I’m not even sort of a big deal.
That being said, I am a successful freelance writer who works from home out of a home office while also being a successful stay at home dad. Frankly, I’m probably better at the latter than the former.
Lately, I’ve gotten some inquiries into how I run my own freelance writing business personally, rather than what freelancing advice or writing tips I would give to others. These are two very different questions. The reality is that what works for me may, or may not, work for you. More importantly, what worked for me may, or may not work for you. The issue with advice is that there are things that will work for anyone (work hard) and there are things that only worked because I did them when I did them. These days, you’ll find people all over the internet giving you advice on how to do something, like become a successful blogger, when their success is almost entirely predicated on the fact that they were one of the very first bloggers a decade or more ago. That ship has sailed.
How I Run ArcticLlama, LLC a Freelance Writing Business
That being said, I do run a successful freelance writing business. I will tell you what and how I do it in a concise blog post. This is not advice for you, but rather a look into my small business via a Thursday morning brain dump. Pick out the pieces you think might work for you and explore them further. For the parts you do not like, or do not want to pursue, find another way to accomplish the same type of things.
Now that I’ve written this, I notice it is fairly long and has a lot of potential. Maybe I’ll break this all out in detail in individual posts, or as an ebook, later.
Finding writing clients
Fortunately for me, I’m a pretty good SEO / online marketer / inbound marketer / whatever you want to call it. In other words, potential clients call me. This is important to my business because I despise cold-calling, and even cold-emailing. I wait for people to find me. They do so through search, work of mouth, and social networking, none of which I am amazing at. If I could work harder at any one of those pieces I might have more clients.
I have an email address on my website. I do not have business cards (it never comes up). For my business phone, I use a Google Voice phone number that I forward to my cell phone. That way, I have a business number, but don’t have to have a full business phone system. It also makes my cell phone tax deductible because I use it for business.
My website is arcticllama.com. I also have a freelance writing blog (obviously) off of ArcticLlama.com. The blog helps attract search traffic and boost the rankings of the rest of my website so that people seriously searching for a freelance writer in Colorado, or a freelance technology writer, or a freelance financial writer can find me. I may not be ranked #1 on a lot of pages, but people who are serious about hiring someone know enough to look beyond number one, and even on to Page 2 or Page 3 to find the right fit. The upside, is that I don’t have to deal with too many people who bother contacting me without wanting to hire me (or someone else).
This may be part of the reason while almost all of my writing is online. I have very little published in offline publications. This may bother some clients, but I have enough work without them, so I don’t really care.
It’s been years since I sent out a query letter or pitched an idea to a magazine or website, or whatever. The pay is way higher, but so are all the headaches. You have to wait to hear back. You have to wait to get published; you have to wait to get paid. It’s way more time and effort. The downside is that I don’t have many “clips” from physical publications. Most of what I have written wasn’t credited.
I don’t do guest blog posts unless you are going to link back to me. I’m a pro writer, I don’t need “free” content in exchange for a link. I can create “free” content all day long using my brain and keyboard. Frankly, most of what people want me to publish would be embarrassing to have on my websites and blogs.
Working With Writing Clients
So far (knock wood) I’ve never had to mess much with writing contracts. When I do, they almost always come from the people I’m working for. I have yet to be stiffed by a client, but maybe that has something to do with how I get clients. Since someone has to want a professional freelance writer, and then come to me, they probably know the worth of getting the right person.
I have three different kinds of clients.
The one project clients come to me for a specific purpose or campaign. It may be 20 blog posts, or filling a website with content, writing a technical manual, a financial presentation, or updating marketing materials that they wrote years ago. Whatever the case, they will work with me until we are done and then go back to wherever they came from. Sometimes, they will come back, weeks, months, or even years later.
Then I have ongoing clients. These clients are not regular, in the sense that they don’t need something on an actual schedule, but they are repeat clients. Often these clients hire me for campaigns each quarter, or once per year, or whatever. Several of these clients are online marketing companies or PR firms and when they get a new client, then they need new stuff written, and they turn to me.
Finally, I have regular clients. These are clients that have a standing schedule. So, weekly blog posts, or monthly content updates, or whatever.
Incidentally, for me, the optimal number of freelance writing clients is 10. If I ever had 10 ongoing (or replaced when projects are finished) clients I could write for my clients pretty much full time and make enough money to take five or six vacations a year instead of three or four. (Don’t get too excited. Usually two of those vacations are local Colorado type things like the Sand Dunes, or Mount Princess, or a weekend stay in the mountains.)
How Much I Charge, Freelance Writing Rates and Getting Paid
I always charge per project, never per hour. Maybe this is another factor in always getting paid. People don’t understand how much effort goes into writing, or how long it takes. As a result, charging by the hour is a surefire way to get into trouble over cost. This is especially true if the client changes their mind a lot. In consulting we used to call this scope creep. Fortunately, in most writing, you deliver projects in parts and if there is a disagreement it comes up relatively quickly and we can resolve (or not resolve and part ways) issues before they become a problem.
I do not write for free. I do not write for “exposure.” That’s not true, I would write for exposure, in the New York Times, or Denver Post, or Newsweek, or whatever, but not for your blog that you are trying to build up and can’t afford to pay for writers right now. Sorry.
On the one hand, my rates always vary, on the other hand, my freelance writing rates are kind of regular because many of my clients ask for substantially the same thing. For blog posts that are “easy”, that is things that I already have enough knowledge about that I don’t have to do much (any) research, and that I get to pick topics for (usually specific topics from a broad topic), I charge at minimum $50 for short ones (300 to 500 words) and $100 for longer ones (500 to 750 words). Features, or multi-part posts over 1,000 words depend on length and complexity, but something in the $200 to $500 realm is usually what we come up with. (These are all minimums, don’t be surprised if your project costs more unless it’s right in my wheelhouse, and an easy, ongoing project.)
Harder (or more boring) topics cost more. The prices for anything that requires research is at least double, maybe a lot more depending upon the research involved. The price for blending in branding or marketing is often higher as well. The rate is also higher for specific topics because that’s harder and takes longer to pull out of my brain.
Example, a 400 word post about IRAs = $50. A 400 word post about how to setup a spousal IRA = $100.
For something being published offline, I usually start at $1 per word and go from there.
This is all ballpark, of course, and for clients that are going to be regular clients or have a larger project, I can sometimes work with them on the rates. The reality is that I worry these rates are too low, not too high. Anyone who doesn’t pay at least this isn’t someone I need, or want, to work with. Certain fun projects or good causes are exceptions.
I only write blog posts on an on going basis, or as part of a package of several. No one has ever asked for just one blog post, but if they did, I’d either charge a lot more, or just decline the project.
I charge $500 for press releases. They always want them fast, and they always want revisions, and they almost never seem to come back. In other words, that’s a lot of effort for not much reward, hence the higher price.
Copy writing, marketing (or funnel-type) writing, or general website content I charge $100 per page for. There is no hard and fast rule about what a page is, but I know it when I see it. If someone tries to get too long, or too detailed of stuff, I charge more.
Technical writing or user manual writing is usually per project. A user manual is typically about $3,000 to $5,000 depending upon length, and assuming the client gives me all the information for the manual (usually in form of engineer or developer notes). The price is higher if they want me to install the program and figure out what needs to go into the manual.
To get paid, I submit invoices. I require at least monthly payment. I prefer to be paid on submission. If the client wants to pay upon publication, then I insist on a schedule so that I’m not writing stuff, waiting a month for it to get published and then waiting a month to get paid. If clients have established invoicing and payment procedures, I follow them. If they take too long to pay, or only pay at the end of a delivered project, I will usually see if there is a chance for something different.
How I Make Money Writing Online
In addition to writing for clients, I write for myself. I currently have over a dozen blogs or websites that I write for and maintain. For the most part, all of the income from these sites is from Google AdSense. There are better paying things out there, but nothing as simple. In addition, writing for these other things gives me more writing samples for prospective clients, and additional web properties I can get links from / to.
Some day, I will get around to trying some affiliate stuff or other online money making activities. For now, I’m a writer. As writer I make money from my writing, not from my ability to make affiliate links or sales funnels, or whatever. AdSense pays me for my writing. More specifically, it pays me for the people who read my writing and then click on an ad.
While most of my websites are profitable and add up, all together, to decent income, none of them is a high traffic, high earning website on its own. Income can vary dramatically and always seems to plummet in the summer. I make the most in January and February. This is partly because some of my blogs are finance based, and January and February is when people start worrying about taxes, paying their holiday bills, and so on.
I’m currently using Skimlinks and Viglinks as a sort of trial thing, but the truth is that you need enough traffic to make those work, and I don’t have enough traffic on any single blog to make it worthwhile yet.
The blogs on are on different topics. This allows me to build up a different writing portfolio, and provides some diversity for income purposes. Some examples include my parenting blog for dads, my ADD blog, and my, too often neglected, make money writing online blog that I have tons of great ideas for, but always seem to update last.
How My Websites are Setup
I currently have more webhosts than I need. I’ll need to consolidate. I’ll update this section with a bunch of affiliate links soon 🙂
How My Freelance Writing Business is Setup Legally (and for Taxes)
My business is an LLC. This is cheap and easy to setup in most states. It gives you some liability protection as well. Then I got an EIN from the IRS to use for my W9 forms instead of giving everyone I work for my Social Security Number. Google AdSense doesn’t like this but I figure Google already knows so much about me, telling them my SSN won’t hurt.
My LLC is technically a disregarded entity according to the IRS. This means that I file taxes as a sole proprietor on a Schedule C. I deduct everything I can, because the government taxes everything they can. I pay self-employment taxes, which suck, and can hit 50% of your income if you don’t deduct everything. The most important thing you can understand tax-wise as a writer is the Section 179 deduction that allows you to deduct equipment without having to amortize it.
I do not have an accountant. I’m not sure what they would do for me exactly. I had an accountant do my taxes once, and all he had me do was fill out a workbook with all of my own information and then plug it into a computer program. I can do that, so I file my taxes with TurboTax Business which is required because I want it to do a home office deduction calculation for me.
I do have a separate business checking account. I also have a PayPal business account. I transfer all money out of my PayPal account as soon as possible. I’ve heard too many horror stories.
My Home Office
My home office is in the basement of my house. This gives me some separation from noise and kids, but keeps me close by. I have 40 Mbps internet, but I don’t think I really need it. I just use personal internet from CenturyLink currently because Comcast wouldn’t offer me a reasonable rate until I had already quit and was turning in my equipment. If CenturyLink raises my rate at the end of the year, I’ll go back to Comcast. The good news, is that where I live in Central Denver, both are pretty reliable.
I have a desk, and a desktop computer. I like the bigger monitor. As soon as I get through my higher priority wishlist items, I’m going to get a bigger one. I think the one I have now is 22″ widescreen (It’s a Dell E228WFP if that means anything to you.) Eventually I might get a two monitor setup.
I need the ability to have research text up while also having Word or WordPress open for typing. With the 22″ I can do that with each on a half screen, but it’s a little tight. A few more inches, or two monitors would make all the difference.
I have a laptop but it is a “desktop replacement” laptop which means it has a big screen (which I need) but its really heavy and the battery drains in just over an hour. I probably need an upgrade here too.
I have an iPad with a keyboard. I haven’t used it too much yet because my 6-year old was always on it. But, we recently got him his own handheld, so maybe I’ll get to try it out again. Of course, I have to do all that setup and… bleh.
I write AP Style unless asked to do otherwise, except I refuse to keep capitalizing internet. I have dictionaries and thesauruses but hardly use them. Spell check is my friend. I use too many commas and clauses, but I don’t care.
Whew! That ended up being longer than I meant. I’m not even going to proofread it! I’ll definitely come back to this post though. There’s a lot of good info here that could be expanded upon.
Good luck. Hope this helped or was informational.