How I Got My First Premium Clients [Transparency Report #2]

Remember how I promised to be more transparent on this blog? This led me to write my first Transparency Report, where I talked about my beginnings as a freelancer. I wrote about my early starts, the “official” beginning of my online freelance career in 2004, and my first two years of being an online freelancer.

For this transparency report, we’re digging deep into 2006 to 2009 – the 3 years when I started “leveling-up” and targeting high profile, premium clients. How did I transition from being paid $10 per article for content jobs, to writing $100 per article for high profile blogs?

NOTE: This is a looong one because this was the most eventful part of my career.

Here’s the story:

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5 Simple Strategies to Get More Freelance Work

Today we have another guest writer, Stef Gonzaga, founder of The Freelance Pinoy. You might know Stef from her blog, or from the webinar we did together last year, or from her various writing work.

Or you might know her from “Better Work” – a podcast that I co-host with her. It’s for Filipino freelancers who want to do better work, get creative, and make a difference. If you haven’t tried listening to the show yet, you might want to start with our episode on 6 simple ways to increase your freelancing income (no need to change your services or learn new skills) or our episode on the things we wish we knew when we started freelancing.

For her contribution today, Stef shares 5 ways you can get more projects from your current clients. Take it away, Stef:

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How I Got My First Online Clients [Transparency Report #1]

Last June, I asked you guys what you want me to reveal about my own freelancing practice – all for the sake of transparency. I got a lot of insight via the comments to the post, a surprising amount of emails, and some Facebook messages in response.

After going over your messages and comments, as well as thinking this thoroughly, I thought that the best way to start kicking off my monthly transparency reports is to start with the past.

Kung mag-simula kasi ako sa pagkekwento ko tungkol sa career ko ngayon, walang context. It wouldn’t be meaningful or helpful to tell you about my clients, my rates, or my daily schedule right now without first exploring my roots. This is because what I do now is so radically different from what I was doing when I was starting out.

So what I’ll be showing you this month is The Transparency Report: Backtrack Edition. I’ll dig deep into the early beginnings of my freelance career, as well as deconstruct them into useful tactics. This is so that those beginning freelancers here can pick up a thing or two from my stories.

Early Attempts at Freelancing [or “Mga Raket”]

Before I started my freelance writing career in late 2003 I had some earlier starts:

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How to Avoid Freelancing Problems Before They Arrive

Four years ago, I had an idea that most freelancers get when they’re a few years into their career:

“Maybe I should have a team.”

It sounds great, di ba? My job will be finding and getting clients (which is one of my strengths), making sure that all the tasks are organized (which I do for my own work anyway), and hiring skilled workers (I’d love to give work to other Filipino freelancers). I’ll pay the skilled workers above average rates ($15 to $50 per article, depending on skill), while I’ll charge the client what I normally charge and call it “profit”. What a great idea, win-win, I thought.

It was a great idea – in theory. In just 3 months, I encountered a lot of problems I didn’t expect:

Problem #1 – It’s hard to find good workers who could fit me into their sked! Sa dinami-dami ng Filipino freelancers, I had to find people who were skilled, understood and agreed with my vision, self-directed, and reliable. But most of the people I wanted to hire were too busy already! In all my searching I found exactly 3 people to work with, and one of them had to return to a full-time job.

I wasn’t even looking for “rockstars”, yet I found it very difficult to look for skilled workers who were self-starters (meaning: they are competent and confident enough to decide things on their own and not ask me permission for everything). I even hired a couple of other people who didn’t exactly meet my criteria pero pwede na – but this became problematic later on.

Problem #2 – I ran into the “hamster wheel problem”, where I had to keep looking for clients to keep the business profitable, but adding new clients often meant hiring additional people (who would be more familiar with their topics/industry), and hiring additional people meant I had to look for more clients to keep the business even profitable and cover all the time and energy I spent looking for clients and managing people.

Problem #3 – It turns out I spent most of my time being a middle-manager – something I did NOT want. What I really wanted to do was create quality content, take care of clients or do marketing. I did not want to spend too much time holding the hands of professionals like me, or training them, or reading 11-paragraph explanations of why they couldn’t submit their work on time. While I did end up with 3 good colleagues I respected, I needed more than them to service all our clients and the hiring process became unbearable after a while.

So eventually, I shut that down and just worked with the clients privately on my own.

Pero ito yung masakit – I could have easily avoided those problems! A year after I shut it down, I talked to an entrepreneur who ran a similar business model, and he said something like:

“The agency model is tough. You have to look for new clients to make money, but when you get new clients, you have to pay for more workers to service them, then look for new clients to make even more money! It’s a vicious cycle. You’ll spend the entire time being a manager!”

If I just talked to people who had been there, I would have known early on that the agency model was not for me. I did not want to be a middle-manager. I wanted to create things. I wanted to collaborate with talented Filipino freelancers, not manage them. All I had to do to avoid that super stressful experience was to ask.

Imagine that, 3 minutes spent posting a question in a forum full of entrepreneurs could have saved me a year and a half of stress.

The Matrix. Dir. The Wachowski Brothers. Warner Bros. Pictures, 1999

The Matrix. Dir. The Wachowski Brothers. Warner Bros. Pictures, 1999

Look Into the Future, See Problems Before They Arrive

Are there any upcoming obstacles to your freelancing career? The best way to know for sure is to look up people who have already made the mistakes you’ll be making and successfully overcame the obstacles you’re about to face.

In other words, here’s what you can do today:

Step #1 – Look for 5 people online who have done the work you want to do. If you already have specific people in mind, that’s great. If not, you can look for online forums or FB groups where people like this hang out.

Step #2 – Ask them about their major challenges. If you’re new to freelancing, you can ask: “What challenges did you face in your first 2 years of freelancing that you didn’t expect? How did you overcome those challenges?”

Or if you’re looking to try a new field or new approach, you can tailor that question accordingly. For example:

  • “For those VAs here who now manage their own team, what unexpected major challenges have you faced so far? How did you overcome those challenges?”
  • “For those freelance writers here who have shifted from doing rewritten articles or SEO articles and are now doing higher value work (writing sales copy, writing blog posts, etc.), what difficulties did you experience with the transition? How did you face those difficulties?”
  • “For the freelancers here who have been working with clients outside job bidding sites, what unexpected problems did you encounter?”

Step #3 – Then, wait for the answers. Your internal response to these challenges will tell you kung gusto mo talaga yung path na ipu-pursue mo. Every choice we make has challenges or obstacles attached to them – that’s just the cost of pursuing anything in life. Are you ready and willing to face those costs? If the costs are more painful for you than the potential gains, then maybe it’s not the right path to take.

Step #4 – Don’t forget to thank the people who answer your question. It goes a long way, especially if you offer to help them or provide value in any way.

Help out other Filipino freelancers like you?

Now to the important part: let’s help each other out. Remember, this is a COMMUNITY. I’d appreciate it if you guys help each other out. So here’s what we’re going to do in the comments:

For Experienced Freelancers (freelancing for more than a year): Leave a comment about

  1. the type of work you do and
  2. Your answer to today’s general question: “What challenges did you face in your first 2 years of freelancing that you didn’t expect? How did you overcome those challenges?”

For New or Starting Freelancers: Leave a comment about

  1. What type of work you want to do
  2. Any questions you might have for those other Filipino freelancers who are more experienced
  3. Also, don’t forget to keep checking the comments within the next few days – someone might have already answered your question!

Writing Well: What “Serious” Freelancers Do

Good English writing skills is key to having a successful and thriving freelance career. And even if you don’t have any intention of being a freelance writer, you’ll still need to be good at this.

To illustrate my point, take a look at what you often do as a freelancer.

  • You market your services. You put up a website, email prospect clients, and set up Twitter or LinkedIn profiles.
  • You network with clients. You post in online groups and your own social media accounts.
  • You talk with other online professionals. You chat with teammates, voice your concerns on freelance forums, and offer your own insights via blog comments.

And what do you do to express yourself in all these outlets? You write. And yes, in English, because it’s the language used and understood on the web in general.

It’s simply necessary for you to know how to write sensibly and clearly.

But the best reason I got for this was mentioned in a fellow freelancer’s email to me last April. He said, “I want to know more on how to write effectively so that I can level up.”

This freelancer understood exactly what good English writing skills will do for his career. And with that attitude, he has taken the first step to becoming better.

You might want to do the same. And it’s okay if you want to get results fast. So here are some easy actions you can take to write better in English as quickly as possible:

[Celine’s note: To learn more about the importance of good writing when applying for any position, check out this piece from 37Signals, and this piece on the high demand for English majors.You don’t have to be an English major – I’m not one myself – but a good command of the language will give you an edge.]

Read at least 2 pages a day

You’ve probably heard the advice “read a lot” very often and know what the benefits of reading are, especially in writing improvement.

But forming the habit is not easy as it sounds. This is why you can start with something simple, such as reading 2 pages a day. You can read any book you like but try to read fiction sometimes.

Aside from boosting the brain’s connectivity, fiction helps you capture the everyday English words the characters use, which you can adapt in your online conversations.

Immerse yourself in English

If reading is not attractive enough for you, then watching English shows and movies might be more inviting. But again, like in reading, when you watch American, British, or Australian shows, keep your ears alert to seize the common expressions used in the language. You might want to jot those new words down ASAP too.

Another way to build your English writing muscle is to talk to yourself in English. Just use English when you think about anything like when you contemplate on how your day was or what’s happening in your life. When you catch yourself thinking in Filipino or other native dialects, shut that voice down, and think, how will you say what you were saying in English?

Use those words

Now that you have some words to work with and your mind is more inclined to using the language, it’s time to try out your writing muscles. Journaling or keeping a personal blog can help with this. [Celine’s note: You can keep your writing exercise blog private, many writers both new and established, have private blogs just to get them in the habit of writing.]

To make sure you get your grammar right, you can use resources like Grammarly.com or LanguageTool.Org. To give more color to what you’re writing, rely on your thesaurus or handy dictionary.

Personally, I have 2 paperback thesauruses and 2 dictionaries + 1 in my Kindle which I got here, (thanks to Celine), and I still refer to ones online. But that’s just me. 1 of each could be okay for you.

You can also find writing templates and use those as guides or triggers for inspiration. Like this simple template for writing your “About Me” page or LinkedIn summary:

  • Hello, I’m (Who are you?).
  • I’m a (What do you do?)
  • I help (Who do you help and add the benefits of what you do for others.)
  • Because (Why do you do it? You could also add another benefit here.)
  • If you need a (insert your offer/title here), (insert your call to action here e.g. email me, contact me, get in touch.)

When you look at the work of most successful freelancers, you’ll notice they do all the things you do too. But they stand out because they have a good way with their words. It may not be perfect but it’s good enough to show their professionalism and dexterity.

Now I’d love to hear from you. Which ones of these actions will you do today? Or if you’re already working on your English language and writing skills, what has helped you become better? I can’t wait to read your insightful comments.

Author bio:jovell

Jovell Alingod is a freelance writer helping businesses create helpful content since 2010. Grab the free resources she created to help you improve your web writing skills.