  2. It’s been 8 months since I left the comfort/discomfort of my corporate writing gig to go fully out on my own, and I’ve made every one of the mistakes on this list! But I’m finally finding my rhythm, and I know that a concerted marketing effort, day in and day out, no matter how swamped I am with current client projects, is definitely the name of the game if I want to succeed. And when I slack on that front, it comes back to bite me, such as when, in August, all the client work came to an end, and I had to hustle like nobody’s business to get my client calendar full again. Oh, the stress! Lesson learned though. And now I’m off to do my daily two hours of marketing/client outreach.

    Thanks for the reminder. 🙂

  3. This is a really bright and astute post.

    I commend you James.

    It really is all about the marketing and maintaining good relationships with clients.

    Engineer yourself to be the celebrity authority within your niche and you’ve kind of got it made.

    Not to be confused with celebrity though. Unless you’re actually getting on prime time TV and stuff.



  4. When your back is against the wall is usually when people step up because it’s a do or die situation for their business. It’s cycle that we need to stop. You should be marketing and promoting yourself all the time so it becomes part of who you are. Sales and self promotion is everything when establishing relationships and building your freelance writing business.

  5. Amen, James! Ahh, it’s the ole feast-or-famine cycle. . .

    Steps #3 and #4 brought a wake-up call to me — it’s great when you have lots of business, but 6 months from now, how can you be *absolutely certain* you want have to bust both butt cheeks looking for work just to keep your income from dropping? At that point, there’s no such thing as “growing your business,” it’s maintaining the level you’ve reached so far.

    That’s why I developed a strategy to cover both bases — a process that brings several dozen leads to me at once so I’ve always got “firm yes’s” from people to work with.

    And I tell you what, James. . .it’s *so* much easier to organize all these projects and clients around your schedule, rather than sacrifice every open slot on your calendar upon the altar labelled “Please help me find more clients.”

    So enjoyed your article, so I’ll be back for more!

  6. “Clients, like potential romantic partners, need to be perused and wooed.” This is a great truth to keep in mind. I have fallen prey to the pitfalls you list here, and it is helpful to see exactly what they are and how to overcome them.
    Thank you for sharing!

  7. This is true of both professional, technical writers and creative writers. It’s great if you bust out a flawless blog—but not if it takes you five hours to do it. A successful writer does what they do well, but also in a timely manner. This is especially important to keep in mind for pro tech writers who get paid per word or a flat rate per piece/project.


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