It’s been a few months since you took the plunge and became a freelance blogger, and the water is just fine. Better than fine, in fact.
Your new life as a freelance blogger is everything you hoped it would be. Except you still can’t shake the feeling that there’s something missing.
You’ve made a great start. You’ve taken on a couple of jobs and been paid… maybe not as much as you’d like but at least you’ve started something good.
Whatever the case, you’re spending more time than you’d like looking for your next gig. Time you’d rather be spending writing blog posts… because that’s why you started this whole thing, after all.
If all that sounds familiar, then this post is for you. I’ll tell you the 6 things I wish I’d paid closer attention to before and during my first freelancing slump.
In professional sports, a sophomore slump is when an athlete fails to live up to the potential they exhibited in their debut season or year.
The freelance blogging equivalent is when you realise that, without the steady flow of work handed to you by a boss, you have to fight (sometimes really hard) just to bring in enough work to stay afloat.
That can be exhausting. Trying to juggle sourcing new projects with working on the ones you already have, as well as all of the admin and red tape associated with starting a new business, is really tough.
It’s often the hurdle that trips up new freelancers who, on the face of it, seem to be doing really well in their new endeavour. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to help overcome it.
1. Drive repeat business
Chances are that any jobs you’ve picked up through content mills or on social media haven’t paid as well as what you’ve been hoping for.
So, when you do find a client that pays a decent rate, you want to do everything you can to hold on to them. As your business grows, this becomes more difficult, but it’s not so difficult to manage when you’re still in the early days.
But how do you go about driving repeat business and/or securing ongoing contracts? That’s the big question.
The answer is that you need to make yourself indispensable. Doesn’t matter whether that’s down to the SEO boost you provide, a buttload (a very technical measurement) of social shares, or rapid growth of an email list thanks to your stream of regular content.
What matters is that you’re adding significant, measurable value. But you also need to make sure that your client understands that. How? By asking them.
After a big project, I’ll often email a client something like this:
Great to work with you on Y recently. I’m always eager to find out how my content performed, so I’d love to know whether you saw any increase in Z as a result of the project.
Got any idea of how things went?
Full disclosure: it’s very possible that your client hasn’t thought to look into the performance of the content you’ve worked on. If they haven’t, that gives you the perfect opportunity to help them discern the impact you had.
As long as you’ve had a positive impact on a measurable metric that the blog/business owner in question is looking to improve, it’s a no-brainer for them to keep offering you work.
2. Build relationships with clients
At first glance, this might sound like the same thing as driving repeat business. But it’s not. The section above is more about showing you can add value, while this one is about showing that you care about your clients’ work.
A few ideas for how you can do that:
- Take their criticism and comments into account, and make an effort to embody the style and tone they’re going for.
- Actively make suggestions about possible content or ideas that you think will benefit their business or blog.
- Make sure you’re as available as possible, within reason, throughout the pitching, drafting and editing process.
I’ll grant you, it’s difficult to strike a balance here: make yourself too available and you can come off needy and desperate. The early stages of dealing with new clients always remind me a bit of dating someone new.
And, like dating, it doesn’t always work out. I was once approached by a client who said he loved my work and asked me to draft something up for him. He wasn’t happy with it, so I took another run at it. He still wasn’t happy with it. I made a few more tweaks. No dice. He paid me for the work but told me he was still going to have to edit it himself.
Fortunately, in my case at least, experiences like this one are the exception and not the rule. Still, it was a good reminder of how important it is to make sure you’re on the same page as a client and how amazing it can feel when you both get on that mutual wavelength.
3. Know there WILL be dry spells and prepare for them
No matter how successful you become, there will always be dry spells. There will be rejections. There will be posts that don’t set the world on fire like you hoped they would when you or a client hits Publish.
All of that’s OK, provided you’re strong enough to accept that it will happen. Not MIGHT happen, mind you. WILL. Even if you have regular contracts that keep you ticking over, some months are just destined to be quiet ones.
In my experience, they happen late and early in the year (with Christmas and Summer being the peaks to those troughs). But that’s not to say it will be true for you; when’s quiet and when’s busy varies from industry to industry.
The longer you’re blogging for, the more used to seasonal peaks and troughs you become. After you stop panicking, you might even think to use the time for a holiday!
After a few rejections, which will hurt the most when you’re in the middle of a dry spell, your skin will start to thicken up*. Rejection and failure aren’t bad things, as long as they serve a purpose and you learn something from them for the future.
* Not literally, unless you’re a freelancing Lizard. (Sophie, I’m looking at you).
It’s easy to sit around and mope or waste time on Twitter when you hit a dry spell, but don’t do it! Use that time to approach other potential clients/outlets.
You’ll be amazed how many enquiries you can send out in a single day when you’re not trying to balance it with writing one or more blog posts.
4. Work with bigger or more prestigious publications
Sometimes it’s not what you know but who you know, right? Working with a well-established blog is a good thing for two reasons:
- Credentials from a popular blog give you a leg up when you’re pitching for future work.
- It will often result in people approaching you because they like your posts.
When I first applied to write for Crazy Egg’s blog, I didn’t expect it to do as much for me as it has. Of the enquiries I receive through my website, somewhere around the 20% mark mention my work for the Daily Egg.
But, speaking of eggs, there’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation here. Working with a popular blog helps you get your foot in the door elsewhere… but to work with a popular blog, you need to be able to get your foot in the door.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a ‘one size fits all’ solution for approaching prestigious blogs. All I can say is that you’re a lot more likely to be successful if you do the following things:
- Explain why you want to work with them, demonstrating that you’ve actually read their blog and understand what their posts are all about.
- Pitch some ideas of your own in a way that, once again, shows them that you ‘get’ the way they write posts, titles etc.
- Get in contact with the right person. A snoop around the Contact page, Twitter and/or LinkedIn can ensure you’re trying to connect with someone who might be able to hook you up with a post.
Whether or not you should write for prestigious publications for free is a big issue in the blogging space. I’m not going to tell you whether or not you should do it, but I will say this:
I’d never take unpaid work over paid, but I’d rather write something for free for a big blog with hundreds of thousands of readers than my own little blog.
5. Jump from junior level to experienced
Two things separate newbie bloggers and their mid-level professional (whatever you want to call them) counterparts:
Unless you’ve got a DeLorean to hand you can’t do anything to influence the passage of time, so you need to push to get as much experience as possible.
In addition to writing as much as possible, that also includes checking out training courses or books that will help you progress beyond beginner level.
Formal blogging qualifications aren’t exactly common, but there are lots of senior writers who offer training courses, website reviews and so on. These can be valuable for, if nothing else, giving you a confidence boost and helping you to form a network of people in a similar situation.
However, they also demonstrate that you’re serious about your craft. Becoming a member of the CIPR (Chartered Institute of Public Relations) or CIM (Chartered Institute of Marketing) won’t always be appropriate, but they can’t hurt your chances if you’re looking to work in PR or marketing.
6. Ask other bloggers for help
One other way to break out of a slump is to ask your heroes how they did it. Most well established bloggers have written at least one post about the trajectory of their career and, while trying to clone that trajectory is a bad idea, it can be useful to get a look at some of the bumps they’ve faced along the way.
If not, drop them an email to ask if they have any tips. Flattery gets you everywhere, and I can’t think of a blogger on the planet who doesn’t enjoy the ego boost of someone telling them how much they love their work.
Above all though, don’t compare your own success to that of other bloggers. Every blogger faces different obstacles and has different lucky breaks on their journey, so you can’t directly compare past experiences like that.
The good news
Slumps are, by definition, followed by a levelling out. A return to normality, or something even better.
There are no sure-fire ways to tell when you’re out of the sophomore slump, but the following are a good indication:
- You have a veritable raft of blogging experience with a range of different blogs.
- You receive queries via your website, rather than having to chase work.
- You raise your rates in accordance with the value you can offer — without clients raising an eyebrow.
- You want to create something of your own, like a blog, book or course.*
* Not always the case – some professional bloggers are perfectly happy only writing for other people – but the drive to create your own thing is usually an indicator of improved confidence and knowledge.
In the world of blogging, it can be difficult to predict when you’re going into a slump and even harder to tell when you’ve broken out of one. Whatever the reason for your slump – lack of traffic, low paying gigs or lack of inspiration – the best thing to do is to keep plugging away.
Make sure to showcase your best work, keep reading other blogs for inspiration and remember how great freelance blogging felt when you first took the plunge. Keep at it and soon it’ll feel just as good as it did back then – or even better.