Writing Biz Lessons from the Past

You all know I like time-travel, right? Well, for this month’s Word Carnival, I’m traveling back in time to give myself some writing business advice. I’m not going too far, just to around mid-2005 when I first decided to go freelance. The reason? To stop my future self from making a mistake.

Writing Biz Lessons from the Past

Getting Started: What Went Right

Don’t get me wrong – it wasn’t all bad. In fact, there’s a lot I got right like:

  • setting up a website – check!
  • upgrading my web writing skills – check!
  • making sure I collected some clips – check!
  • using social media for marketing (just kidding; back in 2005 Facebook was a fledgling network that only college students were using so all you had was Friendster and MySpace – nuff said!).

Everybody Needs Somebody

But there’s one thing I did that I didn’t get totally right and that’s what I’d change (yo, past self, I’m talking to you!). All of those promotion tips were useful, but the one thing I’d do differently is that I would spend more time hanging out where my potential clients were.

Like a lot of freelancers, I bonded with other writers – and it was great. We shared opportunities, made some referrals, helped each other out with applications, bids and resumes and lent a listening ear whenever it was needed. We all need that sometimes and I wouldn’t trade those relationships for anything. But – and it’s a big but – in most cases other writers aren’t the ones who hire you (with the obvious exception of those running writing teams or outsourcing). If you want to build up a writing business you need to be where the people who will hire you are. So my No. 1 message to past-Sharon is hang out/write for/socialize/build relationships with your target clients.

Where the Writing Clients Are

I spent a lot of time in the early days trying out new websites and web tools (you already know I have a huge geeky side), but one place I didn’t check out is LinkedIn, which had already been around for a couple of years when I started freelancing. Think about it: if I’d signed up back then I could have made more of an impact because there was a smaller user base. But, since we can’t live in the past, I’m taking that lesson and applying it to my social media usage now.

That’s why I am actively extending relationships with past clients and building relationships with potential clients via LinkedIn and other social media sites. That means:

  • participating in groups for small business owners
  • sharing items of interest either in groups or in messages (which are more personal)
  • creating circles, lists or groups (depending on the site) so I can keep up with what clients are doing and respond when something interests me.

Note that I’m talking about relationships. I don’t write and run, nor do I stalk people on social media and try to sell them my writing services. I want them to hire me, but building a relationship gives me the chance to create something long term with clients which will make them remember and recommend me. I know it works: in the last week alone I’ve had two referrals via someone I last worked with in 2010.

But just imagine if I’d been putting this into practice when I started my writing business. So, if you’re listening, past self, way back in 2005, when you’re setting up your site and networking with writers, sign up for LinkedIn and network with potential clients too – you won’t regret it!

This post is part of the monthly Word Carnival series of posts. This month, our carnies are exploring the theme of Time Travel, specifically: from where you are now, what one piece of advice would you go back in time to give yourself on your first day in business? Check out more of the Word Carnival series at WordCarnivals.com.

Image: Rooners Toy Photography

About Sharon Hurley Hall

Sharon Hurley Hall has been mentoring writers here at Get Paid To Write Online since 2005 to help them improve and build sustainable and successful writing careers. Check me out on sharonhh.com. Feel free to connect with me online on Google+.


  1. This is fabulous advice, Sharon. It’s so easy to gravitate toward our peers instead of our prospects — online and off. There’s definitely a comfort zone thing going on. And to be sure, we definitely need to network with our peers. But meeting our prospective clients on THEIR turf is so much more productive.

  2. Love the creative post, Sharon. LinkedIn is the one thing I did right when I started in 2008. You are so right about how it’s great to hang out with other writers, but most are not going to pay your bills. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    I do need to kick up my LinkedIn participation again. I haven’t been as effective as I’ve been in the past. Thanks for the motivation. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • I think you inspired me to do more with LinkedIn last year, Cathy, and I’m trying to be more consistent about interacting there. I’m experimenting with different groups till I find the perfect (well near enough) mix.

  3. You did a lot of things right Sharon, especially getting on LinkedIn. Thanks for sharing your experience.

    I’m dating myself, but when I started my freelance writing business only a few academics were using the Internet, so it wasn’t so easy to hang out with my potential clients, who were mostly editors at big publishing companies in Boston and New York.

    • Date away, John; I started writing before there was internet or email but as I was working for a publication then, all my clients were internal. Fast forward a few years and connecting online became much more important.

  4. Couldn’t agree more Sharon, yes, we writers do need each other but we also need to have a presence where our clients and potential future clients hang out.

  5. Wow, great advice and definitely something I’ve been guilty of – I know a lot of designers, developers and marketing peeps for sure, and I totally gravitate towards them. But sometimes I do notice… hm… I’m following all these marketing people on Twitter and G+ and they are SO not going to pay me money! Also you get stuck in sort of an echo chamber after a while so it’s great to find and hang out with your customers AND even those weirdos you have nothing in common with. It’s amazing what you can learn!

    • Easily done, Carol Lynn, because you all talk about the same things and can have fun swapping war stories. That’s pretty satisfying emotionally, but doesn’t help the bank balance!

  6. Sharon our past selves were on a similar wavelength. I tended to talk as if my audience loved everything I did. Ok I admit I did (and still do) do networking with actuaries – some of them can be fun.

    Seriously, this is great advice for anyone in business. Thanks for the reminder.

    • Nothing wrong with a bit of fun, Nicole – I love laughing with my fellow writers. The thing to do is to find a way to have just as much fun with people who can help you pay your bills. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Hahah….it’s funny because I just naturally talk to anyone that listens and THAT is how I figured out who my ideal client was! So definitely agree with this advice.

  8. Sharon! You’re so right. I actually have it posted on my to-do list, find companies and connect with them via social media. ๐Ÿ˜€ Just start talking and shining your light. Great advice, you’ve inspired me to get that from to-do to to-done.

  9. Love how you so artfully weave the story and the business lesson in this post. It got me wondering how many times I have been so busy installing my “gutters” that I never noticed the house next door did not have them. Always be on the lookout for the next new business opportunity.

  10. Sharon, I don’t know if you follow or read Ana Hoffman’s Traffic Generation Cafe blog. But she did a video post a couple of years ago with a profound message that still hits me like tons of bricks whenever I think about it. Your post reminds me of her basic message. It seems like SO many people who do the same kind of work or provide the same kind of services are all trying to sell to one another online. Ain’t gonna happen till pigs can fly!

    The moral support and camaraderie and fun and the possible joint venture opportunities are all well and good. But as you’ve noted, your peers don’t provide you with an income.

    I’m a big fan of LinkedIn and I definitely see loads of value there. However, I’m finding myself gravitating more toward G+ and Pinterest these days. Some of the groups I belong to on LI are posting way too many ads and offers as of late. ๐Ÿ™

    • Interacting on LinkedIn is a constant process of pruning for me for the same reason, Melanie and I’ve also left a few G+ communities because of an inappropriate (in my view) balance between discussion and promotion.

  11. Sharon this is such a necessary reminder to us all past and present. I greatly value the communities I belong to of my peers and have learned a lot from them, but my clients come from elsewhere. Derek Halpern wrote a great piece recently on bloggers blogging for other bloggers which got me thinking along similar lines.

    LinkedIn has been a fabulous source of work for me in the last three years, but lately I have found it to be a lot more work and like Mel says just too much promotion. Perhaps you should write your next post on how to use Linkedin in 2013? Everything has its place, doesn’t it – its just finding the room for everything that is the issue!

    • That’s a great idea, Sandy, though I’m still feeling my way around LinkedIn. There’s certainly a lot of overload – it can be tempting to retreat from it all for a while.

  12. Not only do you want to go where your clients are – you have to actively avoid writing for co-workers/competition/peers as opposed to customers.

    That has been one of the bigger lessons I’ve learned over the last four years, but it’s a doozy. If you can get the clarity on who you’re writing for, it makes all the difference.

    Doing both – it’s a recipe for success if you’re selling services to TECAH your competitors ๐Ÿ™‚