So, you’re a new freelance writer but don’t have systems in place? Or maybe you’re some ways into your journey and still need some clarity on your processes for freelance writing.
Every freelance writer needs systems and processes for at least four inevitable stages of their business. These stages can be broadly classified as outreach, onboarding, workflow, and delivery and payment.
Of course, there are stages you might throw in prior to these as well as beyond the ones I’ve outlined. However, not everyone will want (or need) to start with things like a business plan or work on client retention.
If you’re a new or fairly new freelance writer, this post will give you a jump-off point for the four must-have phases of your business. Let’s get into it.
Outreach and Pitching
Ahh, the dreaded task of pitching.
Pitching is perhaps the biggest hurdle that any business owner, including you as a freelance writer, needs to overcome. It’s a direct hit to one of our worst fears, namely rejection.
We won’t even get into the whole imposter syndrome challenge here.
Here’s the deal: There’s no way around pitching. The best thing you can do for yourself is take at least one week, swallow your fears, and consistently pitch so you can desensitize yourself and get the hang of it.
Here are 3 pieces of the pitching puzzle you need to get started:
- Frequency of pitching
- A personalized template
- A questionnaire for prospects
Frequency of Pitching
How often you should pitch is obviously totally up to you. Of course, the more you pitch the greater your chances of getting a response.
Based on my experience and guidance from mentors, I recommend pitching for 1-2 hours a day — more if you can.
Alternatively, try to send out at least 10 pitches a day to start, and raise it to 20 pitches a day when you get into the groove of it.
Trust me, it will take a while to get the hang of pitching as you first have to find and collect potential prospects, gather the necessary information to contact them, and build up the guts to send them a message.
And yes, we are talking about cold pitching here. Cold pitching is when you reach out to a business you’ve never been in contact with before, whereas warm pitching is when you’ve already had some form of interaction with them.
So, you’ve found a few potential clients to pitch to and are ready to send them your pitch.
What’s that going to look like?
A Personalized Template
Let’s face it.
People who share their pitches can usually back it up with years of experience and show off their name in big brand magazines and websites.
And they’re right to do this. If you have any portfolio material which might be relevant to the business you want to pitch to, you’re going to want to share it.
If you don’t, worry not. You can still easily start landing gigs via cold pitching. By easily, I mean if you are consistent and willing to adapt your pitch.
Your process begins with a personalized template which includes the following:
A. A subject line that hooks, intrigues, or cuts straight to the point
B. Your background, experience, or a connection point
C. Your offer
There are tons of freelance writing templates available online, and there are even more people giving advice on how it should be done. Truth is, you’re going to change your pitch to suit you anyways, so it’s best you start now.
Customize your pitch template to suit the occasion. Are you responding to a job board ad? Check out Elna Cain’s recent pitching advice if you are.
Are you cold pitching to a business? Keep it short and sweet… we’re talking no more than three to four sentences. If a business has an opening, is in need of your services, or “like” you, they’ll reach out.
Once you get beyond this stage of the outreach process, you’ll have lots to get into.
A Questionnaire for Prospects
After you’ve successfully pitched to and garnered your first client, it’s time to ask them questions that will primarily help you learn more about your client and how best to serve them.
Questionnaires are also useful for building confidence in your clients.
As a freelance content or copywriter, you will need to have different questionnaires for your various services.
If you’ve niched down, you’ll also want to customize them to suit the industry you’re focused on.
And if, again, you know what stage your client is at in their business, you may want to adapt your questionnaire once more to suit them.
Basically, like pitching templates, questionnaires aren’t set in stone.
Whether it’s on the sales call, via email, or using some fancy software — hi, Dubsado! — a questionnaire is vital for both you and your new client to start off on the right foot and with quality results.
So you’ve gone through your questionnaire with a client and are ready to onboard them. Note: You may secure payment before (or after) this step. Again, nothing is set in stone — or “right.” Do what works for where you’re at now.
Onboarding – Communication
By now, you’ve settled into pitching, have gotten responses, and you’re ready to onboard a brand new client! Congrats!
When it comes to onboarding, this can go a few ways. I’ll handle it this way:
- Establishing your communication and delivery platform
- Establishing boundaries
- Signing contracts
- Getting your deposit secured
Establishing your Communication and Delivery Platforms
Depending on how you sent out your first pitch — via a cold email, an Instagram DM, or by calling a business — you might have already established a primary means of contact with your client.
If not, or if you or your client want to change it, you’ll want to do so early on. Most freelance writers simply use email in their dealings with clients.
However, you may have to adapt to the client’s preferred communication platforms. Software like Slack, and project management software such as Asana are commonly used by a lot of businesses.
Whatever the case, it’s best to clarify with your client how the two of you will be communicating in the future if it’s not obvious.
These days, everyone’s talking about establishing boundaries… which is great! It’s made more business owners, entrepreneurs, solopreneurs, and even large companies more aware of the need to have them.
It’s made us lose our heads less and work more productively.
Still, it can be a bit nerve-wracking to tell your brand new client who you waited so long for that they shouldn’t message you on weekends or after 5 pm on weekdays because that’s when you enjoy family time.
It’s possible to be kind and direct at the same time.
“Hi Nancy, just a few things to keep in mind as we move forward. You probably won’t reach me at 5 on weekdays as I use that time to be with my family. And weekends are for play so I can release any work tension and come back to serve you rejuvenated and ready to go on Monday!”
You get the idea.
Your client probably doesn’t like to work on weekends either. And you can always let them know they can reach out to you for emergencies.
Sending Out Contracts
Once it’s clear that you and your client are a good fit, i.e., that they’re willing to respect your boundaries and you all vibe well, it’s time to sign some contracts.
This can go both ways — you send out a contract or your client does (or both!)
As a remote freelance writer, contracts can be iffy, but it’s good to lay out agreements in stone regardless.
Ideally, you would want to have a contract that is vetted by a real lawyer. Alternatively, there are a few templates you can go with. Here’s one from Wise.
Why do you want a contract? Four main Reasons:
- To make you look more professional
- To better secure payment
- To thwart scope creep (when the client adds work to what the two of you previously agreed upon)
- To protect yourself and your client’s assets
Contracts can feel like they’re causing friction with your client when they’re really not.
They’re giving both you and your client something to refer to if there IS real friction, and they’re a way of shaking hands firmly on a clear deal.
There are a few contract signing app options you can choose from including DocuSign, PandaDoc, and eSign which is what I personally use.
Getting Your Deposit Secured
Simultaneously with sending out (or receiving) your contract to the client, you’re going to want to secure at least a deposit of 20%, or better yet, 50% of the total cost of your services.
In some instances, your client will pay you in full upfront (yay!). Adversely, you might find yourself working with a client — or agency — who pays after work is done. If they’re legit, that should work out just fine, too.
How do you get your deposit secured?
Here’s what I recently used for a quick writing gig this year:
“Here’s the information I’ll need from you to go ahead and get started, along with a 50% deposit with the rest due upon completion. I can do up to 3 rounds of edits once I deliver the final piece.”
I then insert, via an email, a link to my invoice where the client paid my deposit in just a few clicks. I use Freshbooks, for reference.
There are many other ways to request a deposit. You may have even mentioned it on a sales or onboarding call with your client.
Once your deposit is in the bag, it’s time to get to work!
Workflow and Marketing
You’ve heard it before: The best way to become a great writer is to write every day. Period.
No one out there is going to tell you your writing is perfect because there’s no such thing.
“Perfection is the mountain that has no peak.” —Emma Norris
At best, your clients will give you feedback — of course, you hope they’ll LOVE your writing — and some of it will help you to improve your writing style and make it work even better for future work and other clients.
If you’re reading this and consider yourself a freelance writer or even an aspiring freelance writer, then you can ALWAYS become a great writer. How do I know this? Because if you’re passionate about something there’s literally nothing that can stop you.
And with that, for this section, I’m going to provide you with the software and tools to help you along with the process of writing content for your clients, as well as developing a strategy to get more of them.
Project Management Software
There are endless project management software available to you for free with amazing features and functions.
You DO NOT need to try all of them.
Some of the largest businesses are still using software we’d consider “old.” That’s not to say you should just go with whatever. It’s just to say trying them all will only hold you back and you probably don’t need to.
My recommendations (affiliate links incoming!) are:
Notion – Use it to keep client meeting notes, store your tools in one place, and, if you wish, as a bookmarking tool for resources like this blog post!
ClickUp – Use it as an organizer and planner for your one-time or repeating tasks, and to manage a small team if and when you grow your business.
In addition to the above, I recommend having a physical planner. If you’ve heard about the power of your thoughts (read: the law of attraction), you’ve probably heard about the power of writing your thoughts in a book.
Writing things down helps you actually feel like you’re being productive before you start a task, already building momentum for it. And, quite simply, nothing compares to writing down your thoughts with a pen as opposed to typing it — and this coming from a gal who LOVES to type!
Want a planner recommendation? The Success Planner has been the best for me so far.
If you’re not sure where to start with your writing tools, I don’t blame you. There are more than enough apps and tools to help you along your writing workflow.
In fact, I compiled 39 of them and put them together into a labeled writer’s toolbox which you can grab from me here.
Over time, feel free to let go of some of these tools as you realize which ones you like.
As a freelance writer, you are a business. Sure, you may not have identified your brand, messaging, or even have an official business name yet. It really doesn’t matter.
What matters is how your potential clients perceive you.
This means you’ll need some form of strategy to position yourself as a professional freelance writer who can deliver valuable services to your clients.
The type of services you offer may guide you as to where you want to concentrate your marketing efforts. If you’re a website copywriter, your website copy should be top-notch.
And if you’re a blog writer like me, blog writing should be in your strategy.
In strategizing, focus on these three 3 things:
- The goal and target audience of each content piece.
- How you want to come off to your audience (voice, tone, and style).
- Consistency in your design element.
For number three, don’t think this requires you to become a graphic designer. At the very least, try to use only three or four colors consistently throughout your marketing content, and use images that blend together.
Strategy involves planning. You may need to answer questions like.
How often will you post your blogs? When will you write them, publish them, and post about them?
What are you going to post on social media? At what times? On what days? What amount of time will you spend on engagement?
We’ll talk about marketing in a future post. For now, understand that gaining clients by pitching first is more important. If marketing is taking your time away from that, put it on the backburner as important as it might be.
How important is it?
Marketing yourself consistently is what will most likely have clients coming your way eventually. And when clients start coming to you, best believe you’ve made it!
Delivery and Payment
Ok. So you’ve done the work, your client loves it, and you even had some time to market yourself as you set out to drive clients your way. Woohoo!
It’s now time for delivery and final payments.
This part is fairly easy. All you need is a file-sharing system and payment software. I’ve mentioned Freshbooks is my go-to for the latter. If you rather go the free route, PayPal still works just fine.
For delivering final pieces to a client, Google Drive is the king. Most clients already use it, and all you have to do is send a link via email.
You probably don’t need to hear this, but always do your best to send deliverables on or before your deadline. Aside from your actual quality of work, it’s the second thing that leaves the biggest impression on clients.
And, finally, don’t forget to remind your clients — by sending them the link again — when their final payment is due. You may give clients 15 or 30 days to pay, just be clear on payment terms and late fees.
Need More Help?
There’s A LOT beyond this detailed outline when it comes to the processes of a freelance writer.
With this breakdown, you at least now can tell your client, “This is how my process goes…” And give them an idea of the structure by which your business runs.
You’ll look (because you are) more put-together, feel more confident, and better convey the unique value you offer to your clients.
Ready to level up? Sign up for my FREE 5-step program to go from beginner to confident freelance writer today. And stay on the lookout for more blogs like these by following me on Instagram!