Having more than 20 years as a copywriter under my belt, most of it freelance, I've made all the mistakes and suffered all the pains (and the ecstasies) of freelance life.
As an aid to my coaching students, I prepared this short report some time ago to show them that that I truly understand what they're going through as they begin their life as a freelance professional serving corporate clients.
In my opinion, and drawing from my own painful experience, these are the five greatest obstacles to freelance success. I also share the methods, tools, and processes I used to "break on through" to the other side.
Obstacle #1 to Freelance Success: Lack Of Confidence
The #1 reason many soloprofessionals never "go to the next level" is, believe it or not, a simple lack of confidence. Because we usually work alone and don't congregate at clubs, associations, or other venues like, say, realtors do, getting our egos stroked by others or comparing ourselves to our peers is problematic.
Furthermore, some kinds of freelance work is subjective, such as copywriting. And even if you know you're a good or great writer, you'll always come across someone else whose work seems better than yours. The truth is, some of the most successful copywriters aren't the most talented writers at all. They're experts at clarity, excellent at understanding the vagaries of business, and masterful at making clients happy. And this holds true for any kind of freelance-to-corporate relationship.
If you hold yourself back from success with the deeply held conviction that "success is for someone else," there is good news. You can literally change that erroneous belief by changing your belief. If you've never investigated the psychology of self-discipline, you'll be surprised at how easy it is to do.
During my Christmas vacation of 2005 I read an interview of Gary Bencivenga by Clayton Makepeace. Both held that their visualization and positive self-talk were essential to their successful campaigns. There are many tools you can use to break through your own self-limiting barriers. One that I loan out to my students and have used myself is "The Science of Self-Discipline" by Kerry L. Johnson. I purchased it online at Nightingale-Conant several years ago, and it's probably still being sold there.
Obstacle #2 to Freelance Success: Lack Of Planning
It seems rudimentary, but most freelancers don't have a plan for their business. They focus on the moment with no thought for tomorrow, except perhaps the vague wish to "do better next year."
Yet it's nearly impossible to make big changes or achieve great accomplishments without some kind of plan in place. Think about what it is that you most want to accomplish in your freelance business. Do you have a solid plan in place for achieving that goal?
If not, then it's time to figure out where you want your business to be like in five years. Then figure out what part of that you'll accomplish this year. Then determine what you have to do each month to get there. And what you have to do each week. Do you have a business schedule or calendar? Place the weekly tasks on the calendar.
I have a goal-achieving system I created for myself that has at its centerpiece a Daily Schedule. At the end of each day I create a work plan for the next day that moves me closer to my goal.
It's not rocket science and there are no "secrets" to creating documents that help lead you to your goal. Simply take an hour to create a document that helps you organize your day, and make it a habit to complete your "daily schedule" the night before you need it. Make sure that your PRIMARY assigned tasks bring money directly in the door, (actual work for a client) or support it (marketing).
Obstacle #3 to Freelance Success: Ineffective Marketing
It's interesting that copywriters market others for a living, but many are horrendous in their own marketing. I can only imagine how much harder it would be for a professional who offers a service unrelated to marketing.
However, no business can grow without marketing. Fortunately, there are many effective marketing tactics at the disposal of the solopreneur. It's really just a matter of selecting the tactics that make you most comfortable, and then following through.
The most effective marketing tactic is the cold call simply because it's faster and cheaper than other forms of marketing. The best way to do this is to create a phone script and make a few calls to companies in your niche market that are not on your prospect list, but who aren't your most desirable prospects.
This allows you to refine and polish your script, and iron out any unforeseen problems. It also helps you get your confidence up, which is conveyed in your voice. When you get to where you're "polished," that's when you cold call the companies you really want to work for.
If you place a call and you reach voice mail, be sure to leave a message. It's a waste of time to make numerous calls to the same person, hoping to reach them directly. If your message is compelling (you can show them how you can solve a problem or achieve a goal), and your timing is right, you may get a return call.
What kind of results can you expect from a business-to-business phone campaign? Plan to gain one new client per 100 calls (one percent)IF you're properly niched and you have a solid value proposition (e.g., "I can help you reduce employee turnover by 50% and here's how I do it").
Direct mailings with follow-up, got me from zero to making $5,000 USD per month in three months. It's important to note, however, that I was not transitioning from one job to another; I spent full workdays five days a week conducting my mailing and calling campaigns, and I went to a niche market that would accept me readily (based upon my recent past0, direct marketing agencies.
What other marketing tools work well?
In my experience ezines, networking, and especially public speaking. However, you will have your marketing likes and dislikes, and your niche market will have its marketing conventions. For instance, I may dislike cold calls, so I don't include it in my marketing mix. But my target market may spend a lot on trade shows. So I make a point to attend as many trade shows as I can, and maximize networking while I'm there.
Obstacle #4 to Freelance Success: Poor Time Management And Prioritizing
As a freelancer, you'll face all kinds of challenges to your time. You'll have the option to go to the gym during work hours if you wish. Or you might sleep in.
People will ask you for favors, like giving them a ride to the airport because they know you're home. You might stop what you're doing to throw a load of laundry in because it's really stacking up.
As with any business, there's endless work to do that you don't get paid for, like marketing, buying business supplies, invoicing, catching up on reading, answering emails, and attending business events. If you let the fun and easy stuff take priority over your marketing, you're sunk.
Realize that when you do work, you might actually "work for pay" only two or three days out of the week. The other days must be spent on the necessities of running a business.
Outsiders may try to steal your time, but you can be as much at fault by putting off tasks that are more distasteful, like, for instance, marketing.
No matter how much you love what it is you do it is work, and most of us have a natural tendency to push work out as far as possible, especially if it's intimidating.
One of the ways I keep myself on track with priorities is with my Daily Schedule system. At the top of my Daily Schedule, which I fill in each night before a work day, I have a question I must answer. That question is, "How will I make money today?"
By answering that question I automatically bring my moneymaking project to the top of the list, ensuring proper prioritizing.
On the same Schedule I also list other projects that need to be done, in priority order. This helps me get the most important projects done first, and if something's not done, it's the least important task instead of the most important. I encourage you to create a similar time management/prioritizing tool for yourself.
Obstacle #5 to Copywriting Success: Going It Alone
When I first began my copywriting career, I looked everywhere I could for help. But the world of copywriting was isolated back then, and all I had for information and support were the few books I'd bought from Powell's bookstore in Portland, Oregon. I limped along in a pitiful state for years.
Through perseverance and a variety of marketing methods I found myself in a mentoring situation with Bill Brown that I never sought, and didn't even recognize the value of until it was ended.
I envy today's new freelancers because the Internet has changed everything. Not only do we now have access to each other, but to peers who are willing to mentor.
It took me years to find my mentor in Bill Brown, who is now retired but far from forgotten in today's international "direct marketing agency" circles.
For eight years I studied under Bill's instruction. And when I launched off into my second freelance career, I had what I needed to succeed. Master copywriting training from Bill Brown, and an understanding of how marketing works from the agency I sweat blood for (Portland, Oregon's Rosen/Brown Direct).
Today I have a coach, the wonderful Jim Slay of Palos Verdes, California, He helps me with my business expansion goals. And as a coach for all kinds of freelancers who seek corporate clients, I keep some time each day to coach others on proper marketing. It's easy to land the high-quality, high-paying clients like Microsoft, Intuit, and IBM, if you know how.
Get your FREE copy of Chris Marlow's "10 Steps to Landing the High-quality, High-paying Corporate Clients!" Visit: