The Most BORING Way to Launch Your Freelance Business

 

Today I’m going to share an idea that’s been key to my success as a freelance writer and copywriter.

Almost every successful freelance B2B copywriter I know has used this strategy, whether they realized it or not. And frankly, I’m surprised it’s not talked about more often.

Probably because it’s so darn boring!

It’s not shiny. It’s certainly not sexy. It involves hard work. And worst of all… (ready for this?)…

The results are not immediate.

I know, I know. Not what you probably wanted to hear. But hear me out. Because this idea could change your life.

It’s all about taking baby steps rather than focusing on huge overnight wins. When you do that, each of the resulting small victories build on each other, just like compound interest.

Let me explain through a simple analogy.

I Can’t See!

Say it’s nighttime and you need to drive to your friend’s house, which is 10 miles away. As you pull out of your driveway, you turn on your headlights. What do you see?

I’m guessing about 30 feet of road. That’s about as far as your headlights will reach at any given time.

So, how will you possibly get to your friend’s house if you can only see 30 feet in front of you?

The answer is obvious. As you drive, you’ll start seeing the next 30 feet. And then the next 30 feet, and so on.

The point is that just because you can’t see miles ahead of you doesn’t mean you can’t get to your friend’s house safely. All you need to see — all you need to focus on — is the immediate, 30-foot stretch of road ahead of you.

Yet what do many of us do when we’re going after a big goal like launching a freelance business?

We want to see every single stretch of road between where we are and our ultimate goal. And if we don’t see it (which is often the case), we get anxious. And anxiety leads to fear, which is not the best state of mind to be in when you’re prospecting for clients.

The baby steps strategy is all about focusing on small actions every day that will build on each other to create a big result.

So rather than trying to go from a full-time employee to a full-time successful freelance writer in one week, you instead break it down.

And you focus on today only!

You do that by asking yourself, “What small action can I take today to get me closer to my goal?”

That’s it!

Here’s What I Did in 2003

Let me show you how this approach can quickly lead to exponential results. And I’ll use an example from my own business.

When I launched my B2B copywriting business in 2003, I had zero samples to show.

Actually, I had a few pieces I had written for my employer. But I didn’t feel right posting those on my website. I didn’t want to go out of my way to let them know that I was freelancing on the side. And I didn’t feel right posting them without their permission.

Anyway, I decided to approach some friends about writing something for them. I didn’t contact everyone at once. I reached out to one or two people a week.

That’s it! Baby steps.

I did the same thing by posting an offer to do pro bono work in a Yahoo discussion forum for entrepreneurs. And here again, I spent about 20 minutes a day on this effort — mainly finding the right forum, reading through the discussions to see if this would be a good group to approach, and so on.

As a result of these efforts, I scored three small writing projects. Unfortunately, none of them were that impressive, considering the audience I was going after: marketing executives at B2B software companies.

In fact, here’s what I had to start with (yes, these are the actual samples I posted on my site).

 

#1: A brochure I wrote for a self-published author on quilting and “hope chests”

Hope Chest Brochure image 

#2: A sales letter I wrote for a small “map advertising” company in Canada
ontario-mapping-1-cropped

ontario-mapping-2-cropped

#3: A spec assignment I wrote for Nightingale-Conant Corporation (from the 2003 AWAI Bootcamp)

Spec Assignment image

 

(By the way, Nightingale-Conant never contacted me about the spec assignment above, even after I followed up with the marketing director three times. Oh, well!)

 

I read these pieces now and I cringe. Not because they’re poorly written (although my writing has certainly improved since then). But because these are the only samples I was working with!

Imagine sitting in the office of a VP of marketing at a big-name software company and handing him a pocket folder with your bio and printed copies of these samples.

Yes, that happened. And I was sweating like crazy!

But here’s what happened. Eventually, one of these prospects hired me. He saw enough in my writing samples (and in my background) to take a chance on me.

And once I completed his project, I had a more impressive sample. Which I used to replace sample #1 above.

That enabled me to get another decent client in my target market. Which also produced a better-looking and more relevant marketing piece — perfect for replacing sample #2 above.

And so the cycle went over the course of a few months.

See How I Did That?

See the baby steps here? I used the first set of wins (the pro bono projects) to get my next set of wins (my first software client).

I then used that software client win to get my next win (my second software client).

I kept “trading up” in small increments until I had good momentum. And about two years later, I had enough clients and steady work to quit my day job.

Did it happen overnight? No.

Was it challenging? Heck, yes!

But these little actions got me to where I am today. And they made me realize that EVERYTHING in this business is a short-term problem.

A problem you can easily solve one baby step at a time.

So if you’re just getting started and you’re wondering how in the world you’re ever going to get your freelance business off the ground — or how you’ll get the growth you’ve been craving — when you’re lacking this, that or the other, just remember…

Strategic baby steps, repeated over and over again, WILL win the race.

In fact, I have a small challenge for you.

Decide on one simple action you can take TODAY to get you closer to your goal.

Maybe it’s to buy a domain name for your website. Or to write your Home page copy. Or to make a list of 10 colleagues you’re going to contact this week.

Whatever it is, focus on doing that simple thing today.

Forget about tomorrow. Forget about next week and next month. Focus on completing that task NOW.

Completing that simple task will give you the motivation and momentum you need to take the next step.

And then the next one after that.

Baby steps. They worked when you were a toddler. They will work again today.

 

 


Post Categories: Getting Clients

Leave A Reply (21 comments so far)

  • Elaine Eldridge

    I won’t embarrass myself by admitting how many times I’ve
    ignored Ed’s advice to act—if you listen closely, you can hear his eyes rolling—but
    I am amazed at how past actions continue to have positive effects. In 2007, for
    example, I sent an “I’m wonderful, you need me” email to an organization that
    still sends me work, and that connection led to other work and recommendations.
    Try Ed’s “baby steps” strategy: you have little to lose and much to gain.
    Thirty feet of light down a dark road is enough to get you going.

    • edgandia

      Thanks, Elaine! And regarding the eye-rolling, I’ll admit that I often write these articles to remind myself to do these things consistently. It’s a bit of self therapy. 🙂

  • Melissa Bailey-Comstock

    I needed this. I’m so b****-to-the-wall when I get a new idea to grow my business that it’s difficult to make any real progress. Thanks for the great advice, Ed.

    • edgandia

      Thanks for checking it out, Melissa! Glad the timing was right for this message.

  • LOVE this, Ed! And a special thank you for even sharing your very first samples with us. This is really inspiring, practical advice — and actually JUST what I needed to read today! Just took a few baby steps I’d been procrastinating on today. Thanks!!

    • edgandia

      Love it when the message and the need intersect. Thanks, Holly!

  • Thanks for posting Ed. Taking baby steps is HUGE to gain confidence and build a portfolio. I’ll keep your post handy to remind me about the importance of them. I’ve switched to more focused freelance copywriting and content writing from another business writing field so it’s important to be reminded of the baby steps needed to move forward and prosper. Thanks for that encouragement.

    • edgandia

      You’re welcome, Linda! Thanks for reading. 🙂

  • Katherine_Andes

    Very interesting, Ed. This is not the path I took … I managed to get copywriting assignments based on my article writing samples. The main thing is to just do something, eh?

    • edgandia

      Absolutely! Just keep moving, that’s the key. The answers will only appear when you move. 🙂

  • Mary Smith Hansen

    I so needed to read this today. I’ve been scared spit-less since I launched my site. I see that I just need to take one little step at a time. Today I sharpened my welcome page. Tomorrow I’ll prepare a list of colleagues to reach out to with a personal note about my business. Thanks, Ed.

    • edgandia

      Awesome! Way to go, Mary!

  • Great advice Ed. I also cringe at some of my first samples. I think they consisted of:

    1. A few cigar ads
    2. A support letter for a local nonprofit center
    3. A few emails promoting a “dream car giveaway”

    And I wanted to go after insurance agents! Ah, that first year was crazy, but I learned a lot.

    • edgandia

      Thanks, Josh! The path to success is never pretty, right?! Lol!

  • Richard H.

    Ed, I would give tons to have samples like these. I am just starting out and have none. I guess what’s cringeworthy is all relative.

    • edgandia

      Absolutely, it’s all relative. Believe me, at the time I was happy to have these. The key is to get out there and make things happen. You’ll find your way when you take baby steps.

  • Stu Lustman

    This is a good reminder even though I’m not short of samples. Thanks to the blog I started before writing full time I have almost 200 samples to show people that are interested in my work.

    If you guys need more samples, start a blog and write there. It really helps

    • edgandia

      Great idea! Thanks, Stu.

  • Tracy Clement-Wilson

    Thank you, Ed! I tend to look at everything I need to do and it’s so overwhelming. Baby steps…

    • edgandia

      Oh, believe me, the overwhelm never stops. In a way I wrote this post for myself, because I have to keep reminding Ed Gandia that a journey of a thousand miles begins with that first step. So this advice works when you’re starting out AND when you’re trying to take things to a new level.

      • Tracy Clement-Wilson

        I was at your webinar last night and it helped me to take a deep breath and focus on that first step…and to stop worrying so much about having a set-in-stone niche. Thank you, Ed!

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