My interview series continues thanks to Eric Brantner kindly stepping up and answering my questions.
Eric been a successful full-time freelance writer for 10 years. He runs several blogs in a variety of niches. Some of his sites have been featured in USA Today, Time, MSN, TechCrunch, Fortune, and other top publications. A great example of one of Eric’s sites is SleepZoo.
You should definitely check out his site and follow him on Twitter where he shares as @Eric_Scribblrs.
What services do you offer?
I offer a full range of copywriting services, but my main focus in on creating online content for my clients. I’ll dabble in some print work, but the vast majority of what I do is landing page copy and blogging. My blogging work is focused primarily on creating viral-type content, and I’m proud to say that I’ve had many of my articles go viral on places like Reddit and Twitter, even earning mentions and links from some of the biggest sites on the web, like Yahoo, MSN, USA Today, and others.
What did you do before freelancing?
Before I became a full-time freelancer, I was working at a local marketing agency in Houston as a copywriter. It was a good place to learn some of the basics of the trade, but honestly, the pay was terrible and the commute was a nightmare. So, I started building my own freelancing business on the side and the rest is history.
Why did you decide to take the plunge?
Like I said, the pay and commute at my full-time job were atrocious, but the true reason I took the plunge is because I wanted to control my own destiny and build something on my own. I’m just not cut out for working for somebody else. I don’t get any satisfaction out of that, no matter what the pay, and over the years, I’ve turned down several well-paying job opportunities because I’d rather be my own boss. You can’t beat the freelancer lifestyle.
How would you describe your first three months as a freelancer?
Scary but exciting. Taking the plunge to become a full-time freelancer is one of the hardest things you can do. You’re betting on yourself, and if you fail, there’s nobody to blame but that person looking back at you in the mirror. There were definitely some tight times financially in the beginning, but I was confident in my business plan and knew if I stuck with it I’d reach my goals. Too many freelancers expect immediate success and give up after a few months when it doesn’t happen. I wasn’t building something for 3 months down the road, I was building something that could support me for the rest of my life.
If there was one bit of advice you could tell your pre-freelancer self, what would it be?
Know your worth, and don’t be afraid to fire a client. One of the biggest traps you can get in as a freelancer is chasing down any job you can get your hands on, no matter the price. It’s understandable because you need to keep food on the table. But I found that one low paying job tends to lead to another low paying job, and the cycle continues. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you’re worth. You might not land every job, but the ones you do get will make up for it and will give you the confidence to find more quality gigs.
As far as firing clients, the fact is the customer isn’t always right, and a bad client is almost never worth the money. Don’t stand for clients who bully you, don’t pay on time, constantly move goal posts, etc.
I hear that a lot from successful freelancers, great to hear it confirmed! What mistakes do you see fellow freelancers making?
Without a doubt, the most common mistake I see freelancers making is not actually knowing how to run a business. You might think of yourself as a hired gun or a one-person show, but the fact is you’re a small business owner. You need to know how to run an actual business. That means getting your books in order, knowing how to generate leads, managing your projects in an organised fashion, maintaining client relationships, and so on. If you can’t master the basics of business, you will fail, no matter how talented you might be at your craft.
That’s very interesting, how did you get up to speed on learning how to run your own business?
I spent a lot of time reading online about the essentials of running a small business, and I also talked to various small business owners I know in different niches about the challenges they’ve faced and the lessons they’ve learned.
What one thing have you been doing way more of than you anticipated?
All of the backend administrative tasks that come with running a business. I’m running a one-person show with my freelancing business, which means not only am I actually doing copywriting projects for my clients, but I’m also keeping the books in order, paying vendors, tracking down payments from clients, and so on.
Have you had to do much marketing to attract new business?
In the early days, I was very aggressively pursuing new leads. From applying to every job posting I could find to marketing my site in the search engines, I did everything I could to drive business. But in recent years, I haven’t really had to do much marketing. Most of the clients I have now are recurring clients, and I tend to get a lot of word of mouth business as well. Most of the marketing I do now is really just PR, getting my name out there. I’ve built relationships with a lot of business reporters and marketing bloggers over the years, so I’m regularly getting quoted in stories and further positioning myself as an expert in my field.
Can you see yourself working for a company again in the future?
You’re supposed to never say never, but I really can’t see myself ever working for a company again. I’ve had a great run so far as a freelancer, and I’ve been working on building passive streams of income by building my own portfolio of blogs that bring in money without me having to take on more clients. You really can’t beat the freedom that comes with being a freelancer. I’ve had several agencies reach out to me over the years and offer me well-paying jobs, but I just love working for myself so much. The flexibility it affords me to spend more time with my wife and daughter is just too good to give up.
Is there anything else you would like to say on the topic?
Don’t underestimate the importance of mastering the basics of building a business. I truly believe success as a freelancer is 80% knowing how to build a business and 20% being skilled at the service you’re selling.
Thanks so much for taking the time Eric, this has been very useful!