Leaving The Agency Grind To Start My Own Freelance Writing Career

$3,500
revenue/mo
1
Founders
1
Employees
product
Daniel Waldman Wr...
from Nantes
started September 2016
$3,500
revenue/mo
1
Founders
1
Employees
16.1M
alexa rank
blog
freelance

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

I’m Daniel Waldman and I’m a freelance writer. My business is called Daniel Waldman Writing and I’ve been in business for about 3 years. That said, I’ve worked in marketing and public relations for nearly my entire career (over 15 years), and writing has always been a central element of my professional activities.

I offer a wide variety of writing and editing services, but mainly clients come to me for help with blogging, article writing, their website copy, and video script writing. I’ve also helped one writer with editing a business book and continue to expand my editorial services. On average, I earn about $3500/month (before taxes).

leaving-the-agency-grind-to-start-my-own-freelance-writing-career

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I started my career wanting to be a magazine editor. After I finished college, I got my first job as an editor at a vanity press, where people essentially pay to have their work published. It was possibly one of the worst jobs I’ve ever had. Editing really poorly written poetry made me want to poke my eyes out, and the pay was almost nothing.

Too often, I see entrepreneurs who are more interested in being an entrepreneur than building a business. They spend a lot of time and energy talking about their business, but not actually doing things that will contribute to the bottom line.

At the time, it was the first dot com boom, and I became really interested in how people were using this new communication channel and how ideas spread online. I decided to go back to school to get my Masters in Communications. While I was there, I attended an event at my school’s career center where an SVP of Ketchum was talking about a career in PR. Everything she said sounded exactly what I wanted to do professionally, and so I dove into

After grad school, I got my first real PR job as a one-person PR department in an arts marketing agency. I grew up in that position over 3 years into being the firm’s communications director and grew from my one-person department to 5 people.

Eventually, I wanted to find a new challenge and a mentor of mine suggested I go to work at a real marketing agency. After an extensive search, I landed a senior strategist role at one of the top marketing firms in my town. But after 2 years there, the Great Recession hit and the company I was working for wasn’t doing so well. I survived a round of layoffs, but the writing was on the wall. I had always wanted to start my own company, so when the time was right I quit and founded my own marketing/PR firm, Evolve Communications.

Starting as a solo-prenuer, I eventually grew my firm to five people (3 full-time and 2 part-time). We became the go-to agency for tech and startups in my region. I was working myself to the bone, though, and started to experience some serious burnout. Around the time we celebrated our 5th anniversary in business, I was ready to move on. My wife, who’s French, wanted to move back to her home country. We saved up some money, sold almost all of our belongings, and moved to Nantes, France!

And that’s what lead me to freelance writing. Writing was a part of all my previous jobs that I loved the most. I’ve honed my skills over the length of my career, and clients have come to trust not only that I’ll deliver excellent copy, but also the insights I’ve earned through my various experiences. It’s a totally natural fit that enables me to do something I really enjoy, while also giving me the flexibility I crave to explore my new home country.

Take us through the process of honing your writing skills and getting started.

For whatever reason, writing has always been one of my core skills, and I’ve enjoyed it as long as I can remember. I even wrote my first short story when I was in 3rd grade.

When I finished grad school with honors, having written a 120+ page thesis, I really thought I was a good writer. It turned out, though, that the academic writing I had become used to was very different from the business writing that was needed in the workplace. I honestly struggled a bit in the early days of my career.

Luckily, I had a number of excellent mentors. One was a former newspaper editor and colleague who patiently worked with me and coached me. It’s common for young writers starting their careers to take editorial suggestions personally. This coach has really helped me understand that my writing could, in fact, be made better and that edits aren’t a personal attack on my skills.

Another mentor who really helped me was a PR director who would make me rewrite things over and over again until they were perfect. At the time, I was really annoyed. But her persistence--and ultimately her confidence that I could do better--showed me what it takes to produce a truly professional piece of writing.

Describe the process of launching the business.

I’ve only launched two businesses in my life--my agency and now my writing business.

My agency was done in the U.S., and it was really simple. Starting a business in France, however, is a lot more complicated. Of course, not knowing the language fully made it even more difficult!

What takes about 10-15 minutes online in the US (getting a Federal and State tax number) takes about 6 weeks in France. There are a lot more forms to fill out, and they’re just more complicated in general. Also, getting a business bank account in France is not only time consuming, but expensive. Luckily, a friend suggested an online bank that is compliant with French laws while also being more affordable.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

I have maintained a fairly good network of contacts back in the US, and I get referrals from them almost all the time.

I was also recruited into Fiverr’s Pro program when it originally launched in 2017, and that’s been an excellent source of clients (my profile is here).

Today, a little less than half of my business comes from Fiverr. I started out only offering blog writing, but over the past two years, I’ve expanded it to articles, landing pages, and video scripts. I know a lot of people look at Fiverr (and similar sites for freelance services) and think it’s a race to the bottom. Luckily, the Pro program has been great because it allows me to charge my full rate.

Getting clients online is a little trickier than getting them through your network, mostly because you don’t have the same level of interaction as you might over the phone or in person. Some prospects have unrealistic expectations of what you’re going to deliver, often because they don’t read your offering carefully enough. Sometimes they can get really nasty. I always try to remain respectful and communicate clearly with them so there’s an as little misunderstanding as possible. I also try to make sure I get as much information as necessary in order to complete the assignment right.

Lastly, I have no qualms with turning down or firing clients who present red flags, such as those who don’t talk respectfully or are asking for champagne on a Budweiser budget. Years ago (when I owned my own agency), I started following the “no assholes” rule, which basically means I won’t do business with people who are rude, disrespectful, or just mean. I found it’s not worth the energy or money to try to make these people happy.

I earn enough between Fiverr and my network, to the point where it hasn’t even been necessary to explore other freelance writing sites.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Aside from inexpensive internet, phone, and the occasional computer repair, my overhead is nearly zero. France’s “auto-entrepreneur” status is quite different from the US sole owner or LLC status, though, and a significant portion of my income goes to my social and income taxes. Another important difference is that I’m not allowed to write off my business expenses the same way I could in the U.S.

As for the future, I’m currently exploring producing events. I really miss that aspect of my previous jobs, where we’d often create launch events, parties, etc. The first event I’m working on is a week-long retreat for fiction writers that I’m doing in partnership with a friend who has an editorial business in the US. If this goes well, I hope to expand these types of offerings and do more of them in the future.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

One thing I’ve always found when owning my own business is that it’s usually feast or famine. Sometimes the slow times are welcome, allowing me to explore other interests that aren’t part of work. Other times, when it gets busy, I tend to neglect healthy eating and exercise.

I try to maintain a balance, which also means always being on the lookout for the next big project. My mistake is often forgetting to do this when things are slow. There have been some lean times where I didn’t sufficiently fill my pipeline, and I’ve wondered how I’m going to pay my rent in a couple of months. I have to constantly remind myself that just because I’m busy now doesn’t mean I’ll be busy in a month or two.

The other lesson I’ve learned that I believe has helped me be successful is having a solid understanding of my own work habits. I’ve learned that I’m most productive in the mornings, so I tend to do my most challenging and difficult work earlier in the day. Then I can do lighter, less mentally challenging work in the afternoon. This helps me ensure that I give my best to the projects and clients that are the most profitable.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

My site is built in WordPress. As mentioned, I use Fiverr.

I also use And.co for invoicing.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

One of my favorite marketing books of all time is Personality Not Included by Rohit Barghava.

Rohit was a visionary in the earlier days of social media marketing, and he really nails what it takes to humanize a brand and truly connect with customers.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

I’ve met a lot of entrepreneurs through my career, some more successful than others.

Too often, though, I see entrepreneurs who are more interested in being an entrepreneur than building a business. They spend a lot of time and energy talking about their business, but not actually doing things that will contribute to the bottom line.

That’s something that every person who wants to start a business needs to seriously think about: How will you make money? How will you get new clients? How will you scale?

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!

-  
Daniel Waldman,   Founder of Daniel Waldman Writing

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