#073: The Messy Road to Better-Paying Clients

One of the things that I’ve tried to be very mindful of is painting a very realistic picture of what it’s like to launch and grow a freelance writing and copywriting business today.

In fact, I take great pride in being transparent about the hard work required. You’ll hear that in most of my interviews, as well as in shows such as:

Today is no exception. My guest is Mark Stone, a freelance writer from British Columbia, Canada. Mark is still in the early stages of growing his business, and he has an interesting story to tell about finding his way through this business.

You’re not going to hear a talk about rainbows and sunshine. Instead, you’ll get more of a status report from Mark. You’ll hear how Mark is landing progressively better and higher-paying clients. And how he’s pushing past fears and insecurities to improve his business and his income.

If you’re just starting out or are in the first two or three years of your freelance venture, I think you’ll get a lot out of this interview.

The notes that follow are a very basic, unedited summary of the show. There’s a lot more detail in the audio version. You can listen to the show using the audio player below. Or you can subscribe in iTunes or on Stitcher to get this show delivered straight to the Podcasts app on your smart phone, tablet or iPod.

Tell us about yourself

Mark Stone lives in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. He used to work for the Province of Manitoba, in IT security.

About 10 years ago, he left the government to start his own computer security company. To promote his business, he wrote a column for a local news website. It became popular, and a local newspaper picked it up.

Mark discovered he really enjoyed writing. He wrote a fiction novel and a few screenplays. He started writing celebrity gossip on a freelance basis. Eventually he became content director for a news website. But he knew the corporate world wasn’t for him, so he returned to freelancing.

Today, he does B2B and B2C copywriting and some public relations work. He also continues to write tech pieces.

You have a story about working with difficult clients. Can you tell us what happened?

At the end of last summer, Mark put together a proposal to provide a local company with copy and PR. He had met the CEO before and liked what she was doing. Kelowna has a lot of tech startups and this was one of them.

He started working with them. At first, everything was great. The team was good. The revenue potential was endless. Mark was billing them about 20 hours a week.

But then, every two weeks or so, a red flag would pop up. The CEO was amazing but sometimes difficult to work for. Everything he wrote was heavily scrutinized. Things he could do in an hour for other companies would take him five or more hours. The billing was good, but it was very stressful.

After about two or three months, Mark terminated the contract.

What was the tipping point?

They were putting together a big PR piece, and Mark was working on it with the VP of Sales. No matter what Mark proposed, the VP of Sales would shoot it down. The VP was also always out of town so they couldn’t meet face to face to discuss.

Eventually, Mark let them know he wasn’t the right person for the job.

What have been the biggest lessons from that experience?

  1. Change your mindset. Think beyond big payments and high profile clients. Look for clients that value content and have the budget to put behind it. Don’t think of yourself as a person with a business. Think of yourself as a business, with all your morals, ethics and wisdom behind it. Often, simply switching your mindset will attract new opportunities to you. The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod helped Mark make this switch.
  2. Uncover red flags. Ask questions before accepting an assignment. What are the client’s expectations? Do they view this project as a silver bullet? Set boundaries and ground rules before you engage.
  3. Don’t underestimate the value of certifications. Mark didn’t put much stock in diplomas or certifications. But he recently completed Hubspot Inbound Certification and added the certification badge to his email signature. His email response rate improved significantly.
  4. Keep a big picture focus. While working for his difficult client, Mark stopped contributing to Techvibes (Canada’s most prominent tech news website). Although the pay per post is low, the exposure and authority it gives is invaluable.Don’t evaluate opportunities solely on the basis of pay. Look at the big picture.
  5. Keep working your contacts. Your contacts are easy to neglect. When you send follow up emails, focus on the person you’re sending them to, not yourself. Putting yourself in the place of that person helps make your message authentic and sincere, not self-serving.

Tell us where you think you’re heading right now

After a slow-ish February, March is looking good. Mark’s goal is to have his best year ever and hopefully join the Ed Gandia six-figure income group soon!

Where can listeners learn more about you?

Mark’s website: mrmarkstone.com
Twitter handle: @mrmarkstone

What about YOU? Can you share a valuable breakthrough you’ve had over the past 6 months?

Yes, I’m talking about you, dear listener! 😉

Can you share a valuable breakthrough you’ve had over the past 6 months? Something that’s made a real difference in your business?

It doesn’t have to be anything flashy. The important thing is that the lesson learned made a big difference for YOU!

Please share what you learned in the comments area below.

  • Mia Sherwood Landau

    Hi Ed and Mark. Your mutual candor is so refreshing, and inspires me to share. Here goes – If I didn’t know that growing my freelance business is a significant part of my personal growth I’d have quit long ago. I know it’s also about growing as a person, not just raking in a few bucks per page or per hour. That’s it. There’s far more to my article writing and blogging than satisfying my client and collecting my fee. I’m becoming a wiser, more skilled writer, too. Hard to put a price on that one, so I keep on keeping on, persevering as a freelance writer and a wise person in training!

    • edgandia

      Well said, Mia! That’s one of the biggest benefits of doing what we do and setting progressively higher goals — it forces us to grow both personally and professionally. Glad you enjoyed the episode. 🙂

  • hwest

    Thank you Mark for sharing your story. This was an excellent podcast. It came at the perfect time for me!

    • edgandia

      Thanks for checking it out! 🙂

  • Thanks, hwest and Mia. I’m really glad that this conversation and podcast was helpful.
    Mia, I totally agree that the freelancing business is about growing as a person as well! Keep on keeping on.

  • Jose

    Thank you, Mark and Ed. This is great to hear because it seems that breaking into freelance copywriting is sold as an easy business to start by many marketers trying to sell info products. Keep up the good work Ed the podcast is awesome!

    • edgandia

      Amen, Jose! It’s everything but easy. In fact, for most people, it will be the hardest thing they ever do in their career. As you know, I’m very vocal about that in the show and in my marketing materials.

  • celinehoran

    Hi Ed,

    This story is very interesting and has all the hallmarks of a power struggle in action. Clearly the VP felt threatened and had no desire to work alongside an outsider he did not know like or trust and wanted nothing else but to keep all the power to himself and not ‘play nice’.

    I speaker friend of mine, Colin Gautrey wrote a book called:

    ‘A Project Manager’s Guide to Influence’.

    It reveals the various powers struggles Colin faced in his long career and how to deal with them without loosing your ethics your mind or the gig. I will quickly add that I am not an affiliate.

    I just believe it would be wise for you to have this book in your arsenal when this situation comes up again, which it will, because were there are people, there are power struggles, and you know what they say, forewarned is forearmed.

    Celine :-))

    • edgandia

      Hi Celine! Great to hear from you. And thanks for the book recommendation. 🙂

  • Mike Sweeney

    Hi Ed and Mark,

    Thank you for this very honest discussion. I’m entering the 2nd year of my freelance business FT and can really identify with a lot of the points you brought up. You’re right that some gurus and promotions out there make it seem as if there’s very little cost of entry into this business. If it were really as easy as “writing a simple letter like this one” everyone would be doing it. But there’s a reason B2B copywriters generally get paid more. The other thing I identified with was working with non-ideal clients. Sometimes it’s necessary. However, just last week, for the first time, I got to experience letting a client go. It was so liberating and felt great. Funny enough, at the same time I landed a long-term 4 month gig. So it’s “funny” how things work out sometimes as we freelancers make the mindset shifts you talked about. I’m still in the process of making mine, but I’m getting there. I’ve never felt better and more confident about the future and being a business owner.

    Thanks again for a great episode,

    • edgandia

      That’s great to hear, Mike! (About both your new opportunity and the mindset shift you’ve been making.)

      BTW, regarding your comment about “still in the process of making my mind shift…” I don’t think you ever stop making that shift. In fact, if you stop upping your mental game, you stagnate. You never really “arrive.”

      I’m always trying to push myself out of my comfort zone. It’s not always pretty — fear is constantly rearing its ugly head (darn it!). But I try to push through anyway.

  • Kristen Stelzer

    Hi Ed and Mark- I just listened to this. I am ridiculously new to freelance work and have been listening to all of Ed’s older podcasts geared towards beginners (#70 is great!) and I had just been wondering if Ed ever followed brand-new freelancers and then this episode came on! While Ed and most of his guests clearly have the knack for remembering how tough it is to get started–which I appreciate so much–it was nice to here from someone closer to where I am right now. It has inspired me to keep notes of my experiences so I don’t forget the challenges–maybe I can help someone in the future. I just checked out Mark’s website and, two years later, I am glad to see that you are doing well! Thank you both for your time and candor!

    • Thanks for the feedback, Kristen! So glad you’re finding good info and inspiration in the show. Mark is a great guy. Very gracious to share all this with us.