1. Why did you decide to become self employed?
Back in school, when I was 14, I started buying and selling motocross parts and gear on eBay. It started off as me buying a few items in bulk, so it was cheaper for me and my friends. I was able to make a profit on eBay by increasing order quantities each time. Back then, I was one of 2-3 sellers selling the items; how things change!
Anyway, that spurred me on to start my first e-commerce store. This store grew into a passion (borderline obsession) for anything web related. Since then, I’ve always wanted to work in an internet based role and becoming self employed seemed like the best route.
2. How long have you been in freelance content writing, and why did you choose to get into this field of work?
Since 2007. When I had the e-commerce store, I got involved with a small marketing firm in Scotland. They provisionally offered me a part time freelance position if I was ever to finish the e-commerce store.
After I finished school, I went to college and didn’t have time to run the store as I wanted. I sold it off and started freelance writing. Back then I had no idea of how to get any more work, so I was stuck with just one client.
3. How did you find your first clients, and has this process changed as you’ve become more established?
I think it would have been towards the end of 2007 that I started to actively look for clients. I started searching through search engines, trying to find out information. Eventually, I became an active member on Webmaster websites, after flipping a few blogs; it was here that I found some customers.
The processes have not really changed, although I get a lot more referrals now. I still use forums and freelance sites to network with site/business owners. What has changed is the need for better quality content. This means that the work I tend to do now is becoming more and more what I want to do. I mean, a few years ago, the majority just wanted masses of keyword junk, where as now that doesn’t tend to be the case.
For a few years, I saw writing as side income whilst I was looking to move onto bigger and better things. The realisation for me is that writing and online marketing is what I really enjoy. It is not just the complexity of it, but the ability to be flexible in my own life. This has led to me dedicating a lot of time and energy into Vibe Tech Media, which is being used as a lead generator.
4. What tips can you give to writers looking to satisfy clients and gain repeat business?
Pricing – Be flexible, but don’t give in. Some clients are awesome and easy to deal with; others not so much. You need to have an hourly rate in mind and have a clear indication of what you can do each hour. Different projects will require a different level of care and attention and therefore, time.
Negotiation and flexibility are part of any business, but if you give in to client “demands”, then you’ll regret it in the long run. It will be the one project you dread every month and the one that really destroys your motivation for other projects; so start as you mean to go on.
Feedback – If, like me, you are going to be involved on freelance sites, you need to establish your credibility. I’d say that a feedback profile with 4-5 testimonials is going to increase your conversion rate by 50% or more.
At first you need to work hard to get feedback. One of the best ways to get it is to network with buyers; explain you are looking to build up your feedback. Work for discounted rates; free if necessary. Feedback is incredibly important.
Website – It goes without saying that you should have a website and a portfolio. I had a website I setup a year or so ago and never promoted. Now I’ve developed Vibe Tech Media instead, which has been my focus since December.
After writing all day, it is hard to focus on creating content for your own site, speaking to designers and so on, but it really is worth it. You won’t have to spend hours on freelance sites (or rely on them), you won’t pay commission and it is just another avenue to attract new clients. I wish I’d done it sooner!
Deadlines – Don’t miss deadlines. The best way to not miss them is to be realistic. For instance, all my clients generally know that if it is a half day of work or less, they could expect it within 7-10 days of payment. They use this as a guide, but always contact me first. Not all work is scheduled monthly, so juggling multiple projects can be difficult. Wherever possible, try and book people in for certain dates. This way you know which days are free and which ones aren’t.
5. Do you operate your whole business operation independently, or do you have help from staff/outsourcers?
I structure the writing side of things so it is me that does 100% of the work. Obviously some months are much busier than others, but that is just the way the cookie crumbles.
One thing I have found with writing is that finding freelancers is extremely difficult. Many of the freelancers I’ve spoken to, where a profit margin would be achievable are poor writers, or can’t meet deadlines. If I pass off poor content, for high quality content, or miss deadlines, I lose clients. Maybe in the future I’ll look into finding another freelancer to work with me.
It is the other services where I outsource; writing is always my focus. If I have a busy month then I draft in people I know and trust to help with SEO, whiteboard videos and so on.
6. What are the main problems you have had to overcome since becoming self employed, and how did you deal with them?
Figuring out the best places to market myself as a writer and trying to keep a plan in place. The internet can be overwhelming at times. For instance, if you engage in social media, where do you go? Twitter? FaceBook? LinkedIn? One of the 100+ other sites? Now I use a couple of forums, Twitter and LinkedIn. It can end up being a lot of pain for little gain, if you don’t structure your day/week correctly.
Pricing and reputation (covered in question 4.) were also things that took me a while to figure out. It’s all good and well trying to stick to prices, but working online can mean a sporadic income. For that reason, I have organised my work so I work directly with website owners, SEO/design agencies and general webmasters. This gives me varied work, at varied prices, so I can always fill in any gaps. I always try and work towards the same hourly rate though.
Motivation and distractions – It looks great from the outside looking in, but a lot of freelancers will admit they struggle to stay motivated and constantly give in to distractions. I wrote a short post about motivation and distractions here.
7. Where do you see yourself going in the next 3-5 years?
I’ll continue as I am. Unless I get offered a highly paid SEO/content job, I’ll continue to develop my client list. The only difference is I’ll be trying to maximise the value (without losing focus) of each of my customers. I, and the outsourcers I work with, have experience with SEO, design and so on, so it is time I started making the most out of that fact.
What I do want is client projects that are much bigger. I think that is one of the main problems with generating work from forums and freelance sites; a lot of the clients are operating on a fairly small scale. So in the future, I think I’ll be aiming for much bigger clients and offer them the whole package from design to content and even SEO.
8. What advice would you offer to people just starting out in freelance writing, particularly online?
- Don’t expect it to be easy
- Avoid sites offering you e-books that will help you make $1,000 per day
- Have a simplistic daily diary that highlights all the tasks you need to complete
- Set an hourly rate
- Work out what your hourly output is (to help with quoting projects)
- Don’t forget to account for time marketing your business; every day if possible
If I was to start out right now, I’d do the following:
- Sign up to 2 freelance sites and a business forum and fill out your profile
- Sign up to LinkedIn
- Offer to work at discounted rates/for free to develop your reputation
- Build a basic website explaining what services you offer (including a portfolio)
- Build a portfolio and write 5-10 times per month on your blog
- Consistently test different methods of marketing; make sure you give each method a fair test before discarding them.
9. Are there any must-have resources that newly self employed people should look through?
- Writing a business plan – Whilst you might not need funding, it is worth having a plan in place. This allows you to work towards milestones and re-evaluate where you are really at. Part of what allows me to keep focused and motivated is having a plan.
- Business blogs – I read a lot of business/online marketing blogs. If you like to keep up to date what is going on in business, and then http://www.entrepreneur.com/ is a great one to read. If you want something specific, like an SEO blog, then http://www.searchenginejournal.com/ and http://www.problogger.net/ is also worth a read.
- The Enterprise Programme is worth a peak if you are 18-30.
- The UK Government support line for businesses is a great resource. There are also plenty of resources on their website to read through.
10. Would you like to give a short description of services you offer? Or detail any special offers you’d like to promote to the readers of becomeselfemployed.co.uk?
We offer the complete package. Vibe Tech Media can help develop a website from scratch, design custom logos, increase search engine rankings and even fill it full of carefully crafted content. Our list of services can be found here.
Grant is active on a number of social media outlets which you can connect with him through. See his & Vibe Tech Media’s social profiles below:
Vibe Tech Media – Twitter