Become A Successful Freelance Writer: How Relationships Can Help You

    Are you waiting for your freelance career to take off?

    You’ve tried everything, but paid writing projects are still few and far between.

    It makes you question whether you’ve got the chops to be a writer, doesn’t it?

    The good news is that it may not be your writing. In fact, you may even be a spectacular writer.

    But being a successful freelance writer takes more than good writing. Sure, you can be a good writer slaving away in your closet and no one beyond your mother and your cat will ever read your words.

    Being a successful writer takes something else.

    Successful writers know the value of relationships

    Successful writers need to be good at developing relationships.

    You need to build the right relationships with key individuals who can help you achieve your writing career goals.

    In today’s freelancing landscape, writers need to be entrepreneurs. You need to think creatively and strategically about your network, and actively cultivate relationships with editors, publishers, bloggers, agents, and potential clients.

    Here’s the good news: this is not that hard. You don’t need to be an extrovert. You don’t need to be more charming than George Clooney.

    You just need to have some discipline, and to focus your energies in the right direction.

    How cultivating relationships can support your freelance writing career

    There are many ways in which cultivating and maintaining key relationships can help your freelance writing career. For example:

    • People like to send business to people they already know, like, and trust.
    • By keeping in touch with editors, publishers and clients, you’ll be top of the mind when new gigs come up.
    • You may find out about writing gigs and projects that are not advertised.


    6 Steps to establish and nurture relationships


    Here are six steps you can take immediately to build relationships that will help your writing career.

    1. Develop a plan for who you want to get to know 

    Most aspiring freelance writers let their relationships evolve naturally and organically. That works well for friendships, but it’s a poor strategy for business.

    A much better strategy is to write down a list of at least 50 people with whom you want to develop a deeper relationship over the next 12 months.

    I call this a “Conversations List” because you are identifying the people with whom you want to have an ongoing conversation over time. Who should be on your Conversations List? You might include people already in your network whom you want to get to know better, people you met at a conference, or even famous writers, prominent editors, agents, or publishers.

    Ideally, these are people who you would want in your circle of peers, colleagues, and allies.

    2. Identify how you can help them

    Next, it’s time to start providing value to the people on your list.

    Dr. Ivan Misner, the founder of Business Network International, says you need to make deposits into the “relationship bank” before you can make withdrawals. Too often, people try to make withdrawals before they’ve made any deposits. That’s a recipe for failure.

    What you “give” doesn’t need to be big – even if you’re providing value to a world-famous individual – but it should be relevant. For example, let’s say you included Stephen King on your list, and you know he’s a huge fan of French food. You happen to know of a new French restaurant opening soon in Sarasota, Florida, near his home.

    Telling the King of Horror about this new restaurant would be a great way to provide relevant value to him. Even though Stephen King is a world-famous novelist, he would likely appreciate the value you gave him with that recommendation.

    3. Choose your relationship-building tools

    Once you’ve identified who you want to get to know, you need to decide how you’d like to do so. You can choose from the following.

    • Lunches and coffee meetings. A simple tool for getting to know people is to meet for a casual lunch or coffee.
    • Interviews. Interviews are a great starting point for new relationships. Try to use the freelance articles you write as an excuse to interview someone on your Conversations List.
    • Podcasts. I’ve had over 50 guests on my podcast, and it’s been an excellent tool for expanding my network. Podcast interviews are far more effective than informational interviews, or asking someone to meet you for coffee so you can “pick their brain.”
    • Use names in your articles. In Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath share how small-town newspapers have long understood the value of including names of people in the local community within their pages. Do the same thing with your blog and any article you write, wherever possible. People love to see their name mentioned. (See how I did it here with Chip and Dan Heath?)

    Whatever tools you choose, make sure they play to your strength. If you are nervous on camera, don’t start a video podcast. If you prefer one-on-one to group settings, focus on individual sit-down coffee meetings or lunches.

    4. Clearly communicate your interest in working together

    Once you’ve begun connecting with people, you need to clearly express your interest in working with them.

    Find a way to communicate in a low-pressure way that you “would love to work together” when the opportunity arises. This doesn’t mean you should directly ask for work – especially early in a relationship. That’s a sure-fire way to lose a friend.

    One way to communicate your interest in working together is to demonstrate your competence by sharing valuable ideas. For example, if you are connecting with an editor of a publication, you could suggest an article that provides a fresh take on an issue of interest to their readers. If they like the idea, you might be the ideal person to write it.

    5. Create an easy follow-up system

    If you want your connections to think of you first when a writing opportunity comes up, you need to always be “top of mind” with that connection. For this, you need to have a good system for following up.

    What does this entail? A follow-up system is simply a dedicated way of checking in with people in your network. You can do this manually or put reminders on your calendar, but neither works that well.

    I suggest using a simple customer relationship management software such as Insightly or SugarCRM. I use a system I love, called Contactually.

    No matter which system you use, you should be able to identify which relationships are in danger of becoming stale, set reminders to follow up, and track your contacts with people.

    6. Revisit and revise your Conversations List annually.

    Around once a year, revisit your Conversations List and determine the people you should cut out and those you should add.

    You will meet new people over time. You may decide that certain people on your list are not a good fit for you. You may even decide to take your writing career in a different direction.

    Revising your list ensures that you nurture the relationships that are right for you.

    Now go out there and start

    It’s time to put these ideas to work.

    Create your Conversations List of the 50 people you are going to develop relationships with, and find ways to help them, in whatever way you can.

    Developing relationships with people of your own choosing gives you far greater control over the direction or your career and the quality of your freelance writing projects. You’ll find yourself working on better projects with people you like because you chose them, rather than leaving your career up to chance.

    It’s a relatively small investment of your time now, but will make a massive difference to your career in the long run.

    How do you develop and nurture relationships to support your writing career? Share your tips in the comments!

    About the author

      John Corcoran

      John Corcoran is an attorney, former Clinton White House Writer, and creator of SmartBusinessRevolution.com, where he shows business owners how increase income using relationships. Download his free, 52-page guide How to Increase Your Income in 14 Days by Building Relationships with VIPs, Even if you Hate Networking.

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    • I made it to the first entry and already knew I was somewhat out of the loop.

      As a fiction writer, I haven’t a clue who I should “talk” to. I don’t really have anyone I look up to (I’ve talked to a few people already, good people, but they are writers as well), I have no drive for writing novels (much less reading them), and any other venture I am just somewhat clueless.

      I suppose this means I need to get out of this industry…

      • Hi Matthew: If you aren’t interested in publishing novels, where do you want to publish? On a blog? In a magazine? On Kindle? On parchment paper? (Just a joke.)

        Even if you are focused on fiction, I think there are plenty of relationships that would be valuable to your goal of getting your fiction writing out there – it could be other fiction writers, but it could also be editors of magazines where you want to publish, or people associated with Kindle publishing (there is a whole industry of consultants who will help with packaging, promoting and selling a Kindle book), or even your readers (don’t forget about them!).

    • This is great advice not just for freelancers, but for anyone in any field. The digital age may have changed the way relationships grow and develop, but nurturing those relationships is just as important as it ever was.

      • Thanks, Lori. I agree that this advice can apply to other, non-freelancers as well… but it is especially important for freelancers, who live and die by the projects and assignments they get! Thanks for reading. : )

    • I have to echo Julie and note that sincerity is a must when networking. People see through lies and BS quite quickly!

      I am always honest and forthcoming in my interactions. This has helped me in my quest to meet and become friends with others online.

      • So true, Lorraine – sincerity is crucially important. People can see through it when you’re not sincere!

        • What irks me is when people pretend to be your friend just to get you to do something for them and then when their agenda has been met, you don’t hear from them again. Do they figure just because it’s an online relationship that people don’t have feelings?

          • Yeah, that’s incredibly annoying. I don’t think that’s limited to the online world. I don’t know about you, but I’ve known (and continue to know) people who are like that in real life as well. There’s a great book that came out last year called Give and Take by Adam Grant which talks about those types of people. They are natural “takers” and they are the types of people who are thinking of what they can get for themselves first. (I highly recommend the book.)

    • Julie Luek says:

      There is an art to building relationships, especially if they’re mostly done via online. I’ve seen people do these steps, but do them poorly– they push too hard, don’t show interest in the person, just in their own agenda, etc. The networking is vital– making sure it is done genuinely, with care and respect for others is key to the “relationship” aspect of it. Great post.

      • Thanks, Julie. How is the weather in Colorado? I agree a lot of people try to develop relationships very poorly online. But then again, a lot of people are not very good at building and nurturing relationships offline as well. In either case, pushing too fast to scale the relationship up the ladder can be a major turnoff. If you allow the relationship to develop more genuinely and over time, you have a much better chance of it turning into something of value to both of you.

      • That is so true, Lorraine – if you do not show an interest in a person, or if you are only interested in your own agenda – then people will be able to tell immediately.

    • — How do you develop and nurture relationships to support your writing career? —

      I nurture my client relationships through regular communication, plain and simple. Its about constantly nourishing your relationships over the long run. Taking a genuine interest in people and the things they are passionate about.

      Also Networking/Relationship-Building needs to be a part of your everyday life. For example, too many people only start networking once they have just lost their job. However, networking needs to start long before then. Your network is a safety net that is there to catch you; not a dangling rope you wildly clasp to as you take fall.

      • Great point, Katherine, about people only starting networking when they lost their job. I have received those emails so many times, I can’t count them all. Part of me feels bad when I receive an email from someone saying “Hey there, haven’t checked in for a few years – how are you doing? By the way, I just got laid off…”

        But the other part of me wants to say back: “where you been all this time? You lose your job and NOW you reach out to me?” It really feels disingenuous. It’s a much better strategy to keep in touch with people when you don’t need something, so that when you do, you’ll have kept that relationship alive. You need to water that garden.

      • Hi Katherine – It’s so very true that people frequently don’t try to build relationships until after they’ve lost a job or their company has gone under. In my opinion, that’s too late. It’s important to be nurturing relationships all along – not with an expectation that you might lose your job, but perhaps just in case.

        You need to constantly be nurturing your garden if you want to one day harvest the fruit. : )

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