Posted on Tue 30 August 2016

My freelancing process


Since I'm currently taking on new freelancing clients, I've been talking to various people about how I work. I have a fairly standard spiel that explains my rates, my process for working with clients, and how I handle payments. Explaining this so often made me realise it might be useful to write up a blog post that explains all this, both for the benefit of prospective clients, and for other freelancers who might find it useful.

I won't publish my actual rate here, as it's subject to change and there's every possibility I won't remember to update it in this post. I will say, though, that I work with a flat fee per article. This rate covers my time to research the article, work on outline, draft the entire piece, and edit it before sending to the client. My rate also includes one round of editing, so once the client receives my final draft they can send it back with feedback and I'll create a revised version. This is important when working with many clients, rather than as an employee, because my clients will always know their audience and their content goals better than I do.

When I start working with a new client, I always start with a trial period. This is usually one or two articles. This gives us both a chance to test the working relationship and uncover any assumptions we might have had about the process of working together. I've previously turned down clients after this trial period when it showed they were unreliable communicators or they had goals for their content that didn't align with my values. But most of the time the trial goes well and we push ahead with an ongoing schedule of regular content.

Once I have a schedule set up with a client, I start by booking in the next 2-3 article deadlines. I'll usually send the client a few available dates from my schedule that suit the frequency of content they want from me, and they'll choose the dates they prefer. I always make my deadlines on Sundays so I can plan all my content work in batches per week. If I have three articles due in a week, I know they're all due Sunday, so I can plan my week around getting them done throughout the week.

Most weeks I have two articles due, which is my sweet spot. Any less than that and my income suffers, but more than that takes a toll on my energy and time, as I'm also trying to run a company and build more independent projects like my book/course Productive Habits, so I don't need to rely so much on client income. I often write 1-2 other articles every week, as well—for my blog, for the Exist blog or Hello Code blog, or even guest posts. These all take time and mental resources just as my client work does.

Once the deadlines are set for a client, I pitch them topics based on what I know about their content goals and audience. I usually pitch a few more ideas than they need, (for instance, if we've booked in two deadlines I'll pitch four or five topics) so they can choose the ones they like best. I pitch with a rough working title and either a few dot points or a short paragraph about what I'll cover. Sometimes a client will want a more full outline of the topics they like, or they'll want to suggest a slight variation of a topic I've pitched. After this back and forth via email, the client settles on the topics they like best, and I pop them into my client calendar.

Having the deadlines set first means I can plan my calendar while we're still deciding on topics, and not over- or under-book myself. I'm trying to do this earlier and earlier, as it's frustrating to be dealing with lots of admin and emails when I'm trying to stay in the writing mindset. Having the planning for my current month done before the month starts means I can focus on the writing, and know I have plenty of time to get the planning done for the month ahead. In the past I've often been planning with clients for content due in the very next week while trying to write articles due for the current week, which is a really uncomfortable way to work.

Once it's time to get writing, I have a couple of approaches. Occasionally I'll write something that's either based on personal experience or something I'm already very familiar with. In those cases I skip straight to making an outline with plenty of notes about what I want to cover.

But the majority of my work involves a lot of research. Recently I changed my research process and I've found this new approach works really well. These days, I'll gather all the articles, book chapters, and study papers I want to read, and as I read them I'll create sketchnotes on paper.


Next is the drafting phase. At the end of my sketchnotes process I'll make an outline for the article while all the research is fresh in my mind. I usually wait until the next day to draft the article so my subconscious has time to sift through everything I've learned and help me understand it better.

When drafting, I like to word vomit as much as possible. The blank page is the worst thing for a writer, so the quicker I can get words on there, the better. The sketchnotes research process helps here by making me remember what I've read more easily, so I can write a draft quickly and get in most of the important details. I used to spend a lot of time switching back to articles I'd read to check things or refresh my memory when drafting, which slowed down the process and made it a lot more awkward.

Usually I leave the draft and edit it on another day, once I've had a break from it. This is mainly just to give me a break from the topic so I'm not sick of it when I'm editing, and don't gloss over areas I could improve. When editing, I read the whole piece through, adjusting as I go to make it read better, and adding links where needed as references. I also check names and dates to make sure they're correct.

Finally, I add images where necessary or useful, and give the article a finally once-over before handing it over to the client.

When sending a final draft to a client, I use Dropbox Paper wherever possible. Some of my clients prefer Google Docs but I hate Docs, and find it very unfriendly to use, so I'm always advocating for Paper when I can. Some clients prefer I email them a file, so I'll usually send my original Markdown draft (I write everything in Markdown) or an HTML version. I like using Dropbox Paper because any comments from the client are in line, next to the part of the article they're referring to, as opposed to separating the comments out into an email.

Once the client sends me their feedback, I'll send back a revised draft taking their notes into account. I generally get this done within two weeks, but the timing will depend on how much is on my plate when the client sends me their feedback.

Finally, once the revised version is sent (or the original version is accepted as-is), I send off an invoice. I use Harvest to send invoices, which connects to my Stripe account so clients can pay online using their credit card. For clients in Australia, it's usually easier to send a bank transfer, with the added bonus that I don't have to pay Stripe fees for those payments!

I want to end on a note about the work I do—and don't do. In case you haven't seen my work before, or you're not sure what exactly my job is, here it is in a nutshell: I write articles for clients to publish (under my name) on their blogs. These articles are designed to be interesting and useful to their current customers, prospective customers, and anyone who might know one of their prospective customers. The idea behind this process is that people will come to read these interesting, useful articles, and come back again in the future because they know this blog continues to publish content they're interested in. Eventually, they might be curious enough about who's publishing this content to find out about the company that runs the blog, and what they sell. Sometime later, they might need the kind of product this company sells, or they might talk to someone else who does, and hopefully they'll remember this company's name.

It's a very long process. Companies that do content marketing are in it for the long haul. They care about helping their customers and potential customers by offering free articles they might enjoy.

Personally, I specialise in writing about topics like productivity, remote working, company culture, creativity, psychology, and building new habits.

Occasionally I also work on longer-form projects with my clients. These can be very long, in-depth articles of 3-5,000 words, short eBooks or email courses, or a series of blog posts around a particular theme. I'm always open to discussing other content-based projects, too.

It's worth noting here what I don't do, as well. I don't write about a company or its products on their behalf. On their blog, on other blogs, anywhere. I write interesting articles for readers (at least I try to), not marketing copy to sell a product.

I do write about products I use and enjoy sometimes, as part of explaining how I use them, or why I like them. This always comes from personal experience, and I won't be paid to mention any products.

I don't write product reviews. I also don't offer personal reviews or feedback on products as a service. I don't write copy for websites. And I definitely don't write about marketing. I did that for a while, and really didn't like it. These days I try to stick to writing about what I'm interested in, because it's better for me, and better for the reader—which is also better for the client.

So that's about it. If you have any questions about my process, feel free to hit me up on Twitter or by email. And if you're interested in hiring me to write content for your business, do the same. You can also check out this list to see examples of my published client work.

P.S. I make some stuff you might like: Exist, a personal analytics app to help you understand your life, and Larder, a bookmarking app for developers.

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