The Anatomy of an Article Writing Agency, Part II

The Anatomy of an Article Writing Agency, Part II

On Monday, I gave you a lot of background info on how my former article writing agency – New Arbor Enterprise – got its start. When we left off in the story, I’d just taken on my first two freelance writing clients and had realized that I’d better get my act together with a legal business name and business bank accounts. If you haven’t read that post yet, go read it first and then come back here.

After the first few months, my business began to grow rapidly. What had started off as one client, then another, quickly grew into several more via word of mouth, posting in the Warrior Forum and a few other promotional strategies that I used.

So today, I want to talk about the single question I hear most often from aspiring freelance article writers – “How can I get more clients when the pool of writers seems so competitive?”

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Truth be told, there are two parts to the answer to this question – differentiation and advertising.

Differentiation means finding that one special thing that sets you and your writing services apart from all of the other writers and agencies out there. I differentiated my business based on my fun, conversational writing style. Website owners want visitors to feel welcome on their sites, which makes a warm, inviting writing style so important. One of the areas I excel in at is conveying that feeling through text, which automatically makes me more valuable to a website owner.

In addition, I was able to position myself as a premium article writer because I had experience working as an affiliate marketer that could carry over to my writing, and because I was a college-educated, native English speaker.

But just because you write in a more formal style or in a language other than English doesn’t mean you won’t be able to attract writing clients. There are plenty of other things you can differentiate yourself on, including native language spoken (English is a must for many US website owners, but there’s also a demand for native French, Spanish or Arabic speakers), extensive subject area knowledge (there’s a huge demand for in-depth medical or financial knowledge), fast turnaround time or a number of other things.

Having a point of differentiation makes you more appealing to website owners or other potential clients who are looking for your particular skill set – which makes you more likely to get hired by the right people. It does mean that you won’t appeal as strongly to everyone, but in reality, it’s better to weed out projects that aren’t a good fit for you than to take every project that comes along just to get the work when you think about your business in the long run.

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Once you’ve figured out this point of differentiation, you’ve got to start getting the word out about your writing service! It’s a competitive market out there – even compared to a few years ago – and if you aren’t actively promoting your business, you’re never going to get noticed.

(On a side note, in the next few days, I’ll be releasing a product called the “Visibility Index” that will teach you how to get noticed in a competitive marketplace. I’ll only be offering a limited number of copies, so if you’re having trouble getting clients for your freelancing business, sign up for my email list and you’ll get advance notice before the course goes on sale to the general public!)

But just because you have to constantly promote your writing business doesn’t mean that you have to do it ineffectively. The following are some of the methods that have and haven’t worked for me…

Word of Mouth – This is *huge*. Word of mouth referrals are one of the best ways to get new business because they’re very little work on your part, and because the new client has already been pre-sold on your value from your former client.

However, just because word of mouth referrals don’t require as much direct work, they aren’t entirely effortless – you’ve got to ask for the referral. Don’t automatically assume that your satisfied clients will pass on your name unprompted. Instead, follow up after each completed project with something like, “I’m glad you liked my work. I’m always looking for new clients that could benefit from my services as well. Do you know anyone that might be interested that I could contact?”

Forum Networking – When you’re looking for work, go where your clients hang out online. In my case, I was looking to write for affiliate niche marketers, so I spent a lot of time in the Warrior Forum. Posting in forums where your target clients hang out is great for two reasons – not only are you demonstrating your knowledge and building your reputation as an expert, you’re also putting your writing style out there for people to see.

Then, be sure to make it obvious that you do freelance writing (with links in your signature, posts in classified ads sections, etc) so that the people who see your fantastic forum posts will know immediately how to get in touch to hire you as a writer.

Now, a couple of specific notes on the Warrior Forum. If you’ve spent any time there, you’re probably familiar with the Warrior Special Offer and the Warrior for Hire sections of the site. In my experience, these sections aren’t great for article writers who want to charge premium prices, as the posts in these sections tend to favor the lowest cost providers.

A much better strategy, in my experience, is to make personal contact with the “experts” on the forum – those with high post counts, those whose posts indicate that they run businesses with big content needs, or those who sell products that teach beginning affiliate marketers and can recommend your services to their email lists.

Guru/ELance – When you’re first looking for clients, freelance portal sites like Guru or eLance can seem very tempting. I mean, where else are you going to find tons of employers who are looking for your specific skill set?

Well, the reality is a bit more of a mixed bag. Because you’re competing with writers from around the world, competition is brutal. And while there are a few employers on there who are interested in developing a long term relationship with a quality writer, I found the vast majority to be either website owners looking for throwaway content at the cheapest possible prices or extremely demanding clients trying to squeeze every last penny out of a project.

That’s probably harsh (and it should be said that although I worked primarily with Guru/Elance, I’ve heard similar reports from writers working with Odesk, Freelancer.com and other freelance portals). I did have a few interesting, long term clients come from these services, but if I had to start over again, I’d limit my exposure to these sites. The cost of professional accounts on these sites is high and the amount of time needed to sift through projects and place bids would have been better spent concentrating on client sources that had worked for me in the past – although your results may vary, of course.

So those are the three main avenues of new client advertising that I experimented with and how they turned out for me. You may have similar results with them, or you might not – a lot will depend on your skill set and how you feel comfortable engaging new clients. As the market gets even more competitive, you’ll probably need to market yourself even harder and think more outside of the box, so it’s worth putting some time into experimenting with different advertising sources.

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Now, the last thing I want to cover in today’s installment that’s essential to your success in getting an article writing business up and running is pricing.

I was lucky – my first client offered me a generous rate that worked for me and that I wound up sticking with as long as New Arbor Enterprise was in business.

But when you’re first getting started, it can be tough to figure out how to price your services. After all, there are people out there charging $1 per article and others who charge more than $30. Where do you fit into all that?

There are two schools of thought on how to price your services – read through them both and see which one fits your skill level best.

Start Low, End High – Basically, in this model, you price your services low (ie – $1-5 per article) when you’re starting out so that you can build up some good reviews and testimonials. As you get more traction in the marketplace, you can raise your rates to a level that you’re comfortable with.

And that’s something that’s worth noting from the start. You need to think about what price point you’re comfortable with in the long run. Think about how long it takes you to write an article. If you can write three articles in an hour and price them at $5 a piece, you’re earning $15 an hour. If you only write one article an hour, you’re down to earning $5 an hour.

Of course, the hourly rate you’re comfortable with will depend on your personal circumstances. Do you plan to write articles for a living or just for a little extra spending money? If you earn $15/hour writing articles and write an hour a day, that’s an extra $420 each month. Whether or not that’s enough for you will also depend on what your living expenses are like. If you’re based in the US, that’s not going to be enough to live off of (although it could be some nice pocket change) – if you’re in a developing country, that could represent a substantial income boost.

The point of all this is that you should be clear about your expectations from the start. If you wouldn’t take a real-world job that only pays $5 an hour, it doesn’t make sense to start an article writing business that will only pay you that much.

And that’s one of the biggest caveats with the “Start Low, End High” pricing method. If you start low, you may have trouble raising your rates, since your clients will come to expect you to work for those rates. This isn’t to say you won’t be able to do it – and starting low really is a good way for people without any professional writing experience to get initial projects – just that it’s important to understand the challenges you’ll face.

Pricing Right from the Start  – The second pricing method writers can follow is to set the rate they’re comfortable with (based on the per hour rate discussed above) immediately from the start.

You’ll face a different set of challenges with this pricing strategy. Although you won’t have to worry about raising your rates to a sustainable level, you may find it hard to get work if you don’t have any past writing experience.

For this reason, it’s far easier to choose this method if you have any type of writing experience – whether it’s in a print medium, from writing content for websites you’ve created or from any other source. Or, if you’re a particularly talented writer, the writing samples you submit when bidding on projects or contacting new clients may be enough to get you the higher rates you’re looking for.

But whichever pricing model you choose, be aware that there are some accepted income barriers that will be tough to overcome. Beginning writers or those with basic English skills typically charge $3-$7 per 500 word article. Skilled writers with some experience and good testimonials can charge closer to $7-$25 per 500 word article. The best writers, whose articles result in a high number of sales or affiliate conversions for their clients, can charge anywhere from $30-$100+ per 500 word article.

No matter which pricing model you choose, if you don’t have the skill set to support the price you’re asking for your articles, you won’t get very far.

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On Friday, I’m going to wrap up this series with the technicalities of handling client interactions professionally, what to do when you find yourself with more clients than you can handle, and whatever other topics I come up with between now and then 🙂

Click here to read Part III of my article writing service series!

As always, if you have questions about any of the info I’ve shared here, post them in the comments!

Image: J. Paxon Reyes

8 Responses to The Anatomy of an Article Writing Agency, Part II

  1. Jon says:

    Sarah,

    This could be a white paper all on its own 🙂 In-depth and full of value, thanks.

    I support your thoughts on differentiation (or USP). In a highly competitive, or crowded, marketplace you absolutely need an edge. You need something that says, “this is the great reason why you should choose me.”

    The Visibility Index – I’ll keep my eyes peeled for the email announcement.

    Are you still very active in the Warrior Forum? Do you have any desire to get back into the article writing industry?

    You make good points about pricing. Just like the job market, your compensation will be commensurate with experience and skill. You can charge $100 for an article but it doesn’t mean you’ll get it. Good idea starting off low to drum up some referrals, experience, and testimonials.

    Looking forward to the next installment…

    Jon

    • Sarah says:

      Jon – I actually might use this as the framework for a paid product later on. Even after writing almost 6,000 words on it, there’s still a ton of other stuff I wish I could have gone into!

      I am still active in the Warrior Forum, and I do still do some limited freelance writing (not through New Arbor Enterprise any more – more details to come in tomorrow’s post…)

      And yes, keep your eyes peeled for the Visibility Index course announcement – very exciting stuff… 🙂

  2. Adrienne says:

    Hey Sarah,

    I had to come back over here and read this post before I continue on to part III. I find your journey so interesting.

    I think differentiating yourself is hard for a lot of people. Like you, I like to have fun too but I’m not sure how to show that in my writing. I don’t really have a “creative” mind and what I mean by that is come up with different ways to express myself that hasn’t been hacked to death. Does that make any sense?

    My next question was going to be how do you get noticed in a competitive market but you’re going to help us out with that soon so I can wait. 🙂

    Not that I plan on offering writing services in the future because I don’t have extra hours in the day as it is. But I have been approached numerous times to write articles for people only because I do enjoy writing while the people who have approaced me don’t. I’m kind of curious to just give it a shot at least once to see if I enjoy it or they are satisfied with my work. Okay, will think about that one.

    Alright, I’m off to part III. Definitely enjoyed this one…

    Adrienne

    • Sarah says:

      Adrienne – Give it a shot! Set a strong rate, since you’re obviously a good writer and have people coming to you looking for content.

      There’s nothing that says taking a few projects means you have to turn into an agency with 7 writers underneath you… 🙂

      But if nothing else, you’ll have a few extra bucks in your wallet for pizza, and a little more practice synthesizing ideas and content into articles.

      Just my two cents… 🙂

  3. Bruce says:

    This series of posts on the article writing agency has been fascinating to read. Thanks for this. Your advice on setting up a business bank account is a good one – my earnings for December are likely going to be in the +$1500 range, so the expense of a $6/month business bank account makes sense.

    “The best writers, whose articles result in a high number of sales or affiliate conversions for their clients, can charge anywhere from $30-$100+ per 500 word article.”

    I started pitching my services to clients in mid November and have got $35 per 500 word article for most of my clients so far. I do have some prior writing experience (BrightHub.com: over 100 articles, as well as some academic publications), so that helped. I think it also made a big difference to my confidence that I’m building up my freelance service while I have a full time job: i.e. I can afford to turn down clients.

    • Sarah says:

      Bruce – That’s great to hear! I’m glad to hear that you’ve been able to get clients at a rate that you’re worth, and that you’re taking the time to weed out the good clients from the bad (although it definitely helps to have the day job as well).

      Are you thinking about going full-time as a writer in the future or are you just taking on writing work for some extra income?

      • Bruce says:

        Sarah – thank you for your thoughtful comment. In reading bits and pieces about building a business (sidenote: what do you recommend as far as business books? I’ve read Jim Collin’s books but I find the examples – all giant publicly traded companies – difficult to relate to], I became convinced in the value of coming at business from a place of strength and confidence.

        My long term plans for the writing business are still very much in development. Maintaining the writing business alongside a full time job (and continuing education since I am working towards a professional credential) is demanding. That said, I find the challenge of working with clients and meeting their needs to be exciting. The direct connection between work and reward is also fulfilling.

        A year from now, I would like to use my earnings and skills to move away from a purely service model. I would really like to build a portfolio (perhaps 5-10 websites) that can generate solid income month after month. I would even consider paying for a website but I don’t feel comfortable with it yet (i.e. how to evaluate a website).

        • Sarah says:

          Haha – I’m bad at business books, but right now I’m reading Annie Lamott’s “Bird by Bird” and Gary Vaynerchuk’s “Thank You Economy” and their both good. Steven Pressfield’s “War of Art” and Tina Seeling’s “What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20” are two of my all-time favorites that’ll always have a place on my shelf.

          Best of luck growing your business – sounds like you have a great plan in place to build stable income!

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