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How to Find Your Ideal Client When Freelancing

  January 27

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Over the last few years, I’ve made a really big transition when it comes to my writing. Basically, I’ve gone from taking any writing job that anyone would give me no matter what to being selective about how I want to spend my time.

Being selective when it comes to working online isn’t necessarily a luxury. It’s a privilege that you get after you spent lots of time writing stuff like “How to Pop a Pimple” for $10, because yes, that actually happened to me. (I was damn proud of that $10 when I got that job by the way!)

But that was then and this is now. Last week, I said no thank you when someone offered $75/post to write about 401ks. I wavered. I thought about it. I eventually passed and gave the client the names of some friends and my coaching students instead. It took me a long time to get job offers like that, for those types of jobs to come to me, but these days I have other goals, aspirations, and priorities. I’m tired of writing about things that don’t excite me, and I’ve pretty much settled on pursuing creativity and happiness.

The Not-So-Ideal Client

I encourage all new freelance writers to think about what they want in an ideal client, and you might not even know what that is until you work for a little while online and figure it out. These are the types of things I tell my coaching students (and there are still 4 spots left in the next session if you’re interested ;))

I realize that I rarely talk about the dark side of freelancing. I’m always very positive about the joys of being able to work for myself even though I admit it’s been tough lately with the kiddos, but you should know if you are considering this career path, some unusual circumstances await you.

Here are some of the more “interesting” things I’ve experienced over the last 3 years of being paid to write online:

– Clients who took 3 months to pay after receiving an invoice.

– Clients who have edited my work so much, I’m embarrassed my name is on it.

– Editors who failed to follow copyright laws and attached whatever photo they wanted to my posts, prompting me to get letters threatening litigation if I didn’t take it down.

– Clients who agreed to pay for posts, agreed on a price, assigned the first 3 topics, signed a contract, and then…. disappeared into cyber space never to be heard from again. 10 e-mails later, I gave up.

– Clients who screwed my expert sources, agreeing to put links in and credit their quotes, then deciding to take all links out at the last minute.

– Clients who were so difficult to work with and so mean in their e-mails, they actually made me cry. (Come to find out, it wasn’t just me for that one.)

It hasn’t all been bad. Obviously, I’m still at it all these years later (and much wiser and more aware) but it’s important for anyone new to remember that you have to have your wits about you. This can be a legitimate, highly profitable career once you put the work in and learn how to find your perfect client.

What I Learned

My friend Carrie of Careful Cents reminded me over the holidays that I am the boss of this venture. You would think that after working so hard to be self-employed and have control over my day that I would remember this, but it’s easy to forget when you have 10 e-mails from people assigning deadlines and asking for things and you’re trying to stay afloat.

Many people in this business are such perfectionists and so devoted to making their clients happy, they can work themselves too hard. Eventually, something has to give.

These days, I am much less stressed despite being busier. There is a big difference between the two. I am writing for a handful of websites, and they are all my ideal type of client, wonderful, smart, and just plain fun to work with.

Here are all the things I love about them:

1. They let me write about things that are actually enjoyable to write about.

2. They are fun to talk to via e-mail. They’ve become my friends.

3. They pay me more than $10/post. 😉

4. They don’t excessively edit my work.

5. They pay on time, every time without fail.

It has taken me a very long time, years actually, to cultivate such a wonderful group of people that I call my colleagues, and it has also taken me a long time to get the courage to stand up for myself, insist on fair treatment, and drop anyone who isn’t doing the five things above.

Remember, if you’re a writer or self employed in any way, you chose this path of freedom because you love it and it makes you happy. You didn’t want the 9-5, the cubicle, the long commute. So, embrace everything that’s good about this life, and pursue the ideal clients. They’re the ones who are going to make this worth it.

Today, right now, quit working for someone who is making your life miserable. It might seem scary at the moment, but it will free up time for you to find what you really deserve.

Being selective when it comes to working online isn't necessarily a luxury. It's a privilege that you get after you spent lots of time writing stuff like "How to Pop a Pimple" for $10, because yes, that actually happened to me.

26 responses to “How to Find Your Ideal Client When Freelancing

  1. Agreed, Cat. Bad clients are a dime a dozen and not worth your time. Your good clients will see the hard work you’re putting into their pieces and treat you fairly and respectfully (and hopefully also pay you well) in return.

    Great piece!

  2. WoW! Cat, some of those clients were “deep” you know what I mean? I’m glad that you feel empowered to do what’s best for you instead of putting up with unnecessary crap. I put up with too much at my job due to the fear that my clients would say negative things about me on program reviews. Now, I refuse to deal with that sort of negative energy ever again.

  3. All of this is true. The best thing about being self-employed is that you get to pick who you work with. If someone is going to be a huge pain, it is usually pretty easy to tell. I only work with who I want to work with now.

  4. This is very inspiring!! I’m still trying to get more personal finance gigs specifically, but I’m no longer taking just anything on any topic, which is a great feeling! In fact, one of my biggest clients dropped me a few months back (all editors were being brought in-house and I live out of state) and at the time I was devastated, but it’s freed up so much of my time so I can focus on what I truly want to write about (that client wasn’t personal finance). Thanks for the encouragement!

  5. Thank you for this post! As a new entrepreneur, this is something that I’m working through right now. Would love to see this turned into a series if possible 🙂

  6. Cat, couldn’t agree more. I’ve learned to only work for people I love too, and work is SO much more enjoyable. It’s definitely worth it to turn down some cash in order to have a happy work day.

  7. Wow, people can be so mean! It sounds like you are definitely working smarter, not harder. That’s awesome you have really focused in on who your ideal clients should be, thanks for the tips!

  8. One of the things I love about having my own business is that I get to choose my clients as much as they choose me and I love my clients. I have actually turned down work with some people that I just knew wouldn’t work out. I try to select clients who are not only nice people but wanting and willing to work on their financial challenges. Because of my process, my work rarely feels like work because it feels like I am talking to and helping friends all day long.

  9. That’s really great insight into the freelancing world, especially for personal finance writers. I think I would be like many people out there, I don’t want to write the $10 zit post, I want something I enjoy writing, but you need to build, CEO’s aren’t created in a day.

  10. These are some great tips Cat! I’ve been there too with clients who didn’t pay on time (I actually know quite a few freelancers who have ended up just completely not getting paid for a job – luckily, I haven’t had that experience yet!) and who were just flat out mean. I now have a zero tolerance policy in taking on clients who are rude from the get-go. No amount of money is worth dealing with someone who brings negatively and disrespect to every conversation.

  11. You absolutely have to write about things that you enjoy. I was once freelancing and given a list of the most dull topics in the world. I just couldn’t get motivated to get the work done.

  12. I love everything about this post. I actually just dumped my first client, who was paying me $10/article and constantly changing article titles and formatting ad nauseum. Also, I’m glad you’re rocking it with coaching! 🙂

  13. Sometimes it’s really luck that we find a good and generous client Cat. I had an experience where a client wanted me stick to the time frame when I really needed to work and calculated how much work I did for an hour. That’s crazy!

  14. Cat, this is something I still have to remind myself too! Even after nearly 4 years in the freelance writing space, I am still defining my ideal client and wavering when turning down decent work. It’s true, that there are some dark sides to freelance work, but if you keep at it, eventually you’ll be more in control of the work you take on. Then like us, you can focus more on creative projects, and topics you actually enjoy writing about. 🙂

  15. 4 years ago, I was trying to get my elance portfolio up and running. Was sporting some really low prices (my prices are lowe even now, but still have increased) and the result was that a lot of people wanted to work with me (5 star ratings, really good portfolio, great prices – the ideal freelancer). I had a guy who offered to pay me TWICE the fees I asked if we worked together. All was cool for about an hour, when I had to log off to mind my own stuff (it was a deadline project, nothing like ‘we work together for x hours/day). After 2 hours I logged back in and he was abusively telling me that I should be ‘on call’ as long as he needs me and all kinds of similar crap. I just closed the project, didn’t accept any payment and off he went. He was shocked that I would forgo the chance to get so much money, but I didn’t want the aggravation. Let’s say that in 2 hours I got 2 more clients who paid better and were absolutely a joy to work with.

  16. In order to know who is the ideal client though you usually have to have experience with working with ideal and non-ideal clients so you know what you like best and what works for you.

  17. Thanks for sharing! It’s important for freelancers to know both the good and the challenging parts of freelancing. You’re absolutely right that we should be pursuing the ideal clients.

  18. Sounds like you’ve had many interesting experiences! I’m amazed at how many people treat others abominably whether it be in the corporate world or freelance world, it’s rather disgusting. If more people would just set aside their crazy maniacal Egos, I think we’d all be a lot happier 🙂
    It’s great that you have your “ideal client” and are willing to say NO to those that aren’t. Saying no is one of the toughest things I’ve learned.

  19. Thanks for the great reminder Cat. I’ve experienced a few of those things as well but have also had some great clients. After a while you learn quickly who’s worth your time and who isn’t.

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